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Rural Canada Post needs work

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In Toronto I love Canada Post. They have locations throughout Toronto inside retail partners and generally great customer service.

When we bought our cottage last month I was expecting a similar experience in rural communities. There is a series of Canada Post Community Mailboxes in Donald a few minutes from our cottage with several large boxes for packages. I thought it would be easy to get deliveries so I ordered some supplies to be sent direct to the Cottage.

To get ready to receive my packages I went on the Canada Post website and requested a Community Mailbox and key. The online form seemed easy enough and promised a response within 5 days. 10 days later no response, sent a 2nd ticket online and still no response 7 days later. I call the call centre and they promise a response within 2 days but again no response 4 days later. It’s now been almost a month since the initial request to get a Mailbox.

Finally I got a call from the Haliburton Post office and discover that Canada Post restricts access to the Community Mailboxes to full time residences ( which I’m not right now at the cottage ). Instead of using the local Community Mailbox my packages ( and mail ) are being sent to Haliburton for pickup with no notice to me at all. I don’t have shipment tracking or know how many business days the shipments are suppose to take. The Haliburton Post Office was actually calling me to ask about the 2 packages that I had ordered weeks ago.

The Haliburton Canada Post office is 16 km away and with the cottage road about a 20 min drive. After my call I got ready to go pickup my packages, its 5pm, so I check the hours and address. Unfortunately it’s closes at 4:30pm every week day and doesn’t open weekends. It also doesn’t open on Holidays I’m assuming.

I should also mention that all while I’ve been trying to setup Canada Post, my packages sent from Amazon via Purolator and Purolator International ( I guess Amazon knows to avoid Canada Post ) have been arriving right to the cottage without issue. And by arriving, I mean not in Donald but literally right to our door at at the cottage. I’m not sure if Fedex ship, Fedex Express or Fedex International deliver in the area but I do see Fedex trucks regularly in the area.

This situation is screaming for improvement and Canada Post is surely loosing money on all the package deliveries that avoid Canada Post in Rural areas. Canada Post has Community Mail boxes and it seems odd they don’t want to use them fully.

Rural Internet and Xplornet FTW!

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Earlier in year ( right when COVID was happening ) we purchased a cottage on Lake Koshlong. We’d been looking on the lake for a while and we were excited to close on a cottage.

One of our goals was to be able to work at the cottage so getting internet access and high speed internet was KEY! Initially it looked like several options were available on the CRTC’s Internet Service Availability Map.

Service options, according to CRTC, included:

Bell DSL
Fixed LTE Wireless ( Rural Wave, Cottage Country Internet, Xplornet, Bell Fixed Wireless )
Cellular LTE ( Telus, Rogers and Bell all list LTE support )
Xplornet Satellite

Of these the Bell DSL with a history of service in the northern parts of Canada seemed like the easy choice, our neighbours had it on either side of us on the road and the previous owners had service in the past. Unfortunately after spending weeks calling Bell and trying to order the service they kept insisting it wasn’t available, even though our neighbours have it. Several attempts to escalate and request a Bell technical investigation failed. Bell DSL wouldn’t be an option.

Next we started looking at Fixed LTE Wireless. This is the same technology that cell phones use but on a different band and you can’t move the receiver once setup on a tower outside. Bell again looked like a likely candidate as one of our neighbours had it 400m down the road. Bell failed us again though and insisted they couldn’t install access. Bell Home Internet and Bell mobility kept pointing at each as to why install wasn’t possible.

Next we tried Rural Wave, which is has much better service map on it’s own site showing no access for us. Cottage Country Internet had an online form and promptly responded they had no coverage either. Xplornet indicated they might have 5mb/1mb access and could install Satellite if the Fixed LTE failed. Finally some success but 5MB was pretty slow…

Xplornet LTE Tower

Now looking for greater speed we found the Telus Rural Internet plans. The plans looked great in terms of speeds and data allowance but unfortunately are only available in Alberta and BC despite no region limits on the website.

When talking to Telus support they suggested I could get a Cellular LTE plan for $75 that allows 20GB at month or $115 for 50GB a month. At home we use around 150-250GB per month so I wasn’t too excited about paying several hundred dollars for the same sort of data. I tried calling Bell and Rogers again to see how their plans compared and amazingly they both had the EXACT same plans. No collusion in the Canadian cellular pricing happening here, just 3 providers ALL pricing their plans exactly the same… I chose Bell Mobility’s $75/20GB plan and found an unlocked LTE hub on Facebook marketplace to use as my device.

