Archive for September, 2006

Powersmart – BC Hydro tips on saving energy around the house

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Scott Simpson

BC Hydro’s Gary Hamer, with his hybrid car and a compact fluorescent lightbulb inside the Horne substation in Burnaby. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Over the past seven days, Vancouver Sun readers have heard from a vast array of commentators, ranging from raw recruits in the northeast gas exploration industry to Canadian elder statesmen, about the present and future prospects for a secure and steady supply of energy, here at home in British Columbia, throughout the country and around the world.

Today, as the series draws to a close, we look at what appears to be an unsustainable appetite for electricity, locally and internationally. We’re also going to suggest some solutions, as reporters Scott Simpson and Larry Pynn invite experts to come into their homes and cast a critical eye on their own energy consumption behaviours.

Our conclusion is that consumers can save money and make small changes that place less of a burden on the environment — while reducing the pressure on industries and institutions to bring new energy supplies onstream.

If Gary Hamer had a set of worry beads right about now, he’d be rattling like a rusted pickup racing along a gravel road.

The source of his anxiety is the digital cable box glowing underneath a television in the living room of a nondescript home in Port Moody. The box is lit up, even though the television is off.

Over the next 12 months, this box will consume $10 worth of electricity — 85 per cent of that power being consumed when nobody is watching TV.

For Hamer, BC Hydro’s senior energy management engineer, the box is not only an example of wasted energy.

It’s the manifestation of a developed nation’s faith that another source of energy is always around the corner to sustain our infatuation with technology.

That faith may be ill-founded.

The world’s primary energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency, noted in a recent report that the planet faces a “severe” challenge in securing a clean, sustainable and affordable energy system.

It says electricity generation for lighting is a “major source” of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to 70 per cent of the annual emissions coming from the world’s automobiles.

The low cost of electricity is identified by the agency as the single largest disincentive to consumer pressure to make changes such as adopting energy-efficient lighting, or energy-smart electronic devices.

For example, the agency says a typical British person uses 12,000 times as much light as 200 years ago — although the share of disposable income necessary to buy that light has stayed the same.

Hamer believes there would be more pressure for change if only consumers recognized the scale of the challenge ahead.

Just consider what is expected to happen to our already overstressed energy grid as the popularity of digital TV boxes increases.

Each little box consumes 155 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Nobody turns them off because it takes a couple of hours to reboot all the guide information they contain.

Hydro estimates 500,000 B.C. households have these units. By 2010, there will be 2.2 million.

Unless manufacturers find a way to curtail the amount of power the boxes consume, B.C.’s 2.2 million units will devour 350 gigawatt hours of electricity per year.

That’s enough power to annually meet all the residential electrical needs of Greater Vancouver’s sixth-largest city, Delta.

You’d have to add another hydro facility the size of Hydro’s Buntzen Lake system — or eight Alouette Lake systems — to create the extra power required.

That’s just the B.C. picture.

Across Canada, 22 million digital boxes will be in use by 2010 — consuming enough electricity to otherwise supply every household in Vancouver and Surrey combined — to keep Canadians up to date with their TV listings and pay-per-view channel access.

To create that much power, you would need an additional hydroelectric facility the size of the Peace Canyon system in northeast B.C — the province’s fourth-largest system.

Take a broader view, and you begin to appreciate the size and scope of the problem that Hamer is looking at.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has given U.S. TV broadcasters a deadline of 2009 to convert all of their broadcasts to high-definition TV.

That means about 220 million of those digital boxes — eating up enough electricity to light 3.5 million homes, or four times the number of households in all of Greater Vancouver.

They will consume 2.6 times the power coming from the No. 1 source of electricity in all of British Columbia, the Gordon Shrum Generating Station at W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River system.

You’d have to flood a region with a surface area of 4,680 square kilometres to meet the demand from all those boxes.

That’s more than twice the surface area of the largest body of fresh water in B.C., the Williston Reservoir that feeds the Bennett/Shrum system. You could fit Stanley Park into it 1,170 times.

BC Hydro’s internal culture has developed a name for appliances that consume power while on standby. They are called “vampire loads” because they drain energy out of the electrical system without returning any value to either the consumers who own them or the economic life of the province.

Their continued and expanding use compels electricity providers to accelerate development of new supplies.

Hydro’s Hamer sits on a Canadian Standards Association technical committee that is preoccupied by digital signal boxes.

“It’s kind of funny sitting around the table,” says Hamer, “because the manufacturers say, ‘We only build what the cable companies tell us to build.’ The cable companies say, ‘We only build what the customers want to bring in.’

