Internet Movie Rentals – Part 1

I believe that Internet bandwidth is precious. It need not be conserved as it is not likely to “run out”, but nonetheless used sensibly. It is very liberating to be always connected with no per-minute charges and seemingly unlimited data transfer allowances. It is icing on the cake to have a theoretical 10Mbps or faster connection with burst download speeds of 1MBps.

I did not grow up with all-you-can-eat Internet. I started using the Internet at the age of 25. I initially had UNIX shell account dial-up access, followed by dial-up TCP/IP access the following year. These were charged by the minute for both the phone call to dial in and Internet connection charges. One has to govern oneself in such situations.

It then naturally seems wasteful to me to use the Internet for downloading movies, or worse, renting movies and TV shows for one-time viewing. If you remember (or know) what telex is and how much it used to cost, you will appreciate the value of sending e-mail (and instant messages) at no cost per message, and thereby realize how precious bandwidth is given that legitimate e-mail takes up no appreciable bandwidth. Given the current state of the Internet, I have grown comfortable with using it for VoIP and video netcasts.

Using Internet bandwidth for renting movies routinely and as one’s primary source for TV shows still seems abusive to me. It is much more bandwidth-friendly to rent the same movie at a similar price from the video store on disc, and get better quality especially with Blu-ray disc. If you don’t have a video store nearby or don’t like getting out in the cold (except to the mailbox), renting by postal mail is much cheaper, usually $2.00 each inclusive of postage both ways on a $20.00 per month plan as you can average 10 movies per month. Buying physical copies of movies similarly gets you better quality and a backup disc, so you won’t need to buy that expensive NAS for storing all those downloaded movies. You could also inadvertently exceed your bandwidth limit and end up paying a lot more.

2008 Fall Show and Sale

My first painting sold on 26 October 2008, at the very first art exhibit at which my work was ever displayed.
Five of my paintings were displayed from 24 to 26 October 2008 at the Fall Show and Sale of the St. Albert Painters Guild in Alberta, Canada.

Mac vs PC

This could very well be the answer you have been looking for.

My first experience with Windows 2.0.3 was not a positive one, but I have used every version since Windows 3.0 was introduced in 1990. I even used Windows ME for 15 minutes and Windows Vista for a few days. I had been a professional PC repair technician for several years, troubleshooting Windows-based computers, so I was intimately familiar with PCs and Windows. I had setup and administered Windows NT Server, Windows 2000 Server and Windows-based server software such as mail, web and FTP servers. In essence I have been a long-time user of Windows operating systems.

I started using an Apple Mac Pro in 2007, less than a year after I bought a new Dell PC with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. Why? I realized that I could no longer depend on PCs with Windows. Yes, I mean both the hardware and the software.

The PC hardware had in its latest iteration become more closely tied to Windows-based drivers resulting in non-functional components or non-optimal operation when running other PC operating systems like Linux or PC-BSD which anyway lack the polished graphical interface of the commercial products.

Windows had become more fragile with the Media Center Edition 2005 update tacked on to a Media Center Edition 2002 disc customized by Dell and poor hardware drivers from Intel. Windows architecture wherein all settings are stored in a central registry rather than in individual human-readable preference files, make it inconvenient and time-consuming to reinstall and reconfigure the operating system and applications.

I was already very close to abandoning Windows due to my annoyance with its activation requirements and the nonsensical licensing restrictions. I find it suffocating to depend on Microsoft to get my otherwise working hardware up and running. Then there is the limit on the number of devices that can simultaneously connect to the computer and the requirement for such devices to have a Microsoft license, whereby syncing one’s iPod with iTunes on a Windows PC constitutes a violation of the terms of the license, in my interpretation. I called Microsoft Canada to confirm my understanding and was informed that the onus to interpret and comply with the terms of the license is on me and if my solicitors or I misinterpret it then doing so would be at my own risk. I asked if I could be referred to the legal department to clarify the matter. I was informed that only the specific person in Microsoft’s Redmond, WA, U.S.A. headquarters who drafted the license agreement would be able to interpret it, and such person might not even be working for Microsoft any longer, so I’m on my own.

What was nonetheless holding me back at the time I bought my last PC from Dell, was that Apple is no less high-handed than Microsoft. Apple does not normally sell parts for its Intel-based Mac desktops. I would be dependent on Apple to release parts to me at their discretion and have to needlessly suffer downtime since I could not neither stock nor readily buy parts, and would have to return and pay return shipping for defective parts!

