Saturday, December 11, 2010

How to get Froyo on your SaskTel Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant

EDIT, APRIL 2011: Hey guys, I noticed for some reason this blog post is getting lots of traffic. Just a heads-up, the info might be out of date and inaccurate by now, especially considering that Android 2.3 is starting to roll out to the Vibrant phones!

Irritating news yesterday, as Samsung Canada announced Froyo (Android 2.2) was available for the Galaxy S Vibrant on SaskTel - and SaskTel said that was false.

Well, good news, a bunch of enterprising hackers have figured out how to get Froyo on their SaskTel Vibrants anyway. Basically, we're going to flash our SaskTel Vibrants with Bell firmware. I'm collecting these links as a helpful internet denizen, but I can't take any credit for any of the process (I do want to thank Bman_1 for pointing me in the right direction).

Standard Disclaimer: While this worked for me, there's a chance it may not work for you. If messing with your phone's firmware makes you queasy, wait for the official SaskTel update. You and you alone are responsible if you brick your phone. These instructions are largely based on this forum post with a few more details added.

UPDATE DECEMBER 19/2010: I can't say whether it's because of this procedure or not, but my Vibrant bricked itself a few days after this update. I heard it turn itself off (it played that off animation) and I was unable to revive it. It died randomly while I wasn't touching it. BEWARE!!!

--== How to get Froyo on your SaskTel Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant ==--

1. Download Kies Registry Patcher from this forum post on XDA-Developers. You will need to register for the forums. Yes, a small pain, but you want the latest version of this software.

2. Download and install Samsung Kies. This is Samsung's massive, bloated updating program. If you already have it installed, make sure you have version installed.

3. If you have Kies open after installing it, close it. Launch Kies Registry Patcher.

  • Set "Enable Spoof" to true
  • Set "Spoof Product Code as" to BMC (this is Bell Mobility Canada's code). 
  • After you select BMC, "Spoof Software Revision as" should say "I9000UGJG9/I9000BMCJG9/I9000UGJG9/I9000UGJG9". Kies version should be the same as above.
  • Click "Write Registry" and click "yes" to apply the update. 
  • You're done with the Kies Registry Patcher for now, but leave it running in the background. You'll need it in a minute. 
4. Open Samsung Kies. Now, refer to Samsung's great step-by-step instructions to updating your phone to Android 2.2. 

5. When you get to Step 13 on Samsung's upgrade instructions, you'll be waiting 2-5 minutes while the firmware is downloading to your Vibrant. This is a great time to snag a copy of the ROM, so go back to Kies Registry Patcher and select Rom (top menu bar) then "Save ROM". Don't worry, the update takes a few minutes, you'll have plenty of time to make this step. 

6. After Step 14, your Vibrant will reboot itself. The first bootup to 2.2 will be the longest bootup you will ever experience, DON'T PANIC and DON'T PULL THE BATTERY. It will start up after a few minutes. 

Once your phone has booted up, you will be running in the slowest and ugliest Android environment you will ever experience. BE PATIENT. All programs and services need to re-initialize themselves in the 2.2 environment. Give your phone about 20 minutes to sort itself out, then reboot it again (shut it down by holding the power button, don't do a battery pull). 

After upgrading, my Email app (not Samsung Email) was crashing and preventing me from pulling down the top status bar. I had to remove my work Exchange account from Settings -> Accounts and Sync. After that, things were working perfectly. 

I didn't see that much of a speed increase with the upgrade (I don't have a rooted phone or OneClickLagFix) BUT the new features are really awesome. Voice Search works great, you can install Skype, and Chrome to Phone works perfectly! 

I hope this guide is useful to a few people! If you're looking for support, your best bet is visiting that XDA-Developers thread. My upgrade went perfectly so I won't be much help troubleshooting. 

Good luck! 

--== BONUS: Fix GPS Issues if you haven't already ==--

When I got my Vibrant, the GPS was lackluster. If you're running Android 2.1, visit this XDA-Developers post and follow those instructions. 

If you're running Android 2.2, the number code stops in the above link stops working. You can get to the LbsTestMode menu by downloading an app called Any Cut from the Market, long-pressing your home screen, select Shortcuts, select Any Cut, select Activity, then scroll way down and select LbsTestMode. Click the shortcut, then go back to the above-linked post and change your SUPL/CP settings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Supper at Hole in the Wall

Robyn beat me to the punch posting about our excellent meal at Hole in the Wall, near Dundurn, SK. I highly recommend you check out her pictures of our amazing meal.

