Phone Help Wanted

June 17th, 2008, 2:25 pm PST by Greg

Yay! Kat’s back!

But that’s not really what I want to write about. Since Kat’s back in Vancouver, she needs to get a Canadian cell phone. My RAZR is starting to slowly degrade, so I’m thinking about replacing it before it falls apart totally. So, we’re both in the market for phones.

There are two issues here: the phone and the service plan. As much as the mobile industry would like to confound those two decisions, I’m going to treat them separately.

I would appreciate any thoughts people have on how to satisfy these requirements…


For the phone, our needs are relatively modest. It should be able to… (in approximate priority order)

  1. make calls.
  2. send/receive text messages with a decent interface.
  3. be small and easily back-pocketable.
  4. sync its addressbook and calendar with a computer with open/free/common technologies. For me, that means Google Calendar (or an iCalendar file) and Linux. For Kat, it’s Apple iCal and a Mac. This is a dealbreaker for me, possibly not for Kat.
  5. send/receive emails in some suitably rudimentary way.
  6. take pictures, I suppose.
  7. maybe access the web, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for mobile browsers not sucking.
  8. things that might be nice, but I don’t really care: speaker phone, GPS, wi-fi.

I have been playing with a phone finder, but don’t have much to report.

Motorola phones are totally out for me: the RAZR was a nice enough phone, but the software sucks hard. The browser is unusable (e.g. no way that I can find to enter a URL: I had to email a link to Google to myself so I could get there), the calendar won’t sync with anything as far as I can tell, and it generally won’t talk to anything computer-wise.

The worst example of its usability are the outside buttons. On the left of the phone, there is a rocker switch, and a single pushbutton (which you can see in this picture). The rocker switch is used to toggle ring setting/do nothing modes, and the pushbutton is used to scroll through ring settings. Let me say that again: the up/down buttons are used to toggle, and the toggle button is used to scroll. Dead to me.

Also note that the iPhone is totally out for me: the cryptographic signing of the database to eliminate any software other than iTunes is totally unacceptable and I won’t have anything to do with it, or any other Apple products as long as it’s there.


We are fairly light users and have a Vonage line at home, so these aren’t main phones. Things I would like (and I think Kat is fairly similar):

  • some reasonably small number of any-time minutes per month talk. (Rogers’ web site isn’t currently functional enough for me to check my recent usage.)
  • unlimited text (because there’s simply no excuse to charge money to send or receive 160 byte messages, and I don’t want to deal with any company that would do so).
  • no charge for call display (providers actually have to filter out call display information to not provide it if you don’t subscribe: I’m not paying them to turn off their antifeature).
  • some trivial amount of data for email reading.
  • A “family plan” for the two of us is a possibility.
  • Now that I’m looking at the Rogers web site for my recent account activity, I realize that a web site that didn’t suck donkey balls would be a plus.

Any suggestions on these? I will post updates below as I have useful insights to share.

Porsche followup

April 22nd, 2008, 11:46 pm PST by Greg

My earlier post about buying a Porsche has caused much conversation. Some people who I have told about the plan seem to think I’m going out to the dealer next weekend and blowing a lot of money. These people don’t see the inherent joy the plan contains.

You see, I don’t have to actually buy a Porsche for the plan to be wonderful. The plan is great all by itself: with or without a car. The point is that I could buy a Porsche in the not-unforeseeable future. How great is that?

When I told my mother the plan, she laughed appropriately. When I told her about people who interpreted the plan as me imminently heading out to buy, she replied “oh, you’re too cheap for that”. Gotta love her.

I also remembered that I can pinpoint the second I realized I needed a 911. It was when I first watched Top Gear series 10 episode 2. Jeremy Clarkson was reviewing the Audi R8. As they often do, another car was introduced as a counterpoint. Richard Hammond, being a huge 911 fan, offered the 911 Carrera S as a worthy competitor.

The car is introduced in a most dramatic fashion. I have extracted the piece of video that did it for me. Can you watch that and not want a 911? Any car that can be made to slide that far sideways has to be fun to own.

Personally, I’d prefer the Carrera 4S (the four wheel drive version). I’m not actually convinced of my ability to control a vehicle when I have to look out the side window to see where I’m going.

