Saturday, December 29, 2007

2008 resolutions

Well the James Bond year 007 is ending and 08 is about to begin.

Eight was my favorite number when I was young. Baseball was my favorite sport and Gary Carter of the Montreal Expos was my favorite player on my favorite team and he wore number 8. So eight was my original favorite number.

Later on 14 was my favorite number with Dan Fouts and Richard Todd, followed by 6 with Mark Martin. I guess 14 is again now my favorite number but it's not as important to me as it used to be. Green is my favorite color and always has been.

Anyway, 2008 resolutions. Historically I don't do new year's resolutions but I did 2007 resolutions. I did well with my 2007 resolutions. This has been a very difficult year but the important changes have been made and now things are moving in a better direction.

For 2008 there are a number of areas to work on. One important area is to continue in the right direction financially. This looks to be a hard financial year but I still need to stay the course and spend only as much as I bring in and get the debt down at least some.

There are lots of areas to work on for this year so if I can accomplish some of my goals then I should be much better off this time next year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

pizza scene

We were putting in some evenings and weekends at work recently finishing up a big project.

One Sunday evening it was around 6:30 PM. I was at the office by myself and hungry. I decided to go out for dinner. One nice thing about having to be in late on nights and weekends is that we can expense our meals if we get take out.

I considered getting a donair sub. With donair sub I like Pizza Land in Clayton Park. I decided to go with pizza. Now Pizza Land also has excellent pizza, but I decided to try something new since the boss was paying for it.

I went with Little Caesars $5 medium because I wanted to try it out. It was OK I guess, you shouldn't expect too much for a $5 pizza I suppose. I drove to the store and they had them pre cooked and boxed in the heated glass area.

I took it back to the office which was nearby. Unfortunately when I took the first bite I had to put it in the microwave as it wasn't really hot anymore. I know it's $5 pizza but when I get take out pizza I expect the cheese to still be melted out of the box. So that was a bit disappointing.

Later that evening some others showed up at the office. They also ordered pizza. They went with Pizza Hut. I had a piece too since well I just like pizza. I was surprised at how good the Pizza Hut was. The cheese and toppings were very good and the crust was good. I've had Pizza Hut in the past years ago and it wasn't very good. It tasted salty and the crust was something like cardboard. I would never buy it myself. However Pizza Hut has improved over the years.

There's a couple of other pizza places worth mentioning. Sicilian in Fairview has very good donair, donair sub, and pizza. Ronnie's 2 for 1 on Main St. in Dartmouth is also good. Ronnie has a slice deal which is a big tasty slab of pizza. I recommend both Sicilian and Ronnie's.

In the past I worked at the big BIO building in Dartmouth as an IT contractor. Back in those days a few of us used to go out on Fridays to the King of Donair which was near to BIO. It was a mix of mostly contractors and some government employees. That was a good time and the King is pretty good.

Pizza places aren't generally known for friendly service but the King knew us as Friday regulars and was really very nice to us when we were there. So when they know you they will treat you well. Those were some good times the King Fridays.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hochtaler wine

For Christmas Day I might be visiting some relatives. My parents suggested that it is polite to bring a bottle of wine to such a visit. They suggested the $10-$20 price range.

I don't know anything about wine so I was at a bit of a loss. However I did recall about Hochtaler from the past. Hochtaler had that provocative commercial back in the 80's.

Also in the past we used to party with some women who drank Hochtaler. Those were some good times partying at the Copper Penny and Hubbards Beach campground and Rick's basement. I recall it as a bit like a beer commercial. So I have a positive association with Hochtaler. I perceive it as a classy, quality drink.

When I went to the liquor store they had it and the price was in the range, a bit less than I expected, so it was an easy choice. I'll have to have a glass of it.

Won an xbox 360

I had a pleasant Christmas surprise this year. I won an xbox 360. There was a draw for my son's Atom B hockey team and I won it.

Every parent had a block of tickets to sell. My parents bought some. I put up a sign at work but there wasn't much interest there. So I ended up buying a few tickets on my own. I also bought some extra tickets from the table they set up at some home games. I don't normally gamble in negative expected value situations. In this case it was for the hockey team so I donated some money in.

The kids were pretty excited about winning the system. This is an extra Christmas present. The system includes a Forza 2 game and Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The Marvel game looks cool as it has a Ghost Rider character. The kids want to get some more games soon including SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 and Guitar Hero 3.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Last day lunch

Today was my last day of work for the year. Unfortunately due to an earlier layoff today was the last day on the job for a number of my co-workers.

We went out to the Lone Star in Clayton Park for lunch. It was OK, nothing special. I ordered fish and chips on the lunch menu but the waitress said they didn't have any fish today. I switched to brisket. After having the brisket I wish the fish had been in.

