Archive for March, 2006

Survey finds 20% of companies do not do regular back-ups

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

20 per cent of firms courting data disaster

Jim Jamieson

Small to medium-sized businesses in Vancouver still don’t get the backup concept, according to a survey conducted by Condor IT Solutions Inc.

The survey found that less than half of all companies surveyed have a disaster recovery plan in case of computer crash, theft or natural disaster.

The survey also found that 56 per cent rely on outdated backup and recovery systems, and a shocking one in five companies has no data backup system whatsoever.

Condor interviewed 184 small to medium-sized companies, including law, accounting and architectural firms, retailers and restaurants.

“Most people don’t realize that data lost from a computer crash isn’t covered by business-interruption insurance, but it can be as devastating to a business as a fire or flood,” said Norm Friend, president of Condor IT Solutions.

Forty-six per cent of local companies reported that one full day without access to their data could put them out of business, while 74 per cent of professional services — such as lawyers and accountants — reported that their business’s future would be “threatened” by a full day without data access.

Despite this, only 31 per cent keep a copy of their software off site.

Friend’s company developed DataVault, a data backup and recovery system aimed at making the backup process simpler and more affordable. The system compresses, transfers and stores a customer’s files in external hard drives that are attached to a pair of DataVaults — about the size of a shoe box.

One is stored in the office, while a second is put in a remote location. Both are connected to the Internet.

“If they’ve got a local DataVault in their office, their information backs up to that one and then at night it backs up to one at their home,” said Friend.

“It goes over the Internet and is encrypted. If their system goes down or their office burns down, they can go to the remote location and you’re back in business.”

Friend said the service, which is monitored for activity but not content, costs $500 for setup and installation and $150 a month.

© The Vancouver Province 2006


22 berth marina in front of Beach Crescent neighbourhood approved by city council

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Residents in False Creek area are concerned about views, safety and late parties

David Carrigg

The controversial development of a marina in Vancouver’s False Creek got the go-ahead last night despite a last-ditch protest by some residents living nearby.

Norton Youngs, who has lived aboard a boat in a co-op in the creek for the past 30 years, said the amount of boat traffic in the small body of water has increased dramatically over the years.

“There’s 1,200 boats coming and going on a busy day,” Youngs told the City of Vancouver’s development permit board.

Youngs said wayward barges and log booms have caused potentially deadly situations over the past few years in False Creek.

Concord Pacific has planned a marina in front of its Beach Neighbourhood development on the north shore of False Creek since 2001.

Despite city council permission for a 22-berth facility, the developer has been battling residents concerned with water safety, views being blocked by 30-metre monster boats and fear of all-night parties aboard the boats.

Last night was the residents’ last effort to get the development permit board to reject the application on the basis it didn’t meet zoning requirements for the area.

Arn Coleman told the board council’s decision to allow the marina “didn’t value False Creek” and that navigation and boat safety issues hadn’t been addressed.

David Negrin, Concord’s senior vice-president of development, said the biggest danger posed in False Creek is by squatters who often moor in the creek’s small navigation lane.

“We get this all the time. There’s 16 people here [at the meeting] and thousands living in our developments,” he said.

Negrin said it will likely cost $100,000 to buy a 30-metre berth.

Senior city planner Larry Beasley and other board members ultimately approved the marina, subject to several conditions.

© The Vancouver Province 2006


new dynamic businesses want to be downtown

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Residential use competes with office use for ultra-valuable space

Frances Bula

Vancouver has been wildly successful at attracting regular people, complete with their dogs and baby strollers, to the downtown. Some are wondering what impact that is having on the traditional downtown of the suit-and-briefcase crowd. Photograph by : Mariken Van Nimwegen, Vancouver Sun

In Portland, business groups started fretting a decade ago that the city’s downtown was turning into a party and shopping zone at the expense of real jobs.

In Toronto, people are celebrating this week because the city’s first major office tower is being planned after a 14-year hiatus.

In New York, analysts are warning that a severe shortage of office space may drive people to the suburbs.

Welcome to the new, 21st century urban preoccupation, after four decades of trying to lure people into living and partying downtown: Making sure that downtowns are home to businesses, not just homes, hotels and tourists.

That’s being driven by a new dynamic: businesses that want to be downtown. Just like condo buyers, they’ve decided that being downtown is cool, and convenient.