I have however been practicing in Gran Turismo (which doesn’t have Porsches, but still). As I have mentioned here before, I have a Logitech wheel and that gives the whole thing a certain amount of realism.

If I have learned nothing else from Top Gear, it’s that turning off the traction control makes cars more fun (if there’s nothing to hit and you’re not fussy about the condition of the tires). GT4 has traction control turned on for all cars by default, but it can be turned off in the settings screen. With the driving aids off, the powerful rear wheel drive cars seem to mock “you didn’t really think you could use the gas pedal and steering wheel at the same time, did you?”

I can foresee that, while I might not get a Porsche any time soon, Gran Turismo 5 and a PS3 may appear around here much sooner.

Buying vs Renting

January 23rd, 2008, 5:23 pm PST by Greg

A while ago, I posted a calculation that I had done on renting a home vs buying one. Those calculations have been intriguing me ever since. I have had several conversations with people about the pros and cons, and and what-if scenarios.

I finally decided that I needed to automate these calculations so I could easily handle the what-ifs. Thus came to be my very own Renting vs Buying Calculator.

Follow that link, have a look, and play with some numbers. The buttons beside text boxes generally calculate/estimate the corresponding value from relevant numbers above. You only really have to fill in the numbers without buttons beside them. The defaults are my current best-guess at the economics of buying/renting a nice condo in suburban Vancouver.

It’s shocking how hard it is to make buying financially better, as long as you assume two important things:

  • House values aren’t going to continue to rise at the outrageous rates they have for the last five years in North America. This is already slowing, and betting your only/largest investment on that assumption is foolish.
  • You have the discipline to invest in something else (mutual funds or what have you) without the pressure of a looming mortgage payment. Automatic monthly withdrawals make this easy, but it has to actually happen.

The only scenario that I can find where buying has a marginal benefit is buying a small detached home (one of the 1970s-era Vancouver specials), and renting a basement suite. Of course, that comes with the extra responsibilities and headaches of being a landlord.

On the other hand, it can be hard to find rental places that are as nice as what you might imagine buying. The rental market seems to generally target “livable”, not “nice”.

Any comments on the calculator are appreciated. It has everything I can think of that should be in there, but some of you might know better than me.

Update 12/2010: has created a similar calculator.

The Landlady

April 11th, 2007, 9:15 pm PST by Greg

I believe I have mentioned my landlady before, but I’ll recap. I live in the downstairs apartment; she lives upstairs. She’s an old Chinese woman whose English is, at best, vaguely understandable. Her husband is dead and the kids have moved out, so she likes having somebody else living in the house.

Tonight, her computer did something unexpected and she asked if I could help her. I went upstairs and clicked “okay” in a dialog box. Then, she was feeling a little chatty, so I talked with her for a while.

Part way through the conversation, she was talking about her son growing up. Keep in mind that I only understand about every third word she says at the best of times. I still have no idea what she said, but what I heard was “The… uh… penis… up, down, up down, up down… he.. ah… hurt himself”. Again, that probably wasn’t what she said, but it’s what I got.

Has anybody else ever tried to keep a straight face with an old Chinese woman after she’s just brought up her son’s spontaneous erection injury? It’s about as difficult as you’d think.

The other choice quote was about some relative (didn’t catch which one–maybe a son in-law?): “in the mind… he a little bit slow.”

And, of course, her catch phrase: “I’m a little bit scared”. Bless her heart, she’s a little bit scared of everything: going outside, being in the house alone, going to China, having her granddaughters stay with her, … . The pronunciation (which I know because I’ve heard her say it probably 20 times) is something like “I a liddle beet scaaed.”

She’s really quite sweet. If she feels better about having me live downstairs, I’m kind of happy about that. Just as long as I don’t have to talk about her son’s penis again.

My Landlord

November 2nd, 2006, 12:03 am PST by Greg

As some of you know, my landlord in the new place is a nice older Chinese woman. She speaks about 20 words of English, and she’s a little wonky on top of that. So, while she’s quite pleasant, communicatig is a bit of an issue. She has been in Hong Kong for the last little while. I think she’s back in the next week or two.

I was just sitting here thinking that I can look forward to more 20 minute conversations that boil down to “garbage day is Tuesday.” She always circles the point and repeats herself. That conversation would end up something like “you can put your garbage in that can, and they have to be taken out Monday, but I’ll do that, so you should just put your garbage in that can, because its taken away on Tuesday, but don’t worry because I’ll take them out on Monday night.”

