A New Beginning

A strange title for a blog post and there is meaning, in fact two meanings behind this.

Firstly, it has been a really long time since I wrote anything on this blog. In fact I it was July 2010! That will all change in the next little while as I am dedicating myself to try and post more and also do a re-design of my entire web site (an awful 90’s looking site) and the blog. Look for a lot of posts on gadgets as well as some on photography (my second passion).

Secondly, a major change has occurred in my life! It has been almost a month since I got the call late on a Wednesday night!

Back in November I had booked off the morning (from my full time gig) of a Wednesday to attend an Intel Presentation here in Calgary. After the session I worked the remainder of the day from home. Late in the afternoon I sent my boss an email indicating that I wanted to work from home the next day as well as we had to arrange some shifting to pick up the kids and to get to my girls soccer team’s game that night. I got a frantic call at around 10:30 PM while I was at a client site from my boss that I had to be in the next morning as it was very important. I knew what was coming.

I got home that evening and my wife asked if I had spoken to my boss and what was up. I told her I had to be in the next morning and that I guessed that I was losing my job.

As soon as I got into the office that Thursday I was asked to come into my bosses office! On the walk I muttered here it comes. I have to say he took it really well! I was informed that due to a restructure nationally, my position was being eliminated and since there was no position suitable to my talents I was being put on income protection! I almost cheered when I heard it! I met with a rep from a Career Transition Service Company, dismissed the grief counsellor that was on hand in case I reacted badly, had a short chat with my boss, packed up my belongs, called for a ride home and quietly left the office. It is funny that I had visualized the scenario the night before and I stuck to my script! Apparently this was all to happen Wednesday but my boss forgot to check the vacation calendar and did a Doh when I sent him an email reminder the Wednesday morning that I wouldn’t be in that morning!

Sounds strange doesn’t it? I have just lost my job and I was happy? I had been with the company for just almost 20 years (just short of 19.5 years actually). The last 15 years had been in the IT side of the company. For the last several years however I was really bored with what I was doing. I often complained to my old boss that had retired in July that there just wasn’t enough work for me and my team! When I was moved into the position back in 2002 I indicated that this would some day happen as I didn’t see the job being relevant back then!

I have received a what I consider a very fair package (I will get a lawyer to review it soon) and it gives me lots of freedom over the next little while. I can try to find a job that I would enjoy or I can decide to get really serious about my business and build up the clientele there! I have a Career Transition Group that I have been assigned to for help with getting back into the work force!

With the Christmas season right around the corner though I have decided to spend more time with my family and relax a bit. We have started doing things that we have put off for 10 years because I have the time (although we have slacked off in the last week doing that) and I will start the new job search in earnest in the New Year. I even plan on building a photography and video studio in my basement and getting my office space cleaned up!

So when I say it is a new beginning for me it truly is! Look for more posts here on all kinds of cool toys and gadgets as well as some tips and posts for friends and clients on photography!

Take care and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year to all my family friends and clients!

I’m Sorry, I am Weak!!!

A big sorry to my Twitter followers after last night when I participated in something that can be considered Twitter Spam!

I got an email from the gang at Macheist.com saying that I could get two more applications if I sent out a Tweet with their information.

I did debate whether or not I should but given the opportunity to get free Mac Software (I will probably use one of the apps) got the better of me.

At least I waited till later at night hoping that most of my followers would have long gone to bed and not seen the Tweet!

Not only did I want the two free applications, there was another reason why I did it. With the Macheist Bundle program, the more they sell and raise for charity the more applications get unlocked. We are very close to having the BoinxTV (Sponsored Edition) application unlocked which is something that I really want to play with, so I contributed hoping to boost some sales.

In case you missed my previous post about the Macheist Bundle, it is a software bundle of Mac software applications written by Independent software writers. The bundle is available for 4 more days and if there are one or two Mac Applications in the bundle that you can use it works out to be a pretty good deal!

I purchased the bundle last year and was happy with the software I got, this year’s bundle was not as compelling for me, but there were a couple of applications I wanted to get so I took the plunge.

If you are interested in getting the bundle please consider using my referral link here so that I can get credit (and get yet another free application)! Yes I am terrible I admit it.


