Archive for February, 2011

A 30-year affair with Microsoft might be ending.

Friday, February 18th, 2011

In all that we have written about technology over the years, the computer sitting on the desk has been largely ignored.  It is utilitarian.  It does the job.  Sort of.

But times change.  Patience thins.  We are less and less happy with how we are treated by those people at Microsoft. Just once we would like to do the screwing in this relationship.  We have been the screwee for much too long.

The affair started in 1981 with the acquisition of that first IBM computer with a five-megabyte hard drive.  Having tried the floppy disc version, the five-megabyte disc was impressive.  You would hardly run out of space on that, we said.  And, after all, when we included that snazzy impact printer, the cost was only $11,000.  Who would not want to be the first on their block with that wonder.

And it ran on that easy Disc Operating System (DOS).  The machine came with a popular word processing package with which we were already familiar.  The version of Lotus 123 with it, came on a single five-inch diskette.  That spreadsheet software took about a day to become familiar and it did many a revision on the business plan.

Here it is thirty years later and we now have a computer with gigabytes of main memory and storage that cost less than $600.  It uses laser printers, a flat screen and surround-sound speakers and it connects to the world through the Internet at speeds in excess of five megabits per second.

So what is not to be happy?

Maybe we just feel ignored.  Hewlett Packard, who sold us the computer and laser printer screwed us out of $90 the other day saying that they would fix our printer problem.  The call centre failed and they would not give us our money back.  Norton let me down, let in a stinky virus and disappeared.  Checking with Microsoft, we find that that company is not responsible for anything.

We cleaned house and got the computer back on track but we lost a lot of time and records in the process.  The treatment in some ways seemed more brutal than the disease.  And yet it is the ongoing corruption of programs under Microsoft that was a major part of the problem.  Checking with techies, we found out that one of the solutions recommended becomes a virus in itself as you are unable to lose it.

Despite a rigid regime to keep out problems from the Internet and well-meaning friends, the spoilers out there are always dreaming up new ways to attack and poison the well.  There are solutions.  One, of course, is to move to the less vulnerable product from Apple.  At 15 per cent of the personal computer market, the hackers and virus writers do not feel the challenge.  And you have used Macs before.  So what if the keyboard lacks the feel of a real keyboard.  So what if it feels like you are playing with dolls.

It is surprising how many people are singing us the siren song to switch to Apple.  The song is attractive.  The screen on the Mac is a thing of beauty.  The ease of use is so tempting.  If we have just one more thing go wrong with this damn PC…….

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Comment for today.

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Did we note at Council last Monday?

There’s half a million dollars at play,

The theatre was sure to bite their A.

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Comment for today.

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Barrie’s no longer an under-served community?

Queen’s Park says there is no medical calamity.

It leaves Barrie families in medical uncertainty.

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How to be a political bull in a china shop.

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Does anyone understand the current political argument on use-based Internet billing?  Does Industry Minister Tony Clement really understand it?  The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) studied the question and ruled that there should be use-based billing so that the majority of the users would not be paying the price for a few users doing heavy downloading.

Clement’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach was to have CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein hauled before a House of Commons committee and the CRTC decision put in abeyance. Once more the CRTC has been told by the politicians what to think and do.  It is what happens when politicians are planning for their coming election campaign.

The facts are that Tony Clement, who likes to pose as ‘with-it’ and ‘computer savvy,’ was the target of a supposedly viral Internet attack on the new billing policy.  This is despite the fact that the larger Internet suppliers in Canada had the billing policy in place for years.  There is nothing new about billing by the megabit.  And it is largely meaningless until the thousands of megabits start to be counted as gigabits.

How do you think that the large suppliers such as Bell Canada or Rogers can offer users different levels of service?  All data goes through the same modulation to go on to the Internet.  It is all transferred to the basic little 53-byte packets that travel helter-skelter through Internet hubs to their destination.  On the Internet, all packets are equal.

It is a very simple process for the Internet supplier to choke a customer’s service to limit their bandwidth—which determines how much data they can transfer.  You can pay for 6 megabit bandwidth or you can pay for 20 megabit or more.  It is the customer’s choice.  If you want to watch streaming videos, you need the 6 megabit.  If you do not want to watch videos, you might be happy with the Internet light service.

But all of this is bad news for Tony Clement.  He was conned by a few Internet nerds who pulled his chain.  He made the mistake in turn of pulling the CRTC’s chain.  The CRTC is commissioned as an independent body that is supposed to know what is going on in telecommunications in Canada.  Clement already made an ass of himself with Statscan.  If he keeps going this way, he will convince the voters.

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Comment for today.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The tories say crime’s on the rise in Canada,

Even though StatsCan can’t verify that data.

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Comment for today.

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Senator Segal’s book says conservatism is great,

He tells us why Harper can’t get out of the gate!

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Comment for today.

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Have they won against tyranny in Cairo?

The great pyramids, the Sphinx tell us no,

Winning democracy has a long way to go.

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The Ontario government and its gambling addiction.

Friday, February 11th, 2011

This monograph originally ran June 22, 2009.  With the provincial election happening this year, it seems like a good time to remind readers of the fact that our kindly provincial politicians are doing more than messing up rates for electricity, depriving us of family doctors, confusing the education system and overcharging us for beer and booze.  They look after all our sins!

