Category Archives: News

News about me

CFIB Study on Municipal Spending Incorrect and Misleading

In the last few days, CKNW has been touting a new study by the CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business) claiming that spending in the four largest cities in Canada is growing out of control. Specifically (in Vancouver) they claim that spending from 2000 to 2011 grew by 50% while population only increased by 15%.

Since this is only comparing 3 metrics (spending, inflation, and population growth), it should be easy to check out their numbers. Based on the City of Vancouver financial statements and the reported inflation in Canada, I find that their numbers on spending are both misleading and WAY off.

We have reports from 2000 to 2012, but to align with their study, I’ll talk about the changes from 2000 to 2011 only. Accounting for inflation, there has been an increase in spending of 40% from 2000 to 2011 (736 million in 2000; 1.03 billion in 2011 (in 2000 dollars)). This is lower than the 50% increase claimed in the study.

Further, the data shows that spending in 2011 and 2012 is actually lower than it was in 2008 (adjusted for inflation). If they want to complain about spending being out of control, they should look to the years 2000 to 2008 when spending increased by 55% adjusted for inflation. Since 2008, spending has decreased by 8 percent!

Of course, that would make this study 5 years too late!

I have created a spreadsheet with my calculations.


  1. Vancouver City Financial Reports
  2. Canada Historical Inflation
  3. CFIB Study


Initially I had stated that spending was up 24% from 2000 to 2011. Actually it is up 40%. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that spending is down since 2008.

AditNetwork : A Pyramid Scheme By Any Other Name …

Pyramid schemes have been around for ages. They are illegal now in Canada and the United States, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to start them up. Pyramid scheme operators have gotten crafty over the years. The “new” pyramid scheme is one that infuses a supposed product or service into the scheme so as to obfuscate its true nature as a pyramid scheme. The thing that I find frustrating is that there never seems to be a shortage of gullible victims for these schemes.

One example that I recently ran across is ADITNetwork. I uncovered this program during an investigation of strange Google Analytics results in one of the websites that I’m involved with. The website was receiving large amounts of traffic for periods of about 90 days long. Then this traffic would all disappear for a period of 90 to 180 days. This cycle occurred 3 times before I finally started to dig into the cause.

I saw that during the periods of heavy traffic I was getting a large amount of traffic (nearly all of it) from and other IP addresses that could be traced back to But we weren’t paying them for advertising and, in fact, we weren’t doing any advertising at all so wasn’t sure exactly why they would be giving us all of this traffic.

All of the traffic was to our home page and there was 100% bounce rate.

I had to ask, what was their deal? Why would they be giving us all of this free traffic? And why was there such a high bounce rate? Something certainly wasn’t right.

The AditNetwork website is non-specific when it comes to exactly how it works. It does say: helps our clients establish a professional global Internet advertising platform, combined with an efficient marketing system. We can help to improve the clients website’s traffic and ranking effectively. We help the small and medium business owners not only get to be more popular and reach more potential markets, but also get more benefits through affiliate marketing. Our customers will have continuing long-term interests. We’ll form a win-win situation for all the partners and the company.

So this makes it look like they offer web-based advertising to web sites to help get them traffic. That sounds like a legitimate operation. But it still didn’t answer why they were sending us traffic, when we have never asked them to.

After a couple of Google Searches for “AditNetwork Scam” etc.., I was very surprised to find two things:

1. Google was full of pages talking about how you can get rich with Adit Network.
2. The only pages that mentioned the word “scam” seemed to be saying that it wasn’t a scam, and that it was a great business opportunity.

After reading a Facebook fan page for them, and watching a couple of Youtube videos (here and here, I now understand what their game is.

Basically they pay people to click on web advertisements. At first I thought that this was just a simple ad-clicking scam where they pay people to click on ads, then split the money earned from the click. However, that isn’t how it works. In fact, people (i.e. suckers born yesterday) *pay* AditNetwork for the privilege to be able to click on advertisements. Then, if they click on enough advertisements, they can earn up to 70% of their original investment back.

