Pat Drummond :: life & technology

November 14, 2013

Social media & my Real Life

Social media sites have revolutionized the way people communicate - and it ain't all good.

The first site I joined was Facebook. It took a while to figure out how to protect my privacy (posts, photos, phone numbers..) but it's really improved. FB allows me to keep up with the lives of distant family and friends, which sadly is the only news I ever seem to get from them.

After several years of using Facebook, I'm beginning to resent it.   It has basically replaced the Christmas letters, occasional phone calls and visits. Is that a good thing? I heard about a child's graduation but I had to ask if it was high school (it was but the photo showed a young woman who looked about 21). A nephew got married and I didn't even know until I saw the photos!

Although FB allowed me to "friend" people I used to go to school with, they usually post "what we did this weekend" or repost their kids stuff. More people are learning how to create sub-groups for "family", since  I  see fewer of these.

My real friends are not active on Facebook at all, but I stay because every once in a while it leads to actually seeing or talking to people.  I met with a school friend recently who was visiting my area (from the other end of Canada) and it was more fun than all the online posts put together. We reminisced about all sorts of things and discovered why we had always like each other. I'm even considering making the trip for the class reunion next year - of course they are going to organize it on a Facebook group. It seems that people new to the Internet learn how to use email, how to search in a web browser, and then join Facebook. In that order. (I recently helped a couple with their new chromebook, which is basically a laptop that only runs a web browser - and thats all they need!)

Facebook also offers "Pages" which are being created by businesses at a fast rate. Just remember that if you hit the "like" button on a Page, their posts will appears in your news feed (aka timeline), mixed in with friend news. That's also the reason businesses offer prizes or coupons if you "like" their page - they want their "ads" in your news feed! It costs them nothing at all. Makes more sense to "like" organizations you belong to - you want their news.

Twitter is another thing altogether. On my personal account @patdrummond I "follow" people who share interesting information, often people I've never met. I also have two accounts that are used to post news for websites (@BoatinginCanada @ManotickDir). I can't keep up with them, but I try because it's just expected.

Google Plus (G+) is similar to Twitter but without the 160-character limit. Images are inline so it has more multi-media. There's also more discussion just because it's easier (and longer). It's disadvantage is that I use Hootsuite software for my social accounts and it doesn't support G+ yet -- only G+ Pages.

LinkedIn is a business networking service. I have an account but am not active since I'm retired except for my websites. If you're in business, a professional or provide services, you have to use this service to network. Joined a business breakfast club is so last year!

These are the most popuar social sites and they're all free. Go ahead and jump in with both feet. You will find an amazing world to sample, new friends to make (maybe) and even reconnect with old friends. But as for the benefit to Real Life, I'm not so sure.

August 23, 2013

Manners 3.0: Will someone please listen to me

Will someone please look me in the eye.  I'm in a restaurant with a friend and as soon as I go to the loo, he pulls out his phone and starts working.  Really?  Am I so boring that he can't take a lunch break from his job? (Or am I that slow in the loo?)

I once saw a photo on social media and wish I'd save it - a young couple sitting on a bench bent over their devices.  The skipper said, "I bet they're tweeting each other." He probably was right.

Remember when everyone didn't have a phone connected to everything they had an account on?  Frankly, newbies have not idea how to turn this stuff off.  They get rings on every phone call, music on every email, dings on every tweet, and lord knows what on every Facebook update.

But when I am having lunch with you, you better turn that sh*t off, because I will never have lunch with you again if you don't!

Simple solutions: Learn how to use your phone.  Most phones allow you to set your phone "ring" for special people.   They also allow you to set your phone to "SILENT" mode, with maybe a "vibrate" instead of a ring.  If you MUST get all your calls while having lunch. 

Same thing with email notifications. For G*d sake please turn these off. (Or use the silent mode)  No one needs to get a "sound" notification that you received yet another spam email in the middle of a golf game. Really!

This also applies to almost every social media app. They don't even warn you when you install them that they annoy the h*ll out out of everyone you are with when ANY new post or notification arrives. Really?

The bottom line is that people should learn how their phone works and turn off all those notifications.  You friends, fellow workers and family will appreciate it.

Note to newbies: Ringing phones and musical notifications don't tell your friends you are popular. They tell your friends you are an a**hole-newbie.

August 15, 2013

Cell towers should be a public utility

Today's Ottawa Citizen article by Andrew Coyne (Telecom complaints easily dismissed) said "Whenever I hear those words -- "level playing field" -- I reach for my wallet."  That gave me such a belly laugh, I read on, and this line hit the nail on the head: "Divest the networks into a separate corporation, allowing everyone to compete -- what's the phrase? -- on a level playing field". Yes!