In Vancouver, the city that has come to epitomize the successful residential downtown to envious planners and politicians across North America, that has produced a crucial crossroads moment during which the downtown is about to be reshaped in a dramatic way

“You can certainly expect the definition of the ‘metropolitan core’ to explode,” the city’s influential planning director, Larry Beasley, said to a sold-out crowd of developers recently, as he described a Vancouver with an enhanced new downtown district that extends out to False Creek Flats, to 16th Avenue and across to Burrard.

Beasley didn’t mention it in his speech, but city planners are also looking at every option to provide space for office-based business. That could include increasing the allowed height of buildings in the core downtown, expanding the “office-only” zone and shrinking or eliminating some of what’s called the “choice-of-use” zones in which developers once had the option of residential or commercial.

“We have a lot of options to create space,” says Ronda Howard, the planner who has been conducting the first phase of the city’s massive metro core study. She’s about to take the findings from the first phase –who is living and working where in downtown Vancouver — on the road to take public feedback before planners make their decisions about which options they should use.

Former Vancouver planning director Ray Spaxman also says the city has reached a turning point at which it needs to make some critical decisions, the way it did 35 years ago, when he and the council of the day established the foundation for the “Living First” downtown.

“This is when Vancouver has to break out. When commercial needs to grow, it needs a downtown,” says Spaxman.

That’s all very different from a mere three years ago, when Vancouver city planners decided to allow two residential buildings in the core business district, the Hudson at the corner of Granville and Dunsmuir and the Shangri-La, at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow.

Both were proposed for long-moribund sites and both came with the enticement of providing the city with valuable perks: heritage restorations, a new wheelchair accessible entrance to the SkyTrain at one, a public art garden at the other.

In keeping with a policy set in 1997, planners commissioned an independent study to assess whether there was a healthy 20-year land supply for offices downtown before it would allow such an unusual use conversion. The report concluded there was.

However, city planner Andy Coupland took a closer look at the background statistics for the report and became alarmed at what he saw. Yes, there was a healthy office supply if a certain percentage of sites in the “choice-of-use” areas were developed as offices. That didn’t seem to be happening. Everything was going to residential, where the ability to sell condos for $350 a square foot and more was trumping office space that rents for $15 to $25 a square foot per year.

Those two projects, along with the conversion of the former Westcoast Transmission building into the residential Qube project and a number of others, also set off alarm bells for another set of people: the commercial real-estate brokers. Added to that, the whole office market destabilized as other owners played with the idea of converting to residential.

“There was a huge uproar about the Hudson,” says Wendy Waters, research director for Avison Young, and commercial brokers have been beating the drum about the need to make sure the city makes room for office space.

“What the commercial sector is saying is that it’s gone too far,” says Waters. Avison’s report featured nine buildings with Xs through them, office buildings lost to residential, a total of three million square feet or four years’ supply at the current high absorption rates. It warns that some businesses will be forced into the suburbs over the next three years because of the lack of supply.

Currently, the only known office space planned downtown is in two mixed-use buildings. The Bentall V is building the second half of its tower at Burrard and West Pender, but that is already 93-per-cent leased.

Howard says the city has been approached by major office builders who appear poised to come in with formal applications, but it will likely take three years before any new building opens.

CBRE analyst Chris Clibbon points out the city has also lost commercial sites to residential in the equally important Broadway downtown, where the vacancy rate is lower than in the hard-pressed central business district.

Those losses are crucial, says Waters, because downtowns are still important.

“EA [Electronic Arts] can operate anywhere; it doesn’t need to leave the building. The reason why you need a downtown is so that companies that need to be in close proximity to each other — resource companies, legal, accounting — can do that. You lose efficiencies if you [divide those facilities].”

Downtowns are becoming attractive even for the companies that don’t strictly need them. EA wants to be downtown, as does Disney-based Propaganda Games and a host of others. While EA’s main operations are still in Burnaby, it leased offices in one of the last new office buildings constructed, sharing space with PriceWaterhouse Coopers.

That kind of blending is a trend in Vancouver offices, as Howard has discovered, as both new and traditional businesses have boomed and expanded or moved into the downtown. West Fraser Timber, one of the province’s major forest companies, shares a Yaletown building with the software developer Pivotal, while Relic Entertainment, TeeKay Shipping, and major insurance and investment offices share the Bentall V. Shaw Communications — purveyors of digital TV and the Internet –moved back downtown, sharing space with the construction company, Ledcor, and the Pattison empire.

