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    Shopping in a Swarm

    Are you getting your Groupon? Are you a Wagjagger? How about Living Social? Maybe you prefer something a little more highbrow like HauteLook, Beyond The Rack or Homesav?

    2010 saw the launch of a myriad of group shopping services, offering customers significant discounts from bulk volumes, and this phenomenon is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Once these *retail facilitators* manage to tie in friend recommendations, the sky is the limit.Social media will become the spearhead in driving retail sales.

    Shwowp is already starting to marry shopping history with social media in its ability to share your shopping history with your friends. Now it just needs to integrate a bit better with established social media networks, allow for a bit more interaction and offer an easy transition right to vendors, so you too can pick up the jeans your bff is raving about.

    Amazon led the way with customer feedback. Now shopping commentary and product references, coupled with friend recommendations, are tablestakes for the majority of on-line retail sites. Nothing kills a product faster than 20 bad product reviews. :-( Reviews will soon drive the product catalog of on-line retailers. Last month I was in the market for a new coffee maker. I checked the feedback on every maker on the Canadian Tire website, and there wasn’t a single product that had glowing customer reviews. Skipping over to Amazon, they carried coffee makers with positive customer feedback. Goodbye Canadian Tire, hello Amazon.

    I’m ready to take the retail world by storm, with my friend swarm. Hello 2011!



    I heart Wikileaks

    I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never paid all that much attention to what Wikileaks has been publishing over the past few years. Sure, some bits and pieces I will scan; obviously more people than I have been taking it very seriously.

    This week I’ve never been more *proud* to be a customer. I’ve had my DNS with EasyDNS since 2006. They’ve been put in a very precarious position and have done marvelously in the face of uncertainty.

    Paypal, Mastercard and Visa haven’t done marvelously in the face of uncertainty. They’ve just pandered to a government who is pulling an infantile temper tantrum.



    “Given that no one has proved that Assange is guilty of the offences he is accused of and that Wikileaks is not implicated in any of those,” the website also urged that credit card giants Visa and Mastercard rescind their decisions to cut off payments from the whistleblowing website’s supporters.

    - The Raw Story


    How is it possible that the US, using the UK as a defacto puppet, can get away with this sort of shenanigans in this day and age? Of course, grassroots movements are protesting, hackers are hacking, and the digitial world is divided on legal definitions, transparency, freedom and security….

    I’m thrilled that Wikileaks is still publishing, and I’ve got a feeling that now that they are indeed front page news, more and more of the *average population* will take notice and read what Wikileaks has been trying to tell us for years now.

    Pay attention, don’t fall into complacency, don’t blame the messenger.


    Will Google Kill Telecom?

    Thanks Mashable!

    This is Part 1 of a two part series on Google Voice in Canada. Part 2 will theorize on what the impacts will be on Canadian Telecom when Google offers Canadian phone numbers.



    This week’s announcement of Google Voice integration with Gmail, with free calling and free long distance is perhaps one of the most controversial moves yet by an Internet company to change the telecom industry. Free computer to computer calling (a la Skype) isn’t problematic, it’s when free extends to long distance and calls to to the PSTN (public switched telephone network) that the Google service gets spooky.

    Telecommunications companies around the world continue to invest billions of dollars into *the last mile*, that’s the distance from your house back to their closest switching office. Folks with a regular telephone (as opposed to a VoIP phone) rely on that last mile to make and receive telephone calls. Despite pushes to move everything to the Internet, that last mile is going to be important for a long time to come. 

    If Google is offering free calls to the last mile (this is called call termination), you know they aren’t paying [hardly] anything to the carrier who is actually providing that last mile call termination. They’ve managed to strong arm someone into offering it at no charge, perhaps in exchange for some other service.  Where it gets very spooky is with Long Distance Termination. Again - free over Google, but there is a real and true cost to terminate a call to a standard telephone in Canada and the United States.  If no one is paying for that call, then the local carrier is losing money, and has less revenue to be able to maintain their local telephone network.


    Let’s look at an example:  I called my PRIMUS phone from Gmail. The call routed from Google, through Verizon, up to Allstream, and then down to Primus. All for free to me. Perhaps Google did indeed pay Verizon something, who had to then pay Allstream, and lastly Primus. And this is the call flow for a VoIP call, where most of the routing bypasses the local mile of infrastructure, since my Primus phone is layered on top of my Rogers Broadband connection. Confused yet?