Here's a preview:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Waking Up Easy for $35

Problem: I am a heavy sleeper. I am usually great at waking up on time for ultra-early morning commitments in the summer because of all the natural light, but when it's dark in the winter, I have a lot of trouble throwing myself out of bed.

Not a solution: Bedside wake-up lights/alarm clocks.

(click to go to Amazon)

These tacky wake-up light alarm clocks aren't any more complex or expensive (materials-wise) than your average $20 alarm clock, but because they're often marketed as "beauty products" or "therapeutic products" (for such magical side effects as "improved mood" and "more energy") the cheap ones are often $100 or more. Personally I don't buy those sketchy claims, I just want to wake up in some light! 

Solution: Programmable Timer/Light Switch, $35
Packaging pictured with my awesome desktop wallpaper.

I grabbed the AUBE TI032-3W from Rona at Preston Crossing for $35 after finding good reviews online. It features seven memory slots where you can easily program your light's behaviour. I've used five memory slots by setting it to turn on at 6:15am and turn off at 7:00am each weekday.

Here's the control panel. Future bedroom!!

When that little switch is set to "on" (it really means "auto") the switch follows the programs you specify. However, you can also override the programs at any time by pushing the outer faceplate - it's one big button. So on a Monday when my light turns on at 6:15am with my alarm, I can hop out of bed and turn it off at 6:20am - it doesn't have to stay on until 7am, as I've programmed it to do. But if I forget to turn off my light, it will turn off at 7am. Similarly, I can turn on my light at any time during a period where it's programmed to stay off.

The panel under the LCD closes to become one big on/off button. 

This $35 device took me under 15 minutes to install. Basically I just took out my old manual light switch and connected this one. Even though the installation was easy, if you're unfamiliar with electrical wiring and HOW TO DO IT SAFELY I would highly recommend finding someone with experience - preferably an electrician - to help you out

5/5 stars so far!! As the days keep getting longer, I am looking forward to not waking up in pitch blackness.

Monday, October 18, 2010


My friends.... we have invented something amazing. Picture Metallica's crunchy riffs - yes, even if you're a Metallica hater, you know there is that one song you still like - and now picture them slowed down and pitch reduced by 25%.

Yes... enter SLOWTALLICA.

I was at a buddy's house, playing some video games and having some beers. We through Metallica's Master of Puppets 45rpm LP on his record player, without realizing the turntable was set to 33rpm. Dismay and annoyance at our so-called "error" immediately turned to PURE JOY as we realized just what we had discovered*.

*Technically, Slowtallica has already been discovered. But we'd still like credit for an independent discovery. 

I can barely express how awesome Slowtallica is without extremely profane and emphatic language, but I will do my best to keep this clean.

Slowtallica takes Metallica's thrash hits and turns them into crunchy, deliberate pieces of low, heavy metal. In some respects, Slowtallica sounds like the slower, incredibly low and crunchy viking metal songs of Amon Amarth. And like Amon Amarth, James Hetfield's voice is transformed from his normal pseudo-raspy mid-range "Yeaaahhhh!"s and "OHhhhhhh!"s to awesome, demonic, hellspawn vocals - the way heavy metal was meant to be delivered.

Don't believe me? I took the liberty of including a few samples in the 1-minute-30-second video below:

I kept the sound clips to 30 seconds to minimize the odds of the video getting flagged for copyrighted content. We start off with a Metallica song that everyone should know: Master of Puppets. We then slow it down 25% and therefore make it 25% better. We move on to a sampling of Leper Messiah, which sounds absolutely, insanely deadly with your speakers or headphones maximized, and finish it off with an instrumental sampling from Orion.

Wow, just wow, right?

If you want a Slowtallica album all for yourself, I can't give it to you! But, if you have some legally-acquired mp3s (or any mp3s, really), you can download Audacity then follow this tutorial to create some Slowtallica of your very own. Tip: -25.9% is the perfect slowing factor.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Best Deal I've Encountered in a While!

I'm a huge Law & Order fan. HUGE.

I told myself that when I graduated, I'd buy every (available) season of Law & Order on DVD. This includes the original series, not SVU or Criminal Intent. About 9 seasons are available now (though not Seasons 1-9 - it's 1-7 and a few Emmy-winning seasons).