“There was the trend to go back to the suburbs in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Now a lot want to move back downtown,” says Waters. “Being in the suburbs can be boring for employees. Companies that could go anywhere in the world are choosing Vancouver. The 24-hour downtown is attracting people. There aren’t very many of those in North America.”

That’s all quite a switch from the pattern of the past 50 years.

North American downtowns started going through profound changes as post-Second World War suburbanization altered the urban fabric forever. People moved out first and for a while, they commuted back to work in the traditional downtown. But by the 1970s, jobs were following them out to the suburbs.

Between 1979 and 1999, cities’ share of metropolitan office space significantly diminished, according to a comprehensive analysis by the Brookings Institute’s Center on Urban & Metropolitan Policy.

In those 20 years, office space dropped from 74 per cent to 58 per cent in central cores. By 1999, only New York and Chicago, of American cities, had a majority of office space in the primary downtown. In some cities, such as Philadelphia or Atlanta, the majority of office space was in the suburbs by the end of the century. Cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles did a little better, with their office space evenly split between their metropolitan cores and their suburbs.

Vancouver followed the trend. In 1982, the suburbs housed 25 per cent of the Lower Mainland’s offices. By 2002, it was 40 per cent.

The late ’90s dealt more blows to downtowns. Corporate mergers boiled down the business sector. Technology eliminated thousands of clerical workers. The high-tech boom collapsed.

“If you look around the world, the first-level cities are still building offices, London, New York,” says University of B.C. professor Tom Hutton, who has studied central cities for 25 years. “If you look at medium-sized North American cities, most of them have had a pretty slack office market for a while.”

The result was that residential developers flooded in during the 1990s, helped by city planners looking for ways to bring back the vitality downtowns once had.

“There were some people who even argued you could have a central-city economy based on consumption,” says Hutton.

Now the backlash has started with cities from Portland to San Antonio to Toronto publicly debating whether they have gone too far in turning their downtowns into residential playgrounds.

Like many urban analysts, Hutton thinks the predictions that Vancouver is turning into a resort city are hyperbolic. “It was an exaggeration for effect.”

The statistics generated specifically for Howard’s study also don’t paint a picture of a resort downtown where people need to commute to the suburbs to find work.

There are 220,000 jobs –140,000 office jobs among them — in what the city is now calling the metro core, the downtown-Broadway corridor-False Creek Flats nexus. About half of those jobs are held by people who live in the city; the other half are held by people who commute from the suburbs.

Conversely, about 60 per cent of people who live in the metro core work there. Just under a quarter work outside the city.

However, even though the sky is not falling, Hutton also believes it is time for Vancouver to develop a new plan for fostering production jobs in an expanded downtown.

Having a healthy production sector is vital for the city’s economy.

“You have a relatively small proportion of the land base supporting 40 per cent of the tax revenues here,” says Hutton.

That doesn’t mean going back to the old-style downtown of the 1950s that was the centre of the universe.

That can create its own problems. In Seattle, for example, there’s been considerable concern about the “runaway downtown” where too much space has been devoted to offices, stadiums and arts venues. The 15 million square feet of office space added to the city’s core since 1979, the Seattle Displacement Coalition argues, has created 50-60,000 more commuters to the downtown from the suburbs.

That group has argued in favour of the kind of plan the Lower Mainland developed 30 years ago, the Livable Region Strategic Plan, that envisions a central downtown and regional town centres, each with their balance of work and housing.

The problem in the Lower Mainland — bigger than the issue of Vancouver’s downtown — is that that kind of plan isn’t working either because of the competition between housing development and space for jobs.

Concert Properties CEO David Podmore said his company recently tried to buy a couple of sites where they could build office space in Richmond. They were out-bid by residential developers. The same holds true for North Vancouver, Burnaby and other places that were supposed to be regional town centres with satellite downtowns.

“Across the Lower Mainland, there is a trend toward residential uses taking over what once was commercial and industrial,” says Waters.

A recent study for the Greater Vancouver Regional District has highlighted a dire shortage of industrial land that is forcing businesses to go to Calgary because of a lack of space here.

