Is BlackBerry now just for old people?

I believe the fat lady has sung for BlackBerry. Not because of dismal sales and financial performance, but because of management’s lack of vision.

I was stunned when CEO Thorsten Heins announced he was abandoning plans to upgrade PlayBooks to BlackBerry 10 and essentially walked away from the tablet market. You can’t have a successful mobile platform without competing in tablets, unless you’re competing on a shared platform such as Android or Windows. Many or most people will want the same OS on their phone and tablet — if BlackBerry forces people to use a different tablet, many will choose a different smartphone, too.

I believe BlackBerry is now the smartphone for the older generation, those who don’t “get” tablets.

Goodbye Flickr, Yahoo, and Marissa Mayer

I signed off Yahoo and Flickr for the last time today. Or more accurately, I didn’t sign in and gave up in frustration. Much has been made of Marissa Mayer’s changes at Yahoo, but Yahoo’s legacy could ultimately undermine her efforts.

I don’t use Flickr all that much, but I do post the occasional picture and favourite others’ pictures. I tried to visit Flickr today and was prompted to sign in since I had recently purged my cookies. I dutifully entered my Yahoo credentials and the captcha code. Yahoo then asked me to verify an email it would send to my HotMail account. Yes, HotMail, a service I haven’t used in a decade.

Yahoo presented no alternatives so I was at a dead end. It’s great that you can sign in via Facebook now, but there was no help for an account as old as mine with a dead secondary email account. I gave up in frustration and Yahoo continued its slow slide to irrelevancy.

Goodbye Marissa Mayer and good luck with improving Yahoo. I recommend focusing on the basics and not losing more of your existing clients.

Review of Breville Mini Smart Oven

Skip this review and just buy the Breville Mini Smart Oven now, or one of its larger siblings, you won’t find a better toaster oven. Everything else just feels cheap in comparison.

We wanted a toaster oven for our condo a year ago and at first it seemed as if all small ones were disposable quality and that you had to buy an SUV-sized one if you wanted quality. Finding one that didn’t take up too much of our limited counter space but which was well made was difficult. I wanted the Breville Compact Smart Oven but it was just a little too big. Breville introduced the Mini and I was sold.

Calling the BOV450XL a toaster oven is a bit like calling an iPhone a cell phone. Yes, it makes toast and reheats pizza, but it does much more. The Mini has 4 independent heating elements, 8 preset cooking options, 3 rack positions, and easy-to-use controls to lengthen and shorten the cooking time.

The construction quality is amazing compared to everything else — even the included baking pan is solid. The oven heats up quickly and maintains an even temperature.  It’s also easy to clean, thanks to the pull-out tray.

The Mini was hard to find a year ago when it was new, but it should be widely available now. I bought it at Best Buy.

The verdict: Great for small kitchens or wherever countertop space is limited. Highly recommended.

Breville Mini Smart Oven

Spaceward Ho for iPad, flashback to 1990!!

I wasted a good part of my twenties playing Spaceward Ho, a 4X game that was released in 1990. When I got tired of drawing UI dialogs and icons at midnight, I’d fire up a game. Or if there were others around, we’d play this addictive turn-based game for hours in between bouts of work.

Newer, flashier games came and went, but Spaceward Ho was my favourite. That is, until the PowerPC emulator for MacOS X was discontinued. While Delta Tao ended updates many years ago, Ariton recently released an iPad port of the game. I use the term “port” lightly, because imagine that gorgeous Mac II screen with 256 amazing colours, and that same leading edge 1990 interface, wrapped in a touch interface with minimal iPad design! It is a bit clunk but getting a chance to play Ho one more time put a smile on my face. Highly recommended!

Review of Dyson DC26 and DC35 Multi floor Vacuums

When it was time to replace our 20-year old Kenmore vacuum cleaner, I wanted something that was lighter to lug up and down the stairs. Although the Kenmore was a great vacuum, it was hard to clean the stairs and carry around. I bought a Dyson City DC26 vacuum knowing that we would soon be moving to a condo. I expected it to be under-powered compared to the Kenmore but to be perfectly adequate in a smaller space. After we moved to our condo, I also purchased a Dyson Digital Slim DC35 for quick clean up jobs. But now that I have the DC35, I’m not sure that the DC26 is going to get much use. Read on for reviews of both models.

