Sunday, July 10, 2011


I've been busy making playlists on my iPod Touch. I don't really use this thing anymore but have a specific need for a music playback device that isn't my phone. I have to ask all the iTunes users, how the hell do you live with this software? It is single handedly the slowest and most cumbersome music management software I have ever used. I agree the the end iOS iTunes interface is nice for playback, but it just doesn't seem worth it.

It is incredibly slow. Granted, I'm using iTunes on a Windows PC, which means I have a non-native performance penalty already, but I'm using a Core i7 3Ghz Quad Core PC with 12GB of RAM. It's not exactly a slow machine!

My Music collection is 140GBs. Maybe a bit on the large size? Scrolling through albums requires waiting several seconds to have the screen draw the user interaction.

I have to manually add music acquired outside of the iTunes music store into iTunes. Most of my music doesn't come from iTunes as it's the most expensive music store online. I'm sorry, but I have a computer to avoid doing tasks that can be easily automated! I guess this isn't an issue if you only buy music via iTunes. Maybe I'm too cheap, but I refuse to pay CD prices for digital media. On a related note, there is no way in iTunes to see where the file that represents that song is.

I could go on but I have to get back to banging my head against the wall here.

Update: I can't transfer the two newest playlists I created due to "unknown error". Thanks iTunes.

Update2: Went back to editing. iTunes up and deleted one of my playlists. POS.

Update3: I chatted with some Mac users over lunch. Apparently my problem were:
  1. I wasn't using a MAC
  2. I don't allow iTunes to manage my music
  3. I don't buy my music through iTunes
If I wanted to be locked into the Microsoft ecosystem of the 90s I'd be... oh wait...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Letter to Rob Ford: city infrastructure

His Worship Rob Ford,
Mayor, City of Toronto,

I am writing you as a home owner and tax payer of the City of Toronto. I have lived in the Toronto area most of my life. I grew up in Etobicoke and Mississauga and now live in the Bloor and Ossington area. I have travelled and experienced getting around in many cities: Tokyo, Montreal, Warsaw, Prague, New York, San Francisco to name a few.

Toronto is falling further and further behind in how we move people in and out of the city. The reality, weather the City wishes to admit it or not is that cars, and the infrastructure that serves them is not the answer. As Toronto's population increases, traffic congestion will skyrocket. I work in Liberty Village and traffic congestion is getting out of control here. There are currently 5 new condos under construction, once completed it will be a giant slow moving parking lot. The solution is not to get rid of bike lanes, or street cars as there aren't any to get rid of. The solution is to get people to stop driving and into transit and alternative modes of transportation like cycling.

This is not a war on the car, this is reality. The removal of any cycling lanes in the city, sends the message that it's ok to get into your car and drive wherever you need to go. This will only increase traffic congestion. It is cars that cause traffic, not transit or bicycles.

Thank you for listening,
Paul Tichonczuk

I got a canned response very quickly:

Thank you for your email regarding the bike lanes on Jarvis Street. I appreciate hearing from you.

Toronto's economy loses billions of dollars every year from gridlock and traffic congestion. We need to make the situation better - not worse. The Jarvis Street bike lanes experiment has been a failure. Ninety-four percent of commuters now face longer commutes on Jarvis Street. Over 15,000 commuters each day are suffering from longer travel times, for the sake of 600 additional cyclists.

The City should remove the bike lanes as soon as possible and improve travel times for thousands of daily commuters. City staff have been directed to develop a low-cost plan to do so. Bike lanes were never intended to be installed on Jarvis Street. The original Environmental Assessment recommended against installing bike lanes - but City Council amended the report to approve bike lanes anyway.

As promised during the mayoral election, I am dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts. Please feel free to contact my office again at any time.

Yours truly,

Mayor Rob Ford
City of Toronto

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Google Nexus One long term thoughts

I've had the Google Nexus One for some time now. The phone is now well over a year old and I still believe it's one of the best phones on the market. I'm currently on the latest (phone) release of Android, 2.3.3. This is as much a post about the phone as it is about Gingerbread, the latest Android.