So I had the NBC/Universal Store bookmarked for ages. Yesterday I clicked it, and saw that all Law & Order DVD box sets were marked down to $20 from $60!

On top of that, I Googled "NBC coupon" and managed to get another 25% off my entire purchase! By pure luck, that magnificent coupon expired yesterday - the day of my purchase!

No more words. Here's my magnificent email receipt (click for big):

Oh yeah! Seven seasons of Law & Order plus a few other small items, plus shipping to Canada cost me less than $150! My life is awesome.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fuel Economy and the Weather

In January of 2008 I got my first-ever car and I was curious about the mileage - so I built this.

Here's my fuel economy by month (click for more):

Here's the weather, by month (click for more): 

Hooray for data! Who knew a 40-degree temperature difference would make car mileage almost twice as bad.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Check-In: Predictions About SaskTel's 3G+ Network Upgrade

Back in July, I wrote this post about SaskTel's HSPA network upgrade. Phase 1 was rolled out on August 16th.

At the end of my post, I summarized my predictions:
So, hedge your bets. SaskTel has ~30 days until August 16, 2010, when they’re going to light up the new network. Sorry SaskTel! Here are my pessimistic predictions:
  1. Some kind of launch day complication or delay that affects CDMA users.
  2. Sub-standard device lineup on launch day.
  3. No iPhone 4.
  4. No Android devices (I would be truly sad about this one).
  5. Palm Centro still available to purchase on SaskTel website.
 Let's see how accurate I was. One point per correct answer!

1. Some kind of launch day complication or delay that affects CDMA users. 

To my knowledge, the network light-up went off without a hitch, and nobody I know noticed any adverse effects on their existing phones. Good job, SaskTel!

0/1 Points.

2. Sub-standard device lineup on launch day. 

The 3G+ network launched with five devices: Nokia 6530, Nokia 7230, a Novatel Internet Stick, BlackBerry Pearl 9100, and the BlackBerry Bold 9700. A few days later, they added the Samsung Gravity Touch, but it wasn't available on launch day so it doesn't count.

The two BlackBerry devices are pretty rad, but the Nokias are a big "meh" and even the Gravity Touch isn't that impressive.

0.5/1 Points

3. No iPhone 4. 

Right on the money!

1/1 Points

4. No Android Devices

The Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant looks like it's on its way - which is good, it's a well-reviewed phone - but it wasn't available at launch.

1/1 Points

5. Palm Centro still available to purchase on SaskTel website. 

Awwww.... poor little Palm Centro. Still available.

1/1 Points

3.5/5 isn't bad! Truth be told, I wish I'd been wrong about more. Oh well. Here's hoping that this is just the start of a turnaround for device availability at SaskTel!

Music as Data

This is the first post in a series about how data helps me make decisions, maintain ongoing histories, and discover new things.

Music plays a huge role in our lives as an uplifter, a comforter, a creative outlet, and an escape. I can think of few things more perfect to collect information on and analyze.

I listen to most of my music on my computer or my iPod. Since June of 2006, I have been saving statistics on nearly every music file I've listened to with a program/website called saves the artist, song, album, date and time the song was listened to, and generates a dynamic music history for each user. has a built-in recommendations system. It compares your listening habits with those of millions of other users to generate recommendations for new artists to listen to or upcoming concerts to attend. The more music you "scrobble" to, the better your recommendations become, and the more music you discover. has an open API (application programming interface), which means that developers and programmers can create websites and programs that can access your data and give you more insight into your listening habits. One graph-generator I found (sorry, lost the link!) plots fascinating historical charts which allow you to visualize your listening habits over time. It's interesting to see your subconscious listening habits pop out - listening to certain artists exclusively during final exams, or the summer, or on weekends.

One of my favourite recent websites to compliment is called BandsInTown. You can sign up in two clicks with an existing Twitter account then import your or Pandora history. Finally, you give BandsInTown your location (ie, city or province) and it compiles a cloud of concerts in your area based on your musical preferences.

Don't want to constantly check BandsInTown or for upcoming concerts? No problem. BandsInTown allows you to import your concert recommendations to Google Calendar (and you can get the time zones right by using this little script that I wrote).

Now I listen to songs, have them scrobbled to, which is monitored by BandsInTown for concerts in my area, which automatically show up on my Google Calendar. 

This proves to be amazing every time I check my calendar and discover a new concert that I'd love to see. In my opinion, a setup like this is essential for music lovers. Given that technology exists to automate this process, if you don't do this you are wasting data.

