Thursday, December 31, 2009

Urban Prairies

I came across a term today I've never heard before. Urban Prairie.

It sounds like a peaceful setting, but in fact it's used to describe cities or neighborhoods which have been abandoned due to the economic downturn. Lots and homes which have been mowed down and overrun with weeds and various vegetation. It generally refers to Detroit but could be other cities as well.

It's truly difficult to fathom that this is a picture represents the growing state of cities and towns of one the wealthiest countries on the planet.

Happy New Year! 2010

Happy New Year everyone. Hope 2010 brings you lots of health and happiness.

Wallace and Family.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adam Giambrone and TTC - D- Grade

Either Adam Giambrone, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Chairman :

a. Doesn't take public transit
b. Doesn't give a hoot
c. Is out of his job element

Because what's been happening lately on the TTC is a disaster.

The TTC decides to suspend token sales as fare hikes are set for January 2010. This creates a run in token sales but worse off it creates huge lineups at the turnstiles. King Street station is a total nightmare at 5pm. Token vending machines are offline so unless you have a Metropass you are sh*t out of luck. And, ticket sales were suspended last year because of a counterfeiting problem. Hey, TTC why don't you do what the rest of the modern transit systems do and implement a rechargeable swipe card, but of course what would you do with all those high-paid stool sitting token collectors?

This morning for some reason the TTC decides to divert all people li down a narrow walkway (like cattle) to one end of the southbound platform so that they are forced to walk back to the opposite direction on the platform to get to where they normally stand. The people getting off the train and forced to walk against the people in the same narrow passage. Sheer stupidity, for whatever the reason!

Mass commuter chaos was unleashed last week when a contractor accidentally cut through a TTC tunnel. Tens of thousands spilled out onto Toronto streets waiting for shuttle buses. I was in the train tunnel and strangely few if any announcements were made before entering the station.

It's no wonder TTC revenues are down. Wake up Adam! And you pretty much blew any chance of being mayor in this town.




Friday, November 20, 2009

The Gold Standard

Back in September this year, some papers reported that China was moving to physically transfer it's gold holdings from the Bank of England to it's Hong Kong repositories (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hong-kong-recalls-gold-reserves-from-london-2009-09-03). I guess in times of uncertainty we all want to be closer to our money.

Lately some non-mainstream media have reported that HK authorities discovered some 400 oz bars were not actually gold, but tungsten plated with gold. Surely the most trusted gold reserve in the world couldn't be passing counterfeits. Tungsten has almost identical weight and density characteristics as gold so its the perfect material for a sophisticated dupe. It sounds like a pretty far fetched conspiracy theory that could only happen in Hollywood movie scripts. If there is any truth to this perhaps it will be reported widely, or maybe not.

My point isn't that the world's gold reserves have been contaminated with salted bars, but that fraud can happen at any scale and don't be surprised there is some spec of truth to it. For example, who would have thought Bernie Maddoff could have orchestrated a fraud of epic proportions and duped so many investors for so long. Who could have though a few large investment firms could have decimated the world economy?

Someone mentioned to me (and quite proud) recently how India is buying up the worlds gold supply. I cringe at the thought that it could very well mean they have a lifetime supply of raw material for incandescent light bulbs.

Mac WiFi Disconnects - Solved

I love our 20" iMac computer. The really only unfavorable thing I have to say about it is the poor WiFi connectivity to the Linksys wireless router, and unfortunately if you are like me I spend 90% of the time on the computer doing something online so it's really annoying when the connection drops or trivial web pages take forever to download. My other non-Mac computer which connect to the same router have no issue so it's really baffling and frustrating.

I'm blogging about this this because I know I'm not alone in this. And perhaps what I did to fix my problem will help anyone reading this with a similar issue. If you do a Google search you'll find literally hundreds of people with the same problem, with no resolution even from Apple themselves. Patches, new routers etc. don't seem to work. The symptoms are the WiFi radio indicator at the top left corner goes grey indicating that the computer has been disconnected from the router. It'll come back but only after you click on it and select your access point. Who can afford to do this every 10 seconds? I was also only averaging 2.4 Mb/s receive which is only 1/3 of what I'd expect.

I came to the conclusion that it must be periodically searching for other (or better) networks. I confirmed this by inspecting a little file called ~/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.airport.preferences.plist. This is an XML file that contains your Airport WiFi settings, but it also seemed to have a bunch of old and outdated networks I configured previously, they don't even show up anywhere in the GUI Network configuration panes.

I just deleted it (yeah I have either a lot or courage or stupidity). Rebooted and re-setup my WiFi settings to the router. Rebooted again and voila, my network is fast and reliable. Check out my speed test results in the pic above. I hope this helps you.










Saturday, October 17, 2009

Balloon Fallacy

For 3 hours this week the world watched nervously as a helium balloon thought to have accidentally carried a young 6 year old stowaway flew across the Colorado plains. Was he inside?

I immediately thought of a past Mythbusters episode. Actually, it was more Darwin Awards. Could this really happen?

Based on the dimensions of the balloon, it could have contained enough helium to lift a 50 pound object. Based on University of Google, it takes a 15 cubic feet to lift 1 lb, CNN says the balloon was around 20" across x 5" high so ((pi * r^2)*5 = (3.14 * 10*10)*5 = 1570 ) . However, forget the physics for a moment. Take a look at the balloon in flight and at takeoff. If there had really been a 50 pound boy in the base it would have looked like an upside down teardrop and there's no way it could have lifted off so lightly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djz3i-ZjC64

Another fine example of media manipulation.




Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Picture of Health

Provincial Health Minister David Caplan is expected to resign from the McGuinty cabinet this Wednesday. The ensuing auditor general's report is expected to blow the covers off of 10 years of wasteful spending by the province's electronic health record projects.

I've always wondered how this guy got to be named Health Minister.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Irresponsible dribble

CNN reported today (http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2009/09/25/nr.seg.h1n1.flu.vaccine.cnn) that a recent US survey indicates that only 40% of respondents would consider having their children get the H1N1 vaccine. They then go on to say that since April 2009 56 children have died of swine flu, obviously using statistics for dramatic effect.

What CNN omits to mention is that two thirds of the children had pre-existing serious medical disorders (e.g. asthma, cerebral palsy). http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5834a1.htm.

It's no wonder people are so confused about what to do. The media is just adding to the confusion.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marathon Finished!













Event: 2009 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Chip Time : 4:41:23.2


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Support me in the JDRF ride

Everyone wants to believe they can make a difference in the world, and there are many worthy ways to contribute to bettering people’s lives. I have chosen to continue supporting Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by participating in the Ride for Diabetes Research being held at City Hall on September 25th, 2009 . My colleagues at Scotiabank and I will be competing against each other to see who can raise the most money and pedal the most kilometers. This is an amazing event that brings together competitors from many different industries for one day to raise money to fund research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes strikes children suddenly, making them dependent on injected or pumped insulin for life, and carries the constant threat of devastating complications. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is currently funding over 40 human clinical trials – testing drug therapies and cures in people – that is the most ever for diabetes. Testing treatments and therapeutics in people is a clear indication that the pace of research leading to a cure is accelerating. You can help my team reach our goal by pledging me online at:
http://jdrfca.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&eventID=728&participantID=29716 Thank you so much in advance for your generosity. Sincere thanks, Wallace Wong

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Telus and Black's Part 2

Further to my previous post about the odd marriage between Telus and Black's there are a couple of practical reasons why this partnership is awkward.

First, everyone hates the phone and cable companies. There is no question that Bell, Rogers and Telus dominate the field, especially in central Canada. And it's quite evident from what's written on the internet that consumers aren't happy with anyone of them, either because of price gouging or poor customer service. Two bad qualities which are not compatible with successful retailing. So the question is, what is Black Photo management thinking by associating themselves with such infamy? (Probably no choice anyways). A mojority of photo consumers will shop elsewhere just to avoid supporting Big-Telephone.

