Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hamilton Sucks!

So the City of Hamilton has reluctantly decided that it will build and partially own a new stadium. Officially, this is to assist Toronto's bid to host the 2015 Pan Am games, but the fact that our existing stadium is falling to pieces as I speak probably has a lot more to do with it. In any case, there are, as usual a ton of detractors to the very idea of doing anything to invest in this city. I can't help but ask, are these people suicidal, or just plain stupid?

There's a reason why I've previously said, that the City of Hamilton has some kind of allergy to doing anything to really make things better for its people. For years, our local government has insisted on chasing away the handful of businesses that want to build some sort of mini industry here. That is, of course, after they have the patience to wade through an arcane bundle of red tape that no other big city in Ontario has even dreamt of. This is truly insane; our officials sit endlessly on their thumbs when historic downtown buildings collapse in the middle of the street, and crooked house builders violate stop work orders, but as soon as a large company wants to make life better for us, they can't shoot it down fast enough.

Consider if you will, the fact that not too long ago, Maple Leaf wanted to build a processing plant on the outskirts of town. This would have given the community a lot of badly needed jobs. You would think that this would be an easy thing for Hamilton City Hall to approve, but no, they said that we didn't want those sort of jobs here. I'm completely serious. Excuse me, but speaking as someone who HAS been unemployed, in a city with one of the largest unemployment rates in Canada, ANY job is one that's wanted! I don't recall ever giving some faceless bureaucrat the right to decide my destiny for me, so piss off.

Then there's the fact that every time we badly need to build something in this city -- a new city hall, new sewers, a new stadium, whatever -- our local councillors constantly ignore it until the press uncovers some disaster; such as, the outside walls of city hall falling down, or the Lister Block, Tivoli theatre, and several other downtown buildings partially collapsing, or lightstands falling off of Ivor Wynne stadium, or our sewers bursting whenever someone coughs near them. Once again, here's a newsflash: considering that the economy not only in Hamilton, but much of Ontario, is based on manufacturing and construction, doesn't it seem smart to... oh, I don't know... give them something to build???

Hamilton is a very weird town; we're the size of a big city, but we very much have a small town mentality. What I mean by that is that we're very scared of -- even angered by -- changing things, until well after they've walked up and bitten us all on the ass. There are people who say that I should get into local politics, but this is a big reason why I'm not sure if I want to: I believe in doing the smart thing; I believe in standing up for the people who are trying to survive in this town. That's simply not the way we do things, here. That's it for me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Caveat Emptor, Baby!

Those of you who've seen my rant about General Motors, last year, know that I have very little sympathy for companies that make mediocre products and then complain about losing money. Well, lately I've been compelled to take that a step further, and complain about companies that treat their customers badly, especially in this day and age. So let's all bend over, and begin...

As you might know, Bell Canada has been getting some heat lately, over the voice mail of their customers being hacked and the owners being stuck with long-distance bills of at least tens of thousands of dollars. You may also remember that Bell knows for a fact that its legitimate customers cannot possibly be making these calls, yet insists that they must be the ones to pay these bills they cannot afford.

Now, this outraged me so much, that for the last few weeks I've been trying over and over again to contact someone at Bell, to try to explain themselves. I'm particularly interested in their answer, given that what they're doing is possibly a crime in this country. Well, first they make an excuse about confidentiality in relation to other customers' lines -- fine, but I didn't ask about that. Then, they assured me that no charges will be added to my bill -- I fucking well hope not, considering that I stated over and over again that I haven't had this happen to me! For some reason, no longer how many times I explained to this person what was going on, they thought that I was complaining about something I'd experienced, but that wasn't the point I was making at all! As of this recording, they claim my concern has been passed on to a supervisor, but haven't heard anything since. I will, however, be pressing them on this.

My family recently had an experience with KitchenAid that wasn't much better. We needed to have our dishwasher fixed, a job that the mechanic said would only take a couple of days, while he ordered a part. We waited about a week and a half, mainly because he couldn't be bothered to make one phone call. When we tried to ask about that, all we got was the general apologies that we were upset, and assurances that if we tried to cancel the job and go elsewhere, not only would we still have to get the parts through KitchenAid anyway, but we would be billed for services that we didn't receive. I have no respect for people like this: either grow a mind of your own, to help the people paying your salary, or don't even bother being there.