“Nobody is concerned about the power consumption.”

There’s more to this impending horror story.

In a typical home, the array of devices adds up quickly — computers, printers, second and even third TVs, modems, cellphone chargers and many others. Even regular incandescent lights, as the International Energy Agency noted, are a threat to future energy security.

The agency says switching to energy-efficient lighting such as compact fluorescent and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) would save the world $2.6 trillion US by 2030.

Meanwhile, the scramble to keep pace with demand continues.

Ontario has the most ambitious plans in Canada — $70 billion to upgrade and expand its aging electricity system.

The scale of the problem is smaller in B.C., due to a legacy of high-quality hydroelectric resources, but the province is no longer independent of volatile North American electricity trading markets that can add tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars to the annual cost of providing electricity in B.C.

Last July, Hydro announced it was accepting private-sector bids for $4-billion worth of new electricity projects over the next four years — and that’s barely enough to cover the shortage that will emerge from growth in electricity demand over the time it takes to build them.

In spite of all the new projects, BC Hydro’s consumer rates for electricity remain third-lowest in Canada. Only Manitoba and Quebec, also blessed with sprawling hydroelectric resources, are lower.

In British Columbia, the biggest challenge may be changing the habits of consumers.

According to the International Energy Agency, each Canadian annually uses 17,290 kilowatt hours of electricity compared to 13,066 in the United States, 6,231 in Great Britain, and 1,379 in China.

“Getting people focused on how they use power is a real challenge,” Hamer says.

With that in mind, two Vancouver Sun reporters arranged home energy audits — hoping to cut down on their own household energy costs, but also to pick up tips useful to other consumers.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Vancouver leads in home & car break ins – useful prevention tips

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

City police target the worst property offenders for face-to-face interviews

Chad Skelton

GLENN BAGLO/VANCOUVER SUN FILES Clinton Dreyer is a crack addict and petty thief with a sheet of 80 criminal convictions. He lives at the Portland Hotel when he’s not doing time for his crimes.

In a small, windowless interview room at the Vancouver lockup, a police officer and a suspect sit down for a chat. On one side of the table is Clinton Dreyer, a crack addict and petty thief with 80 criminal convictions, who was picked up the night before for shoplifting.

On the other is Det.-Const. Rowan Pitt-Payne, a longtime investigator with the Vancouver police.

“I’m not here to talk about what you’re in here for,” Pitt-Payne tells Dreyer. “I’m here to talk about how we can stop you from coming back.”


Greater Vancouver has one of the worst property crime rates in North America — fuelled in large part by drug addicts hungry for their next fix. Last year alone, this region’s thieves broke into more than 25,000 homes and businesses and 40,000 cars — stealing millions of dollars worth of stereos, CDs and jewelry.

Lower Mainland residents are more likely to have their cars broken into than residents of any other major Canadian city — four times more likely than those in Toronto.

It is a problem so mind-boggling in scope that police forces have become desperate for solutions.

In Vancouver, one of the things police are trying is the chronic-offender program.

Criminologists have long known that a majority of property crime is committed by only a small number of criminals — chronic offenders who break into cars or homes virtually every day.

For the past 18 months, four Vancouver police detectives and one civilian have been assigned to identify and crack down on the city’s worst property offenders.

And while that mission involves a lot of traditional police work — like surveillance and arrests — it also has, at its heart, a notion almost radical in its simplicity.

“We’re getting to understand our offenders face-to-face,” said Pitt-Payne, one of the detectives with the unit. “What we’re interested in doing is identifying what makes this person tick — what is making this person a criminal? And trying to deal with the roots [of the problem] rather than keep on arresting him over and over again.”

Which is how Pitt-Payne came to be talking to Dreyer one morning last February. (Pitt-Payne invited this reporter to sit in on that interview and Dreyer agreed.)

As the interview began, Pitt-Payne asked Dreyer about his education (he finished Grade 10) and his mental health (he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and often forgets to take his medication).

“What kind of drugs do you use?” asked Pitt-Payne.


“You smoke it?”


“You inject at all?”

“No, I quit a couple of years ago.”

Dreyer, who lives in the Portland Hotel in the Downtown Eastside, told Pitt-Payne he knows the impact his drug addiction is having on himself and others.

“I like to smoke it. I like being high,” he said. “But I don’t know if it’s worth it because you end up stealing again and pissing people off. I’d like to be clean.”

Pitt-Payne asked how much he’s usually paid for the things he steals.

“Maybe 10 per cent of the [true value],” said Dreyer. “At first, some guys give you half price or a third. You’re supposed to get a third. But you don’t. Because they know you want the coke.”