Now that’s something to worry about.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Wireless networks open window to the future

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Marc Saltzman

Setting up a wireless network in the home is one of the hottest tech trends among Canadian computer users. After all, it’s not unusual for more than one PC to be found in a home today — desktop, laptop or wireless-enabled pocket computer — and why shouldn’t they all enjoy the same high-speed Internet connection?

In addition to allowing multiple computers to share the same Internet connection, a wireless network allows you to share the same peripheral between computers, such as a printer. Now you won’t have to buy one for each PC in the home.

What’s more, you can share files between multiple computers, such as listening to your favourite MP3s on any computer in the home. Or you can use a wireless Bluetooth headset with your laptop as a free long-distance phone via MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger or Skype.

This wireless revolution means not only can you avoid fishing wires through walls and floorboards, you don’t have to trade performance for convenience. Today’s wireless equipment can transmit information at 54 Mbps (megabits per second) or higher, which is much faster than your high-speed Internet connection.


As long as you have broadband Internet service — something more than 51 per cent of Canadian homes have today, according to Toronto’s Evans Research Corporation — just two other products are required: One is a wireless router, and the other is a wireless network adapter for any desktop or laptop computer you want to join the network. And you might not need the second item, as most laptops these days already boast built-in wireless network support.

Depending on the speed and features, wireless routers cost between $20 and $200 from manufacturers D-Link, Linksys or Netgear. Be sure to look for one that offers 802.11g technology, as it can transmit information between PCs roughly five times faster than the slightly older 802.11b technology. You may also see 802.11a on the box, which is also ideal as it operates on a different bandwidth (five gigahertz) than the “b” and “g” (at 2.4 Ghz); it should cause less interference with other wireless products such as cordless phones and baby monitors.

Wireless adapters for laptops or desktops can cost between $30 and $80, depending on the brand and speed.


Unplug the DSL or cable modem cord (a.k.a. “Ethernet” cable) from the computer, and plug it into the wireless router. The correct slot should be labelled with something like “Internet” or “To Modem.”

Plug the wireless router into the back of the PC with an available Ethernet cord, which may be included in the box with the router. The wireless router is now the “middle man” between your modem and your computer.

Next, install any software included with the router (if any); depending on your Internet provider, information about your computer may be required first. You also may be prompted to open your browser to type in some numbers to configure your new wireless router. The manual should provide any necessary help. You will also be asked to give your home network a name, such as “Home Network.”

Unless your computer or PDA (personal digital assistant) already has built-in wireless connectivity, you will need to install a supported Wi-Fi card or USB dongle into a laptop, or connect an internal or external adapter to a desktop computer. Then you’re ready to surf wirelessly.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Forget your wallet? Pay with your cellphone

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Using a phone to pay will become increasingly common in the future

Danny Bradbury

Jen Pederson was always getting parking tickets. The Saskatoon-based founder of freelance copy-editing agency Second Set of Eyes got caught without change for the meter while travelling to meetings with clients. But when Saskatoon became the first Canadian city to test-trial parking meter payments by mobile phone, it allowed her to solve her parking problems even when she didn’t have a loonie handy.

“Now I just dial a number and my parking’s paid. I don’t have to scrabble for spare change,” she says.

When Pederson reaches a meter, she calls a number provided by Calgary start-up New Parking and enters the parking meter’s ID. The system logs her as having parked and charges her credit card (it can also charge a debit card). Parking meter attendants using wireless devices will know she has paid, and won’t ticket her. When she’s done, she calls the number to end the transaction, which ends anyway after a maximum of two hours. She can even use broken parking meters this way.

Using your cellphone to pay for goods and services will become increasingly common in the future. Mobile phone companies already sell products to consumers via cellphones but they are electronic products designed to be delivered over a network, explains Roger Parks, vice-president of global products for QPass, a company that sells billing systems for mobile phone payments.

Selling ringtones, screensaver pictures and games for phones is one thing. The real trick will come in paying for other goods and services not designed to be delivered over a network.

“Those are consumable third-party goods where returns are not an issue. Parking meters will be the first one, and tickets for events will be the next one,” Parks says. It’s easy to imagine a future in which you buy a ticket online and present a code on a mobile phone screen to a ticket agent at an event, for example.