While I'm at it, let me just say that I'm glad that TicketMaster is getting pressured into cleaning up its outrageous ways of gouging its customers. I don't know what loopholes they found to get around the find that scalping is against the law in most places, but it's great that enough people are standing up to them that they're being shamed into backing down.

On the bright side, though, I had to deal with Sony's customer service last week, and they were the exact opposite of this. I had a slight problem with my sound recorder, and they got back to me with the right answer, in just a few hours of my sending them the first e-mail. Thank you, Sony.

The way I see it, companies these days, will have to live and die as much on merit, as supply and demand. When people only have so much money to spend, I'd imagine that the smart ones will be a little more picky on where they spend it. If your company insists on shafting your customers, then you can not only expect them to not come back, but to warn their friends not to bother with you either, and so on and so forth. In these tough times, is that really a risk you can afford to take? That's it for me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bored on the Corner in 2-D!

A while back, I saw the remake of "My Bloody Valentine" in its 3-D glory. These sort of movies aren't usually my thing, but I'd never seen this new RealD system in action before, so I figured... what the hell, I've got nothing else to do on Thursdays. Now, I'll give the inventors of this thing credit for making the glasses look a lot less ridiculous than they used to, but for the most part I still think it's just an overpriced and overrated gimmick.

The first reason this thing bothered me, is a very big one: unless you're sitting in just the right part of the theatre, everything will distort, and you end up with eye strain. If only a half dozen people in an average movie theatre will be able to enjoy the wonders of RealD, then it needs to go back to the drawing board. Actually, I can even give the creators a specific tip: talk to the guys who made the Terminator 2: 3D attraction, for the Universal theme parks. That show uses much cleaner 3D effects, that will work ANYWHERE in a much larger theatre, and it's technology that's at least 13 years old. Anyone else feel like someone went two steps backward?

The second beef I have, is related more to the moviemaking, so naturally it's my hope that some director or photographer is watching this and taking notes. If you're going to put something in the shot, between the audience and whatever you want them to focus on, put the damn things in focus will you please? I don't know about anyone else, but when I see something popping off the screen, my natural reaction is to look at whatever's closest to me. The problem is that if it's so blurred that you can't even tell what it is, you will once again strain your eyes. I'm not even sure if masochists find a splitting headache to be their idea of a good time. The simplest alternative to that is to probably not have anything in front of the subject in the first place.

Finally, one last comment, related to the 3-D style. It's a simple request: please cut out these gags where you pretend to hurl things right at the camera, to make the audience jump. It got pretty old, the first time 3-D was trendy, and fifty years later it's still annoying. If this thing is supposed to be the future of moviegoing, then stop treating it like a sideshow stunt and just let the audience be transported, alright?

So there you have it. 3-D may seem like a neat idea at first, but so many people need to get their acts together, from the inventors all the way to the filmmakers. To be honest, at $16 a pop, I expect a lot better than parlour tricks that make me feels like an icepick is jammed in my temples. That's it for me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February Blahs

February seems to be a weird time for holidays; in Ontario alone, we have Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Family Day, plus as a crossing guard I have a P.D. day at the end of the month. I've already kind of gone after Valentine's Day, so I'll go after the others one by one.

First of all, I've never understood the big deal behind Groundhog Day. Well, actually that's not quite true, I used to buy into it, but I kind of outgrew that along with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. First of all, I just don't understand how a rodent seeing its shadow is supposed to have ANYTHING to do with whether we're in for an early spring or not. Maybe this is one of those things that's aimed at the kids, I don't know. How else can you explain celebrating a preposterous forecasting method, that has 40% accuracy? My cat constantly flinches at things that only he can see, but that doesn't mean I think he can predict tornadoes.

The second one, is Family Day. If you don't live in Ontario, you've probably never heard of this, and that's because it was literally made up by Premier Dalton McGuinty as an election promise. As the name implies, Family Day is supposed to give Ontario citizens a day to spend with their families... it makes it sound like we're all in jail the rest of the time, doesn't it? Where do I start, on this one? The name is repulsive, the whole idea is patronizing and redundant (at least in homes where the families actually have an inclination to TALK TO EACH OTHER), and to make it even more stupid, the only people who can take advantage of this are people who work for the government! Great! An extra holiday, for people who already work a fraction of the time that everyone else does (and remember I speak from experience here).