    If I call my Bell phone line from Gmail [yup, 2 carriers in this house - diversity and redundancy is important with 2 teleworkers under the same roof], the call still starts in the US, at Google’s data centre, heads off to Verizon, up to Bell Canada, and then down my little copper wires from the Richmond Hill Bell wire centre. If there’s no costs to the user [me], then there are no revenues flowing to Verizon to maintain their interconnection with Bell, and no revenues to make sure my little copper wires from the Bell wire centre stay nice and healthy, or get upgrades when needed. At some point, in the not-too-distant future, there won’t be any money left to manage, maintain and upgrade the public telephone network.  That’s all well and good if EVERYONE in the world has migrated to VoIP service over Broadband Internet, but not so good if you are a carrier who has to maintain 2 networks, one for VoIP and one for the public telephone network. It’s certainly bad news if you have to rely on the public telephone network for your phone services.

    At some point, carriers will realize that getting into bed with Google is going to destroy the telecom industry. Everything will be free, for a while. Then everything will be bad, very bad.  Right now, Google can only offer outbound free dialling from Gmail. Just wait until Google gets its hands on Canadian phone numbers. I can only hope that it won’t be a free service too.


    Why Unlimited is Bad

    Unlimited is bad. For everyone. Full stop.
    In 1997, unlimited dial-up internet was the marketing trend du jour. It took less than 2 months for the dregs of society to ruin it for the rest of us. Dregs, you say? That’s a terribly harsh description. No - folks figured out that if you could keep your modem connected 24 by 7, you could run a web server, share your unlimited internet connection with all your friends (rent your internet connection, even), and generally take advantage of unlimited usage. The whole purpose of *unlimited* is to reduce the customer’s fear that they might exceed their maximum static plan in the course of reasonable and normal usage. It’s “not” to give someone carte blanche to take advantage and exploit the service and the service provider. There’s a reason why unlimited dial-up service was $19.95/month, but dedicated, nailed up, always on service was over $500/month ;-)

    It seems that marketing folks never learn from their mistakes. Unlimited is bad. Dregs will always try and exploit unlimited offerings with the argument of “unlimited is unlimited - I want to use it all!!!”

    It’s hit the cable internet folks, the wireless folks… heck, even the food industry. We are, on average, a species that is unable to control ourselves when it comes to unlimited :-)
    Someday, marketing departments will realize we aren’t wired to be reasonable.


    The Death of Voice - Long Live Voice Telecom

    In late 2001, many of the Canadian telecoms purged their staff of experienced folks who could support traditional voice technologies — 800, 900, casual calling, calling card and other TDM based legacy systems. The theory was that VoIP would soon usurp TDM, and who wouldn’t want VoIP?
    Needless to say, many - if not most, of the business and enterprise customers weren’t ready to make the leap to IP Voice.  As it turned out, many of the carriers weren’t as ready as they thought either.

    Now, the remaining industry experience is reaching retirement age, with no *junior* experts to fill their roles in the coming few years. Where does that leave the customer? Making a jump to an immature technology? Sticking with a service with limited support?

    Ten years ago, I was an Internet and Data specialist. Now - I’m a budding voice specialist, simply because there wasn’t anyone else who knew the answers to the questions I was asking about TDM based voice services. The internet can only help you so far in setting up a 900 network :-)
    I’m looking forward to VoIP replacing carrier networks.
    The NGN network deployments across Canada are expanding.
    I can dream about the SMS-800 database taking on more of a DNS-like quality.

    Until that time, I’m going to be using access tandems, term numbers and buddying up to the last remaining TDM voice talent in Canada.


    Slamming Canadian Telecom: Canada's Second Favourite Pastime

    We are a whiney bunch. Full stop.

    If it’s not the weather, how rotten our sports teams are or how miserable our government is, we’re bashing the hell out of any and all Canadian telecommunications companies for their crimes, real or imagined.

    It’s so very ingrained in us, I’m not even sure Canadian consumers know exactly why they’re whining and complaining any more. It’s just a habit now.

