Archive for the ‘Recommendations/Reviews’ Category

HDTV: Shaw vs. Telus

Friday, July 27th, 2012 3 comments

I’ve been using Shaw for internet and cable TV for years.  And I’ve been leery of the quality of the Telus Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), especially when the last bit of the feed into my condo is over twisted pair wires originally intended for voice-only telephone.  But I noted the picture quality at my son’s (detached) house was quite good with Telus.  Further the Telus internet upload rate was claimed to be double that of Shaw’s for the same price.

But my main incentive to explore Telus was my desire to see all the games of the Montreal Canadiens, which would require the French sports network, RDS, which Shaw only offers in Standard Definition (SD).  Telus offers the HD feed.

So to make a long story a little shorter, I switched to Telus, despite the dire warnings from Shaw that I wouldn’t get the internet speeds promised, I found that I did get the promised 1Mb/s upload, and 14.5Mb/s download consistently.  And I found the following:

  • Music channel audio quality (which I use a lot) is much better with Telus, although they do not show the title of the current song playing like Shaw.
  • The Telus user interface is more responsive and much easier to use, for example I can filter the program guide to only the channels I am subscribed to, or further to just my favourite channels
  • Telus can record 3 HD programs simultaneously as opposed to 2 for Shaw.  (Telus does not promise you can get 3 HD, but the software tests the line quality and if it’s good enough, allows this.  Otherwise it degrades the capability to SD signals, only promising one or two HD recordings, the balancing being SD).
  • The Telus HD PVR hard drive was much quieter.
  • It was cool (but useless) to have the caller ID display on my TV screen when the phone rang.
  • The Telus PVR doesn’t auto-prompt to extend time on live recordings like Shaw, but does allow a max of 3 hours extra as opposed to 2.
  • The Telus PVR storage is vastly larger: 200 HD hours vs. 20 on my four-year-old Shaw PVR.  Not an issue for me as I don’t watch much TV.
  • Telus offered a free Samsung Galaxy Tablet on a 3-year contract.
  • …and finally the picture quality: Telus was much more pixelated and blurry than Shaw on movement in HD scenes (terrible for sports) and the SD quality was appallingly bad, even on static images.

So the Telus technician came back and worked hard on improving the quality, to no avail.

So it’s back to Shaw for TV, but I’ll stick with Telus internet.  And hope that Shaw offers RDS HD before the hockey season starts.  Bad news is that the quote I got for the package I wanted from Shaw was incorrect, it’s actually $3/month more.  Good news is that Shaw is giving me a six-month discount for switching back.

EDIT: So I just had Optik TV disconnected, and I have to say that the Telus customer experience was much better than that with Shaw:

  • Telus gave discounts, both on my initial order (took $5/month off on the long-term bundled rate) and even after I cancelled the TV they kept the discount for my remaining Internet service, which I had ordered at the same time and kept. They considered that I had my home phone with them for years as well, and had met my end of the bargain in trying to use all three services, so I got the full bundled pricing. They also let me keep the Samsung tablet.
  • Shaw stuck to listed prices and had no wiggle room. One Shaw rep misquoted me and the next rep did not honour that pricing and so I’m paying more for the TV.
  • Telus reps were friendlier, more understanding.
  • The Telus tech worked his butt off to try and make it work, including giving me his mobile number, and talking to me on his day off

So I’d definitely recommend Telus over Shaw from this point of view. Dang twisted pair!

Microsoft announces “Next generation flight experience”

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 4 comments

Only a few weeks after releasing Microsoft Flight, the company announced today that it is developing the next generation of flight software.  Here’s an excerpt from marketing VP Bög Uslãmé’s description of the new product.

“Microsoft has shown a keen understanding of the user experience when it comes to flying airplanes and stuff like that on computers.  There’s a certain magic which we have learned to capture, interrogate, channel and evaporate.  After developing progressively more intricate software for this market through many versions culminating in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Microsoft Flight showed that we could simplify the paradigm, reduce the functional and geographic scope, convince ourselves we were broadening our appeal, minimize the UI, and still generate a significant return on investment.  All while ensuring that the user thinks they are having fun.  So now we’ll take this passionate approach one step further with the realization of a focused vision in our new product, Mi Fli. The name says it all: shorter, ambiguous and stimulating.  We anticipate that arguments over pronunciation of the name will provoke flame wars at AVSIM, raising consumer awareness with optimal marketing involvement, ie none.  And we’re honored that this will be first product of many from Microsoft using the new ‘Mi’ brand identity.