And how much does he spend on cocaine each day?

“My drugs end up costing me about $500 a day,” he said.

Pitt-Payne, thinking out loud, said that means Dreyer has to steal about $5,000 worth of goods every single day to feed his habit.

Dreyer admitted he does several thefts a day. His specialty, he said, is stealing liquor from restaurants or paintings off the walls of hotels. “It’s good, valuable artwork,” he said. “It’s more respectful than breaking into some old lady’s house.”

Finding someone to buy the stuff he steals is easy, he said.

Usually all he has to do is walk into one of the Downtown Eastside’s seedy bars and someone will call him over to haggle.

Christmas is the busiest time in the bars, he said, when people come down from the suburbs to shop for deals.

In some cases, he said, he can barter directly with the drug dealers.

Pitt-Payne asked Dreyer what it would take for him to stop committing crimes.

“I’d have to control my cocaine habit,” he said.

And is he willing to quit drugs?

“I’m willing to try,” said Dreyer. “But it’s not going to happen in this neighbourhood.”

Pitt-Payne reached his last question, the one he asks every chronic offender.

“What can I do to help you?” he asked.

“Get me bail,” says Dreyer, chuckling.

But Dreyer is probably out of luck.

Pitt-Payne said officers in his program do everything they can to get “their guys” into drug treatment or mental health programs — in the hopes such assistance will stop, or even slow down, their criminal activity.

Starting this past week, a social worker with Vancouver Coastal Health was assigned on a temporary basis to the program to help place such offenders in treatment and housing.

But the other main goal of the program is to get Vancouver’s chronic offenders put behind bars for as long as possible.

The reason, said Pitt-Payne, is that offenders in the program are so prolific that getting them off the streets for even a few weeks can have a significant impact on crime.

He said officers also believe a lengthy prison stay may be the only way for some of these people to turn their lives around.

“These guys do remarkably well in a structured environment,” said Pitt-Payne. “When you see them in prison, they’re totally different.”

It’s also often easier for offenders to get clean and access drug treatment in jail than on the streets, said Pitt-Payne.

“The longer the sentence, the better your chances of accessing programs,” he said. “The happy endings we see are in prolonged incarceration.”

Dreyer himself illustrates the point.

When Pitt-Payne interviewed him on Feb. 16, Dreyer was in bad shape

His hands were filthy, as if he had been binning for bottles and cans, and he wore a tattered blue sweater and stained blue jeans.

He looked incredibly tired, struggling to keep his eyes open as he answered Pitt-Payne’s questions.

The next day, Dreyer was sentenced to 20 days in jail and sent to the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.

On March 9, shortly after Dreyer was released, The Sun caught up with him again at his room at the Portland Hotel.

He was clearly still struggling — his shoes were soaked through and his clothes were dirty — but he looked healthier than he had a month earlier and said his time in jail had been good for him.

“I got my sanity,” he said.


To try to keep people like Dreyer in jail, the chronic-offender program keeps detailed files on all its targeted offenders — about 70 at the moment.

When one of them comes before the courts, either for bail or sentencing, detectives write up a brief report on the offender and e-mail it to the Crown attorney’s office.

That report includes the offender’s criminal record, but also information gleaned from interviews like the one with Dreyer — such as the nature of his drug addiction.

Stan Lowe, spokesman for B.C.’s criminal justice branch, says prosecutors find the reports useful in making their arguments to judges.

One of the main legal grounds to deny people bail is that they are likely to commit another crime if they are released.

Knowing that someone has a $500-a-day drug habit — and no visible means of support — makes it a lot easier to make that case.

“Unless there’s an immediate plan for rehabilitation or treatment in the works, it assists the Crown in being able to point out that this is a significant risk factor,” said Lowe.

When the chronic-offender program began, one of the first tasks was to make a list of all such offenders in Vancouver.

The typical definition that criminologists use is someone who has been charged five times in the past year — on the assumption that if you’ve been caught five times, you’re committing dozens more offences.

But as the unit started making such a list, it soon ran into a big problem: there were just too many people that fit that description.

“It was ballooning,” said Pitt-Payne.

When they got to 800 offenders, they stopped counting.


Eventually, just to keep things manageable, the unit had to limit itself to about 70 offenders with 12 or more charges in the past year — a category one criminologist dubbed “super-chronic offenders.”

Pitt-Payne said that when he talks to police officers in other cities, they can’t believe such criminals even exist.

“Other police forces get slack-jawed when they hear how many chances you get in Vancouver,” he said.