That 70% is the crux of the grand bargain. It is the remaining 30% that provides the cash pool upon which the pyramid scheme operates. Of course nobody would invest in business where the maximum they could earn was 70% of their original investment. Participants can only make a profit by signing other people up, for which they get a cut. Essentially they’re just receiving a cut of the 30% (minimum 30%) that AditNetwork will make off of their sign up fee. The following is a screenshot from their Youtube Promotional video:

Notice the break down. They pay 10% commission for people you sign up, 4% for people they sign up, down to 1% for the 9th and 10th level of sign up. And you need to be a VIP member (i.e. pay them $5000 in order to get commissions down to the 10th level). Let’s do a break-down of where the money goes if I sign up for AditNetwork. Let’s assume that commissions are paid all they way up 10 levels to an original VIP member. Then:

10% goes to the guy who signed me up
4% each goes to the next two guys up the ladder
2% each to the next 5 guys up the ladder.
1% each to the next 2 guys up the ladder.

Adding that up we get 10% + (2 x 4%) + (5 x 2%) + (2 x 1%) = 30%.

We have our magic number of 30%. So if I happen to earn back all of the remaining 70% of my investment by clicking on ads, then we see exactly where all of the money is going. Of course, if I fail to make back the full 70% or the ladder doesn’t go up that high in my case, the extra money just goes to AditNetwork. But they make money either way because they are the original VIP investor.

So we can break an AditNetwork investment down into two parts:

1. 30% of the investment goes into a pyramid scheme.
2. 70% of the investment is a deposit that you make and work off by clicking on ads.

Presumably, AditNetwork plans to be making money also by selling actual advertisements (i.e. getting websites like mine to pay them for the traffic that they generate from people clicking on ads), but an advertiser would have to be brain dead to pay for this traffic if they knew where it was coming from.

This is just another example of how easy it is to prey on people’s willingness to believe in “a free lunch”.

AditNetwork is doomed to fail because it is built on a house of cards. I’m not sure if it’s strategy is obfuscated enough to evade the laws against pyramid schemes, but it is clear that it cannot survive in the long term and many, many people will have lost their investment when the scheme dries up (like all pyramid schemes do). Advertisers would be silly to pay for advertisements on AditNetwork because the traffic they receive is false traffic (people just being paid to view their site). And the revenue stream that is being shared is coming 100% from sign-up fees. No useful work is taking place. No useful product is created. No useful service is being carried out. It is just money being funnelled in from the bottom of the pyramid to the top.

It is really sad that there seem to be so many people who allow themselves to be deceived by operations such as this one.

Heritage Pianos Chinese and Korean Sites Live

Thanks to the hard work of our team, we’ve completed the translation of Heritage Pianos’ website into both Chinese and Korean.

These sites are powered by a new proxy version of SWeTE that combines SWeTE’s simple translation workflow and search engine optimization capabilities. Because these sites are powered by SWeTE, it will be quite easy to keep the websites in sync as inventory is added to the English site.

Some Background on the Project

The Heritage Pianos website is powered by Joomla! which allows its owners to quite easily make modifications to the content of the site. They wanted, however, to be able to offer English and Chinese translations of their web site as well. Joomla! does have internationalization modules available to help convert an existing site into multiple languages, but this wouldn’t solve the more difficult problem of keeping the translations in sync and managing a workflow with professional translators.

These are the things that SWeTE excels at. To get the project kicked off, we just added a tiny, invisible HTML snippet to the header of the site’s template that allows it to hook into the SWeTE translation workflow. We then let SWeTE parse the pages into translatable chunks that we could bundle into jobs for our Chinese and Korean translators. Meanwhile we set up a a proxy site that would be able to display the translated versions of the site once the translations were complete.

When everything was completed, we simply modified the snippet in the Heritage Pianos Joomla! template so that the language options appeared for the user to switch between languages.

Keeping the Translations in Sync

When changes are made to the English website, we can perform a scan with SWeTE to detect these changes. These can then be bundled into a job for the translators, translated, and ultimately approved by the site owner so that the translated versions will by synchronized once again.

Apple’s assault on Java is an Assault Java Developers

Yesterday, Apple announced that its next version of OS X, called “Lion”, will include an App store to simplify the process of downloading, purchasing, and updating applications on the Mac.

This is great news!

Apple will take a 30% cut of all transactions performed through the app store.

I’m mixed about this. If the App store is able to increase the sales of my apps by more than 30%, then it might be worth it. Otherwise, this is just a 30% tax off the top of all of my app income.

In a much less hyped announcement, Apple has deprecated Java as of version 1.6 update 3, and may not continue to bundle Java with future releases of OS X.

