Rob Ford Apps for Apple & Android

I suppose that in today’s world of instant technology it would only make sense that developers would come to market with a number of apps designed to capitalize on the sad plight of Toronto partial mayor Rob Ford. So toady we check out the apps.

The first one we found is called “Stay Mayor!”.

The object is to help Rob Ford raise funds to buy the alleged crack video by running across a football field, dodging reporters with microphones outstretched and narrowly missing cameras, as Toronto’s city hall silhouettes in the background.

Users are forced to dodge crack pipes and collect buckets of deep-fried foods in order to get their hands on footballs to heave at the mobs of media personnel trying to get in the mayor’s way.

The goal: To “stay mayor.”

If you should lose the game by stepping on too many crack pipes or bumping into too many cameras, then a message appears that reads, “Bunch of maggots” – a term the mayor used to describe the media on his weekly radio show, which he later apologized for.

User comments at Google Play seem to back Ford saying things like this is just another attack on a wonderful mayor.

A second new game is called “Rob Ford Mash” Players have an opportunity to vent their anger on him by in this Toronto rendition of Whack-A-Mole, complete with custom sounds!

On oldie moldy from last year is called “Is Ford Still Mayor”. This handy app will allow you to quickly check Rob’s mayoral status, along with the date of the next mayoral election.

This app requires a network connection to check for Rob’s mayoral status. It does not collect or transfer any user information.

In all fairness, there is a forth app focusing on Rob Ford. It’s one that he spearheaded last year so that individuals could report unsightly graffiti directly to city hall, part of Ford’s Clean up Toronto campaign.  User comments for this app tend to be more personal attacks against Ford, highlighting the verbosity of Ford’s opponents in the GTA.

After looking at these games, collectively, you would have to ask yourself why anybody would want to go into Canadian politics.

Remembering Remembrance Day 2013

I have to admit that I was once again deeply moved and very impressed by this year’s Remembrance Day services. Every Fall I worry that we are not doing enough to say “thank you” to all those who stepped up to defend our freedom, and every year I’m more impressed than the last at how we, as a nation remember the countless thousands who served.

My big surprise this year came when I saw a TV commercial from, who were offering free access to Canadian military records on Remembrance Day. Normally, is a pricy service that lets you search for information on your family history, so getting a chance at a free search seemed like a nice way to see what information was available on both of my grandfathers, one who served with the Canadian army and the other with the British army.

After entering the search criteria, I quickly found myself reading the induction documents from the Canadian army. A few clicks later and I was reading the notes that were filed detailing his decorations and medals.

The search for information on my father’s father was somewhat successful, but between restrictions from and what would appear to be poor record keeping by the British Army, the documentation available was more limited.

Now that I was on a roll, my wife suggested that we look up he uncle who was killed in France in 1944. A complete bomb out at My guess is that they don’t have access to World War II records, so there was no information available. So we expanded our search to the Book of Remembrance which lists every Canadian killed in action. Again we entered the search criteria, knowing his name and year of death, we quickly found ourselves on page 460 of the Book. I’ve visited the Book of Remembrance before, but this time I discovered that there is more information if you scroll down beyond the fancy script, listing everybody on the page with a link for more information.

This page was a little sad because there was really no information about the person. It listed his rank, the date he was killed, plot information, a map of the cemetery and a link to his marker, but nothing about the man, who he was, his family other than his parents name and city of residence, but nothing else.

As it turns out, my wife is the custodian of her family’s memorabilia, so we dug out her records, found some pictures of Uncle Lloyd, scanned them into the computer and uploaded them to the people who manage the Book of Remembrance. Our hope is that next year, when family and the curious visit the Book, they will see Uncle Lloyd in a picture with his mother, and remember that all the names listed have parents, families and friends who were devastated when they heard of his or her death. In fact, when you think about it, with disk space being so inexpensive and technology so robust, that it would be a great idea for all of us to go through our family records and make sure that everybody who died in the service of this country be remembered as a person, with pictures and anything else that puts a human face to their memorial.

