GIANT PANDAS coming to the Toronto Zoo this May.

Image

With summer around the corner, I’ve been trying to convince my wife that we should take a family trip to the Toronto Zoo. Our oldest daughter Amina is 21 months old which is old enough to enjoy looking at the animals from her picture books. Last year we went to African Lion Safari when she was under one but at the time she didn’t really understand what was going on.  It’ll be interesting to see what her reactions to real live animals will be like this time.

Toronto-Zoo_canadian_design

This summer the Toronto Zoo has an exhibit featuring two new Pandas: Er Shun and Da Mao and their exhibit opens May 18. Did you know that Pandas are carnivores?  Most people think they only eat Bamboo, but their diet consists of 90% bamboo and 10% other food items including meat like birds and rodents. These two pandas won’t be short on bamboo since FedEx is delivering 600-900 kilograms from the Memphis Zoo in the United States two to three times per week, to keep them well fed.  Pandas are very picky eaters. They will take a stalk of bamboo, smell it, and decide if they like it or not. If it doesn’t appeal to them, they will just toss it. I bet Amina wishes she could do that when we feed her blended Broccoli.

The pandas are only 1 of 500 species and there are over 5000 animals at the Toronto Zoo, being one of the biggest zoos in the world. We are pretty lucky to have it right in our backyard given that Pandas are an endangered species.    To find out more about the Toronto Zoo and its pandas check out this link.

Advertisements

Start Communications – A viable alternative to the Large ISP Oligopoly in Ontario

Wow!  It’s been a good 6 months since I have had the time to sit down and write a blog post. Between  2 babies under the age of two at home and work,  my personal blog got no love. Last September right before this blog went silent,  I e-interviewed Peter Rocca the President & CEO of Start Communications and I am quite embarrassed it has taken me so long to publish!

Even though I  have worked at two large telcos that provide Internet, I passionately support small business whenever possible. I prefer to support alternative internet and mobile phone providers due to the unfair consumer practices of the big Telcos.  The large ISP oligopoly has been hampering fair access to high speed internet for Canadians and a Macleans writer went as far as to say that the current competitive landscape means that Canadians have the equivalent of “third world Internet Access”.

I bought my wife a cell phone from Wind and I signed up for Start Communications cable internet since I am a big fan of small companies that offer competitive products at fair prices. For Internet, Start offered the best combination of price and speed that I could find in Oakville.   For $49.95 a month they provide 30 Mbps internet down and 2 Mbps upload with 200 GB of bandwidth   Even as a moderately heavy and tech savvy user using Bit-torrent and Netflix I usually only download 30 GB a month and the most I have ever used is 110 GB so the Start limit is more than enough for me.

Their customer support is local to Ontario and the staff has proven to be much more knowledgeable than the outsourced staff I dealt with when subscribed to a small DSL ISP and much better than the unqualified support at the large incumbent ISPs that read off scripts.

Start Communications great service at an unbeatable price led me to convince my in-laws to switch from their Big ISP to Start since they had been regularly overcharged and subject to some unfair billing practices.  The great price and after sales service led me to become an advocate for Start.

Below you’ll find my interview with Start Communications President Peter Rocca who is leading the battle to provide Canadians with affordable and fast internet:

Q1) Why should customers choose Start  Communications over a Rogers, Bell or Cogeco for Internet Service?

A1)      We find customers choose us over the big incumbent players for a number of reasons. Some come to us because of our reputation for exceptional support, some come for the lower pricing and others because we offer a competitive alternative with higher usage limits than the media companies provide – allowing ample use of Netflix or Youtube. While we offer a higher-value product at a better cost, it’s really the support that differentiates ourselves and keeps customers with us for the long-haul.

Q2.)   I hadn’t heard of Start until a few weeks before I signed up for service in the summer of 2012. How long have you been around and who can get your service?

A2)      We’ve been offering internet services since the mid-90’s and provide services to the majority of Ontarians.

Q3.)  I noticed that some zipcodes have 18 Mbps service and others have 28 Mbps for the same 49.99 price. Why is that the case?

A3)      There are a number of different vendors we contract with to access to the coaxial cable or telephone lines that run into customer homes. The speed of the packages can differ due to technical or costing differences between the suppliers we work with and generally will match the speeds offered by the cable/telephone company that are available in the same area.

Q4.) How does your team use social media?