    • If you were in London, UK, you’d be paying ~$60/month for average broadband internet. (40 Gb of data transfer and up to 20 Mbps of download speed)
    • If you have an unlimited cell phone plan in France, that’s going to cost you $135/month, and that doesn’t include a data plan.
    • If you’re in the US, and want to go with Verizon, you’re going to pay $115/month for 900 minutes of talk time, unlimited texting and a data plan.

    All these prices have been converted to Canadian dollars.

    You want to gripe about choices and competitive options?

    Almost anywhere in Canada, you have upwards of 6 or more choices on who you’d like to have take care of your communications services. Big guys, small guys, and middle size guys are in the communications business.

    Wireless carriers in the US? AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and and a handful of others. The trick is that they may not all be national, and a few of them I’d never heard of before. The other popular trick —- smaller guys launching a wireless service that’s overlayed on top of one of the BIG 2. Optical illusions :-D

    I’ve been with 3 different wireless carriers, never had a billing problem yet.

    Same for Internet Service Providers and TV service providers. Sure, the odd call into customer service, swap out a PVR because it’s gone wonky. Bing, bang, boom. Problem solved.

    We are a very hard bunch to satisfy. We’re demanding, mean, threatening and fickle. Maybe we should be fired as customers instead?




    The New iPad.

    I took the plunge. It’s a combo of cottage device, photography tool and income tax rebate all rolled into one.

    Why I love it:

    • amazing battery power
    • you can’t go wrong with the size
    • the apps are fantastic
    • i could actually be productive with this, if so desired
    • the 3G is key


    • i do wish it had a webcam built in. This would be the perfect skype tool.
    • Multitasking - coming soon
    • better speakers —- they aren’t bad, in a pinch, but better would be better…
    • a dock extending cable… all my stereos have a iTouch dock…. i need a cable to allow me to use the iPad in these stereos, and no, I don’t want to use an Aux cable.

    I envision my self-control over app purchases being eroded away over time.



    Bringing Internet to Remote Canada

    One of the more vocal discussions at the Canadian Telecom Summit yesterday revolved around the Canadian government’s support for increasing rural broadband access to remote areas of Canada. The government, in its misguided attempt to be a Dudley Doright, just can’t seem to get it right with remote broadband support.

    Already there are many smaller providers who are attempting to service the under served, with no governmental subsidization. These poor blokes are going by the wayside if the government continues to meddle with little thought of the current landscape.

    Ian Marlow from the Globe and Mail has some great commentary from folks who are trying to run ISPs in Northern Ontario and BC, but there are also players like Barrett Xplore, who are having great success with providing broadband internet to areas who don’t have cable or DSL options.

    The consensus from the CTS —- subsidize the consumer, not the ISP and let the market drive the expansion of services. Not a bad idea, these guys should get into politics :-)


    Rural Internet providers angered by federal support of bigger rivals - The Globe and Mail



    Canadian Telecom Summit - June 7-8-9

    I can’t believe it’s been a year already.

    The CTS is the only conference that I attend religiously. It’s sort of a telco geek fest, but with a business slant, which is why it commands such an audience.

    I’ve lucked into a free ticket this year, and am going on Tuesday. MTS, Videotron and the Regulatory Blockbuster. Yes, hearing smart folks talk about CRTC Regulations as they pertain to the telecommunications industry really is neat, if you’re into that sort of thing [I am].

    I can’t wait!!




    TELUS and Health

    The TELUS Health division just makes me giddy. I don’t get to have much interaction with this team, not yet anyways. Whenever there is an article, an announcement or a release, I dive into the details to see what’s going on with such a compelling and timely solution group.

    A few years ago, I sketched out a plan that would see cancer patients receive a tablet type device with their diagnosis. In lieu of a really lame binder (which most get now), a tablet would keep track of their questions, answers, prescriptions, appointments, status, test results etc. You name it, it would be tracked, captured and available for review. The best feature of this tablet? A voice recorder. When you’re with your doctor, and asking hundreds of questions, imagine how comforting it would be to have the conversation recorded. I would expect that cancer patients have a lot on their mind. Trying to remember ever question and answer would be an impossible task. A tablet would become the most important tool a cancer patient can have.

    Maybe we have the tool now.

