63 Reasons I’m Returning the Surface Pro 3 to Microsoft

I like Microsoft’s Surface in concept. But unfortunately, even with a third kick at the can, the company has failed dismally to execute. I’ve spent about a week now using the Surface Pro 3 exclusively and found it to be an imperfect grab bag of compromises. It’s a pale excuse for both a tablet and a notebook computer simultaneously and, as such, it’s a constant source of frustration.

The devil’s in the details with this device. At first its striking industrial design and bold use of colour and materials draws you in. But then, through use, you quickly grow weary of its many, many quirks, idiosyncrasies and plain old technical failings. It’s as though a team at Microsoft designed the Surface Pro 3 but then didn’t even bother to actually try using it before they boxed it up and put it on a shelf for sale.

This is not a usable device, in the sense of a traditional laptop or standard tablet. It’s a device you suffer and curse in order to celebrate the fact you don’t have an iPad or a MacBook Air.

Well, that’s not quite true. There are some positives to the Surface Pro 3. In particular, its glorious stylus and the way that stylus interacts with Microsoft’s superlative OneNote app. This is the closest any device I’ve ever used has come to replicating “ink” digitally, and it is truly wonderful. If this device was just about the stylus and OneNote and cost half as much, it’d be a triumph and I’d keep it without a second thought. Unfortunately, Microsoft has heartbreakingly buried that potential success in a torrential mudslide of blindly traditional PC aspirations that suffocate the device’s true value as something remarkable, unique, and useful.

On that note, without further ado, here are the 63 reasons I will be returning the Surface Pro 3 to Microsoft…

  1. Camera takes random pictures when device supposed to be asleep
  2. Extremely poor Microsoft support
  3. Extremely erratic automatic wake and sleep behaviour
  4. Screen size – too large for tablet use
  5. Weight – too heavy for tablet use
  6. No option for typing with keyboard in portrait mode
  7. Microsoft logo as Home button orientation in portrait mode is incorrect (actually, the use of a logo as a Home button is just dumb to begin with)
  8. Placement of Home button is odd and awkward (on the right side of the screen, where your hand often naturally lies while using the stylus?!)
  9. Desktop/touch environment dichotomy is extremely confusing and frustrating
  10. Internet Explorer touch and desktop unaware of one another (in terms of open tabs)
  11. Missing app: DayOne
  12. No good place to store stylus — it’s certain to get lost eventually
  13. Missing app: Rdio
  14. Missing app: Coda
  15. Missing app: Pixelmator
  16. Missing app: iPhoto
  17. Missing app: A good RSS reader like Reeder
  18. Extremely inconsistent sharing functionality (i.e. to Evernote never worked)
  19. Dearth of well designed, highly-functional touch apps — still!
  20. Most touch apps are too functionally limited (i.e. Evernote, Twitter)
  21. Missing app: Photolife (touch)
  22. Limited integration with iCloud (mail only)
  23. No integration with iCloud calendar (makes migration difficult, if not impossible — doesn’t Microsoft want people to abandon Apple? Then make it easy!)
  24. No photo folder or gallery sharing in OneDrive photos
  25. Camera quality is awful, really abysmal
  26. Kickstand warps with use (yes, after just a couple of days)
  27. Kickstand only works in landscape orientation
  28. Keyboard only connects in landscape orientation
  29. Keyboard requires physical connection
  30. Screen too dim in even moderate daylight
  31. Hand “sticks” to screen when handwriting in moderate humidity (halts “glide” of hand over surface of screen)
  32. Screen surface too reflective – seems even more reflective than iPad
  33. In handwriting to text input panel, touches by hand are interpreted as text (usually punctuation)
  34. When using Sharing panel, some unidentified gesture often causes panel to close, losing any input info or text before share occurs
  35. Kickstand/keyboard combination requires too much lap/desk surface area for optimum use
  36. Missing app: Path
  37. Keyboard oftens stops responding – needs to be disconnected and reconnected
  38. Lack of migration tools in general sucks – makes moving from Mac or iOS impossible
  39. Keyboard smells funky (maybe it’ll wear off?)
  40. Device doesn’t automatically wake when opened from keyboard — but keyboard lights up (WTF?)
  41. No LTE
  42. Super finnicky Wifi, often disconnects when asleep
  43. Returning to a wifi location generally requires a reboot — Surface can’t reconnect to previously used wifi points (tested on 6 different ones)
  44. IE11 had poor standards compliance, affecting compatibility with sites and impacting functionality
  45. Missing app: Safari
  46. Every time I hear about a cool new game, it’s for ipad
  47. Missing app: Espresso
  48. Trackpad on keyboard is very small
  49. Blocks of text intermittently, inexplicably disappear when writing
  50. Chrome looks like crap on screen
  51. The way the keyboard magnetically lifts up and connects to the bottom of the screen makes it impossible to perform up swipes to access bottom panel touch items
  52. Typing on the keyboard on a hard flat surface is noisy and bouncy (affecting accuracy), unless you type very lightly
  53. Pen buttons don’t work when composing a note prior to unlocking device.
  54. Touch keyboard not accessible when composing a note prior to unlocking device
  55. Skype video call quality sucks (compared to iPad)
  56. Hidden taskbar (and therefore touch keyboard) inaccesible without using mouse or pen
  57. Precise cursor placement and text selection impossible with fingers in desktop mode
  58. Battery is pretty darn awful
  59. Light on power adapter provides no indication of device’s charge state
  60. It’s too easy to accidentally brush against Home button and get unceremoniously dumped to Home screen
  61. Only black ink available when composing a note prior to unlocking device
  62. Loose keyboard hinge is not optimal for all non-desktop typing situations (i.e. cross legged)
  63. Device bounces awkwardly when typing on non-desktop surfaces