When this phone came out, one of Google's main reasons for it was to push the envelope for Android phone design and quality. I believe they succeeded.
  • High quality build and feel
  • Fast 1Ghz Processor with Graphics Acceleration
  • High Resolution Multi Touch Capacitive Touch Screen
  • Noise cancelling microphone
  • Dedicated charging dock with zero effort docking
These were some of the features that made this phone stand out from the rest of the "not quite good enough" Android phones being released. The dedicated charging dock, with the accompanying phone pouch is a small but important one. First of all, the $5 pouch that came with the phone, in my opinion is better then the most expensive "case" I've seen. It does a better job of protecting the phone that most expensive cases, and it cleans the screen every time you take it out and put it in. The pouch is also a requirement if you sue the dock, as you can't have the phone in the case. The dock doesn't use the standard USB jack like the cheap ones do. It has three metal contacts and communicated over Bluetooth. When you dock it, the phone goes into Dock mode, a very nice and unique feature.

Now with the release of the Nexus S, a phone manufactured by Samsung and not HTC, things have changed.
  • No expandable memory, 16GB built in.
  • Plasticy build, though very light
  • Only 3G while all other phones released during this time where at least 3G+ if not 4G
  • Added Gyroscope and NFC as the only two really new features
  • Front facing camera for video chat
The only real reason to upgrade is the screen. Though the Nexus One had a an AMOLED Multi Touch screen, the Multi Touch was barely that. The Nexus S has a proper multi touch screen and Samsung's proprietary Super AMOLED screen which I will argue is one of the best on the market for any smart phone out right now.

The lack of expandable memory is a really head scratcher. I can't really see any reason for this other their maybe to have more lock down on the phone. Now with fast, 32GB MicroSD cards hitting the market, this seems really silly.

You lose the nice dock and noise cancelling mic as well.

So as I have recommended the Nexus S to many family members and friends with great success, I sit here happy with my Nexus One with very little urge to upgrade.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread

Gingerbread brings some very much needed improvements to Android. None of these are "features" as such, but under the hood improvements which were much needed and some that are just cool.
  • Graphics accelerated UI
  • Better application management, especially for phones with expandable storage
  • More consistent UI in both applications and the main OS

  • Darker UI to save battery life on OLED based screens

  • The most awesome closing animation, ever :)

There is more, but those are the ones you notice. The graphically accelerated UI is the biggest. If you've ever used an IOS device or the new Windows 7 phones, you know how the user interface just flows very smoothly under your fingers. Android just never felt that smooth and responsive, until now. It's subtle, but makes for a much more pleasing user experience.

The bad

With 2.3, I was a bit disappointed with the amount of bugs that were introduced, and with how some of the above features didn't go far enough. The Nexus One has a dedicated car dock, which when inserted goes into car mode. I don't have the dock but I can manually put the phone into car mode. This has car dedicated features and removes distractions. When in the navigation app in car mode, the phone looses GPS at first launch. You have to back out and re-launch. Another minor annoyance is the mislabeled buttons in the USB mass storage mode.

The biggest disappointment with 2.3 was the lack of UI improvements. Yes, the hardware acceleration was very important and welcome, it should have been there from the start. That and though an effort was made for UI consistency, it's not nearly as polished as it's competitors. Things like the improved application management, though again, welcome, is now more cluttered and confusing than it should be. Most importantly, the Nexus One specifically, only came with 512MB of internal storage. This shouldn't be a problem as I have a 16GB microSD card in the phone. Sadly, due to the way Android Applications work, not all downloaded apps can be stored on the microSD card, leaving very little space. A lot of modern Android phones come with 2-4GB of internal storage, combined with the expandable storage, this is more than enough.

Sticking Around

Overall though, I've been very happy with the Nexus One. So happy that I have no desire to upgrade. Google really did come out with one of the best phones at the time, and it's aged very well compared to it's competitors.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Usage Based Billing, the big ISPs push for Wireless like profits.

I've had several discussions recently about wireless carrier pricing. The more I thought about mobile pricing strategy, the more I realizes what UBB was really about.
Rogers and Bell are both making huge amounts of money off of their wireless cell phone businesses. In fact, Canadian wireless carriers have some of the highest profits in the world. Why is this? Partially because of lack of competition. Yes, there are three national carriers, Rogers, Bell and Telus. But Bell and Telus are joined at the hip (they share their network), leaving just Bellus against Rogers. Things are changing with the new entrants, but the core of their success is based on the business model that is prevalent in a lot of North American carriers.

Scarred into paying more

All the major North American carriers have a pricing model which is designed to discourage pay for what you use pricing. They all have packages with allotments of minutes and/or bytes of usage. If you go over what your package contains, you are charged obscene amounts in overage charges. These charges are designed to force you into a package which you may not ever come close to using, but will gladly have so you don't get that wonderful two, three or more times your regular bill overage charge. A lot of Americans overpay for cell phone usage as a result.