I picked my poison. I decided that I would rather be hardware-constrained by Apple than software-constrained by Microsoft. After all I can go out and buy a new Mac if my Mac fails and I can’t await repairs, transfer the hard disk and be up and running. I would be paying for new hardware only if I suffer a hardware failure. Buying another copy of Windows to be up and running, on the other hand, is not as appealing. First because software is more “personal” than hardware; it is the software that makes the computer personal, second because the software isn’t really broken and third because I would have to reinstall and reconfigure the operating system and applications from scratch.

Blu-ray Fast Track

I recommend:

A plasma TV or monitor with a native resolution of 1920 × 1080 (1080p), support for 24fps (frames per second) and HDMI 1.3a input. Check out an ordinary standard definition TV signal to ensure it looks good as that is a good measure of the TV’s image processor. Calibrate the picture with a DVD-based calibration program for each video input.

A Blu-ray player with 1080p/24fps video output preferably with a Reon chip for deinterlacing/upscaling non-1080p video and 7.1 bitstream audio output of Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD High Resolution, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio via an HDMI 1.3a output.

An Audio-Video receiver that can accept and pass through a 1080p/24fps picture and decoders for Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD High Resolution, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The receiver should be matched to the impedance and power rating of the speakers.

A minimum of five speakers, preferably six or seven and a subwoofer. A pair of front effects speakers are a great add-on for DSP (digital signal processing) effects if your AV receiver supports them.

HDMI 1.3a-certified Category 2 (high-speed) HDMI cables × 2 from the Blu-ray player to the AV receiver and from the AV receiver to the TV, speaker cables × 7 and a subwoofer cable.

Deep Colour (and x.v.Color) support are optional, however having at least the TV and AV receiver future-ready is prudent. A Blu-ray player that can upconvert 8-bit colour to 12-bit colour is a good option if your TV can display 12-bit colour (not just accept 12-bit input and downconvert it back to 8-bit).

If the TV, AV receiver and Blu-ray player all support HDMI-CEC (consumer electronics control), or as Panasonic calls it, EZ Sync (pre-2008) or Viera Link, you are in for a treat. Turning on the AV receiver while watching TV should automatically switch the audio output from the TV speakers to the AV receiver, and your TV’s volume control should then control the AV receiver’s volume. If you are creative you can set up the system such that switching to the AV receiver/Blu-ray input on the TV automatically turns on the Blu-ray player and switches the AV receiver’s audio output accordingly, using HDMI-CEC alone, with no need for a programmable remote.

Read the instructions manuals to understand all the options and directions for the best possible setup, hook everything up, run the calibration programs and you should be good to go.

Newer AV receivers are self-calibrating using the auto setup function, but are not perfect – some falsely report one or more speakers as being out of phase, small instead of large and/or the volume settings do not corroborate the readings of a sound pressure level meter. Some AV receivers are known to overheat, cause popping sounds in the rear speakers with DTS-HD MA or drop audio momentarily with Dolby TrueHD.

iPhone in Canada

So how much does it cost to own an iPhone in Canada? $861 plus tax ($904 including GST) per annum including upfront costs and one-time charges annualized over a three-year contract period, since you can’t buy an iPhone without a three-year contract and the phone is locked to the carrier.

Fido costs $27.45 per month with the minimum 200 minutes voice plan with per second billing and additional fees for inadvertently using your phone on the Rogers extended network. Rogers costs $32.45 per month and is a better and less worry-some plan that gets you 100 to 200 minutes with no per second billing, but no additional charges for access to the extended network and a choice of either (a) free incoming calls, (b) unlimited calls, texts and picture messaging to either (i) 5 designated local numbers or (ii) any Rogers subscriber.

A data plan is optional, but it is also what makes the iPhone a life-changing device. Moreover, with data charged at 5¢ per KB without a data plan, a data plan of any size is an essential insurance against automatic or accidental use, unless you call the data department of your carrier to ensure that they put in a data block. Just turning the phone on could cost 20¢ each time as the phone automatically connects to the data network. A day’s usage could be $1.00 for 20 KB of trickle data, which is $30.00 per month. The no-brainer data plan costs $30.00 for 6 GB per month, but is being offered as a promotion only until 31 August 2008 on a similar 3-year contract. Cynics might argue that the data is not unlimited, but even unlimited data in the U.S. I believe is capped at 5 GB. Plus, how much can one eat unless one is abusing the service by running one’s home or office Internet off the cellular data? I believe that might be a reason for the cap. The regular rates are $30.00 for 300 MB or $100 for 6 GB per month, but we don’t have to worry about that for 3 years, as in 3 years data rates would inevitably be much lower with the 2008 spectrum auction bringing in competition.

