Death by a Thousand Cuts

Monthly subscriptionitis is a deadly disease and one that is difficult to avoid.  Our house currently has monthly bills for internet access, land phone, unblock-us (ip spoofing), Netflix, Mercy’s cell phone and my cell phone.  It all adds up to a lot of cash.  The cell phones are especially expensive we pay about $180/month.  That gives us 400 minutes of talk time ($30 each), 6gb data ($30 each), system fees and some extras (call display, text messaging).  Over the past couple of years I’ve used my data for tethering my computer at work, but I think I’m done with subsidizing public education. So I looked into how we could slim down the cell phone bill by cutting back to 2gb of data.  Amazingly, it gets more expensive.  Our 6gb for $30 has been grandfathered in and is way better than anything offered now.


Checking out Fido or Koodo, I determined that they really don’t offer anything cheaper.  However, Wind Mobile does offer a much reduced rate.  Reviews on Wind are pretty mixed though, with a lot of complaints about coverage.  Their monthly no-contract rate is so cheap that I thought it would be worth checking out for a month.  The only problem is that I would need a phone that works on Wind, because my current Note 2 does not.


This is where Microsoft enters the picture.  They just started selling the 640XL, a mid-range 5″+ phone for $340.  It’s not the greatest phone in the world but the size is good, the battery lasts a long time and the processor is fine.  And they have a 30 day money back return policy.  So I bought a Lumia 640XL, took it to Wind, and then got a 1 month 2gb package for $35.  This package gives unlimited calling, messaging, voice mail and call display.

Wind data is only 4G, so I expected it to be quite a bit slower than my Note 2 on LTE. I wasn’t disappointed.  I also found lots of places where the data didn’t work very well, such as at Main and Terminal and Broadway and Commercial.  But whatevs.  I decided to stick with the phone, cancel my Rogers phone, and save $45/month.

The day after cancelling my Rogers plan I went to Spanish Banks.  Lo and behold, Wind wasn’t great there.  And you know what? The world didn’t end, no one got hurt and I didn’t get lost with no way of contacting the outside world.

So far I’m really happy with Wind.  Sure, their service sucks in places but that’s a compromise I am glad to take.  I’m acquainting myself with free WiFi hotspots and it’s all good.

Postscript: my wife called Rogers to cancel my phone and it had already been canceled from when I ported my phone. I couldn’t believe it would be that easy.  Rogers also tried to offer my wife a sweet deal.  They told her she could have unlimited talk and 5gb of data for $95.  Uhmmmm…. their best deal was worse than what she (and I) already had.

New Bike Gear

PumpGlovesI’m another one of those periods again where some of my sporting gear is wearing out.  Most of that nice, quality bike stuff that I bought 16 years ago is slowly being replaced. Yesterday’s damage came to $150 at MEC.  I needed to get a new chain ($10), some new cool weather gloves ($60) and a new bike pump ($50).  The bike pump was strictly needed, I still have my old Silca pump.  The Silca continues to impress me – I’ve never even replaced the rubber gasket that clamps to the tube valve.  I just shove the the end onto the valve and pump away.  However, it is getting harder and harder to get a good seal with the Silca.  On top of that, I’m not every confident in the accuracy of the pressure gauge anymore.  The kicker is that new pumps have ends that automatically adapt between presta and schrader valves.  Since I’m often pumping my kids’ tires, this is a welcomed feature.

The chain was a different matter.  Last week I decided to replace the chain on my commuter bike. I measured the stretch to be 1/8″, which typically means that the cog likely needs to be replaced too.  I was fine with that, since I wanted to try running a 20T cog on the back instead of an 18T.  My commuter bike uses the Shimano 8 spd Alfine internal hub, and using the 18T cog I almost never went into gear 7 or 8.  So I figured I would get better use with the 20 T.  Anyways, I went to a LBS (local bike store), Bikes on the Drive.  They sold me a BMX chain which they said would work fine on the Alfine.  On the back of the packaging the chain was listed as being good for BMX and single speed, so their recommendation seemed reasonable.  After using the new chain for a week though, I noticed some pretty big problems. I don’t actually know what exactly was happening, but every 3 minutes or so the chain would feel like it was skipping or catching on something.  A couple of times it really seemed to jam.  I looked into things a bit more and measured the chain – it was a 1/8″ width chain.  A few searches on the internet suggested that 1/8″ on the Alfine is too wide.  The Alfine needs a 3/32 chain.  That matched my observations – I thought there seemed to be a lot of play with the chain.

Long story shot: put a 3/32 chain on the Alfine.  I now have a SRAM PC-830 and I hopefully it will get the job done.

Top Fassbender Twists

Every time I hear Peter Fassbender on the radio, I get really angry. He presents a lot of information in a way that is anywhere from mildly to extremely misleading.  The following are my top misleading views from Fassbender.

Mislead #1. The government is adding over $350M to a class size and composition fund.

Actually: The government is continuing with the existing $70M LIF (learning improvement fund).  This fund and amount has been in place for 2 years.  It is acknowledged that current funding is not sufficient.  They want to put the $75M LIF into the contract for 5 years, which is the $375M that Fassbender is talking about. It is not new money, it is an extension of what is currently used. Furthermore, Fassbender is not clear when he talks about the $375M. It is NOT $375M per year.

Mislead #2. The BCTF is not negotiating.

Actually: Anyone can go to the BCPSEA website and download the proposals from May onwards. From this, you will see that the BCTF has removed a lot from their original positions.  Most recently in August, the BCTF dropped the CS&C fund demand from $225M to $175M.  You will also see that the government has essentially not moved on any issue since mid June.

Mislead #3. The BCTF is asking for almost twice what other public sector unions got.