Secondly, the process of signing a cell customer is totally different than photo retailing. People who shop at Black's want quick service. For example, drop off film, pick up photofinishing, buy a gift etc. It's already an annoying and common practice to stand in teller-like lines for service at Black's. Signing a cell customer takes at least half an hour, and that means taking a someone off the floor for that amount of time, thereby further increasing the queue. And it's unlikely that there would be dedicated staff to handle cellular products.

Should be interesting.



Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Telus buys Black's Photo

Canadian cell phone giant Telus aquires Canadian photo retailer Black's. It's a very odd marriage.

I worked for Black's during my highschool and university days, it was great experience for later things in life. I worked in a number of areas; from the photo lab, retail assitant manager, then in the head office MIS department. So I had a pretty good idea of how the company ran and even met some of the original Black's familiy when they still ran it.

I was fortunate to work in a number of flagship stores: Yonge & St. Clair (Original Store), TD Center (flagship concept location), Toronto Eaton Center, Yonge and Bloor to name a few. Black's was also famous worldwide, celebrities like Annie Lennox and Elton John would stop by. Alot of times you'd develop a friendly relationship to repeat customers, some you'd see a couple times a week.

In it's heyday the iconic commercials on TV and radio played the catchy tune, "Black's is photography". Comedian Martin Short was used in a number of TV spots, usually around Christmas time. I can't recall the last time I heard or saw a Black's commerical.

And who could forget the vinyl cooler bags. The Yellow or Silver bags given out during the summer promotions could be seen around the world by Canadians travelling abroad.

Black's was a pioneer in developing infrastructure to recycle waste water and chemistry from the photofinishing process, known as System Crystal. They were thinking green before Al Gore knew what carbon was. But Black's was eventually sold off to a number of companies like Scott's Hospitality (KFC) and later Fuji. It's changed hands at least a few more times.

In terms of profitability highest margins came from photofinishing and accessories, e.g. frames and camera accessories. Camera's and camcorders themselves were not money makers. In fact I recall discounting some in order to keep the customer from going elsewhere.

The digital age has all but decimated the traditional photo retailer. Camera's can be bought like calculators as Best Buy and Staples. You no longer need the expertise of someone behind the counter who happens to also be a photo-enthusiast. People don't print off 24 or 36 shots anymore, they pick and choose from the comfort of their own home. It's all quite sad actually but that's technology for you.

So when Telus said today that there was a synergy to be had from combining cell phone, video and media; I'm not sure who sold the M&A guy at Telus the Koolaid but it really doesn't make any sense any way you look at it. In reality all Telus bought was $25million bucks of retail space, most likely playing catchup to Bell buying The Source a few months back. I can't foresee alot of people buying a cell phone at a camera store.

Thanks again to capitalism for adding more gray to an already bland retail landscape.

Monday, August 31, 2009

To commemorate our landing, here is a rock.

This week the Dutch National Museum discovered that what they had been given by the United States during a goodwill moon landing tour was really a petrified piece of wood, instead of what's always been known to be a moon rock.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8226075.stm

I really don't know what to make of this one, but here are the choices:


a. The US never wanted to give a moon rock to the Dutch so they gave them a fake hoping they will never notice.

b. There is wood on the moon.

c. No moon landing ever happened, ergo no moon rocks. ( I know I'm going to get emails on this one).

d. Packaging error.

Occam's Razor says that I should pick the simplest one, so (b) it is!!!!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Toronto 2015?

With 23 public school pools on the chopping block, the Province of Ontario and Greater Toronto Area is somehow able to calculate that it has $1.7 billion dollars to pour into hosting the 2015 Pan Am games. Mayor Miller says they city is broke. And the province is running a $900 million deficit, not to mention the $4 billion loan to GM and Chrysler that has the potential of never being paid back if they don't survive.

So really the only percievable way this could happen is if a heck of alot more taxes and fees are on the way. Hmm, how about 30% increase in tuition to help U of T and the city build that olympic pool? And a city Sports and Arena user fee, kind of the like new garbage fee on top of what our city taxes are supposed to take care of.  Don't forget about the special security fee just to keep the citizens safe during (and after) the games.

I'm not opposed to the games being in Toronto, but as an over taxed tax payer I just don't want to fork out an additional penny to support these games. If Ontario and Toronto can afford it, it should be solely paid out of revenue that already exists. If the revenue is not currently there, then revenue needs to be created out of infrastructure or similar investments that will drive tourism and business. Even if that means waiting 10-15 years from now.



Friday, August 28, 2009

Auburn, New York

This weekend we're in Auburn, NY. It's a small town of about 28,000 people situated on the northern tip of one of the Finger Lakes known as Lake Cayuga. We had planned to day in the picturesque town of Skaneateles but our plans were a little last minute so most inns there were booked for the weekend.

A couple famous notables who hail from here are Wilard Bundy, the inventor of the Time Clock (i.e. Punch Clock), and John Walsh from the America's Most Wanted TV show. There's a pretty big and somewhat infamous federal prison here as well. The the Inn where we are staying is quite comfy and clean so there's nothing to complain about. Believe it or not, there is aTim Horton's here as well!

It's been mostly rain here so hopefully the next couple of days will be decent so we can tour some of the gorges and waterfalls. We're also making a special trip to Albany to visit and deliver some goodies to a niece who is starting college.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Toronto Island Airport Tunnel

In 2003 David Miller campaigned as Mayor and promised that if elected he would kill plans to build a bridge connecting downtown Toronto to the Island Airport. Miller became mayor and the bridge was never built. However, then bridge proponent and fledgling Porter Airlines still became successful without the bridge.

Now again in 2o09 the bridge debate and boxing gloves are being re-laced. And again between Miller and this time the Toronto Port Authority (TPA). The TPA is asking for Federal stimulus money to fund half the cost, and Miller is once again opposed.

I can tell you this. This summer I flew Porter Air to Chicago. It's a delightful and professional airline where people actually care about passengers. The Captain came out and invited my son to the flight deck (while still on the ground) and presented him with a signed postcard of himself, the co-pilot and crew. The airport lounge is civilized and very comfortable; free wi-fi, beverages, and snacks. Check-in for international flights takes 10 minutes because US customs is on arrival at the destination. Totally different experience compared to Air Canada.

So rather than supporting an infrastructure that fosters great Canadian businesses and services Greater Toronto travellers, Miller tried to pull a fast one and spend it all on streetcars. If I recall correctly, Miller supported the disastrous Toronto to Rochester ferry.

This should be an interesting fight, especially if Jack Layton and wife and councillor Oliva Chow get into it. But this time I wonder how many people will be listening to the guy who caused the garbage fiasco of 2009.

Apple Snow Leopard OS

On August 28th, 2009 Apple will make available it's next operating system called Snow Leopard. It won't be a total redesign like Microsoft OS upgrades, but rather significant refinement to an already an excellent OS.

I like what's changed, faster file searches for an already incredible "finder", smaller footprint (7GB of disk recovered), 80% faster backups, and leaveraging 64 bit computing technology. The latter means applications can actually harness theoretically limitless amounts phyiscal RAM at a time rather than swapping 4GB at a time like most 32bit OSes. In simple terms, way faster processing per clock cycle. But these are just a few way cool things to expect.

All this for a mere $35. No hardware upgrades needed either. Bonus.

