Archive for December, 2007

You want affordable, green/legacy residency

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Stronger presence of ‘end-user’ purchaser slowing price appreciation, construction pace

Jennifer Podmore and Julia Smith
Sun

In 2007, the Lower Mainland real estate market continued to earn its stripes as the past 12 months marked yet another year of unprecedented growth. New development market values continued to rise, overall absorption remained strong and B.C. remained an attractive investment from both oversea and national markets.

While we did start to see changes in the market, as a whole it remains incredibly healthy. Some might scoff at the notion that our market is healthy, and refute this with affordability issues, the rising cost of construction or major delays due to a skills shortage. But the truth of the matter is that as our market continues to grow and shift, so do our perceptions and expectations of it.

For example, if we compare today’s market to 2004/2005, there is an obvious difference in the percentage price increase. In 2004/2005, the market increased by more than 20 per cent annually, whereas the 2006/2007 market experienced increases of approximately 10 per cent. The difference here is that residences in 2006/2007 were priced higher. As a result, 10 per cent represents a similar price increase.

So what happened in our market in 2007?

Still strong, but slower

Recently, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. released its preliminary statistics for building starts in 2007. Its research indicated that while housing starts in Vancouver remained strong, they were slightly lower than the level set in 2006. Its report also stated the pace of housing construction in Canada will slow next year, even in Alberta and B.C., as demand for new homes eases.

Over the last year, end-users have begun to play more of a role in our market. MPC Intelligence’s research indicates this trend will continue, resulting in longer timelines to sell homes, consumers having more time to shop around and prices increasing at a slower pace. The research also indicates that despite the apparent slowdown, prices are most certainly going up.

With end-users in the drivers’ seat, certain factors are becoming more important. One of these is the “Green Factor.” The media have prompted and encouraged end-users to pursue green products, such as homes with alternative heating options, reduced parking requirements, E-glaze windows, overhangs and dual-flush toilets. Add to this, baby boomers and thirty-somethings are now of the mindset where they want to create and leave the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. Simply put, the consumer is thinking green.

Another consideration is affordability. Affordability impacts the decisions that end-users make. What can they afford? What are they willing to pay each month? What do they care about in a home? What are they willing to sacrifice to get it? The reality is that Vancouver is not a small city any more. Its overall growth, combined with the strains on space and available land, have driven and continue to drive the cost of single-family homes to a level that is unaffordable for many. In order to keep up with the market, end-users have to change their expectations, following in the footsteps of many other major cities and their flight towards urbanization and the efficiencies that it brings.

Vancouver has reached a tipping point where families now live in condominiums. In fact, many argue that condo or “urban” living enhances lifestyle. It cuts down on long commutes and allows for more time to spend with friends and family, cook, exercise, read, and garden (albeit on a deck). It also leaves less of an ecological footprint on the environment.

Urban living is becoming a popular option in major cities and people are opting for the convenience of having restaurants, shopping, transportation, and recreation at their fingertips.

In Vancouver, urban living is a well-established trend, which continues to grow in popularity.

The city is lucky that people have gravitated towards this trend because Vancouver no longer has the luxury of ample land. In fact, building high-density living spaces is becoming one of the only options the city has left.

Urban living also directly affects prices. With more people wanting to cut down their commute times, homes closer to the city go up in demand and value. Remarkably, prices in the Fraser Valley are also affected by this trend.

Not everybody has bought into “urban living” and many still want their own front door and backyard. To achieve this, consumers are chasing a price point that can only be found in suburban areas, which in turn drives the price and value up further.

Others are looking for a real “community” and will venture and pay more to find that. Developments in Fort Langley and Pitt Meadows can attest to premium buyers willing to pay for a home in a special place.

The owner-occupant factor

What is interesting is that condos in the city, single-family homes in the burbs and homes in quaint-community settings all fall under the umbrella of real product created for real people. They are now being built for a consumer who actually intends to live there.

A market driven by end-users is changing the face of development. Developers are now building with “curbside appeal” to attract end-user buyers. Product is slower to arrive on the market and homes are being built and released in tempo sales campaigns. Timing and phasing have become the new future for development. In fact, moving into 2008, we will witness an upsurge of “Coming Soon Columns.” Currently, there are more homes coming soon than ever before.

