Vancouver Still Way Up There in Livability

The num­bers have been tal­lied once more for the cities through­out the world in terms of ‘liv­abil­i­ty’. Accord­ing to Busi­ness Week, “Mer­cer Con­sult­ing’s annu­al roundup of the glob­al cities with the best qual­i­ty of life” says that the most 25 liv­able cities include:

  1. Zurich, Switzer­land
  2. Vien­na, Aus­tria tied with Gene­va, Switzerland
  3. Van­cou­ver, Canada
  4. Auck­land, New Zealand
  5. Dus­sel­dorf, Germany
  6. Munich, tied with Frank­furt, Germany
  7. Bern, Switzer­land
  8. Syd­ney, Australia
  9. Copen­hagen, Denmark
  10. Welling­ton, New Zealand
  11. Ams­ter­dam, Netherlands
  12. Brus­sels, Belgium
  13. Toron­to, Canada
  14. Berlin, Ger­many
  15. Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia tied with Luxembourg
  16. Ottawa, Cana­da
  17. Stock­holm, Sweden

Low­est rank­ing city of the 215 sur­veyed was Bagh­dad, Iraq. The high­est rank­ing US city was Hon­olu­lu, at num­ber 28. The arti­cle did­n’t show any after 17 (or 20, again, depend­ing on how you count).

How and why are these rank­ings put togeth­er? Here’s what they said:

The rank­ings are based on a point scor­ing index, with Zurich scor­ing 108 and Bagh­dad scor­ing 13.5. Cities are com­pared to New York as the base city, with an index score of 100. The qual­i­ty-of-liv­ing sur­vey cov­ers 215 cities and is con­duct­ed to help gov­ern­ments and major com­pa­nies place employ­ees on inter­na­tion­al assign­ments. The sur­vey also iden­ti­fies those cities with the high­est per­son­al safe­ty rank­ing based on inter­nal sta­bil­i­ty, crime, effec­tive­ness of law enforce­ment, and rela­tion­ships with oth­er countries.

I don’t know if this is sig­nif­i­cant in any way, but last year Van­cou­ver came in third, once again behind Zurich and Gene­va, and was tied with Vien­na. This year com­ing in 4th (or third, depend­ing on whether you count the tie as one or 2) with the same 3 cities above us, and a score of 107.6 amounts to more or less the same standing.

I’ll be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed to see how this num­ber changes over the next few years, both before and after the 2010 Olympics.

The Undecided American Voter

Two guys by the water cooler looking very depressed mull over their options if the Republicans take the White House again.
I saw this car­toon by Bruce Beat­tie via Digg and had to repost it here. I can’t tell you the num­ber of times I’ve heard friends back in the States say ‘If the Repub­li­cans win this time, we’re join­ing you in Canada’.

Pam would be thrilled, but I’d be wor­ried about those left behind aboard the steadi­ly sink­ing USS ‘Amer­i­ca the Doomed’.

Fireworks and Fiscal Ruin

This past Sat­ur­day we enjoyed the sec­ond night of the Fire­works com­pe­ti­tion from yet a new van­tage point, my friend and fel­low blog­ger MJ’s con­do in Yale­town. With our view from the 30th floor, it had to be the high­est ele­va­tion from which we’ve ever seen the show. (Pam and I have been lucky enough to have seen it from 4 dif­fer­ent loca­tions over the last 3 years). This year was marked by plen­ty of talk and munchies, as well as Tanya (NetChick) and I both try­ing to snap pic­tures of the plumes with our iPhones. Best of all, we man­aged to post them on Face­Book just about as fast as we snapped them. Nerd paradise.

The fire­works this evening of the com­pe­ti­tion the USA’s entry (last Wednes­day had been Canada’s). Nor­mal­ly, the phrase ‘Amer­i­cans shoot­ing rock­ets over Van­cou­ver’s Eng­lish Bay’ is not what any­one here wants to hear, but in this case, I guess it was OK.

Were We Rats Fleeing a Sinking Ship?