Data waste - there's a concept I want to return to!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Saskatoon's Semi-Secret Lost and Found

This article about stolen bikes appeared in the Star Phoenix today, which reminded me about a cool story I have about the City of Saskatoon's Lost and Found department.

Read the article for details about Saskatoon's Lost and Found program. Essentially, the City has a huge warehouse where missing property is directed to - they say everything except for pets, people, and automobiles.

In 2007, I was walking home from the pub when I was jumped by three bandana-wearing kids who demanded my wallet and cell phone. I complied (I was in no state of mind to protest), but strangely, they let me keep my credit cards and ID from my wallet. Someone later suggested this could have been a gang initiation ("bring us back a wallet and a phone") and they were feeling guilty, but who knows.

Anyway, my cell phone was gone for good and I assumed the same for my wallet, which only had $20, my blood donor card, SIN card (dumb! don't do this!), health card, and a few random membership cards left after I hurriedly grabbed my credit cards and government ID.

Funny side story - the next day I took inventory of my missing cards. I called Canadian Blood Services to report a stolen card (I was being a keener - I didn't know if there was any privacy risks involved). I had to be transferred to a manager because no one had ever called to report their blood donor card as stolen.

Anyway, six months after the robbery, I got an ambiguous manilla envelope in the mail with the return address "LOST AND FOUND, ONTARIO AVE, SASKATOON" - that was it. I opened the envelope and there was my wallet, covered in dirt. No accompanying note or documentation. The $20 was missing but the cards that I'd left in it were still there, including my health card and SIN card.

I was very impressed that a random stranger would take the time to submit my dirty wallet to the City, and that the City would take the time to track down an address from my documentation to send my wallet back. I vowed, right then and there, to pay it forward and do the same if I ever got a chance.

That opportunity came sooner than I thought - when I inspected the contents of my wallet I found that my random cards had been bundled with someone else's student card, library card, health card, blood donor card, and Scotiabank card.

I tracked down the guy's email address from the student card and managed to successfully reunite another stranger with their random wallet contents. It was strange they were bundled together, because we had lost them completely different ways.

Moral of the story: Most cities have a huge lost and found warehouse that is occasionally successful at reuniting people with their missing goods! Thanks, City of Saskatoon!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Water for Thought

Our homepage at work is an intranet news page with company updates, global news, and a Quality Point. Yesterday's point really surprised me:
"Quality Point: Americans drink $11 billion worth of bottled water, i.e. more [bottled] water than milk. Furthermore, Americans drink nearly as much bottled water as beer. If the growth trend continues, Americans could be drinking more bottled water than tap water (which in most of America is perfectly good water) within a few years." [emphasis added]
Not only is bottled water more expensive than gasoline (per litre), it's also unregulated in the USA and Canada, there are no standards for its production, and it's basically just tap water anyway. Crazy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Google Transit, Where Are You?

In March of this year, the Star Phoenix reported that Google Transit was going to roll out in Saskatoon. At the end of June, to be exact.

It's now the end of July, and there's no Google Transit in sight! A careful googling for clues reveals nothing - there's literally no mention of Google Transit and Saskatoon on the internet except for that one article (and on Wikipedia, citing the same Star Phoenix article). Is it really coming?

I'd love to see Google Transit in Saskatoon. Anything would be better than Saskatoon's incredibly slow, complex Click'n'Go. I recall during the extremely cold week of January 2010 the entire City of Saskatoon's website was completely unavailable for several days due to the volume of people trying to access it. Assuming the buses weren't running, I skipped class (it turned out the buses were running).

The best feature that Google Transit would bring is Google Maps integration. Plug in where you are and where you're going, and Google Transit finds the best route(s). Google Transit also works with Google Maps on smartphones - iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Android phones. This alone has the potential to massively boost transit ridership! Making routes easy to access - and more importantly, easy to search for while on the go - has the potential to significantly increase the number of riders.

Google has a knack for organizing information and making it easy to use and access. Hopefully, Google Transit for Saskatoon rolls out soon, and provides us with a better solution than Click'n'Go, dialing 975-7500, or carrying around a massive stash of brochures.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Lately, I've seen local news stories of people falling for scams and losing money, property, or both. This non-local story was on the radio this morning.

Some of these circumstances seemed like they’d be a very obvious scam. It’s got me thinking about how we trust organizations we do business with, how we determine credibility, and how we fall for scams.