In 2008, there will also be a growing need to differentiate market speculators from investors within the market. Investors are motivated by mid-to-long-term goals of holding real estate for parking money, future use and/or investment for adult children, whereas market speculators are focused on income from property turnovers.

Real buyers will eventually be required to purchase speculators’ investments and this will potentially create competition for future development. As a result, we will likely see slower — but still healthy — absorption rates in 2008. Because homes will take longer to sell, there will be a slight increase in available inventory of new development product. As of Sept. 30, the availability of new inventory increased to 21 per cent or 4,782 units.

Increased dependence on the end-user will frame the year ahead, generating strength and security in the marketplace. As we continue to meet and not exceed housing demand, the only visible changes will be a slower pace of sales in markets, offering multiple purchasing options. This is good news for consumers because they now have more time to make large purchasing decisions. However, although the clock is not ticking as fast, it is still ticking. MPC anticipates real estate values will continue to go up, albeit with more moderation.

Areas like Richmond, New Westminster and Burnaby prove that strong demand and limited supply of product results in the sharpest inclination of value. Alternatively, some areas in the Fraser Valley gauge success on gradual increases to value. In these markets, accelerated success is a direct result of developers tailoring their product to meet specified demand. Additionally, more emphasis is being placed on managing construction processes and costs, properly anticipating marketing efforts and sales timelines, and exercising discipline and appropriate timing for sales launches.

So, there you have it, the Lower Mainland market is currently being fuelled by end-users and this trend will continue well into the New Year. Because it’s a consumer’s market, it’s a market of choice. Consumers will have the time and opportunity to choose homes that fit their lifestyle.

Do they want their own backyard in the suburbs or are they going to opt for the convenience of urban living and purchase a condo in downtown Vancouver?

Anyway they look at it, it will be a win-win situation because prices are still going up. The bottom line is, our market has stabilized and remains healthy. Happy house hunting in the New Year.

The MPC Intelligence Web site is located at thetrac.ca

 

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Some confusion still remains about the 1-per-cent GST drop

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Most retailers are prepared for the tax cut, but consumers still have lingering questions

Kristin Goff
Sun

OTTAWA – Retailers are ready to cut the GST by one percentage point on Jan. 1 without much difficulty, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

But in case some haven’t had time to brief staff during the Christmas rush on all the details of the switch to a five-per-cent GST tax rate, it could be wise for consumers to know how the changes will apply.

Some of the changes aren’t as straightforward as you might guess.

Take this example, based on information from tax consultant, KPMG Canada:

If you exchange the purple shirt Aunt Maxine gave you at Christmas for the same shirt in the colour blue on Jan. 2, are you due a refund on the difference in the GST?

The answer is yes, although we’re talking small change — 30 cents on a $30 shirt.

“If the shirt is purchased before Jan. 1, 2008 and returned on or after that date, the GST refund on the returned shirt will be six per cent. The exchange will be considered a purchase of a new shirt, which will be taxed at five per cent because it took place after Dec. 31, 2007,” according to KPMG.

While it is true that retailers have just gone through their busiest season of the year, Derek Nighbor of the Retail Council of Canada expects things to go smoothly when the lower tax rate goes into effect.

Retailers and other types of businesses have already reduced the GST once. On July 1, 2006, the GST was reduced to six per cent from seven per cent with relatively few reported problems, said Nighbor, vice-president of national affairs for the Retail Council.

“Our sense is, that as with the first iteration, retailers large and small will be ready,” he said.

“It is a big chunk of money.”

Nighbor estimates the tax reduction will put $5 billion into the pockets of consumers.

In most cases, the GST appears separately on bills for goods and services, making it relatively easy to see whether you are getting the reduction you are due.

But businesses do have the option of including the tax within their prices. During the last GST reduction, some businesses chose to increase their prices by an amount equal to the tax reduction, so the $12 price of a movie ticket or the $1.50 cost of a vending-machine treat stayed the same for consumers, but represented a seemingly painless way to raise prices for the business operator.

The Canada Revenue Agency has a toll-free GST information line for consumers and businesses from 8:15 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, to answer questions (1-866-959-7797 English, 1-866-959-7798 French). There is also information for consumers and businesses on the Internet at www.gst.gc.ca.

