Archive for March, 2007

HANNspree pocket TV is a chip off the old block

Saturday, March 31st, 2007


HANNspree HANNSfries 10-inch LCD television, no price yet and no date for release.

Not, of course, that you’d want to encourage any children of yours to eat fries with huge dabs of ketchup — or, in fact, put anything in their rooms that would cause them to watch even more television than they do, but, hey, this does look cute. It’s a packet of friesTV set from HANNspree ( which is noted for its free form video hardware offerings that brighten up a home, especially if you’re into the pop art of decades ago.

LG Chocolate Flip (LG 8600) wireless phone, $130 with a three-year Telus contract, $330 without a contract.

Stylish and sleek is how Telus describes this latest offering from LG, which comes with television, radio (commercial free from XM Canada) and MP3s, a 1.3 megapixel camera and camcorder, downloadable video clips and games. As well, users in British Columbia, Alberta and parts of Ontario can use Telus Navigator, which offers real-time audio and visual turn-by-turn directions to help you get to your destination. Oh, and you can use it to phone people.

Motion Computing LE1700 Core 2 Duo tablet PC, starting at $2,200 US.

Aimed at professionals in fields like health care, field sales and services, government and the hospitality industry, the LE1700 has what it calls WriteTouch display that allows you to both write with a digital pen and with a simple double tap on the screen to switch to using your finger to enter data. And while the WriteTouch system will allow both pen and finger input it won’t respond to anything else touching the screen. Also comes with a biometric fingerprint reader that can operate as a mouse.

Samsung SPH-m610 wireless phone, $150 with a three-year contract from Bell Mobility, $350 without a contract.

The word from the Duchess of Windsor (you do remember her, don’t you?) was that you couldn’t be too slim and apparently both Bell and Samsung have taken this to heart with the SPH-m610, which is less than half an inch thick. Oh, and should you care, once you’ve seen the phone, it will allow you to view movies, listen to stereo MP3 sound, offers TV on the go, ringtones and screen savers, as well as allowing you to phone your friends to let them know that your phone is so thin they’ll squeal with envy.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Millennium Water : historical site, sustainable future

Friday, March 30th, 2007


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Murky vision for Millenium Water

Friday, March 30th, 2007


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A design marathon disappoints at the starting gate

Friday, March 30th, 2007

A murky vision for Millennium Water


(top) The model of the South East False Creek athlete’s village shows the social housing component in the low wing surrounding the courtyard. (bottom) The Columbia St. ’market’ condo has an undulating curtain wall. The first three storeys are unencumbered by balconies, glass meeting sidewalk. (GOMBEROFF BELL LYON ARCHITECTS GROUP INC.)

After years of waiting, we at last have an idea of the architecture coming for South East False Creek, portions of which will start out as the athlete’s village for the 2010 Olympics. The design news is not good.

The downtown Vancouver formula of skinny condo towers on top of rows of townhouses has been jettisoned for this, the city’s last large development zone on the waterfront. Instead, no building will be higher than 13 storeys. Because SEFC densities will be higher than most of downtown, this means that more housing will have to be packed closer to the ground.

This is due to planning requirements, but also in large part because winning developer Millennium Development paid a record $200 per square foot for the huge site. This netted the City of Vancouver a windfall profit of $60-million more than anticipated in the $193-million sale of the SEFC properties it had assembled.

Architects for the first buildings to start construction soon are respected Vancouver housing specialists Gomberoff Bell Lyon. At the January 9 meeting of Vancouver’s design panel — which somewhat grudgingly approved the design plan after several previous rejections — one member nailed the character of the designs for the first of these new blocks by describing them as having a “pseudo-retro European look.”

To me, the since-refined designs — published here for the first time — recall nothing so much as flasher versions of 1990s re-building around the edges and in the ruined centres of former East German cities. These new housing zones are earnest in intention, Green in aspiration, competent in execution, but so utterly un-memorable as to induce that heavy-heartedness Germans call weldschmertz.