Then it hit me.

My landlord is Miss Swan!

Back to Vancouver

August 27th, 2006, 9:59 pm PST by Greg

We’re back to Vancouver, after a bit of a Rube Goldberg day of flying. I’m back for the semester. Kat is back for a week or so.

The remainder of Oli and Tina’s wedding festivities were very cool. Details and pictures will have to wait until I have a really firm grasp on what city and timezone I’m in.

Move #3 Completed

July 24th, 2006, 9:59 am PST by Greg

We have now moved into our third new place this summer.

It’s a nice one-bedroom. Maybe a little tight with both Kat and I here, but it will be nice when Kat is here alone. We took some pics when viewing the place. We will take some more once we’re settled a little more.

As you can see, it’s kind of log-cabiney. I thought the all-wood interior would be a bit much, but it’s actually not bad with some furniture to break it up. It’s about 3 blocks from Kat’s office, which is also nice.

Thus ends the summer-of-many-moves.

Move Completed

June 9th, 2006, 1:31 pm PST by Greg

I just Swiffered and got the last stuff out of the old place on Pender. I just have to go back and drop off the keys with Scott.

I left the place really clean, if I do say so myself. There’s something satisfying about actually cleaning a place well, in a way that isn’t really possible when there’s stuff in it. He’s going to have to look pretty hard to keep any of my damage deposit.

It turns out that when you’re evicted for “change of use” in BC (which we were), the landlord owes you a month’s rent (for moving expenses, etc.). So, at least I get some money back out of the deal: a month-and-a-half rent, minus whatever damages he finds.

Now, all I have to do is unpack here. I’m increasingly thinking about how much I actually need out of the boxes. I think a lot of it’s staying right where it is.


June 6th, 2006, 8:14 pm PST by Greg

So, I’m very nearly done packing. The movers are coming tomorrow morning, so all is well. I think I have one more trip to make in the car (with stuff that’s easier to move myself than to pack properly).

As many of you know, Kat and I have some… tension surrounding the amount of stuff we have in the house. I think I’m fighting a belief that if it’s in a box, it doesn’t count as clutter.

I knew packing was going to pour salt on that wound. I must say, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. But, I did find:

  • Bags of bags. Probably a half dozen of various kinds: gym bags, shoulderbags, gift bags, clothes-store bags. In all cases, a bag of type X seems to contain many other bags of type X.
  • Three Bon Jovi tapes. We don’t own a tape player.
  • Two breakfast-in-bed trays, which can have photos put in the surface. So, it’s like eating off a multi-opening picture frame. Ain’t nobody getting breakfast in bed as long as these are in the house.
  • A DVD player that I had forgotten about. It’s for Kat’s mother, but we hadn’t given it to her because it’s dirty. I offered to get the lens cleaner out… no … it’s just dusty.
  • More craft stuff and picture frames than I knew about.

Update: I just counted. 72 boxes.


June 4th, 2006, 12:16 am PST by Greg

As some of you know, we have a large Ikea Pax wardrobe in our bedroom. The astute will also know that it is too big to be tilted or removed from the room (because of our low ceilings). It had to be assembled standing up, and would have to be disassembled to be moved.

I decided to tackle that tonight, figuring I would just follow the instructions backwards. The nailed-on back popped off no problem. When it let go, I quickly realized things were about to turn.

The back was the only thing keeping it square: if I let go of it at that point, it would shear and tear itself apart. I managed to get it against a wall, so it didn’t have to be held every second.

I decided the best course of action would be to pop off one side: I unscrewed the little worm screw things and figured it would pop off. The top popped off. Then, I had to hold both the top and side to keep it together. The bottom had to come off, but despite being unscrewed, it wouldn’t budge.

This is the point at which I thought “Didn’t Kat have to help me get this thing together because I couldn’t hold everything myself?”

I didn’t really have any choice but to give the bottom of the free side a kick and hope. The screws pulled out the wrong way, tearing the particle-board. I manged to pick up the screwdriver with my foot and unscrew the other side of the top and get it off.

So, I’m going to try and patch the one side up somehow. I suspect I may need a new wardrobe frame, though.

Otherwise, I think I’m making reasonable progress packing.

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