This wasn't a company lunch, we were all on our own. A bit unexpectedly at the end my boss picked up the tab for the table, around 20 of us, yay. It's happened in the past on last day lunches with both this company and some previous employers. The person waits until the very end to mention that he's taking the bill. It makes sense to do it that way. If you say up front it's a free meal then $7 fish and chips becomes $11 pasta. $2 Pepsi becomes $4 milkshake. $3 local draft beer becomes $6 Guinness.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Unused vacation

I was talking to the HR person the other day. She said I a good bit of vacation time unused. If I don't use some it won't carry over into 2008. I told her I'm done for the year on Dec 14 so I'll be taking a block of time in December. That will get me under so I can carry the remainder into 2008.

It's still a big chunk to be carrying over, around 15 days. I get 20 days a year. There's a couple of reasons I have this carry over. This is the first year I'm at 20 days/year of vacation so I'm not used to having and using up that much. Plus there were some issues to deal with this year that kind of made it not really a good time until now in December to be taking vacation. And there's work of course. I wouldn't have minded shutting it down for the year earlier than Dec 14, but we have a project in the final stages and until the project finishes I can't take a chunk of time before then.

For 2008 things are looking more positive. With 20 days base and 15 carried from 2007 I don't plan to use all 35. I do intend to use more than 20 next year and so reduce the unused. I'll plan to be better to myself in 2008 and use around 25-30 days. I can take a nice 2 week summer break and around 2 weeks at the end of the year and still take some loose days here and there for stuff with the kids, extra long weekends, golf or appointments.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Aliant grief update I

In my earlier Aliant grief post I said they were sending a technician out to get things straightened out, even though everything is working fine.

They told me the tech would arrive today in the morning. And he did arrive at 11:50 AM. The Aliant tech walks into my place and said his service call is I don't have Internet at all.

He was misinformed. Why doesn't that surprise me. I told him everything is working fine and has been since I got it running initially. I explained to him that I ordered high speed only and I was being incorrectly billed for an additional land line. The Aliant rep told me that the technician had to come out out to my place to set me up for the high speed only setup.

The tech was a bit surprised to hear that everything was working properly. He said he'd done some fix at the switch and to check if I was still online. I'd been online all morning working from home on remote desktop and I turned it all off when he phoned ahead to say he was arriving.

So I turned on the Siemens DSL modem and after a few seconds it was the solid three green lights. Good. Then I turned on my PC and everything started as usual. Then I clicked to a couple of Web sites and everything looks good.

So the tech didn't actually change anything at my place. I suppose that's good since everything still works. He told me he would talk to billing and get my account straightened out so that I would only be billed for high speed and not for the land line.

I can only hope that this works out as he said. I guess I'll know when my next bill comes in. I'm not really confident that everything will finally be in order.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dell XPS

What's with the Dell XPS commercials. Is that a commercial for mascara or a computer? All it's missing is an appearance from George Michael.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The taser debate

The use of tasers by police has been in the news lately. There is the infamous video from out in BC. Additionally a local man died recently here in Halifax after being tasered.

It should be noted that the individuals who died were apparently in serious medical distress to begin with so it's not certain at this point the tasering actually caused them to die as they may have died imminently anyway. The autopsies are still to be done.

In any case some people are recommending the police no longer use tasers as they can cause deaths. That doesn't make any sense. Some people are going to die each year when the police have to use physical force to get someone under control.

The cops wrestle someone to the ground. Suspect hits his head on the pavement, goes into a coma and later dies. People can die getting wrestled to the ground.

The cops use a night stick to subdue someone. Suspect loses consciousness as a result and dies later in hospital. People can die getting hit by a night stick. Choke holds can result in the loss of life.

Of course when the police have to shoot someone then the mortality rate is pretty high.

So we shouldn't discontinue tasers because some people die from them. Some suspects are going to die no matter what the police use to get them under control. The issue is if tasers produce an overly high mortality rate compared to other techniques the police could use. I'm not convinced the death rate from tasers is unacceptably high so without strong evidence the death rate is high then the use of tasers should continue.

Tasers were invented to give professional law enforcement extra options between smashing someone unconscious with a night stick and shooting him. I think they've worked well at that, and certainly decreased mortality from police shootings that were avoided. If there is further innovation and new technology is invented to replace the taser then great, we'll adopt the better new technology just like the taser was adopted as better new technology. Until then there is no meaningful statistical evidence at this point to question or discontinue the use of tasers.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Aliant, grief for you

What a pain it has been getting set up with Aliant high speed internet. It seems so simple. I have a cell phone and I just want to order high speed only.