Having a computer science dad, I had home internet access before lots of kids at school. Actually, before we had internet at home, I remember going to my dad’s office at the university and being allowed to search for pictures of the Simpsons and Toy Story on Netscape Navigator, then printing them on a colour laser (the unit probably cost an insane amount of money at the time).

When we got home internet access (around... ‘96 or ‘97?) my dad told me two simple rules for protecting myself online:
  • Never, ever post my name, address, or other personal information online. 
  • Never, ever trust anything online (banner ads, spam, e-commerce) - it’s ALL a scam. 
These were probably the two best pieces of advice anyone could have been given growing up with the internet in the 90s and the early 2000s.

The evolution of the internet from 1997 to 2010 has made following these rules impossible. The social web encourages disclosure of personal information, and our most trusted organizations and companies have websites that we happily plug our information into (universities, science camps, e-commerce, banks, etc). This isn’t a bad thing - I love the convenience of web-based services.

Despite the changes to the online landscape, my dad’s two rules of the internet never lost their significance, especially when new services pop up online. It’s safest for consumers not to trust organizations by default. It took me a long time to become convinced that sites like eBay, PayPal, Facebook, Google’s non-search services, Quicken Online, Twitter, and more were trustworthy enough to use. I don’t use online products without careful consideration and review (or a bogus test account).

A happy side effect of my dad’s two rules for the internet is how easily those principles transfer to “offline” business:
  • Never give your info to any company/organization, ever. 
  • Never trust any company/organization - everything is a scam. 
The point is exaggerated. I trust and do business with dozens of companies. Organizations that I am unfamiliar with have to earn my trust, be it through a positive first experience or through reputation and reviews.

Let me rephrase: There’s no social or economic obligation to trust a business by default, and consumers should never feel guilty when they (directly or indirectly) question the legitimacy of an organization. Organizations are completely responsible for earning and keeping the consumer’s trust.

Over the past few years, something unexpected has happened: I trust organizations more through the web than in real life.

For example:
  • When RBC sends me communications through my online banking inbox, I trust those messages much more than the RBC telemarketers who phone me with the same offer. How do I know those calls are from RBC?
  • When someone shows up at my door from the Heart & Stroke Foundation, the Lung Association, or another fundraising campaign, I politely turn them away and say that I’ll contribute to the cause through their website, if anything. No website, no credibility. Sorry, random dude raising money for your kids' hockey team*. 
  • When someone phones me with a survey about a service they provide for me (say, SaskTel or Shaw), how do I know I’m actually talking to a rep from that company? Send me a link to the survey, hosted directly on your organization’s website.
*I could have sworn someone pulled this scam in Saskatoon a while ago, but I couldn't find a link.

Being a skeptical consumer is most important when money or personal information is involved. If my car dealer phones me about a recall, or London Drugs phones to say my photos are ready, or UPS shows up to deliver a package, should I worry? No. There are few practical reasons not to trust a purely informational solicitation, especially from an organization you’re connected to.

So, why do we fall for scams? Is it generational, or is it a result of our previous experiences? I don’t really know. Perhaps people are too trusting, or perhaps the enticement of money, love or reward eclipses that little internal voice that repeats, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” I found some interesting research  from the Office of Fair Trading in the UK on who is susceptible to scams, but no one has a straight answer.

To wrap up, like the best way to protect yourself from getting scammed or ripped off is to assume that everything is a scam or a ripoff, online or offline (a word of caution: be practical, not cynical), avoid acting on impulse, and make sure that organizations earn your trust.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Movie Review: Inception (no spoilers)

I saw Inception on Monday night and if I had to describe the movie in two words, I'd say, "really good." It's definitely worth seeing. 

Is it #3 of the top 250 movies ever made, as it is currently ranked on the Internet Movie Database? Absolutely not (Rotten Tomatoes has a better consensus). I have no idea where the IMDB hype came from. But people should still check it out.

What I really liked

The coolest part about this movie was the premise - that you can steal people's secrets by entering their dreams and manipulating their minds. It sounds corny on paper, but it's well-executed in the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a "best-in-the-business" type character - he's the best at entering people's dreams. The plot of the movie follows Leo and his team as they face the biggest challenge of all - not only entering someone's dream, but planting a thought without being detected in the subject's mind ("inception"). 