“The new user-centric feature scope and accessible two-key UI will allow us to minimize customer feedback and the need for infrastructure and support, maximizing the long-term viability of the product.  This also eliminates the potential for distracting third-party development enhancements.

“Of course we’ll make optimal use of user attention bandwidth, with a five-minute splash screen and subsequent contorted Windows Live Games sort-of-XBox-but-not-really online validation and ad-push process.  At every opportunity our valued customers will be presented with a slideshow to encourage purchase of expansion packs they already have, and others they don’t want.  If they do attempt a purchase, lucky users will randomly trigger a hidden gem: ‘Can’t retrieve information from LIVE. Please try again later.  Error code 8007271D.’  All part of our playful engagement with our valued customers, further augmented by our proactive Google … I mean, Bing-ranking of searches for that code with irrelevant and misleading KB articles on Zune.

“As always, we won’t specify availability date or features until well after the product is released, but we will publish periodic screenshots and low-res stuttery teasers without explanation that will encourage rampant and inaccurate speculation.  But, off the record, based on a reduction in the development team to one half-time employee and the one paragraph feature list, it’s likely the product will be released no later than Thursday.  Meanwhile, we’ll give customers attempting to harvest meaningful information from our website the opportunity to ingest content-free team member interviews.

“You might expect the usual discussion, ‘Is it a game?  Or is it a simulator?’ to be bypassed through our innovative approach of offering the features of neither.  But we know our true die-hard Microsoft … I mean, Mi … fans will still endlessly debate this question.

“From a personal marketing point of view, I’ve found it refreshing to work with half of a malleable gender-free ethnic-neutral location-nonspecific engineering team member who can design to specification without the need for dialog, discussion or any kind of human interaction.

“We’re excited about this cutting-edge next-generation user experience enhancement package.  I look forward to Mi Fli being open for business.  The future is bright.  Join us on our journey.”

Proponents of X-Plane immediately decried the new product, stating, “X-Plane has a much more realistic flight model.  And it almost has believable scenery.”

What (not) to do in an Earthquake

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011 Leave a comment

In this post I outlined sources of information to use for guidance in preparing for, and responding to, an earthquake.   It appears that some misguided information is also finding its way around the internet once again: the Triangle of Life promoted by Doug Copp.   It may apply in some third world countries, but guidance in North America still says to drop, cover and hold on.  Follow these links to learn more:

The problem here is not Doug Copp, it’s folks who do not take the time to verify the validity of information.  Google makes this easy now, and a simple search will quickly give you guidance as to whether the information is credible.  So the rule is: don’t pass on any advice on any life/safety issue unless you’ve verified it with a couple of credible websites, or it comes directly from someone who you know personally is an expert.

As an aside, I was surprised to see people standing around or running out of buildings in videos of the recent Japanese earthquake.  That’s the wrong thing to do, and in any case don’t think you’ll have that much mobility.   The earthquake was well offshore and the ground shaking in Tokyo (where much of the video was from) was much LESS than we might experience.  You may not be able to walk or even stand.  Most injuries occur (according to the American Red Cross statement above) when people try to run out of a building: stepping on broken glass, being thrown about or falling down stairs.

This article shows that Tokyo was subject to ground accelerations peaking at 0.16 g (VII on the USGS scale).    To put this in perspective severe ground shaking (X+) was recorded of up to 2.7g in Miyagi prefecture, more than 15 times higher.  A human would be thrown about like a ragdoll at such accelerations.  Unless they had dropped, covered and held on.  Tight.

A great little program for home layout …

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 2 comments

If your home space planning needs are simple, and you don’t need the complexity of the Punch line of home design software, Sweet Home 3D is a great free option, as I noted in my July 6 post.  Be sure to download the additional 3d model libraries, and even with them your choices will be limited, and very Euro-focused (check out the bizarre fireplace).  However, I still found the models quite usable as placeholders.  Includes plan view, as well as 3D walkthrough and the ability to print PDFs, if you don’t already have a PDF writerHere’s my layout.

And I have got some more furniture.  Had a very sorry experience with Sears catalog shopping (30 errors in the fulfillment process, dealing with 19 representatives, in the end they shortchanged me on the refund), eventually cancelled the order and got what I wanted from The Brick (zero failures, talked to 3 people in the order fulfillment process).

Cables anyone?

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 Leave a comment

I don’t have an issue with retailers making profit where they can, especially with the current economic state.  But I also like to save money.  If you have audio/video/computer cable needs in Canada I highly recommend CableSalesCanada.  From my experience in offshore manufacturing I know that cables often cost less than $1 to make, and ever since the introduction of “monster cables,” sellers figured out that consumers will pay huge markups on cables, with no commensurate increase in quality.