I went into the Aliant store in Bayers Lake. I explained that I have separate phone and I just want to get set up with high speed internet. The clerk said yes yes yes we can do that, standard no problem. So I gave him my information and he filled out some stuff and I signed some stuff and I walked out the door with the white Internet in a box self install kit.

The Aliant store clerk assured me everything was on and ready to go and when I plugged in I would have access to the Internet. So a couple of weeks pass while I get my computer. Finally it arrives and I get it all plugged in.

Then I open up the white Aliant box and start the Internet install. There's a CD with a wizard. Unfortunately the install disc is crap software from Motive. The first time I ran it just abruptly crashed after a couple of the steps. The next time it got a bit further before freezing and needing to restart. Finally I got to a late screen where everything was plugged in properly and I had to enter some numeric code. I found one on my bill of sale but when I typed it in it failed and then started giving nasty error messages.

I called Aliant tech support. This is around 10 PM. The internet help desk guy was none too useful and within about 3 seconds of answering the phone he informed me that it is not a technical issue but a billing issue and he shunts me into some new queue. After a while someone from billing answers. English was not his first language and he was a dolt. The first thing he says is he needs my phone number. I tell him I have Internet only and no Aliant phone. He refuses to believe this.

After some arguing I convince him to look me up. After all I have a name, an address, and a billing number from my phone bill. Aliant may have screwed up my Internet but they sure got that bill out! After having to repeat the same information several times as he keyed it in incorrectly he insists that I'm not in his system and it's not his problem and talk to sales. Of course sales isn't around so call back tomorrow morning.

The next morning I did call back and the daytime crew is far better. First the guy from Internet help desk said it was indeed a tech issue. He was able to look up my service number in about 6 seconds from just my name and address after the dolt from the night before spent half and hour insisting I wasn't in their system. From there he told me how to log into the modem itself on the 192.168 local network and we went to the config screen and typed some stuff in and a couple of clicks later it's swoosh, nothing but Internet.

On the Siemens DSL modem the LAN console can be reached by just navigating to from Internet Explorer. The Aliant Modem Configuration screen appears and that's the modem console.

Great, all done right? Well this is Aliant so of course not. I get a bill this month and it's different than last month's bill. Now there is some local phone number service added. Say what? That wasn't on last months bill and I certainly didn't order it! I ordered high speed only. So again I have to call Aliant. The woman who answered was somewhat useful and explained that the original dealer made a mistake. This is the same original dealer who I was very careful to explain to that I was ordering high speed only. She would look into it and call me back shortly.

Around a half hour later she does call back and says now a technician has to come to my place after all to set it up properly. And it will cost $49 a month. I told her that I bought it on special for $35 a month. She agreed and had to change it. She informed me that because I don't have a land line I will have $10 tacked on. Thanks for not mentioning that Bayers Lake Aliant store.

Sigh, anyway at least they didn't cut off my service until the technician arrives next week. I'm a bit surprised they didn't. Maybe they meant to but managed to screw it up.

Knowing what I know now I would have just got high speed from Eastlink. I'm not locked into a contract with Aliant so I guess I can still switch if this hassle continues. Maybe after the $35 a month intro special wears off I'll switch.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Best price on milk in Halifax

It looks like the current best price on milk in Halifax is $2.99 for a 2L carton. It's at Ultramar of all places. You have to use the Ultramar ValuMax card to get that price.

I know some families go through gallons of milk each month so it would be worth it to get a better price. It's free to get the value max card. You don't have to buy gas to get the price on milk. You can just go in the store and buy the milk only if you wish. Although the value max card does give a 2 cents per litre discount on gas purchased.

Ultramar has been making an effort to get people to sign up for the ValuMax card. I kind of like Ultramar. Their stations tend to be in convenient locations. They also tend to be spacious, clean and well lit inside. The coffee is pretty good too at the Clayton Park location.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Big Lotto 6/49 Jackpot

Once or twice a year the Lotto 6/49 jackpot will get very large. This happens when the top prize goes unclaimed for a few weeks in a row and the jackpot keeps rolling over into the next draw. At the time of this writing the estimated jackpot for the next Lotto 6/49 draw is $37 million.

When the jackpot gets large it creates a bit of a mania in the population. At the office a guy put together a pool to buy a block of tickets. It seems a number of people bought in. They lost virtually the entire amount they invested on the draw earlier this week.

He sent around another e-mail to see if anyone wants to buy into the next draw on Saturday. I replied to this second e-mail asking him to set up a mailing list so that people who don't care about the lotto don't have to see these e-mails. He replied saying he wouldn't send me any more lottery stuff. Although it was inadvertant he should have been more careful to avoid co-worker spam. He should have set up an opt in mailing list with his first group e-mail.