Dealing with Rogers, Argggg I Have no Hair Left!

I wish I could say that dealing with Rogers Wireless was a fairly painless process but I would be as bad as them in lying through my teeth. I just spent over an hour on the phone with them trying to give them money by upgrading my current Blackberry to a new Blackberry Bold!

Unfortunately in Canada if you want a GSM phone because there is no competition you have to deal with Rogers or Fido (who are the same company). Telus and Bell Mobility are CDMA carriers only so if you want an iPhone or the newest Blackberrys you have to deal with Rogers.

Last week I posted how Rogers lied when it came to selling their new HSDPA wireless modems and had a sudden change of heart when it came to the Data Plans they were offering on them. I almost got screwed by them but luckily by chance I was able to cancel the modem order and send it back.

Today trying to get the new Bold I just about went crazy, and I am exhausted from my ordeal. My plan was to get an upgrade price for the Bold, then go to a local store and pick it up. The Rogers web site indicated that the phone Bold was 599.00 on a month to month contract and you could get it for 399.00 with a three year contract. Their website had been notoriously slow all day today. When I called yesterday to try and get pricing they said because the phone hadn’t been released yet they had no pricing for me.

Today started and I called Rogers, after holding for about 5 minutes I spoke to a rep and was told they couldn’t help me because I had a corporate code on my account, (I have a corporate employee plan through my full time employer) so I had to speak to a corporate rep. After being transferred and waiting on hold for another ten minutes, I spoke to a corporate rep. She looked everything up (while I was put on hold again), then came back and said that my corporate code showed no discounts and that as a result the upgrade would cost 995.00! I indicated that this was ridiculous and was told that I had to call our corporate telecom people and have a different corporate code put on my account.

I checked our internal web site for Employee purchases and there was a code that I was to call in to Rogers and have added. I called the indicated number and sat on hold for another 10 minutes explained the whole situation again then was told that I needed customer service and they would transfer me. Another 5 minutes on hold and I got through to a customer service rep. After explaining everything again for a fourth time, I was told that it,( the Bold) was not available yet. I corrected him saying that the web site and the email I got earlier this week said it was available today. I was finally quoted an upgrade price of 650.00, (after he checked the web site on his side) but he could knock off 25.00 and I could have the phone for 625.00. I said why the difference since the web site said I could get a month to month for 599.00 and I was informed that that was only for new subscribers.

I indicated that I would be better off cancelling my plan then signing up again and he said no, I would have to be off the network for 6 months before I qualified for that price! I explained that I was a longtime customer (I started with Cantel, their predecessor in 1995) and that the last upgrade that I did was Dec 1, 2006, when I switched to my Blackberry Pearl. I changed to the Blackberry Curve just over a year ago, but I bought my phone on EBay and not through them. I also indicated that I understood that the upgrade pricing was based on my monthly spend and the length I had been in my contract. Currently I pay just over 140.00 per month or my Blackberry voice and data plans, (I am gouged more because I was using BES) which is more than the average subscriber. I indicated that I had been with them since 1995 and that this showed no loyalty to me as a customer and that I started to inquire about cancelling both my phone and my wife’s phone (whose contract has expired). All of a sudden, I was given the option to speak to a rep in Customer Relations (another name for their Customer Retention Department) to see if they could find some other discounts I was eligible for. I had dealt with this group in the past and was fairly happy with what happened, so I said why not. The rep was making a note on my file, probably indicating that I was becoming irate and I was transferred. After another hold of 5 minutes the phone rang and I was speaking to another rep.