When I compare that to the $109 Windows Vista upgrade, RAM and video card upgrades needed, I'm pretty sure my existing PC will be staying on Windows XP SP2 forever.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shin Splints

I knew something was seriously wrong when I started an easy morning jog today and all I could do was hobble, and ungracefully at that. It seems like time, age and most likely bad technique have caught up with me.

I'm quite certain that what was the usual minor strains, compounded into shin splints when I started running home from work with a backpack. Although the pack only contained my work clothes and shoes it was enough to change my natural running posture.

So for the next week, it'll be rest, ice, compress and some other type of cross-training activtiy. Them's the breaks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

30km

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is coming up fast, September 27th. I've been slacking with my Sunday long runs. Today was was determined to catch up to the schedule and do 30km. 

We'll I did it, and it was about the hottest day of the year in Toronto. About 35C. 3 hours and 32 mins., 3 litres of Gatorade and 2 packs of energy chews. 

How do I feel?  Baked and tired, but happy I made up for it. This afternoon Marissa wanted to go to Ikea and I followed along, hoping I wasn't going to pass out on one of the isles.  Their staple Swedish meatballs and gravy actually gave me some energy back.

Here's to a good night sleep.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Latte Drinking Left Wing Composters

I had a suspicion that during the Great Toronto Garbage Strike of 2009 my neighbors had been busily composting their kitchen scraps. In a urban city like Toronto, there is no need to compost unless you live in area zoned for farming (there are none).  Organics are picked up weekly and that goes to composting.  

Most people have no idea how to do it properly and it just turns out to be a gross and disgusting mess (think flies and maggots). I have first hand experience because I'm surrounded by neighbors who think they are doing the right thing but my nose says otherwise.

Most Torontonians have small backyards, so generally composting bins are placed at the back behind a shed away from nicer outdoor living spaces. This is already a bad idea because it's human nature not to spend a lot of time back behind a muddy shed. To properly compost one has to only put the right stuff in, keep it moist, turn it frequently, and aerate it. I know for a fact that this isn't done,  most people can't even maintain a lawn. The result is pretty much what rotten garbage smells like, yet they claim it smells "sweet".

Last week I got a whiff of some that made even my 4 year old son say "Ewwww!! What's that?!".

So do me a favor tree you hugging neighbors. Stop thinking that you're saving the planet by composting, especially if you don't have a garden. What are you going to do with this stuff anyways?  It's attracts raccoons and rats and really reeks. Honestly, you'd never find a Chinese person composting, it just makes no sense.



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Don't Buy GM Vehicle

Even after Canadian Tax payers bailed out GM Canada, GM refuses to disclose executive compensation packages. Legally GM has no obligation to do so, however it's a moral issue as far as I'm concerned. Transparency is an over used term these days, but this is a great example of where transparency is needed.

If GM wants to take our money and they want us to buy their cars, they better recognize that they are accountable to all Canadian taxpayers and not just shareholders. Oh, I'm sorry ... I forgot there aren't anymore shareholders because they all got shafted.

Enough said.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gasp, Blech. Toronto Parks during Strike

This Saturday I read an inspiring article in the Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/article/671679) about a summer tradition of running in the Don Valley, through the various park systems and tails.

I've biked the trails for years, on and off road, but this year I've been avoiding them because the Taylor Creek entrance by my house is a designated temporary garbage dump during the civic strike. However the article was inspiring enough for me to try a run this morning in the Don, except that I'd enter from Laird Ave, up by Eglinton. I figure a posh area like that would be safe from garbage but I would be dead wrong.

As I descended into the park everything was great, except the uncut grass and abnormal amount of weeds I was happy. I headed east through Sunnybrook towards Taylor Creek. 4 Runners approached from behind and I overheard them debating about whether to tough it out or detour. I didn't understand what they were referring to, until the stench hit me. Rotten food, diapers and god knows what else.

It turns out the Park's parking lot at Eglinton and Leslie is also a temporary dump. WTF! One of TOs beloved parks which usually hosts weekend birthday parties, picnics and charity runs is now a garbage dump. Well, those four toughed it out, but I opted to run up to Eglinton and across to Don Mills. I'm not breathing that sh*t into my lungs.

This week has been raining like mad. So I'm left wondering what the long term environmental impact will be from the runoff. Thanks Local 416 and David Miller.
BTW Ferguson and Miller, you're both gonna be toast so start looking for a new job.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Something Spectacular

I was reading an article in the Toronto Star today about how the TTC needs to buy 4 new tunnel boring drills at a cost of $58 million to complete 13 km of a new subway line from Spadina to York region. Personally, I disapprove of this project because the City should not be funding transit for 905 region commuters. And clueless Mayor David Miller refers to this expense as a nominal cost.

Anyways, really Toronto should be planning something spectacular for the future. This subway line, although will be appreciated by York U students, won't do anything to alleviate downtown commuter congestion from GO transit, nor will it boost the image of Toronto to bring back tourists and investors.

I leave you will two images to drive home my point. Chicago Waterfront, courtesy of  world class design, planning and sticking to the plan. And Toronto, waterfront revitalization in limbo.




Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 11 40th Anniversary

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first manned walk on the Moon. It is a tremendous achievement and testament to the ingenuity and dedication of Americans.

But how come 1 in 4 people don't believe this ever happened? 

Much has been written over the years about inconsistencies that point to an elaborate hoax. You can easily find lots of articles on the internet. I'm 99.9% sure it did happen, but here are some of my Mythbuster questions:

1. How could a project of that size involving close to 400,000 people ever have been coordinated in less that 10 years. This case study should be taught in business schools around the world.
2. How is it possible that all subsequent Apollo missions successfully landed on the moon but in recent years NASA has lost a number of Space Shuttles that typically only travel a fraction of the distance of the Moon.
3. Could computer technology at that time really have been feasible to support the Apollo missions. By comparison, today clusters of supercomputers are needed.
4. Why would Neil Armstrong be publicly silent and a recluse for decades after the mission. I would have expected him to be a voice of inspiration to industry, schools, children etc.
5. The original Apollo 11 landing video recordings are lost or destroyed. What kind of operation is NASA running , where arguably the biggest technical achievement by humans is accidentally erased, and all there is to show for it are some fuzzy 16mm recordings off a black and white television monitor.

Back to my question about why 1 in 4 people don't believe what they are told. Look no further than the vague explanations given for the Mysterious collapse of WTC Building 7, and that if tax payers didn't bailout Wall Street there would be blood in the streets. BTW recently Goldman Sachs, Citibank and Bank of America all posted record quarters.
 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Equality and fairness, unless it inconveniences me

Last week Canada imposed Visa requirements for Mexican and Czech Republic visitors.  The public and media had a lot to say about this, but for the most part an overwhelming majority of Canadians agree with the decision. As one can expect, Mexicans and CR citizens as well as their families and Canada aren't so pleased.

Canadian Visa's are required from a long list of countries, such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India so what's the big deal about adding Mexico and CR to the list? Generally we all wanted to be treated equally so isn't this an example of leveling the playing field?

Granted, the real reason is to stem bogus refugee claims but the reality is that there are people taking advantage of the generosity of Canada and obviously don't have a conscience about impacting people with legitimate claims of real persecution. Why should they, the Supreme Court of Canada says that anyone claiming refugee status has immediate protection under the Charter. It also means health care, welfare and shelter. Good deal.

Mexico and CR lashed back by threatening reciprocal Visa requirements. I'd be curious to know when the last time a Canadian claimed refugee status in Mexico or CR.  

You know, if Canadians stopped visiting Mexico there wouldn't be a Yucatan Peninsula. And I'm sure before this, the Czech Republic wasn't too broken up about exporting it's Roma Gypsy population to Canada.  


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

$10K discount on the backs of Ontarians

Premier Dalton McGuinty announced today an up to $10,000 rebate to anyone who buys an electric car next year.