Now because the 6/49 jackpot snowballs when nobody wins it, this can create a lot of dead money in the jackpot. In theory the jackpot could become large enough so that buying a ticket actually has a positive expected value, i.e. it is profitable to play. The chance of hitting the jackpot is around 1 in 14 million. A ticket costs $2. So when the jackpot is $28 million or higher then it is profitable to purchase a ticket right?

Well not quite. When the jackpot becomes very large far more tickets than usual are sold. Regular players buy more than usual, people who only play when the jackpot is large buy tickets, regular pools buy more, and people form new pools to play. With more tickets in play the chance that a lucky win ends up split increases. When the jackpot gets to $30 million or more then so many tickets are in play that the jackpot will be expected to be split around 3-6+ ways. In order to evaluate your expected value you have to discount your expectation by the number of expected splits. Even the most optimistic person would have to divide the jackpot by at least 2.5 to account for the number of splits on it if you win.

Applying an optimistic factor of 2.5 for splits makes the minimum break even jackpot for a $2 6/49 ticket $70 million. Of course at that level the expected number of splits would surely be more than 2.5 so even that's too low.

I'll gamble if I have the bankroll and I feel I'm getting the best of it with a positive expectation. However I won't be buying into the 6/49 this weekend. There's better things I can do with $2.


One final note about lotto pools. The Chinese saying "trust, but verify" definitely applies here. The office pools where I work and at past offices have been well run. The organizer photocopies the ticket numbers and posts them on the message board. So everyone can see how they did and check the results afterward.

There was a hospital in Nova Scotia where the pool was not so well run. The organizer didn't share the numbers with the other players, just the results. One time it became known several months later from other sources that the organizer had cashed in a very large ticket, something like $80,000. When questioned about it by her co-workers she claimed that her husband had bought the winning ticket separately with his own money. As you might guess, that group no longer has that lotto ticket pool.

It was foolish of the other players to possibly let themselves be cheated by the organizer with no way to determine after the fact if she was telling the truth about who bought the big winning ticket. These are social people who talk in great detail about what's going on in their lives. It seems very suspicious to me that the organizer would keep quiet about such a significant and happy event as a big lotto win.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

PC MasterCard

My President's Choice MasterCard is now paid off. Well kind off paid off. Much of it was moved to another place. But there was some left over on the card which I've now paid off. Now that it's paid off I cut up and canceled the card.

It's a small step back toward financial health. There's still a TD and MBNA card to deal with, in addition a car loan and some other crap. So a long and difficult road ahead, but at least I feel I'm moving in the right direction, reducing debt instead of adding to it. The TD and MBNA balances are higher and will take a while to get rid of. I hope be able to update this space to report their successful pay off.

Good riddance PC MasterCard, you brought nothing but misery and hard times into my life. I look forward to never having to interact with you again!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

6 AM Hockey Practice

My older son plays minor hockey. The way they have it set up is there is a rotation of 4 practice times where each week the team gets one of the four practice slots in turn.

This past weekend his team had the Sunday morning 6 AM practice time. We made it on time but I found it hard to get up and get there. I had to take a couple of short naps during the day Sunday to recover. My son was very good to get up and he awoke right when I called him.

He had a second group practice for goalies as well at 12 noon. He went to that practice as usual but he was a bit sluggish. I think the early morning caught up to him a bit.

The 6 AM practices are part of hockey. I had them when I played when I was young. They are hard to get awake and moving for. I'm glad he only has them every fourth week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gas Price Discounts

For some reason it took me a long time to realize there's no reason to ever pay full price for gas. There are plenty of rebates around.

The grocery store gas stations have 3.5 cents/litre rebates. That's the best discount I've seen. This is great because I shop at SuperStore and Sobey's so the coupons will get used on stuff that I was going to buy. It's great going into Sobeys and getting bread and milk for like $0.47 after using a gas coupon. SuperStore has an OralB ultra soft tootbrush that I like and using the gas rebate coupon makes buying it much more pleasant.

Ultramar has a value max card which is good for 2 cents a litre. That's not bad. There's also an Ultramar MasterCard available which they will give you a 2% discount on your statement if you use it to get gas at Ultramar. I might apply for that some time next year when I get my personal finances hopefully in better shape.

If you manage it properly it's OK to use the Ultramar credit card to buy gas. Keep the receipt and when you get home log into your Internet banking and make a payment from your chequing account to the credit card for the amount of the gas purchase. That way you're still only using money you have for gas while still getting the rebate benefit.

What I'd really like to do with Ultramar and I'm not sure if this is allowed is to pull off a triple discount next summer. Get a fill of gas then use Ultramar reveal a deal to get about $1 on average discount. Then pull out value max card and get 2 cents a litre. Then use the Ultramar MasterCard to pay the remainder and get a third discount. Gas is expensive and having to buy it several times a month sucks but getting a triple discount would be satisfying.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New Sneakers

I bought some new sneakers today. My old ones were getting pretty worn and ugly. It took some legwork.

