16 December 2009


Lululemon's clever retail satire

toque, toque and toque at Flickr.comLast year, Old Navy tried making some unofficial Olympic clothing, but Vancouver's Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the International Olympic Committee shut that down because the jackets were too close to official trademarks for the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Now Vancouver yoga retailer Lululemon has tried a cheekier approach, releasing a line of clothes pushing the line of Olympic trademark infringement, without quite crossing it. The line is called the "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition," which gave me a laugh.

I like the sporting events of the Winter Olympics, but VANOC and the IOC have been overzealous in emphasizing the business aspects of the event, rather than the sport. So I appreciate Lululemon's retail satire. The stuff looks good too, so I might buy some.

I wonder if it will be hard to get into Olympic events wearing the Lululemon clothes in February?

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05 November 2009


Don't try to get an iPhone the first day

Today was the first day that my mobile carrier, Telus Mobility (once BC Tel, the former British Columbia telephone monopoly), offered Apple's iPhone for sale. I've been a Telus mobile customer since 1998, and have generally had a good experience with customer service, wireless coverage, and phone performance—quite in contrast with how I felt when I quit using Telus broadband Internet four years ago.

I've decided to get an iPhone. I've had a first-generation iPod Touch (kindly given to me by my employer Navarik) for two years now, and my wife has been using an iPhone 3GS on the rival Rogers network since earlier this year. The combination of my iPod Touch and LG Shine 8700 flip phone has worked just fine for me, but I've also seen what those two lack and the current iPhones offer—the camera, GPS, always-accessible email and web surfing, better speed, and so on.

However, today, the first day, was not the one for me to try upgrading. With a little over a year left on my current phone contract, the basic policy is that I'd have to spend several hundred dollars more than the fully-subsidized $200 price for a new iPhone 3GS, and I'm not interested in that. But because I've been with them so long, Telus has offered me deals in the past—if I talk to their phone reps first.

Yet while there seemed to be plenty of iPhones on hand, the Telus retail computer system for its storefront franchisees was up and down all day, the phone customer service was overwhelmed, and I was unable, despite a couple of long waits on hold and a dropped call, to find out whether I would be able to get buy one cheaply. By the time I tried phoning a second time after that dropped connection, Telus wasn't even accepting new calls (!).

I had to step back and stop fuming that this was yet another occasion when a wireless carrier turned an exciting prospect into a frustrating runaround—you know, "I want to give the company more money, but it doesn't seem to want to take it." Yes, Telus should probably have been better prepared to handle the obviously substantial demand for this crazy phone. But the people I talked to were all unfailingly friendly and as helpful as they could be. They were simply let down by a technical sales infrastructure that didn't work for any of us.

Patience is still worthwhile. I'll wait a few days and try again. Telus hasn't quite blown it for me this time. Not yet.

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24 October 2009


What would you do for a Klondike bear?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Air pointed out to me that the sidewalks in front of convenience stores throughout Greater Vancouver have recently sprouted large, inflatable polar bears promoting Klondike ice cream bars:

What Would You Do For a Klondike Bear?

The Klondike promotions rep was obviously very busy around Vancouver in October. Both Air and I like the inflatable bears—they're cute, and large, and strange. Most effectively, they point out how many independent mom-and-pop style corner stores there still are in this city. I'm often tempted to assume that most have been put out of business by 7-Eleven and gas station shops, but that appears not to be the case.

My set of nine photos above resulted from my simply keeping an eye out for the bears during a couple of car trips on a single day this past week. Most of the pictures are from just one street, the main inter-city artery Kingsway. There must be dozens or hundreds of the beasts throughout the region.

One I didn't manage to snap is probably breaking the rules. On Canada Way, there's an independent Buffalo gas station that has covered the Klondike logo with a sign reading "HAND CAR WASH." That promo rep might be angry if he or she spots it.

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30 April 2009


Photojojo has wonderful camera things

How the heck did I not know about Photojojo and the Photojojo Store before? Such awesome stuff!

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15 February 2009


Worldly stuffies

Here's a measure of our world. My daughters chose some new plush toys for themselves today, bought with their own money. Both animals the toys represent (a penguin and a koala) are from the southern hemisphere.

