Podcasts Review

My Top 5 Podcasts of 2011

I still love podcasts as much as I did back in 2009. Trevor and Erica threw up some tweets about posting my favourite podcasts. So I thought I’d take a second to post my faves. In no particular order (the headline is link bait (suck on that)), these are the podcasts that I find myself listening to the most:

Tech News Today

Back in June 2010 Tom Merrit left CNET to start a daily tech show on the TWiT network. It’s serves as my main source for tech news, like a 6 o’clock news for tech.

Industrial Strength Nightmares

I’m fairly musically agnostic. I really like a lot of different genres of music. ISN Radio is my main source for Industrial music. Not a huge fan of the host (sorry), but the music makes up for it. If you’re interested in expanding your music horizons, check it out.

CBC’s Spark

It’s from the CBC it’s about technology, they interview smart people and it’s awesome.

The Talk Show

Daring Fireball’s Jon Gruber is kind of like the Rush Limbaugh of Apple punditry. He mainly talks about how awesome Apple is.

Film Sack

Four extremely nerdy men in their late-thirties review bad movies. If that is not great enough, their “Bonus Sack!” commentary is especially great.

Review Websites

Manitoba Floods Online

This year’s flood season is too be the biggest since 1997. Back then the Internet wasn’t really the internet as we know it. This year I’ve come across a few flood resources online. is a resource for crowd-sourced flood data. Background info is on

MTS has a few webcams setup around the province, The Winnipeg Free Press plotted them on a google map.

Look at all the water!


VPN Reviews: Watching Hulu, Comedy Central Without Hacks

Full Disclosure: VPN Authority approached me with a trial account for review purposes.

A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is a system for securely joining a remote network over the internet, typically they’re used to allow remote workers secure access to their company’s internal networked file system and other network resources. When a computer connects to a VPN all internet traffic can be configured to route through that VPN. As a side-effect, this re-routed traffic appears to be coming from whatever geographic location the VPN server. In other words, if you connect to a VPN in the USA, you can use geo-restricted sites – like Hulu and Pandora –  from anywhere in the world; if you use a VPN located in the UK, you can access BBC iPlayer and Spotify. You get the picture, see Wikipedia for all the glory details.

A while ago, someone decided that they could charge money for access to this side-effect. When you to a search for something like US VPN you get a tonne of results, some free, others paid. It’s hard to tell them apart and for the most part, they’re fairly similar. The main differentiating factors for the purposes of watching geo-restricted video are connection speed and cost.

Truth be told, before VPNAuthority contacted me I had not tried using a VPN to access US content, at least not in a very long time. I had assumed that the free options were too slow and the paid options weren’t worth it. I’m not about to shill for VPN Authority just because they set me up with a free account (sorry guys). It’s only fair to pit them against some of their competitors. So, I took a look at 2 other services: HotSpot Shield and CastleVPN. HotSpot shield seems to be the most popular free VPN and I picked CastleVPN because they had a professional looking website.


Shaw’s New Bandwidth Policy

As we mentioned in the latest Canadian Tech Roundup, there’s quite a lot of chatter on about Shaw sneaking bandwidth overage charges onto customer’s bills. I have some thoughts on the new policy, but I’ll leave those to the end of the post. First, the fun facts:

  • Shaw has lowered bandwidth caps for every tier of internet service across the board by 25% and added new bandwidth overage charges, as follows:
    • Lite: 1Mbps, 15GB/mo, $2/GB overage
    • High-Speed: 7.5Mbps, 60GB/mo, $2/GB
    • Extreme: 15Mbps, 100GB/mo, $1/GB
    • Warp: 50Mbps, 175GB/mo, $1/GB
    • Nitro: 100Mbps, 350GB/mo, $1/GB
    • I’ve excluded tier pricing since vary by region and bundle.
  • In addition to these new charges Shaw is offering bandwidth “bundles.” The details are somewhat hidden on this page, they break down like this:
    • 10GB for $5/mo (or $0.50/GB)
    • 60GB for $20/mo ($0.33/GB)
    • 250GB for $50/mo ($0.20/GB)
    • I imagine Shaw’s banking on customers buying bandwidth they don’t end up using, as these business models tend to work.
  • According to the tech support rep I talked to and a few posts on reddit, Shaw is rolling out the overages on a “three strikes” basis. What this means is, the first month you go over you bandwidth cap Shaw will notify you, but won’t charge you. The second month, they notify you again. It’s not until the third month that they’ll actually charge you.
  • Shaw has a tool to monitor your bandwidth usage, but they will not enable it on your account unless you go over your bandwidth cap.