Here is a sampling of questions and answers for consumers, taken from information by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and KPMG.

Q. What GST rate applies if I return a purchase for a cash refund?

A. If the item was purchased before Jan. 1, the cash refund should be based on the six-per-cent GST that applied at the time of purchase.

Q. What is the GST rate on the chimney cleaning done on Dec. 17, if I don’t pay until Jan. 4?

A. The GST rate is usually based on the earlier of the date that payment is made or the date the supplier issues an invoice. So if the chimney sweeper gave you a bill on Dec. 17, the rate would be six-per-cent GST. But it could be five per cent if the invoice was issued after Jan. 1, regardless of when the work was done. CRA also cautions that there can’t be an “undue” delay in issuing invoices in order to jump to the lower GST rate.

Q. I made lots of purchases in December with my credit card. Since I won’t get the bill until January, does the lower five per cent GST rate apply?

A. No such luck. You’ve already paid the six-per-cent rate when you made the December purchase, and your credit-card company doesn’t owe you a rebate.

Q. I bought furniture in October under a “don’t pay a cent” deal which delays payment until October 2008. What is the GST rate?

A. You still have to pay last year’s six-per-cent GST because you became owner of the furniture in 2007.

Q. If I purchase hockey tickets in December to attend a February game, what is the GST rate?

A. Six per cent. It is based on when you pay.

Q. What should I do if I am charged six per cent GST on a purchase made after Jan. 1, 2008?

A. First request a refund from the company that overcharged the tax. If that doesn’t work, you can file for a rebate from the government on taxes paid in error, using the form GST189, known as the General Application for Rebate of GST/HST. The form is available from GST information phone line staff or on the CRA website: www.cra-arc.gc.ca.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Renovation software can be a lifesaver

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Home Hardware’s computer program can take the stress out of remodelling your home

Joanne Hatherly
Sun

James Cook uses Home Works software on a computer at a Home Hardware store. Photograph by : Ray Smith, CanWest News Service

Everybody loves to try before they buy. Consider taste-test tables set up in grocery store aisles, or the mandatory road-test for a car.

But renovating a house is a bigger undertaking than sipping on a can of Coke or test-driving a car, so it can be challenging for homeowners to stretch their imaginations to visualize the effects of a makeover.

Would the living room look better with ceramic tile or hardwood floors? How about the front door: Should it be a craftsman, colonial or mission?

The computer revolution changed all that, so that now with the click of a mouse, the phrase “what you see is what you get” is becoming reality.

At the end of 2006, Home Hardware introduced HomeWorks, a home-imaging software package that allows consumers to piece together a digital do-over. It paints, installs doors and windows, refloors rooms, sets up new columns, re-surfaces the driveway and more.

Andrew Pantelides, a national product manager at Home Hardware in Montreal, says the software was designed for contractors and as an in-store retail tool, but they quickly saw it “had legs” for the customer’s in-home use.

They linked it up with more than 30 national suppliers so the package uses manufacturers’ windows, doors, flooring, interior and exterior paints, landscaping, siding, roofs, screens, masonry, stone pavers, railings and more.

It might be the most comprehensive digital remodelling package on the market. Other retailers are picking up the trail, as well. Browse the Rona website that features virtual walk-throughs on home plans and downloadable landscaping plans. (rona.ca).

Before HomeWorks, the best-known digital imaging application for the home was introduced through paint manufacturers’ websites where browsers could digitally repaint virtual rooms. Benjamin Moore has its Personal Colour Viewer; Glidden had [email protected], Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer, and Behr Paint Your Place.

Increasingly, manufacturers have posted these packages on their sites as free downloads. Upgrades that allow shoppers to use photos of their own homes can be purchased for less than $20.

Other home-related manufacturers and retailers followed. Now consumers can digitally tinker with landscaping, design their own closet organizer, and figure out how to make over kitchens and bathrooms.

The programs have grown more sophisticated while they’ve become simpler to use. Daryl Stanley at Victoria‘s Floor Covering International retail started using a digital flooring program in October. He still bumps around as he navigates the program, but in a short time, he has become adept enough that the program has changed his sales calls.