This is bad news… and it could be terrible news if Oracle or someone else doesn’t pick up the slack and provide a Mac deployment for the Java VM. Although, this could be somewhat good news if the “new” steward takes better care, as Java on the Mac does lag behind other platforms in both performance and stability. Oracle taking over Java could be a good thing if it results in a better product.

One final non-announcement came in the form of a guideline for admission to the Mac App store: Applications that use deprecated API’s (e.g. Java) will be rejected from the App store.

This is terrible news! A betrayal of the first order. It appears that Apple now feels confident enough with its market position to close the doors on all but their faithful Objective-C developers.

I currently have 3 desktop Mac applications on the market, and 2 of them are written almost entirely in Java. I chose, and still prefer, Java as a language because it provides a fast, robust, multi-threaded environment that is easy to scale, and even easier to port over to different platforms. It took me about 4 hours to port PDF OCR X over to Windows, and most of that time was spent on the non-java portions.

I was actually intending to blog about my experience with Java and multi-platform application development and was going to advocate Java as a good platform for development on the Desktop.

In light of yesterday’s announcements, I must take a pause to consider my future. Since Apple seems to be dictating its terms in a heavy-handed way, my instinct is to stick it to “the man” (Apple) and boycott its App store and its products altogether.

But then I lean back and glance around the room at my iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Mac Mini, and 2 Mac books…. and I question my resolve as they do indeed make nice products.

I watched from afar when Apple shut out Flash from its iPhone. But this didn’t affect me as I didn’t develop for the iPhone. And, after all, Flash runs down the battery life too fast so there was a logical technical reason for its omission. When they brazenly placed a prohibition on all advertisements served by competitors to their iAd service, I shook my head – but it didn’t really affect me. And since the iPhone was a new device, the fact that it was closed wasn’t too much of a concern, because we only had non-existence to compare to its “closed existence”, and a closed existence surely is better than non-existence

But with the Mac we are moving from an era of openness, and stepping into one that would appear to be much more closed, so I get the distinct and unpleasant feeling of having my virtual civil rights stripped away. For now, we will probably be able to download and install applications the conventional way, but such applications will likely be treated as 2nd class citizens, branded with a star, and forced to live in some hard-to-find ghetto folder. Once Apple has achieved wide-spread acceptance amongst users that the App store is the only acceptable way to obtain software, perhaps they’ll close the technical loop hole that allows those second class apps from even breathing the same air as Apple’s preferred class of fully-taxed App store apps, and we’ll be left with a completely closed, yet beautiful utopia of an operating system housing only the master race of applications that descend from Apple’s own genetic components (i.e. Objective-C) and bear the 30%-tax stamp of Approval.

Mister Jobs, you have stepped too far. I was a true believer. I am now agnostic.

3g data plans in Canada. What they don’t want you to know.

I have an iPhone with a pretty good data plan through Rogers (6 gigs/mo for $30). No complaints. I generally use under 100 megs per month. I recently bought an iPad but didn’t want to spring for the 3G version because they are trying to make us spend an additional $35/mo for a separate data plan for that unit. My original hope was that I could tether from my iPhone to my iPad so that I could make use of my existing data plan. Well…. they thought of that and disabled tethering intentionally on the iPad. They want to squeeze that additional $35/mo out of us.

No worries, though. For now I’m happy to just use the iPad at home on WiFi.

A second scenario came up this past weekend. I was traveling in the states with friends and I need to have internet access at all times due to my online businesses so I looked into the options that Rogers has for me to be able to use my 3G in the US. For $30 you can get 10 megs!! That means that if I used 100 megs in 5 days (which is entirely likely) it would cost me $300 for 5 days. Get real!

My next idea was to see about getting a sim card from AT&T to use my iPhone on AT&T’s network while I was in the states. AT&T seems to be drinking the same cool-aid as Rogers, however because in order to get 3G with tethering support I needed to sign a 2 year contract at $60/mo with them. Not really worth it for 5 days.

So I walked into Best Buy to see if there were any other solutions available to me. There I discovered the flourishing pay-as-you-go market in the states (that is non-existent in Canada). I was able to buy a Virgin Mobile Hotspot for $150 that generates a WiFi network wherever I am that I can use to access the internet on all of my devices (my 3 friends and I were all able to work online while we travelled down the I5). All I had to do was buy a $20 access card for Virgin which gave me 300 megs of 3G data (more than we needed). And if I ran out I could have just paid another $20 for another 300 megs. If I’m ever traveling in the US now I can just throw $20 on my account and have full internet access wherever I go.

