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Vancouver Mountains

Below are some pictures I took between our home in Surrey and Richmond, British Columbia.  We were on our way to eat Chinese food which Richmond is very well known for and in fact one of the best outside of Asia itself.

Even though British Columbia doesn’t have the same sort of culture as London, Paris or New York, which I miss desperately, it does have outstanding scenery which makes the Province one of the best places to live in the world. Go to the HelloBC website to find out more about coast and mountain tourism here.

By |2019-01-07T22:58:27+00:00January 7th, 2019|Canada|0 Comments

Apple Products

Apple ComputerToday was a bad day on the stock market as Apple announced a slowdown for what it relates to the Trade War with China but generally, there is a slowdown in that sector. Consumers don’t appear to be buying as many iPhones as they used to, waiting for longer periods of time to update their technology, also, everyone who wants one probably has one by now.

I reflect on this relating to my opinion of Apple.

iPhones

I am still on the iPhone 6 and have no plans on upgrading as they are extremely expensive for something I don’t use that often, I am not a power user.  The latest iPhone’s can be anything from CAD$649 to CAD$1029 depending on whether you trade in your old model, that is way too pricey to make a frequent investment.  I don’t need to upgrade to use the latest camera or any of the built-in tool that the newer models come with as long as I can run the few apps I need on the device. I wouldn’t consider moving away from Apple right now because I don’t like the Android Operating System at all and have bought apps needed for my business that I don’t want to have to re-buy again for another OS.

iPad

I have a really old iPad which cannot install the latest apps now but I am happy with what I use it for.  Basically, I read comics, books and magazines on it in an app that doesn’t need upgrading for the time being. Because of the weight of an iPad I find it more enjoyable reading from my desktop computer than my heavy iPad so I feel, for such minimal use, it’s not worth upgrading. A new one would cost minimum CAD$999, eeek.

Mac

I have just bought a new Mac Desktop but that was thanks to our moving company destroying my old computer and the insurance providing the funds to buy a new one.  I had my old computer for 8 years. Compared with PCs they are horrendously expensive to replace.

Summary

So, for me, upgrading is all about price.  Apple is obviously better quality than PCs but there is a hefty price to pay for that luxury. So, I won’t upgrade that often.  Now, Apple could bring down its prices and I would be tempted to buy more frequently and maybe that would tempt other people to do the same which could be a boost for the company but right now they don’t make that possible for me.

By |2019-01-03T23:15:55+00:00January 3rd, 2019|Technology|0 Comments

US Health Care Saving Money

Health care companies in the US are commercial enterprises who want to make money off their patients.  Regular or hidden charges can build up or take you by surprise leaving you feeling ripped off and penniless. So, it’s really a good idea to be an “intelligent customer” to ensure you are getting your money’s worth.

Here are some tips about avoiding larger charges that I have learnt.

  1. Try to get an estimate for the services you are going to use.  There are two reasons for this: a) when your bill comes along and you think you have been overcharged you have a basis to question it, b) you can shop around to other places that will provide the same thing.  Sometimes it’s very difficult to get an estimate from administrative staff so go through your own general practice if you can, they tend to be more helpful/competent.
  2. Stay within the network.  Treatment outside of your insurance network will be much more expensive, obscenely so, ensure that whatever you are going to have done stays in-house.
  3. Always ask the price, whether you have got an estimate or not, prior to your treatment.  I have been caught out thinking the service should be free, as in preventative, when days later I receive a huge bill.
  4. If something looks odd on your invoice then question it with the company. By doing this I found out that some companies don’t charge for a service that is less than $5.
  5. Use telehealth services. Often seeing the doctor face to face can mean a deductible or other charge. Consider using the companies telehealth service, that means to speak to a nurse on the phone or online. Often you can upload pictures so nurses can see the ailment to be checked out. Telehealth services might be free, check with your provider.
  6. When going to a practice observe how many people come to attend to you. It doesn’t take 5 nurses to take your blood pressure. I have always questioned why they provide multiple staff when it’s possible for one person to perform that simple task.
  7. Do you really need to see your doctor? Often a nurse can provide the service you need, this saves the doctor time and lowers your cost, probably.
  8. Question the price of medications. Buying drugs at your local pharmacy with GoodRx coupons could be cheaper than charging it to your insurance.  This has been the case with all my medications. Often independent pharmacies are already linked to the GoodRx system.