They girls dressed them in a cowboy hat and Irish green clothes in honour of St. Patrick's Day next month (for Sparky the penguin), and stereotypical Canadian getup of plaid winter hat with earflaps, fleece vest, and red "Canada" shorts (for Ringo the koala):

New bears

So we have an Antarctic aquatic bird in Irish and American clothes with a semi-American name, and an Australian marsupial in Canadian gear with an English name. Oh, and if you squeeze Ringo's hand, he roars like a Tyrannosaurus.

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27 December 2008


Oh, this could be dangerous

05 December 2008


History of the mall

We live in the future at Flickr.comThrough a chain of links from Kottke to Shopping Mall History to the Hudson's Bay Company website, I was interested to learn that two of the earliest shopping malls, West Vancouver's Park Royal and Seattle's Northgate, both opened in 1950 here in the relatively sleepy Pacific Northwest.

Even when I was a kid in the '70s, Park Royal was one of the biggest and most interesting malls in Greater Vancouver—I'd travel there quite regularly with my mother, even though it was at least a half-hour freeway drive across a bridge and there were several other shopping centres closer to us.

At that time, American TV also dominated our channel selection, so I often heard about Northgate (and its companion, Southcenter) on U.S. advertising, but I never visited until this year. (There was nothing special about Northgate except the dedicated shopping cart escalator inside Target.)

In the '80s, British Columbia's biggest mall complex, Metrotown, arose a mere ten-minute walk from our house, growing like kudzu around a Sears store that has been there for well over 50 years, and that used to be the only destination shopping in the area when I was young. On vacation, we've encountered people from the Seattle area who travel here just to shop at Metrotown, which seems weird since to me it's just our local mall.

Unlike monsters such as Mall of America or West Edmonton Mall, no shopping centre in our area has an indoor wave pool or amusement park, just lots of stores and restaurants. Yet despite decades of renovations and expansions, when you visit places like Park Royal or the Metrotown Sears or Northgate, you can see the design legacy of their origins. Something is still fundamentally 1950s about the parts that remain.

I bet some of them have time capsules still waiting to be opened.

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05 November 2008


Non-killer packaging

Amazon's new frustration-free packaging (via Gruber and Kottke) is a great idea—plus I was surprised and pleased to find that Wired's coverage of the announcement includes one of my photos:

Shure E3C Package Opening Adventure

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26 October 2008


Photographers and art

My family are not art collectors by any means, but over the years my wife and I have acquired some original prints by artists of varying degrees of renown—some from the artists directly. Today she dropped by Vancouver's Portobello West fashion and art market, where among other things she picked up two photos of koi from a booth set up by North Vancouver–based Jeff Maihara.

The pictures fit well with some of the other artwork we already have in our house, but we haven't figured out exactly where to put them yet. Vancouver produces some fine photographers, including our friends Alastair, Kris, and Duane. I hadn't heard of Jeff before, so it's nice to find another one.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, Bill in Omaha had a weird dream about me and my bandmate Mark.

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21 September 2008


Last day of summer

Today, my wife and I slept in (me more than her), took our kids to IHOP for brunch, had the car washed at Oasis, bought a few things at the insanely busy new Costco in Burnaby, then had a steak barbecue in our backyard with a couple of our friends and their son. My wife Air and our friend KA recorded their podcast while the rest of us took their dog Dizzy for a walk, before the rain really set in.

It was rampantly consumerist, yes, but it was a fun Sunday, and fun last day of summer for 2008.

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26 August 2008


Old Navy's non-Olympic clothing line

I'm sure that Old Navy (being part of the Gap/Banana Republic clothing empire) has some excellent lawyers, who must have had giggled a little when they checked out, and then approved, these hoodie designs I saw for sale last week at the store:

Old Navy's not-quite-Olympic hoodies (Vancouver and Beijing) Old Navy's not-quite-Olympic hoodies (Vancouver 10 and Beijing 08)
Old Navy's not-quite-Olympic hoodies (Tokyo 64 and Mexico 68) Old Navy's not-quite-Olympic hoodies (Mexico 68 and Tokyo 64)

They're some reasonably funky retro Olympic track tops commemorating selected cities that have held or will hold Olympics over the past few decades (Tokyo, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Beijing, Vancouver). Except they're not, really. Old Navy is not an official Olympic sponsor or licensee. There are no Olympic logos or anything on these items of clothing, and the designers were careful to avoid even trademarked phrases, such as "Vancouver 2010."