Unfortunately it can be any car, as long as it's a Chevy Volt, that's because that's the only electric car which will be available in 2010.

This is essentially a bribe by the government for you to purchase and experimental vehicle, which would without the subsidy most Canadians could not afford because of the $40,000 price tag. Certainly sounds like they already know it's going to be a hard sell. For that price you could buy a few very fuel efficient 4 cylinders which you would not have to worry about driving too far before being stranded.

McGuinty envisions 1 in 20 cars to be an electric. Canada sells over a million new cars per year, so would that mean the subsidies would cost us billions? If a product can't flourish without incentives, it should be a strong indication that it can't make the cut.

Even if this car were successful, ironically it would eventually kill off the other industries and repair services that are so dependant on gasoline cars, for example exhaust, emissions, cooling etc. See the movie, Who Killed the Electric Vehicle.

What if I don't want a battery powered car? Why should I have to subsidize those vegans that do. And since the government is in the car business, it wants to pay us with our own money to drive one of their cars. Weird.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slow demise of the union

Union workers should soon realize that the economic reality of today means job security coming to an end, whether it's CUPE or UAW. Globalization forces North American labour  to be wage competitive, and unions are at odds with this concept.

Whether it's garbage collection or building cars, the reality is than it's only a matter of time before it's privitized or bankrupt. All Toronto suburbs contract private companies for garbage collection, and there is a good possibility that Oshawa will eventually be shutdown for good. The latter mainly because, GM insists their world class facility manufacture low volume niche cars that no one will buy, like the Chev Camaro and Cadillac XTS.

I actually don't mind taking my garbage to the dump (because of the strike). If this goes on for 10 more weeks it's really only a small inconvenience for me.  I think it's worse off for the workers trying to live off $800 a month strike pay all because of someone else who doesn't truly represent their interests.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Garbage Strike Reality Check

Mayor David Miller says on CNN that Toronto is still a great place to visit at this time, and the city is handling the trash problem fine.

Here is a reality check for those that believe him:
  • There is a vacant store front vestibule in my neighborhood that is jammed and piled high with stinking and rotting garbage. Not only are there no workers to pick it up, there is no one to issue fines.
  • Public waste containers wrapped in plastic to prevent litter from being tossed in during the strike, are wedged open and overflowing with trash. This is downtown by the way.
  • There are trash bags with rotting diapers strewn on the sidewalk
  • There is no pick up of trash at local parks and beaches.  
  • I avoid parks, for example Taylor Creek, because it home to one of 19 trash depots. Stinks  like crap and it's being sprayed by god knows what.
  • "The litter my friend, is blowing in the wind" and down the sidewalks and alley ways.
So sure, wonderful place visit, if you are comparing it to Detroit.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

David Miller's Toronto

It's almost as if something comes up each day to expose how Mayor David Miller has been asleep at the mayoral wheel.

I see lots of similarities between Miller and Micheal Brown, head of FEMA during the imfamous Hurricane Katrina fiasco. Both totally out of their element in leadership, vision, and crisis management.

And I knew it was only a matter of time before travel writers began bashing Toronto. www.worldtravelwatch.com , written by esteemed travel writer Larry Habegger, recently posted a travel advisory aimed at Toronto visitors. Although it doesn't say to stay away, no one spending their hard earned recession dollar would think about brining their familiy a place where parks, ferries, recereation and garbage collection programs have been cancelled.

I remember 10 years ago, I'd have to squeeze by throngs of summer tourists walking up and down Yonge and Bay Street. I'd choke on the fumes of back to back double-decker tour buses. It's not like that anymore, despite all the new theatres, restaurants and entertainment areas downtown.

So this is some of the David Miller highlights:

- Got bitch slapped by Fed. Transport Minister John Baird, when he tried to swindle $400 million to build new street cars, as a "stimulus" project.
- Increased Toronto property taxes
- Additional municipal license plate fee
- Garbage Strike
- Three ridiculous garbage bins for each type of household waste
- Additional garbage fees on top of what we already pay for taxes, plus now limiting how many bags per pickup
- News that the organic waste that we've all been diligently sorting is being dumped into landfill anyways, and whatever is composted into "black gold" is actually toxic to plants (due to incomplete composting and sodium content).
- City indoor and outdoor workers on strike. i.e. no social services, permits, park services, etc.
- City programs, including my kid's day camps cancelled
- Bike lanes that no one uses
- Bike racks on buses that no one uses
- A pesticide ban, that has turned once green parks into meadows of dandilions and crabgrass. The pesticides by the way are safe by Federal guidelines. But, ironically it's totally okay to spray toxic poisons on the rotting garbage in makeshift dumpsites located in public parks.

At least FEMA's Michael "Brownie" had the smarts to ask "Can I quit now?" Miller actually think he's cut out of the job.

I just came back from Chicago and gained some perspective. Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley faced with a similar defecit and antiquated labour demands did this, threatened to send out 1,500 layoff notices if unions didn't show up at the bargaining table and conceed. Now that's leadership. That's also helps explain what Daley's been mayor since 1989.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Vacationing in Chicago










We are in Chicago this week for vacation.

Chicago is somewhere I've been wanting to go to for years but something else always seemed better. This year it seemed to be the perfect time for a few of the following reasons:

1. 100 anniversary of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham's vision and plan for the city.
2. July 4th weekend
3. Taste of Chicago

The above photo is a reflection of me at the sculpture Cloud Gate, or what locals call the Steel Bean. Amazing piece of artwork.

Aside some a few criticisms it's truly a magnificent city. I'll be posting more details when I return to Toronto next week.

Later!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reminded how bad Windows is

Recently we bought a Toshiba netbook. It came loaded with Windows XP. I've been reminded how bad Microsoft Windows is.

Having used an Apple iMac for over a couple of years now at home, I really see the differences in terms of usability. Microsoft feels it's necessary to pop up and confirm every action, be it risky or not. I can't remember the last time I got a prompt to allow/disallow something on the iMac. My work PC uses XP as well, but it's "locked down" so most of the popups are supressed already, but that's certainly not typical of what consumers would experience.

Can't the geniuses at Microsoft understand that users don't like to be stopped in the middle of doing something important to read a dialog box that makes no sense to begin with, then answer Yes/No to something we don't even understand the implications of?

It's a well known fact that Vista was a complete failure for many reasons. Let's hope that Microsoft gets it right with the upcoming Windows 7. Curiously, it looks and feels alot like Mac OS X.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Marathon Training - 20KM mark

This Sunday morning marks the completion of a 20km training run. I dread Sundays because they are the long run days. Fortunately, it was overcast and mild so it was bearable. Toronto is so quiet and beautiful at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. How could we make it always like that?

Last weekend's 17KM was painful mostly because of bad shoes (1 1/2 year old Saucony). I ended up with a couple of blisters which makes it really hard to walk let alone run. So this week I got new pair of Mizuno's and they are just the thing to keep the feet happy.

I also learned last week that I need to bring something to eat. It may sound strange to eat while exercising but it's absolutely necessary, at least in my case.

I'm currently at a 9.5km/h pace, so that puts me at about a 5 hour race completion time. I doubt I'll be able to finish any sooner, but my goal is really just finishing. I felt pretty decent today, and even did some yard work, so I think the hard work is starting to show.

Lowes Home Improvement

I admit I enjoy wandering the isles of Home Depot and Rona. I just like seeing what's new and hopefully get some inspiration for future projects.

U.S. home improvement giant entered Canada about a year ago, and it finally made it's way into my neighborhood.  Whenever we visited out in-laws in the States we'd make a special trip there because they always seemed to have something different compared to it's competitors.