While we’ve been observ­ing the third anniver­sary of hav­ing moved here, at the par­ty, appro­pri­ate­ly enough, I got to speak to an Amer­i­can cou­ple who had just made the move here. In fact, they had just arrived a week or so ago, rough­ly in the same state of con­fu­sion and excite­ment as we had in 2005 (MJ is help­ing them to find a per­ma­nent place to live). The main dif­fer­ences between them and us is that they are mov­ing from San Fran­cis­co (vs. our Boston), and our tim­ing was, we all agreed, a lot bet­ter. In the last 3 years, the US Real Estate mar­ket, the US Stock Mar­ket and the US Dol­lar have all fall­en marked­ly in val­ue, leav­ing Pam and me in much bet­ter shape than the cou­ple who unfor­tu­nate­ly did­n’t have the nerve to move ear­li­er. They even had a place picked out, and just did­n’t move on it.

As we com­pared notes, the top­ic of why we left came up. While it was true that in 2005, we could­n’t stand the direc­tion the coun­try was going (and note that we felt that way before the Tor­ture, Ille­gal Wire­tap­ping and oth­er scan­dals became pub­lic knowl­edge). Despite all that roman­tic stuff about vot­ing with your feet,  the most con­crete dis­as­ter that loomed on the hori­zon for us was the US Pub­lic Debt. Dur­ing the Clin­ton era (our 8‑year night­mare of peace and pros­per­i­ty), the US Gov­ern­ment actu­al­ly ran a bud­get sur­plus, eras­ing the deficits cre­at­ed by the Reagan/Bush I years, open­ing up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of pay­ing down the Nation­al Debt. Then along came WPIUSH, and an all-too-brief peri­od of fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty was quick­ly reversed. So, the real rea­son that we decid­ed to leave the US was that we were con­cerned that the coun­try was going down the drain fiscally.

Yes, it’s easy to see where most of it went (the war in Iraq, for one thing, along with the tax cuts for the top 2% rich­est Amer­i­cans, as well as a mul­ti­tude of fund­ing and over­sight deba­cles, some that have yet to see the light of day). Today, the sit­u­a­tion isn’t get­ting any bet­ter. In fact, it’s get­ting even worse now than it was 14 years ago, when the Fed­er­al Deficit (and Debt) first appeared on our radar, accord­ing to Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Bush admin­is­tra­tion on Mon­day pro­ject­ed the U.S. bud­get deficit will soar to a record of near­ly half a tril­lion dol­lars in fis­cal 2009 as a hous­ing-led eco­nom­ic slow­down cuts into gov­ern­ment revenues.

The eco­nom­ic and fis­cal dete­ri­o­ra­tion will com­pli­cate efforts to bring the bud­get to bal­ance and pose chal­lenges for who­ev­er takes over the White House in Jan­u­ary, either Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain or Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen. Barack Oba­ma.

“I believe who­ev­er becomes the next pres­i­dent will have a very, very sober­ing first week in office,” pre­dict­ed Sen­ate Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Kent Con­rad, a North Dako­ta Democrat.

React­ing to the White House­’s new pre­dic­tion that the bud­get deficit will hit $482 bil­lion in the fis­cal year that starts Octo­ber 1, Con­rad said that num­ber eas­i­ly could rise by an addi­tion­al $80 bil­lion when the full costs of the Iraq war are tal­lied next year.

The econ­o­my has been hob­bled by the hous­ing mar­ket col­lapse and soar­ing food and ener­gy prices. In Feb­ru­ary, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-con­trolled Con­gress and Pres­i­dent George W. Bush approved a $168 bil­lion, two-year stim­u­lus plan to ward off recession.

With the slow­ing econ­o­my and the cost of the eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus plan, the White House said it thinks the deficit will hit a record $482 bil­lion in fis­cal 2009. How­ev­er, it cut its fore­cast for the cur­rent fis­cal year to $389 billion.