The architects, developer, planners and politicians have laboured hard and brought forth a mediocrity — Weimar gone west-coast; Dessau with Douglas firs; Falkensee on False Creek. How did this happen, on a precious precinct of our city which will be the focus of intense global curiosity in 2010?

I found a partial answer at that same January 9th design panel meeting — an advisory, not regulatory body charged with improving the quality of our architecture and urban spaces.

In previous meetings, the panel — and Vancouverites generally — had been hard on Millennium’s original architect, Yale University architecture dean Robert Stern, whose proposal was thought by some to resemble a New England fishing village and was ultimately rejected.

With the clock ticking toward 2010, Millennium’s owner and director Shahram Malek instead turned to a local architect he had worked with for a decade, Stu Lyons, and Merrick Architecture Ltd.’s Roger Bayley, who was responsible for key elements of the urban design.

The feeling in the room that winter’s day was the closest I have ever experienced to an architectural version of the Stockholm syndrome — where stress causes captives to start admiring and emulating their captors.

Plans for the key site had been presented many times previously, and design panel members seemed worn down by repeated revisions of the housing plans, in frustration asking for a list of design principles for designs that seemed to lack them.

More generally, and in fairness to developer and designer, there was a sense that SEFC’s elaborately pre-determined urban planning, housing mix and building density requirements — all admirable intentions — had, in their aggregation, conspired to take away any possibility of architectural verve or flair. What happened to his team’s plans for the Olympic village and the permanent neighbourhood to follow is succinctly summed-up by Mr. Lyon: “There was a lot of pain at design panel.”

Despite faint praise and murmured criticisms, (“The elevations lack interest,” “Too many elements,”) the panel approved the design. Panel member and architect Peter Wreglesworth called the taller buildings’ design “much improved.”

The site has been split into blocks designed by Gomberoff Bell Lyon or Merrick Architecture.

GBL is responsible for a block called Parcel 2 at the southwest corner of the site along 1st Avenue between Manitoba and Columbia, where site preparations are already under way.

Here, Mr. Lyon and his colleagues have designed a 13-storey, 127-unit ‘market’ condo building along Columbia Street, with a low rise U-shaped 84-unit social housing complex around a courtyard defining the block’s eastern edge along Manitoba.

According to Mr. Lyon, the undulating curtain wall on the west elevation of the market building came from developer Shahram Malek’s interest in a wave-shaped façade on a Norman Foster mid-rise housing project in London. For floors four through 11, a banding of straight glass railings run the building’s length along Columbia, the curved wall and balconies set behind them like cardboard corrugations. The first three storeys are unencumbered by balconies, glass meeting sidewalk in a sinuous sashay down the block.

As if lacking the conviction of its own organic forms, the building is topped by something quite different — a half dozen penthouses arrayed like squared-off country club mansions. These, plus the idea of putting the highest towers on the western portion of the block came from all-powerful marketing consultant Bob Rennie’s “Big View, Big Price” philosophy, says Mr. Lyon. Views to the west are prized most of all, even though this means the family-oriented social housing courtyard next door will remain in shadow when most used — late afternoons and early evenings.

Everyone had to give a bit to make this project happen. According to Mr. Lyon, for Millennium it was their obligation to use double-loaded housing corridors (they seldom build these elsewhere) for the mid-rise, though each end is open to natural light and breezes, in good sustainable fashion.

The architecture of plans and elevations is very different for the eastern and western sides of this corridor. The eastern half of the building is un-curved, just a few of the units closest to 1st Avenue rotated out of alignment a few degrees, allowing sliver views to the North Shore mountains, and preventing these from becoming hard-to-sell ‘dog units’ at the least desirable corner. To be sure, the design reconciliation of four quite-different elevations is a tough architectural problem, but GBL has not come close to solving it here.

Working within strict B.C. Housing guidelines, the social housing block adjacent is more even-handed, and in its mandated simplicity, more architecturally successful. Larger family apartments are ringed around the courtyard, with smaller suites in the block along Manitoba, this wing clad in a red brick. This cladding, plus the fritted glass panels planned for the rest of the structure are of a higher standard than typical for Vancouver social housing — compliments to developer and architect for doing this. The only slip here is a curving lobby, a hiccup passed on from its confused neighbour.