    With billions of apps, no longer do you have to rely on customized software programs that cost billions of dollars. You would have an app that does the prescription checking, and app that updates your *chart*. You name it, there’s going to be an app for it.




    Gurb Says I'm Slacking..

    …… and he’s right. When a faithful reader comments on the lack of activity, I’ve got to admit that there has been NO ACTIVITY, and I’ve realized that in the past year I’ve moved the majority of my commentary to Facebook. I know. I’m sorry.

    That being said, there’s no excuse.

    I bet I write a ha;f-dozen articles a week. In my head.

    Some I even re-write. In my head.

    Now it’s a matter of setting them free.



    I am Sucking at this Blogging Thing...

    Why oh why is life getting in the way of the good stuff!

    I’m two weeks into the Blogging challenge and haven’t created a single thing. Instead, I’ve been knee deep in work, spring, Easter and trying to stay current with the TELUS Photography challenge stuff (which has only been half-assed, I’m afraid to admint).

    There’s so much to rant about. The state of Canadian Politics (or lack thereof), rising mortgage rates, rising gas prices, Peak Oil, whether to get a gun license or not, how US health care is improving, how unfair the Canadian tax system is…. oh people! I could go on. But, live is calling, unfortunately.

    It’s going to be a whopping 22 degrees… CELSIUS! I’ve got to get spring cranked up a notch over here.

    Happy Easter Weekend!


    Canadian Blogging Idol Begins Tomorrow!

    Each year, Computer World Canada puts on a very neat and creative blogging contest for IT folks in Canada to complete. The venue offer recognition of Canadian talent as well as a vehicle for Canadian Blog promotions. Last year I entered late in the game, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless. This year, I’m on time (thanks to a reminder!) and am gearing up to participate fully.

    To whet your appetites, check out last year’s archives. I’m pleasantly surprised to see a few of my articles still listed on the first page :-)

    Every  few days, I’ll be writing on the Blogging Idol websites, and cross posting over here as well… This year, I’m going to be leveraging my social media network to drive more visits (and votes). That’s right, you’re going to have to participate!




    Too Square for foursquare?

    With all the buzz on foursquare, and with Tara Hunt completing challenges all over the place, I had to try.

    I see where it wants to go, and I hope it can get there quicky… but right now, it’s a little dodgey. Friend feedback and referrals are huge. It’s what’s going to drive retail in the future. Heck, it’s what going to drive EVERYTHING in the future. Foursquare is using us to build trust relationships, which will then turn into bags of gold, depending on the eventual advertising and marketing campaign that gets tacked onto Foursquare.

    Perhaps I’m cynical, but you don’t build interesting applications for free. Foursquare needs development. It *needs* integration with Google. Don’t tell me to go to google maps to validate an address or a business name —- foursquare should be doing that for me! Don’t make me manually comply to a stylesheet, use the googleoutputs and do the damn formatting yourself! I know, I know —- it’s new and cool and geeky and is building a wonderful database of glorious things…. But it’s doing it on the backs of the great unwashed masses, which is fine, but make it easy!

    I’m not going to give up yet, but by jeeze, i can’t wait until they make foursquare smarter. :-)


    Building Personalization, One Number at a Time

    Everyone wants to feel special, unique, catered to. No one wants to feel like one of the great unwashed masses…

    Businesses and retailers are just starting to nibble on the idea of customer personalization. Imagine, you have your own direct line to your salon. You call, they know who you are, what you like and more than likely, what you want. The same could be said for a myriad of services. Dentists, lawyers, accountants, mechanics…. Call centre technology pushed to the premise.

    How about taking it a step further —- personalized toll free numbers anyone? Damn sight better than a calling card, especially for the kids at college…. (I know, Skype them, but with Skype not yet offering DID service in Canada, that’s tricky when you have to convince your parents to get Skypified, and be on the computer at the SAME TIME.) For less technified parents, get a 1-800 number and give it to your kids. They call you. You pay. You don’t have to give out your calling card number for them to (inadvertently) call Romania. I love Romania, don’t get me wrong, but the price per minute from Canada to Romania is almost the same as tuition at a Canadian university.