I could have continued expanding this list, but I had to stop somewhere. As I used the Surface Pro 3, the challenges and frustrations continued to collect. I was expecting them to end somewhere, but they never did. For every positive moment I loved using the device using the stylus and OneNote, there were a dozen or more frustrating or unsatisfying ones that made me loathe the damn thing.

Microsoft could certainly fix many of the problems I had, and maybe they will over time. But, really, shame on that company for failing to thoroughly test a device before shipping it to ensure that its users’ experience is optimal. Instead, I feel like I was part of some grand, expensive beta test with no end.

Being Secure Online: A Reference

Last week I had the rare opportunity to make a presentation to a highly engaged group of seniors on behalf of the Yukon Status of Women Council. I say “rare” because it’s not often that I interact with internet users who are genuinely concerned with protecting their privacy and security online. Most people take too lackadaisical an attitude towards these matters, and when you consider the excursions that even our own government is making into our private online affairs, that’s just not okay.

I promised the attendees of that session a reference to assist with following up on the matters we’d discussed. Rather than provide a print-out, though, since this is such an important issue, I figured a public blog post couldn’t hurt. Plus, for reference, here’s a link to the slide deck from the presentation.

Risk vs. Benefit

First off, I’d like to briefly discuss my approach to internet security. The question of the “correct” approach to security problems kept coming up and I kept responding with the standard geek adage, “It depends…”

Every action you take, both online and offline, entails a degree of risk, and you have to assess the potential benefit and its value to you. And so it is with internet security, and, of course, understanding risks online is the most important aspect of protecting oneself. For example, many people watch movies online. Acquiring them for free via BitTorrent involves tremendous risk of being infected by malware, and of potentially breaking copyright laws that could get you in trouble with the law. Is it worth all that risk, or does paying $4 to rent a safe copy of a movie legally on iTunes make more sense?

I’ve read a lot about the “right way” to protect oneself in a given circumstance online, but one expert’s truth always contradicts another’s, and really neither can be considered absolutely correct. Like most things in life, the “truth,” if there is such a thing, lies somewhere in between. And you’ll never find it, because it’s always changing. So instead of learning the Officially Correct Way to resolve a security or privacy situation online, it’s better to equip yourself with an understanding of the dangers and get some suitable tools for effectively responding to them. After all, rules are just static and inflexible ways of doing things one way. Knowledge grants you the power to respond organically to ever-changing situations.