The third category will be low-priced physical goods such as coffee and items from vending machines, and the last and most challenging category will be “hard” consumer products, where product returns must be dealt with. “You’re talking fuzzy slippers and basketballs,” he quips.

Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Rogers Wireless are already preparing for mobile payments. Last November they formed Wireless Payment Services (WPS), a joint venture to develop a standard payment-processing system for mobile e-commerce.

It made more sense for them all to iron out the technical challenges together rather than reinventing the wheel with three separate systems, explains WPS president Jeff Chorlton.

“Once the consumer hits the checkout button on their mobile shopping mall or cart they would be routed to WPS,” he says.

“This will enable the consumer to finish the payment process using their debit or credit card, or another payment instrument.”

In the third quarter of 2006, WPS will launch the first phase of its service, enabling wireless users to top up pre-paid cellular accounts using their mobile phones. In the future, the system will go much further, essentially serving as a phone-based version of cards such as the commonly used Interac debit card. “We will marry the usage of credit cards and debit cards with the mobile device,” says Chorlton. “There will be no physical card to do the transaction.”

Over time, the system will enable customers to buy physical goods and services. For that, the system will require new features in mobile handsets. A promising technology is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) — a small radio device that can communicate with readers nearby.

“You’ll have a terminal, and a more intelligent handset that you will wave at the terminal,” Chortlon says. “The user will then be prompted to enter a pin number. That is ultimately what we’re looking at.”

North America is lagging far behind European countries like Finland, where customers have been able to pay for items like chocolate from vending machines for years.

As for Jen Pederson, she’s happy about not having to pay parking tickets anymore, but she has also developed a new and unsettling relationship with her phone.

“For a while I was getting SMS messages offering discounted rates at parking lots around the city,” she says, amused. When your parking meter starts stalking you and suggesting other meters you might like to try, it’s a sign the system may be getting just a little too smart.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

PC-free VoIP could deliver new level of service — and savings

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Two technologies have captured the public’s imagination

Danny Bradbury

Today, Wi-Fi hotspots are used primarily by Internet users on the move. Coffee-shop users who want to surf and sip can curl up with a laptop, read the news and check their e-mail. But if technology evangelists have their way, tomorrow the same networks will be used for convenient voice calls, bringing cost savings and new service features to mobile users.

Voice over IP using Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) brings together two technologies that have captured the public’s imagination. Wi-Fi has enabled users to cut their network cables and work from anywhere, while voice over IP (VoIP) has shaken up the telephony industry. Users tired of expensive long-distance phone bills have taken to making calls over the Internet using software that converts their voice signals to Internet traffic and reassembles it at the other end.

VoIP started off purely with PC-to-PC calls using headsets, but recently companies such as Skype have made it possible for users to call regular phone numbers from their PCs, and to take calls on their computers from regular phone users, too. Now, companies like Vonage let people make and receive VoIP calls without using a PC at all.

VoWiFi gives users the benefits of both technologies by letting them use VoIP over Wi-Fi links. In the past, people wanting VoWiFi would have to create a makeshift version of it themselves. Using a wireless laptop with Skype, for example, you can make calls from anywhere with a wireless hotspot. It works, but you need a PC headset, and it’s cumbersome when you’re on the move. It’s also annoying to wait for your laptop to boot if it’s turned off.

More convenient forms of VoWiFi are on the horizon and speeding towards us quicker than you might think. Wireless equipment vendor Netgear will soon launch a Wi-Fi handset that will enable people to make and receive Skype calls when they’re in range of a wireless hotspot. Vonage conducted a trial of a Wi-Fi-capable handset in the United States last year, although it drew criticism from industry commentators over its short battery life.

But the biggest boost for VoWiFi will come in the form of traditional cellular phones with a built-in Wi-Fi capability. Currently these are thin on the ground but analyst company ABI Research believes the annual global sales of dual-mode mobile phones will exceed 100 million by 2010. Sprint in the U.S. has already promised a cellphone that will switch to VoWiFi when users are at home, for example.

“Handset makers are definitely putting Wi-Fi chipsets in handsets. The operators are ensuring that the handsets are available. It’s definitely getting there,” says Miguel Myhrer, a senior manager in the global network group at high-tech consultancy firm Accenture. “Once handsets are available and price decreases, you’ll see that take-up.”