“They laugh at us — ‘What is somebody with that number of charges still doing on the street?’ “

No detailed study of Vancouver’s chronic- offender program has been conducted yet. But there are some hopeful signs it is beginning to make a difference.

As of February, there were 72 people with 12 or more charges on the unit’s list. As of this week, that’s down to nine.

Pitt-Payne said the reason is simple: many of the worst offenders are now behind bars.

“We’ve been running long enough [now] that we’ve incapacitated and disrupted some of them,” he said.

That’s allowed the team to move onto the next tier of offenders — those with five to 10 offences over the past year — and to take more “special requests” from senior officers to target criminals who don’t have enough charges to make the grade but are still considered a problem.

Included in the list of chronic offenders now behind bars is Dreyer.

Since The Sun spoke with Dreyer in early March, he’s been picked up for theft four more times — most recently on Aug. 6. Dreyer pleaded guilty to that charge and was sentenced on Aug. 21.

This time, the Crown had a fresh report from the chronic-offenders program. The judge gave him 90 days.

That’s 90 days that Dreyer won’t be stealing, Pitt-Payne said. “For a Vancouver court, that’s a big sentence.

Capital 6 theatre location to be new 42 storey tower – 372 units, 284 parking stalls

Friday, September 29th, 2006

City grants Wall Financial Corp. largest cultural-amenity density bonus in history

Ashley Ford

Demolition of Vancouver’s Capital 6 Theatre paves the way for an improved Orpheum. SAM LEUNG — THE PROVINCE

The ungodly hammering noise of workers demolishing the old Capital 6 Theatre is “music” to the ears of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and music lovers.

It marks the start of Capitol Residences, a 42-storey condominium tower complex at 819 Seymour that brings with it 45,000 square feet of vitally needed space for the Orpheum Theatre and the VSO, without hitting up taxpayers.

It is yet another coup for Peter and Bruno Wall of Wall Financial Corp., the majority partner, and Rob Macdonald of Macdonald Development Corp.

Throw in the thinking of VSO chairman Art Willms, who dreamed up the idea, and the result is the city will end up with an exciting downtown cultural amenity.

The city played its part in actually making it happen by granting the largest cultural-amenity density bonus in its history.

Bruno Wall said the cultural amenities will cost $20 million, including $1.9 million that will be set aside to cover operating costs.

“It is a turnkey deal,” he said. “When it is finished, we will hand over the keys and the fully completed space is theirs,” he said.

That space will include a 6,497-square-foot extension of the Orpheum Theatre stage, a 14,514-square-foot rehearsal room and a 24,005-square-foot music school.

A further bonus is that the Orpheum will get its own off-Seymour truck-loading bay, thus removing at least one downtown traffic annoyance. Currently, trucks have to park on Seymour to load and unload.

In return, the developers get an additional 248,192 square feet of density, making the whole project financially viable.

All involved pay tribute to Willms, the former pipeline-company executive, for his imagination.

Willms has said it was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to enhance the quality of downtown life, provide increased educational programs and give VSO members the opportunity to increase their earnings through teaching.

In an interview yesterday, Peter Wall said he became interested in the project because he has long supported the VSO, music and art in the city.

“The main reason was to help the VSO, which I have long liked and supported, and hopefully this will also help them make some money along the way,” he said.

It is not the first time Wall has gone to bat for the arts-and-music sector. He helped get the restoration of the Stanley Theatre on Granville Street off the ground some years ago. “I like projects like this because they are fun to do and you give something back to the city,” Wall said.

Macdonald, who started the zoning process, said “Willms was the catalyst. He had the vision that got the whole thing going.”

“Again, this shows Peter Wall can create a win-win situation for everyone involved — the developers, city, VSO and those who will live there,” said Bob Rennie of Rennie Marketing Systems, who works closely with Peter Wall.

The Howard Bingham Hall-designed glass-clad elliptical tower will house 372 units and 284 parking spots.

The Wall philosophy of providing as much affordability in his downtown projects as possible will be incorporated into the tower.

Lower-priced suites ranging in size from 550 square feet to 1,100 square feet will be available from the 30th floor down.

The upper floors will cater to

higher-end buyers with larger units, air conditioning, high ceilings and commanding city views.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2009.

© The Vancouver Province 2006


B.C. housing market still hot although Vancouver price hikes have tapered off

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Supply unable to keep up with demand

Michael Kane, with file from Eric Beauchesne

British Columbia’s housing market remains hot despite slowing sales, separate housing reports Thursday suggest.

But a closer look at one report’s statistics reveals that price increases in Vancouver tapered off dramatically over the summer and declined marginally in two categories.