I started out in Zellers. They had some Reebok that were not great, but OK. They were regular $50 and the sign said 25% off all athletic shoes. So great $37.50 for a pair of Reebok that are good enough to wear. Reebok tend to last well too.

I get to the cash and of course it scans at $50. I told the cashier they should be 25% off. She said that applied to different shoes, not the Reebok. This was incorrect but I couldn't be bothered to fight. I just walked out the door leaving the shoes behind.

I then checked out Cleve's. They had a sale on but there wasn't much that was nice in my size at a price I liked. Plus it was wall to wall people so I could harldly move around. I didn't see anything I liked at a good price so I left.

Then I tried Winners. With Winners it's all or nothing. I've gotten lucky there in the past and bought nice Saucony and Reebok there for a great price. This visit was a nothing visit. There were some Reebok that were painfully ugly and not much else.

From there on to Wal-Mart. At WM it was icky. Crowded and narrow aisles. Their selection was not very good. I didn't see any Nike, Reebok or Saucony. I bolted out of there.

Then I tried Payless. I like Payless and enjoy going there. It's a very pleasant store. Clean. Nice layout. Friendly staff. However their focus is on women's and children's shoes. Not much selection of men's sneakers. No Nike, Reebok or Saucony so no sale.

I was resigned to going back to Zellers to pay the $50 for the Reebok but then I realized I'd walked right past The Shoe Company. I gave them a try. They also have a nice big store focused almost entirely just on shoes. Their selection was good although nice shoes also tended to be pricey shoes. With some looking I was able to find some respectable sneakers in my size that were marked down.

So I bought some Nike cross trainers regular $70 marked down to $50. I think it was a good buy. I'll have to check out the Shoe Company sooner the next time I'm out to buy shoes.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I got a haircut last night. I went to First Choice Haircutters. I'd checked prices and First Choice was $11.49 for a haircut and Wal-Mart was $13.95.

It's not bad, I just get my hair cut short so I don't think It's complicated. It's a $12 haircut so you get what you pay for. I'll just let my hair grow out again for 6-8 weeks and get another haircut when it starts getting too long.

I need to fix my personal finances so I can afford a regular hairdresser in the $18-$25 range and get more frequent haircuts, around one a month. I'm now working on it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Avoidable Traffic Accident

I saw a traffic accident in Bayers Lake last week at this intersection.

What happened was car A started in the right hand on ramp. Then a big truck came roaring through the intersection at high speed. Car A choose to stop. Unfortunately car B behind him started after A trying to get through with A ahead of the truck. Car B wasn't looking at A and ran right into him from behind. I was taking the left and saw A's rear bumper on the ground.

This must be about the most avoidable car accident. If you are behind someone on a ramp waiting to take the right, do not even look out your left window at oncoming traffic. Look straight ahead only and make sure the car in front of you has gone into traffic and you are at the front of the line. Do not even look out your left window until you are at the front of the line.

What people like the car B driver often do which is very bad is they assume the driver ahead will go in a borderline window of opportunity. They then aggressively try to piggyback tight behind the first car and also get onto the road within car A's chance. Now if A chooses not to go then B has no time to stop and may not even be looking at A when he slams into his rear, a bonehead move causing an accident.

When you consider the time and money lost by being at fault in a car accident, trying to save a couple of seconds by aggressively piggybacking behind someone on a right ramp turn into traffic is not worth attempting.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The environment

Our environment seems to be in the news more recently. There have been a number of serious reports around global warming and emissions. There is some scary stuff of what we could be in for the next 4 generations in some of the projections. That's like within all of our lifetimes, near enough that we can't ignore it as some future problem we don't have to care about today.

Sometimes I think about the environment and I wonder if a major factor in the damage to the environment is being consciously or unconsciously overlooked. That factor is the single family detached and semi detached house.

I mean think about it. The Kingswood subdivision which is typical in Canada has been described as "800 acres, 800 houses". That's a pretty inefficient and wasteful use of land for the number of people living there. Most people there has to drive a long way to commute to work, typically in downtown Halifax. Clogging traffic and spewing emissions.

Then there's oil heat. Each home having an independent heating system seems pretty inefficient. Plus the oil trucks going around to every single individual house, generating emissions and burning more fossil fuels as they go. It's causing a lot of environmental damage. I suspect the independent home heating plant is based on historical rural traditions of the small family house with the big cast iron stove that heated it. They used wood or coal off their own land to get their own heat, it was the only way. With the rise of the suburbs probably people just did what they grew up with and put in independent furnaces without thinking that gridded heat, like the electricity grid, is better. Surely it's better for the environment.