This was an awesome solution so I decided to see if we have anything comparable in Canada.

Lucky me! Rogers sells a MiFi device that is very similar to the Virgin one for only $249. The only thing is that they don’t have any form of pay-as-you go packages. Their cheapest package is $35/mo for 500 megs. Remember that I’m already getting 6 gigs on my iPhone for $30/mo. So for more around twice as much money, I can get less than 10% more usage (when I’m currently only using under 10% of my existing 6 gigs per month).

This is just greed. They offer no solution for me.

So I guess we’re out of luck in Canada. Guess again. A quick search on Google brings up an iPhone app called MyWi which will transform your iPhone in to a wifi hotspot. That way you can run your computer, your iPad, your iPhone, and whatever else you want off of your iPhone’s data package.

Of course Apple doesn’t want you to use this (so it’s not in the App store), and Rogers doesn’t want you to use this. They to milk you for everything you have. No thanks.

Why the iPad will succeed / Why I’m excited about it as a Software Developer

To me (as a software developer), the most exciting thing about the iPad is the fact that it is integrated with the App Store. On the iPod and iPhone, the App store has proven to be a fantastic commercial success, opening a new distribution channel for software developers. There have been a few attempts to create similar type app stores for the desktop (or laptop), but none have been wildly successful. I think this is due to the culture. We are too used to downloading our software through the web browser – we don’t really see the need for an app store. If there was single app store for the desktop that allowed users to purchase /install software as easily as the iPhone app store does, I’m sure that the software industry would double or even triple in revenue in a short amount of time.

The iPad, being closely related to the iPod/iPhone in user interface makes it far more likely the at users will embrace its apps in the App store. This means that software developers who develop for the iPad will have an easy and automatic distribution channel for all of their works, where they can get paid in a simple and secure fashion. And the possibilities for application development on the iPad would appear to far exceed the possibilities of iPhone apps – nearing the level of desktop applications (or even beyond).

This simple fact is why developers will embrace the iPad. And when developers embrace a platform, historically, so too do users.

Why piracy must be stopped

I wrote this in response to a number of “pro piracy” or “piracy rationalization” comments to a CNN article:

This appears to be a culture war, and one that is being lost – and will eventually cost us dearly. Many of these comments are consistent with my anecdotal experience with friends and acquaintances. People who are involved in theft, be it digital or material, always try to rationalize their behavior. Nobody actually believes that they are a bad person. I have known people who earn a living by stealing car stereos. Their justification will generally include such points as “insurance will pay for it – and big insurance companies deserve to be robbed..”, or “the guy who owns the car is obviously rich and can afford to get a new stereo”. Either way there is some justification or rationalization that allows the thief to sleep at night.

Digital piracy is no different. There seem to be many well-articulated arguments to justify digital piracy, but all seem to predicated on the assumption that since “stealing” digital content does not deprive the original owner the content, it isn’t really like stealing at all. You wouldn’t steal your friend’s car because then your friend would be without a car (and you would be without a friend). However if such a thing as a car replicator existed that allowed you to duplicate your friend’s car for free, then you probably wouldn’t think twice about “replicating” your friend’s car.

So for pirates who otherwise are not thieves, it seems to boil down to an internal rejection of the notion that digital piracy is, in fact, theft. Fair enough. It is different enough from material theft that we might as well distinguish it from material theft and give it a different name. So piracy is not “stealing” it is simply “piracy”.

Now that we have distinguished it, let’s look at some of the implications of piracy.

1. If a product is freely available via piracy, and in our culture, piracy is considered OK, then anyone who decides to “purchase” that product is really engaging in a form of charity because they believe in the cause of the product or the person who created it. This is why 10 years ago you thought it was OK to pay $20 for a DVD movie (because you were purchasing a product), but now you think that $20 is a rip-off, because you are now engaging in $20 or charity – more difficult to justify (people spend up to 10% of their income on charitable donations, and the other 90% on themselves – by the same formula you’d think that a pirate who likes a movie would be willing to donate $2 to the movie-maker, even though he would have been willing to purchase it from the movie maker for 10 times that).