So the question online isn’t about simple, constant internet “safety.” It’s more about:

  1. Constantly educating yourself about online opportunities and dangers;
  2. Keeping your eyes open and being street-smart online;
  3. Making sure you’re going to benefit from your actions online; and
  4. Avoiding the risks of other people taking advantage of your online activities.

Just like in the “real” world, good judgement reigns supreme online. Would you drive your car without a seatbelt? No, because you know that even the benefit of efficient transportation isn’t worth the risk of injury in an accident. So would you browse the internet using an unsupported operating system like Windows XP? Of course not, it’s a target for all sorts of bad people; you’d upgrade or buy a new computer.

Internet Service Providers

I presented that there are essentially three methods of accessing the internet:

  1. Private fixed landline access;
  2. Private mobile access; and
  3. Free public wireless access.

Private fixed landline access in Whitehorse is unfortunately limited to one thing: cable internet from Northwestel. The sole benefit with this method of internet access is, of course, the total volume of data available for consumption — that is, the amount of “stuff” you can download or upload. The drawbacks are cost — it’s really quite expensive, particularly at the lower end of the company’s product line — and the fact that you can never be sure of what you’re getting.

During my session with this group of very intelligent seniors, it was clear that no one trusts Northwestel to be honest or accurate with their measuring of our internet use. For all we know, Northwestel has a cage of monkeys pounding on a keyboard to manufacture numbers for billing purposes. There’s nothing that would disprove this idea other than the company’s cold, “Trust us,” attitude. Trust must be earned, however… but that’s another sermon.

Private mobile access is internet service that is provided via the cellular phone network. Luckily, there is some competition in this space: we have both Bell and TELUS available to us here in Whitehorse. This method of internet access can be more affordable — it generally starts at about $5 a month — and it’s very convenient, since you can take it with you. Of course, the major drawback here is data volume. If you’re looking at watching movies on Netflix, this is not the best way to access the internet.

Another thing to consider, and this is where we get to the heart of the matter, is privacy. Bell tracks and resells what you do online. While TELUS certainly also tracks your activities, it doesn’t hawk that data on the open market (though I’m sure they give it up to the government upon unwarranted request, as does every carrier). This is where the question of risk/benefit comes in. Are you okay with having your life’s activities sold to the highest bidder without discernible benefit to you? (Ignore Bell’s “qualified advertising” argument, it’s a sham.) Personally, I prefer to maintain as much privacy as possible — or to enjoy direct benefit from the resale of my privacy, when appropriate. So I go with TELUS rather than Bell, and I strongly recommend you do, too.

Then there’s free public wireless access. This is the single most dangerous method of internet access you can use. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that’s especially true here. Of course, there is a cost associated with providing this internet access, and to offset it, McDonald’s or Tim Hortons or wherever is tracking and reselling your behaviour to all sorts of other companies. (And, again, no doubt giving it to the government.)

Then there’s the fact that it’s completely public and open. That means it’s like you’re communicating in a big, open, public room with wonderful acoustics that bounce all the sounds around nicely so everyone can hear what everyone else is saying… if they’re listening. And that’s what the bad guys are doing: listening very carefully for that moment you type a password into an insecure web page, and then they grab it and it’s theirs to do what they like with.

Personally, I never use free public wireless internet. There’s just too much risk. Of course, it’s all about saving money, so many people so use it. But it’s worth coining a new adage to describe that situation: “Penny wise, security poor.” What you give up greatly outweighs what you get with free public internet, in my opinion. Avoid it whenever you can.