Dyson City DC26 Multi floor vacuum (3 out of 5)

Note: I bought the Dyson City DC26 Multi floor a year ago and Dyson now sells a slightly more expensive DC26 Turbine head model that would probably be better suited to our needs.

Unboxing a Dyson vacuum is a lot like unboxing an Apple product – everything is so well designed and packed that you feel like you’re smarter just for having chosen Dyson. The DC26 is no exception: it’s simple to put together, use, and clean.

Dyson City DC26

But first, how is the DC26 at picking up dirt? The DC26 has a powerful vacuum. This is subjective, but although I found it less powerful than my old Kenmore, it was good enough. But the big difference is in the head. While it works well on hard surfaces, it’s not motorized so it is fairly useless at picking up pet hair and fibres on carpet. Dyson does sell vacuums meant for pet hair, but this vacuum is advertised as “multi floor” and you’d expect it to do more than smear the pet hair around on carpet.

The DC26 includes an attachment for upholstery and stairs and it works very well on carpeted stairs. Like the main head, the brush is driven by air but the small head seals the air off enough for the vacuum to really turn the brush. The hose is a good length and it’s easy to adjust the length of the wand. The cord on the DC26 is shorter than on a typical canister so it’s perfect for condos but not so great for large houses.

Cleaning the DC26 is easy – just empty the canister. This is a bag-less canister so it will need to be cleaned every so often along with the cloth filters. One of the filters is not that convenient to access but it’s better than having to run out to buy bags.

The verdict: Great for condos, especially those without pets or much carpet. Look into other Dyson  models for use with carpet or pets.

Dyson City DC35 Multi floor vacuum (5 out of 5)

Once we were in our new condo, I found cat hair dust bunnies accumulating in the corners of rooms with hardwood floors. Although the DC26 could make short shrift of these, I found myself wanting a dust buster on a pole. I started looking at cordless stick vacuums made by Hoover, Dirt Devil, and other companies, but they seemed a bit unwieldy. Then I found the new Dyson Digital Slim DC35 which is exactly what I’d been looking for. It has a few major innovations and advantages over competing products.

Dyson City DC35

Unlike stick vacuums which have a canister and motor halfway down the wand, all of the work is done in the handheld unit. This puts the weight in your hand and not at the floor, so you’re not swinging a weight around. Using the DC35 feels like you’re using a very light leaf blower.

The second major feature is the lack of a power switch. Instead of turning it on and then running down the battery while you’re moving furniture, the DC35 has a trigger. When you let go, it turns off. This optimizes battery use and I can easily clean our entire condo on a single charge.

The third innovation is the Dyson Ball that attaches the wand to the head. It rotates and swivels effortlessly, making stick vacuums look like crude toys.

The DC35 has a burst power mode for heavier dirt. While this will drain the battery faster, you won’t need to use it often. Emptying the canister and cleaning it is simple. The DC35 also comes with a mounting bracket so you can hang it up in a closet to re-charge it. Replacement batteries are available from Dyson and Amazon.

I find myself wanting to clean our entire condo with this baby vacuum so I don’t have to lug around the admittedly small and light canister vacuum with its power cord. Everybody who owns a condo should own a DC35. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The DC35 can be hard to find in stock. I bought ours at Canadian Tire for $349.99.

Donate to Toronto! And why I agree with Rob Ford on the land transfer tax credit

Do you have too much money? Do you think needy children and curing cancer can wait? Then you’re a candidate to make a donation to Toronto general revenue! Toronto just mailed residents interim property tax bills and for the first time, a Voluntary Contribution Option donation form was enclosed.

The form allows you to direct your donation to specific parts of the city budget, but as you can imagine, that makes no difference to program funding so you’re really just donating to general revenue.

This might be one of the few things on which I agree with Rob Ford. We are moving and had to pay the land transfer tax. So this year, we paid over three times as much as our neighbours for the exact same city services. Council passed this a couple of years ago, thinking it was better to alienate the small group of voters who move each year than to raise taxes on everybody.

I agree with Rob Ford that the Toronto Land Transfer Tax should be eliminated. It’s too late to help us but I believe that all Toronto residents should pay the same taxes for services and that those who move should not be unfairly singled out. But unlike Ford, I think property taxes should be raised to make up for the lost revenue.