I hope you find these tips useful. They may not be relevant for all occasions but when doing business with a company that is providing a service you want to make sure you are getting a fair price for a high standard. Don’t be shy. Question everything. You are the customer.

By |2018-12-08T21:51:08+00:00December 8th, 2018|Health Care, USA|0 Comments

Scam Amazon Emails

This is the time of year when email spam increases as criminals try their best to extort money from shoppers in search of deals.  It is definitely worth being careful with every email you receive, to scrutinize it accordingly.

Some of the ways you can do that are to ensure your email program or webmail doesn’t automatically download images.  An image is used in messages to ping back to those who sent it to confirm its been opened. Once they confirm it has been opened they will likely send you more spam, or your email address will go on a wider circulation to other spammers.

I will check my webmail before downloading into my email program. That way I not only address the spam I have received but also delete any other rubbish.

Do not be tempted to click on any of the links inside the message if it looks suspicious. For example, if you get an email from what looks like PayPal about your account then login through your browser to review any actions you need to take.

I am using an Amazon related email I have received this week to evaluate whether it’s spam or not:

primawards.com

You will not that this is a play on Amazon’s branded Prime Awards product, but the spammer has dropped an “e”.

Usually, just by looking at the low quality of the email received you should be able to tell that it’s spam, for example, bad English, terrible design. Amazon hires highly professional designers and marketers for its email marketing so just assess whether you think a manager there would signoff on such dodgy looking work. You can look up design quality and use of the English language without downloading images, which you souldn’t do unless you are sure it’s not spam.

Here are a couple of basic steps to assess whether the email is spam.

Step One: Lookup the domain’s WhoIs record

There are a number of WhoIs services to lookup a domain such as whois.com.

Initially, I will look up a legitimate Amazon company domain name first.  You can use this information to compare against the potential spam email domain.
WhoIs Record for Amazon.

Now, look up the above primawards domain’s WhoIs record (the domain I got from the email address it was sent from, so just use the portion in red info@primawards.com). You can see that the registrant has a gmail address, Amazon would not use Google Mail in their communication and definitely not as a technical contact. The address registered in the domain is clearly not an Amazon office, look it up in Google Maps to clarify that. Spammers will often use a false address or even a Post Office Box, that could even be false.
WhoIs Record for primawards.

You will see that the spammer used Namecheap to register their domain. You can double check with the provider that Amazon normally use (Mark Monitor) against what this spammer has used.  Now you have the domain provider you may contact them to do something about it, read NameCheap’s excellent blog on this subject, the company is very good at following up with these type of complaints. Please ensure you contact them only about NameCheap related domains.

Step Two: Look up addresses given in the email

To make themselves look more legit spammers will often provide 1 or more physical addresses in their emails.  Simply copy and paste them into Google Maps and you will find out they absolutely do not belong to an Amazon office.  Will use the addresses in the spam I received:

616 Corporate Way Ste.2-9092, Valley Cottage, NY 10989 – this looks like a USAMail facility, a company that redirects mail. Definitely not an address that Amazon would use.

3901 SW 47th Ave #405, Davie, FL 33314 – I can’t tell what is at this address, a small business park but definitely not registered to Amazon.

Another common theme with Spammers

One of the things that stick out for me is the TLD (top-level domain) spammers are using.  If anything has an .icu .bid .sport or others that are not .com .org .net then that will raise an alarm bell with me.  In fact, I have blocked all .icu domains all of which go to my Junk box automatically. Look for your internet service provides FAQ’s on how to do this.