A good quality HDMI 1.3b 1m cable sells for $9.50 at CableSalesCanada, plus shipping and tax.  The equivalent starts at $30 at FutureShop and you can pay absolutely silly prices for HDMI monster cables claiming superior video and audio.  I would challenge any viewer/listener to tell the difference.  HDMI is a digital signal, and as long as the integrity of the signal is maintained, the cable will make no difference.

Not that all substitute cables are good, some of the cheaper cables Sears sells have poor connectors that easily fatigue and fail.

For $110 including tax and shipping, I bought 15m (DVI to HDMI), 3m and 2m (HDMI) cables and got a lovely pen and mousepad (ok that’s not much of an incentive, I know!).  Arrived in just a few days.

Other countries I’m sure have equivalent suppliers, I can’t recommend from personal experience.

New speakers

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 Leave a comment

As I note in my audio/video system update I’ve been using the landlady’s speakers for some time.  Once I knew what my new condo would be like (small), I was ready to buy speakers.  I decided on an oddball stereo pair, not very common, but they sounded the best of everything I listened to under $2,000, except for the very low end, which is missing (Response: 55Hz – 50kHz).  I bought a pair of JVC SX-WD5‘s.  The clarity is stunning, and using the old Technic’s as rears works fine.  When I move, I’ll look for some inexpensive rears.

I don’t plan on getting a centre speaker or subwoofer or “presence” speakers.  So my 7.1 receiver will be driving 4.0.  Even for surround sound movies, it sounds great.  I’m just missing that deep rumble that probably wouldn’t go down well in a condo …

Deals on Ron’s birthday

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 Leave a comment

December 23rd, Ron’s offering 50% off on his fight simulation aircraft products.  Details here.

Catching up with Audio/Video

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 1 comment

In the 1960s I was fascinated with technology, and when colour TV came to Canada (years after the US!), the next big breakthrough was to be high-definiiton TV, and I recall it being discussed in the press.  That may have been the NHK system demo’ed in 1969 described in this article.  But for technical reasons the technology stagnated and did not become widely available until this century.

I also remember listening to my first FM broadcast in the 60′s on a portable radio, and was capitivated by the richness, relative to AM.  And I recall clearly when my brother bought his first cheapo stereo system and we listened to the soundtrack from 2001, A Space Odyssey.  I was amazed at the depth of the sound.

In the 70s I often helped friends purchase high-quality stereo systems, and knew a fair amount about the technology.

Despite this I never purchased a good-quality system for myself.  So recently I decided it was time to investigate audio and video technology and get myself a decent system.  I quickly discovered that audiophile systems were well out of my price range, as was the latest in HDTV.  But with minor compromises, the cost could be brought down dramatically.  So here’s what I purchased:

  • Panasonic 42″ 1080p TH42PZ800 plasma HDTV
  • Pace TDC-775D PVR (only choice with local cable company)
  • Panasonic BD50 BluRay player (now superseded by the BD55)
  • Yamaha RXV-1800 receiver (good price as the RXV-1900 is now available)
  • Grado SR-2 headphones
  • Panasonic DMR-EZ48V DVD recorder (for transcribing old VHS and Hi-8 video tapes)

And here’s my impressions:

  • The richness and clarity of the TV are amazing.
  • The colour depth of the TV is very poor, looks like 16 bit colour, resulting in very visible banding on graduated colour areas, whether from BD, computer or cable.  I went back to the store and looked at many plasma and LCD TVs, indeed this is a chronic problem with plasma, which I didn’t find noted anywhere in reviews.  How odd.  Of course, the newest, very expensive TVs (like $9k) don’t have this problem.  LCD TVs perform much better than plasma on colour depth.
  • The compression needed for cable HDTV results in massive pixellation on movement, it’s tolerable, but I think they (at least the local cable company) has gone overboard on compression.
  • Flight Simulator X looks fantastic on a 42″ plasma, and performance is quite good.
  • There is no hiss at all from the receiver.  Zero.  Amazing.  Overall the receiver specs are better than the best studio equipment of the 70s.
  • The Blu-Ray player takes forever to start up!  But movies look great.
  • The headphones are amazing.
  • Amazingly, neither of the DVD players can read .jpg images over 1Mb in size, something that aged DVD players can do.  A big hole in Panasonic’s capability.  I have to drive slide shows from the computer.
  • I once tested the Shaw digital audio channels because the sounded so crappy, and found they rolled off around 8kHz.  However either my system sucked or they’ve changed the quality, because now they sound great.  Definitely wide-response, although there still is some distortion on very low frequencies at times.  That may be the fault of the audio stream providers, who knows.