The covers all the facts I know at this point in time.

So I’ve given this whole situation a little more thought since the podcast on Monday and I’m having a hard time feeling too negatively about this new policy. I do feel like it’s my nerdly duty to oppose bandwidth caps on principle, but I just can’t do it. The supposition is that Shaw is unfairly punishing their heavy internet users, the every growing number of households cutting cable TV service, eating into Shaw’s overall profits. The math just doesn’t work out. The caps – even the 25% lower caps – are still quit reasonable. Crunching some numbers, an average video file at 720p resolution is somewhere around 600MB/hr*, at that rate the 100GB cap will afford you 170hrs of video per  month or almost 6hrs per day; 175GB/mo get’s you almost 10hrs/day of video. That is a lot of video and far from punitive.

Not only that, Shaw to my knowledge shaw has never claimed that their service to be “unlimited” and their website is totally upfront about the bandwidth charges. I don’t really have a problem with paying more when I use more of a service, that’s how capitalism works. That said, their $1/GB standard overage charge is quite high. I would be kind of upset if my next bill included several gigabytes of overage at $1/GB. As someone who has been involved in decisions to buy 10s of thousands of gigabytes of bandwidth per month, I can say with confidence that somewhere around $0.50/GB would be a much more reasonable base rate.

Although it leads to some questions about how much bandwidth actually costs Shaw and how they really feel about their customers; I think their “three strikes” policy is an interesting way to roll out these charges. It’s certainly a lot more generous than the likes of Rogers.

My main complaint about the whole situation is the way Shaw is informing customers about the change – ie. they’re not. Adding new unexpected charges on customers bills without any kind of warning is pretty much the worst thing a company can do for their relationship with customers; nobody likes to see extra charges on their bills. I assume Shaw has done the math and only a small number of customers will actually be affected by these changes; and I assume they think they can contain the small amount of outrage they expect. There is a good chance that they’re wrong, for the most part, users that will be exceeding caps are nerd and nerds tend to be pretty vocal about this sort of thing. Secondly, based on my talks with Shaw support, they’re still treating the overages as a punitive measure; which is just ridiculous. If you’re charging me for a service, just charge me for the service, making me feel bad about it will just make me feel bad about your company.

Am I out to lunch? What are your thoughts?

* correction: as noted in the comments 60minutes of 720p content is closer to 900MB. I was referencing an hour long tv show, which is actually 50 minutes of content and the files I was examining may not have been full 720p.

Review Websites

Reddit is so Awesome!

The top story in the programming subreddit for most of yesterday was a self-post abou the sorry state of’s HTML. Take a look for yourself, it’s easily the worst major corporation website I’ve seen in years. The post has garnered 2537 up votes (1134 downvotes) to date; based my previous experience, I suspect this sent an extra 10,000-20,000 visitors to I left a comment suggesting that Subway work on their site…

Today, still has terrible html. But they did fix a giant javascript switch and replaced it with this comment:
Now the that big switch is gone, here are some fun facts:
1. This site was created in 2002, using Visual Studio 2003.
2. Yes there was some editing done in frontpage. The editors worked better than VS 2003, and we had a license for it.
3. A lot from the funky mark-up is from some early generation .NET thirdparty controls we've been maintaining.
4. We look forward to updating the site as much as you (probably more in fact!)
Thanks for the QA, Redditors!

Or, to put it another way:

Reddit Accomplishments for Sept:
1. Convince Steve Colbert to hold a rally – Check.
2. Raise hundreds of thousands for educational charities – Check.
3. Help some dude who needs a new wheelchair with funding – Check.
4. Get to optimize their website – Check.

What wonders await for October?