Even if we ignore where the mon­ey went or is even going now, the prob­lem (the Debt) is still out there, like a tick­ing time bomb. Just as there were fore­clo­sures on bad mort­gage loans through­out the US, there will come a day when some­one has to come up with a way of pay­ing that debt. When will that day come? I’m not sure, but I can pret­ty much count on it being with­in the next 20 years, and the fur­ther out the US Gov­ern­ment can push it out, the bet­ter for who­ev­er is in pow­er. Whether the Pres­i­dent in that era is Barack Oba­ma, Chelsea Clin­ton or per­haps one of the Bush Twins, there will come a day when the US Debt reach­es some sort of a break­ing point. What effect this will have is also hard to guess, but I can’t imag­ine a sce­nario where it will be a good thing. More than like­ly, the qual­i­ty of life in the US will suf­fer, as it has suf­fered dur­ing the past eight years. Peo­ple will work hard­er with less time for them­selves for less pay, and under poor­er work­ing con­di­tions. Decent Med­ical care will be hard­er to get and also be more expen­sive (again), Aver­age Life Expectan­cy will get short­er (again), and dai­ly life in gen­er­al will get more bru­tal, vio­lent, unfair and unpleas­ant, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you are not very rich. There’s a good pos­si­bil­i­ty that this event (call it a crash, a cor­rec­tion, a default, or what­ev­er you like) will come at a time when Pam and I might wish to be retired and liv­ing on a fixed income, per­haps includ­ing some sort of a Gov­ern­ment Pen­sion. You can bet that those will get hit. Rather than end up poor and liv­ing in a coun­try fil­ing for bank­rupt­cy (or some­thing worse), we opt­ed for a coun­try that looked to be more sol­vent in the com­ing 20 years, at least.

So, once again, if this lat­est news (which came as lit­tle sur­prise) my instincts about where we went, and when we went have remained on track. I hope my good sense (and per­haps luck) holds. After all, part of ‘good for­tune’ is being in the right place at the right time

Rogers About to Get Something they Didn’t Want: Competition

I got a news-flash email from the CBC today (I’m no one spe­cial; I’ve signed up for alerts like this):

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is $4.2 bil­lion rich­er with the con­clu­sion of the cell­phone spec­trum auc­tion on Mon­day, while cus­tomers stand to win as five new com­pa­nies are now well posi­tioned to launch ser­vices over the next few years. The wind­fall is con­sid­er­ably larg­er than the orig­i­nal $1.5 bil­lion many indus­try ana­lysts had pre­dict­ed before the auc­tion began on May 27.

I linked to the relat­ed sto­ry on the CBC web site, and 3 pas­sages caught my eye. (in all cas­es, bold and ital­ics are mine) First:

The big win­ner — and biggest spender — among poten­tial new entrants was Toron­to-based Glob­alive Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc., which cur­rent­ly sells home phone and inter­net ser­vice under the Yak brand. The com­pa­ny has emerged from the auc­tion posi­tioned to launch a nation­al cell­phone ser­vice with 30 licens­es broad­ly dis­trib­uted across the country.

Sec­ond:

The new entrants are wide­ly expect­ed to build third-gen­er­a­tion net­works based on glob­al sys­tem for mobile com­mu­ni­ca­tions (GSM) tech­nol­o­gy, which is what Rogers and its Fido sub­sidiary use, or its new­er fourth-gen­er­a­tion off­shoot, long-term evo­lu­tion (LTE).

and Third:

Iain Grant, pres­i­dent of the Seaboard Group telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tan­cy, said a nation­al car­ri­er could be up and run­ning by East­er at a cost of $500 mil­lion, although oth­er esti­mates say a launch could take a year or two. The trick­i­est part of start­ing up will be nego­ti­at­ing rights for trans­mis­sion sites, many of which will either be on top of tall build­ings or on tow­ers owned by Rogers, Bell and Telus.

So here we are, look­ing at a Spring of 2009 roll-out for at least one com­peti­tor to Rogers/Fido Wire­less, and did Rogers posi­tion them­selves well for such a sit­u­a­tion? In my hum­ble opin­ion, absolute­ly not. Any­one in Cana­da has seen this com­ing (any­one who was not in Rogers man­age­ment, that is). In the past years, months and weeks, Rogers has made so many Cana­di­an con­sumers so angry that they can count on no cus­tomer loy­al­ty what­so­ev­er. Their brand may very well be dam­aged beyond repair. Any new cell­phone ven­dor who sup­ports a GSM 3G net­work will be able to grab a large pool of cus­tomers ready to switch imme­di­ate­ly, or when their con­tract with Rogers is up (and you can bet that they’ll put that date on their calendar!)