“I used to draw diagrams for customers,” says Stanley. “Now I can show them whatever it is they want — tile, hardwood, carpet, luxury vinyl. If they want to see what Brazilian cherry will look like in their living room, I can show it to them.”

He notes, however, that consultation is still a big part of the selection process. “I don’t think any program can make it perfect, and there are still things to discuss.”

Those things include lifestyle, traffic and decorating preferences.

How easy — or hard — is it to use HomeWorks? The proof, in this case, is in the computer’s disk drawer.

Ross Bay Home Hardware owner-manager Greg Hellyer invited a reporter to navigate the program with James Cook, 23, a staffer who had never used it.

The program loads quickly into the store’s computer. Cook wanders through the options and opens a detailed illustration of a craftsman-style house complete with porch. He scrolls through paint choices — the variety is as wide as the stock on the store’s shelves. He picks a brand and then a style, which opens a sidebar of colour choices.

The program is brand specific — those 30 to 40 big-name suppliers Pantelides mentioned — and provides a product list that users can take to the store, which means when they order a specific paint colour, that’s the colour they will get.

Cook cautions, however, that colours on a computer monitor do not always look the same on the wall, so customers should check the paint colours in the store.

The software designers planned ahead on the HomeWorks program: It not only provides images of products available through the store, it also lists regional availability. For example, when Cook selected a particular type of masonry, the system advised him that it was only available in Eastern Canada.

“What that tells you is that we would have to order that in,” Cook says.

Use the Internet to download updates, so the user won’t select items that are no longer stocked.

Before Cook shuts down the program, he stumbles over one unexplored key.

“Ah, the tutorial!” Cook says as a detailed how-to list pops up. “Ordinarily, it would be a good idea to look at that first.”

PLANTING IDEAS

Nothing “greens” a home better than a few well-placed plants. For most of us, that means using the trial-and-error method — purchasing the plant, selecting a pot that dovetails nicely with our home’s interior look, and then stepping back to measure the overall effect.

It’s simple, and for the most part it works, but what about when the pot in question is more than one metre tall and hauling it to your home produced enough back strain that you dread the idea of returning it? What if your plant acumen is somewhat on the low side and you’ve lost some money when you put those shade-friendly plants under a south-facing skylight, thus scorching the leaves to an autumnal brown?

A little digital enhancement might go a long way in making this process easier. Such a service — its roots well-established in hotels, businesses and malls — is creeping into the residential market.

Joanne Craft, B.C. vice-president for Initial Tropical Plants, says residential clients are taking advantage of the technology that allows them to show how a home would look with a variety of plant selections.

“It’s created a huge ‘wow’ factor with our clients,” says Craft.

The process is as simple as a consultation, taking photos of the home and digitally enhancing them to show the plant selections in the exact location.

No more brain-strain while you try to imagine how that palm tree would look in your foyer.

“With digital imaging, clients can make that decision very easily,” Craft says.

Getting others in the act is simple, too, by e-mailing the images around for those second, third and fourth opinions. Most of the homes taking advantage of this service fall into the “mansion” category, says Craft, but she can see its appeal to the mid-range market, especially with the growing interest in home interiors.

Plants are, after all, the ultimate organic green accent.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

In Memory of Benazir Bhutto

Friday, December 28th, 2007

‘I am at peace with myself and my religion’

Province

The Province interviewed Benazir Bhutto when she visited in 1991

The following are excerpts from a Province story by former staffer Lyn Cockburn when Benazir Bhutto visited Vancouver on Jan. 22, 1991:

She is above all a tightrope walker. She walks the line between the old and the new. She balances delicately between Muslim tradition and the modern world.

For example, she wears an approximation of the veil, something she did not do when she studied at Harvard and Oxford.

She agreed to an arranged marriage with Asif Ali Zardari, a wealthy businessman. On the other hand, she promises to increase the rights of women in Pakistan.

She was in Vancouver yesterday and I interviewed her just hours before she was to address the black-tie World Affairs fund-raising dinner at the Hyatt Regency.

We sit at a huge conference-style table in her [hotel] suite. She is composed; I am a little nervous.

“Sit over on this side, I’m a little hard of hearing,” she says, instantly making me feel better.

There is a dignity about her, a presence, a sense of power, a feeling of serenity.