It seems strange to me nobody ever mentions the damage to the environment and consumption of land and resources caused by the detached family house. Is it because most people live in or grew up in a house and it's just something that's part of life like sidewalks or the clouds that we don't think about separately.

Or is it the pink elephant in the corner for government and the media, something they dare not ever say or even hint about for fear of a swift and sure backlash. A lot of people have a deep emotional connection to their house or the house they grew up in. If the media or the government said this was causing excessive damage to the environment then a lot of people likely become very defensive and hostile at this suggestion. There would be a huge backlash with no meaningful discussion. Who would want to face that wrath?

What's the alternative to the detached house. Probably large 10-100 storey residential buildings right in the city as close as possible to where most people work. Telling people today they have to give up their house for that generally would not be well received. Many (most?) people would say let New York sink into the ocean and the polar bears go extinct before I give up my house. But the thing is if we focused on it then the architects, engineers and city planners could come up with innovative designs to make such shared living comfortable and nearly as good as the traditional detached house. I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen in my lifetime though.

I'd like to see a meaningful discussion on the effect of the detached house on the environment and global warming. I'm not expecting to hear anything about it from the media or government any time soon though.

You never know though. In just the last couple of years SUVs have gone from the toast of the town to frowned upon due to the price of gas and the damage to the environment they cause. The recent federal budget introduced a new tax on these types of vehicles to discourage people from buying them and to get them to fund dealing with the environmental problems they cause.

This same transformation may take place slowly in the coming years in more areas of society, including home ownership. The new gas guzzler tax establishes an important precedent in linking individual activity to the environmental impact of that activity. In the future additional such levies could be established on things like clearing land for a subdivision, installing an oil or wood burning furnace, building a detached or semi detached house.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The best of Sesame Street

Over on YouTube I found my favorite old Sesame Street skit. I enjoyed seeing it again after all these years. My kids also enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

God damned

This is kind of a funny saying if you think about it. I mean why would God bother to damn something.

A traffic light glitch causes it to go flashing and delay motorists. Like God personally damned that traffic light this morning to go flashing.

Some dog barks at night. It starts raining while you walked from the bus stop to work. More likely stuff just happens, breaks, wears out, bad luck or whatever just happens on its own or by chance. Much less likely is that God for some reason decided to damn it.

But who knows. Maybe God for whatever reason does choose to damn things. Perhaps each morning He sits on His throne for a few minutes with a coffee and a huge printed list of thousands of things that He will choose to personally damn this day. Elevator out of order in Dallas. Newspaper ink smudge in Montreal. Traffic jam in Chicago. Bank machine out of service in Calgary.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


With many clicks and a Yahoo answers search I've managed to delete my account. It was not an intuitive process. I'd been on classmates since like the late 90s.

Why did I leave? Well it's because I've switched to Facebook which is much better. Facebook like classmates lets me connect with people I know from back when. However with classmates both me and the other person have to pay classmates money to interact in any kind of meaningful way. Facebook is free and frictionless. And classmates is hardly cheap. Why should I pay classmates to broker a connection. Facebook recognizes the huge pent up demand with classmates and solved the dilemma - make it free to connect with people and for people to connect with you. Like any free service such as tv or gmail or whatever I'm well conditioned to accept some targeted passive advertising on the screen in exchange for using the cool free service. Facebook gets this in a way classmates never did. is like that girl from High School. You know the one. Popular, good looking, She acted at times like she was kinda sorta maybe in a way interested in you. You were friends and she seemed to flirt with you at times. Phoned you more than once. But then she seemed to almost always have a boyfriend in some complicated situation. You never really knew where you stood with her or if she was really interested. So eventually you get to graduation day and nothing ever came of it. You never went out or kissed. And that's fine, no regrets. Maybe if you'd made a move things would have turned out different, or maybe you would have just made a fool of yourself. In any case it's all good and everyone moved on to better things.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Atlantic Lotto Ripoff

Check out the Atlantic Lotto ripoff story. It turns out retailers and other insiders are cashing in large prizes at a statistically impossible rate.

My wife's theory, which the Chronicle Herald story also implied, is that dishonest retailers are telling unsophisticated customers that their winning tickets are losers. The retailer tosses the "losing" ticket into the trash and the mark leaves the store empty handed. The retailer then gets the winning ticket out of the trash and cashes it as his own.

This is most likely true. I am pretty smart, and I find scratch and win tickets confusing, unintuitive, intimidating and difficult to read. It is not at all easy at a glance to tell if a ticket is a winner. 6/49 is only slightly better. If someone has less than high school education (which sadly is a large portion of lotto players), then that player may not be able to tell himself if his ticket is a winner, he has to rely on the retailer. That makes him an easy target for a dishonest retailer to cheat him out of his rare big prize.