Instead, you get a hoodie with "VANCOUVER" on the back and a simple "10" on the front, plus "BEIJING" and "08," "LOS ANGELES" and "84," "MEXICO" and "68," and "TOKYO" and "64." Simply commemorating a city and a number, see? Any Olympic association is purely coincidental, of course. I'm particularly impressed with the groovy lettering for Mexico, which cheekily apes the famous psychedelic '68 Olympics logo (scroll down at this Olympics branding site to compare). The Tokyo lettering is pretty similar too.

This might be an example of The Man thumbing his nose at The Man, but I have to admire the effort Old Navy expended to nearly, but just barely not, infringe on Olympic copyrights and trademarks. Given that, in many cases, very little of the billions of dollars that the IOC rakes in from sponsorships and licensing seems to go to the athletes themselves, I don't mind having a chuckle at it either.

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08 August 2008


Can Future Shop distinguish itself?

8mm Fisheye at Flickr.comWhen Future Shop started here in Vancouver more than 25 years ago, big-box stores didn't really exist. If you wanted a TV, a boom box or Walkman, or a washer-dryer set, you'd probably visit a department store like Sears, Eaton's, Woodward's, or The Bay. For higher-end stereo equipment, a specialty hi-fi retailer, or a records-and-stereos store like A&B Sound, would do the trick.

Personal computers, such as they were, came from nerdy computer stores like The Byte Shop, Minitronics, or ComputerLand. Cameras? Either the department store or a photo shop like Lens & Shutter or Leo's. Electronic hobbyists often shopped at Radio Shack. You wouldn't expect to find everything in one place.

The first Future Shops didn't change that very much. They weren't big boxes either, but tended to be tucked into strip malls or other retail zones. They did offer low prices, modeled after the crazy discount electronics shops familiar to citizens of New York and other big U.S. cities. They expanded quickly, moving into larger warehouse-style buildings and buying in bulk, and by the '90s they were the largest electronics chain in Canada. They still are.

A couple of days ago, Future Shop's PR firm invited a few of us bloggers (as part of a bigger media and VIP crew) to the reopening of their renovated Park Royal outlet in West Vancouver. There were red carpets, wine and snacks, tours, and promotional stuff (I got a free Bluetooth headset in my schwag bag). It's the first in a series of renovations of their stores across the country in coming months.

The change isn't massive: the store still has the familiar red and white colours. There are the usual departments, digital cameras over here, TVs over there, video games in their own new section on the other side. There's a new central hub, with specialist staff to help people get different types of devices connected together. The company has expanded its installation service (now called "Connect Pro") for putting in home theatre systems and so on. There's a mini-Apple Store inside too. But the store still looks and feels like a big box electronics retailer, which it is.

Future Shop 2.0

The changes are a response to the fact that consumer electronics retailing has changed massively in the past decade. Stores like Future Shop (and its parent U.S. company Best Buy, which bought out Future Shop a few years ago), and general big box stores like Wal-Mart, Costco, Canadian Tire, and even hugely expanded supermarket and pharmacy chains like the Real Canadian Superstore and London Drugs, now dominate.

Sears and The Bay soldier on, but Eaton's and Woodward's are long gone. A&B Sound is in trouble. Lens & Shutter and Leo's are still around too, and there are new places like the Apple Store. But many of us shop online (even when we buy from Future Shop itself).

Perhaps the biggest pressure on Future Shop comes from its sister company Best Buy, which has been opening big stores across Canada throughout the decade. One of the newest, a 10-minute walk from my house in Burnaby, is itself only 5 minutes from a Future Shop. The stores stock similar products, the websites work similarly, and for many people it's hard to distinguish between the two, except that Best Buy is blue and yellow.

The biggest difference doesn't work in Future Shop's favour: its salespeople work on commission, while Best Buy's don't (and Best Buy's ads make a point of it). Anyone who's shopped at Future Shop over the years knows the sales pressure that descends on you in the store, especially if you fit the profile of a big spender. Then there's the extended-warranty spiel, and the segregated checkouts for those just picking something off the shelf (long lines) or those who've worked with a salesperson (short to no lines).