“While the year-over-year price increases look really good, the most recent data suggests that the market here is cooling down, albeit from a really excited place,” said Tsur Somerville, director of the Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business.

In contrast, Gregory Klump, chief economist with the Canadian Real Estate Association, said sales activity in B.C. and Alberta is easing to more normal levels but it will likely take until late spring before year-over-year price increases drop below double-digits.

And Royal LePage Real Estate Services reported continuing “frenzied levels of activity and double-digit price gains” across the West, saying robust market conditions can be expected to continue for some time.

In Vancouver, LePage cited year-over-year price gains of 17.2 per cent for the average bungalow to $704,250, while the average price of standard two-storey property rose by 13.8 per cent to $794,000 and the average condominium rose 13.3 per cent to $366,250.

However, LePage’s numbers also show that price increases in Vancouver stalled in the third quarter after rising rapidly in the first two quarters and dropped marginally for detached bungalows (minus 0.5 per cent) and condominiums (minus 0.7 per cent). The standard two-storey house was up 0.2 per cent.

By neighbourhood, LePage says prices in all three categories are up or steady in Vancouver East and Vancouver West, but down in North Vancouver and West Vancouver.

While Vancouver has seen a slight reprieve from a severe shortage of inventory, Bill Binnie, president of Royal LePage Northshore, said supply is still unable to meet demand, and that will force higher prices.

In an interview, Binnie said people continue to move to British Columbia for jobs, for the weather, and because it is a nice place to live.

“We’ve got an economy that is really good and the job market out there today is as tight as I have seen it in 30 years. Those two factors — population growth and the economy — impact the real estate market more than anything else.”

Binnie discounted concerns about affordability, noting that four out of five new arrivals to B.C. are from outside the country, and many have money, while first-time buyers are opting for apartments or moving further east to find a property they can afford.

But he said B.C. will be affected by a slowdown in the U.S. economy, particularly in the vital sectors of lumber and tourism, and that will influence the housing market.

“All the signs indicate that we are going to be easing off from the kind of growth that we’ve experienced over the last one or two years, but what is hard to figure out is actually how much we are easing off.”

Inventory levels in greater Vancouver are still not high enough to achieve balanced conditions, said Cameron Muir, senior market analyst with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Muir expects balance “sometime in 2007 as home prices rise to the point at which many households simply can’t afford to buy a home.”

Nationally, sales increased last month and remain on track to set a new annual record, the Canadian Real Estate Association said, reporting that seasonally adjusted sales rose 0.7 per cent to 39,725, with increases in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador more than offsetting lower sales in B.C. and Alberta.

LePage said the Canadian housing market is not expected to suffer the downturn being witnessed south of the border, noting the economic and financial fundamentals driving the residential real estate sector in Canada are markedly different than those found in the United States.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Microsoft sets $250 price for Zune, songs will sell for 99 cents

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

USA Today

The 30-gig Zune will sell for $249.99, 99 cents higher than the iPod with the same amount of storage.

SEATTLE (Reuters) — Microsoft said Thursday its new Zune music player will be sold at a price matching Apple Computer’s market-leading iPod and, as a result, lose money this holiday season.

Microsoft’s 30-gigabyte Zune will retail for $249.99 — 99 cents higher than the iPod with the same amount of storage — when it goes on sale Nov. 14. Songs available for download at the Zune Marketplace service will cost about 99 cents a song, on par with prices at Apple’s iTunes, Microsoft said.

The world’s largest software maker faces an uphill climb in trying to topple the popular iPod after conceding a five-year head start to Apple’s media player.

The Zune aims to compete on features, not price, said an analyst. “They’re not getting into a pricing war,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at technology and media research firm JupiterKagan Inc.

“It will be a competition of features versus features, form factor versus form factor, winning the hearts and minds of consumers with something other than price,” Gartenberg said.

Microsoft said it needed to put a comparable price on Zune, even if it meant that the company will suffer a loss from the device’s sales this holiday season.

“We had to look at what was in the market and offer a competitive price,” said Scott Erickson, Microsoft’s senior director of product marketing for Zune. “We’re not going to be profitable this holiday but the Zune project is a multiyear strategy.”

The Redmond, Washington-based software giant has said it plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and market the Zune, and acknowledged the investment may take years to bear fruit.

The rectangular Zune media player has a round click wheel and is similar in appearance to the iPod, though slightly bulkier and has a larger 3-inch screen.

Unlike the iPod, Microsoft aims to attract users to the Zune’s ability to share photos and songs, on a limited basis, to one another.

Gartenberg said such features, although clearly different from Apple’s approach, has yet to garner consumer interest, based on Jupiter polls. About 11% of U.S. online consumers were interested in such legal file-sharing features, according to JupiterKagan research.