How did Rogers screw this up so bad­ly? The recent his­to­ry of Rogers, par­tic­u­lar­ly with respect to pric­ing and mar­ket­ing tells some of the sto­ry. If you live in Cana­da and have had any deal­ings with Rogers, you’ll know much of this, so feel free to skip to the end…

First, over the past 3 or 4 years, Rogers charged some of the high­est data and call rates in the world. Then, in 2007, con­sumers and tech watch­ers crit­i­cized them for being slow to bring the iPhone to Cana­da after it was avail­able in the U.S. for a year.  In April of 2008, Rogers chief exec­u­tive Ted Rogers told investors the iPhone would arrive in Cana­da some time lat­er in the year. In June, Rogers set the iPhone’s debut for July 11 (along with sev­er­al oth­er coun­tries through­out the world), but were quick­ly met with harsh crit­i­cism about the data pric­ing plan, which was per­haps the sec­ond high­est in the world (with Swe­den being the high­est) . Some high-pro­file tech per­son­al­i­ties in Cana­da went on tele­vi­sion to announce that they were going to jump ship (in some cas­es pay­ing a siz­able penal­ty). Only after thou­sands of cur­rent and prospec­tive cus­tomers signed online peti­tions protest­ing these rates,  encour­ag­ing Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs to put pres­sure on the com­pa­ny, did Rogers relent with a drop of the high­est rate to a rea­son­able lev­el ($30 per month with a usage lim­it of up to 6 GB per month), but this rate is avail­able only until the end of August. On the day of the roll-out, Rogers’ reg­istry net­works crashed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with Apple’s iTunes reg­is­ter­ing sys­tem after the new iPhone was unveiled. The Out­age last­ed into the after­noon at some loca­tions and it was­n’t until the next week before some cus­tomers could acti­vate their phones. Rogers rep­re­sen­ta­tives said they expect­ed record first-day sales, but declined to dis­close how many phones were shipped to stores or how many they had expect­ed to sell. As I write this, Rogers (through­out Van­cou­ver, at least) is still sold out of the iPhone.

All in all it was a high­ly vis­i­ble fias­co. Rogers utter­ly botched the iPhone roll-out in just about every way it could be botched. They could have final­ly made many cur­rent cus­tomers hap­py with a new device and would be seen today as the sole provider of one of the most sought-after tech gad­gets. Instead, they gen­er­at­ed sev­er­al days of bad PR, dis­played poor plan­ning, and missed immea­sur­able mar­ket­ing and sales oppor­tu­ni­ties. There have been numer­ous spec­u­la­tions that the rea­son they ran out stock is that Apple was so peev­ed at the high data rates that they actu­al­ly divert­ed iPhone ship­ments from Cana­da to more rea­son­able Euro­pean car­ri­ers. Whether or not this was true, Rogers’ lack of can­dor regard­ing avail­abil­i­ty, lack of under­stand­ing of the prod­uct, and com­plete screw-up of logis­tics and net­work vol­ume on the day of the roll-out is some­thing that will not fade quick­ly from the mem­o­ry of most Cana­di­ans (and prob­a­bly not by this com­ing Easter).

It will be inter­est­ing to see if the mass exo­dus from Rogers to what­ev­er new car­ri­er Glob­alive will fund will be as swift and mas­sive as I expect it will be. Rogers has run their busi­ness ‘like there’s no tomor­row’, but in the Spring of 2009, ‘tomor­row’ will arrive.