My Remembrance Day this year finished on a high mark when I got to my email to send the information I had found to other family members, and found two messages. One from my second cousin with a picture of my Uncle Rod with a plane he flew and one from my son with a picture of his Grandfather taken as he prepared to go to England in 1944.

Maybe we are maturing as a country, as Canadians from sea to shining sea do seem to have carried the torch a little further this year.

XBMC: An Introduction

It looks like the final blows have been dealt, from a technology perspective, for cable television and the strangle hold that they have held over Canadians for some 60-years.

It’s certainly no secret that the internet has become a very robust repository for all sorts of media files from music, to videos to news, to well whatever your mind can imagine.

We talked on this program before about the newer technologies, like the Western Digital Media Player and Apple TV, but a another technology has also been quietly refining itself and is finally moving into wide acceptance, especially among the more technology savvy users.

It’s called XBMC or if you will X-Box Media Centre, and it’s a cross platform software package that connects users to streaming and on-demand audio, video, software and a host of other file types.

When we talk about cross platform, we are really saying that whatever you have, it pretty much works including Windows, Android and Apple TV.

The down stroke is that it’s still early in the products development, so you have to be involved in the installation. The software itself is easy, but you need to install the content separately. Fortunately, there are a ton of YouTube videos which explain pretty much every aspect of the setup, so grab your tablet or smartphone, load up a how to video and start the process.

A bigger issue is the connecting of your computer to your home theater, assuming that you really want a High Definition image and surround sound. It would seem that the easy route would be to make sure that you have HDMI built into your video card, but most older machines don’t have that feature, and who would want to spend the money on a new video card till you’ve had a chance to try this out for yourself.

What we did here was to take the standard video output from the computer and connect it to out digital TV, using the PC input. It works ok, but we are not getting the super crisp images you would expect from today’s systems. For audio I simply took the analog output from the computer and plugged it into the CD input on my home theater, set the audio to simulated surround, and we are off and running.

There are three flavors of video available. The first is streaming video, where I watch the show of movie directly from a server, I can download and store the videos and I can hook directly to the on-demand feed from the television networks to watch mainstream broadcast television. All worked really well, and being free, make watching television really robust and a whole lot less expensive than subscribing to cable or satellite TV. Our use XBMC has grown steadily since we started the testing progress, and is currently the source of choice for about half of our video watch time.

Because this is a landmark step forward in television, we’re going to dedicate the next groupings of shows to look at specific aspects of XBMC so you can get a really good idea about how to put this to work for you.


How to Win Driving in Rush Hour

Once again I sit on awe at how technology has stepped in and brought an outstanding solution to a problem that has plagued people for about as long as there cars and traffic congestion.

First a little background information. For a number of years I worked as an airborne traffic reporter, flying on a daily basis over the city of Toronto, looking out the window of the plane and telling people where accidents had occurred and how long they were likely to be stuck in the subsequent mess.

You might be thinking that being up in an airplane is a great way to keep an eye on the roadways, but the reality is that you can only effectively see three of four miles, and the real advantage you have in a plane is that you’re cursing at 110 knots, and can cut cross country rather than being stuck in the traffic and following the road system, so the real challenge for reporters is knowing where the traffic problems are, and then getting to that area.

When I started reporting the system that was in place was to have a ground controller keep an eye on the various traffic cameras and monitor police communications to identify problems, then radio that information to the various teams in the air. My contribution was to develop a web page that consolidated all the traffic cameras, and then relay those images and the related reports via blackberry so that airborne crews had the information much faster and they could monitor situations far from their current location. I thought that this was all pretty spiffy and really gave traffic reporting a huge step forward.

When I got my first car GPS system, the traffic reporting component was pretty much a joke. I knew from my reporter days that most incidents are cleaned up in 30 minutes or less, and that generally speaking it takes 15 minutes or more for an incident to occur, and the information to make its way through the reporting system and onto the GPS. Not much help on today’s highways.

