Mac users: Avoid Microsoft Office Update!

If you are a Mac user running Microsoft Office 2004, you should avoid using Microsoft Office Update. When I applied the last update it failed. No problem I thought; I’ll just try it again later.

Little did I know that it had deleted both Excel and PowerPoint from my machine.

I’m done with Microsoft software. It works just fine, but the company is clearly not concerned with their customers. I’ve installed NeoOffice instead.

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Something worth celebrating?

I grew up in Canada, but I’ve worked and lived in both Canada and the US. I’ve often wondered what it means to be Canadian, though I can’t get a definite answer from anyone. Until today, that is.

Today my local paper printed an editorial entitled "Canada: Something worth celebrating", which contained this explanation:

To be fair, Canada may very well be the only nation premised on not being something else. We in Canada, from the days of this nation’s founding, have simply chosen not to be American. And whether we acknowledge it or not, that may well be the glue that holds this Canada together. [emphasis mine]

I’ve often joked that this was the case, but I guess I never expected to see it in print.


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The most frustrating thing about customer service.

Seth Godin reminded me today about the most frustrating thing about calling customer service anywhere:

It means that you don’t ask me to type in my phone number or account number, but if you insist, then at the very least you make sure that the person who eventually gets my call doesn’t ask me for my number again! Getting this wrong for three years in a row is not an error. It’s arrogance.

There is nothing that bothers me more than being asked by the automated VR system to enter my ten digit phone number, only to be asked by a human a couple of minutes later what my phone number is. I’m always told that "it doesn’t show up on their system".

Come on now. I know that these companies have call display technology; everyone does. You can’t tell me that after all of these years you can’t get my number from call display and use it to access my account so that it is up on your screen before you say hello to me.

You just don’t care enough to.

And while we’re on the subject, that cute voice response system that asks me all human like to tell me what I want – the one that doesn’t allow me any way to break out of it by hitting a key? I’m sure that’s wonderful for you, as it probably causes many customers to give up and hang up out of sheer frustration.

That’s right. Customers hate it.

If you really want to provide service to customers, spend the money to get a human to answer the phone.Then I might believe that my call really was important to you.


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It’s all about tax cuts.

Here’s the CBC headline:

Liberal carbon plan to offer $15.5B in tax cuts

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I notice that they don’t call it the "Liberal carbon tax plan". The subhead does casually mention taxes though:

Between $12B and $15B could be collected in carbon taxes by 4th year

Hmmm. At most they’ll collect $15B, but they’re giving away $15.5B. I thought this was supposed to be revenue neutral, but they’re going to give away more than they collect.Let’s see what the article has to say:

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s new carbon tax plan calls for $11 billion in personal income tax cuts, exemptions on new taxes for aviation and diesel fuel for the first year, and extra help for vulnerable Canadians, CBC News has learned.

The plan, to be called the "Liberal Green Shift" and due to be unveiled in Ottawa on Thursday, includes about $15.5 billion tax cuts in total, according to Liberal sources.

Again with the tax cuts. They don’t mention the "controversial new taxes" until the third paragraph.The upshot of the plan?

TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond analyzed the plan and said the carbon tax is good idea, but added it is going to hit some harder than others.

"I think it will be revenue neutral, but there will be no individual or company in the country that will exactly get back what it pays back in carbon tax," Drummond told CBC News on Wednesday. "There will be a lot of winners and a lot of losers."

The government answer to climate change is always new taxes and wealth redistribution. It’s never about the actual reduction of carbon dioxide so much as punishing people for using it, especially when they have no choice but to heat their homes. And it’s always about winners and losers.

And once the tax is entrenched, don’t expect it to ever go away regardless of the actual carbon situation, just like income tax or the GST. Because in the end, the government is always the winner. So what does that make you and I?

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But everyone else is going.

I guess I should have expected this, but it seems that in Quebec, Canada, the rights of children now supercede those of their parents:

A 12-year-old Quebec girl who felt so strongly about her end-of-year school trip that she took her father to court after he forbade her from going is at the centre of a case that challenges the authority of parental discipline.

The extreme measure of taking the case to court, which the girl’s lawyer defended as a necessary move to ensure the child was not denied a significant rite of passage, was upheld by the judge in a surprise ruling last week.

Back when I was a kid we had no choice but to listen to our parents, though we often didn’t like it. And my kids did pretty much the same. Thankfully, they are too old to use this kind of tactic on me now.

Some wonder where it will stop: Critics of the decision last week by a Quebec Superior Court which ruled in favour of Ms. Fortin’s young client suggest that such a ruling opens the way for equally implausible scenarios such as children taking their parents to court for such things as being denied access to television or using the Internet — and winning.

"As a lawyer and as a parent, I think it’s state interference where the court shouldn’t be interfering," said Ottawa lawyer Fred Cogan. "I’ve got six kids. I certainly wouldn’t want a judge watching over everything that I do, and I wouldn’t want my kids being able to run to the judge."