Now astute readers will have noted something missing: speakers.  Those I’m going to take my time with and save my nickels, as they are the most critical part of the system.  Meanwhile, the place I’m renting has some old Technics speakers that sound ok: they are missing the low end, but capture the tinkly highs adequately.  And clarity is good.

So I’ve caught up a bit, and am satisfied with what I have.

Homehunting continues

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 1 comment

So I’ve been hunting in earnest for about a month, and I’ve looked at perhaps 25 properties.  Mostly condos, but a few townhouses and one duplex.  I found three or four places I really liked, but all had some sort of showstopper.  Prices are dropping slowly on condos over the past 6-8 months, not so slowly on townhouses.  What is changing dramatically is the number of properties sold.  Filtering out the market-speak of the Victoria Real Estate Board and looking at the hard data, the ratio of properties sold to properties listed is falling dramatically: from 27.9% in May 2007, 21.4% in October 2007, 19.9% in April 2008, to 6.8% in October 2007.  So the pressure on sellers must be intense, and I’d expect to see prices start to drop more.  Sales of very expensive properties (over $1m) are even slower, only 7 selling out of 176 on the market in October, or 4%.

It’s a bit tough to judge by the stats month to month, as different types of properties are sold each month (condos for example can vary dramatically in quality and price), so I track a 6-month moving average to give better guidance.  The most expensive 2-bedroom condo now available is asking $1,250,000, while the least expensive is $149,000.  If a few of the 39 condos priced at over $1m sell, the numbers can be quite biased.  With the smoothing of the 6-month average applied, the average condo in the City of Victoria has dropped from $339k in March to $293k in October, a drop of 13.6%.  Prices in other areas of Greater Victoria have behaved differently, but I didn’t track them.

In Vancouver, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver has a much more factual summary without the mushy verbage of the VREB (they say “drop” not “soften”), and they use benchmark properties to measure true price variations.  I can’t find where they provide the excellent detail that Victoria does though.

Overall I’m eager to get out of my tiny (540 sq ft, 50m2) rental apartment, but I do like the short walk to work and it’s an odd time to invest in real estate.  Predictions vary of course on what will happen in Victoria.  It must be tough on the agents right now though, with reputedly 1,366 of them in the area, there were only 316 sales in October.

All stats quoted here are publicly available.  As a buyer, my realtor gives me access to more detail on property listings in my scope of interest, and I can see how much people are selling for vs. asking price, and what properties are selling or not.  I can’t comment on those stats.

Support for men on Vancouver Island

Thursday, October 26th, 2006 2 comments

Working with the ManKind Project we are often approached by men looking for support, and although we can usually help to some degree, we sometimes refer men and women to other resources.  For men (males 16 or older) in Victoria, Canada, who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual trauma the Men’s Trauma Centre offers Victim Support Services & Group and Individual Counselling.  Clients may have suffered from abuse as a child, be a victim of crime, have been abused in relationship, or experienced some other traumatic event or events.  Support staff have many years of experience in this field.  They can contacted at (250) 381-6367 (general info or counselling) or (250) 381-0493 (Victim Services), or via email.

A little further up the Island, the Nanaimo Men’s Resource Centre offers a variety of services for men and women, to:

  • provide support and referrals for men 
  • promote connections with partners and families
  • promote community awareness regarding men and men’s issues
  • help men with family court/divorce, seperation, custody and access issues
  • support men in learning to communicate and enrich existing relationships.

The Nanaimo Men’s Resource Centre, as I posted about earlier, is also starting up the Dad’s Make a Difference program, working with families immediately after the birth of the children to instill connection and responsibility in both partners.  This program is inspired by Gardner Wiseheart’s very successful program at Healthy Families San Angelo, begun about 12 years ago, which is now in many areas. 

For men in the Cowichan Valley, the Cowichan Men’s Resource Centre in Duncan provides a place where men can connect with each other, find assistance in crisis, and access community resources.  They can be reached at (250) 732-1471 or emailed for support or to volunteer.

I support these initiatives because they emphasize personal responsibility, healing, and fostering relationships rather than confrontation and blame.

Oh, yes, that Adventure . . .

Friday, April 21st, 2006 Leave a comment

I last reported I was off to the New Warrior Training Adventure on March 29. As always, the weekend was a success, and I got to cook to my heart's content. It was exhausting, but now we have many more New Warriors here on the Island. A bunch of them have signed up for the 8-week Primary Integration Training programs we are running here.