I went through my story again and indicated that I was trying to give them money and lock myself in for another term and that in all my conversations today so far I didn’t feel like they cared if I had my business. The rep looked at my account and the length of time I had been with them (since 2000 as Rogers), she also indicated that I was a Tier 5 upgrade candidate (which as I learned later should give me the highest discount on an upgrade), then quickly came back and said that she could offer me the phone at the new customer price of 399.00 and would that be acceptable? I said yes and that I wanted my Voice Plan and other features (wireless hot spot access etc) left as close as possible to what it currently was and that I wanted the new 30.00 6GB HSDPA Data Plan. I also confirmed that this plan would not allow me to use my BES server any longer. I decided that I could live without BES yesterday and it would be a sacrifice I had to make in order to have the ability to tether the Blackberry as a high speed modem. I can always change to a BES plan later if required. This was confirmed (and she tried to tell me that I wouldn’t need BES with the 6GB limit of bandwidth anyway, although I indicated that there was other reasons for using BES). I was told that my data plan would change at midnight. I again confirmed that this is when my BES server would no longer work and I asked when the new Bold would arrive. She guessed either Monday or Tuesday. I also mentioned my modem issues to the rep and she acknowledged that she knew that Canada’s Data Plans are third world when it comes to data offerings.

As I started writing this blog post (just after 11:30 AM), I got three activation emails for the accounts I have set up on the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS), again Rogers did not tell me accurate facts. A quick attempt to send an email via my BES account failed and it is no longer accessible from my Curve and that my new Data Plan is already in effect. In addition I can no longer surf the web without wiping and resetting the Curve. Hopefully my new Bold will show up tomorrow.

Shortly after my experience I found another person that had a similar experience to mine and posted his experience here; http://www.touchpodium.com/2008/08/02/adventures-in-3g-my-romp-with-rogers-upgrade-policies/

If you do have to deal with Rogers and you’re not getting the satisfaction you feel you deserve, threaten to cancel your account and deal with the Customer Retention team. Be sure not to abuse the group and treat whoever you deal with with respect. My understanding is that if you do push it they will flag your account and may not be so willing to help you.

After my dealings today I am tired and worn out. My wife who heard the whole process couldn’t believe that I had to jump through as many hoops as I had to just to get a fair price on an upgrade! I really hope that in the next three years I am in my contract, that we get a least another GSM wireless provider in Canada or that somehow the industry becomes more fair to it’s consumers. Cell companies in Canada just don’t seem to get it! If their plans were more fair and affordable, more people would purchase them and they would make more money from more users. Instead they all choose to try and gouge the few users that use the data services and make it price prohibitive for standard users. I had hoped that the iPhone release in Canada would have changed that, but even Apple was disgusted with Rogers approach and pulled the iPhones from their Canadian Apple Stores and web site. Rogers bowed somewhat with the 30.00 promotional plan, but that at the time of this writing is a temporary offering.

Updated August 21st to correct punctuation and streamline the wording.

Rogers Lied – HSDPA Modems and Data Plans

Back in July, shortly after the iPhone launch I was checking out Rogers’ web site. I looked at their HSDPA data plans and modems. While there I noticed that the promotional 30.00/mth for 6GB plan was shown as listed for the HSDPA cards and Modems. I called the Rogers number on the site and confirmed this with the rep in not one but two phone calls. I went ahead and ordered the modem. While I don’t do a lot of travelling around I thought it was a reasonable price for a service and comparable to what was available in the US for a Data Plan. I ordered the modem and was told I would have it the next day. Well the modem never showed up.

I tried calling the rep I was dealing with and found out he was on vacation so I tracked my order and learned that these USB modems were out of stock. Last week I called the rep again (August 6th) and was told that the modems were back ordered and that they were due any day. On the 7th of August I received a call that the modem was in and that it would be here on the 8th.

Sure enough on the morning of the 8th, my UPS driver showed up with the package. I was just heading out of town so I left the modem behind till I got back.

Today I was checking something on the billing on my wife’s Blackberry. Seems there was a fairly large overage plan on her phone and I wanted to find out about it. Turns out they had only applied the 15.00 1.5 MB plan to her phone and not the 15.00 unlimited email only plan to her phone. As a result there was a 22 or so dollar overage charge. I have since rectified this problem. While I was on the phone with the rep I was checking out their Blackberry plans and noticed that there was a change to their website. They had a couple of asterisks beside the 30.00 6GB plan saying that it was not available on the PC Connect cards.

I had the rep check the account for my new Modem and sure enough it had a 50.00/500MB data plan on it. Useless!!!!! I immediately called my rep and had him check it and yes the 30.00 plan was not there. I have now cancelled the order (I never used the modem at all) and will be sending it back. If I really needed this type of service I could always use the Rogers Portable Internet Service although it is not truly mobile.