None of the voice plans at those rates including visual voicemail ($8.00), text messaging (except to your choice of 5 local numbers or Rogers subscribers) or free unlimited access to Rogers and Fido hotspots. The minimum plan that includes these comes with 150 minutes, 75 text messages and 400 MB data for $67.45. Call display ($7.00) is never included, but can be purchased in a bundle that includes 2,500 sent text messages, missed call text notification, caller ring tunes and 2,500 call forwarding minutes for $15.00.

I make no mention of evening/weekend minutes on any plan, which could vary from 1,000 minutes to unlimited, since 9 PM to 7 AM weekends are of no consequence unless one works nights. The voice plans include the mandatory $6.95 system access fee (or whatever name the rip-off goes by) and 50¢ 911 service fee.

iPhone

I am writing this post on my iPhone twelve days after I got it. I am “one of those” who got it on day one, but only after eight hours of waiting to get the white and only the white one.

For me it is probably the single most life-changing gizmo ever. The experience has been so dramatic that I immediately realized an improvement in the quality of my life. To say it is a liberating experience is to say the least.

It is not a great phone compared to my Nokia N73. The bluetooth is for headset-like devices only. It can’t sync or transfer files over bluetooth or WiFi, nor can it beam data over bluetooth with another phone. I can’t upload my MP3s or AACs for use as ring tones without some effort. It can’t do a lot of things a phone circa 2005 can.

It is more useful as a PDA except for the lower resolution as compared to my Dell Axim X50v’s VGA (640×480) resolution. The Dell Axim with the PocketPC 2003 OS has a lot more Windows desktop equivalent applications, but I find that for the two critical things I need – opening WAV and PDF attachments in e-mail – the iPhone can do it whereas the PocketPC can’t. The iPhone shines in its data features with the 3G data connection as the cellular data connection is omnipresent compared to WiFi.

The iPhone is locked to operate with a certain carrier or country as sold in most countries, so it is generally (without hacking) not usable with a cellular network when traveling overseas, which paradoxically is when a cellular data network would be most needed. Prepaid cards that combine voice and data usage would be excellent when travelling with an unlocked iPhone.

Real Estate – Part 3 – Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my three-part article on people I have encountered in the real estate business. I continue my discussion with developers, contractors and property managers.

I have come across some of the worst – the notorious breed of builders and developers. They are like car salespeople but mutated beyond the realm of humanity. They have developed (pun intended) the ability to bypass their conscience to amass wealth by unethical and devious means. They have no qualms about making false allegations and malafide claims to extort others while refusing to acknowledge bona fide claims against themselves.

Contractors can be good or bad. They tend to do business on their own terms, usually forsaking business principles. Estimates and quotes mean nothing to micro businesses; one must pay what they ask for regardless of what has been agreed to, for them to ever do any work for you again. They show up to perform service if and when they please. They do not take kindly to being made aware of their contractual obligations.

Property managers expect to be paid something for nothing. They shirk responsibility if anything goes wrong, and it usually does, because they expect a property to be taken care of just by dispatching contractors over the phone, without being on site to supervise. They care more about their relationships with their contractors (their “friends”) than about doing justice to their clients. Of course then, they will pay whatever a contractor asks for because it is not worth losing a contractor over one client account. They do not understand the concept of work being done right the first time, and in a timely fashion.

My operations manager presented a property management firm with a six-page written report of what the agent assigned to the property had done wrong. The owner did nothing except say that it was “water under the bridge” – based on the agent denying ever having received instructions, the purported lack of which led to the misdoings. When reported to the organization whose logo their tout on their advertising as an endorsement of their ethical standards, the organization favoured the “friend”, in this case the member who pays their ongoing sustenance. The report led to harassing phone calls every few minutes from the owner of the property management firm, calling our operations manager a liar and an extortionist, and threatened to reveal privileged information pertaining to the tenants to each and every tenant and sue us for libel, as a means to get us to withdraw the complaint.