This weekend we made the inaugural  quick trip to Lowes since we just happened to be close by running  errands. Nice new shiny store, full selection of appliances, cabinetry, and garden supplies. Clean and organized product isles and and abundance of store help. Noticeably more variety of products that any of it's competitors.  Although it can fully service contractors, it's really women friendly which is a smart market segment.

Compared to Home Depot, Rona and Canadian Tire. No comparison. Those stores are dusty, unfriendly, under stocked, unknowledgeable, and dinosaurs in my opinion. It's unlikely that they'll go bankrupt any time soon because of a few Lowes stores, but eating into profits can't be good news. There's something to be said about not resting on ones laurels, which is what HD and Rona are still doing after all these years. 






Thursday, June 25, 2009

Father's Day 2009

I was given this card for Father's day.

I like it! It captures the manny of the things I like to do, except control of the remote.

When I arrived at work Monday morning of course we Dad's all ask each other how our Father's day went. Mine went like this.

Went for a long jog early in the morning. Returned for pancake breakfast made by Mo an Aidan. One of our nice neighbors dropped by to invite Aidan over to play, and Marissa decided to do some shopping. Great!... time alone, what a perfect Father's Day gift.  I made a fresh pot of coffee and settled into reading the weekend paper, then planned a nap. It didn't quite work out as I planned.

Within an hour the little rascals ended up at my house. Gardening, playing with the Nintendo, grilled cheese sandwiches, water hose etc. 

It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but then again how else could you define Father's Day?




Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wake up Americans

Today US President Obama outlined sweeping changes to the regulatory framework in American Banking.  Based on all that has happened in the world financial markets over the past 9 months, you'd expect this to be headline news on CNN or other major news outlets.  CNN's web page barely made any mention to this, but instead focused on the hundreds of protesters on the streets of Iran.

So quietly and under public's noses, the US Federal Reserve will be given more powers to regulate the US banking industry. The Reserve answers to no one; not Congress, Senate, or the President. It's a private bank controlled by the worlds rich and elite. Essentially, this is letting the fox watch the hen house. Little does the average American know, or care to know, that it was the Reserve that created most of the mess the world is in today by flooding the the US banks with cheap, easy and worthless US currency. 

That cheap and easy money has created a culture of consumerism, that one could argue has kept joe plummer distracted enough realize his hard earned wealth is being sucked out from under his iPhone, 52" LCD TV, 3000 square foot home, and BMW.

Gold is starting to look like a really good investment.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

FIAT (Fix it Again, Tony)

Will North American's be willing to buy a Fiat?

My bet is No.

Recent history has shown that sales of small European cars will not thrive in North America. 

Take for example similar cars: Vauxhaul, Citroen, Merkur, and Peugeot. Only a relatively small number of these brands were bought when they did exist here, and generally by people who liked to obscurity of owning something different. In my opinion their downfall was their mechanical quirkiness and availability of repair parts.   If Chrysler can't keep domestic parts producers in business, they are going to have a heck of a time importing parts for all these Fiat models. And, good luck trying to find a non-dealership mechanic who knows how fix one.

The sale of Chrysler to Fiat is only prolonging the inevitable, which is the demise of Chrysler.




Monday, June 08, 2009

Imagine

Imagine what can be done in place of Facebook time.

We all complain of how little time we have, but why can people always find time for Facebook?

Stop the madness. Life is short. Get back to reality.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I set a record

Today I managed to get 3 traffic tickets, in one shot.

1. Failure to surrender proof of ownership
2. Failure to produce proof of insurance
3. Expired plate

In total , $480 in fines.

I admit it all my fault. First I though I had renewed the plate sticker but I guess I overlooked it because I had another car at the time the renewal notice came in.  I also cleaned out my wallet and threw away my old insurance card because I had another one coming. Or course I forgot to put it back into my wallet.  And the ownership papers were sitting in my files at home. Don't ask me why that was.

At least the officer was nice about it and advised me to just dispute it in court.  I know I'll only end up paying for the insurance fine ($60) and have the more costly ones dropped.  What a way to start the morning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mutha F'n Ants

I hate insects.

This year black ants seem to have made their way into my house.  Strangely though, I only see them in the second bedroom or the bathroom, where no food exists.  I tried the round ant traps but those are useless.

Fortunately I found a great low toxic recipe that seems to have worked.  
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons boric acid (Borax)
This concoction draws out all the worker ants, a really horrible sight.  I resisted the urge to blow torch them all, so that they could take the "kool-aid" back to the nest. Ants gorge and regurgitate their food back in the nest, so everyone including the queen ant dies.

My neighbours said they noticed a increase in ants this year as well.  

On a side note, Aidan has a playmate next door. They spend afternoons outside crushing ants with stones. I need to get them each larger stones.

44 King to Home

A great way I found to get more training time in is running home from work. The distance is approximately 8km from 44 King to Queensdale. I actually thought it may be more like 13km but no such luck, even if I take the Lakeshore trail. 

Today it took me about 50 minutes. Not too bad considering I was carrying a backpack. I saw some pretty weird people at the corner of Broadview and Queen. But it's all good :-)



Friday, May 08, 2009

Beyond stupidity

Today Louis Caldera, Director of the White House Military Office resigned over the controversial low-altitude fly over by a Air Force One look alike.

It turns out Caldera was responsible for at least for notifying the White House Press Secretary and the Deputy Chief of staff, but he  failed to read an email about final plans because he left the office early. Hmm, another career ruined by email.

I would have guessed that the branches of US government would have detailed plans, protocols and checklists for such types of operations. I know in my line of work I have plans, checklists, walkthroughs so things don't go pear shaped.

I don't know if this is true, but I've also been told that the 3 days between when George Bush #1 told Saddam not to cross the line in the Kuwait desert and when the US planes actually attacked Baghdad, was due to a military SNAFU. Turns out that there was computer problem that prevented the different branches of the military from planning the bombing runs. I'll bet there were some pretty long nights and pizza dinners at the Pentagon to figure that one out.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Distance Training

I have started my distance training for the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in September. 

This is my personal goal for the year. I admit I'm a little anxious about it because I know marathon running is both mental and physical stamina.

I found a great tool for calculating distance along a route.  It uses google maps, and you simply plot waypoints and the distance keeps getting aggregated. Cool.

http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm

Friday, May 01, 2009

I didn't notice the world ending

Yesterday Chrysler filed for Chapter 11.

I could have sworn the politicians and financial experts said the world was going to end if the car makers went under. Todays seems pretty normal to me.

The US and Canadian governments are complete buffoons. It's bad enough they shoveled billions of dollars of tax payer money into a company they knew was going to go t*ts up. They now want to bring 10 billion more dollars to the table and take only a 2 percent stake.  I'm not a bright guy when it comes to finance but, if I came to a party with all the money I think I get to call more than 2% of the shots.

Just give me a free Fiat and I'll consider my portion of the debt repaid.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup is bad for you

I was listening to the latest Podcast of Stuff you Should Know, Josh and Chuck were discussing the origins and dangers of consuming food made with High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It's a  fascinating topic and I'm actually surprise how little knowledge I had of it. It spurred me to do some other further reading on this pervasive sugar substitute.

It turns out that it's in almost every store bought packaged food. Food manufacturers use it instead of cane sugar because it's insanely cheap. As I began looking more closely at the ingredients in everything from cookies  to vegetable juices I was blown away at how prevalent it really is.

The problem with HFCS is that our bodies can't metabolize, and our liver turns it in triglycerides which is essentially fat. Studies have also shown that it can increase the feeling of hunger and it's taste can be addictive. I guess that explains why I can sit and eat a row Oreos and still want more. Studies have also shown that since the introduction of corn syrup sweeteners the incidents of diabetes has skyrocketed.