Don’t be a victim of spam, take control of your Inbox

By |2018-11-16T00:33:26+00:00November 16th, 2018|Technology|0 Comments

Government Hospitality: My Collection Grows

The Government Hospitality Fund (GHF) was a British government quango responsible for organizing and paying for lunches, dinners, receptions and theatre suppers for Ministers and visiting foreign dignitaries to the United Kingdom. This also included functions during State Visits. The events ranged from small parties of around 10 but the largest event I organized was a reception for 400.  Buckingham Palace organized its own events but all government departments came under the responsibility of GHF even if The Royal Family was in attendance.

I used to work for Government Hospitality for five years and thoroughly enjoyed the job, best I have ever had with so many memories. I had to change jobs every 3-4 years but managed to stay in this position as long as I could. Whenever I see an item relating to GHF on a site like eBay I usually pick it up, if I can, to add to my collection.

I recently bought this envelope from eBay postmarked 3rd June 1974. This was before I joined the organization but it is pretty much how I was told to address envelopes, it was a matter of strict protocol.  Every full stop (period) and comma had to be correctly done.

GHF Envelope

The back of the envelope, shown below, had a red embossed Government Hospitality logo on the back.

GHF Logo

Professor Derek Diamond, whose name is on the envelope, is no longer with us unfortunately but he made a significant impact during his career.  Please read the following to find out more about him:

 

By |2018-11-05T23:25:49+00:00November 5th, 2018|Government Hospitality, United Kingdom|0 Comments

Epilepsy and Social Media

There is a trend on social media to post animations that are very “psychedelic” in nature but some of them can trigger an epileptic seizure or fit. In some cases, which have caused some media attention, people put those types of animations for the purpose of targeting specific users in order to make them sick.

Video AutoplayI feel those who upload these animations fall into the following categories:

  1. General users who think they are fun not realizing the consequences
  2. Social Media managers who think they are attention-grabbing not realizing the consequences
  3. Those who shamefully place them on social media with the sole purpose of doing harm.

Examples of the triggers of photosensitive epilepsy are described in this article by the Epilepsy Foundation. Some of the triggers they list are as follows:

  • Flickering light
  • Flashing
  • Intense strobe lights
  • Visual patterns with stripes

Hopefully, no one wants to do any harm to people and those with epilepsy do not want to get a seizure. Seizures are not amusing, feel uncomfortable for days, and can be fatal.  So, here are my suggestions on what can be done.

General Social Media Users

Simply review any animations you upload to social media to ensure it won’t do any harm to those who have taken the time and trouble to view your posts. If you think you have to upload the animation and there is a possibility it might cause harm please display a warning.

Social Media Managers

Before anything is uploaded to social media it should go through a QA process, not just the text but also any videos, graphics or animations.  You are probably checking to ensure it aligns with the company brand and goals, a company goal should be not to cause distress in your clients, potential or otherwise.  Please include the possibility of harmful animations in your workflow.

Those With Epilepsy

To safeguard yourself getting a seizure a fail-safe protection is to ensure animations do not load automatically, in other words, you need to click on a play button to run them. Every social media company should have this option in the settings of your account. Following is a rough guide for the most popular platforms:

  • Twitter Desktop: Profile and Settings > Settings and Privacy > Accessibility > Ensure “Video Autoplay” is unchecked. This will apply to videos and animated gifs.
  • Twitter App: Settings and Privacy > Scroll to Bottom and tap Video Autoplay > Choose Never
  • Tweetdeck: Settings > Settings > Turn Off “Autoplay GIFs”.
  • Instagram App: Click on Profile Icon (bottom right-hand corner) > Click on Menu icon (top right-hand corner) > Settings > Cellular Data Usage > Ensure Use Less Data is turned off.
  • Facebook Desktop: Settings > Videos (bottom left-hand side) > Auto-play Video’s should be set to Off.
  • Facebook App: Settings and Privacy > Settings > Videos and Photos > Autoplay > Tap Never Autoplay Videos
  • LinkedIn Desktop: Click on “Me” in top right menu > Settings and Privacy > Under Site Preference click on Autoplay Videos > Turn Autoplay to Off.
  • LinkedIn App: Tap on the icon where you place your image > Tap on Settings (wheel icon top-right) > Tap Autoplay videos > Check “Never Autoplay Videos.