It doesn't generally make for a great shopping experience, which is why I'll usually head to Best Buy or London Drugs to buy a new external hard drive or whatever I need in a pinch.

Future Shop isn't changing the commission system, but it is trying to reinforce that its commission sales staff receive significant training and should know their stuff. The new store is supposed to be set up to be more helpful and inviting, more boutiquey. Whether it succeeds, especially after the renovations are no longer so brand new, is an open question. Even on this first day, I could still feel the slightly-too-keen tension in the sales staff that tells you they're on commission. That's hard to hide.

However, looking around, I was impressed that the camera section, for instance, had a decent selection of models, even up to the medium-high end, from many of the major manufacturers, with display cases for Canon and Nikon in particular. But even on opening day, some of the display pods were mysteriously empty, and most of the cameras weren't functional because they had no batteries or other power, or lenses attached. It wouldn't be my first choice to buy a new SLR.

I might consider my local Future Shop if I were in the market for a flat-panel TV or a video game system, or something simple like an iPod, but probably not a computer or a washing machine. Electronics is largely a commodity business: no retailer can win on low prices alone, especially competing with online shopping.

The new West Van Future Shop is certainly an improvement over most of the company's stores. Yet I don't know if it's enough to keep the company expanding and fending off the competition. The change isn't big enough for me to make a special trip to West Vancouver to visit it without the free wine and snacks. But I will drop in next time I'm in the neighbourhood.

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10 July 2008


Interesting stuff from the App Store debut for iPhone and iPod Touch

Apple has opened the App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and here are some of the programs that initially caught my eye—although since the required firmware isn't available for download yet, I can't install or try any of them out. My interest comes purely from the store descriptions and screenshots. You'll need the new iTunes 7.7 to view them:

Some are free, some cost a little bit of money. You'll also need the iPhone/iPod Touch 2.0 firmware to install and run them—but as of right now, you can't get it yet. So you could buy these applications, yet not be able to use them until tomorrow or so.

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27 May 2008


Shopping out

Apple Store Vancouver 1 at Flickr.comWithout my wife, it's unlikely I would dress well. The evidence is clear from what I looked like before we met. However, I've always liked shopping, and used to enjoy going to the mall with my mom as much as 30 years ago. I just wasn't fond of buying clothes.

That's no longer true, and for the past couple of days I've spent some of my free time refreshing my wardrobe for the summer, with new shirts, sandals, and trousers.

I also got the chance to do a couple of other things. One was to purge out some older stuff in my clothes cupboards. The other was to go downtown and check out the new Apple Store.

Yeah, it is pretty much the same as other Apple Stores I've been to, with much the same selection of products as other Apple resellers in town, just more slickly presented. However, if you're looking for a variety of FireWire external hard disks (rather than USB 2.0 versions), the Apple Store has more types than most.

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26 May 2008


Not always buying from China

[Made in China]I've developed a habit recently (which my wife pointed out to me) of checking the labels on clothing and other products to see if I can find anything not made in China. That's especially difficult with men's casual shirts, and shoes of any kind. Even venerable British bootmaker Doc Martens moved its production to China more than five years ago. (My three pairs of Docs are from the '90s, and were assembled in the U.K., while my Blundstone boots are from Tasmania.) Sadly, nearly all of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics goods I've seen for sale are made in China too, not Canada.

There are a few reasons for my label-reading effort. One is that I'm not fond of the People's Republic's internal and external politics, with respect to Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Tibet, Tiananmen Square, the death penalty, Sudanese oil, policy reactions to disease outbreaks, Taiwan, North Korea, and so on. I prefer acting on that economically, rather than with symbolic gestures such as urging Canada to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

Second is a combination of experiences I've had with poorly-made inexpensive Chinese goods, and concern about various quality problems that have posed health hazards—from contaminated pet food to tainted children's toys to poisonous food products coming out of the country.

Finally, I'm giving a small bit of pushback to the economic behemoth of Chinese manufacturing. I'd like to give other countries at least a fighting chance of getting my dollar. So, of some of our recent purchases, our vacuum cleaner was made in Mexico, my newest camera lens is from Thailand, my guitars are from South Korea and Japan and Canada (!), my video camera and other electronics came from Japan and Taiwan, the two pairs of sandals I bought today are from Thailand and Italy, and—following in the bare-calfed footsteps of my doppelgänger Darren Barefoot—my new summer man capris were sewn in Bangladesh. (Of course, the Bangladeshi government is no great shakes either.)