She knows exactly what she wants to say and she says it. For however long she wants to say it. If you try to interrupt her to ask another question, she says calmly, “May I please finish my sentence.”

Her tones are measured, considered and, in some cases, careful.

She is ever on that tightrope.

For example, she is aware that she has often been accused of being an insincere Muslim educated in western ways.

“I am at peace with myself and my religion,” she says.

“I am deeply religious. I believe in the power of prayer but I don’t believe that fundamentalist Muslims have any right to tell me or the people of Pakistan how to run our lives.

“We are answerable to God, not the fundamentalists.”

Bhutto states that she and her Pakistan People’s Party represent the liberal face of Islam while the fundamentalists would take Muslims back to the world of centuries ago.

“Islam is not just a set of narrow, rigid laws,” she says.

If she is a trifle circumspect when discussing religion, she makes up for it when she talks about the Oct. 24, 1990, election which gave her a mere 45 seats in the 217-member National Assembly.

“It was rigged,” she states flatly.

A Canadian team of observers was present for that election and declared the polling largely free and fair.

Bhutto points out that the Canadian team went home right after the election while a French team did not. “The French observers said publicly that fraudulent ballots were added after the polls closed at night,” she says.

“We won that election,” she announces, conviction evident in her voice. “And we would win again.”

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 The Les Twarog Team Honors a Courageous Woman…

Reliable Raincity rarely lets diners down

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

REVIEW – Chefs work magic with vegetables and staff know their stuff at this refined spot

Mia Stainsby
Sun

A grilled chicken breast from Raincity Grill is served with braised walnuts. The restaurant avoids the stampede to be hip and instead focuses on fine food and excellent service.

If there’s anything to lament about living in a great restaurant city, it’s this: You can get so focused on keeping up with the brand new places, others are left in the dust of your gastro travels.

After years of neglect, I returned to Raincity Grill recently; chefs had come and gone, nations had risen and fallen in the interim.

What I like about Raincity is its focus on food and service. It’s not part of the stampede to be hip and, in fact, it looks its age. At 15, many restaurants are approaching retirement but Raincity has aged gracefully. No extreme makeover. No nip, no tuck. Instead, it’s an intelligent, comfortable fit for the ‘mature’ diner interested in a quiet, lovely dinner out. Impeccable food, leadership in running a green restaurant and experienced service are its hallmarks.

Quelle surprise when I ask how a dish is prepared or what wine might go with what. The answer’s right there, with confidence, not (as often happens) a promise to “check with the kitchen,” then forgetting to get back to you. Servers oughtta know that a diner who asks a lot of questions might very well be a food critic.

On one visit, a waiter (Mark Taylor, I’m told, who’s been there since the restaurant opened) knew how certain textures were achieved, how flavours were manipulated, and the origin of the wheat for the flour that went into the delicious bread (Vancouver Island). That, I’d call seasoned service.

I was very curious about Raincity’s five-course 100-Mile Tasting Menu ($62) where all ingredients except the salt is local. The canola oil, they admit is from the Prairies. I was impressed with what’s possible. There are suggested wine matches and Garry Oaks, Venturi-Schulze and Averill Creek offer great selections from within the 100-mile radius.

Chef Peter Robertson, who’s done a stage at England‘s Fat Duck (once named the best restaurant in the world) has nothing but solutions to the limitations of local, local, local, both on the tasting and regular menu.

Yes, vegetables aren’t abundant in winter. So what? He gives new meanings to root vegetables. Celeriac, served with Polderside chicken, is hay-baked. First, it’s covered in a pastry shell, then covered in hay, then steam baked. Once cracked out of the pastry shell (which keeps it moist), the celeriac is puréed into a creamy, aromatic side dish.

A whipping cream canister is commandeered to perform magic on vegetables. Mashed potatoes, mixed with mascarpone, put through the canister, transforms the heavy potato into something soft and mousse-like; speaking of mousse, the mushroom mousse served with the Bayne Sound scallops is ethereal. And I’ve never before raved about onions but I love the “onion fondue” served with mushroom tagliatelle on the a la carte menu. That whole pasta dish is wonderful.