There's tons of action and the concept of entering people's dreams within other dreams creates tons of uncertainty throughout the movie as you ask yourself where the characters really are (reality, dreams, or dreams within dreams). The movie is thrilling, puzzling, well-cast, and the concept of entering other people's dreams forces the audience to question what their own reality is. For this feeling alone, it's worth seeing. 

I sincerely appreciated that the producers did not bullshit the audience on how this dream-entering is possible. While they talk sciencey mumbo-jumbo about what is and is not possible within dreams, and discuss the consequences of messing with someone's subconscious, the movie does not force you to swallow a BS pseudo-scientific explanation of how entering someone's dreams is possible. The process is never mentioned and the audience just accepts that if you have a fancy-looking suitcase, it's possible. As such, the audience is spared the type of insanely impossible science that made the Core such an unbearable (yet, in its own special way, awesome) movie. 

What I didn't like

Despite the cool concept behind the movie, the first 20 minutes really drag. No spoilers, but it's the typical action-movie, "let's assemble a team" sequence. Okay, let's track down an old professor. Now let's grab the smart guy, the charmer, the token black brown guy (Indian, in this film!), and an impossibly talented cute young girl. Sprinkle lightly with action. Postpone real story until team is assembled. 

Remember in Armageddon where Bruce Willis had to track down Billy Bob Thorton, Steve Buscemi, Ben Affleck, and the other space rig-pigs? Yeah, it's that scene. Or remember in Ocean's 11, 12, and 13 where George Clooney has to track down his team? Yeah, it's that scene. Robyn accurately described this sequence as "quite boring" and that if you saw it on TV, you'd probably change the channel. 

That's really my main complaint. It's slow to start, and there are a few eye-rolling moments in the film (not too many), but again, I have to emphasize that the incredibly smart, puzzling main plot forgives these few grievances. 


Go see it in theatres; I'd say it's worth it. Christopher Nolan (of Batman Begins, the Dark Night, Memento fame) knows how to put together a captivating, original and overall enjoyable film. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Will Smartphones Availability Edge Out Small Carriers?

Here's a thought: Will the rise in popularity of smartphones push smaller carriers out of the market?

This past week I posted about SaskTel's upcoming network upgrade in August. Wayne added a helpful comment; he'd tracked down the preliminary smartphone lineup, which includes two new BlackBerry devices and two unexciting Nokia phones.

Tech-savvy consumers want the latest and greatest in smartphones. The larger the carrier, the sooner you can get the latest and greatest devices. If you're with a small carrier, you get to play the waiting game. Or the jealousy game. Or both.

SaskTel has admitted they're working on getting the iPhone 4, but I'm skeptical that will happen. Rogers has the Sony Xperia X10 and will have the iPhone 4 (as will sister company Fido), Bell will have the iPhone 4 (though Bell doesn't do business in little ole' Saskatchewan), and Telus has the HTC Hero and the HTC Desire is coming soon.

As ill-reviewed as Rogers is here in Saskatchewan, they're the only national carrier with a full selection of BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone devices.

And why is Rogers ill-reviewed in Saskatchewan? Well, their coverage is one issue - SaskTel certainly has them beat. But once SaskTel's new network is operational, Rogers customers should be able to roam on that expanded network (correct me if I'm wrong)

Rogers also adjusts their prices and plans to compete regionally. Go to and select that you live on Ontario. Look at voice/data plans, and you can see that evening calling starts at 9PM. Terrible! But chance your locale to Saskatchewan and look at those plans, evening calling starts at 6PM, presumably to compete with SaskTel's provincial stronghold on the mobile market.

Guess what? Their rates aren't even that bad. I priced out a new Sony Xperia X10 and they've included a helpful bill calculator on checkout, it would be approximately what I'm paying for my BlackBerry on SaskTel.

Eight years ago, when all phones did the same thing, plus or minus a few bells and whistles, SaskTel was the obvious choice for cell phone service in Saskatchewan for their coverage. Now that line is blurred - other providers have equally great coverage and offer better devices for similar rates.

I'm not about to jump SaskTel's ship and go to Rogers (I have 2 years left on my current contract, and I can't bring myself to give up BlackBerry Messenger for an Android phone quite yet), but since no carrier has a significant coverage or price advantage, more and more decisions will be made based on device availability. Carriers will need to stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest devices to earn new business.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Year of the Flood

Woke up to this on June 30th (my room, view looking in): 

Outside my room:

Bathroom... Just lovely.