To summarize your internet options, then:

  1. If you’re just browsing web pages and checking email, pick up an internet stick from TELUS or learn how to set up your mobile phone as a “hot spot.” This is generally cheaper and better quality than Northwestel’s lowest-tier cable internet packages, plus offers the added benefit of being mobile.
  2. If you’re planning on replacing your cable TV connection with a Netflix subscription (what an excellent idea, by the way), plug your nose and subscribe to cable internet with Northwestel.
  3. If you need to check the weather or a sports score in a pinch, maybe use the free wireless internet at McDonald’s, but otherwise avoid it like the plague. (And circle back to option 1 here: if you’ve got the mobile internet in your pocket, why consider the extreme risk of free public wireless internet?)

Hard Work

It too often goes unmentioned, but ensuring that you’re operating in as secure an environment as is currently technically possible requires commitment and hard work. In a nutshell, you must:

  1. Stay up to date with an understanding of evolving dangers online;
  2. Make sure you have security software installed (yes, even on a Mac);
  3. Keep your computer is up to date with the latest security patches and software upgrades.

On the matter of security software, here are my recommendations:

  1. Intego VirusBarrier to protect your from malware on a Mac;
  2. Little Snitch to protect you from network intrusions on a Mac;
  3. Kaspersky Internet Security for a full suite of protection on a Windows PC; or
  4. Microsoft Windows 8’s built-in “Defender” is also a good (and free) option.

So you either need to commit the time to adopting “The Way of the Geek,” or you need to pay an actual professional geek to do it for you. It’s time or it’s money, your choice.

Which leads to a big question this group of seniors had: who is available in Whitehorse to provide this service? We brainstormed a bit to identify computer support service providers in Whitehorse, and came up with this list (presented in no particular order):

  1. Mid-Arctic
  2. Polarcom
  3. Computer Nerds for Hire
  4. Staples
  5. Computerisms
  6. Meadia Solutions

If there was one take-away from the group’s discussion about these companies, it was the exceptionally poor service that was generally provided by all of them. Some people did report positive experiences with a couple of the companies listed above. But it was clearly more common that these seniors suffered at the hands of these service providers than gained benefit. In the Whitehorse market, there’s clearly tremendous room for improvement in the quality of service provided to home computer users, particularly seniors.

For the time being, how can you choose between them? My advice is call them all for a chat and pick the one that is the most polite, respectful, patient, and offers to support you in a way you feel comfortable with. Hopefully at least one of them fits the bill.

Passwords, Damn Passwords

Passwords are the bane of existence. I hate them. No, I loathe them.

But. They are also the keys to our security online. Literally. They’re like keys that we open doors with. And so, while it pains me to say it, as we have a different key to every door in our lives, we must have different passwords for every online service we encounter. And every password must be incomprehensibly complex.

Here are the password rules I set out in the session:

  • Never recycle a password
  • Never share a password
  • A password should be longer than 8 characters
  • A password should never contain a dictionary word
  • A password should have a combination of:
    • Upper case letters
    • Lower case letters
    • Numbers
    • Special characters
  • Change all passwords regularly
  • Don’t write your passwords down

That’s crazy! Try to remember just one password that follows those rules. Now consider that many of us engage with dozens — hundreds, even (if you’re like me, that is) — of online services every day. And try to remember all of those passwords. No wonder the world has settled on “123456” as a standard password. Less strain on the brain, eh?

That might be the case, but if that’s your password, you may as well not have a password at all. And while you’re at it, just leave your doors unlocked. It’s really important to use complicated passwords that are different everywhere. But how can you remember all of them?

Many geeks will give you this rule: don’t use password management software. I hate that rule. It’s dumb. It’s the same as saying, don’t put all your keys on the same key ring, or don’t put all your cards in one wallet. Of course there’s a risk of someone gaining access to your password collection. But when it’s a question of using “qwerty” as your password on two-dozen web sites, versus having a invariably complex jumble of characters for every online service, I say go with the latter. If you’re smart about it, and protect that collection as you would your wallet or key ring, you’ll be fine.

To assist in maintaining a balance between sanity and password security, here is some software I recommend you consider:

About that last service I mention there, Abine’s Do Not Track Me also lets you create unlimited, alias email addresses on the fly to mask your identity and control the flow of unsolicited communication. When you consider that a password only represents 50% of your security solution, the other half commonly being your email address, it makes sense to be able to obscure the entirety of your online identity.