Let’s jump ahead to today. I have Google Maps on my smartphone, and am aware that it displays traffic information. Word’s cannot describe my surprise when I learned that then traffic data is harvested from the collective information of all the people who are driving with their GPS on and My Location active rather than from the collector system that the government has installed on most major highways.

Bingo. Suddenly the traffic data is in real time and very meaningful. If you consider that at least half of the cars on every roadway are all anonymously updating the mother ship in real time, the world’s best traffic reporting system is suddenly in place, and when your combine that data with a good GPS app, your daily commute around town may not be any better, but at least you will be always taking the fastest route, regardless of traffic.

Isn’t technology great!!!

Dog-Napping Highlights Print Media Issues

I came across a cute story the other day in the Hamilton Spectator. Cute because it was about an animal rescue, important because it highlighted how much trouble traditional media is in, in terms of its survival in an internet enabled world.

The initial story is how this gal goes shopping at a plaza, and when she returns to her car, it’s gone with her dog in the back seat: Holy dog-napping batman.

This where things get interesting. The dog has a GPS tracking system built into his collar, so Mon calls dad who has the tracking software installed on his system, and they are able to locate both the car and the dog, or so you would think.

Close but no cigar. Because the car and dog were stolen in Hamilton, drove through several regions and eventually ended up at the Six Nations near Branford, there is a question as to has jurisdiction and the responsibility to collar the bad guys.

In my mind’s eye is see a combination of the Keystone Cops meet Dudley Do-right of the Mounties, with possibly a dash of Mr. Magoo thrown in for more confusion.

The story does have a happy ending. Mom calls junior who hops into his car, connects with the local police where the car was tracked to, starts a search for the stolen car, and eventually finds it in a wooded area with Fido patiently waiting in the back seat. Dog is fine, the car has some damage from the adventure, but basically, the escapade is over… almost.

The story is picked up by Hamilton Spectator, but mom makes it clear that she doesn’t not want to be identified. I mean after all, she’s just been through a very traumatic event, and who needs all the attention that a story would bring, and no doubt questions about why she would leave a dog in her car while shopping at the mall, to say nothing of the questions that would be raised as to why the cops couldn’t jump on this crime quickly and possibly apprehend the crooks.

Anyway, the newspaper decides to kill the story because they feel that running too many stories with unidentified names and sources would hurt their credibility. Poor babies. Too much news to print. Hey team, have a look over your shoulder. The huge massive onslaught coming up behind you is called the internet where every man, woman and child on the planet is rapidly being empowered to find and report on all sorts of news stories. The time is at hand where traditional media has to expand and adjust to tailor their content to reflect the presence and potential of the internet. Think not? Another story in the same paper was how the Toronto Star just laid off three hundred workers to remain financially competitive.

Obviously some rational intelligence at the Spectator did see a way to get this story in print, so maybe there is still some hope for the print media.

XBMC: Setting Expectations

We are continuing our look at XBMC or if your will, X-Box Media Centre. Today we are going to have a look at setting expectations.

Probably the number one question you would have to ask is why would you consider adding this sort of application to your entertainment portfolio?

The answer is simple. First of all, it dramatically expands the volume of content that you can access. If you look at your basic cable services, you can watch a very limited number of movies, most network programming and of course local news and weather.  The cost for this runs somewhere around $60 per month. Add on top of that upgrades to the various movie networks, a couple of specialty channels and all of a sudden, your bill jumps to around $100 per month.

Now consider XBMC and what is available. A quick scan through the movie menuing system suggests that there are about 2-hundred thousand movies available. You can access everything from current films running in theaters, to upcoming blue-ray releases, and a massive supply of classic movies. In more realistic terms, you could watch 5 movies per day forever, and never get to today’s current releases.

In terms of traditional network shows and local news, virtually all of the broadcasters have embarked on a program of connecting mobile viewers by posting their shows on their web sites and encouraging people to watch. There are all available on XBMC.

Another program category that is in fairly high demand is specialty channels. Once again, if it’s on a TV system anywhere; it’s probably available through XBMC, and in High Definition.