Once again the Canadian third world data plans are in effect! My guess is that a lot of people had the same idea that I had and that Rogers realized their over site on not flagging the site saying it was not available on the High Speed cards.  The existing data plans for high speed cards in Canada are ridiculous and they are not at all worth the cost of owning one.

I am being told that the 30.00 plan should be available with the Blackberry Bold on it’s release. So if this is true then I could always tether my Blackberry, however knowing Rogers that plan will not work with a BES server and it will be useless for me. If that is the case I may have to breakdown and buy an iPhone to get the exchange support in the data plan. I guess I could learn to live with the terrible iPhone keyboard.

While on the subject I also got some clarification into the Rogers 15.00 unlimited email plan. The unlimited plan only includes email. If you do any web surfing or use other applications (Google Calendar Sync for example) they charge you .05 per KB. There is a plan that is 30.00 monthly that covers 300 MB of email and data, although my guess is that this would not work with BES either.

Unfortunately there is really no difference between any of the Canadian Wireless companies at this time and they will continue to pull money out of your pocket.

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Did Pressure Work? Rogers Caved on iPhone, at Least Temporarily.

Rogers put out a press release this morning indicating a promotional data plan for the iPhone 3G. Anyone who activates a new iPhone 3G before August 31st can get a 6GB Data Plan on top of any voice plan for 30.00 per month. While not unlimited data as what is being offered in the US by AT&T at least it is better than the plans that Rogers had originally offered.

Rogers came under a lot of fire for the pricing on the data plans that they first announced on June 28th and many people were calling for others to boycott and not buy the new iPhone.

While this option is better than anything previously offered it is only a limited time promotional plan.

Canadians are still third world when it comes to cell phone plans and pricing. Our voice and data plans are ridiculously expensive and limited compared to the rest of the world (there are African countries with better pricing). More evidence of this was brought forward yesterday when both Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility announced they would start charging .15 per incoming text messages for users with no text plans on their plans.  Last night a family friend indicated she received a spam text to her phone on the Telus Mobility network. Very shortly that will cost her .15 cents.


Hmmm, No iPhone through Apple Canada

Breaking new this morning. Canadians will not be able to purchase an iPhone from the Canadian retail Apple Stores or via www.apple.ca. iPhones will be available through Rogers and Fido retail outlets however.

Reports are that Apple is not happy with the data plans that Rogers announced in late June and as a result is not selling the phones via it’s Apple stores in Canada and re routing those allocated phone shipments to Europe!

Looks like the voices of people like me and others who have said that the plans are a rip off compared to the plans offered to US customers via AT&T are being heard.

So if you want an iPhone on July 11th (although we are urging people to boycott until the plans get better) you will have to go to a Rogers or Fido retail outlet.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was looking forward to the release of the iPhone in Canada, not because I wanted one but because I thought that if similar data plans to what was being offered in the US were available it would force some competition and lower data rates for all smart phone users in Canada. Personally I am awaiting the release of the Blackberry Bold (said to be mid August) before I make a decision.

I will however be purchasing the V2.0 software (although Apple could learn from Microsoft in not charging for firmware IE the Zune) for my iPod touch. This should give me Exchange support on my Touch. If it does not I will forgo the update.

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Spammers should be shot!

Looks like my email address was used in a spoof last night to send out some Spam emails! My inbox has been filing up all day with NDR’s (Non Delivery Receipts) because my email address was used as the return address for some bonehead that sent out the Spam.

I assure anyone that is reading this that we are not at all involved in sending out any SPAM!

Our apologies if they appear to come from sysguy.com.

My tech of travel!

I am taking the family on a 7 day, Eastern Caribbean cruise in the next couple of months, and I thought I would share the tech I plan on traveling with. These are a few things that you can take with you. on a vacation.