Aside from the availability and takeup of Wi-Fi cellular handsets, the biggest barrier to adoption is the availability of Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi hotspot coverage is still patchy, making it difficult to accept calls, and even as meshed Wi-Fi networks begin offering blanket coverage in cities, overloaded access points could cause poor call quality.

Wi-Fi isn’t the only technology relevant to wireless voice.

Wimax — a nascent wireless technology offering long-range wireless coverage — will become important in the future. Bell is particularly active in this area. Last year the company teamed up with U.S.-based Clearwire, which provides wireless broadband services to customers south of the border using a precursor to Wimax. Bell is now the company’s preferred supplier of VoIP services.

“Note that Bell Canada’s move to provide VoIP will impact U.S. incumbent telcos, but not its own incumbent telco operations in Canada,” says Mike Roberts, a principal analyst at telecommunications analyst firm Informa.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

U.S. builders poised to shun our lumber

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Gordon Hamilton

American homebuilders warned Tuesday that they will abandon Canadian lumber for European and Russian products if Canada “knuckles under” to the U.S. lumber lobby and signs a softwood agreement that includes taxes or quotas.

The head of the powerful National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday that Canadian officials have indicated in briefings that a tax or quota system is on the way.

NAHB president Jerry Howard described the homebuilders as a “staunch ally” of Canada in the softwood fight. But if Canada quits now, the alliance is over, he said.

A border tax or quota system would increase the cost of Canadian lumber and disrupt supply, forcing homebuilders to consider overseas imports to re-establish certainty.

The legal battle over softwood is essentially finished and Canada has won, he said. Howard said he is ashamed that his own government has not accepted rulings by North America Free Trade Agreement panels, but he is now concerned that Canada may be giving up.

“If you are going to knuckle under … if your government chooses to pursue another course, I have to ensure to the best of my ability that our members — the American homebuilding industry — do not run into a shortage of lumber or do not run into untenably high costs for their lumber,” Howard said in a telephone interview.

Howard said he is concerned, based on reports he has received from the Canadian embassy and trade officials in Ottawa, that a negotiated settlement to the lumber dispute is likely to include either a border tax or import quotas.

He said one official told him negotiations will begin soon. The outcome, the official told him, would be that “everybody always gets a little water with their wine.”

The trade dispute “doesn’t sound like it is moving in any direction that we are happy about,” he said. “We have been told by people up in Ottawa and by officials here in Washington that they are going to start negotiations.

“And we have all been told that those negotiations are going to lead to some sort of a quota or tax on Canadian lumber that we, as the ultimate consumers, would have to pay.”

He said he met recently with a delegation from Russia interested in introducing Siberian pine lumber into the U.S. market.

The NAHB has 235,000 member companies that consume 80 per cent of the homebuilding lumber sold in the U.S. Canada currently has a 34 per cent share of that market. Imports account for five per cent.

David Gray, co-chair of the Free Trade Lumber Council, which represents Canadian lumber companies, said European imports are a threat, but if a quota is imposed he understands Canada would be assured a fixed share of the U.S. market.

That means European inroads would be at the expense of the U.S. lumber industry.

“So far, their lobby hasn’t been sufficient to overcome the [U.S. lumber] coalition’s lobby, and in the meantime we have to get on with the future,” Gray said. “We take his comments and advice, but we have a lot more at stake. We have to make our future ourselves.”

European imports first began to make inroads into the U.S. market during the 1996-2001 softwood lumber agreement that imposed quotas on Canadian shipments. They have been growing at 30 to 50 per cent a year since.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


Cablevision tests ‘remote storage’ DVR use

Monday, March 27th, 2006

David Lieberman
USA Today

NEW YORK In a move that could ignite a major debate about consumer “fair use” of TV programming, Cablevision Systems will unveil plans to test a service that gives cable subscribers the ability to record and time-shift shows using existing digital set-top boxes.

Although it works just like TiVo and other digital video recorders (DVRs) — consumers choose in advance which shows to capture and can fast-forward through ads — the recording itself will be stored at the cable system, not on a hard drive in the consumer’s home.

The technology for what Cablevision calls its “remote storage digital video recorder” (RS-DVR) “is here today, and in Cablevision’s case, we can use it to put DVR functionality in more than 2 million digital cable homes instantaneously, without ever rolling a truck or swapping out a set-top box,” COO Tom Rutledge says in a statement.