The tasting menu dessert is a burnt fireweed honey custard, set in an emptied eggshell. Local honey is recruited for sweetening and, molecular gastronomer at heart, Robertson turns honey and oil into “honey caviar” to serve on the side along with a smear of fromage frais. (Smears, you oughtta know, are showing up a lot on plates lately. It looks like someone’s stepped on it and slipped.)

As it turns out, the à la carte menu is pretty local, too. About 80 per cent of ingredients are from the 100-mile zone. As far as the savouries go, there aren’t many mis-steps. Dishes are rarely overly oily and flavour essences are clean and clear. A butternut squash soup is beautifully creamy; the kitchen cannot shake itself of the grilled Caesar salad that’s been on the menu since Day 1 but I like it; Polderside duck breast with braised black lentils, a collection of perfectly roasted root vegetables and glassy duck jus is delicious.

Desserts, though, don’t have a similar degree of refinement. A molten chocolate cake wasn’t exactly molten and it was over-shadowed by an enormous dollop of squash mousse next to it. Anjou pear mouse with cranberry granita was bland. I did, however, love that honey custard with honey caviar and fromage frais.

As for the wines, the restaurant has won several awards as has sommelier Brent Hayman. He’ll guide you through the wine list, which requires heavy lifting.

- – -

RAINCITY GRILL

Overall: 4

Food: 4 1/2

Ambience: 4

Service: 4

Price: $$$

1193 Denman St., 604-685-7337, www.raincitygrill.com

Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday; brunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

The great Wikipedia debate: should it be quality or quantity?

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Janice Tibbetts
Sun

There is a war raging behind the scenes at Wikipedia that is threatening the online encyclopedia’s mantra of being a forum “where every human being can freely share the sum of all knowledge.”

A dispute over whether volunteer administrators have become too deletion-obsessed has produced two clashing factions within the ranks of Wikipedians, sparking enthusiastic and sometimes ugly sparring on blogs and discussion groups.

On one side are the come-one-come-all inclusionists, who argue there are no space restrictions, so why not include articles that have limited interest?

, who counter that the hugely popular compendium — which marked its two-millionth English entry this fall — should focus on quality rather than quantity.

Wikipedia administrator Andrew Lih, a former media professor who is writing a book about the six-year-old venture, has accused it of developing a “soup Nazi culture,” referring to the fierce gatekeeper on the TV program Seinfeld who tossed out customers if they didn’t comply with the arbitrary rules at his soup stand.

“One of the things I noticed in the summer of 2007 is that I started to see a sharp, sharp turn in what people considered newsworthy or inclusion-worthy, things that I thought would be pretty obvious a year or two ago,” Lih said.

While Wikipedia invites readers to edit and add to entries, only about 1,000 volunteer administrators — picked from the legions of regular contributors — can delete or resurrect articles.

Thousands of entries are discarded daily, the vast majority because they are ridiculous by anyone’s standard or because they are considered to be inaccurate vandalism.

Some entries meet the rules for “speedy deletion” and can be eliminated on the spot. Others are shipped to an articles-for-deletion page for a debate on whether they meet inclusion criteria.

Wikipedia now is more about being cautious, erring on the side or removing stuff rather than keeping stuff, and that’s a huge cultural shift from the beginning days, when it was ‘let’s keep adding stuff,’” said Lih, noting that new entries have dropped dramatically.

“The preference now is for excising, deleting, restricting, information rather than letting it sit there and grow.”

Lih, a deletionist-turned-inclusionist, confesses that he switched sides after one of his articles about a new social networking site, called Pownce, was wiped off Wikipedia by an administrator who dismissed it as free advertising. Lih hastily resurrected it.

Simon Pulsifer, one the world’s most prolific Wikipedians, said he has noticed lately that some of his earliest articles have vanished, including one on Ottawa‘s second-tallest building, Minto Metropole.

He said he waited a few days and then quietly restored the entry, hoping nobody would notice.

“I always get annoyed when something I’ve written has been deleted,” said Pulsifer, who parks himself in the inclusionist camp.

“What makes Wikipedia strong is having wide coverage,” said Pulsifer, who has written about 3,000 articles and contributed to about 90,000 more.

“More articles attract more users and it doesn’t really matter how large [an article] is, as long as all the information can be easily verified and accurate and ensured to be neutral.”