Years ago when I was in university I was on a crew helping to clean up a residence on a temp job. One of the regulars from the cleaning company said when he was cleaning offices and it was not busy then he would sometimes recheck discarded lotto tickets. He said he often found winners, including a $50 win. That means people either can't or don't check carefully enough and may not be aware their ticket is a winner.

Make no mistake, retailers will attempt to cheat unsuspecting customers out of winning tickets. I don't play the lotto myself of course. Why would I put money into a game which has a negative expectation? That doesn't make any sense. Anyway sometimes I get tickets for my birthday or Christmas. One time a couple of years ago I had around 5 scratch and win tickets. 4 were losers and one was a $2 winner. I went to the kiosk across from the motor vehicles registry in West End Mall Halifax with all 5 tickets. I had checked the tickets carefully and knew there was 1 small winner and 4 losers.

The clerk laid the tickets out in front of him on the counter and quickly glanced at them. I was watching him. I could tell he noticed the winner among the tickets. He put the tickets together on the counter. Then one by one he put the tickets under the bar code machine. After each checked one he put it back into the original pile, mixing the checked and unchecked together. He checked the losing tickets but not the winning one.

After the losing tickets were checked he said to me sorry you didn't win. I told him he missed one. He tried to act stupid like he didn't know what I was talking about. I specifically pointed out the winning ticket he hadn't scanned. He reluctantly checked it and of course it was good. I got my $2 and left and didn't say anything more about it until now.

So whatever, he tried to cheat me out of $2 and failed. What if I didn't know I had a winner, and it was $200, or $25,000? Based on my direct first hand experience it surprises me not at all to read that retailers on average have an absurdly high win rate.

The thing about the retailers win rate, the true rate is actually even higher. Consider my own case above. Suppose that retailer cheats someone out of a $25,000 winning ticket. If I was that retailer, I would not try to cash that ticket myself. That could bring unwanted attention. I'd get an accomplice such as a spouse, relative or close friend to cash it and divide the proceeds. That way there's no obvious link between me and the big winning ticket. So the stated 10X win rate is just the times the retailers were stupid or sloppy and cashed out the tickets themselves. I expect they would also use accomplices to cash their scammed winning tickets to conceal their ill gotten gains and make it difficult to impossible for the lotto corporation to link back to them.

One angle that I was concerned about is the bar codes on scratch and win. In order to scan a ticket the bar code must be checked. Thus there must be a database somewhere linking the bar codes to the actual value of the ticket. It would seem that given the bar codes it would be possible to determine the value of a ticket without scratching it. I would expect that Atlantic Lotto corporation does not allow casual access to this database. Still for the data to go in or come out it has to be known so it may be possible for insiders to obtain this. This knowledge could be used to skim the tickets to pick out the rare big winners, leaving the general public with the crumbs.

It could work something like this. An insider at the lotto company somehow gets access to the database matching the scratch and win bar codes against the actual value of the tickets. An accomplice retailer gets his regular delivery of tickets. The retailer tells his bar code numbers to the lotto corp insider. The insider checks the database for big winners. Usually there's nothing interesting and the tickets are sold as usual. However say once every 2-3 years the retailer has a $10K+ ticket.

In that case the lotto company employee tips off the retailer about the ticket. The retailer himself or a third accomplice then makes a standard clean purchase of the marked ticket over the counter from the retailer, takes the lucky ticket home and of course hits the jackpot. The proceeds are split and the big ticket is never sold into the general public.

I love in the article how the ALC spokesman said there's no evidence of wrongdoing despite insiders winning at a statistically impossible rate. When they say that, the lotto company is either very stupid or lying through their teeth to the public. I'm not sure which is worse.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Letter from the British Prime Minister

Date: 2007

From: Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Subject: Britney Spears

To the US media;

It has come to my attention that the US celebrity media commonly uses the nickname "Brit" for Britney Spears. This letter is to request that you not refer to Ms. Spears by this name.

Historically by convention the term 'Brit' describes to a person who is a British subject. Often a nickname given to a British person living abroad by the locals.

By calling Ms. Spears "Brit", you may lead some people to believe that she is British. This would be a very unfortunate misunderstanding. Ms. Spears is certainly not British, and we wouldn't want anyone to mistakenly get that impression.

To protect the reputation of Great Britain and British subjects worldwide, please do not refer to Britney Spears as Brit.


Tony Blair


Q: What do you get when you combine trailer park trash with a nine figure bank account?

A: Britney Spears

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Playing sports

We've had some cold weather lately. The lakes are now frozen. There's all kinds of people on them skating, playing hockey, ATVs and ice fishing huts. Last Sunday I was on the ice with my two boys at my wife's parents house. They're right on the lake. We had a nice time. We had out some sticks and pucks. I haven't handled a puck on the ice in a good while so it was nice stickhandling and passing and skating.