Beware of anything that contains Fructose.

Monday, April 27, 2009

No such thing as coincidences

Last night I went to the local Shopper's drugstore to get a couple N-95 masks, just in case. I figure if the Mexican government has passed out 40 million of them, it makes sense for me to have at least a few given the past SARs crisis.

Wouldn't you know that those masks were all gone. I went to 5 other Shoppers as well as a number of other drug stores downtown and they were all gone. I managed to order online and pickup today 2 N-95 respirators from Lee Valley. I have another one one back order and all the replacement filters are out of stock as well. 

I guess I'm not alone in my thinking.





Friday, April 24, 2009

GM dealers are part of the problem

Much has been said about the failure of GM and Chrysler to fulfill the consumer's desire for more fuel efficient cars. However I've always felt that the domestic auto dealers are 40% of the problem. And 10% is attributed to the stereotypical image of domestic autoworker. Why is it every time we see domestic auto workers leaving a plant they're wearing plaid, running, carrying lunch pails. But import auto workers are always clad in white overalls, booties and masks as if they were brain surgeons. Who would you buy a car from? But I digress.

If you ever went to a dealer shopped for a  GM, Chrysler or Ford you get the feeling that somehow they are doing you a favor. When you actually do talk to someone about buying a car you get the same B.S. about the salesman "working for you" by negotiating the best price with the sales manager. This happens at import dealers as well but in my experience it's not as bad. This practice has got to change.

The other thing that turns consumer's off is the service experience. If things were fixed properly to begin with the $80-$110/hr labour wouldn't be so bad. Just recently a friend of mine took their Firebird in for an electrical issue. When the the car was returned the problem was fixed but one of the body panels was bent out of alignment due to an improperly placed jack. The dealer made no effort to apologize and in fact said not to worry about it because the car was 10 years old anyways. Not a good way to attract or keep customers.

Like it or not, dealers are the face of the brand and for years they've been the main reason why there has been a perception that American cars are inferior. Ultimately if dealers kept the consumer happy, it wouldn't have mattered if the cars were slightly less reliable or less fuel efficient than the competition. 

Too late.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What to do with TD GM Visa points?

For years I've been a loyal TD GM Visa card holder. I saved about $800 using GM points back in 1996 when I purchased my Camaro Z28. My dream was to one day buy a Corvette and save a few hundred dollars using points. Today I have about $1300.

Things have changed since then:

1. A Corvette no longer costs $35K, the top end Corvette is between $55-110K depending on the model. So if even had that much money to drop entirely on a car I don't think 1K is gonna really matter.

2. GM is teetering on bankruptcy so I doubt any of those points will survive chapter 11. I wonder if GM did go belly up would anyone really be interested in buying a GM car over an import.

3. Each month the "Program" expires $16. That kind of thing really pisses me off.

4. I can't think of any immediate family members that are looking for a GM car, so I can't endow any points to them.

Recently I signed up for a Scotiabank Momentum Visa. It gives back 2% cash on all grocery, gas and drug store purchases, 1% on all other purchases. Sure seems like a better bet.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Feeling taxed to death yet?

Today I bought an external hard drive from Costco and noticed on my receipt an eco-tax for .35 cents. I vaguely recall in 2007 something about this, but I find pretty odd how the TV and print media paid little attention to it's introduction this spring considering all the daily attention paid to how joe plumber is losing his job and home.

35 cents is no big deal, but consider a TV or computer where the fee is $15. Add on the ridiculous GST harmonization, city garbage fees, licence fees, property tax increases and it makes you wonder when it's going to end. Also take into consideration how much your investments have dwindled and you'd think that there was a conspiracy brewing.

Personally I don't buy the government's position that they need an eco-tax to support their recycling program. They already make a crap load of money selling our recycled garbage to the private sector. If they wanted out of the recycling business they could always leave it to private companies but they know it's way too lucrative. They even get peeved if an old chinese lady picks through my recycling bin for plastic bottles.

If the government is trying to stimulate the economy through consumer spending, thier revenue policies and economic polices are certainly at odds.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Raccoon Wars

Last month I declared the War on Raccoons. With the milder weather, these varmint are coming out for food.

Somehow they managed to chew away all the hard rubber weather stripping below the garage door, got their hands under and pushed up a 30 lbs door. They made a huge mess everywhere, I'll spare you the details.

Despite this, my main concern has always been them taking shits on my garage roof.  Simply because shit is affected by gravity and falls into my yard. They love crapping on the valleys of my garage dormer which I spent so much pride framing.

So I found the Cat-stop 9000 Ultrasonic deterrent. The idea is to emit an ultra-high frequency sound (silent to humans) that makes it so unpleasant to animals that they'll think twice about returning. I tried on my cat and he took off upstairs. As I was screwing it a 2x4 for mounting it went off a few times in my face, and although I could not hear it like most everyday sounds you hear, I could faintly hear a high pitch that after a while gave me a headache. 

Catstop is weather proof and has a motion sensor that only triggers the speaker when tripped. So far no poo on the roof. Maybe this device does work.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

China Brilliance BS6 Crash Test

As a followup to my previous post about the Tata Nano sub-$2000 car I'm posting a disastrous crash test of the Chinese made 2006 Brilliance BS6 Sedan. It reinforces my point about how cheaply made cars in China and India would never make it in the European or North American market for the price they are going for in their home countries. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFzfPagVhY8

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

J.CREW, my name is Melissa

I was pleasantly surprised when I called J.Crew customer service to correct a billing error on some clothing I bought via the Internet.  I was so used to being routed to a call center in Bangalore for everything else in my life, it was actually pleasant to talk to someone in my hemisphere who also knew the products being sold. She was both very helpful and apologetic for the error.

I've been a customer of theirs for about a year, J.Crew is a company that is doing things right. Great quality and style, and excellent customer service. I recommend them. Give 'em a try.

Debt is a four letter word

I had a casual conversation with a colleague the other day and happened to mention that I had to remember to make an extra payment on my mortgage. I got a really weird look. 

I said, yeah I do that when I have a few extra bucks so I can pay it down faster. Each extra dollar goes to paying off principal not interest. I got the look of "Why?" Then I said, did you know if you had a $200K mortgage and you could double your payments each period and drop 20K on it at the end of each year you could have it paid off in 5 years, vs. 30.

The rebuttal was, why not use your money now to buy the nice things while you're young and can enjoy them, like BMWs , Prada shoes, nice dinners.  I realized at that time I needed to switch topics because obviously we were never going to have an appreciation of each other's point of view.

Unfortunately we are a culture that believes that debt is acceptable and normal. If debt is used to as sensible leverage to make money then yeah , okay (e.g. and RSP loan or buy a house for rental income etc). But to use it to buy things we can't afford to begin with is a big part of how we got to were we are today. 


Monday, March 30, 2009

North America a victim of it's own Eco success?

I heard US President Obama said at one time that he US needs to sell $15 million vehicles per year to sustain the auto industry.  Wow, that's a lot of cars. 

I got to wondering that perhaps the government and environmentalists convinced us that we really don't need to buy that car. I sure didn't get a replacement car after my lease ended in 2008. Take the bus, car pool, walk or bike. That must have made some dent towards reducing car sales.

So can North America have it's cake and eat it too? i.e. Don't buy a car, instead take alternative means of transportation to reduce your carbon footprint and reliance on oil, BUT go out an buy a car to help the ailing auto industry.  I think that only works if you plan on parking that new car in a driveway and never driving it.

I just had a idea. Rather than doling out billions in of dollars in bailout cash to the automakers, what doesn't the government order a crap load of replacement fleet vehicles. Workers get new cars, auto orders go up, auto workers and all downstream industries making money. That seems to make everyone happy. Toss in a $5000 tax incentive for domestic car purchases and I might join in too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First real bike

Aidan just got a new bike earlier this week courtesy of grandpa. 