My Acer Travelmate 6292 laptop.
I already know that the ship offers Satellite wireless (at a big cost) and that the hotel that we are staying at pre and post cruise offers free wireless, even if there was no Internet access, I would still be taking the machine. With 6 digital cameras and 4 windows based media players (no IPods here) the laptop will come in handy. I plan on taking pictures off the cameras daily, (the last time we went on a cruise I lost my wife’s camera and all the pictures on it). In addition I will have an external USB hard drive that pictures will also be backed up to in case something goes wrong with the laptop. In addition I’ll rip 3 or 4 DVDs for us and the kids to the machine so that we can watch without carrying disks with us. Finally I will be able to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Maybe Skype will work from the ship but it should work pre and post cruise. The laptop also features a bluetooth voip phone so that I can use Skype. I chose this laptop over my Asus 14.1" wide screen as the hard drive is bigger and the Acer is built for travel. Although the screen is only 12.1" it is smaller, has up to 6 hours of battery life and is a magnesium alloy chassis.

My Nokia N800 Internet Tablet
This is my latest gadget. It is a small wireless device running a special version of Linux. I have installed several applications on it and it can play back media (video and Audio), play games and do email. I plan on trying this on the ship to check my mail daily. The wireless card in this device is the best I have ever used, although battery life is not great. I do have a small external Lithium Ion battery that I bought off the net for 30.00 and powers virtually any of my devices. I plan on getting another one too. Keep watching as I plan to write a more indepth review here too of this little device. I can also connect my Nokia up to a Bluetooth GPS unit and I have a folding Dell Bluetooth travel keyboard for it.

Creative Zen Vision M 60 GB Media player
Music and video for air travel, relaxing by the pool or just relaxing on the balcony of our cabin. I also have about 10 audio books on there from Audible.com so it gives me a variety of reading without taking up the space. I can also catch up on a few of my podcasts and web videos.

Garmin 350 Nuvi GPS
I have confirmed that this unit has maps of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas U.S.V.I on it so if we decide to walk around ourselves in port we will be able to get back to the ship. I may also take my Bluetooth GSat GPS receiver which will give my laptop and Nokia GPS capability as well.

US Tracfones
We have four of these phones that our family uses when traveling in the US. On our last cruise in the Gulf these phones worked on the ship (in the Gulf) and in ports. As we are going to US Possessions these phones will work in port and in the gulf. In addition I have recently found out that I can add up to 3 Canadian numbers to each phone, so that people contacting me from here will not have to incur long distance. It beats the rates that Rogers charges for roaming (1.45 per minute incoming and 1/75 per minute outgoing). In addition I have just learnt that I can add up to three Canadian phone numbers to each phone so calling them from here would not be a long distance call to Florida (the current numbers). Tracfone now also offers monthly activation plans you you can just bring the phone up when required.

Sony PSP
As well as for gaming, I also use this as a media player. I can put three dvds on the 2 GB Memory stick I have and with 2 batteries I get about 10 hours of video. While this device can also connect to the web wirelessly, the interface and keyboard is awful, so about the only thing I use it for is RSS feed updates. Using the Sony Media Manager Software I can also convert video podcasts and shows I have recorded on my Media Centre PC to the PSP.

Canon HV 20 HD Video Camera
This is the first time I will be using this on a trip. It is a tape based High Definition Camcorder. I hope to capture some good family shots ans some scenary stuff with it. A further review will follow.

RCA Small Wonder Video Camera
One of my favorite little gadgets. This is a small Digital Video Camcorder. It records 30 minutes of "high quality "video (640X480 30 FPS) to it’s internal flash memory and by adding a 2 GB SD card I can record an additional 2 hours. The device runs on AA batteries,(I use rechargables) and has a built in USB connector and preloaded editing software on it. Plug it into a PC and you can edit in camera. There is a small (1.5") lcd that flips out for self filming and playback as well as a built in microphone. Because it is so small (width and depth like a deck of cards but a little taller) it easily fits into any pocket for quick shooting. The 4X digital zoom is not great, but the camera itself for posting quick video’s to You Tube is fine. I will probably have it everywhere I go this trip. As they are not available in Canada I picked my 2 up off of EBay. A more in depth review will be coming up.

Motorola and Cobra FRS Radios
We have 4of these and will use them for communication amongst each other on the ship, as the ships are so large. They come in handy and  we take them on all trips, great in amusement parks, shopping malls, tourist attractions etc.