It will be tested on Long Island in the second quarter in advance of a broad commercial rollout. The system will give each subscriber about 80 gigabytes of storage capacity — enough for about 45 hours of programming — on the central server. They’ll also be able to record two programs simultaneously while watching a previously recorded show.

Although pricing hasn’t been set, the company expects it to be less than what it charges for DVR, currently $9.95.

Cablevision’s plan is sure to irk TV networks and programmers. If it catches on, it would weaken their ability to sell reruns of their shows via Internet downloading or video on demand. They also have long held that recordings of their shows — particularly by commercial entities — violates their copyrights.

That’s one reason Time Warner in 2003 scrapped plans to introduce a centralized DVR-like system it called Mystro. It would have recorded all TV shows, giving consumers the ability to select shows to watch on demand up to a month after they had aired.

Time Warner followed up in October with a system called “Start Over,” now in 65,000 homes in South Carolina. It gives cable customers who tune in late to a show the opportunity to watch it from the beginning — but without the ability to fast-forward through ads.

Cablevision says it believes its RS-DVRs don’t violate copyright laws.

“Consumers have well-established rights to ‘time-shift’ television programming by making copies for personal, in-home viewing,” the company says. “This new technology merely enables consumers to exercise their time-shifting rights in the same manner as with traditional DVRs, but at less cost.”

Reverse mortgage works for house-rich, cash-poor

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Tapping in to house equity works — for some

Kevin Greenard and Keith Greenard

If you’re a senior with cash-flow problems and you don’t plan on moving out of your home in the near future, a reverse mortgage may be for you. — CANWEST FILE PHOTO

VICTORIA — What are the options for retired people who become house-rich and cash-poor? The first thing that comes to mind is usually a reverse mortgage.

But few people know what they are and when they make sense.

Reverse mortgages are residential first mortgages secured by a specific property and offer individuals older than 60 a means of converting a portion of the equity in their home into cash.

With a regular mortgage, interest and principal payments are made on the original amount borrowed. With a reverse mortgage, individuals may request an amount based on the equity in their homes. No interest or principal payments need to be made until you move out of or sell the home.

Reverse mortgages are offered through the Canadian Home Income Plan Corp.

CHIP began operations in B.C. in 1986, before moving into Ontario in 1996 and the rest of Canada in 1998 and 1999. From CHIP’s website,, you can obtain the following information:

– You can receive between $20,000 and $500,000 from your home equity. The specific amount is 10 per cent to 40 per cent of the current appraised value of your home, based on your age and that of your spouse and the location and type of home you have.

– Current interest terms are: six months 7.5 per cent, one year 8.25 per cent, three years 8.60 per cent.

– Annual discounts are available after three years and balance discounts are available if the outstanding balance on your CHIP home income plan exceeds $100,000 or more.

– Set-up costs that the home owner pays are approximately $675, which is an estimate of the independent home-appraisal costs and independent legal advice.

– In addition, closing costs of $1,285 are added to your CHIP home income plan.

– You have the option to repay in full at any time. When you repay, an interest differential may apply (limited to three months’ interest). If you repay within the first three years, a prepayment amount will apply. These may be waived or reduced in the event of death or a move to a long-term-care facility or retirement residence.

The CHIP plan is voluntary and provides a unique opportunity for individuals to stay in their homes while enjoying retirement. It may be difficult for some individuals to see this component of their equity diminish.

But a CHIP plan may be a way to have your cake today and eat it, too.


1. While you are still working and eligible to qualify for a line of credit, do so prior to retiring. We also recommend you apply for the maximum limit that you can qualify for. Having this in place may provide you the flexibility of drawing only what you need at retirement (i.e. $500 per month). The interest rate charged will likely be more competitive than a reverse mortgage.

2. If you’re older than 60 and cash flow is a concern, you may want to consider the property tax deferment program.

3. If you are running low on retirement funds you may want to consider interest-only payments on certain debts such as your line of credit. Making interest-only payments on debt that has a reasonable interest rate may provide the necessary capital to prolong the stay in your home.

4. Peace of mind at retirement can certainly be enhanced in the absence of financial concerns. Sometimes downsizing into a smaller home may provide the necessary capital to fund retirement expenses.

5. Utilizing a reverse mortgage is always an option. The CHIP plan does provide individuals the ability to stay in their homes longer, but at a cost.