One program category that abounds on XBMC that is not available on television is that of the independent producer with no network affiliation. This category of shows is quickly mobilizing and starting to deliver high volumes of content, and offering very specialized information.

In fact, look for independent producers to step up and fill the void that the Canadian government has generated by allowing the massive consolidation of ownership in broadcasting which has eliminated local content from massive portions of this country.

And the cost of all this? Just the cost of the internet connection that you use, probably around $60 per month and dropping.

Because the content delivery services traditionally have been granted near monopoly licenses from the government, they have had no need to compete for customers and have long treated both content providers and customers like well, borrowing an expression from Coronel Potter in MASH, treated them like horse puckey. Now that alternate delivery vehicles are available, it’s unlikely that they will wake up and smell the coffee, and will probably end up like Blackberry, not so quietly just fading away.

Google Maps: Room For Improvement

We have been talking about Google Maps and their traffic system, but talk is cheap, so we took the app out on a road trip, and found out that things are not quite as promised. In order to give the app a true workout, we took a day trip across the busiest highways in North America, first in morning rush hour going one way, and returning back during the afternoon rush, reversing our trip.

Because we wanted to really give the system a workout, we chose a route that offered every challenge in modern driving, selecting highways with High Occupancy Lanes, which generally are much faster, express and collector lanes, where you can make adjustments to your path, and during peak traffic periods may offer time saving options to your daily commute, and several highway options, any of which on any one day can make a big difference in your overall travel time.

So we hopped in the car near Hamilton Ontario at 8 AM, just to make sure that we would be in heavy traffic, the two of us, one driver and one GPS operator. We programmed Google maps with a destination in Markham, so we have to cross the entire city of Toronto.

It didn’t take long to realize that we had problems. As soon as we programmed in the destination, we lost the traffic flow information. After several tests and re-programming, we concluded that Google had to leave some opportunity for third party developers to take Google data and apply it to a pay as you play applications. We forged forward, switching between traffic flow and navigation, but ultimately concluded that what we really wanted was a better app which would both navigate and factor in traffic flow.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Because we didn’t want to spend any money for the GPS app, we did a little searching and found an one called Waze, which claims to be one of the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. You can hookup with other drivers in your area and share real-time traffic and road info. I’m always open to new concepts, so a quick install, a bit to eat before we started on our two hour sojourn back across Toronto through afternoon traffic back to Hamilton.

My god, what a surprise, I’d accidently discovered the next generation of GPS programs. Waze takes specific data from other Waze users who are travelling in proximity to you, shows their location on your GPS system, with their vehicle speed and the opportunity to post both text messages and pics, which all the other users can see on the GPS screen. Beyond that, if your vehicle should stop, Waze asks you why, an accident, heavy traffic, whatever, and prompts you to send out a message.  Waze also lets you post road construction information, gas prices and other data which can make your trip faster and cheaper.

The real question test of any GPS system is how well did it navigate your trip. When we pulled onto the highway, the estimated time for the entire trip was 1 hour 32 minutes; it ultimately took 1 hour 48 minutes.  Not bad given that the worst of rush hour didn’t start till we were 45-minutes in to the trip. Waze successfully moved us between the collectors and express lanes on the 401, so we always were in the fastest set of lanes, and on several occasions, we saw text messages from other users who were ahead of us on the highway.

There is a pile of other features that Waze does, so I’ve added a link on the script page for this video.

By the way two down strokes. Waze reverses the concept of distracted driving. Using this app to it’s fullest is more like distracted GPS operation, so it’s best to be a passive observer is you are the driver, and this little puppy is a real battery drainer, so if your trip is of any length, plug in your charger before you start.

iPhone Users vs Android Users

There’s a battle line developing in the technology market, that personally, I’m just plain sick of. It’s the “which smartphone is better, Apple or Android?”

iPhone users around the world just had threw up their defensive shield, and are preparing to defend their turf to the last dollar in their bank account. And that’s OK, because I really don’t care.