A4.)      As an online pioneer, social media has been a very important part of our evolution. We use it every day to stay engaged with our customers in online communities — answering questions about our services, providing technical support and account assistance, as well as keeping customers updated with new developments as they become available.

Q5.) Do you think we’ll see independent IPTV  from companies such as yours in Canada?

A5)      Independent servers providers such as ourselves have often been catalysts in the advancement of new products and services such as VoIP and IPTV. There are some current regulatory challenges we’re working through with the CRTC, but we’re an adaptive industry and consumers will continue to see alternative options for services such as television and phone.

Q6.) What has been your companies biggest challenge or hurdle? Does the CRTC help the big guys or the little guys? 

A6)      One of the biggest challenges has been operating in an industry where your largest suppliers are also your direct competitors. In the past couple of years many independent providers have come together to form an organization known as the Canadian Network Operators Consortium or CNOC. We’re proud to be a part of this important organization and have worked heavily with the CRTC to promote an understanding of our industry. In a relatively short period of time we’ve seen some positive decisions from the Commission benefiting Canadians and I am optimistic that they will continue to serve consumers by creating a sustainable framework for competitive services in Canada.

Jimmy Kimmel told people on the street an iPhone 4S was an iPhone 5. Hilarity ensues.

This is pretty funny … an iPhone 5 placebo effect.

Refugees to Canada need to seek Refuge from uncaring Tories.

Image

On Friday, doctors in several cities across Canada protested the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) announced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenny. The changes come as part of new tougher reforms to refugee legislation. The IFHP gives health-care coverage to refugee claimants and protected persons who do not qualify for provincial or territorial coverage. Most of these people are fleeing war, torture or rape and as such, these cuts will leave the most vulnerable people in our society more disenfranchised.

The changes will go into effect on June 30 2012, after which claimants will be denied access to a range of hospital services, medications and vaccines unless their situation is deemed urgent as defined by the new policy. In scenarios given by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, individuals will only be treated if their condition poses a risk to public health or safety. Individuals with chronic diseases such as lung disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease will not be covered since they do not pose a public health or safety risk. The Conservatives have justified the cuts with claims that it saves money, promotes fairness, and protects public health.

Canada has always been known as a global leader of humanitarian concerns. It seems that the changes made by the Government are inconsistent with Canadian values. Do we want to be a society that will not take care of the most vulnerable among us? As Ghandi once said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”. Perhaps this is a step in the wrong direction, what do you think?

Mayor Ford & Torontos Fast Food Obsession

Why are we obsessed with his eating habits? 

Fast food has been in the news lately. This Tuesday a Torontonian filmed our Mayor Ford entering a KFC on Jane St. near Wilson Ave and mocked him for eating there. The video was feature prominently on http://www.thestar.com. The video was rude and The Star was being TMZ like in its promotion of the video … but it did make me reflect on the prominent role that fast food plays in our lives.

A recent study looked at six major fast food chains, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway, operating in 6 different countries, Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.  The study found that Canada is one of the countries that serves the saltiest food, United States being the first and the worst.  Research indicates that too much salt intake leads to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.  If other countries can serve food with less salt, then what is wrong with our country?

Popeyes deep fried chicken – a Toronto favourite

I propose that our government collect studies  comparing levels of blood pressure in countries and it’s correlation with Fast Food consumption. Then I propose that a tax be levied on fast food and foods with trans fats to discourage consumption. In the long term it may even help reduce health care costs … and it may motivate me to curb my own cravings of Hero Burgers (one of the few halal burger joints in the GTA).

A Toronto landmark takes a break – Ontario Place shutting down until 2017.

Toronto - Ontario Place

Ontario Place is temporarily closing until its expected revitalization in 2017.  Some areas of Ontario Place will be ready for the 2015 Pan Am Games, and privately run attractions (Atlantis, the Molson Amphitheatre and marina) will remain open throughout the redevelopment.  Ontario Place was opened on Victoria Day in 1971 and was welcomed as a ‘beacon of the future’, an achievement which represented Ontario’s richness and untouched potential. Four decades ago, newspapers acclaimed the ‘futuristic playground’ made into Lake Ontario on manmade islands and creative pods.  Its closure and revitalization is due to its inability to make a profit since its opening year when 2.5 million people visited the attraction.  Last year,  Ontario Place saw about 1 million visitors and half that number only walk through it to get to the Molson Amphitheatre.