In a nutshell, when you sign up for online services, Do Not Track Me will generate an anonymous email address for you on the fly, hiding your real email address from the service provider. Then when the service provider sends you an email, the Do Not Track Me service secretly redirects it to your real email address. If the service provider resells your email address, and you start to receive unsolicited messages, you can track that and potentially cut it off without having to sacrifice your real email address.

Again, you’re putting a lot of trust into Abine as a company, but I feel the benefit is worth it.

In Closing

Being online requires that you are:

  1. Educated;
  2. Prepared;
  3. Smart; and
  4. Cautious.

The internet world is not so different from what we experience day-to-day, but it’s easy to get distracted by its gee-whiz factor. If you make sure you’re equipped with good defensive tools and conduct yourself wisely, however, your threats level will be minimized.


Continuum vs. Curriculum

I was fortunate to attend a meeting with a group of progressive educators yesterday and was struck by one aspect of the conversation: the idea of an educational continuum as opposed to a curriculum.

After some deep thought on this matter I find that this concept is inherent in contemporary society, and key to being an effective modern citizen.

A curriculum, after all, suggests an endpoint. It’s a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. What’s more, it often excludes self-reflection. We each are segregated into one aspect of something, be it work, play, or learning. Instead, someone else – yes, like a teacher – assesses you. The idea of a curriculum depends on there being a second or third party as a gatekeeper to allow you to progress through it.

A continuum is an all-encompassing iterative approach to living, working, and learning. There is no end, and our dependencies on others become a matter of collaboration more than exclusion. Our steps in a process are small and circle back on themselves. We are required to have a fuller awareness of ourselves, our surroundings, and our social groups.

The concept of continuum is embedded in our evolving society. Think of games. The board games of the last century had a beginning and end. Video games are all about repetition and self-evaluation, often in a never-ending pursuit of constant improvement. Think of Minecraft. Then there’s the old concept of a “career,” with a pension and full-on retirement at the end. That’s no longer relevant. Instead, as life and work overlap, there is a growing approach to professionalism that involves cycling through a variety of jobs through life right up until death.

Life is not linear. It’s an ever-evolving cycle. It’s a continuum, not a curriculum. It’s nice to see learning moving that way.

Northwestel Internet Service Problem Revisited: Upload Throttles Download

I wrote about this problem with Northwestel’s internet service earlier this year (Internet in the North is Broken), but it deserves addressing again since it so significantly impacts the quality of service we get from our monopoly internet provider.

To keep it simple, let’s say there are two “roads” included with Northwestel’s internet service. On one road you can drive data out of the Yukon, on the other you can drive data in. Each road has a different speed limit on it. The road in has a speed limit of 50 km/h. The road out has a speed limit of 2 km/h.

In other words, you can drive data into the Yukon at a reasonably fast rate, but if you want to drive data out, it’ll take you a while.

The road in to the Yukon is used to “download” information from the internet. That could include anything from a web page you’re viewing, to a Netflix movie you’re watching. The road out of the Yukon is used to “upload” data. That might be anything from sending an email message, to uploading photos to a web service.

The unreasonably slow speed limit on the road out of the Yukon is bad enough. What makes it worse, however, is this: if you take full advantage of it, it will impact the speed limit on the road into the Yukon.

Say, for example, you drive some data out of the Yukon at a speed of 1 km/h, half of the maximum speed rate on that road. That will effectively also reduce the speed limit of the road in by half, from 50 km/h to 25 km/h.

That’s bad enough, but here’s where it gets even worse: if you take full advantage of the road out’s speed limit and drive your data out of the Yukon at 2 km/h, or 100% of that road’s speed limit, the road in will be completely shut down. You won’t be able to drive any data into the Yukon until you’re finished driving your data out.