Now before I go, I want to say one last thing about Valentine's Day. At the risk of making a plug, Boston Pizza has this thing going on, where on Valentine's Day you can buy a heart-shaped pizza and the proceeds go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. This is a really big deal, heart trouble can happen to anyone, at any time. That's why my friends and family support this every year. Pizza with a date may seem cheap the rest of the time, but on February 14th it can save someone's life. That's it for me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Toddlers and Tiaras

I've never been that thrilled with beauty pageants, to begin with. After JonBenet Ramsey's rape and murder, I got even more uncomfortable with the ones that are aimed at children. Well, as I'm sure a lot of you know by now, there's a brand new TV show on The Learning Channel, about beauty pageants for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. It's called "Toddlers and Tiaras", and is already catching a lot of heat for seeming to celebrate the exploitation of small girls. Now, I'm not one to rush to judgment if I can avoid it, but I've got to say, when I found the show online, to research this rant... I was honestly sickened in the first fifteen seconds.

The teaser in the opening credits alone shows shot after shot, of girls no older than seven, not only being dolled up in these overly precious clothes and being airbrushed like a motorcycle, but being coached into giving forced, sometimes dead smiles (occasionally to the point of crying). Then, there are the many shots of these girls being paraded in swimsuits and short skirts, being told to make very suggestive dance moves.

Those who've been following my rants from the beginning, know that one of my all-time pet peeves, is parents who treat their kids like walking toys, rather than living human beings. The behaviour seen on this show is perfect example of what I'm talking about: self-absorbed drama queens who are so obsessed with using their kids as status symbols, that they were berate and brainwash them into thinking that being a pre-teen pin-up model is the only thing that matters in life. And don't even get me started on how every pedophile with Tivo or a VCR has probably recorded every single episode of this crap. I realize that the show has only so much control over what they document, but why is it too much to ask that someone thinks about how much this continues to sexualize children who ought to be more concerned about playing hopscotch.

We live in an age where it is already way too easy to see kids being used sexually, not only by the kind of predators that get arrested every day, but by the commercial pedophiles who see nothing wrong with selling 8 year olds shirts that say things like "Sexy 69", or having them both in skin-tight outfits, with the slogan "Lickable" (supposedly referring to ice cream). Why are parents and the media making this even easier? Do these people honestly not understand what they're doing, or do they not care?

Either way, if this bothers you, I strongly urge you to contact The Learning Channel and the Discovery Networks to complain about this. If this still goes on, let's all call the FCC, or the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. They claim to be trying to keep our airwaves safe for family viewing, it's time for them to put their money with their mouths are. That's it for me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

THAT'S Amore?

I accidentally deleted the script for this video (which is what my rants lately usually consist of), so please follow this link...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Phreaking Bell...

There this thing that's been talked about a lot, lately, called "Phreaking". Basically, it's a kind of hacking, where someone taps into a voice-mail system, and in the space of a few minutes, places hour-long phone calls to countries all over the world. This is happening to homes and businesses all over Ontario, with bills thousands of dollars (the highest that I know of is $220,000). But here's the best part, if you happen to be a Bell customer: it knows for a fact that this fraud is happening, and that it's definitely not being done by the owners of the phone line, but those customers are still on the hook for that money.

I swear, only in business law could something that stupid happen. Imagine, if you will, a scenario like this: someone breaks into your house, steals your wallet and I.D., and before leaving, kills someone on your property. All the while, there are eyewitnesses and documents proving that you were nowhere near your house at the time. However, by Bell's logic, you could still be charged with that murder. Where the hell does that make any sense?

Making it even better -- and I use the term loosely -- is that Bell recently took out a full page ad in the newspapers, warning its customers about the phreaking problem, but also stating that company policy is to hold customers responsible for all activity on the phone line. That's quite an effort to say "Sucks to be you." Evidently, this company doesn't believe in efficiency, much more than it believes in ethics, customer service, or public relations. Oh by the way, isn't it against the law to profit from a crime?

Right about now, you're probably asking what can be done about it. Well, if this has already happened to you, that's a really good question; a class action lawsuit against Bell is in the works, but since Canada's telecommunications authority -- conveniently -- has no jurisdiction on long-distance calls, and our federal government is refusing to get involved at the moment, I have no idea how far such a lawsuit can go. Now, if you haven't had this happen to you, but you own a voice-mail system, the general suggestion is to change your password as often as possible, and make it a fairly long and complex one. I would also like to add another suggestion: don't buy anything from Bell! That's enough from me.