Changing the rules for Internet Access

So these large carriers in Canada are making money hand over fist in the wireless space. Now they want to bring those profits into their Internet business. So what better way than to put up a smoke screen claiming that bandwidth is getting more precious, just as it's getting cheaper elsewhere in the world? What's worse, is that wireless and land line infrastructure are very different. Wireless frequency allocation is actually a controlled, some might argue artificially scarce resource. Not so with land lines. The only thing scarce about them is that there are a handful of companies that own the last mile infrastructure, and they feel it's their's to overly restrict.

Bell's UBB pricing policy, which was being forced onto independent ISPs who lease the last mile access, had ridiculously low usage allotment, with the option to buy "usage insurance". If you think you are going to go over, buy these packages of extra usage and we won't charge you our crazy high overage rates. So instead of actually being billed for your usage, where if you used less, you'd save money and if you used more, it would cost you more, based on a reasonable markup, we have a situation that mirrors the wireless industry. High overage fees with higher usage packs. Soon we'll all be overpaying for our Internet access. Of course, it's actually worse for a lot of users, as no packs were offered to cover what some people used.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rick Mercer get's UBB right in this funny video

This video pretty much shows how ridiculous the usage based billing situation is getting. Our tubes are too clogged. We're all hogs that need to be punished. The CRTC and Bell Canada both need a good kick.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Bell and the CRTC

There was a line in my post from the weekend which I removed on a friends recommendation. I'd like to talk about the idea in that sentence. Before I do though, I will point out as my friend rightfully did, that this is my opinion. I have no proof to back this up, only a chain of events that make it more clear in my mind.

Bell Canada doesn't want you using their Internet for anything that would harm their other sources of revenue. They don't want you using VOIP because that harms their existing telephone and long distance business. They don't want you using Netflix because then you're not using their satellite or IP TV services.

In a hearing over a year ago at the CRTC, on the traffic management practices that Bell uses to slow down your Internet connection, the CRTC asked Bell for proof of the congestion that required this. Bell complained that they couldn't provide this proof because how their Internet works was a trade secret. Eventually they were compelled to provide this proof and submitted a very lengthy document. This document was long and full of non-essential information. At the end of it all, it showed that there was a < 1% probability that at some point during a one year period a couple of their aggregation points were congested in their busiest locations in Toronto. Their proof was not very convincing if true. And most importantly, showed that an upgrade of a couple of their aggregation points would have solved the problem in the affected areas. Furthermore, the period we're talking about is from a time where usage caps were higher. What's even worse, is that Bell spent millions on improving their infrastructure, not to mitigate traffic congestion that they claim existed, but so they could offer IPTV through their Fibe service.

Bell actually wants you to beleive that it's more expensive to send 160GB over your internet connection then mail it.

The reality is that providing usage, which is not to be confused with the speed of the usage, is incredibly cheap and getting cheaper. Another large company, Telus will have you believe that things in Canada are great. However, a cursory glance will show that we pay more for less than almost any other developed country.

Of course Bell has many devisions, and I cannot believe that they they wouldn't try to maximize profits in all of them. They make no money of the content you consume on the Internet. That really doesn't sit well compared to all their other divisions.

The CRTC in their aforementioned traffic shaping ruling, told Bell that they should use economic incenetives to discourage heavy usage. And now here we are with UBB.

The CRTC, the government mouthpiece of Bell

If you listened to the Traffic shaping and UBB hearings at the CRTC, which are available live from the CRTC website, you can immediately tell that the CRTC only believes Bell. If you hear Rogers or Shaw or any of the 3rd party ISPs talk, they are met with scepticism and asked to prove all of their statements. When Bell speaks, their word is taken at face value or, in the rare occasion when proof is required, their proof can be week and still pass mustard.

Today, the Head of the CRTC stood in front of the commons and repeated exactly what Bell has been telling them over the last year.