British television generally provides a warning if an upcoming video contains flickering or flash photography. I think we can do the same over social media.

By |2018-09-21T21:22:20+00:00September 21st, 2018|Health Care, Technology|0 Comments

Crazy Rich Asians Review

Crazy Rich AsiansCrazy Rich Asian’s is the story of Rachel Chu (Wu), an American-born Chinese economics professor, who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend, to go to a family wedding. Unknown to Rachel her boyfriend, Nick Young, is from an obscenely wealthy family.

My review may contain spoilers.

There are some good things about this movie, as follows:

  1. It is a lot of fun with humour interspersed
  2. There are a lot of Kleenex moments so go to the cinema prepared.
  3. The acting is very good and had an excellent cast.
  4. The film provided a stage for Asian actors, especially in lead roles.  Hopefully, this will start a trend of hiring more, in film or television. I hope studios are wise enough to engage them.

Being married to an Asian I noticed they got some cultural things spot on:

  1. No one is ever going to good enough for my son/daughter, no matter whether they are rich or poor
  2. Divorce or violence towards a wife is not a shame on the husband who committed the acts but the wife’s fault.  Often after a divorce, it will take half a generation to forgive them.
  3. The senior member of the family often has the last word
  4. There is a strong commitment to not let the old ways die out.
  5. The wife should be at home and the husband is the money earner.
  6. Everyone sits at the table to assemble food.

Some negative points I found:

  1. The film was too westernized maybe to appeal or dumb it down to a US/British audience.
  2. Some of the characters were very over the top, maybe that’s what you would expect in film and television but they were more “camp” or “pop art” style than I have seen in Asian shows (and I have seen a lot of them)
  3. I would like for them to have focused on some of the more interesting storylines, about Rachel’s mother.
  4. The film wasn’t long enough, as I said, more could have been included.

I recommend the film, there is something in it for everyone. It’s safe for all the family to watch.

Summary

So I am very happy to of seen this film, it was fast-paced, fun and emotional.  Looking forward to seeing more.

By |2018-08-22T01:40:24+00:00August 22nd, 2018|Film|0 Comments

Favourite Productivity Tools

I’ve used many productivity tools over the years as a Project Manager, my own business or simply a to-do list for my personal projects. I have become dependant on them and some I cannot do without.  In this post, I go through my favourites.

SuiteCRM

SuiteCRMThis Contact Relationship Management system is my most invaluable tool. It’s open source, meaning free, and based on SugarCRM but the company has developed it to be less ugly and put in more features. I use it for managing leads, accounts, contacts, tasks, projects, cases and more. It is a powerful tool which can be modified to your own needs whether you are a large organisation or a one-person operation.

How to install it:

You can host it on your own web server.  Many of the better hosts have a Quick Install feature so its live within a couple of minutes or alternatively follow SuiteCRM or your hosts’ instructions about installing it via the cPanel or Plesk. If you have the funds you can host it at SuiteCRM but you will be charged a minimum of 5 users per month rate which can be expensive, so it might be worth self-hosting. Check the system requirements of SuiteCRM before installing it on your web host to ensure your plan meets your needs, there is nothing worse than your site constantly crashing through lack of resources.

Alternatives:

I have used many alternatives to SuiteCRM, specifically the free or low-cost options. SugarCRM is one of them but if you are going to the bother of installing that on your server you might as well go for SuiteCRM.  Sugar is basically ugly and cumbersome to deal with, I’ve never had an upgrade go well.

ZohoCRM is another alternative on the market.  The user experience and interface are very nice however to get the same functionality as SuiteCRM you would have to pay for it.  The cost per user per month might be better spent having a web host and installing SuiteCRM on there.