    I’ve got a personalized Starbucks card. It’s got me, in caricature, on the front. I’d love a more personalized credit card. Yes, I’d likely pay a few bucks for it, or it should be included with the *annual fee*. I want a personalized Debit card, that should be easy too.


    What do you want personalized?



    Addicted to Google Streetview...

    Little did I know, last summer Google captured my street, my old street, even the street i grew up on. What’s the big deal? I live in a subdivision north of Toronto, I used to live in a subdivision in Aurora, another one in Brampton, and i grew up on a street that didn’t have street numbers, it had rural roots. You know: R.R. #3? :-)

    R.R. #3Somehow, Google managed to capture all the little people…. and wasn’t just limited to large urban centres. I dig that.They had a plan. A vision.

    I have visions….I browse neighbourhoods, I pair Streetview with MLS, and I look forward to the day when Google is able to easily marry Streetview with geo-location advertising with their new patent. This new app is going to be the sexiest mobile addition. Ever.

    I’m going to go and check out some more streetscapes…… :-D




    Switching from Bell Expressvu to Rogers Cable: What you NEED to know

    A few weeks ago, The Wiz and I decided to finally break free from the chains of satellite TV and ordered cable TV.  Too many times had we been let down by fuzzy programming due to inclement weather. Too many times had the PVR pooched a recorded movie.

    Last week was the BIG CHANGE OVER. The snappy Rogers fellow came, he disconnected, he reconnected and voila. Cable TV in all its glory. Ahem….

    If you are a hard core Bell Expressvu user, you do NOT EVER want to switch over to Rogers Cable. Not yet, anyways. You don’t realize it, but you have become spoiled by the Bell Programming Guide. Trust me. It’s got a great HD resolution, it lets you see 3 hours of programming in the future on one screen, it lets you see 7 channels of shows at a glance. You don’t think these things are valuable, until they are gone……

    The Rogers Interactive Program Guide (IPG) is from 2004. It doesn’t display well on an HD tv, it doesn’t display well with any resolution better than 760. It doesn’t let you do any searching for programs, all you can do is browse by day. You don’t realize how sucky this us until you want to search for a program and have to browse through 30,000 shows that start with the same letter as the program in need….


    This isn’t a new problem. People have been complaining about this for years. Funny, in 2004, it wasn’t a show stopper. It’s amazing what 6 years of innovation (or lack thereof) can do. The IPG feels like it should be running on a 386 with Windows 3.1 in order to be viewed correctly. Funny, the image to the left sort of looks like this, if you have a standard definition TV that is smaller than 36 inches. If you have anything else, the fonts are completely distorted, the colours are off and the size is ridiculous.

    There are a few other VERY significant problems:

    1. There’s no skip ahead button on the Rogers Remote. You know the button, it’s yellow on the Bell remote, and it is your best friend. It gives you the power to skip ahead 30 seconds. It’s the commercial button :-) Rogers actually makes you view everything, albeit at 3times the speed.
    2. Rogers added a marketing screen to the IPG, so now you have to hit the guide button twice to get to the guide.
    3. There are some wickedly ridiculous buttons on the Rogers Remote, a button to take you to Rogers on Demand… duh.

    We lasted all of 45 minutes before we looked at each other and said at the same time “I can’t do this”.

    Twenty minutes later, the Rogers boxes were all packed up, and the calls were made to Rogers to cancel (you get a 30 day guarantee), and we were lucky enough that we tried this before our Bell cancellation had been activated, so we were safe on both sides.Turning on the TV and the Bell PVR, we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

    I’m sure that eventually Rogers will improve their IPG, (maybe), but right now, there are SO MANY benefits to the Bell Service, we simply couldn’t overlook them in favour of avoiding imclement weather problems……

    Caveat Emptor!



    Pulling MLS into the 21st Century

    MLS challenge could change the way houses are sold - The Globe and Mail


    Funny, the MLS real estate site has been around for 10 years on the internet. It’s proprietary, exclusive and so very web 1.0. It was handy in the 1990’s, but is in desperate need of an upgrade. The Canadian Real Estate Association has built a walled garden for Canadian real estate, and in doing so has limited innovation and revenues. There are a handful of alternative web sites that offer real estate sales, but they don’t have the coverage of the MLS. Some are just eye candy that pulls details out of the MLS database (considering how anal the CREA is, I’m surprised that they’ve allowed this).