Lastly I considered Satellite internet and Satellite dish service, this has been around for awhile but the speeds are limited. Xplornet plans at the time was $100 for 10MB and 1MB upload with 100GB limit. The latency on the connection is also a problem for Zoom and video calls. I wasn’t excited about this option and the reviews online had a long list of complaints. Xplornet seems to have shifted away from Satellite service.

One exciting new offering for Satellite Internet by the SpaceX launched Starlink service for high speed internet connections. The service promises faster download speeds similar to broadband internet with small satellites in orbit at a reasonable cost for many rural locations. It looks like service will start in Northern US and Canada with Starlink satellites in 2020. Looking forward to seeing how this service works.Starlink Satellite

With ONLY Xplornet agreeing to provide service we scheduled an install a days after the sale closed. On the day of installation the installer ( a great guy named Tyler from Integrated Solutions ) looked for LTE service with a 20′ pole on our roof. Luckily he was able to get a connection with the LTE tower in Haliburton about 16KM away. When he secured the tower and we ran some speed tests we were amazed to get speed of 25MB down and 2MB up. The latency is also decent at around 20-30s, even in the rain. Success!

When we setup the Bell Mobility LTE we were only getting 3-5MB regularly with a few seconds at a faster speed. We tried several locations around the cottage with no real improvement in speed. The connection also seem to get worse the longer it was used so I suspect Bell Mobility throttles the connection. After a few days with sub optimal speeds we cancelled the service .

I also tried my work iPhone as a hotspot, which is with Rogers but I received no access until I enabled the Data Roaming feature. Despite the Roger’s LTE map showing coverage I couldn’t get access until I connected to Bell via the Bell/Rogers roaming agreement. The speeds via my iPhone were even slower than Bell directly via the Wifi Hub.

We’ve been using Xplornet for a month now and the service has been great. We regularly do video calls and our son does eschool. Last month we used 133GB so we’re slightly less than our city usage but far more than any cellular LTE plan.  It all just works and has been very reliable. Xplornet is working on 50MB LTE and Starlink might offer even faster speeds soon.

Welding 101

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Over the weekend I did a welding introduction class at The Fortress.  I had touched welding since high school and we did mainly torch welding then.  At the time the teachers thought that torch welding was the easiest to learn and eventually we did a bit of stick welding.

20 years latter and MIG Welding seems to the new introductory welding type.  We started using a MIG welder setup with gas ( Argon 75% and C02 25% ) which was pretty easy and when setup right didn’t create alot of splashing.

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Welding Class

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After the MIG with gas we switched over to MIG with filament, the filament melds and creates an inert gas around the weld too. The filament leaves behind a bunch of powder so you need to clean the weld to really see it. The MIG with filament also create alot more splashing so you see get alot more sparks but it seemed like it would be better for outdoor work.

Lastly we went did stick welding, this is the simplest setup with a welding stick and filament in a holder. Touch it to the metal and it starts, no trigger required. The sticks we had were very fast and it was difficult to get the distance right to get the weld right.

On the safety side the new glasses with auto darkening are really great. You can see perfectly until you hit the trigger and the weld starts. A UV sensor auto darkens and will auto brighten with the weld is finished. Even with this it was a challenge to see my welds and I often round myself going off line while welding…

I don’t think I’ll be welding anything major anytime soon but it was an interesting way to spend the afternoon.

Google Optimize – Landing Page Killer

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For the past few years I’ve been using Google Analytics and Tag Manager. It made updating the Analytics and running simple A/B page tests very. Usually the most complicated part was creating different pages and editing the website content.

Google has really upped it’s game now with Google Optimize. Instead of making minor page changes in WordPress or your content manager, you can easily make live page changes with Google Optimize. It provides an easy editor that allows most text on a webpage to be changed for A/B testing. Gone are the days of creating multiple landing pages or setting up a specialized Landing Page software. Now you can use Google Optimize editor directly:

The installation is extremely simple if you have Google Analytics and be installed automatically with Google Tag Manager. The small JS change to the existing Google Analytics code allows the changes to appear live for the user as they load your website. Really fast and simple A/B tests are now possible in a few minutes.

MLB Tickets?