Dull condo towers downtown and now the over-prescribed mid-rises of South East False Creek are demonstrations of how Vancouver is failing to spark artful city-building and innovative architecture. The reason for this — at design panel, at city council, in the offices of planners, developers and designers — is because a culture of mere sufficiency has prevailed over a culture of true excellence.

Buying homes in foreclosure can be risky

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Christine Dugas
USA Today

The housing market remains volatile as new-home sales slide and more than 2.1 million Americans with home loans missed at least one payment last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. By Chuck Burton, AP

You’re a would-be buyer who’s been sitting stubbornly on the sidelines, having seen home prices soar to nonsensical levels, waiting for their inevitable fall back to Earth. Eventually, you say, the time will be right to tiptoe into the market.

Lately, you’ve seen prices slipping. And you’ve heard about foreclosed homes being thrown on the market at bargain prices.

Well? Are we there yet? Should you check out a discounted home in foreclosure? After all, there will be more than 1 million foreclosures over the next two years, according to the National Association of Realtors. A house in foreclosure might well offer a great deal.

Michelle Mangione knows. She and her husband, Jeff Haag, are living in a home in Fallbrook, Calif., that she bought from the owner about three years ago, just before it went into foreclosure. Having paid about $680,000, she estimates she saved about $200,000.

Still, her savings came at a price: a lot of needed work on the house. “You have to be willing to live in a mess for a while,” Mangione said recently, as painters were working in the home.

Buying a home in foreclosure isn’t easy, and it’s hardly without risk. Before you consider plunging into the foreclosure market, be sure to do some in-depth research.

“There are some good buying opportunities,” says David Lereah, the NAR’s chief economist. “But don’t repeat the mistakes of the foreclosed borrowers.”

Until recently, some buyers saw little risk in rushing into an adjustable-rate mortgage or an exotic loan with a low or no down payment. Now, many are stuck with soaring payments they can’t afford.

With the market sinking for “subprime” borrowers — those with shaky credit or little money to put down — buyers short on cash are finding it harder to get a mortgage. Before you try to buy a home in foreclosure, be sure you have a good credit score and enough cash for a sizable down payment. Prime borrowers, Lereah notes, should still be able to qualify for traditional fixed-rate loans with rates remaining near historic lows.

If you do shop for a home in foreclosure, don’t reel in the first one you see. In particular, don’t get sucked into an auction right away. Auctions aren’t the only way to buy a home in foreclosure, and they can sometimes be the most hazardous.

Here are your main options:


The typical one is a state process. It’s generally held on the courthouse steps, in the clerk’s office or in front of the foreclosed house.

“The auction probably represents the highest potential return but also the highest risk,” says Rick Sharga of RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosures.

That’s because buyers typically can’t inspect the home in advance of the auction and must pay on the spot in cash or with a cashier’s check. It’s also possible that the current homeowners will refuse to move out, and then you must deal with an eviction, says Alexis McGee of, which provides advice on buying foreclosed homes.

REO (real estate owned)

If a foreclosed home isn’t sold at auction — if, for example, the highest offer is less than the homeowner owes the lender — the bank would repossess it. Though the bank will want to unload the home, it won’t necessarily do so cheaply. So you aren’t guaranteed a fabulous price.

“The bank can take their time in responding to an offer,” says Jim McEachern, a buyer’s agent in Las Vegas. “It’s just a piece of paper on a banker’s desk.”

Still, you’ll be able to arrange an inspection and title insurance. In that way, it’s safer than an auction.

Jenny Nelson recently bought a home in Stone Mountain, Ga., from the lender that seized it. She had time to research the home, which had been empty for about a year and was in rough shape. “It’s nerve-racking to think what could have happened to this house,” she says. Nelson had heard that when the house was vacant, homeless people had moved into it for a while.

Once Nelson hired an inspector, she learned that a broken pipe in the basement had caused mold to grow. Nelson, who had the problem repaired and cleaned up, plans to move in in June.