2. Based on the economic assumption that people are inherently greedy, most people won’t choose to “purchase” a product when they can get it for free.

3. The marginal value of any product that can readily be pirated will approach zero.

4. At a value of zero the product is not worth making, so the supply of good digital products (e.g. music, movies, software, e-books) will also approach zero – you won’t be able to get them anymore.

If, as a culture, we want to preserve our rich climate of art and ideas, it is imperative that we address this issue. Simply lowering prices to reflect what “pirates” perceive as reasonable prices would result in artificially low prices (because a pirate’s perceived value of content is based on how much he would donate out of altruism, not how much the product should actually be worth to him). If we completely eliminated piracy, only then could we find out what a digital product is really worth. If prices are too high, people won’t pay them, and they will come down. If prices are too low so as to deter artists from producing product, then prices will go up until they reach equilibrium.

They cannot reach equilibrium as long as there is a free alternative to every digital product.

Attempts such as Apple’s DRM are certainly a step in the right direction, but have been met with much resistance from the “pirate” community, as they want the ability to copy anything that they buy freely. Unfortunately we’ve seen that people are not responsible enough to handle this privilege, so it is unrealistic to think that any solution without some form of DRM will solve our problem and produce a proper equilibrium.

Given the facts and the implications of those facts, it is imperative that we proceed with whatever reasonable acts are necessary to curtail piracy. It may not be stealing, but it is still bad for society.

ReCaptcha: The “human” folding project

If you’ve used the internet even casually over the past few years you have probably experienced CAPTCHA already. From wikipedia:

A CAPTCHA (IPA: /ˈkæptʃə/) is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to determine whether the user is human.

It is common to see an image like this:

and be asked to type the letters you see into a text field. If you answer correctly then your input is accepted. Otherwise you are assumed to be a robot, and your input is rejected.

CAPTCHA is an annoyance to the user because it makes him spend extra time every time he submits a form on the internet. It is, however, necessary, thanks to spammers.

This “annoyance” sparked an idea in some researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, to try to derive some good out of this situation. They made a key observation about CAPTCHAs:

Over 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved every day by people around the world. reCAPTCHA channels this human effort into helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive. When you solve a reCAPTCHA, you help preserve literature by deciphering a word that was not readable by computers.

If this catches onto some high-traffic web sites (say Facebook, or Gmail), imagine the productivity that we can attain in digitizing these old books.

I have to say that this is one of the cleverest ideas I have seen in a long time. It takes wasted energy and transforms it into useful energy.

Roy Jones Jr: The twilight of greatness

Hi had the pleasure to behold two boxing greats go toe to toe on Saturday night: Roy Jones Jr. and Felix (Tito) Trinidad. Jones, in his prime was arguably the greatest boxer of all-time, with a brilliantly unorthodox style, lightning fast punches, and absolute control over his opponents. A few years ago he decided to challenge John Ruiz for the Heavyweight championship, for which he gained about 30 lbs.

He, of course, defeated Ruiz and captured the crown, however, it spelled the end of the greatness that we had come to expect from Jones. The problem, apparently was that he had to lose the 30 lbs he had gained in order to defend his Light-heavyweight crown. This took a toll on Jones’ body and left him a mere shadow of his former self. Going into the Trinidad fight on Saturday, he had lost 3 of his last 5 fights, with 2 of those losses by devastating knock-outs.

Saturday gave us glimpses of Jones’ former self as he demonstrated good speed and ring generalship, especially for his 39 years. He handily defeated the 35 year old Trinidad, who himself is a great boxer and former champion. One thing that stuck out to me during the fight was how Jones’ stamina is not what it used to be. He would fight for 45 seconds to 1 minute per round, and rest for the remaining 2 minutes. This may be acceptable for an aging and rusty opponent like Trinidad, but it would spell disaster against the current top contenders such as Joe Calzaghe, whose youth and energy would result in a sustained onslaught that Jones surely would not survive.

Don’t get me wrong. Jones still appears to have the tools to beat the best in the game. He just doesn’t have the stamina. In watching his actions in and out of the ring it almost looks like he has mono. In any case, I would love to see Jones rise to greatness one last time and face the best in the division – but only if I can solve his stamina problem. I don’t think I can bear to watch another Holmes-Ali fight where a hero gets dismantled.