The scariest thing: the water line in our entryway during the flash flood. This must have happened AFTER we got home from a concert at midnight and BEFORE we woke up at 6am. Thank goodness the door was mostly sealed shut.

The only, ONLY thing that got damaged? My friggin' laptop that I BARELY ever use. I started using it again recently to write blog posts at the kitchen table instead of in my room. When it didn't turn on, I let it sit in a container of rice for 24 hours. But because it had been plugged in while sitting on the dining area floor, something was fried. I opened it up and took it apart to find the damage:
Alas! I believe the only damaged chip is the one that makes the laptop not broken!

After the clean-up:

Looks good, except for the floors. 

In the end we lucked out, the only damage to personal belongings was my 6-year-old laptop (which I have been secretly itching to replace) and a few cheap floor mats. Plus my room-mate's room was completely unscathed. Plus it was dirt, and not sewage. Maybe this makes us the luckiest of all.

We have it better than what my landlord will have to deal with (considering the floors) and a heck of a lot better than a lot of people in Saskatoon had it, from what I heard on the news. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mandatory Disclosures of Privacy Breaches in Saskatchewan

This headline popped up in my Star Phoenix news feed the other day:

"Province Ponders Revealing Privacy Breaches"

I quote, from the article:
"The issue here is this is people's private information," said NDP house leader Kevin Yates. "When your private information has been given to a third party, people have a right to know that, not only the individual but the public also has a right to know that if their information guarded by SGI . . . or held by any agency is allowed to be made public. That is of concern to everybody."
Kudos, Kevin Yates and everyone who agrees with this idea! Citizens should absolutely have a right to know about when their private data has been accidentally distributed to third parties.

To those of you who are on the fence: other organizations know a lot about you. Saskatchewan Health Region knows your health, the U of S knows your academic record, the Government knows your name, address, and SIN number. The fact that organizations are not legally obliged to disclose privacy breaches is crazy!

Here's an even better idea. What if the law required organizations to notify citizens of ANY time their personal information is disclosed (en masse) by any organization. This would mean that any time your information is lost, leaked, sold, accessed or otherwise distributed, you know about it. Let's assume there's a fair use exception, like if a contractor needs to let a subcontractor know your address for work you've hired the contractor to do.

There would be two immediate benefits to this system: For one, citizens have the benefit of knowing who is holding their private information. Secondly, if violators faced significant fines, organizations would have to tighten their control of private data - especially in Regina, where medical records have been found blowing around on the street.

On the scale of confidential, need-to-know, and right-to-know, I'd argue that when your personal information is involved, notification of privacy breaches should be a right.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Canadian Privacy Commissioner's Google Street View Probe: Let's Drop It

On Friday, May 14, 2010, Google announced that their camera-laden Street View cars had been inadvertently been collecting unencrypted wifi data:

"...we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products." (source: Google)
I recommend reading Google's entire explanation for an example of a perfect admission of wrongdoing and accompanying apology. Straight out of the good communication textbook, Google:
  1. Acknowledged their wrongdoing (collection of unsecured wifi data);
  2. Recognized feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment and betrayal;
  3. Took full responsibility for their actions;
  4. Explained their error without assigning blame;
  5. Offered a sincere apology;
  6. Offered an immediate fix for the problem (grounding of all Street View cars, contacting government regulators about how to dispose of the data).
In response, Canada's Office of the Privacy Commissioner is launching a full investigation into what happened (see link for news release).

Says Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart:

“We have a number of questions about how this collection could have happened and about the impact on people’s privacy. We’ve determined that an investigation is the best way to find the answers.”
But... don't we already have the answers? Google collects data, Google realizes mistake, Google releases details of exactly what happened and how, Google gets in touch with governments so they can delete this data properly. And because Google collected the data and not evil hackers, guess what the impact was: nothing.

I like the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. They're a taxpayer-funded office who promote and protect the individual privacy rights of Canadians - and I'm down with that. They've slapped Facebook into shape on more than one occasion. But do we need to be spending taxpayer dollars on an investigation where there isn't anything to investigate?

Canada isn't the only country getting up in arms. The Consumerist is reporting that 30 American states are banding together for an investigation of their own. 

Here's the real issue. The data in question that was collected by Google was pulled off unsecured wireless networks. In layman's terms, that's a network without a password and encryption. People were (in all fairness, unknowingly) broadcasting their internet interactions for the world to see. Yes, that includes emails and passwords!