Because an auction is risky and an REO is more costly and time-consuming, some experts recommend buying a home in pre-foreclosure.

You can find a house in pre-foreclosure by studying the public notices about homes in default. The information is available from such Internet firms as, and RealtyTrac. You’ll pay a fee, though, for their services.

Plus, there will be little if any competition because the home usually isn’t up for sale. It’s a private deal. You offer a price that’s less than market value but more than the amount owed on the bank loan.

“The thing that makes it difficult for people,” McGee notes, “is the idea of soliciting somebody who hasn’t put a for-sale sign up front.”

Buyers don’t all have the same opportunities, because the number of foreclosures varies considerably across the USA. The top states now include Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Now may be a good time, for example, to buy a home in the Detroit area. “Homes are a lot more affordable than they’ve been for the last 15 years, and our inventory is at least double what it normally is,” says Ron Simpson of the Detroit Association of Realtors.

Simpson says he recently sold one home in foreclosure for $415,000 that would have cost $600,000 not long ago.

Not every would-be buyer in such areas, of course, can capitalize on the attractive prices, because many have lost jobs themselves. In fact, the main reason for foreclosure is unemployment, says Jay Brinkmann of MBA.

But be aware: Some homeowners don’t even try to stop foreclosure, because of something wrong with the neighborhood or structurally with the house.

“There are various reasons for people to live rent-free for close to a year, ride through the process and let it go into foreclosure,” Brinkmann says.

If you’re too nervous about buying a home in foreclosure, consider other options to find attractive deals. The overbuilding of homes in some parts of the USA, for example, has swelled the supply for buyers.

Some who have done it say buying a home in foreclosure is best suited to buyers who can accept the stress and hard work.

“You have to have vision and patience and be able to live in a little chaos,” says Mangione, the happy buyer.

The ocean’s newest alpha predator

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Stingray populations explode with the demise of great sharks

Margaret Munro

Cownowe rays are cruising the Atlantic coast wiping out scallop beds and threatening oysters and clams. Meanwhile, great hammerhead sharks are on the decline. PEW INSTITUTEOF OCEAN SCIENCE.

Huge schools of cownose rays, metre-wide creatures with poisonous stingers on their tails, are cruising the Atlantic coast in unprecedented numbers, wiping out scallop beds and threatening oysters and clams.

And half a world away in Japan, the population of longheaded eagle rays has exploded and is devastating lucrative wild and farmed shellfish beds, according to a Canada-U.S. research team that has linked the soaring number of rays with the demise of the great sharks.

“Lopping off the top predator has had some completely unforeseen consequences,” says marine biologist Julia Baum of Dalhousie University, co-author of the study published in the journal Science today.

She and her colleagues show huge declines in large predatory sharks, such as the great whites and hammerheads, have corresponded with an explosion in the number of rays, skates and other creatures the sharks used to keep in check.

The most dramatic example is the cownose ray, which the scientists estimate is now close to 20 times more common than it was in 1970s.

An estimated 40 million cownose rays now migrate up and down the Atlantic coast in tight, hungry schools. “They pack in side-to-side, and stacked like sardines,” says Baum.

Or as Charles Peterson, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, puts it: “They look like a starship fleet on some sort of fantastic space voyage” as they migrate up and down the coast.

He says the rays have wiped out North Carolina’s bay scallop fishery, which has been closed for three years, and have been destroying oysters and clam beds. They have taken to digging into the seafloor with their long, pointed pectoral fins to get at buried shellfish. In the process, the rays are destroying seagrass beds that are a critical nursery for many fish and shellfish species.

Cownose rays are hard to miss as they migrate through shallow coastal waters. But the researchers say their population boom is just one example of the ecological “distortion” caused by the loss of the sharks — a distortion they believe can be only corrected by protecting the great sharks, which are killed by the millions each year.

The new study, based on detailed fisheries surveys from the eastern seaboard dating back to 1970, shows that there have been sharp increases in the populations of 12 species of rays, skates and small sharks that used to be heavily preyed on by large sharks.

Baum says little is known about the biology, travels and diets of most of the creatures.

