Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Skype turning to junk, Canada deregulates celphones.

When in England, I used to buy phone cards to call overseas. They promised everything from a few dozen minutes to a few hundred minutes depending on the calling destination. They also seemed to rip you off of those minutes, drastically reducing the actual amount promised, or levying a heavy surcharge for each call made. Still, it was dramatically cheaper than calling direct from the land line.

I've been a Skype Internet phone user for over two years now. Before this week, I have never noticed a drastic difference in the price quoted and the price charged. But that's changed suddenly.
Before, when I spent two minutes on a call, I got charged for two minutes - or about four cents. Now, I spend two minutes on a call and get charged for about five minutes. Then there's the accidental calls, or the calls that don't work, or the answering maching, they used to not charge anything for a quick hangup.

I'm keeping my eyes on other options because the honesty features that attracted me to Skype in the first place is gone.
Hook you in and then screw you over.

I have a general wariness of all phone companies. While Skype may still be the cheapest way to call my family in Canada via telephone, it's not an irreplaceable product.

Moving on, the CRTC in Canada recently announced deregulation of the cell phone industry. This decision is much to the chigrin of established mobile phone companies.

"Opponents of deregulation, including some consumer groups and cable companies, argued at Parliamentary hearings that without restrictions, established telephone companies would drive out competitors by offering discounts, and then raise prices over the long term."

My counter argument is - As opposed to fleecing customers now by charging some of the highest mobile phone rates in the world?

While some smaller startups might get screwed, I highly doubt a company like Virgin would come into Canada and be intimidated by money-losing rates charged by established phone companies. We'll see who goes bankrupt first...

Throughout Europe, and much of Africa, I can buy a phone card for around ten bucks with some credit already on it. I can leave the country, not use the card for two years, return, and that credit will still be there.

As for Canada. I have to pay ten bucks a month, minimum, just to keep the phone running. Credit can be eaten up simply because it wasn't used from one month to the next.

In Europe, the percentage of people who have a mobile phone are well into the eighties.

In Canada, that proportion is much lower. The most recent data I could find said that 66.8% of Canadian households had at least one cell phone. But that's a household statistic, so it means much more than 33% of people don't have a mobile phone.

Here in Morocco, particularly in towns and cities, you'd be hard pressed to find a single person who didn't have a mobile. They now cost as little as $25.00, including the phone, a sim card and some credit. Unlike Canada, you don't have to pay monthly, it's pay as you go, literally. I could have twenty dollars in credit, leave the country, return five years later, turn on my phone, and still have that credit. Once or twice a year I top up with around a hundred bucks. I typically get eight months out of that hundred bucks, with an average of two or three short calls per day.

I'm cheering on deregulation. Thanks to affordable rates, most of the world have embraced the mobile phone far faster than Canadians have. It's time Canada caught up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fatherhood, one year on.

It was a year ago when I first blogged about becoming a father. My son was born on Nov 19, 2006. Since Zack arrived, my facebook account is where I've posted updates through photos, videos and blurbs. As a travel writer, something I quickly found out is that readers are not interested in a person's social life aspects. Starting a family falls into that category, and while exciting to loved ones, is not enticing reading.

As a travel writer, Zack's arrival has significantly cut into my work, with the seeming constant interruptions (which I do not blame entirely on him.) The largest portion of blame lies on me for being unable to focus and basically get my act in gear.

To battle this, I keep intending to go off for a week on my own with the entire manuscript in order to do a no-interruptions marathon edit. The problem is, I need to make significant edits beforehand just to get to that stage. If I work hard, I could probably finish those edits in a couple of weeks, however the family interruptions conundrum comes up once again.

Hours turn into days, weeks, months, and now a year.

For nine months after Zack's birth, I was stuck on the same chapter, Egypt. I rewrote it a dozen times but never got it quite right.

Now I've gotten past the Egyptian chapter's hurdle, or at least put it aside for now, and am focusing on making the suggested critique edits made by fellow writers. Hopefully I can accomplish this sooner rather than later.

Current goal - By March I want to have a manuscript ready to send off to interested agents.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Welcome to Canada, please wait for ten hours, followed by death by taser.

In my recent article, Flying with baby requires extra patience, published on The Leader World, I talk about my airport struggles in Toronto.

I now realize that it could have been worse. Similar to Polish Immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, my flight could have been twelve hours instead of eight. I could have arrived in a country where nobody spoke my language, and the customs and immigration made me wait for ten hours.

Then, when frustrated and angry, he gets tasered to death.

What else would you expect when you arrive at a terminal?

Here's the rundown. The RCMP are called in to control an erratically behaving man at the airport. He had waited in the baggage control area, where he was supposed to meet his mother, only to not find her there because it was restricted to inbound traveller's. He eventually left the baggage area after six and a half hours, but by then, his mother had just left.

His mother had been pacing for six hours asking for help locating her son. She was eventually told he hadn't arrived. She then left the airport.

Firstly, it took six and a half hours for someone to help this guy get his luggage and get him through customs.

Secondly, they told his mother he hadn't arrived.