Interest rose to 18% in the younger 18 to 24 age group, Gartenberg said. “Because consumer interest is low, there needs to be some education in the market,” he said.

Shares in Microsoft, which hired Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp. to manufacture the Zune, rose 2 cents in early Nasdaq trade on Thursday to $27.46.

The music player is the first step in creating a new brand of portable devices, according to Microsoft officials, who also said a Zune phone is in the works.

Microsoft said it will sell a music subscription pass for $14.99 a month, allowing users to listen to any of the songs on Zune Marketplace. It pledges to offer 2 million-plus songs at launch. After the pass expires, users will not be able to access those songs.

For consumers looking to own a song, the Zune Marketplace will sell tracks for 79 Microsoft points. A user can buy 80 Microsoft points for $1 and points will also be redeemable at its online video game store, Xbox Live Marketplace.

Microsoft said it will initially sell only music — and no video — at the Zune Marketplace. The company said it was negotiating with major record companies and labels.

Each Zune device will come preloaded with an array of songs, music video, images and short films, Microsoft said.


Bright idea

Thursday, September 28th, 2006


An Ottawa company is developing a light bulb that can last two decades — yes, even if you use it. Group IV Semiconductor Inc. is being supported by EnCana and Sustainable Development Technology Canada in the design of the light bulb of the future. It would employ an electrical current passed through silicon semiconductors (instead of gases or filaments) with almost all of the energy involved producing light instead of heat. The solid-state lighting design would consume one-tenth of the energy of a regular bulb, using semiconductors to produce light instead of gases or filaments. The global lighting market is estimated at $12 billion annually.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


Boutique future for historic St. Regis hotel

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Multimillion-dollar restoration aimed at attracting corporate clients

Ashley Ford

As managing director, Stephanie Nicolls is running day-to-day operations at the St. Regis during its $5-million makeover. Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Every real “lady” deserves a makeover and that is exactly what Rob Macdonald has in store for his venerable and historic downtown St. Regis Hotel.

The principal of Macdonald Development Corp. has big plans to turn the property into one of the city’s top boutique hostelries.

“I like doing this sort of thing and now is the time to upgrade this historic property and restore it to its former glory,” he says.

He thinks it might cost up to

$5 million to remake the 72-room icon property that has stood at the corner of Dunsmuir and Seymour since 1916.

Essentially, he’s prepared to spend whatever it takes to get the job done over the next couple of years.

To that end, he has brought in marketing consultant Stephanie Nicolls, who knows a thing or two about the hotel industry, to be managing director and run day-to-day operations.

Noted Vancouver designer Elaine Thorsell of BOTI Interiors Inc. also is being brought on board for the critical design work. “In this field she is the best in the city,” Macdonald says.

“We are in the process of acquiring an architect and I will oversee the renovations,” he says.

Jaded though the five-storey hotel may be, it occupies a prime downtown site and sits next door to the recently completed, $110-million Hudson condo/retail project that includes the old B.C. Electric Co. showroom located at the corner of Dunsmuir and Granville.

The Hudson brought together the considerable development skills of Peter and Bruno Wall of Wall Financial and Macdonald.

And that brings advantages to the St. Regis as its neighbour can provide parking for hotel guests and eventually also access to a round-the-clock fitness centre in the Hudson, says Nicolls.

She says a wall will also be knocked down to provide direct access to the toney neighbouring Gotham steakhouse, operated by David Aisenstat, owner of the Keg restaurant chain’s outlet on Seymour.

Aisenstat also is putting an upmarket Shore Club seafood restaurant into the B.C. Electric building that is due to open next March.

“When you look at that and where we are situated to other downtown venues we expect to be very successful,” she says.

“We want to make this a top level boutique hotel that will enable us to go after increased corporate clients in addition to our valued tourist clients,” Nicolls said.

She estimates the remake will take a couple of years to complete.

The hotel’s exterior will be restored to its original condition, while the rooms will get a remake, with some possibly being enlarged to cater to current client demands.

That might mean fewer rooms, Nicolls says.

It’s likely that the current, tiny elevator also will be replaced and the lobby completely overhauled.

Nicolls acknowledges the aim is to bring the St. Regis up to the level of Eleni Skalbania’s Wedgewood, which has long been the standard for boutique hotels in the city.

The St. Regis is the last surviving example in the downtown area of a pre-First-World-War-designed hotel.

It was designed by W.T. Whiteway in 1913 and completed by builder E.J. Ryan, who also built the Hotel Vancouver, in 1916.