My wife and I enjoyed the attraction in 2010 and we had quite an adventure that saw a bag I was carrying with food and my glasses drop into the propeller of a bumper boat. The food was lost, the glasses got scratched and the boat’s motor started releasing smoke … good times. I’m  looking forward to going back in 2017 when Ontario Place becomes a futuristic Toronto attraction again.

Reflections on becoming a father to a premature baby – 6 month retrospective

Amina and me

Life completely changes when you become a parent, especially when you become a parent 6 ½ weeks earlier than expected.

My daughter, Amina will be 6 months old this week and it’s about time I wrote this blog post about our experience being the parents of a premature baby.  Amina  was born on August 1, 2011, 6 ½ weeks premature weighing just over 5 pounds.   My wife Farzana woke up one day crying that contractions have started, but it was too early – only 33 weeks.  Coincidentally, just before sleeping,  we had attended our pre-natal class and the instructor had taught us about “fake contractions” called Braxton-Hicks and stressed that they are common and that we  shouldn’t worry if we encounter them.  I thought that she was experiencing Braxton Hicks with the lessons of our class fresh in my mind. I tried to get her to relax and did not take them very seriously.  When the contractions kept getting closer and closer towards  the morning, she called her doctor and they told her to get assessed at the hospital.  We got to the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga and the contractions were not fake  …  they were the real ones.

Farzana was admitted in the hospital and closely monitored.  I slept on the bench/couch beside her bed for 4 days and took time off work.  She was given a drug, Indocin, to stop the contractions and was told it could suppress contractions for as little as a day or last until full term .  She was also given Celestone injections to develop the baby’s lungs because before 34 weeks of gestation, babies’ lungs aren’t fully matured.  On the fourth night the contractions had stopped so they discharged her the next morning. We felt pretty confident and were hoping the drug would continue to work but the contractions started again the next day and Baby Amina was ready to push her way out.

The labour ended up taking almost 12 hours in the hospital and I was pretty scared to see my wife looking like she was possessed and in extreme pain . I tried to convince her to get the epidural or try laughing gas but she refused due to what she had read about side effects and recovery times. All I could do was feed her cold water and encourage her throughout the process. It was scary, but at the same time exciting and I was really proud of my wife.

Farzana and I wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise but I was pretty sure we were having a boy from one of the ultrasound printout we got at the hospital months earlier.  When Amina came out, I was surprised when I saw it was a girl.  Amina is the cutest thing I ever saw.  Thankfully the drugs the hospital had injected had worked and she was able to breathe on her own but required a feeding tube through her nose.  My daughter was in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) for 11 days.  She was poked with several needles and had an IV drip feeding her for the first couple of days.  It was really hard to see her like that and not the way we would have pictured seeing our baby shortly after birth. As a first time father, I was clueless about how to take care of her.  Farzana and I visited her every day while rushing to get together all the baby stuff we hadn’t bought since we thought we had lots of time before the baby would come.   The Credit Valley Hospital nurses were generally nice and taught us how to change diapers, swaddle her, bathe her, and feed her.  While there, I was really grateful that we live in a country with free and equal access to healthcare for everyone.

Amina improved every day, became more reactive and started to regain the weight that she had lost over the first few days.  The final step was to pass a car seat test before being released.  She had to sit in her car seat for 1 ½ hours while being hooked up to the monitors to monitor her breathing.  She was able to breathe well so they discharged her.  My baby was finally coming home and I was so excited!

My life has completely changed.  I am a parent!  I feed Amina, change her diaper (only number 1 when possible because number 2 is just too gross), enjoy playing with her, and rock her to sleep.  She is doing really well and already reaching some milestones.  She started this weird back crawl at 4 months but according to her adjusted age (since she is premature), she really started crawling at 2 ½ months!  She started flipping over at 5 ½ months but according to her adjusted age, she really started flipping over at 4 months!  We started solids with her (rice cereal) and it’s going ok so far.  I fed her the first spoon.   The only downside of being a parent is the sleepless nights because of a crying baby who seems to wake up a million times in the night to feed or play.  She’s a handful even during the day now that she is developing a strong personality.  It’s okay though because I love her so much! My job keeps me really busy and doesn’t allow me as much baby time as I want so I’m going to take 2 months of paternity leave  this summer to help out more.  I eagerly look forward to spending time with my baby girl.