The truth of the matter is I really don’t like my phone, but have come to learn that it’s the best one I own, and if I were to jump ship from Samsung to iPhone, I would be no further ahead.

You see, I really don’t care that I have a billion pixels in my camera, that there are 100-trillion apps available, how pretty the case is or whether I was the first person in town to actually own one.

What I care about is that when I go to make a call, that I easily connect to my provider, that the people I call can easily hear me, and I them. I care that the battery lasts a long time, I care that I can read the screen and I care what it costs to keep the whole thing working every month.

Do I care if Apple is better than Samsung? No, not at all. Here’s how it works in my mind. My phone remains in use till after it’s finished it’s contract and till it dies or there is some other “must have” new or upgraded feature that I just have to have. When I switched from Blackberry to the Galaxy S2, it was because we needed a new phone for a staff member, so I got the S2, and they got my old phone. Later, I jumped to the S4 2-years after my contract expired because my wife needed a replacement phone, and Samsung was just launching S4, with LTE, which in my mind was a significant feature. So we ended up with 2 new phones, purchases made on price, both with LTE, and I love it, my Samsung more so that the Nexus 4.

The real story about smartphones is what’s happening in the global market, because god is on the side of the heavy artillery.

The most recent data from IDC shows that for Q3 of 2013 Android made up 81 percent of devices shipped. That’s right, four out of every five smartphones shipped in Q3 were built on Android. Meanwhile, Apple’s iOS scraped by with a sad and distant second place figure of only 12.9 percent

On the other side of the coin, Apple during that same period—Q3 of 2013—Apple made more money than all of its competitors combined, taking in 56 percent of the profit in the mobile device market.

This is where I become a little paranoid. If Apple is making 56% of the profits with 12% of unites shipped, then it has to be that Apple users are paying 4 times more for their toy than I am for my Android.

And thank you very much; I would just prefer to keep my money in my pocket than watching Apple celebrate huge profits.



Police expand the use of technology to collect car licence plates.

I want to pass on some information that may have a significant impact on all of us. It has to do with an announcement from the provincial police in Ontario who will be dramatically expanding a program that uses technology to capture the licence plate numbers from vehicles that such equipped cursers pass. Each curser is capable of scanning 3600 plates per hour. Assuming that a police car is on the road 6-hours per shift, and three shits per day, and with a total of 31-vehicles, that being the four current cars plus 27 new ones, Big Brother will be capable of checking on 2-million per day. Ontario’s population is 13-million, so for ease of calculation, say ½ of the people have a car, then the police will grab your plate every 2.5 days. Wow. There is some good news. Police say that plates not associated with a “watch” list are deleted in 10-minutes. Now that you’re feeling nice and secure knowing that you have no outstanding fines, that you haven’t skipped a bail hearing and your driver’s licence hasn’t been suspended for anything, you have to ask “what else are police watching for?”. What happens if someone with your same last name is on the list? Will you be stopped? And with this kind of technology, just where do my personal rights to privacy end up? Good questions. The explanation from police is that this increased surveillance will make our society safer. Drivers who have lost their licenses will be more easily identified and taken into custody, people without proper plates will be more efficiently dealt with, and there will much joy and happiness everywhere, except possibly in the realms of those avoiding the police. Here’s my problem. Are the police so focused on their jobs that the collected plate information could not be used for other purposes, like stocking the x-partners, being x-wives, lovers, husbands? Given that cases like this have gone before the courts, the answer would have to be yes. There was a case a few years ago where an office was killed, a situation that nobody wants see to happen. It was in a motor vehicle accident. We received reports that the other driver involved, who did nothing wrong, eventually had to move far away because he started receiving an extremely high number of traffic stops and tickets, with some suggesting that he was targeted by other officers to seek some lever of retribution for the death of their friend. What happens down the road if the government decides that people with green eyebrows should be incarcerated? The system for mass collection of people and their current locations would already in place. I do feel that new technologies need to be deployed, ensuring that society will be a much safer place. But I also feel that we need to strengthen the rules surrounding the mass harvesting of that information, possibly offering some level of separation from those charged with the enforcement of law. Stepping out on a slippery slope has led more than one country down the path to destruction.  