Anyone interested in a reverse mortgage must seek independent legal advice. On a cautionary note, people who are interested in a reverse mortgage should also consult with their investment adviser or accountant to determine if a reverse mortgage is the best strategy and if it makes sense for them.

— Keith Greenard and Kevin Greenard are members of the Greenard Group at ScotiaMcLeod in Victoria

© The Vancouver Province 2006

Terminus – Built-ins bring beauty to building

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Outside will retain its heritage character but inside, it’s beyond sleek

Jeani Read

Shebeen is in a good spot. Photograph by : Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

Parts of Goaler’s Mews will be retained Photograph by : Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

In the kitchen everything but the smooth-top range and oven is built-in. Photograph by : Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

These places are beyond sleek — they’re supernaturally Euro.

Everything’s built-in, including the bathrooms. A Phillippe Starke soaker tub and rain shower are pocketed behind translucent-glass sliding doors that also conceal Starke-designed powder-room pieces right next door.

In the kitchen, the only major appliance visible is the smooth glass-top range and built-in oven — the dishwasher and high-end fridge are disguised behind cupboard doors.

And built-in cabinetry makes up the hallway walls.

“It’s the principle of borrowed space,” says developer Robert Fung of The Salient Group. “It’s extremely tailored. Everything disappears when you want it to.”

The borrowed-space principle means all the rooms are bigger than — well, bigger than they are, if that’s possible. That bed on the floor plan that looks like it’s right up against the hall? When you’re tucked in, looking across that hall to your beautiful built-in cabinets, it will FEEL like a big bedroom.

Everything overlaps. Rooms and halls use each other’s space to make more space. Staggered and vaulted ceilings and recessed lighting also contribute to the airy “Terminus experience,” as the designers call it. “People live in volume, they don’t live in floor plans,” says Fung.

And the best part of this amazingly contemporary design work by Salient, the architects at Acton Ostry and the hot design firm Evoke is that it’s sitting smack in the heart of old Gastown, on Water Street, halfway down the block from Maple Tree Square. In a way, the location’s age dictated the fresh new design take.

Each floorplan (of 46 homes, 619 sq. ft. to 1,619 sq. ft, $350,000 to $1,500,000) had to be so linear because the site was so long and narrow. Salient was limited to the shell of the historic Terminus Hotel plus the wrecked, next-door Grand Hotel.

Restoring the facades and building the Terminus condos is part of three major projects that are going to restore the block up to The Alhambra on the corner, the first building to go up after Vancouver’s big fire of 1896.

And that’s only part of what’s happening in Gastown, which is at a “big turning point,” says Scott Hawthorn, a board member of the Gastown Business Improvement Society (GBIS) and personally involved in two buildings.

The long-awaited Woodward’s redevelopment is expected to bring a stability to the area and more and more developments are in the works to bring the neglected neighbourhood to life.

The idea is, really, that new residents will support more businesses and edgy, one-of-a-kind retailers like Richard Kidd, Modern Kid and Livestock will once again make Gastown a destination spot for Vancouverites.

Why now? “The big reality in the city is the downtown is built-out and Gastown is next,” says Hawthorne. “The economy is pushing east and we’re on the radar.”

Jon Stovell, past president of the GBIS, has been converting warehouses into live-work spaces since the mid-1990s. The turn of the millennium was a low point, he says, but things have turned around big-time. Three elements — the Vancouver Agreement to improve the streetscape, the rise in the real-estate market and new heritage incentives — created the positive push.

“Now there are 25 heritage projects in the queue,” he says. “People used to say, ‘Eeeuw, Gastown.’ Now they say, ‘Wow. How can I get in? What can I buy?”

Turns out, not much any more.

Sean Heather, owner of four Gastown businesses, including Irish Heather and Shebeen Whiskey Bar, says he moved here nine years ago because it was all he could afford.

“I toughed it out and now it’s very competitive. There’s nothing left to buy and, when something comes up, the prices are through the roof. I like to say it’s the new Main Street but the buildings look better.”

“The dynamic is different from Yaleown, which was all warehouses and then synthesized in 10 years,” says Salient’s Fung. “Here you can feel the evolution.”

Terminus starts selling April 13. For reservations or more info, go to

© The Vancouver Province 2006