Trello

TrelloIf you need a cheap and easy to learn project management tool then this is for you. It gives the ability to place your projects into Boards and within that, you can create streams for your tasks, for example, 1) Planning, 2) Working On, 3) Completed.  It really is up to the user how it’s organized.  Personally I like Trello within small teams but the streams within the boards get manic when there are too many people involved so as a Project Manager it can get out of hand for me.  As a matter of interest, there is a SuiteCRM Trello Suggestion Box online which does appear to be public so this provides an example of how the tool can be used.  Trello has api’s with other software such as Salesforce.  Trello has apps for Mac OS, iPhone and so on, so that makes it easier to use.

Manuscript

When you have a large project there will no doubt be a huge number of issues and bugs that need to be managed. One of the tools that have worked for me well in the past is Manuscript, and I was introduced to this by a Vancouver based web agency.  Manuscript was previously called FogBugz which came up with the idea for Trello, it was later sold to another company.  Manuscript, in short, is an easy way of managing your bugs, keeps the workflow in one place, assigns them to different users, a place for code, scrum style methodology integrated, and so on. The main bonus for me is to cut down on many emails and trying to use something like Excel or Google Sheets which isn’t ideal.

This tool, as it is very expensive, I would say is for large companies or smaller ones with a large budget.  A non-profit would be hard pushed to justify the expense.

Notetaking

As being a chair of many meetings or sitting in the sidelines it’s so important to have software to put notes and action points on.  My preference for this is Microsoft OneNote mainly because I already have the Office365 suite and want to stick with it for consistency.  In this tool I can separate my different projects by creating a new Notebook, or area of work, this helps me to organize things.  The big negative about OneNote is how long the data takes to load within my iPad, but its ok via their website version.  The other notetaking tool is, of course, is Evernote, for some reason I do not like this product but I will use it for something that is “quick and dirty”.

Task Management

I manage tasks in SuiteCRM as I do like them to be associated with Accounts or Contacts that I have, I can’t think of any tools that will link them to my contacts.

2DoI started off using task management with Remember The Milk which at the time the free version met my needs, however now I am a little more advanced and didn’t want a subscription model I left them.  I have been managing tasks in 2Do, I bought this quite a few years ago and have never paid anything else. It’s quite a sophisticated program and data sharing across all my devices is easy. Microsoft has recently released their task management application called To-Do, but has a long way to go, it does link in with their online and application version of Outlook but there is something lacking in the features.

Calendar

As I have an Office365 account I use Microsoft Outlook for all my appointments, the application and online version. I am pretty happy with it especially as their web version has improved considerably over the past couple of years.

There used to be online software where I visitors could see my free/busy times and book meetings with me through that interface. These programs still exist but at a cost which I cannot justify the costs.

Online Meetings

Skype appears to be the most popular tool for my clients so I have been using this, and I use it for general phone calls for which the call quality is quite excellent.  I have used Google Hangouts now and again but it just doesn’t have the friendly interface that Skype does.

Summary

One thing for sure, there is a wide variety of choice for productivity tools out there, spoilt for choice.  It’s best to do a needs assessment before deciding which ones to go with because switching from one to another can be a nightmare.  I have to admit of switching now and again but I am more or less settled with what I have.

By |2018-08-14T15:38:03+00:00August 13th, 2018|Technology|0 Comments

Lost in Space Review

Netflix LISThis year Netfilx released an updated version of the classic 1960s TV Series Lost in Space. There was a lot of apprehension among fans whether it would meet their standards especially as word got out that it wouldn’t be that familiar with the original.

From what I gather the writers and producers wanted this version to reflect how the original series would have been written in 2018 and taking out the pop-art/camp feel out of it. They thought some of the 1960s storylines just didn’t make sense, for example, why would Earth send just one family into space to colonize Alpha Centauri and not many of them. They also wanted a non-traditional family who have modern day issues, even though events are set into the future.

I have only seen 5 out of the 10 episodes so far but this is what I think of the series to date.

The Good Stuff

  • It was great to see Bill Mumy make a small appearance as Dr Smith.
  • The special effects and location filming were very well done. I am so pleased they chose British Columbia, where we live, to film the series.
  • The actors who played the children were very believable and played well.
  • The theme music from the 3rd series of the original was re-used in part.