When writing recently about the Ontario government’s addiction to alcohol, it occurred to us that the more serious addiction is gambling. If we were a religious person, worried about the immortal souls of our fellow citizens of this wonderful province, we would be down at the Ontario Legislature every day on our knees praying for the Members of Provincial Parliament to be cleansed in the blood of the lamb and exhorting them to renounce their corrupt and venal ways of taking money from the suckers.

Since we are not religious and try to be tolerant of most organized religions—at least the less harmful and less strident ones—we take our concerns to Casino Rama. It is only 25 minutes from Babel.

Nobody can be sanctimonious at Casino Rama. The place is an ugly barn with delusions of some connection to a long-gone nomadic aboriginal culture. Inside it is all about the business of taking your money. There are few allusions about the staggering amounts of money the place earns for government coffers. The place is cheap, badly designed, with gaming tables uncomfortably wedged together, narrow aisles of dreary slots and the ill-lit gaming floor surrounded with the necessary food places and restrooms. The theatre is one of those curtained expandable areas where you usually expect to see basketball nets folded up and you sit on uncomfortable chairs to see has-beens and wannabes with the rare good act that will agree to do a cheap gig.

They certainly do not overpay the staff either. Awkwardly structured shifts, poorly trained supervisors, constant, intrusive surveillance leads to a high staff turnover and, too frequently, the imposition of new, ill-trained staff on the players.

Mind you most of the gamblers are also novices. It is why there are so many blackjack tables. Blackjack is a game that any jackass can play, and they often do. It is a social game but playing along with people who really know how to play is a rare and delightful event. Most times you are playing with people who have no clue as to basic strategy or money management. They think they can guess what will be the next card out of an eight-deck shoe. They are afraid to take a card when they really need one. The worst players are the ones who play two spots on the table because they are afraid to lose and figure (incorrectly) that they will win at least one of their bets and lose less money.

But no table game is going to make you a winner if you always make the same bet. If you don’t use a flexible money management system, the simple odds of the game say that you will eventually lose your money. It hardly matters what you are playing, the smart gambler is one who takes advantage of his or her wins. In horse racing lingo, it is called parlaying. You rarely ever see anyone doing that at Casino Rama. The exception is at the craps tables. The best gaming odds in the casino are at craps because these tables attract the most knowledgeable players. They know to push their bets during a hot roll.

The best kept secret at any Ontario casino is the information that casinos compile on frequent gamblers. Many players carry a card to each table or slot that can be mined by the casino for information on money won and lost. The casino knows who to encourage to come more frequently and those who are less welcome. Players are offered free shows, meals and other benefits based on the information generated by their cards.

But many of the freebies have been cancelled over the last while. Some feel the recession mood has hit the casinos while others feel that they figure people will come without the encouragement. The real reason is probably lost in the schizophrenic management of gaming by the province. Between the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and constant interference from the politicians, it is hard to tell who is running the games.

And we know who are the worst possible people to be meddling in gaming. They are the people who know the least about it: politicians.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Comment for today.

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Give credit where credit is due

Finance Minister Flaherty too,

They’ll teach us all what to do,

With money he leaves for you.

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Ontario voters: raise your voices for beer freedom.

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s got it wrong.  He usually does but this one is way off the mark.  He thinks Ontario beer drinkers only want cheap beer.  What beer drinkers really want is their freedom.  They want freedom from the tyranny of The Beer Store.  They want freedom to buy their beer with food in big grocery stores and in corner stores.  They want freedom to send their empty bottles to recycling depots that are geared to handling these used containers in volume.  They want the politicians of all makes and models to get their hands out of the beer business.

Ask your local provincial candidates what they are going to do about beer freedom?  They will try to tell you that The Beer Store is privately owned and it only sells 80 per cent of the suds sold in Ontario.  Yes, by law in Ontario, Brewers Retail—the parent company of The Beer Store—is owned by three beer companies, one owned in Belgium, one owned in Colorado in the U.S.A. and one owned in Japan.  As they have a lock on 80 per cent of the beer sales in Ontario, The Beer Store can be called a monopoly.  And their only competitors are the government-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario and Ontario brewers’ company stores.  And that means that beer sales are a monopoly.

Since 1927, Ontario beer drinkers have had to put up with this stupidity.  It was arranged by ignorant politicians with mutton-chop whiskers.  It was a solution to those early politicians’ fear of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.  And where is the WCTU today?  Does any politician today fear them?  No, but those politicians still have a strangle hold on our beer.

The politicians like the money.  They can set the price of beer.  They can get money from the brewers and the consumers.  They can add taxes that the consumer need not know about.  They can control the hours of sale.  They can add costs to the bottles and cans to force us to recycle.

But the most severe of the insults to us consumers is that we have to tolerate those crappy beer stores.  Many used to call them the ‘In and Outs’ until a smart advertising man said ‘Nobody knows from Brewers Retail. Why not call them what they are: beer stores?’

It is really too bad that they never hired a smart marketing person.  A smart marketing person would have explained that beer and food go together.  They are logically linked in the consumers’ minds.  You might just want some pretzels or a bag of chips but beer and food are linked.  The idiots need to stop denying it.

They also need to understand that what The Beer Store really does is promote excessive drinking of beer.  Those sure are responsible politicians who encourage that!  The facts are that if beer was sold in grocery stores, smaller packaging would be sold.  Smaller packaging is more profitable for the brewers.  Smaller packaging would encourage more responsible drinking.

So next time you are talking to your local provincial candidate, tell him or her to get out of the beer business.  They do not know what they are doing.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me