We often wonder why society seems to be crumbling, and why youth seem to have so little respect for adults. Perhaps that occurs when courts rule that you don’t have to listen to them.


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No more bottled water for you.

The city of Kitchener, Canada, is considering banning the sale of bottled water in city facilities:

Kitchener council will be presented with the opportunity on June 23 to approve the development of a strategy presented by Kitchener Utilities to eliminate the purchase and sale of bottled water in city facilities where practical, and to raise awareness that tap water is safe, economical and environmentally friendly. It will also consider a recommendation to no longer serve bottled water at council, committee or public meetings held at Kitchener city hall. In supporting such actions, Kitchener will join a growing list of progressive city councils across North America, Australia and the United Kingdom. All are leading by example in moving away from purchasing bottled water and turning back to tap water.

A strategy to eliminate bottled water, presented by Kitchener Utilities. And who are they?

The push for the ban comes from Kitchener Utilities, the city-owned enterprise that distributes water to households in the city. The utility takes in millions of dollars a year from the distribution of tap water to households.

The city’s Waterworks Enterprise, a branch of Kitchener Utilities, had a gross profit of $11.7 million in 2007.

But expenses — for water transmission and distribution, administration, and transfers to a capital fund — left the utility with a $19,000 deficit. The accumulated debt for Waterworks Enterprise is $1.1 million.

The city-owned public water utility wants the city to eliminate their main competitor. What a surprise!

But this is my favorite part:

In supporting such actions, Kitchener will join a growing list of progressive city councils across North America, Australia and the United Kingdom. All are leading by example in moving away from purchasing bottled water and turning back to tap water.

That must be the new definition of "progressive" – removing rights such as "freedom of choice" from their citizens. When I was a kid we only had tap water. Bottled water is fairly new. So wouldn’t removing the right to choose be more accurately defined as "regressive"?

Don’t get me wrong. I drink tapwater and I’m just fine with it. But I also buy bottled water for convenience when I’m in the car for example. And as long as it is legal I should have the choice to do just that.


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Sticks and stones.

When I was a kid there was an old expression:

Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.

It seems as I’ve gotten older everyone seems to have become much more thin-skinnedto the point that names apparently do hurt them. So the Canadian Human Rights Commission, not content with eliminating free speech within Canada, now also wants to protect Canadians from the internet:

Speaking today to the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA), CHRC Chief Commissioner Jennifer Lynch, Q.C. said, "The current debate on how to balance freedom of expression with the need to protect Canadians from hate messages in the Internet age is an important one. We are confident that this review will provide insight into the issues and move the discourse one step further."

Growing public interest and continued advances in technology all point to a need to examine issues surrounding hate on the Internet. The Commission is dedicated to ensuring that the Canadian Human Rights Act remains effective. "Legislation must evolve – when necessary – to respond and reflect changes in society," said Lynch.

Canadians once stormed the beaches on D-Day. Canadians once liberated Holland. That was a different Canada apparently. Now it isn’t guns and bombs they’re scared of.

Now they are afraid of words.

As George Carlin says, "they are just words". We are the ones who give them the power.

Tip of the hat to Kathy Shaidle.


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Noxious fumes?

From my local paper this morning:

Honda’s new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car rolled off a Japanese production line yesterday and is headed to Southern California, where eco-friendly Hollywood is already abuzz over the latest splash in green motoring. The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the noxious fumes believed to induce global warming. [emphasis mine]

Hmmm. CO2, which we exhale and which plants require to live, is now a noxious fume?

It’s amazing what kind of tale you can spin when you simply redefine your terms in a bit of Orwellian doublespeak.


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What we say versus what we do.

A recent academic survey found that the average teen has over 800 illegal songs on their iPod:

Although illegal copying has become widespread, the scale of the problem uncovered by the University of Hertfordshire left the music industry surprised. On average every iPod or digital music player contained 842 illegally copied songs.

Fergal Sharkey, former lead singer of the Undertones and now chief executive of British Music Rights, said: “I was one of those people who went around the back of the bike shed with songs I had taped off the radio the night before. But this totally dwarfs that, and anything we expected.”

So Mr. Sharkey notes that teens today are doing nothing different than he was a a kid. But apparently things are different this time around. This time we need to take action, probably because revenues are down.

Really though, this comes down to a matter of convenience, versus one of lost revenue. Teens may have 842 illegal songs, just because it is convenient to do so, while in Mr. Skarkey’s youth it was only convenient to copy a few songs. But just as he wasn’t about to purchase those songs, today’s teens aren’t about to purchase those 800+ songs either.

This isn’t about lost revenue. Thisis about revenue that never would have existed in the first place.

It’s ok though, because those teens are apparently willing to spend their money to rent the music:

Mr Sharkey said: “The positive message is that 80 per cent of downloaders said they would pay for a legal subscription-based service, and they told us they would be willing to pay more than a few pounds a month.”