Baum and Ransom Myers, lead author of today’s report who died this week in Halifax, made headlines with a 2003 report that showed the great sharks are in steep decline.

Shark fins are highly valued in Asian markets. The fabled predators also are killed as by-catch in the tuna and swordfish fishery.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Canada to feel fallout from U.S. housing troubles

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Consequences ‘huge’


David Dodge wants globalization to be of benefit to Latin America

NEW YORK — The troubles in the U.S. housing sector triggered by a plunge in the market for so-called subprime loans could delay recovery and have “huge consequences” for Canada’s economy, says Bank of Canada governor David Dodge.

“Everybody else in the world looks at housing and says that doesn’t have much consequence for demand for us. But of course for Canada it’s exactly the opposite — it has huge consequences,” the central bank governor said yesterday after a speech to the Americas Society and the Council of Americas.

A slew of U.S. banks and firms that lend to subprime borrowers — consumers with higher credit risks — have run into trouble as rising interest rates and falling home prices increased the number of loan delinquencies and foreclosures.

There are worries that it might spill over into the general-housing market and lead to a further weakening of the U.S. homebuilding sector, a buyer of billions of dollars worth of Canadian lumber and other materials.

In response to questions, Dodge said “the recovery of demand for new housing in the United States and construction of new housing . . . is going to take a bit longer than we might have thought last fall.”

“We’ll have perhaps more repossessions coming back on the market in the next year or so, the credit markets for mortgages have tightened up a bit, so that means a little bit slower growth of demand, and we have an accumulation now of pretty close to nine months of newly built but unsold homes on the market.”

In his speech, Dodge called for the creation of new economic-policy institution for the Western Hemisphere as a way to help countries in Latin America that have been left behind by the economic successes of Asia.

He said most Latin American countries have missed out on the benefits of globalization and require a jump-start to spur them on to greater trade liberalization and economic integration.

© The Vancouver Province 2007


Fears that meltdown in U.S. could trigger recession with fallout in Canada

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Jackrabbit start for 2007 market


Two-storey home prices rose an average of 11.8% nationally. Jason Payne File Photo – The Province

OTTAWA — Canada’s housing market has gotten off to a hotter-than-expected start this year, a major real-estate firm says, reporting double-digit-percentage price increases for all major types of housing from a year earlier.

While the increases in prices in the first quarter of this year were led by continuing strong price gains in Alberta, prices were also up in virtually all cities in Canada, Century 21 noted in its quarterly housing market report.

“The combination of resilient consumer confidence, moderately low interest rates and improved affordability across most of the country led to greater-than-expected activity during the typically slower first quarter,” it said.

And that bodes well for what is the typically hot spring season for housing markets, said Century 21 president Phil Soper.

“The recent months have produced record-breaking sales levels in many markets and unwavering demand — momentum which will undoubtedly be maintained through the always busy spring market,” he said.

The continued strength in Canada’s housing market is in contrast to the broad retreat in housing prices in the U.S., which, according to a report this week from Standard & Poor’s, were down 0.7 per cent from a year ago.

The housing bust in the U.S., resulting in a meltdown in the subprime-mortgage market which the Federal Reserve warns could last two years, is also blamed for eroding consumer and business confidence in what is also Canada’s largest export market.

Soper said that the problems in the U.S. housing market should not have any direct impact on Canada’s housing market.

There are both economic and structural differences in the two markets, he said.

Among other things, interest rates increased and to higher levels in the U.S. than in Canada and that had a greater impact on Americans, who are carrying more debt than Canadians, he said. Further, mortgage lending in the U.S. was much more aggressive and more risky than here.

“The concern is a broader one in Canada that a further softening and outright collapse of the American housing market could be one of the major triggers to an American recession,” he said. “With our largest trading partner in full-blown economic retreat, all bets are off, and not just for our housing market, but for jobs, our tax levels, and everything else.” In Canada, the strongest year-over-year increase in Canadian housing prices in the first quarter was in the average price of a condominium, which was up 16.3 per cent to $230,146, followed by a 14.9 per cent gain to $316,993 for a bungalow, and a 11.8 per cent rise to $378,148 for a two-storey home.