Tamarac Adventure 7  Backpack
This was a recent gift from my better half. It is a camera bag designed into a backpack. It can carry a laptop, some accessories, my camera body and additional lenses. All the photo and computer equipment sections are padded, seams are all covered to be weatherproof and it will make carrying my 2 bodies and selection of lenses easier on my back when we are in port.

External LI-on battery pack
This is a small LI-ON battery pack that I recently picked up, It comes with 8 different adaptor tips, a usb cable and an AC power adaptor. It is small light and powers/recharges  every device that we will have (All 4 mp3 Players, PSP, Nokia N800, Nokia Cell phones, Blackberries). It can be recharged from a USB port or with the AC adaptor. It gives an additional 4 to 6 hours of power to all of the devices on a full charge.

Monster Travel Power Strip
Designed for the traveler, it is very small light weight and gives three outlets from 1. We will have 2 of these with us.

Sony Active Noise Canceling Headphones
Picked these up last year and they are really good on aircraft and noisy environments where there is a constant hum (air conditioners, fans etc). Two microphones on the earpieces pick up the noise and then electronically cancel it into the headphones. Runs on one AAA battery. Great for watching movies or listening to portable players on aircraft as they significantly reduce the engine noise.

Seems like a lot of toys to carry, but they are really not bad. Believe it or not everything fits into the Tamarac backpack above. We will be in the air and in airports for 12 hours each way so keeping the kids entertained will be important.

Where’s the Blackberry 8320?

I was browsing the Roger’s web site the other day and noticed that they are now selling the Blackberry 8310. This is the new Curve with built in GPS, which in theory is a nice phone. But the 8320 with a built in Wifi card (802.11) is the phone I really want.

A review I saw today indicates that this phone can make calls over a wifi network (VOIP)! As well you can surf the web over wifi and get your email that way as well. What this means is that you can make VOIP calls over public hotspots, by passing the cellular network (and the billing) or get your email and surf the web that way not using the Edge network . In theory I could switch to a much cheaper data plan than I have now and surf using 802.11 instead.

A call to Rogers Customer Service today indicated that they have no indication when this hone will come out in Canada or even if it will be available. My guess is that Rogers has decided not to sell this phone because they could lose money on it in the long run as people could switch to less expensive voice and data calls and use wireless instead.

This is another reason why the Cell Phone industry in Canada is really screwed. Compared to the rest of the world, our data plans our way out of whack. For example, with At&T in the US and the iPhone, Apple got an unlimited data plan for 20.00 per month! Most iPhone subscribers got a 40.00 voice plan (with way more minutes than I get for 45.00) and pay 20.00 for unlimited data (total 60.00 mth). I pay more than that for just my Blackberry Data Plan at 65.00 per month just for 50MB of bandwidth (the closet thing to an unlimited account)

If you are waiting for the iPhone in Canada, I wouldn’t hold your breath, although I would love to see the release here, although I don’t want one. If it does finally come, I believe it will finally open up our cell networks and we Canadians won’t keep getting screwed!

Contact your cell phone provider and complain about our data plans and how we get screwed. I make a habit of doing this constantly every time I talk to Rogers Customer Service. Maybe one day we will get a fair treatment!

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Net Neutrality, Sign the Petition Now!

You may have heard the term Net Neutrality recently on the Internet. Here is the definition posted on the www.neutrality.ca website:

While the definition of net neutrality is open to some debate, at the core is the commitment to ensuring that Internet service providers treat all content and applications equally with no privileges, degrading of service or prioritization based on the content’s source, ownership or destination.

Michael Geist

Most Internet Service Providers in Canada will throttle back the bandwidth you are paying for if you are using applications like Bit Torrent to download files or visit some sites other than their own. I feel that there is no problem with them capping my allowed bandwidth based on what I am paying for, but they should not have the right to throttle back my connection simply because I am using an application or visiting a site that is not their own.

I encourage all clients, friends and your friends to visit the site, read up on it and sign the petition. In fairness you can only sign the petition once from you IP address so you may only be able to add one signature from your home account. Visit Net Neutrality in Canada at www.neutrality.ca or click on the link in the right hand column.