Still, it's tricky to avoid Chinese-made goods altogether. Nor is it necessarily desirable. Try finding a reasonably-priced small appliance or a spendy Apple MacBook or iPod made elsewhere, for instance. (In 1993, I was delighted to find that my Macintosh Centris 660AV had been made in Ireland.) Years ago, my friend Tara tried to avoid buying Chinese-made anything, and it was difficult. That was before the massive expansion of manufacturing and exports there in the past decade or so—now such an attempt would be nearly impossible.

I don't think that Chinese workers deserve jobs any less than anyone else. Victims of the recent Sichuan earthquake deserve as much help as those of the Burmese monsoon or the 2004 tsunami too. But it's also worth at least looking to see where your purchases are made, and maybe considering whether something created in another part of the world might be better worth your money.

Alas, those comfy Italian-made sandals turn out to be extremely slippery on the bottom, and I nearly hurt myself badly this evening when they caused me to slip and fall down the hardwood stairs in our front hall. Just because something is made outside China doesn't make it automatically better either.

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24 May 2008


Apple Store Vancouver is open

I didn't go when the Apple Store Pacific Centre opened today in Vancouver, but John Biehler did, along with a gaggle of other Vancouver webby types. As expected, it was pretty busy:

Apple Store Vancouver by John Biehler

It's nice to have a location here in Vancouver, finally, but since all the mall Apple Stores look pretty much the same...

Apple Store Vancouver entrance by John Biehler

....then if you've been to some of the others (I've been to three of them near Seattle, and one in Hawaii), I don't know how much will be new about this one.

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19 April 2008


Tabloid magazines annoy me more than they used to

Not our groceries... at Flickr.comI know celebrity magazines and tabloids have been around for ages (here's a scandal sheet from 1957), and I've certainly seen them in checkout lines at the grocery store since I was a kid. But lately they—and a lot of their fashion and lifestyle magazine and TV cohorts—are really pissing me off. I think there are a few reasons.

First of all, they've proliferated wildly over the past decade or so, both directly (more tabloid rags) and indirectly (celebrity gossip appearing in other publications that didn't used to carry it, as well as on countless indistinguishable celebrity hack TV shows). Yet based on what appears on the covers, you'd think there were only maybe two dozen interesting people (Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton, plus people who associate with or resemble them) in the whole world. It's an echo chamber.

Second, I have two daughters approaching adolescence now, and I can see how the relentless repeated messages from these sources could warp their perceptions of what is normal. My wife and I continue to point out the distorted perspectives as part of teaching our kids media awareness, but it's a fair bit of work.

Third is my experience over the past year, specifically with health and weight. Between the beginning of 2007 when I was diagnosed with cancer, and the end of July, I lost over 50 pounds. It's taken more than eight months to gain it back, sometimes requiring me to eat more than I actually want to.

Beforehand, I thought that my stable long-term weight of about 200 pounds (91 kg) was a little higher than it should be, but nothing to be too concerned about. Now 200 pounds seems like a lovely, wonderful weight, a healthy place for me to be, even with all my new lumps and bumps and scars from my treatments and surgeries.

So looking at the shows and magazines that are obsessed with the tiniest weight fluctuations and skin changes in celebrities grinds my teeth. These are trivial, pointless concerns—and what annoys me most is that it's not only obviously what sells, but it also invades my brain when I don't even want it to. Why is there even room in my memory for whether one or the other stick-thin actress has a pregnancy "bump"?

The magazines occasionally find their way into our house. I have occasionally flipped through them, usually in the bathroom. When I do, it's a physically unpleasant experience, like my soul draining out of my body. Ugh, and now it's turning me into a stereotypical grumpy complaining blogger too. See how poisonous these things are?

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20 March 2008


No-hair club for men

Alright, I finally did it. Off we went to the mall and I shaved my hair off!

Baldy! Baldy!

The chemo wasn't making me completely bald by itself—but it was thinning and greying my hair significantly. The manginess and relentless shedding of my hair (in the shower and on our pillows especially) was getting really, really annoying. Plus, it's as good a chance as any for me to shave my head, which I've never done in my life. Here's a nice set of contrasting pictures:





I like it! And I look more like my podcast co-host Paul now (or maybe Yul Brynner) too. Your thoughts?