A Wikipedia entry on Pulsifer, who gained fame for being the biggest contributor to the online encyclopedia, was on the chopping block last year but it survived after contentious debate.

Three months ago, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales found himself at the centre of a week-long deletion furore after he posted a single-sentence entry on Mzoli’s Meats, a butcher shop and restaurant in Guguleto township near Cape Town, South Africa.

appeared, it was deleted by a young administrator who declared that it met the criteria for speedy deletion because the restaurant was too obscure to be noteworthy.

After much debate, which included accusations that Wales was getting preferential treatment, the article survived.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Capazoo looks to conquer social networking

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Well-heeled startup using fictional money to change Internet economy

Robert Rocha
Province

Capazoo’s creative director, Guime Oudro, wants to shake up the world of online networking. – CNS

MONTREAL Silicon Valley wisdom holds that a great tech company starts small — by tradition in a garage — and slowly grows as it proves itself.

Google started that way. So did Apple and the social-network darling Facebook. So are thousands of startups worldwide that want to make their fortunes on the Internet.

But what if one starts big from the get-go? What if an entrepreneur commands millions of dollars and throws it all into a company with a hundred employees, rooms full of computers, and very few clients?

Is this a reckless return to the dot-com bubble days? Or is it a bold charge at Internet notoriety?

Capazoo is a new Montreal-based social network that fancies itself the next stage in the evolution of social networking, and it’s betting on the latter. It wants to unseat MySpace and Facebook as the reigning champs of online socializing.

And it has $25 million from pro-athlete investors and a well-known entertainment brand behind it. Its rationale: Social networks are nothing without their users.

It’s individuals who add the funny pictures, videos and blog ramblings that make other users stick around. So shouldn’t users be compensated for the popularity of their content?

To this end, Capazoo’s model offers two significant twists: Users who post popular content can profit from their contribution — but only if they pay a yearly fee.

“There’s this growing backlash that sees corporations making money on the backs of content producers,” said Robert Samuels, general manager of Capazoo, taking a swipe at YouTube and its cohorts that are capitalizing on user-generated media. “People are basically saying: ‘I want to be appreciated, not taken advantage of.’ “

On the surface, little sets Capazoo apart from others. Users create profiles, share pictures, videos and music, and keep personal blogs.

Its grand idea is to foster a micro-economy in which users “tip” each another with a fictional currency called the Zoop. New users are given an allowance of Zoops they can give away at will. They can then buy more Zoops at a penny each.

This, founders claim, will encourage users to post interesting content that others will want to tip. Good content will attract more users. Professionals will want to promote their videos and music there.

That’s the theory.

Capazoo gives users the option to convert their accumulated Zoops into real cash. But to do that, you have to be a paying member, at $25 to $35 a year, depending on the package.

These VIP members receive a debit card carrying their Zoop balance, which they can use at most bank machines.

This melding of virtual and physical worlds will be Capazoo’s greatest test.

If its big bet succeeds, Capazoo will surprise a lot of skeptical observers in the tech world.

“Starting small is definitely the way you start these days, especially if you don’t have an edge in the marketplace,” said Barry Parr, an analyst with Jupiter Research.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible to beat these guys [MySpace and Facebook], but there are few historical precedents to show it can be done. Once a leader is established, it’s very hard if not impossible to do it.”

Samuels dismisses the criticism.

“We’re not your average startup,” he said. “Our growth plan is significant, we have to have the infrastructure.”

Capazoo’s spending spree includes $5 million for Web hosting services, an amount deemed absurd by startup standards. “In a few years, someone else will come up behind us, so we have to prepare for that, too,” Samuels explains.

To its critics, Capazoo’s biggest red flag is that it’s funded almost entirely by private individuals. The company’s co-founder and president is Grant Carter, a former defensive end for the Alouettes who married a CBC reporter and moved to a suburb of Atlanta to become a banker.

Major investors include NFL, NHL and NBA personalities.