Every once and a while Aidan and my dad would walk past the Cyclepath bike shop on the Danforth. And each time Aidan would make a point of telling my dad that he wanted a particular green bike in the window.   Last week I checked out the bike with Aidan and found that although it was cool looking, it was too small. 

So we found this 16" Trek buried at the back of the store. Fortunately he loved it just as much as the first one. So the next day my dad, Aidan and myself went to Cyclepath after dinner and bought it. It was my dad's birthday gift to Aidan even though his birthday is in August. We just couldn't let this bike get sold to someone else.

Needless to say he rides it while I'm at work and back to our house when I pick him up after work. Simple joys of being a boy.


CNN - Joke #2

The other night I'm watching Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN and the topic is whether the outrage over the AIG bonuses are called for.

Of course the panel of guests has to have conflicting views to make it informative (ahem entertaining). But the real news is one of the guests is none other than disgraced financial analyst Henry Blodget. Some of you may recall his oracle-like stock prediction of Amazon.com, but it was overshadowed by his not so graceful exit and lifetime ban from the securities industry. Some people even named move after him, "The Blodget".

Come on CNN. I didn't think you'd sink that low.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Investing in the stock market - perspective

I still remember to this day hearing my father say that investing in the stock market was like gambling.  I was only 7 or 8 at the time, but I knew enough that the stock market was a "grown up" thing. I was born in the 70's so that was a pretty bad time for investing and that was about the same time the US dollar moved off the gold standard, and since then money was printed out of thin air. I'm sure back then he was thinking alot like I'm thinking these days.

So 30 years later, most of the population including myself are in some way invested in the Market. The government and financial institutions did a really good job of convincing the public to invest for the future. It's a shame we all fell for it.

I've been stung by the dot com crash, Nortel scandal, and now this total financial melt down. The only positive aspect I see is the fact that we will recover eventually. And most importantly will have gained the knowledge of when to get the hell out next time.

U.S. President Obama and Tresury Secretary Geithner have a new plan buy up the toxic assest and repackage them as high-risk offerings to investors, public and institutional. Even offer low interest loans for buyers. Are they serious? That's how we got here to begin with. Sure, piss off the public even more by convincing the public to purchase government sponsored investments and come a year later have them go to zero.

Actually that craziness sounds alot like what happened to me and thousands of others. About 7 years ago the Canadian government gave tax incentives to people who bought labour sponsored or venture capital mutual funds. Well this year when I tried to redeem them the company said they couldn't payout due to the market conditions blah blah blah. Instead they'll issue controlled annual distributions. In other words, bankrupt. 

Sleep Country Canada should sell a new mattress line called the  Investor Beauty Rest. Independant coils with memory foam euro-topper and most importantly with a zipper in the side for stuffing cash into it.



Monday, March 23, 2009

Tata Nano - Never in North America

This week Indian conglomerate Tata unveiled it's sub $2000 car called the Nano. This endeavor was announced last year but various hurdles delayed the official launch until now.

But seriously, could someone actually make a claim that this is the cheapest car in the world? I say that it's not even fair to price it in USD because there is no way in hell this car could be certified to drive on North American roads.

This car has no air bags and no anti-lock brakes. From the picture, clearly it does not meet  5mph bumper requirements. It most likely does not have the in body cross-members to protect from side or roll over impacts. In reality this is a scooter with a car-like body over it.  My snowblower has larger wheels than this thing! Could you imagine driving this golf cart in a Toronto winter on the 401? I'd be scared shitless.

What about emissions? The catalytic converter alone would cost more than the car.

If this car were ever put through the NTHSA tests AND if it were ever certified to be sold in North America, it would end up costing at least $9,000. So, please CNN and all the other media outlets ... stop calling this the cheapest car. Because, back in 1978 I made the cheapest car in my parents backyard with scrap wood and stolen shopping cart wheels.



Friday, March 20, 2009

Electronic chains

Some of you who read my blog have probably noticed that I go weeks without writing. I have a lot of daily experiences and thoughts to write about and share, buy unfortunately very little time to put fingers to keyboard. Sure, I could make time but that would mean trading off x time for y time. My personal choice is that my blog is lower priority. Please note that I'm not passing judgement on anyone's choices, it's just how I choose to manage my time. Also I spend about 10 hours a day in front of a computer so the last thing I do when I get home is boot up. Everyone's situation is different. 

Time management isn't as simple as we think especially when were inundated and pressured into signing onto high-tech services we really don't need. For example, Facebook, text messaging, Blackberries, Twitter, cell phones, Ipods, etc. Sure I have a Facebook page but I don't use it. I know people that spend hours on Facebook and neglect all the important things around them. The sad fact is that they don't even know it. This week, in Italy a man is divorcing his wife because she spends hours on end chatting on Facebook and neglected him and their kids.  Who really cares what your score on online Soduku is?

I rarely watch prime time TV anymore. People at work ask me if I saw the last episode of House or the Simpsons. I generally watch the news and some favorite shows on Discovery after everyone has gone to bed.

If you ask me, and you didn't ... all these electronic distractions are really numbing our brains and making society, and unfortunately the adults of tomorrow, less aware of what's going on around us. Maybe that's the whole idea.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Toronto Transit Commission no longer the model

Having been a TTC commuter now for 3 months now I can truly say that it's the armpit of Toronto. In the last month there have been a number of shootings on trains and buses, and one instance of two youths being pushed in the path of an oncoming train.

Delays are are as common as trains are on time.  Escalators work about 50% of the time. For one week an escalator at one of Toronto's busiest stations King, was not working. So people leaving from and going to the platform were share a single narrow stairwell. This resulted in people not being able to get to onto a waiting train because they were all stuck upstairs trying to get down as people came up. Of course none of the TTC employees standing around could care less.

I could go on and on. But I think you get the message. By the way, did I mention those fat overpaid TTC workers are all rude and obviously don't like their job; despite getting a paid $80K for sitting on their duff dispensing tokens and talking on the phone all day. 

When I was a youth, the TTC was a model around the world for mass transportation. Now it's a complete joke. Look to Spain, France, Japan and London for example and you'll see mass transit as it should be.

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone is failing at his job. His youth and hence inexperience truly shows that he is out of his element. It doesn't matter how many languages this wiz kid can speak, the truth of the matter is that he cannot lead and does not have a vision for Toronto's transportation future. I really don't care about new services like, emailing or texting train delays. How about cell phone and Blackberry service underground. Who cares? Just get the trains to run on time. Those countries I mentioned all have well run and massively connected routes, Toronto has essentially only 3 subway lines and a bunch buses and can't get it right.
But not all the blame can go to Adam. There's no money, or maybe those at City Hall doesn't know how to ask.  And clearly transportation should not be at the municipal level, but instead provincially run.

I'm saving $400 per month by not having a car, but I wonder if it's really worth the hassle. And based on the number of drivers downtown I think they decided it's not worth it.





Thursday, February 26, 2009

Calories - Double Double etc.

Today's warm weather inspired me to restart regular running. Having recently recovered from a horrible cold and a brutal winter, I really wasn't being as physically active as in previous years.  The added responsibilitues at home and work doesn't help either, but I have to stop making excuses.  

I had written in a previous blog post that I was determined to drop 10lbs. That did happen but only because I got sick. It's not easy to loose 10lbs and keep it off, which brings me to the subject of this post- Calories. 

Being less active means that something has to give in order to maintain a healthy weight. It's pretty obvious that food is my main culprit. I eat out almost everyday.  But I never had I really taken an interest in counting calories until recently. Based on my age, weight and activity most calorie calculators says I need approximately 2400 calories to maintain my current weight. So theoretically if I consume less calories and increase my activity I should loose weight.