Whistler in the Summer

We got back on Sun­day from a few days at Whistler, where we spent some days of vaca­tion with my broth­er and his fam­i­ly. While we all nev­er felt very rushed, we man­aged to get quite a few activ­i­ties in while we were there, includ­ing a gon­do­la and chair­lift trip up to the top of Whistler moun­tain, a Zip­Trek tour in the for­est above and around the Fitzsim­mons riv­er, a hike to Lost Lake, a cou­ple of movies (“Get Smart” at the local cin­e­ma, “Jumper” on DVD) and sev­er­al lunch­es and din­ners out. My niece Rena­ta also got in a cou­ple of ses­sions on the bungee tram­po­line, which helped her to bounce a cou­ple of sto­ries (at least) into the air. While I can’t doc­u­ment all of it in pic­tures and video, here are some high points (sic):

The View from Whistler Mountain

The view from the top of a very cold Whistler (which I’ve now put into this blog’s banner)

Pam was­n’t quite pre­pared for how cold it would get, but for­tu­nate­ly, there were some blan­kets avail­able at the chair­lift, about 2/3 of the way up.):

Of course, the cold is one thing. The lit­tle men climb­ing on tow­ers
on your head are anoth­er (Clas­sic pho­to bloop­er. Sor­ry about that…)

I also thought I’d include a few Zip­Trek videos. This gave me a chance to try out Flick­r’s video fea­tures. I’m not includ­ing one that I can’t seem to flip hor­i­zon­tal­ly (my Sis­ter-In-Law held her cam­era side­ways and no mat­ter what I do, includ­ing chang­ing the file and sav­ing it to a new movie, the uploaded file seems to revert to that orientation).

Here’s Pam slid­ing on the wire across the Fitzsim­mons River:

Now, from the point of view of a par­tic­i­pant. Need I add that this is a blast?

In addi­tion to the rides up in the trees (about 5 times over the riv­er and back), you get a bit of an ecol­o­gy lec­ture about the area and some tips on what you can do to be more ‘green’. I real­ly like Zip­Trek, who seem to prac­tice what they preach, in terms of an eco­log­i­cal­ly-aware busi­ness. Aside from the vans that they use to trans­port peo­ple to and from their sites (and I heard that once there are elec­tric ones or per­haps hybrids that will serve in this capac­i­ty, they’ll switch to those), they are pret­ty gen­tle on the envi­ron­ment. They even have a small water-dri­ven gen­er­a­tor via the riv­er that pro­vides most of the elec­tri­cal pow­er for the A‑Frame where they house their offices, train employ­ees, and end some of the tours. Our tour lead­ers were col­lege stu­dents major­ing in Eco-tourism and Geol­o­gy, and they made sure that none of us were ever in dan­ger or uncom­fort­able, despite what looks like an ‘extreme’ sport.

In addi­tion to some good meals togeth­er (Monks up there is very nice and beau­ti­ful to look at; Pam’s Hal­ibut dust­ed with porci­ni mush­rooms and sun-dried toma­toes was superb), Pam and I also had an excel­lent cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner of our third Anniver­sary of com­ing to Cana­da on July 5th at Il Caminet­to , one of the restau­rants of Umber­to Menghi (his Il Gia­rdi­no and Umber­to’s are both down­town). He’s one of the three celebri­ty chefs in the White Spot com­mer­cials, (the oth­er two are Rob Fee­nie and John Bish­op) always talk­ing about ‘the sauce’. We ate a light din­ner; Pam chose a sub­tly flavoured Roast Cor­nish Game Hen atop chick­peas and mixed veg­eta­bles, and I had a sim­ple but per­fect­ly done home­made Fet­tuc­cine with cream sauce, peas and pro­sciut­to along with some excel­lent wine: A good BC Pinot Gris made by the Pen­t­age Win­ery from Ska­ha Bench in the Okana­gan, as well as an intense Ital­ian Mus­cat for dessert . I’ve become a big fan of dessert wines, and some­times pre­fer them over a cake or tart.

So for try­ing of celebri­ty chef restau­rants in the area, we are now 2 out of 3. I guess a vis­it to a Cac­tus Club would now count for Rob Fee­nie, since he has become the ‘food con­cept archi­tect’ of that chain. That’s what the arti­cles say, at any rate.

A nice time was had by all (I think), and we feel pret­ty lucky to have this beau­ti­ful resort area so near to us (for those who don’t live in Van­cou­ver, depend­ing on traf­fic and con­struc­tion on the Sea-to-Sky High­way, it’s about a 2 1/2 hour dri­ve from the city). My broth­er summed up Whistler by and large bet­ter than I could: “It’s a bit like Dis­ney­land for adults.”