The Not So Cool Stuff

  • The character that replaced Dr Smith, who was now a murderer rather than a petty criminal like the original, was not that believable and quite annoying.
  • The Maureen Robinson character was extremely annoying, just 3 episodes into the series and I was hoping they would kill her off.
  • Some of the science was a little bit bizarre but I guess the 1960s version of the show was as well.
  • The robot being an alien rather than originating from Earth was a little disappointing but I guess the producers thought the technology to build one in that era wouldn’t be possible.
  • Instead of Debbie being a monkey type character, or the Bloop as they would call it in the 1960s, it turned out to be a chicken. I did cringe a lot at that and wished they had just left it out.

Overall, I didn’t feel engaged with the series and they failed to get me emotionally attached to it. It felt like a completely different show which they didn’t really need to brand it as “Lost in Space”. Many companies are trying to re-launch established brands with an existing audience but this didn’t quite work out.

Other Reviews

I think I am more alone in my thinking that I wasn’t impressed with the series, from the fans the majority of them do like the new series. I would say there is about 15% of those that were not impressed, but I could be wrong.

What’s Next

The show has been renewed for a 2nd season, not sure when that will be shown on Netflix, it took quite a long time to develop and film season 1. Often the 1st season of a show isn’t that great so I will look forward to how they develop the show.

By |2018-08-08T04:45:52+00:00August 8th, 2018|Television|0 Comments

Americans and Canadian Prescriptions

Upon a visit to our local pharmacy, I discovered how some Americans are buying their prescriptions up here in Canada, I did not realize they were allowed to do this.

I learnt that American’s will drive up to Canada and visit Walk-In clinics specifically for a doctor there to write them a prescription. The clinic will confirm with the US-based Doctor that the prescription is legitimate and they need it according to their medical history. Americans will then visit a Canadian pharmacy to fill their medication. This happens a lot in the town where we live, Newton, British Columbia; I won’t mention the particular pharmacy but it is an international chain.

Why do American’s do this?

  1. Canada buys drugs from pharmaceutical companies at an agreed rate which makes them much cheaper than the US. Therefore, American citizens will save themselves thousands of dollars by buying them this route. For example, 3 months supply of a branded medication in Canada will cost a months supply in the US.
  2. American citizens cannot afford their medication in the US so it’s cheaper to drive or fly up here to buy them.
  3. The US health care system is screwed up, and getting worse under Mr Trump, which leaves Americans without any choice to do this if they want to live.

Americans will pay full price for their medication in Canada. Canadian’s get their health coverage from the universal system and pay their rate for medication. There is also extended health coverage in Canada, such as through private insurance, which makes it even cheaper. Even at the most expensive rate, Americans will still save money on their prescriptions.

Is it legal?

Technically it is illegal for US citizens to do this as they might be considered importing drugs which, according to the law, should only be done by manufacturers.  From what I understand there some flexibility under that rule whereby the drugs must only be for personal use, no greater than 3 months supply and that particular brand/generic has been signed off by a US doctor.

However, from what the pharmacy was suggesting the supply that the US citizens are buying in Canada go well beyond 3 months, in fact, they are buying thousands of dollars worth of medication in particular insulin. It’s very doubtful that American’s are declaring the drugs to customs officials when the cross the border.

There is pressure from the US that the drugs bought overseas do not meet Federal Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and can seriously affect the health of those buying them. Unfortunately, due to the prices in the US, it seems that people are willing to take that risk often not having any choice.  If going through the proper process American’s should get 2 copies of a prescription from their local doctor, hand one into the Canadian pharmacy then declare all the necessary paperwork, including the copy of the prescription, to Customs and Border Patrol agents. However, people should understand the potential illegality of what they are doing.

Fix

The US really needs to fix this situation so people don’t have to travel or rely on overseas countries. There will come a time when people won’t be able to travel, due to changes in age or ability, and should be able to buy decent priced medication in their local area. The US is supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world, you would think they can resolve something as easy as this.

By |2018-08-06T17:10:17+00:00July 25th, 2018|Canada, Health Care, USA|0 Comments