Another Vancouver+1 Review

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006 3 comments

This review by the German site (in German) is quite thorough.  I note that the reviewer has likely not fully followed installation instructions, as he should not be getting roads across water under bridges.  That’s likely because he has not disabled Joel’s freeware BC Roads.  The tree issue he reports at CYPK is a new one, and Arno points out that it’s likely the result of using a custom tree texture.

Logitech Harmony 880 universal remote review

Thursday, February 9th, 2006 Leave a comment

I recently purchased this device. Here’s a copy of the review I submitted to CNet.


  • clear color display
  • sophisticated flexibility
  • extensive database
  • contoured buttons helpful in dark or for sight-impaired
  • good telephone support


  • painfully slow web-based programming,
  • not clear how to replace macro functions,
  • poor email support
  • no written manual included with product,
  • online manual is meagre
  • web manual hotlinks don’t work (did they not buy the Adobe PDF writer?)
  • button text is too small for many functions (mute, for example)
  • I don’t want yet another application sitting in memory all the time looking for updates
  • I don’t trust Logitech to use all the personal information they collect (as the result of using a web-based application) in a way that is in my best interest
  • the programming module reorders programmable button to match some paradigm, ignoring user preference, diminishing the value of programmable buttons
  • the web interface detects that FireFox is not a supported browser, and since the resident process fires up the default browser, if you have FireFox as your default, this is a major annoyance
  • the exit option is obscured when right-clicking on quick-access icon if the taskbar is four or more sections high (he pop-up window has lower priority than the taskbar)
  • they use a proprietary rechargeable battery (big mistake!) which does not seat positively in the battery compartment


I was excited about the potential of this remote to help my Mom whose eyesight is poor and who can get confused (as can I!) when she has to deal with a handful of remotes. The clear, programmable color display (with a large-text mode) is impressive. The first disappointment was the programming process: the web-based system is very slow. The website timed out frequently (and no, my ISP was doing just fine). Once preferences were set, it took a while for the programming request to be queued and processed. Then followed a binary download and programming of the device. Except for the choice of devices, this whole process could have been a local PC application. And having to test this on my system, and do a number of iterations was extremely frustrating.

I was amazed to see my ancient Altec-Lansing audio system as the example Altec device. I’d hijacked it from an old computer system. All devices I tested (a total of 8 ) were in the database: well done.

Documentation is minimal and incomplete. Support-wise, the web-based email support was virtually useless, it took 5 days to get a response. In contrast, I found the toll-free phone support to be prompt, courteous and informed.

My mother ran into problems though fairly immediately when using the unit, it would often reset (show the “testing” screen and go back to the intro screen). Of course on/off device synchronism is lost when this happens so it’s quite a mess. Customer support immediately recognized this as probably caused by poor battery seating and recommended I stuff a strip of paper in the compartment to put upward pressure on the battery against the contacts. Eek. After a couple of weeks though, the device “blue-screened” (literally!!!), and the only way to fix it was to take the battery out and put it back in. Customer support then suggested it was time for a new unit, which I have just now picked up.

Another somewhat scary bit: the “aspect” function did not change the aspect ratio for one of the TVs I tested. With no macro programming capability there was then no way to duplicate the keystrokes needed to achieve this. So unless I’m missing something, this is a serious limitation.


I would not recommend this device for anyone non-technical or if any of the issues I outline here are a concern. It’s a remarkable product considering it’s Logitech’s first foray into programmable remotes, but their lack of experience is glaring. If there were an equivalent competitive product, I would encourage folks to look at those, but I found nothing that had the same features. So unless it continues to crash I will stick with it.

Vancouver+1 Review

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006 2 comments

Lydell Stelmack has kindly done a review of Vancouver+ Part 1 for AVSim. It can be found here.

Training coming to Vancouver Island

Sunday, January 29th, 2006 5 comments

The New Warrior Training Adventure is coming again to Vancouver Island on March 31-April 2, 2006 weekend.  I found this intense training for men to be transformative, and the follow-on trainings and groups excellent.  Created by three men in the mid-80′s, something like 33,000 men have now gone through it.  There’s more info at and a registration link at

What I got out of it:

  • a mission/sense of purpose, and how to take action in the world
  • the fundamental power of accountability (both modeling it and holding others accountable)
  • a better understanding of integrity and how to live in integrity
  • how to balance compassion, action, mystery, leadership, self and beliefs

The training is recommended for men who are ready to let go of preconceptions and take a hard look at themselves, and push themselves to their limits.  The number of staff exceeds the number of participants, so safety is paramount.  The training is run by the ManKind Project, a not-for-profit organization.  For men who are interested but can’t make it to Vancouver Island, this training is held 125 times per year around the world.  See for local trainings.


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