Each day I used to consume 2 large double-double coffees. According to the Tim Horton's nutritional calculator (http://www.timhortons.com/ca/en/menu/nutrition-calculator.html) that works out to 230x2=460 calories in just coffee alone!!! I got smart about this a couple of month's ago and started getting 1 sugar and 2 cream 185x2=370.   If I go for mediums it works out to 115x2=230.   I've tried to convince my better half but all I get is a smug shrug of the shoulders. Muffins are BAD too, each blueberry muffin is 330 calories, delicious but pure evil. 

So what's the point? Only that, now that I'm 39 and not 29 I have to put in that extra effort to be kind to my body. Unfortunately I only have one body so I'd like to keep it for as long as I can. Looking forward to the days I go running with Aidan.





Tuesday, February 17, 2009

End of GM Saturn?

Today US automakers are shamelessly asking for another $22 billion in bailouts in order to stay afloat. GM CEO and lifer, Rick Wagoner, says that the Saturn line will be phased out by 2012. I guess that means about zero chance of anyone walking into a Saturn dealer anytime soon to buy a spiffy new Aura or Vue.

Sadly, this year Saturn actually has a good line up of cars and with hybrid options too. I never really liked Saturns until recently. I hated the plastic body parts and the quirky doors but recently they're pretty decent. Too bad, because I actually considered buying an Astra for a commuter car. Did you know it's one of the top selling compact cars in Europe.

Perhaps GM should just stick to selling cars in Europe and stop asking US taxpayers to fulfill their bondholder and retiree Viagra prescription obligations. And Chrysler, should quit pandering for money too, we all know you've got "money bags" Cerebus Capital to prop you up.

I hate to sound pessimistic but I have to. I wouldn't bet the farm on GM's new electric vehicle the 'Volt'. If the batteries are anything like any rechargeable device out there it's going to be plagued with problems especially in the first year. Generally, what happens when your battery dies in your cell phone,PDA or cordless tool? You buy a new one, because it's cost prohibitive to repair. Does GM actually think they can sell a $40K car to the public with a unknown lifetime on the core part, the battery?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mutual Fund MERs are plain robbery

As of late we've all experienced incredible losses in our investment portfolios. Because of this I've paid a lot more attention to the details of the monthly transactions as executed within my portfolio. What I became aware of, and maybe I should have known anyways, is that the Management Expense Ratio (or MER) is approximately 2.5% of the total portfolio.

In this pathetic financial market, that essentially means:

1. Any contributions to my RSP are being eaten away by fees.
2. I'm actually paying people to loose money for me (I can do it myself for free).

This weekend I did some comparisons to gauge weather I'm being shafted by my investment advisor (figuratively and literally). Turns out that as Canadians we pay a hell of a lot in Mutual Fund management fees. US investors pay around .5% where Canadians pay anywhere between 1%-3% depending on the complexity or company managing the the fund. The government needs to regulate this.

I compared the ING Streetwise portfolio with mine, and although not exactly the same asset classes it's close:
a. It outperformed mine, i.e. lost less
b. management fees are under 1%

My group RSP is also outperforming my so called "managed porfolio".

I also fail to see what value I'm getting from my broker compared to my other RSP accounts. Not much difference except for a few personalized calls per year and an electronic retirement plan. I think I'd be better off going self directed if I can get $9 per trade.

Anyways, this weekend I'll be sending her a pretty terse email to start the ball rolling on changes for 2009.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Podcasts


Something that I have started to really enjoy are the free Podcasts offered on iTunes.

Now I know there are alot of options for MP3 players but what sets iPods apart from music players is additional media value aside from listening to music. Now that I'm a subway commuter I have to find ways of isolating myself from the miseries of crowded public transportation. Listening and viewing Podcasts accomplishes that, and is also educational at the same time. I also get to catch up on some TV I've missed.

Currently on my list are (no specific order):

CBC National and Local news
Discovery Channel
How Stuff Works (Really cool!)
TV's Best Ads
Grammar Girl

If you have an iPod , check it out. Really cool stuff online.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Virgin Atlantic - coolest ad

Congratulations to Virgin Atlantic for doing it right for 25 years!

Check out their ad that commemorates their achievement. C'mon Air Canada, stop being a corpse.

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=v7AR2FsPF8w

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Coming home to roost

In yet another example of corporate and personal greed, India's fourth largest outsourcer of computer services has fallen. It's CEO, B Ramalinga Raju admitted to cooking the books for years. To the tune of over $1 billion USD. As a result Saytam has lost over 97% of it's share price on NYSE and on the Bombay Exchange.  Many including myself are left wondering how such a blatant fraud could have gone undetected for so many years, especially as Price Waterhouse as it's auditor.

India's security exchange board (SEBI) immediately launched an investigation, but one has to wonder if this is all posturing to stop the bleeding as investors pull back on Asia Pacific. There is lots of criticism about the effectiveness our own SEC. 

Some of my colleagues are employees are Satyam and are some of the most honest, upstanding, intelligent and hard working people I have known. I know they have made family and personal sacrifices to build the reputation of Satyam. The actions of at least one bad apple does not reflect the rest of the 50K employees that are partnered at 30% of the Fortune 500 corporations of which Satyam supports. I wish the best of luck to anyone affected.

Unfortunately, the timing of world events will undoubtedly make it's corporate clients think twice about the risks of association. The reputational risk and the risks to business continuity is too high with a partner whose future is uncertain at best. I cannot see a take over by any of it's competitors like Infosys or IBM, the liability is too high.

As the financial crisis continues, the misdeeds of the likes of Madoff and Raju are coming to light. There will be more to come.  To quote Warren Buffet, "When tide goes out you'll discover whose been swimming naked".


Thursday, January 01, 2009

CNN and Velshi, what a joke

Tonight I was watching Ali Velshi on CNN interviewing "experts" and also giving advice on investing. I usually cringe when watching this doofus because it brings back annoying memories of him in grade 12 math class, but his self absorbed and bullshit advice tonight was really bad even for CNN standards.

So tonight they're all talking about how to get back into the stock market and making sure we "diversify". One piece of advice is to buy indexed funds, i.e. to the S&P or Nasdaq. Hello? If anyone happened to notice lately, the entire planet of investors got creamed regardless of what index or diversification strategy was used.   The only guy I know that made out okay was my younger  brother who for years was too lazy to get a financial advisor and ended up putting it all in GICs and cash.

Velshi ends the segment by plugging his new book, twice. What kind of journalistic conflict of interest crap is that about? Don't even get me started on Larry King or Anderson Cooper.

On a side note,  I heard from some folks living in the US that they received a couple of stimulus cheques in the mail from Uncle Sam.  Around $1,200 bucks tax free, more expected.  What a great country the US of A is, free money. I'm sure iPods and t-shirts that will be purchased with these cheques is really going to pull them out.


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone.

Whew, wasn't 2008 the pits? Admit it.

Some things I am looking forward for in 2009 (not in any particular order):

- Peace on Earth, or at least some signs of peace
- Summer
- Less time working, (but still employed hopefully)
- World financial recovery, or at least some signs of it
- Opportunities
- Barack Obama
- Vacations
- Aidan going to school

My resolutions:

- Loose 10 lbs and keep it off. For the record I am 179 right now so hold me to it.
- Exercise regularly (at least 4 times a week)
- Organize garage and closets, and keep organized
- Learn something significantly new
- Volunteer for 1 thing
- Don't put up with stupid and/or lazy people (usually the same anyways)
- Stop wasting my money (includes me and anyone else)

That's probably  good enough for now.