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21 January 2008


Logitech's mm50 speakers may be discontinued, but they're still good

IMG_2421.jpg at Flickr.comA few days ago my wife mused that she'd like something by her bedside to listen to podcasts and music on, so she doesn't have to go to sleep wearing earphones. Gadgety guy that I am, today I went out and found her just such a thing, the Logitech mm50 iPod speaker system. While it has been superseded by Logitech's newer and very similar Pure-Fi Anywhere system, the mm50 is still widely available (for now) in the $100 to $150 range, brand new.

I've had my eye on the mm50 since Adam Curry advertised it on his Daily Source Code podcast a couple of years ago. For our needs it's the right mix of reasonable size (it's about the length of a loaf of bread, and as deep as a thick slice), portability, ease of use, and, most of all, sound quality. The unit I bought was a discounted open-box floor demo from Best Buy, and while there I compared it to a variety of other options. It sounded superior to most of them, and better than pretty much anything in the sub-$200 category, including its newer Pure-Fi sibling.

It's not perfect. While it charges any iPod plugged into its dock connector, and includes adapters for several iPod models, the mm50 doesn't act as a true iPod dock that you can connect to your computer to sync up. (Earlier releases of the mm50 did offer that feature, and it's still noted in the manual, but newer revisions like ours don't have the necessary pass-through dock socket.) Volume control is two buttons, rather than a more sensible knob. There's no bass or treble or other equalization control—although the sound is so good those don't seem necessary, and not having them keeps down the button clutter. The included remote, while useful, doesn't offer as much iPod control as some competing models. The internal battery isn't easily replaceable.

But the mm50 supports both AC power and its internal rechargeable battery, includes a nice zippered and padded carrying case, has smart stabilizing fold-out metal feet, features a regular 1/8" stereo line input for non-iPod devices, and feels remarkably sturdy. There's a two-year warranty. The "3D surround sound" isn't really 3D, but it sounds shockingly good regardless.

I think the mm50 is a good value, especially if you can find it at a reduced price now that it's a discontinued model. My wife sure likes hers.

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18 December 2007


The new world of shopping

I've ordered several of this year's Christmas presents online from the U.S., although none of them has arrived yet, which is a bit worrisome. Nevertheless, the current U.S.-Canadian dollar parity means waiting for Customs clearance is usually worth it.

For instance, I was looking for a particular present that I wanted to pick up today in town. No one had it in stock, despite several stores listing it on their websites. So I went to the manufacturer's online store in the U.S., and they were happy to take my order and ship it expedited to Canada, so that it may very well arrive before Christmas (no guarantees, though). And even with rush shipping and taxes, it was still several dollars cheaper than if I'd found it locally at retail.

My podcast co-host Paul has a post office box just across the border in Washington state (he lives in Cloverdale, B.C., about 15 minutes north of the line) which simplifies things even further: he can order from stores that don't normally ship to Canada at all, then pick up the stuff and deal with Customs himself. That saves him quite a bit of time and money—even when the dollar isn't as strong as it is now.

He does seem to be spending an awful lot more than he might otherwise on gadgets and gizmos across the border these days, though. I don't know if we're saving money in the end, or simply spending on more stuff.

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01 December 2007


I like the mascots just fine

2010 Olympic Mascots at Flickr.comIn the last week, there has been the expected consternation among cynical B.C. adults about the new 2010 Vancouver Olympic mascots Sumi, Quatchi, and Miga (and mysterious hanger-on Mukmuk).

I think they're reasonably cool, although there's no good reason a sasquatch (even a young one) should need earmuffs and boots, dammit. I think they're better than previous mascots (thanks to Scott at Facebook for the link), especially Canada's first, Amik, the 1976 Montréal plush lump that was supposed to be a beaver.

There does seem to be an early-21st century style developing, however—note the anime resemblance to the Fuwa mascots of the 2008 Beijing Games. Though maybe that doesn't carry over strongly to the plush and life-size versions.