On Monday I was at Cleve's Sporting Goods in Bayer's Lake getting my older son's skates sharpened. The shop guy had a couple of other pairs to do first so I had a few minutes to wait. Walking around through the sections in the big warehouse store made me think about sports I used to play in the past. I don't play any sports now and haven't in quite a while.

These are the sports I enjoyed in the past and when I last played them in some kind of regular way.

running - 1997
tennis - 1996
ice hockey - 1999
ball hockey - 2002
golf - 2005
softball - 1999
football - 1986

So why did I stop playing? Well lots of reasons: not enough time, not enough money, not enough energy for it, not motivated for it, perception right or wrong that it was just too much hassle. Some of these things are interrelated. For example if money is tight then that's a demotivator. If you can't or won't "make" time for it then you probably don't have the energy for it either. "hassle" is an aggregate term for all the reasons taken together, a substitute for articulating the reasons individually.

Still, walking through Cleve's, I felt I missed playing sports. I haven't felt that way in a long time. So with some motivation I should go out and get playing at least some of them again.

Hot chocolate

A really good hot chocolate is Timothy's World Coffee Creamy Hot Chocolate. We have it at work. It's really good and I highly recommend it. Very smooth taste.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wife swap

What an icky show that Wife Swap is. I can't imagine how much they pay the people who go on it, $50,000 or more I'd hope. Why else would anyone go on that show?

The show is about putting people into totally alien, unnatural, and hostile environments for two weeks to see how much friction and conlict this can generate. Tears, great. Yelling, a-ok.

For the people who watch it it's about enjoying other people's misfortune. Watching people plucked from their comfortable, self actualized existance into a situation where they are attacked, ridiculed, overworked. The producers put up a line about helping people become better balanced, such as by getting the lazy to work a bit harder, the workaholics to lighten up, the religious fanatics to ease up, the unspiritual to get connected, the indifferent to care more. But really its about creating unfortunate events for everyone watching at home to snicker to themselves about.

I wonder if at the end of the two weeks, the husbands ever wish to themselves, not on camera of course, that the new swapped wife would stay on. I wonder if the wives ever wish they could stay in the new home instead of having to go back to their old life.

Sometimes though I feel like I'm on a reverse version of that show. Like "what am I doing here, what happened to my life, how did I end up here?" Sometimes I feel like I'm not the right fit for my situation, and my situation is not the right fit for me. Like my proper life has been replaced with strange happenings that are hard to grasp.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

basement bar

My older son played softball last summer. I helped out a bit by doing the score book. I also offered the players some occasional baseball tips. Some of those players are pretty good and were keen to play.

After the season ending tournament one of the coaches had a players party at his house. He had a big barbeque which was great. The kids had a good time, they went in his swimming pool. Also the boy had a large supply of toy guns which the boy players greatly enjoyed playing with.

Downstairs in the house he had a nice rec room with a guitar, big screen TV, computer, pool table, game cube, and a bar. The bar was a standard house bar, off in the corner and seemed unremarkable. Not too big or too small.

Anyway we had a good time and then we went home. Later on that week I came home from work to find the kids play room in our house transformed.

My son arranged the area to set up a bar in the play room. It was pretty cool. My younger son likes it too and sometimes we play customer. The boys like to take turns being the manager. My older son is the owner and my younger boy "works" there.

It's funny sometimes the stuff kids notice. The bar at the coaches house did not seem to be very noticeable to a child, but my son was impressed by it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Jets in the playoffs

This is a surprise. The New York Jets finished 10-6 and are in the AFC playoffs this weekend. Nobody expected this. Most people expected the Jets to win 0-6 games this year. While they benefited from a favorable schedule, they played well and won some tough games on the road late in the season. Coming into this season there was a rookie coach and huge question marks around quarterback and running back. Congrats to coach Mangini and the Jets for overachieving.

I remember the last time the Jets played New England in the playoffs. It was at home in 1985. I watched that game the Jets lost 26-14. This time the Jets are on the road. I doubt they can win out on the road like Pittsburgh did last year to reach the Super Bowl. I'm just glad to be in the playoffs, whatever happens.

I didn't watch much football this year. We cut back our cable package and lost TSN, so lost NFL Primetime. I used to pretty much always watch at least prime time to know what was going on and get the highlights. Without prime time I felt kind of disconnected and didn't really get into football this year. It kind of goes up and down a bit between seasons. This was a less season. Overall I'm less of a follower than I was in younger years, but I had more time for it in the past.

So go Jets, hopefully I'll be at home and able to catch the game on TV.