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Summer means baseball for me and I’ve always enjoyed watching a game on a warm sunny day. In Toronto that means going to the Rogers Centre, which is not a great experience with the poor Rogers service, sub-average food service and dated “Sky Dome” layout…

As a result we regularly attend pre-season games in Florida and have started doing Family road trips to different ball parks. Last year we went to Pittsburgh and really enjoyed a Pirates game. This year we’re going to Detroit and want to get tickets to a game while we’re there.

We thought this would be a simple case of buying tickets online. Unfortunately the Detroit Tigers are still not selling single tickets. The Detroit Tigers schedule oddly does include links to buy tickets for their Road games with competitive teams:

Ticket resellers like Stubhub have tickets for the entire 2019 schedule available and many tickets for re-sale a premium. Re-sellers are also actively targeting the MLB ticket searches online:

If the MLB really wants to support ticket sales and it’s fan it should open up ticket sales faster. Clearly there is market demand that the ticket re-sellers are actively profiting from while the MLB delays.

Chatbot best practices

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Chatbots are all the rage right now and it’s not uncommon to see a chat window immediately loading a website.  Chatbots are often heavily supported by humans providing much of the real chat functionality.  The website chat provides a great way to engage with website visitors and reduce the fiction of first contact.  Some best practices to  get maximum benefit from your chat bot:

  1. Activate in the lower left corner. Users look for and expect a chat option to appear in the lower left corner of the website. On desktop this is easy to support but on Mobile it can be a challenge and you may need a full bar across the bottom of the browser window to engage the user.
  2. Make it “Human”. Using a name like “Helpbot” or even “ChatBot” will turn off users, nobody really wants to chat with a bot. Instead use a generic human name to start the conversation. The chat bot can then transfer or escalate the issue to a human.
  3. Keep a regular schedule. Just like having a store or office hours, it’s important that you be consistent with your chat bot hours so that people can rely on it for communication. Very few websites will be able to support a 24/7 chat experience so being upfront with users will be more effective. This is particularly important if your chat bot needs to escalate to humans regularly.
  4. Balance automation and effectiveness. Often a chatbot conversation fails when the user asks a question that the bot cannot understand. Instead of sending a response that doesn’t make sense it’s usually better to wait for a human to respond. Another approach when humans are unavailable is to ask the user to contact you using another channel or at another time.
  5. Use sound. Most chat conversations will eventually encounter a delay and the user may have switched to another tab, window or application. Using sounds will make it clear that a response is waiting for them.
  6. Avoid pop-ups. While pop-ups are less of a problem in 2018 most web browsers limit them and a new browser window may not open for the user. Often the new window will also get lost behind their other windows too. Instead keep the conversation inside the website window they opened where ever possible.
  7. Stay connected across your website. Sending users a new URL on your website shouldn’t end the conversation. Instead your chat interface should re-open exactly where the conversation left off.
  8. Keep them engaged. After answering the user’s concern it is a great opportunity to ask them to sign up for a email newsletter, follow you on Social Media or share their experience on Social Media.
  9. Measurement. Lastly with all services on the web, it’s important to measure your chatbot and its effectiveness. This could tie through from chat to sales, or chat to goal conversion or simple chat to content consumption.

Chatbots are a powerful tool your web marketing and customer service toolkit. Leveraging them can greatly improve the engagement and success of your website.

3D Printing

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Over the last few years I’ve been experiment with the world of 3D printing. About 3 years ago I purchased a 3D printer kit from Ali Express that was a clone of the popular Prusa i3 MK2. The kit I received was closest to an ANET A6 with dual z-axis extruders but with a custom hot end configuration. The kit was largely incomplete and I had to order a variety of parts to try to get it working. Eventually I had the X, Y and both Z axis working but the Extruder wouldn’t work. I set that printer aisde…

Then randomly I purchased a used MPSMv1 ( Monoprice Select Mini v1 )from a friend leaving the Toronto area, which was a smaller older printer with a very solid following because of it’s low price. Like all Monoprice 3D printers the MPSMv1 ships fully assembled and I didn’t have to source any missing parts. Unlike paper printers the technology is very new and most 3D printers lack sensors to optimize the print quality. Instead it’s up to the user to manually adjust bed levels and extruder flows to get the optimum experience. I printed a new filament spool holder and added a magnetic build plate, which I cut to fit.

After printing with the MPSMv1 for a about a year, my main issue with the MPSMv1 was the build size, which was limited to 120mm x 120mm x 120 mm. The printer was also at least 3 years old and lacked the power to heat up quickly.

I wanted a newer printer with a bigger print volume, more powerful power supply and small budget. I decided that the Creality Ender 3 Pro would be my next printer. The ender 3 comes mostly assembled, the instructions were a single page and I had it printing within 30 mins.