Real Estate – Part 2 – Lawyers (Contd.)

This is part two of my experiences with people in the real estate business. I continue with real-life examples of solicitors.

I have always believed that a solicitor should represent the client’s interest vehemently and above all else. I have come across two solicitors who gave precedence to their “friendship” with an involved party over the client’s interest. I would term such “friendship” a “profitable alliance”, as the “friend” is merely a person with whom they expect to have a longer-term, ongoing profitable relationship as opposed to a one-time client.

In the first case, the solicitor who is also a landlord leasing his own property through this broker “friend” of his, wrote to me,

I have an ongoing relationship with [my friend]. I am not prepared to act in any way which adversely affects that long term relationship. Consequently, I am reluctant to act for you with respect to the request which you made regarding [my friend].

This was a simple matter of the “friend” splitting the legal costs with me since we were to equally share the potential settlement funds; and to which arrangement the “friend” had agreed, and that is exactly how it went down, albeit with another solicitor. But what about my time and costs for the other solicitor to review the case from scratch, having to pay legal fees and explain the case all over again? If such are the ethics of a Queen’s Counsel, it corroborates my belief that a rat by any other name is still a rat.

In the second case, I represented the vendor in a sale and purchase transaction that had closed. My solicitor continued forwarding requests when originating from the purchaser as a favour to my broker who in this case was the “friend”, who in turn was doing this on the behest of the purchaser’s broker who was his “friend”. When it came to my single request of my solicitor, to similarly forward my reply to the purchaser in response to their notice of claim, it met with the response,

Your file is closed. I have 300 other clients to take care of now.

I say if you have 300 or 800 or “whatever the magic number of the day is” clients and my file is closed, why is your valve still open in one direction?

One of my not-too-bitter experiences was with a solicitor who gave precedence to his image over the client’s interest. He did not want to argue my case to an extent that might lower his esteem in the eyes of a judge as he apparently banks on their favour.

Then there are the rude ones, who believe that they are entitled to any amount of money and treat their clients or prospective clients like dirt, because they foster the fallacious belief that they offer superior representation and clients are inferior beings. I once asked a solicitor of a prominent law firm if he would be willing to cap his fee. His response was that there are lawyers out there who would be willing to cap the fee if I am looking to cheap out, but if I want a good defense the fee would be whatever it takes, with a minimum $5,000 retainer and tens of thousands of dollars in trial.

Do these lawyers think we are stupid enough to pay them that much, that too in a civil matter which could be settled (with no risk of an appeal) for much less? They don’t tell you that, because they profit more from a trial.

To be continued…

Real Estate – Part 1 – Introduction

I recently retired from the commercial real estate rental business. It was a disillusioning experience at best. In this three-part article I categorically describe the kinds of people I came across. Let’s start with legal counsel.

Lawyers are usually deal breakers, as are lease coaches. If a client wishes to proceed with an agreement to lease, one would think their counsel would encourage them to disregard minor issues in the greater interest. Not so, because most lawyers and lease coaches only care about making themselves look good, to demonstrate how hard they are working for their client’s dollar by needlessly splitting hairs and nit picking on wordings. Who gains from the fighting? Only legal counsel. It is an entirely different matter if a client regrets having entered into an agreement, because then their counsel would deem it to be an appropriate course of action to find every loophole to get out of the agreement – not that it is ethical, but at least it is in the client’s interest.

Solicitors usually want a slice of the pie in any purchase or sale transaction. Why else would they ask what the value of the transaction is when quoting a fee? Their excuse is that they have to be that much more diligent in a larger transaction. Why would they be less diligent in a smaller transaction? For litigation, solicitors repeat themselves often and whet all correspondence to protect themselves, thus racking up billable hours. They even bill you if they misunderstand the facts, whereby you have to explain the case to them all over again – admitting to a mistake would not be profitable, both in terms of saving face, their job and billable hours.

They are all out to make money. However it gets worse when your solicitor has other interests that take precedence over representing you, that too on your dime.

To be continued…

Human Values

Jesus Christ, or any good and pure person, is more valuable to society dead than alive. If He were to be reborn, the people profiting from His name would be the first ones to want Him dead. Society would once again virtually nail Him to the cross because pure, honest and just people have no place in today’s society. Good people are social misfits because they do not pander to the the large proportion of society that has tainted values.

“The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
― George Orwell