There are a lot of things wrong with what is said in Konrad's speech. There are contradictions in terms of pricing and misinformation in terms of congestion. I'm too tired and angry to write them all out in detail. I will however point out this one bit from the end:
"We are convinced that Internet services are no different than other public utilities, and the vast majority of Internet users should not be asked to subsidize a small minority of heavy users. For us, it is a question of fundamental fairness. Let me restate: ordinary users should not be forced to subsidize heavy users."
That's right, the ISP model, that has worked successfully for over a decade, is unfair and must come to a stop! We must preserve those precious bits so they don't get all used up by the heavy users. It's unfair. Someone please fire this man as soon as possible. He doesn't understand what he is saying, can't hire someone who can explain it to him, or is being paid off by Bell. I cannot accept any other explanation for this stupidity.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Usage Based Billing raising the cost of Internet in Canada

Internet pricing in Canada is about to get a whole lot different starting March 1st. And none of it's good. The general idea is that the days of competitive Internet pricing and service in Canada have come to an end. Bell Canada wants to charge you for everything you do on the Internet and force all other ISPs to do the same. The CRTC, a government body charged with representing the industry and consumer interests agrees. The real problem though is how it's being implemented, and what the cost to the end consumer will be.

How it currently works

Cable and Telephone Internet work slightly differently so I’m going to focus on what I am more familiar with, specifically Bell. Several years ago, the CRTC mandated that the large Telcos, whose network was largely built with government grants, lease their Internet service at a wholesale rate. A lot of people in Canada get their Internet from ISPs who lease a portion of these networks. These 3rd party ISPs are one of the major reasons that incumbent’s prices aren't higher than they already are. The portion of the Bell network being leased is mostly dedicated to the subscriber and is leased at a fixed rate. Remember those Bell ads flaunting how Bell Sympatico wasn't "shared"? That's not far from the truth. Once your connection gets to the Bell Head office, the traffic for the 3rd party ISP gets sent to that ISP. At this point the traffic is shared, and the responsibility of the 3rd party ISP. That ISP has to handle the overall network traffic of their install base and pay for all transit costs to the backbone of the internet. The more their install base uses, the more it costs the 3rd party ISP. Bell's wholesale rate is only a few dollars less then what you are being charged. Yet this small margin is enough to cover the 3rd party ISPs bandwidth costs. The wholesale rate is intended to cover Bell's capital investment plus profit. Their operating costs for the portion of their network is very small.

Net Neutrality and Traffic Shaping

Initially Bell offered unlimited Internet access, and then slowly started capping usage and slowing it down when you performed tasks on their network that they didn't like. Other incumbent Internet providers started doing the same not to long after. The 3rd party ISPs were not affected by this for years. As the incumbents continued raising prices, lowering caps and throttling people’s connections more and more, they saw more of their business move to 3rd party ISPs. So one day, without notice, Bell starts throttling the connections of the 3rd party ISPs. At this point the CRTC gets involved. The whole purpose of opening up the incumbents networks for competition was for choice of service and price. Now Bell was eliminating one of those points of differentiation. Bell successfully argued that the part of the network that converts the copper lines into the modern fibre network couldn't take the excessive usage it was seeing on the Internet. They needed to throttle users who used P2P and other applications as to maintain equal access to all the users in the area. Keep in mind that Bell throttles you regardless of the presence of congestion. Simply using applications which they deem inappropriate will drop your connection speed to something close to dial-up. Not only this, but when asked to show proof of this congestion, their own documents showed that congestion was possibly a problem on a fraction of a percent in a few nodes in downtown Toronto. The CRTC slapped Bell on the wrist for not informing the 3rd party ISPs with 30 days notice and told Bell they should use economic measures to discourage high usage and not traffic shaping.

Matching Speeds

On a slightly related but important point, the 3rd party ISPs went to the CRTC asking why they were stuck providing no more than 5Mb/s Internet access while Bell was offering up to 25Mb/s access at this point. Bell tried to argue that they shouldn't have to as the original ruling to share Internet access happened when they only had the ability to offer 5Mb/s service, so that's all they should have to share. On this the CRTC disagreed. They ordered Bell to propose wholesale rates. Bell delayed and then filed the UBB request.

Usage Based Billing

Instead of filing proposed rates for their faster speeds, Bell filed for a change to their wholesale structure. They wanted it moved from a flat rate to a usage based rate. They said they had to do this because of "bandwidth hogs". It took over a year, but the CRTC finally agreed.
Before I continue though, I want to talk about some fiction. In relation to metered Internet usage, I keep hearing the following two statements:

"Why should I have to pay for someone else's high usage?"

"You pay for how much electricity you use, why shouldn’t you have to pay for how much Internet you use?"