Whiteway also was architect for the Sun Tower and the original 1903 Woodwards store.

The St. Regis is a designated Vancouver Heritage building.

Its distinctive neon sign that has beamed out over the downtown since 1920 is expected to continue doing so for decades to come.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

Internet attackers now target home users

Monday, September 25th, 2006

The threat has shifted, says report by Symantec

Gillian Shaw

Home users are now the top target for Internet attackers, who are launching increasingly sophisticated attacks.

That’s the sobering warning from Symantec’s latest Internet security threat report, released today.

And those attacks can be triggered simply when someone visits a website, according to Symantec.

The attackers capitalize on successful computer break-ins by stealing confidential data such as banking passwords and also by using the captured machines — known as bots — to launch full- scale attacks against financial institutions and other lucrative targets.

From January to June 2006, the period of the report, home users attracted 86 per cent of targeted attacks, followed by financial institutions at 14 per cent.

In Canada, Symantec said Desjardins tops financial institutions for the number of phishing attacks against it, followed by RBC taking No. 2 spot, the Bank of Montreal at No. 3 and Toronto Dominion and CIBC at Nos. 4 and 5 respectively.

“The motivation is the same, but what is really starting to change is the way these guys are going after this information,” said Dean Turner, Symantec’s Calgary-based executive editor of the report. “In the past they were focused on networks and infrastructure vulnerabilities.

“They have shifted their focus to home users. Home users are the weakest link in the security chain.”

The cyber-fraud artists are finding a bonanza in exploiting software weaknesses, with Symantec recording 2,249 new vulnerabilities in the first six months of this year, up 18 per cent over the previous six months and the highest number ever recorded for a six-month period.

Vulnerabilities are glitches in software that can leave the computer open to unauthorized entry and tampering from outside, providing openings for such malicious software as Trojan horses and keystroke loggers to infiltrate computer systems.

In the first six months of 2006, 80 per cent of the vulnerabilities identified were considered easily exploitable, meaning Internet attackers would have little trouble in capitalizing on them to launch their attacks.

While Mozilla Web browsers had the most vulnerabilities at 47, compared with Windows Internet Explorer at 38, Microsoft’s IE had an average window of exposure of nine days, meaning it took that long between the time the vulnerability was identified and a fix issued for it. By comparison, Mozilla’s window of exposure was only one day.

Also, Turner said that with IE accounting for 83 per cent of the browser market, is it the most attacked browser software by far.

“What we are talking about is a move to more targeted attacks,” said Turner. “We are seeing much more sophisticated malicious code.”

Turner said there has been a shift to polymorphic viruses, viruses that change every time they replicate and infect a new machine in a way that makes it difficult for antivirus programs to track them.

China is the world leader in terms of the number of bot computers within its borders — 20 per cent of the 4.6 million bot computers active around the world at any one time are in that country. The bot computers are controlled by command and control servers, often in other countries.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


‘LaScala’ local home theatre instalation company

Sunday, September 24th, 2006


Download Document

Rivals line up to battle iPod’s dominance including Microsoft Zune

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

DIGITAL I Microsoft’s new Zune is a Christmas no-show

Peter Wilson

The top-selling Apple iPod (left) with Microsoft’s Zune, which won’t be available in Canada until 2007.

Microsoft’s highly hyped new Zune music and video player — complete with its own music download system — will soon be on the attack.

Also on the offensive are SanDisk’s just-announced Sansa e200, with yet another music download offering. Oh, and Samsung should soon be launching its own service for its own players.

And then there is the powerful Creative Zen W and even Disney’s new kiddie-oriented Mix Max.

Yes, it’s the annual — and so-far ineffective — attack on the hugely dominant Apple iPod. The player in its various forms had 64.2 per cent of the Canadian market in sales in the first six months of 2006 and also led in units sold at 44.5 per cent, according to NPD Group Canada. And, in case there was any doubt about the overall popularity of the digital player, the amount spent on them rose 40 per cent and the number of units were up 49 per cent.

Leading the latest digital charge in the MP3-video player wars is the Zune, which Microsoft hopes will reduce Apple’s sway over the lucrative market.

The Zune, made for Microsoft by Toshiba, will have 30 gigabytes of memory and a three-inch screen — which puts it ahead of the latest iPod’s 2.5-inch screen — and the ability to transfer songs wirelessly from one Zune to another.

Sounds interesting, except for one little niggling thing.

In Canada — where retailers are already getting inquiries from tune and video-hungry consumers — the Zune will be a no-show under the Christmas tree.