The increases in prices for a standard detached bungalow were 55.2 per cent in Edmonton, 32.3 in Saskatoon, 29.2 Calgary, 13.5 St. Johns, N.L.,13.4 Vancouver, 12.3 Regina, 11.8 Winnipeg, 9.6 Halifax, 9.2 Victoria, 7.8 Moncton, N.B., 6.0 Ottawa, 5.7 Toronto, 5.4 Montreal, 2.1 Charlottetown.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

Millennium Water: historical site, sustainable future

Thursday, March 29th, 2007


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Real Estate Websites: 21 Ways to Drive Visitors Away

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Roselind Hejl

Have you surfed real estate sites lately?  Many still make some fundamental mistakes that tend to drive visitors away, rather than offering a rich experience that people will return to.  A visitor who has come back to your site several times is well on his way toward picking up the phone or sending an email, and beginning a business friendship with you.

The primary goal of a website should be to establish your message quickly and simply. Visitors scan sites rapidly, and want to move immediately to information that benefits them.  Here are some ways to stop them from doing just that!

1.  Force visitors to sit through your flash introduction.  (“It’s a bird, it’s a plane?no, it’s…the title to this website.  If you need a “Skip Intro” button, you’re off on the wrong foot.”)

2.  Impress your visitors with some cool text on top of background graphics, or, even better, some cool text on top of background text.  (“Honey, where are my 3-D glasses?”)

3.  Shake things up with a blast of your favorite music.  (“It’s midnight, and I think I’ll do a little house hunting before bed…”)

4.  What is this?  Blue text over black background.  (“I thought this was a website, not a cave.  Honey, where’s my flashlight?”)

5.  Come up with a spiffy new layout for each page.  (“Let’s see, which site was this anyway?”)

6.  OK, folks, let’s see how well you can find your way around!  Notice we have dozens of links scattered around the page…  (“Honey, get out the ball of string and bread crumbs.”)

7.  Here are some fun link puzzles! You’ll find that some links duplicate other links, but with different names. Try to guess which!  (“Oh-oh, I opened this one already…”)

8.  Oh boy, it’s one of those ads that flash at lightning speed.  (“May cause nausea, headaches, blurred vision…”)

9.  If one font does not make your site interesting, try six or seven, plus some bold , and a SMATTERING OF ALL CAPS.  (“A little subtlety, please!”)

10.  Hmm, the middle of the page is moving, but the sides are just hanging there.  This does not seem quite right…  (“Children, don’t ask why, but a long time ago, people used a thing called ‘frames’.”)

11.  So, what’s the main course on this site?  Well, tonight we’re having some canned content: Seven Deadly Mistakes Sellers Make. (“Who cooks up this stuff, anyway?”)

12.  Excuse me, folks, this text is for Google! (“Repeat after me…home for sale, for sale home, sale home, home sale, for home, home for…”)

13.  Pop ups!  (“Back button, please! I’m out of here.”)

14.  Have we got a ton of photos for you!  Just sit back and relax. They may take a while to load. (“Oh, here we are on our trip to Vegas…!”)

15.  And speaking of me, there is sooo much more to say… (“And in 1982 I received several awards for…”)

16.  And now you can read my new syndicated real estate blog! (“The other day I was chatting with an agent who sits in the cubicle next to me at the office about the use of open house signs…”)

17.  I’m game! Let’s see how long can we make this page? (“It’s three feet long! Oh wait, there’s more.”)

18.  Cram your hundreds of reciprocal links on the main page. (“What is all this stuff at the bottom? Aah, helpful links. Car repair in Bulgaria ?”)

19. OK, people, let’s cut to the chase: You either fill out this questionnaire, or nothing doing! (“Oh, well, I didn’t really need to be doing this right now.”)

20.  Wait, don’t leave!  Here’s some interesting real estate trivia! (?Why is the Terra Amata site famous??)

21.  Not so fast, folks!  Welcome to Hotel California. Your fancy back button has been disabled!  (“Relax,” said the night man, “we are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave.”)