XBMC Update: Hardware

Hardware Update for Using XBMC

I wanted to bring you an update XBMC. We initially did a piece on this software couple of months ago where we talked about its impact in the marketplace. Since we initially started using the package,  we’ve made several changes to the system with some very positive results.

When we first started, we were using a an old computer connected to a digital television via the VGA video port. To connect the sound we were using the audio output from the computer and plugging it into one of the analog inputs on the home theater amplifier.

I can only describe this combination as delivering an adequate picture and sound quality. Given that we were still in the testing stages of the software, to see if we really would enjoy it or not, we ultimately decided to take the steps to permanently include the system into our home theater and upgrade the quality of both the audio and the video. The first upgrade  we made was to install a digital sound card in to the computer so  we could use the digital outputs and connected to the digital input on the amplifier so we could listen in 5.1 surround sound. We had real issues in getting this to work, mostly in activating the digital port on the computer itself. Another problem we ran into with this configuration was that our home theater was set up using our Denon amplifier to switch the audio and video sources through an HDMI connection. The problem here was that every time we wanted to use the VGA input for the television, we had to use the TV remote to select the VGA input and then switch the amplifier to listening to the analog source from the computer. Too many buttons for less technical members of the family to press this much back and forth between the two sources.

Just before Christmas, we found a sale on video cards were we were able to buy a video card with an HDMI output for about $20 Canadian. We installed this card into the computer, and connected it to the Denon amplifier by the HDMI cable, and lo and behold we had video quality equivalent to anything we were getting off of our blue Ray DVD player or from our digital cable box.

The switching over from the video port from the computer to the HDMI in the home theater , has greatly enhanced our ability and enjoyment of Xbox media center. Now anybody in the family by simply selecting the appropriate source on the amplifier enabling them switch quickly between any sources available to the system. As a result of these changes were now watching about 80% of our television from Xbox media Center and about 20% from our cable TV box. We would be completely off of using cable TV except for the fact that our local news is not fully available on the Internet. There is a add-on on Xbox media Center which carries the local news, but it only picks up the news portions and none of the feature segments bundled into the newscast. We really enjoy the consumer report and health reports as well as our local weather, so we find to be better to watch the news from the cable TV source rather than from the Internet.

The other thing that we have found using XBMC more regularly, is at the movies available are phenomenal. Before I go into the detail on the movies that we been finding, I’d like to point out that there’s a lot of useless add-on modules which we initially installed which we decided to delete from the menuing system. We pretty much limited ourselves to three add-ons: mash up, Canada on demand, and navI-X which is located under the programming category.

In terms of using the mash up add-on, under the category of new, were finding movies are actually available prior to release a movie theaters. Not just camera copies, but DVD rips and screeners, which deliver excellent quality.  I’m not sure what the legalities of all this are, but one things for sure we’re certainly seeing a lot of movies a lot sooner than we would otherwise have access to them either from the peer to peer networks or from DVD rental stores.

Another little fact that you have to pay attention to, in terms of the growth of XBMC is the number of installs of the software that of happened. Google is reporting that so far there are almost 5,000,000 installs on the android platform alone. It’s hard to determine exactly how many people are using the software, but my best guess would be that it will be on a level equivalent to the customer base of DirecTV or any one of the Canadian cable companies.

Another little spin off the we discovered in our use of Xbox media Center was that it is a far better platform for viewing your own videos or pictures, and to listen to music on. This has resulted in us pretty much retiring our Western digital media player, and transferring all of our media files onto the computer that is connected to your home theater. Even in terms of looking at pictures sent to his by other family members, we find it far easier and better to watch them on the home theater than to go to somebody’s PC and lean over the other person shoulder to see the screen. As far as music goes it has a solid player built into the software and of course the audio quality is excellent coming to the HDMI hookup from the computer to the home theater.

We’ll keep you posted and other odd things that we find in using the software and keep you up-to-date on changes in the platform.