    A smart person could scrape the MLS database and make a very innovative, creative, interactive Real Estate application. I want a real estate site that will do more than provide static information on housing sales. I want to be able to search for VERY specific things: lot size, finished basements, mature landscaping, distance to water. I want to see the other houses on the street that have sold in the past 18 months. All this information is in the house details, it’s just not part of the searchable database. Silly. I also want to know how long a house has been on the market. Imagine adding the ability to pop an offer right onto the site. I’m thinking eBay for housing. :-) (Sorry Alex, I know I’ve just hit you right in the pocket book).

    Yes, I realize that’s quite a grocery list, but for gawd’s sake. It’s the 21st Century. I want to do my homework. I want to do it effectively and quickly. I’m even Ok with paying a monthly service fee for a cooler website. I’m all for needing a real estate agent when I want to sell my house, but I can do a pretty good job on my own for finding a house :-) C’mon CREA, get your act together and let your hair down…  

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    Facebook Threat Gets Boy Banned from Internet

    While on probation, the teen will not be allowed on Facebook or MSN, and is only permitted to use the internet to do school work.
    CBC News - Prince Edward Island - Facebook threat gets boy banned from internet This story hit my funny bone this morning....We as a culture have gotten to the point where the internet is no longer an *optional* tool, or a perk, but has become an accepted part of the educational kit bag. The boy who threatened his school has been banned from Facebook and instant messaging, but can still use the internet for school work. Seriously. Seriously!?!?!? Now facebook and messaging are considered perks. The internet is table steaks. Two questions pop up:
    1. Who is going to police his internet usage?
    2. Who is going to lock down all computers that he's got access to?
    3. What about the internet applications on his phone?
    Chances are that his parents are not terribly internet or computer savy... I hope they are, but the odds are that they have left the *internet* stuff to their savvy son. Wouldn't it have been a more tangible punishment if he'd been blocked off the internet altogether? Gee, it would suck to have to do research using..... the library. There are SO many loopholes in this punishment. What was the judge thinking? And what are the punishments going to be when it's discovered that the kid is back on Fb and messenger? I don't think our Criminal system is ready for the 21st century :-(

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    The Best Buy *IS* at Best Buy

    After a week of agonizing over which new phone to get with his $200 TELUS phone credit, yesterday my husbandly-type person, aka The Wiz, ventured out to the new Aurora Best Buy to see how the new Blackberry Bold 3G stacked up against his Ist Gen Storm. A few minutes of playing around, and he was sold. He upgraded his phone hardware, and extended his contract a year to boot. It was a good deal on both sides.

    It wasn’t until Jay, the wireless sales manager started to ring up the damages and transfer the existing services over to the new phone that things started to slip sideways. There’s a new levy on the 3G network of $5/month. This is a consistent charge across all carriers if you want to upgrade to take advantage of the 3G network. Unfortunately, it’s $5 more than The Wiz’s existing plan was. Also, the closest “new plan” to his existing plan only allowed for room for 3 voice mails to be stored at a time… a big downgrade from his current 10 voice mail package. To upgrade to 10 on the new plan… another $5 increase. At this point, The Wiz is less excited about his new phone, and Jay can see that there’s a bit of duress. There shouldn’t be duress, wireless should be fun, in theory.

    Jay worked some magic. He was able to provide the upgrades voice mail plan for free. $5 down. The Wiz understood that the $5 3G network upgrade made sense, and that Jay didn’t really have the power to alter that charge. That being said, to make up for the fact that it wasn’t a straight swap of monthly plans and rates, he went the extra mile, providing some very decent discounts on some accessories for the Bold. Discounts on a case, a screen protector, a skin. Happy, Happy, and  Happy. The Wiz left with a skip in his step, whistling a happy tune, as a pleased TELUS customer as well as an ecstatic Best Buy customer.

    If you’ve recently gotten an upgrade notification, and have a credit just burning a hole in your pocket, The Wiz highy recommends chatting it up with Jay at the Aurora Best Buy, he’ll see you straight, and make the migration of services and hardware easy an painless. YAY Jay! 

    PS — The Wiz left his data cable with you, he’s got to to get it back this week! :-)