Forget about Google, what about Wardriving? There are far less-responsible people and organizations than Google who are pulling information from unsecured networks all of the time. Suddenly, the fact that Google's sitting on information from our private networks is awesome - now that they have it, they can protect it, they know they have to get rid of it, and they can't use it maliciously. And they're good at security. When Chinese hackers hacked Google, Google hacked them back.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner should be helping Canadians by lowering the number of people who are accessing the internet over unsecured networks. They should be developing ways to make sure products like routers and laptops are safe (privacy-wise) to use out of the box, and to promote the use of secure protocols to websites that handle sensitive information (banks, social networks, email, etc). They should be finding ways to better educate the public on taking privacy matters into their own hands. They should be working with Google to dispose of that private data as quickly as possible, rather than work against them through an investigation. They should be developing programs so that everyone can understand privacy and data in the digital age.

Forget about this investigation. It should be the end-user's responsibility to take steps to protect their own privacy. No user is perfect - I've helped lots of people with different computer issues, and I've made plenty of mistakes myself. No hardware is perfect - many wireless routers are "broken" out of the box, in that their out-of-box settings are terribly insecure. Lastly, no software is perfect - Google's Street View cars were obviously flawed.

Still, individuals must accept a higher degree of responsibility for their digital privacy and security. Nobody would paint their SIN number on the side of their house, yet there are plenty of unsecured wireless networks doing just that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Internet Beyond Facebook

I deleted my Facebook account just before it was "cool" - at the end of April 2010. See? This is the Google Search Trends for the query "delete Facebook":
It was just after I read the Eroding Privacy Timeline, published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and right before these events happened:
Yes, May 2010 was a bad month for Facebook and I am glad I got out when I did (not that my account was actually deleted).

Here's a fair question of me: If I care so much about online privacy issues, why do I have a blog, a homepage, a Google/Gmail account, a Twitter account, etc?

For one, most of the online services I subscribe to have fairly easy-to-read and easy-to-digest privacy policies (example: Gmail. Counterexample: Facebook's privacy policies over time). Second, my favourite services often give me an easy way out - it's easy to delete accounts, unlike Facebook. Third, most of these services have spent a lot of time building and earning my trust as a user - Facebook has always been sketchy. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the services don't radically change over time, at least not to the insane degree that Facebook has changed from privacy-centric to advertiser-centric.

(I'll admit that the services I like aren't without flaws. I am a fan of Google products but they dropped the ball with Google Buzz when it was released).

There's a difference between leading a private life and the expectation of the right to privacy. For example, from Fall 2008 to Spring 2009 I spent months trying to get more information on the secret yellow tracking dots that colour laser printers use to identify document owners (it's not a conspiracy theory!). I got in touch with Lexmark and they eventually offered to give me a full refund on my years-old colour laser printer, but I was more concerned with the overall privacy issue at hand, not my personal privacy. I declined the offer.

Back on topic. Privacy issues aside, Facebook had evolved into a service that just wasted my time. I'd log in (several times per day, usually) and just creep updates. Then, I realized that the reasons most people used Facebook suddenly no longer applied to me!
  • Photo sharing - Facebook does this well, but there are free alternatives with more flexible privacy controls like Flickr and Google's Picasa.

  • Staying in touch with friends and family - That's why I have a phone (voice/text/BlackBerry Messenger) and email.

  • Reconnecting with old friends - There are lots of other ways to do this.

  • Connecting with organizations through Fan Pages - Often congested and ugly for big organizations and under-used and neglected for small ones. Also, this feature is now less about connecting and more about marketing.
I'm not arguing that everyone should delete their Facebook account; I am arguing no-one should feel trapped by something they optionally use. If you feel trapped, it's a sign you need to escape.

I felt cut off for the first few days after deleting my Facebook account, but now that it's gone, I don't feel like I am missing anything - I can waste my time doing other things! My subconscious urge to constantly check it is gone - I've escaped from the trap!

About Me

My name is Brahm. I finished University in April 2010, and already I miss writing. I am hoping this blog can satisfy that craving!

I'm interested in technology, privacy, communication, geeky stuff, technology, consumerism, Canadian and Saskatchewanian (is that a word yet?) news, and more. I've been thinking about some of these topics for a few weeks now and have a "to-write" list that I'm hoping to get through.

For more about me or the projects I've worked on, check out my website -