These two statements repeated over and over in comments and by some media are mostly misguided. I’ll try to outline why below.

Paying for Usage

So treating the Internet like a Utility doesn't make sense. You don't "use up" bits when you use the Internet. There is no well on the other side that's going dry. The reality of Internet infrastructure is that it's mostly high initial expenditure and then a much smaller operating cost. Most of that cost is support and the people needed to run the service. Neither of those things cost more or less based on how much you use. In addition to support, there is the price for transit the ISP pays to send traffic back and forth to the Internet backbone. However, in the grand scheme of things, this is a negligible piece of the final price you pay. I tried getting better figures for what this is but it's hard to pinpoint. It can be anywhere from 1 cent to 30 cents per GB. There is one other cost point which is related to usage, and that's congestion points. There are parts of the network that will choke up if too many people in that area use all of their available bandwidth at the same time. But again, a one-time upgrade of that area fixes the problem.

Lose Lose

What Bell Canada has proposed, and the CRTC has accepted goes far beyond simply paying for usage. I'd even be fine with paying for usage if when I used less, I'd pay less. But you are paying a high minimum price and getting penalized if you dare go over what Bell sets as a reasonable amount. If you don't use what you purchased, you lose. If you go over what you are allowed to use, you lose. The CRTC stated in their ruling that the price set by Bell are based on market forces. Except the only market is the Cable incumbent vs. the Telephone incumbent, because the CRTC just eliminated the rest of the competition. Furthermore, Bell goes through great effort to traffic shape your connection the moment you do anything it doesn't want you to do. What's even more astonishing is that Bell is also trying to force all other telephone and cable companies to charge the same rates to promote "fair competition". I'm really curious what Bell thinks competition means. It's not what we have in Canada now.

Paying for Nothing

The reality is that Bell does not want you using more than 25GBs/Month. You can blow through this allotment with 17 hours of Netflix usage or a single purchase on the Steam game store.  So the rates approved by the CRTC do not just cover the costs of providing you the last mile of Internet, they make sure that Bell gets paid every time you watch TV or purchase someone else's product. The rates approved by the CRTC are based on an unregulated retail price - 15%, not cost + profit. The CRTC has effectively shut out any pricing competition that could have existed between the 3rd party ISPs and Bell. All Bell has to do is raise their own retail rates, give the 3rd party ISPs 30 days notice and then raise their "wholesale" rates. This means that even though their retail rates cover things like their backbone connection, support and advertising, they are now forcing 3rd party ISPs to cover those same costs. However, 3rd party ISPs already pay for their own support staff, advertising and backbone connection. Furthermore, Bell is now trying to convince the CRTC to impose that same pricing structure on Rogers and other incumbents. Their reasoning was "fairness".

It's all about profit

If you have any doubt about Bell's motives for this, look no further than "Bandwidth Insurance" and the difference between Ontario and Quebec. This is supposed to be all about curbing traffic, yet they are offering to their own customers, and now jamming down the throats of 3rd party customers insurance. You pay a bulk rate, much cheaper then the $1.80/GB they will otherwise charge. These will be offered in bunches of 40GB. Bell has learned well from their profitable mobile division. Charges users in large blocks, so that they are forced to buy more or risk paying much more.

In Quebec, you have one more incumbent than you do in Ontario. Because of this increased competition, the wholesale cap in Quebec is 60GB not 25.

So yes, big shock, Bell, a corporation only cares about profit. This would be fine, but when you have a monopoly on infrastructure, which was largely funded with tax dollars, it’s not fine. Canadians, who increasingly rely on the internet for their work and leisure, end up paying more for less over the long run. This also has a huge impact on innovation, as every new site or service now has a huge cost associated with it.

What does it mean for you?

It doesn't matter if you're with an incumbent ISP like Bell, or a 3rd party ISP, we will all be paying more for Internet access in the future. With very little competitive pressure, the incumbents will have very little reason not to raise prices regularly, continue throttling your Internet connection and lower caps more and more.

What can you do? Write your MP and tell them that it shouldn't be the responsibility of the CRTC, a government agency to increase Bell's profits and push back the Internet to last decade. If you're with an incumbent, switch to a 3rd party ISP. Give these companies as much support as possible. They've been fighting for real fairness in Canadian Internet access for years. At the bare minimum sign the petition at

Further reading:

Feel free to post corrections. I've written most of this from memory and there could be factual errors.