“The Zune will not be available in Canada for the holidays,” said Jason Osborne, Vancouver-based Best Buy Canada’s merchandising manager. “I can’t imagine us seeing anything before the second quarter of next year.”

The reason, said Osborne, who has had e-mail confirmation of this from Microsoft, is that the Zune is tied to its strategy of having its own download system, similar to Apple’s iTunes.

“There’s no Microsoft service provider in Canada for digital audio and video. And, honestly, we’ve been pushing them.”

Microsoft Canada representative Jason Anderson said in a statement issued to The Vancouver Sun: “The U.S. launch of Zune is scheduled for this holiday season. Microsoft is planning to introduce Zune to additional markets however we have no specific details around a Canadian launch to share at this time.”

And Samsung’s music service, through media provider MusicNet, will launch before Christmas, but only in the United Kingdom, Germany and France and then Asia.

But that doesn’t mean, said Osborne, that there’s not going to be a lot of excitement at Christmas with the arrival of other players, like the SanDisk Sansa

e200 — even if it can’t offer Canadians the planned pre-loading of 30 hours of music from the likes of Coldplay, Jay-Z and the Rolling Stones. (You only get those tunes for 30 days if you sign up with the Rhapsody music service from RealNetworks, which isn’t yet available in Canada.)

“Whether [the Sansa e200] comes with loaded content, it remains to be seen,” said Osborne, who said he didn’t expect the SanDisk player to arrive in Best Buy stores before late October or early November.

“And the price point they’re targeting in Canada, $329, is quite high for an eight-gigabyte video player, actually more than the new iPod 30 gig.”

SanDisk was fourth in the Canadian market with 4.9 per cent of dollar sales and 8.9 per cent of units sold.

But Apple’s iPod — that comes in several models including the Shuffle and the Nano — has stayed the dominant player here, even if it has a lower percentage of the market than in the U.S., where it took in a whopping 75.6 per cent of sales in the first three months of 2006.

And it intends to keep that place with its latest models, the flagship of which is the $399 80-gigabyte model capable of holding up to 20,000 songs, 25,000 photos or 100 hours of video, but not all at once. You’ll have to make your own selection.

As well, there’s a 30-gigabyte model for $299. The nano comes in two-, four- and eight-gigabyte models, starting at $169. Finally, there is the one-gigabyte shuffle at $89.

While some analysts have warned that the iPod might be slipping in terms of cachet, this has yet to show up in sales figures, as Apple always seems to have a new must-have model, just as the glamour of the old one wears out.

One of the advantages in the Canadian market for companies like Creative — which was in second place with 7.5 per cent of the dollars spent and 8.8 per cent of units sold — and its 30-gigabyte audio and video player the Zen W, is that there is a lot of downloading unconnected to services such as Canada’s own PureTracks and the iTunes Store.

“People get their music in other ways, whether it’s peer-to-peer or other non-traditional download sites,” said Osborne. “So the content is readily available for Canadian consumers without being forced to pay for it.”

The smaller digital player brands — among which are companies that are otherwise electronics giants like Sony, with six per cent of sales, and RCA, with 3.8 per cent of sales — always seem to struggle for market share.

“The challenge those companies have had, and I’ll be quite frank, is that they’re always reacting and not leading,” said Osborne. “And they’re spread so thin in terms of their product assortment that they’re often gun shy to put their focus on this category, because Apple has such a strong share.”

Osborne said that Canadian consumers have not yet been swept up in any kind of video mania when it comes to digital players.

“I think right now consumers are looking at video as a nice-to-have feature, as opposed to a necessity. Again, it comes back to the content and how readily available it is.

“If you’re going to do video, what type of video can you put on these players that’s viewable?”

Osborne said that based on his conversations with Best Buy workers, buyers are generally loading them with music videos and small clips rather than full-length movies. Still, there is a definite trend towards adding video capabilities, even on one-gigabyte flash players with screens that have one to 1.8-inch screens.

“By Christmas over half, if not 65 per cent, of the players will have video.”

Osborne said what Canadians look for in a digital player are style, capacity and then content.

And, he adds, there are two types of customers. Those who value the style of the player and only want to carry a small music collection with them. They buy flash memory based players. “And then you get into the audiophile who has this mass storage device that’s an ultimate media player that carries audio and video and photos with a 30 to 80 gigabyte capacity.”

Oh, and that Disney Mix Max we mentioned at the beginning. Well, it’s priced at $99 US, has a 2.2-inch colour screen and has the capacity of six hours of video or about 240 songs.

While you could download movies to it, Disney is hoping that, instead, you’ll use memory cards, at $19.99 each that will contain popular movies like High School Musical, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Lizzie McGuire.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006