Whoever said this is the primary person responsible for Mr. Dziekanski's death. More than the RCMP, more than Mr. Dziekanski for his erratic behaviour.

A twelve-hour flight, probably a sleepless night before that from travel anxiety, coming to a country where nobody speaks your language, and being treated like crap for ten hours.

I'd be throwing a tantrum too!

There is a SERIOUS problem with Canada's bureaucratic system, and to a greater extent Vancouver`s, if people are left waiting for ten hours. At the very least, find an interpreter or get in touch with a relative. Was any of this done? Apparently not.

Just as an inquiry should be done into the police's use of force and conduct. An equally pressing inquiry must be done to find out why this man fell through the cracks. We need to discover the root of the problem: Why he was at the airport for ten hours, and what can be done to correct the problem in the future?

I await the forthcoming police inquiry with keen interest. Unlike the majority of Canadians, I don't blame this entirely on the RCMP. I blame it on the lack of service and assistance provided to arrivals at Vancouver airport. Without their seeming incompetence, the police would never have had to show up in the first place.

Mulroney, Bush, Harper, drawing parallels...

Shifting blame, covering up, and secrecy are three things these leaders seem to share. While it is important for every leader to walk a fine line between too much information, not enough, and keeping a few secrets, these guys take it to a new level. They are the experts at leading the populations blindly while systematically raping the system.

Starting with Mulroney. It looks again as though the case against his alleged corruption will slip through the fingers of the law. Schreiber, the shifty key witness, swears he'll not say a word if he's extradited to Germany where he faces fraud and tax evasion charges. Trying to get a dodgy character like Schreiber to tell the truth is a risk even if promises are made not to extradite him. Further complicating matters is, if he admits to illegal cash payments, is he not admitting to breaking the law himself, therefore why the hell would he?

Options: Cater to him and go after Mulroney, (there's no guarantee such a crook will talk anyway)

Or: Let the law run its course, send him back to Germany, and forget about the questionable cash payments he handed over to our former PM. It's especially heartbreaking for Liberals, who went after him in 97 without enough proof, and ended up handing Mulroney $2.1 million in damages.

Moving onto codename Britan, as the bribery account for Brian Mulroney was supposedly called. He's probably still laughing at the $2.1 million settlement.

If he is guilty, and I have a really hard time digesting that $300,000 of "honest" cash, the hard-to-trace under-the-table stuff of money launderers, tyrants, and drug dealers, was honestly paid to a former Canadian Prime Minister for advice and help with a pasta business.

Mulroney isn't even Italian!

Had there been an upfront declaration of the earnings, some proof of work being completed and not a last minute tax declaration after information leaked, then I might be able to swallow the story.

Moving onto Bush...

Speaking of cover ups: Valeri Plame: weapons of mass destruction: massively censoring information about the state of affairs in Iraq; human rights abuses; destabilizing a stable country but doing very little to help an unstable one (Sudan) with shocking human rights abuses (oh wait, you did do something, you called it genocide, then did nothing after that.)

Moving onto Stephen Harper. At times, I can almost accept he's doing an okay job. He had the fortune of inheriting a strong commodity-based economy with record prices, as well as an oil boom in his electoral heartland of Western Canada. The liberal scandal of a few million misplaced dollars put him over the top and the Liberal party is still recovering from that, and their leadership campaign where the qualified but uninspiring Stephan Dion emerged as the winner. He definitely has luck on his side.

On the dark side, he also inherited Afghanistan, which in my mind has been his biggest failure. (Read earlier post)
Other failures are his stance on the environment.

Most recently, and this is where I start drawing a parallel to George Bush, is in the massive censoring of reports based on Canada's complicity in the Afghan Prisoner Transfer agreement and the subsequent abuse of prisoners. At first, some people could accept that our government wasn't aware of the abuse and disappearance of Afghan detainees. I agree with the fact that in order to get out of the sticky war, we gradually need to hand over responsibilities. The descriptions which weren't edited out of this transcript are enough to tell us that we screwed up. They are also enough to make me question why is the rest of it censored from the public?

There are times for censorship. Young offender cases, for example. But for our government's management of a war? The only reason I can come up with for censoring parts of the report is to protect the government from their incompetence being revealed. I don't recall massive censoring under the Liberals. In fact, before America's censoring of Iraq information, the only time I'd ever heard of such public interest details being controlled is in countries run by tyrants and abusers of democracy.
It was once a shock to see governments controlling the media's reporting. Then it came to America, not it's in Canada.

It can be argued that if we can't leave anything up to the Afghanistan authorities to deal with, then we'll be there indefinitely. Thus the logic of handing over the care of prisoners to them. I'm not against handing over power and responsibilites, I think that's a good thing.

Canada made this agreement with the intention of following up with checks. At best we ignored to do these checks, and at worst we did them and then not only did nothing to correct the serious abuses, but continued transferring detainees into their imminent torture or even death.

If you want to turn swarm of nervous stinging bees (Afghanistan) into a honey producing hive, continually abusing them is not the way to proceed. It's a guaranteed way to get stung again and again - ie Kandahar!