Actually: The BCTF’s wages are less than the rate of inflation and close to what other unions got (maybe it’s less, I’m not sure). Other benefits are about $5M I think, which is probably close to other unions.  However, the BCTF is also asking for an increase in prep time for elementary students.  This is a significant cost, put at around $65M. The government calls this a benefit.  Given that other public sector unions probably have no need for prep time, it stands to reason that any allowance for this issue would be more than what other unions got. If a person were to view prep time as something other than a benefit, then BCTF is getting the same as other unions in terms of wages and benefits.

Mislead #4. The government would have to raise a tax, such as a gas tax hike, to pay for the BCTF’s demands.

Actually: There are many ways to find money. Many people suggest closing a property transfer tax loophole that is allowing foreign investors to purchase multi-million dollar homes and properties while paying almost no tax (PTT).  Secondly, it should be noted that de Jong and Fassbender talk about gas tax, which is a regressive tax.  Regressive taxes hurt lower and middle income people more than higher income. Why wouldn’t they suggest a progressive tax (if a tax is needed at all)?

Mislead #5. The government has put $1B into education since 2002.

Actually: The government also downloaded many costs to the school boards, such as wage increases and hydro increases. There’s also this little dirty secret out there… costs have gone up in the past 12 years.  For a reality check, see this letter from a principal at a Coquitlam elementary school. They’ve seen their budget drop from $181,000 (2002) to $23,000 (2014).

Mislead #6. The contentious E.80 statement is harmless

Actually: a few lawyers have chimed in publicly stating that the “supersedes” statement is indeed something that the BCTF should have removed. It can set a lower standard from which negotiations would start from after the appeal at the BC Supreme Court. It also begs the question as to why this statement is not being removed, if it is so harmless.

Mislead #7. The BCTF have not given written proposals.

Actually: I’ve read through the proposals on the BCPSEA website. I think that must mean they’ve been written down somewhere, somehow. Government has also said that it took 2 days to get the binding arbitration scheme written down from BCTF. Personally, I could care less about this stuff.  It’s a distraction and disingenuous at best. It is obvious that both sides know exactly what is on the bargaining table, and insinuating otherwise is misleading.

Now, I’m biased in that I’m pro-teacher. But even when I try to get critical on Jim Iker, his explanations are pretty clear.  I may not agree with all of his choices or tactics, but I don’t think he is misleading anyone.  Iker’s main gripes are:

1. the government hasn’t put any new money into CS&C – true

2. the government hasn’t been negotiating – I’ve read the proposals, and would say this is true. The government is holding firm from beginning of June.

3. teacher wage demands are reasonable – fair enough

4. teachers in BC are among the lowest paid in Canada – true if you believe Stats Canada

5. teachers should get a bonus to make up for 3 years of 0 in wage increases. He says this amount is negotiable – true

Strongback Giveaway

In the name of space saving and other committments in the near future, I’ve decided that I should get rid of my strongback. If you’re interested, leave a comment below!

This strongback worked very well for me. Once the beam was put onto the legs, the legs were easy to adjust for contours in the floor. These legs were a big improvement over the first ones that I made – more ramblings on this can be found here.

Hard Drive Death

Sometimes I wonder if I get a bit paranoid about backups and using my NAS. This usually happens on the occasion that I have to do some maintainance on it. Most of the people I know do not have a NAS, which of course begs the question of whether we need to have one or not. As more and more Cloud storage and services are available, perhaps a NAS becomes less relevant. In any event, it’s not often that a friend will tell me about a hard drive crash and them losing data.


Well, yesterday I almost had another one of those events. The hard drive on my NAS, the one that holds the OS, died. I’ve been using NAS4Free for almost a year now, after the FreeNAS project switched over. It’s been a pretty seamless solution for me, but with the OS pooched I was worried. You see, I use a software RAID with the NAS and it’s the OS that makes me able to read my storage drives. I can’t take the storage drives out of my NAS and get data from them using another computer. So it’s pretty important that my NAS keeps on working. Luckily I have a saved copy of my NAS4Free configuration, which is the key to all of this.

I didn’t have an extra drive, so I decided to run the OS from a USB flash drive. It’s a painless process to set it all up, but it did take a bit of time. I re-downloaded the OS, downloaded a USB image writer, created a Live USB OS and then booted into NAS4Free. I then had to grab another blank 4gb Flash USB, and use the “Live” version to install a “Full” version on the 4gb drive. Simple, but a little time consuming. Once the full version was running, I uploaded my configuration file, rebooted, and then all of my old NAS4Free information was there, including access to my storage drives.

Maybe I get an apparent higher rate of dead hard drives simply because I have more hard drives that can screw up. There are 5 in my NAS (1 dead drive which used to be the OS, and then 4 drives for storage), and 1 each in my laptop and desktop. Oh, I also have two external hard drives for backups. I really only use one of these now, it holds 3 TB. As data storage goes up, the old backup drives get too small. My hold external backup was only 500GB…

Moving forward, I can still see a place for the NAS at home. We can download torrents and keep them on the NAS, and have them show on our computers or TV in the front room. The NAS is also good for storing and streaming music, tv shows and movies. However, the increased popularity of services like Netflix has decreased much of our tv and movie streaming.

Night Skiing

Yesterday Grady and I went out for our first time night skiing.  I decided to check out Grouse, as Grady hasn’t really skied there before, other than one bunny hill lesson.  We were on the mountain by 5pm and skied straight through to 9pm.  It was a ton of fun and I’m super proud of how well Grady did.  He showed great perseverence and willingness to challenge himself, which isn’t something he’s always been wanting to do.

Our night was topped off with some delicious hot chocolate.  The one downer was standing around waiting to take the tram down, and the crammed ride that followed.  All in all though it was good times – I’ll be giving some serious thought to getting a Grouse Y2Play pass in the spring.

Next entries »