I have always thought this was the answer . Mobile communication has become almost as important as electricity - which I would have thought impossible to split. And yet Ontario has split power infrastructure from the services and billing.  It's too bad Canada didn't create a mobile utility that split up the mobile towers "utility" from the companies that provide services and phones back at the top, when it would have been easier.  If they had, all the mobile companies would be truly on a "level playing field".  So it will be difficult, but let's get on with it before the country falls too far behind.

I welcome any competition for selfish reasons -- so someday I may be able to buy the service tha I want.  ALL of Canada's current 'big three' bundle phones with service. I don't want a new phone. I tried (and failed) to get internet service for an unlocked, bought-and-paid-for phone and they told me about all about their great phones - or pay the same for my owned phone.  I  can get one with only 3 years worth of service.  I don't want to commit for three years. 3 years of those fees would pay for a used car. I just want basic service for phone, text and Internet, but can't buy that for less than $70/month. Insane. (My wired home internet is $56 so a combined home/mobile service would interest me, if anyone offered that service.)

I finally gave up and bought pay-as-you-go mobile "call/text" for about $100 a year -- that's $8/month kids. I could buy the optional $2 per day from Rogers Mobile if I needed, but probably only enough to read emails, if you skip the photos (haven't tried it). I'm not a newbie - I'm actually on my second mobile phone, and not looking forward to a third. I'd rather get the next communications breakthrough, whatever it is.  In the meantime, I await the day I can get competitive "smart" service for the "smart" phone I already have.  In the current regulatory setup, that won't be any time soon.

August 07, 2013

Mobile "pay as you go" is all about the fees

I was just getting used to the idea that I can "swipe" a credit card to make small payments, and now I find out that mobile payment systems are arriving soon.  It's not just Canadian banks that plan to create apps for mobile phones to make payments - Paypal Canada (a foreign-owned business) wants a piece of this market too.  They expect to make $20-billion from mobile payments just this year, so you know there are high fees involved.

Paypal designs all its systems to make it easy for the buyer pay online, letting the seller pay their high fees to receive the payments. They lure buyers with a "free" personal account and no fees. The seller pays fees on most transfers, and a higher fee if the buyer's Paypal account uses a credit card as their source of "payment". Credit-based payments can cost the seller 2.5% of the sale or higher. It's interesting to note the seller has no way of knowing if they will get hit with this fee when they accept payment, which is hardly fair to the seller.  If the buyer pays in U.S. funds, there are additional fees to convert to Canadian dollars (Paypal does all its accounting in U.S. funds).  If the seller is a business that will be accepting quite a few online payments, they need to open an business account, at even higher cost.  And guess who pays for all these processing fees - why you do, in higher sticker prices. (I finally decided to add $4 to payments between $60 and $80 made via Paypal because that was the average fee Paypal charged me to receive it.)

Canadians with personal online banking accounts can pay online using "Interac money transfer" with very low fees for the buyer and none for the seller.  I hope a mobile payment system can be devised by Canadian banks that take advantage of this to make store payments with similar low fees.  In the meantime, Paypal Here uses a small card reader and an app that runs on iPhones. Another payment system, Square, uses a reader which plugs into the headphone jack of a smart-phone.  Most contactless payment systems use NFC - near field communication - but only the latest Android and Blackberry phones are equipped to use it. With all these technology problems, it should be interesting to see what method wins. And how much it will cost us all.

July 07, 2013

Manners 2.0: Twitter storm over $30 Wedding Gift

I was fascinated by the recent story of an angry bride who started a twitter storm when she complained about a wedding present that wasn't expensive enough - a $30 gift basket.  An article about it by Michelle McQuigge (Canadian Press) ended with this:

"There's various things that underpin how wedding are done differently, but one thing that's consistent and that supersedes weddings is that when someone gives you a gift, you thank them graciously for it, full, stop."

That comment stopped me short!  Maybe she lives in a world where people stil teach their kids basic manners. I starting noticing something odd that began about 20 years ago. I sent dozens of wedding and birthday gifts, but received only one "thank you" in all those years - yes you read that right.  Just one person had the fundamental good manners to say "Thank you for the gift." It isn't hard to buy small notes or cards and write five words and sign it and put a stamp on it. Even an emailed "thank you" would be better than nothing.

I once had a wedding gift delivered to the bride's address. When asked what they needed, the mother suggest a very expensive item. A long time later, the subject of the wedding came up, and I could not stop myself from asking if anyone had ever received my gift. Even then, I didn't get the magic "thank you".