Doug Ford has a vision – a twisted and demented vision

Doug Ford has a vision – he has seen the future and it’s a Yorkdalesque mall transplanted into the new downtown waterfront community. Imagine Etobicoke but with a ferris wheel and a monorail. When a politician proposes a monorail, you know it’s a crackpot idea.

Doug Ford was quoted by the Post as saying “Before the sports complex, [the monorail] would stop into a 1.6-million-square-foot mall with the likes of Nordstrom, and Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s… And on top of that, we’d stick the largest ferris wheel in the world over there.”

Can the rest of Toronto Council grow a backbone and stop these lunatics before they ruin our city? All three levels of government had agreed on a good, long-term plan for the waterfront development and it was proceeding on schedule. That schedule is just not fast enough for the Fords and it has too much government involvement. For brothers who are supposedly anti-government, the Fords seek to use the power of government to do whatever they like.

Why I will miss Steve Jobs

There are many reasons why the world will miss Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple. Here is one reason I will miss him. All of the tech blogs today covered Microsoft’s latest Windows 8 PR – a consolidated copy progress dialog box. Behold, compare the MacOS X Lion and Windows 8 dialogs. I hope Tim is more of a “whoever came up with progress graphs is fired!” kind of guy.

MacOS X Lion copy progress dialog

Windows 8 copy progress dialog

HP’s “double down” was an empty promise

Either HP can’t play blackjack or they are the worst gamblers ever. After promising to double down on webOS a year ago, HP has cancelled webOS. HP launched its first webOS tablet, the HP TouchPad, on July 1, and now just 6 weeks later, it will need to bury them in a landfill or dump them on consumers unaware that apps won’t be forthcoming.

Note to HP: Doubling down on webOS would have meant buying RIM and migrating BlackBerry services to the webOS platform.

Like most people, I didn’t have a great desire to buy a TouchPad, but webOS held the promise of becoming a worthy competitor to Apple’s iOS. HP just didn’t give it a chance because of the new CEO’s desire to exit the PC business. WebOS has already suffered from one slow death, when it transitioned from Palm to HP, and I don’t believe it can survive another. Like BeOS, another once promising operating system that never had a chance to shine, it will be remembered for what might have been. I can’t but feel a little sad at its passing.

HP TouchPad

Kobo is almost 9% more expensive than Kindle but has better selection – iBookStore still sucks

I found that Kobo is almost 9% more expensive than Kobo for the books I have bought

I looked up the current prices for the 31 ebooks I’ve bought so far and found that for the 24 offered by both Kindle and Kobo, Kobo is 3.6% more expensive than Kindle. But Kindle doesn’t collect Canada’s 5% GST while Kobo does, so Kobo is almost 9% more expensive based on the books I’ve bought. This is an admittedly small sample size, but I think comparing an assortment of new and old books is more relevant than comparing the prices of books on the bestseller list.

Prices can vary significantly, so it’s worth shopping around to find the best deal. For example, The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (which I do not recommend) is currently $7.99 on Kindle and $3.99 on Kobo. All Clear by Connie Willis is currently $12.99 on Kindle and $16.19 on Kobo.

The total cost for the basket of my 31 books has fallen 38% since I originally purchased them. Publishers are lowering prices as books are no longer new releases, but prices have gone up in some cases. For example, I purchased The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming from Kindle for $9.99 back in March and now it’s $11.99.

Kobo now has much better selection than Kindle
The big surprise was availability. I originally purchased 23 of the 31 books from Kindle due to better pricing and availability. But times have changed and Kobo has improved their selection while Kindle has discontinued 6 of the books I purchased. While this is obviously due to the termination of agreements with publishers, it is not a positive trend. Kindle now offers 24 of the 31 books I purchased while Kobo offers 29.

iBookStore still sucks in Canada
Back in December, I prematurely wrote that the drought of books in the Canadian iBookStore was about to end because the Canadian government granted Apple Canada approval to establish the Canadian iBookstore. I thought the empty shelves of iBookStore would soon be filled with books I might want to buy. Unfortunately, none of the 31 ebooks I have purchased to date are available from the iBookStore. If Kindle and Kobo can sign deals with Canadian publishers, why can’t Apple?