British Music Rights declined to release the exact amount but it is believed to be about £10 a month.

I wouldn’t rush too quickly into that, as it seems like more of a case of what people say on a survey, rather than what they actually will do. Perhaps that explains the failure of previous music subscription services:

There is only one problem with this idea: Consumers haven’t been interested. Rhapsody, (the new company using the Napster name), Yahoo and others have been able to attract a few million subscribers. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who buy songs from Apple at 99 cents or download them free with Limewire. For some, the idea that the music expires if you don’t pay the bill isn’t attractive. For others, there’s no appeal because the services don’t work with their favorite music player: the iPod.

These teens aren’t going to buy that music any more than they are going to sign up for a subscription service, no matter what any survey says.


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How can Terence Corcoran of the National Post be so misguided on Canada’s new copyright bill C-61?

The bill certainly does not satisfy the Telecom Trotskyites who believe the Internet is a giant open cosmos, a massive free public space into which everybody can scoop up whatever floats by with little or no regard to ownership. If you go online and pay $4.95 for a copy of Tarantino’s 2003 movie Kill Bill, for example, you should be able to copy it freely and resend it to all your friends and relatives, if not your entire e-mail cache, at no charge.

[...]While most of us can grasp the logic behind the business agreement that $4.95 doesn’t get you more than personal use of something, it’s an idea that flies right through the cortices of telecom collectivists.

Sorry Mr. Corcoran, but that just wrong.The $4.95 – the market rate for the movie I assume – doesn’t get me personal use. I can’t watch the movie if I travel to Europe; it is the wrong region code. I can’t watch the movie on my iPod; I would be circumventing a technical protection measure. I can’t make a backup copy of that fragile DVD; I’ve had several DVDs break or become unplayable.

All I can do is watch that movie on a DVD player in North America, or perhaps on my computer, though that may be considered circumventing a technical protection measure as well.

I don’t download music. I have a few hundred CDs in boxes. I don’t use them because I have put those songs on my iPod. If those CDs had copy protection, then I would be a criminal, even though I paid for each and every CD.

And for every blank CD I purchase for backup purposes – though I’ve never put a single song on any of them – I pay a copyright levy because I’m already assumed to be a criminal who illegally downloads music.

A few years ago my parents started to record Perry Mason shows on videocassettes so that they could watch them when they feel like it. Even though Perry Mason isn’t even available on DVD, this bill now makes them criminals too.

Mr. Corcoran seems to think that this is necessary to protect content creators:

A typical criticism yesterday came from David Fewer, legal council to the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa. (Clinic?) "I keep hearing," said Mr. Fewer, "the ministers talk about the need to protect creators. The heart and soul of this legislation is to create new rights for distributors. Songwriters don’t put in place things like (digital locks). This is something that labels do, this is something that Hollywood does."

Content creators like the Canadian Music Creators Coalition?

“As we feared, this bill represents an American-style approach to copyright. It’s all locks and lawsuits,” said Safwan Javed, the drummer for the band Wide Mouth Mason and a member of the CMCC. “Rather than building a made-in-Canada proposal to help musicians get paid, the government has chosen to import American-style legislation that says the solution to the music industry’s problems is suing our fans. Suing fans won’t make it 1992 again. It’s a new world for the music business and this is an old approach.”

Or Brendan Canning, of Broken Social Scene?

“It’s not musicians. Musicians don’t need lawsuits, we don’t need DRM protection. These aren’t the things that help us or our careers. What we do need is a government that is willing to sit down with all the stakeholders and craft a balanced copyright policy for Canada that will not repeat the mistakes made in the United States.”

This was the funniest part:

Since when has corporate Hollywood become the evil crusher of creative talent? Any review of entertainment history turns up an army of individual creators — writers, actors, directors, producers, ideamen, authors — who have made absolute killings turning their copyrights over to corporate control.

Mr. Corcoran should acquaint himself with the concept of Hollywood accounting. For example:

Winston Groom’s price for the screenplay rights to his novel Forrest Gump included a share of the profits; however, due to Hollywood accounting, the film’s commercial success was converted into a net loss, and Groom received nothing. That being so, he has refused to sell the screenplay rights to the novel’s sequel, stating that he cannot in good conscience allow money to be wasted on a failure.

This isn’t about protecting content creators. And it certainly isn’t about protect your or my rights. This is about protecting a failed business model by enshrining it in law. And making people like you and me pay over and over and over again for the same product – for our personal use.

And he probably has no clue about products like Microsoft PlaysForSure devices. When Microsoft turns off their license servers, all of the music that people actually payed for just ceases to be playable. They bought the players, and paid for the music, but they just can’t use it anymore.

And under this new proposed law there is no recourse. The honest customer is just screwed.

Update: Professor Michael Geist has a good roundup of coverage of the issue.


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