I noticed the same trend when giving people free services - almost no one said "thank you".  Now don't get me wrong, I do things for people, businesses and organizations without any expectation of reward, but it would be nice to have your efforts appreciated. (You may ask why I continue helping people with such a sense of entitlement... I don't know!) Over many years, only two have thanked me.  A church thanked me for re-designing their website with gifts as well as a "thank you"! And a local pizza business sent me a pizza for saying nice things about them online.

Many years ago, I created a community website which survives now on selling business advertising. Over that time, I created and hosted many free web pages for small organizations, saving them hundreds of dollars, and not a single group ever said "thank you". Even free promotion and web design (again worth hundreds) for large community events went unnoticed, even in thank you lists.  I gave businesses free ads, and once again, not a single "thank you". Now maybe they just expect this sort of thing, but it's value is 20-30 times the value of any promo gifts that I've been given.  Really, how hard is it to hit "reply" on the email about it to say "thank you". Recently I retouched photos for facebook friends (well ok, just people I used to know). Surprise! No "thank you" for that either. They simply uploaded the repaired photos without a word.

I can hardly be blamed for concluding that manners have gone the way of the dodo bird. Or does this happen only with the people that pass through my life?

March 20, 2013

Mark's Ignores Website Bugs

It's hard to understand why Mark's, a large Canadian clothing company, would have a web store so poorly coded that I could not use it to order the colour I wanted. Then they ignored me when I told them. It's easy to understand why they have to sell off their clothing at fire sale prices... If people can't use the Mark's website properly, let's face it, most won't complete orders that are this wonky! I just gritted my teeth and forged ahead.

After I received my order (wrong colour), I took the time to document the problems via I can't include their reply, but it's just a form letter! telling me to "contact our Web Order team at" or phone "1-800-663-6275 Extension 7500". Really?  Why can't the person who answers these messages forward them to the appropriate department like EVERY OTHER BUSINESS? So Mark's wants to ignore customer complaints?  The result is posts to this blog, twitter and Facebook!  Caveat Emptor

Email sent to Mark's Work's Wearhouse on March 19, 2013:

Date: 3/19/2013 12:49:48 PM
Subject: Web order problems

Your website has problems with colours and prices. 
The page for knit dress (3DJGDHFB2-780) is shown in attached photo for this link:

1. The first photo that appears is the colour I wanted - light beige-white heather mix - but it does not appear on the list of colours.

2. Clicking on onyx heather you see a tiny swatch of mixed gray-white -- the dress shown is bordeaux.
I ordered onyx heather but when it arrived it was a flat gray!!
Clicking "Neutral twist" you see a gray-white swatch but the photo shows a flat tan colour dress.

3. The cross-out price shown is $19.99. The dress arrived today with a tag $79.99. Quite a difference.

My order was # ...
Patricia Drummond,
  {address, phone}

January 15, 2013

Parks Canada determined to kill the Rideau Canal

New Fees proposed for Federal Canals is from my other blog "Boating in Canada News".

Update May 2013: Canal fees have been frozen for 3 years, giving the government lots of time to come up with a new governance model that can keep the heritage canals functioning without destroying the economic regions that have grown up around them.  Boating in Canada News

After shortened canal hours for this year, Parks Canada now propose to triple lock and dockage fees over this year and next. They must think tripling national park fees would cause too much noise so they pick on canals and the
World Heritage Site, in particular.

Would you stop at a lockstation in your fishing boat if tying up for lunch cost $20? What 30-footer would pay $1080 to cruise the Rideau canal round trip? Would that boater pay $60 to dock overnight  - they throw in toilets and a picnic table for that. I predict that in 2014, 75% of the boats will decide not to cruise the Rideau Canal. That results in less income for the canal, not more. What were they thinking?

The economic fallout all along the waterway will be serious. And without boats locking, there will be nothing for tourist to see. The Rideau Waterway will no longer be a "working" canal, and will definitely lose its status as a World Heritage Site. At that point Parks Canada will justify laying off canal staff and their office staff who manage heritage canals.

Once the canal and the spiderweb of tourism and business is destroyed, there will be no way to restore it.

Email your objections with reasons to by February, 2013.

Parks Canada: User Fees Proposal - Public Consultation
Ottawa Citizen editorial: Sinking canal usage
Ottawa Citizen: Rideau Canal structure would almost triple fees
Facebook page: Save the Rideau and St. Lawrence
"Boating in Canada News"