Here’s a chart to demonstrate this visually:

Northwestel Upload Throttling Effect Chart

The chart on the left illustrates the “potential” use of Northwestel’s $110 Internet 50 package. It offers a “download” rate – the road into the Yukon – of 50 Mbps (which I’ve previously referred to as 50 km/h). For the road out of the Yukon, it offers an “upload” rate of 2 Mbps. I’ve referred to these combined rates as the service’s “potential.”

The second chart illustrates what happens when you use the upload portion of the service at a rate of 50% of its potential, or 1 Mbps. The download portion of the service is effectively cut in half. Finally, the third chart shows you what happens when you maximize your upload potential – it effectively kills the download portion of the service.

When you consider Northwestel’s Internet 50 service, you would imagine that it offers two things at the same time: a download rate of 50 Mbps AND an upload rate of 2 Mbps. Reality is much different however – those two aspects of the service never occur simultaneously. So with Northwestel’s Internet 50 package, you get EITHER a 50 Mbps download rate OR a 2 Mbps upload rate. You never get the two aspects of the service fully at the same time.

There is one further problem with Northwestel’s internet service: if you drive data out of the Yukon at top speed for an extended period of time, both roads will break. In other words, if you drive data out of the Yukon consistently at 2 km/h for what I’ve generally found to be any longer than 5 minutes, the speed limit on both roads drops to 0 km/h. (On my modem this is often represented by a blinking orange light.)

Fixing the roads is relatively easy – you just have to reset your modem by unplugging the power cable, counting to 10, and plugging it back in. But when you’re consistently uploading data throughout the day and the roads repeatedly break, it can become a hassle. (Plus there’s the fact that my modem can often take upwards of 10 minutes to properly reset.)

(I’ve sort of worked around this by plugging my cable modem into a timer plug that automatically cycles the power to my modem every 30 minutes. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s cut down on how much I have to run up and down stairs to reset the modem.)

You may not have experienced this problem to the extreme that I have. I’m a heavy user of cloud services like Apple’s PhotoStream, Dropbox, Google Drive and online photo services like ThisLife and Google Picasa. Each month I drive about the same amount of data out of the Yukon as I drive in.

So I frequently maximize my use of that road out, and I frequently have to reset my modem. (In fact, as I wrote this blog post I had to reset my modem 3 times.)

The way the average user may have experienced the problem, however, is with a general sense of service degradation.

For example, someone may be upstairs watching a movie on Netflix on Apple TV or XBox, as someone else arrives home after taking a lot of pictures with an iPhone. As the iPhone accesses the home network, it will begin to take over the outbound road by uploading those photos to PhotoStream. And that action will effectively cut off the road into the house and kill the Netflix movie stream.

The average user is unable to recognize the cause and effect of the situation because the online services are largely invisible. It’s at this point most people grumble and say something like, “The internet connection into the Yukon sucks!” When, in fact, it’s how the internet connection is being used locally that is causing the problem.

There’s irony in this: Northwestel gets cursed for a large problem, when the issue is actually much smaller and more local.

And easy to fix. Here’s how: Northwestel could remove the upload rate limit from all accounts. That 2 km/h speed limit is completely artificial. It’s placed there as a “behavioural modifier” (the same mind game some parents play on their young children) to deter customers from “misusing” their internet connection.

Redundantly, Northwestel already has a better, arguably more effective, behavioural modifier in place: the data cap and its associated overuse penalties.

Northwestel internet accounts include a set amount of data volume each month. With the Internet 50 plan it’s 150 GB. It really doesn’t matter if that data is driven into the Yukon or driven out. Either way, it’s all the same.

Should a customer exceed that monthly cap, Northwestel has the weighty hammer of the overuse penalty to knock us with. Again, it doesn’t matter if the extra data is uploaded or downloaded, we get charged $5 per GB all the same.

Unfortunately, Northwestel is disinclined to entertain improving service quality in the interests of customers (believe me, I’ve raised this issue with its marketing team), and instead remains steadfastly committed to its obtuse, illogical marketing plan. So in the absence of competition, that leaves us forced to develop our own workarounds to the shortcomings of Northwestel’s internet service, of which I’ll write about another day.