What does bring out my cynicism, however, is having more than one mascot—that seems like a simple ploy to sell more stuff. If we had to pick one, I'd go with Quatchi: his "hey dude" slacker appearance, scratchy "why am I up before noon?" voice (check it out in Darren's unauthorized Olympic theme), and needless extra winter protection are very Vancouver. Though I guess if Sumi's oddball green tunic were Gore-Tex, that would do the job too.

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29 November 2007


Shopping time

LED LightsMy wife and I made up a Christmas shopping list today. We're trying to cut down on total spending craziness, and so far, thanks to her industriousness, we're doing pretty well with that so far.

Right now she's out taking care of some more of the list while I flake out at home with my chemo bottle. We'll probably put up the tree this weekend when I'm feeling a little better.

Here it comes, everybody, ready or not.

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16 November 2007


Hacked or not?

A few days I ago I decided to change all my passwords. It was a precautionary measure, prompted by some spam emails sent out to users at eBay, ostensibly from my eBay account—an account which eBay temporarily suspended later that day.

I haven't bought anything on eBay in over a year, but I do get a lot of spam that mentions the company, so when I saw some emails to me, supposedly from my own account, I figured everything was spoofed and just spam, and turfed them without thinking further. Then I received an official-looking message apparently from eBay itself, titled "TKO NOTICE: eBay Registration Suspension - Possible Unauthorized Account Use." It looked a bit more legit, but I know better than to click links within emails like that, so I signed in at eBay itself.

Sure enough, my account had been suspended, apparently because of spam complaints from other eBay users. After a live support chat, I was reinstated and I changed my password. I'm still not sure whether the outgoing spam mails were spoofed, or if someone hacked into my eBay account. So just to be safe, I changed passwords everywhere else (email, Amazon, .Mac, Flickr, blogs, and so on).

By the way, if you want a really good password, I have a couple of recommendations: the built-in Password Assistant in Mac OS X (which has options to create strong passwords that are still memorable, as well as evaluate whether a password you choose yourself is strong enough), and Steve Gibson's Perfect Passwords page (which creates really insane passwords that no one could ever guess).

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06 November 2007


American Express blew it too

Plastic payment methods at Flickr.comI've been an American Express customer for close to 20 years. Yesterday, I called them up to see if they might reduce the 18.5% interest rate (!) on my current card—I explained that I'm currently on long-term disability coverage and that I'm trying to reduce my expenses.

Any financial planner will generally advise calling your creditors and asking them to reduce your interest rate. It's in their interest to do so if you're likely to switch to another provider. So that's what I was doing—my wife and I, like everyone, routinely get offers for lower-interest credit cards in the mail. Even if those low 3% or 3.9% rates generally bump up again after a few months, I've checked, and they usually end up at a similar rate to what Amex has been charging me anyway. So those few months could save us quite a bit of money.

But no dice. Amex wouldn't offer me any kind of lower rate, nor a balance transfer. Nothing. So I cancelled my American Express card. (Gotta follow through.)

I still have to pay off the balance, of course, but I won't be making any further purchases with it. As with Telus a couple of years ago, Amex appears more interested in making attractive offers to new customers than on keeping current ones, which doesn't seem smart to me.

Maybe my other credit card provider will be more interested in keeping my business?

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23 October 2007


Waaaay belated thank you

Derek's Birthday Party - 36.jpg at Flickr.comBack in June, I turned 38 and my wife threw me a big awesome party. I had a great time, but I was in a lot of pain at the time, and it was only a week before I went in for major surgery, spending most of July in hospital.

So I have a bit of an excuse for not taking careful note of every gift from every person—especially among the stack of gift cards and certificates that have been sitting next to my bed for the past four months. Today my wife and I walked to the mall, bringing along a couple of bookstore gift cards from that pile, and discovered that one of them was worth $150! And I have no idea who gave it to me (it wasn't labeled for purchaser or amount).

So I'll take this opportunity to say a long-belated thank you again to everyone who came to the party, and to everyone who gave me a gift, even if I don't know what you gave me.

After a solid week of pounding, soaking rain, it is also a spectacular, sunny, warm autumn day, up to 16°C this afternoon, and I'm back-porch blogging for perhaps the last time this year. I'm feeling good. Thanks for that too.

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07 October 2007


Good deals at SmartCanucks.ca

Speaking of my wife, she found SmartCanucks.ca, "The First Canadian Deals Blog." Some good deals there so far.

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