Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pottery Barn, Jon Stewart, and online shopping from Quebec

When you live in Canada, you sometimes have to wait for the shiny, new products and services launched in the US to come here. 

In the 1970s, Burger King was rare in some parts of Canada, which made Whoppers an exciting treat when travelling with the family in the US. Same with Pizza Hut, Krispy Kreme, Marshall's, and Target. On the food side, there was Dr Pepper, Cookie Crisp cereal, and 100 Grand bars. Eventually, these things come to Canada (except for 100 Grand) and then the thrill is lost.

As more of our lives move online, Canadians are again finding themselves on the boring side of the border. Want to watch a funny Jon Stewart bit? Too bad. You can't watch it on the US website like everyone else. Websites know you're in Canada. Your internet provider is ratting you out.

The problem
In the part of Canada we call Quebec, there's an added layer of aggravation. Online commerce is being stifled by the Quebec language police who are asking online retailers to voluntarily block access to products on their website if it detects you are in Quebec. Here's a CTV News report.

What people in Quebec see when trying to browse at

Pottery Barn will ship items to Quebec, as long as you place your order from somewhere else.
The solution
What's the solution to this villainous impediment to free commerce? Here are two options.

Option 1: Much like the situation in the former Soviet Union when visitors from the West smuggled in blue jeans, ask a friend or relatives in the free parts of North America to order your items online for you. Maybe companies will spring up to place orders on behalf of beleaguered Quebecers.

Option 2: Why rely on the kindness of others when you can use technology to sweep aside the infamy of the language police. Use a VPN service to mask your location. Instead of Pottery Barn thinking you are in Quebec, you can trick them into thinking you are in the free cities of Toronto, New York, London, or Sydney. 

How does the VPN service work? You pay, then download the software to your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and then launch the software. Pick from one of dozens of locations when you want Pottery Barn to think you live somewhere less Quebecish. Now you can browse and buy. No more Soviet-style restrictions.
Which should you use. You can check the recommendations at Lifehacker. But here's what I use: ExpressVPN. The cost is $99.95 US per year.
Stores won't know you are in Quebec. You can shop freely. And as an added bonus, you can watch that Jon Stewart clip too.

ExpressVPN is a service that tricks websites like into believing you are not in Quebec. Now you can shop without being blocked.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Superman II Niagara Falls scene: how long should it have taken the boy to fall

If you grew up watching Superman II (1980) one of your favourite scenes was when Clark changes into Superman and saves the kid from falling into Niagara Falls. What follows is a shocking revelation I have uncovered thanks to the Internet and science. 

First, the science. The force of gravity, g = 9.8 m/s2. That means that gravity accelerates you at 9.8 meters per second per second. So, after one second, you're falling 9.8 m/s. After two seconds, you're falling 19.6 m/s, and so on. Source

The second fact to keep in mind is Niagara Falls has a drop of 51 meters. Source

Finally, in the movie it takes approximately 29 seconds from the time the boy begins to fall to the time Superman catches him near the bottom.

But according to the free fall calculator, it should take 3.23 seconds for the boy to hit the water.

Conclusion: Superman II is based on faulty science.

I'm worried what my investigation into Lex Luthor's Alpha Wave machine with uncover.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Quebec language censors discover Facebook

The OQLF has threatened a small business owner with a fine for violating Quebec's language censorship laws. Her offence? Posting more English than French words on her Facebook page she uses to promote her business.

The problem is not the OQLF. It is the language censorship laws. These laws are intrinsically bad. Censorship is an evil. The application of censorship will always make the censor look foolish by trying to regulate one of our most basic human needs -- the desire to communicate in our own way.

Here is how people respond to the news that the OQLF has discovered Facebook.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Trudeau's 1970 speech about "troubled period in this province" has echoes of 2014

Anthony Housefather (@AHousefather), the mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, has tweeted a front page story in The Gazette from February 8, 1970, that reports on Prime Minister Trudeau's speech at a B'Nai Brith Canada event. Trudeau told the mostly Jewish audience the following:
"I am aware we are passing through a troubled period in this province, and that being a member of a minority in these circumstances can be cause for apprehension. I know that many members of the Jewish community share this feeling and have doubts about their future in Quebec. If I can speak as a member of one minority to another -- stick with it. With all your energies and abilities play your full part in this society, which you have helped to build and insist on your rights as members of it."
The exact same speech could be given today, which is incredibly depressing.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Samuel Moskovitch on the front page of The Gazette, Monday, February 8, 1970

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New York State just showed Quebec's narrow-minded politicians how a confident and tolerant society acts

The New York state assembly passed a bill this week to prohibit discrimination of any worker for the “wearing of any attire, clothing or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion.”

You can read the text here:

This bill would  clarify  that  the wearing of any attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements  of  his  or  her  religion  is protected under the Human Rights Law. [...] 
Section one  of  the  bill  would  clarify  that  it  is  an  unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to require a person to violate or  forego  the wearing attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his  or  her  religion  unless  the  employer demonstrates  that it is unable to reasonably accommodate the person's religious practice without  undue  hardship  on  the  conduct  of  the employer's business. [...] 
This bill is intended to protect the religious rights of all New Yorkers. An example of the need for this bill is a case  in New  York  City where a member of the Sikh religion who worked for the MTA was ordered to remove his turban and wear the  MTA  hat.  When  he objected,  on religious ground, the MTA responded that he may wear the turban if he affixes an MTA badge to the front. This was  unacceptable as  wearing a turban is a solemn religious duty for Sikhs and affixing a badge to it would not be religiously proper. This bill would  ensure that  persons  like  the  gentleman  described above will no longer be discriminated at their places  of  work  because  of  their  religious duties.