For now, suffice to say in closing that the internet in the North remains broken and is likely to stay broken for some time to come.

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Cell Phones are Shackles at Bell Prison

If you’re a Bell customer, the company will make you its prisoner next month when it turns your mobile phone into the equivalent of an ankle bracelet that tracks your every move.

And your contract with Bell will become your prison sentence that indentures you to suffer an nigh-escapable term of information servitude to the company.

Starting November 16, Bell will collect data about where you go, who you phone, what apps you use, what web sites you visit, along with many others details about how, when, and where you use your mobile device. Continue reading

We Can’t Trust NorthwesTel

Everybody has at least one “NorthwesTel Sucks!” story. A couple of weeks back we all got a new one.

As any customer so unfortunate as to be incarcerated in NorthwesTel’s service structure knows, it’s a constant struggle to live within the prison of painfully low data caps that the company provides.

Even NorthwesTel’s most expensive internet package offers a data limit so low that it’s nearly impossible to avoid exceeding it in this age of Netflix, YouTube and Steam.

And if you do go over? Oh boy, you could mortgage a small house with the fiscal punishment NorthwesTel will inflict.

To help us avoid being beaten down with those overuse penalties, the company provides us with an ad hoc tool for keeping track of how much internet data we use.

The problem is, it’s difficult to use, it’s undependable, and it’s prone to failure.

So none of us should be surprised that just last month this crude data monitoring and alert system that NorthwesTel duct-taped together a few years back inexplicably broke. Continue reading

On Penis Swords and Parental Responsibility

Recently, an 11-year-old girl explained to me how her 10-year-old brother got a dildo gun and penis sword in Saints Row IV, a video game that was released last month.

A couple of days later my 9-year-old son and his 10-year-old friend came home and shared with me a playground discussion about their friend’s exploits in a “strip joint” in Grand Theft Auto 5.

“She was, like, waving her butt in his face!” the friend explained to me, obviously barely able to even conceive of such an act.

It might strike some as shocking that there are such things as dildo guns and strip clubs in video games. Others might be angry that children are being exposed to them.

After some discussion with these kids, however, there was a much more disquieting issue at play: a complete lack of parental engagement. Continue reading

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Values Telus Brings to the Yukon

It’s old news that Telus has begun to provide mobile phone services in Whitehorse (so bear with me as I briefly rehash it here).

As of last Friday you can subscribe to Telus in Whitehorse. The company will sell you a new mobile number in the 867 area code, or move a number you already have to their service.

Right now you can only do that online or by calling their northern “hotline” at 1-866-359-6764.

Before Christmas, though, Telus will open a retail store in Whitehorse, where you’ll be able to try out phones before you buy them. I’ve been told that the store will offer a level of support and service that is unprecedented in the local market. (It won’t be hard to improve on what we currently have, however.)

In terms of actual telephone and data service from Telus, it’ll be virtually identical to what you get from Bell or Latitude. But that’s not surprising, since they all share the same technical infrastructure.

And it will surprise no one that the devices the companies want to sell you are all nearly identical.

Telus does have a very minor cost advantage, though. After evaluating plans from the two southern carriers I’ve found the new entrant’s pricing to be about 10% lower than Bell’s.

So the popular criticism of Canada’s telecommunications industry rings true even in the North: there’s no real competition, just competitors.

The difference, then, will be in the value and values of Telus in a broader sense.

Charity and community is clearly key to Telus’ corporate outlook. The company currently holds the global title of “Philanthropic Company of the Year.”

Locally, Telus has already committed to donating a portion of its sales in Whitehorse to our invaluable Child Development Centre.

And the company topped up local 9-year-old fundraising aficionado, Cole Byers’s, jaw-dropping $15,000 to battle diabetes with a cheque for another $5,000.

All this before they’d even sold a phone here, and they promise there’s more to come.

But I think there’s a more important aspect of Telus that deserves attention and credit. Continue reading

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