So far it’s been a great printer, the quality of prints is really good and the power supply heats up the printer within a few minutes.

Voice sales, not so simple for Alexa…

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A leaked Amazon report are shows that only 2% of users have used Alexa to make a purchase. In our home we’ve had Alexa for a couple of years and we disabled voice purchased almostimmediately after our son ( one of the primary users ) quickly figured out how to order a transformer. I luckily noticed the order confirmation from Amazon and requested a cancellation without any issue. Alexa treated his request to purchase a new toy equally with mine and my wife. Does this sound like the behaviour you’d want? Not likely…

Amazon changed this shortly after to use Voice profiles, each user needs to setup a voice profile and then only recognized voices can make purchases. Setting up the voice profiles is annoying, especially if you haven’t already setup a household with Amazon and the adults in your family.

If you don’t want to enable Voice profiles, then Alexa will also use a voice purchase PIN if you want but it won’t take long before your kids or will hear and remember a 4 digit PIN. I was unable to find an option to request an email approval or even an option to enter the PIN in the Alexa/Amazon apps instead.

After setting up the voice profiles we found that Alexa still cannot order in our default language. This error message is a confusing way of saying that your device’s current location doesn’t match the default location of your Amazon account. Repeated attempts to change my region ( which is in the US ) to Canada have failed. Even deregistering and re-registering my Amazon devices has had no impact. We spend time in Florida and use Amazon Prime their for ALOT of services so maintaining two accounts seems to break Alexa voice orders..

Overall voice purchases don’t seem to be a strong focus for Amazon/Alexa and I’m not surprised that only 2% of people of ordered something through it. I think Amazons is more focused on growing the user base and increasing other functionality, like SmartHome integration to increase the value of the Alexa products.

Toronto Burritos…

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I love Burritos and one of my favourite meals to eat quickly on the go. Toronto has a lot of burrito options, many often have their own special ingredients or variants. I’m often ordering with my wife or a friend so I’ve created some of my favourite Toronto burrito orders.

Chino Loco’s is still my favourite burrito and the best burrito in Toronto. I love the Cantonese noodles + Jerk Chicken special.

Increasingly I’m getting a Burrito bowl or Naked burrito. It’s not as easy to eat but often the wraps are carp heavy and I feel like I’m eating a salad… with spicy meat and lots of beans.

Let me know if you think there is another Burrito should checkout…

Loving the bowl

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We’re renovating our home so I’ve been spending a lot of time at Home Depot, Lowes or Rona. As a result I’m also eating out a lot more and I’m often not looking for ANOTHER burger. Luckily’s Harvey’s has launched it’s new Build a Bowl option. You can build a bowl of your choice by choosing a base, then protein and then any of their toppings.

MY favourite is the buffalo chicken salad with Bacon, Pickles, Guacamole, Cucumbers and Tomatoes featured above.

For a custom salad it’s pretty good value about $10 as shown. I’m hoping more restaurants pick-up on the bowl trend.

Send me a Tweet if you have any other awesome bowl combinations.

Best Date of Birth Widget

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I’m often looking for great user experiences and I recently came across a great date of birth picker while registering for Mogo. Often date of birth forms separate the day, month and year and start from today’s date. This means going back 20+ users for most adults register for a service.

This DOB picker starts off 20+ years back and allows you to select the year first:

date of birth widget, showing the year

Then it let’s you select your month:

date of birth widget, showing the month

And finally your birthday in a nice calendar format:

date of birth widget, showing the date

You can see the whole experience in the following animated gif:

date of birth widget animation

The Best E-mail Testing Tool

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HTML e-mail has come along way but different e-mail clients still load and display HTML emails different. The best way to reduce risk of someone seeing a poorly formatted e-mail is to test them in a tool that can show you how your e-mail will render multiple e-mail clients.

No More Rogers One Number

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I just discovered that a few months ago Rogers discontinued Rogers One Number service. A few years ago I had reviewed Rogers One Service and it’s issues a few years ago.

Retail Video Games

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Video game discI hate discs and especially video game discs. They scratch easily and I loose them. All of the consoles only have a single disc slot so switching games always involved ejecting and swapping discs. Even worst if you have a problem with your console and the disc doesn’t eject properly…’

Strapped iPhone Case

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I saw this in the wild at Bucks, is this the future of the purse?

Strapped-iphone-case