National Lampoon, the satirical magazine popular among the college set, last week took a minor stake in the firm.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Laughing Stock Vineyards seeks Portfolio investors

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Naramata operation is owned by two investment industry veterans

Michael Kane
Sun

David and Cynthia Enns are investment industry veterans who’ve switched to winemaking at Laughing Stock Vineyards. Their flagship bottle is adorned with ticker tape showing stock prices on the day the grapes were picked. Photograph by : David Szabo/Special to the Vancouver Sun

Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio 2005, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley: David and Cynthia Enns are investment industry veterans who’ve switched to winemaking at Laughing Stock Vineyards. Their flagship bottle is adorned with ticker tape showing stock prices on the day the grapes were picked.

When the financial services industry is clamouring for your retirement savings this February, two investment veterans will be singing a discordant but possibly more delightful tune.

David and Cynthia Enns will be inviting people to invest in Portfolio, their award-winning Okanagan red wine with its distinctive circular ticker-tape label quoting actual stock prices from the day the grapes were harvested.

Those who pay $35 a bottle in February will be saving $5 on the retail price when the wine is released six months later. While that’s a modest financial return for entering this futures market, it does guarantee delivery of a wine that is becoming increasingly popular and difficult to find.

$50 a bottle on the shelf in wine stores in Vancouver, so the futures program is a really advantageous way to make sure you are on the list,” said Cynthia Enns, the marketing half of the partnership behind Laughing Stock Vineyards, a boutique estate on the Naramata Bench north of Penticton.

The Enns, who met while toiling in the mutual fund industry, are well aware of the investment mantra that past returns are no guarantee of future performance, but they’re hoping their next liquid investment will prove as successful as the last.

Portfolio, their flagship product, is a classic Bordeaux blend featuring cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc varietals. The current edition, Laughing Stock Portfolio 2005, collected the gold medal for Meritage Red at the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards.

That’s especially gratifying for 50-year-old winemaker Enns because it was his first independently produced vintage from the winery at Laughing Stock. The first two vintages, the 2003 and 2004, were produced with the help of consultant Ian Sutherland at his nearby Poplar Grove Winery.

Enns picked up his passion for wine while living in France as a child and started making it in a neighbour’s garage when the couple lived in Crescent Beach, near White Rock.

He recalls trucking in his first batch of grapes from Walla Walla in southeastern Washington state in the border-clogged days after Sept. 11, 2001. Since then he has taken winemaking courses at the University of California at Davis and at Okanagan College.

Still, it was a leap of faith when the couple transitioned from successful careers in the investment industry and their own distribution and marketing company, Credo Consulting, to an uncertain future in winemaking.

Cynthia Enns, now 39, was turning her back on an MBA. When they bought two hectares (five acres) in Naramata, they stuck with the playful name Laughing Stock because not a few people thought they were crazy.

Yet there was some marketing method to their madness. They reasoned their financial industry connections would resonate with the many wine aficionados in the business community.

With the task of making a small Okanagan winery stand out from a field of about 150, Cynthia Enns made “initial public offerings” of “private placements” to chief financial officers, trying to convince them that the gift of a bottle or even a case of Portfolio would impress valuable clients.

This year’s corporate customer targets included Telus, Ballard, QLT, Royal Bank and CIBC — all companies whose stock prices are quoted on the Portfolio bottle thanks to the novel label designed by Bernie Hadley-Beauregard of Vancouver’s Brandever

Strategy Inc.

Laughing Stock also produces a chardonnay and a pinot gris, and this year introduced a new wine for grapes that are surplus to requirements or don’t quite make the cut for the premium Portfolio offering. In keeping with the financial theme, the new wine is called Blind Trust.

As with many small producers in the Okanagan, their products rarely show up in BC Liquor Stores or the VQA outlets which sell exclusively B.C. wines. Laughing Stock typically sells out through more profitable channels, including their mailing list and about 150 restaurants in Vancouver and Whistler.

Less than 10 per cent is sold through their tasting room because it is often closed, even at the height of the tourist season.

“We’re supposed to be here for the lifestyle, so it’s nice to have some balance between making and marketing wine and making sure we get the boat into the water a bit in the summer,” Cynthia said. That suits their nine-year-old son, Joshua, just fine.

Laughing Stock’s wine futures program generates important early cash flow in a business that requires large and patient capital investment but it is limited to six months because the Enns don’t want to promote their wine until they have a good idea what it looks like. February’s offering will feature grapes that were picked in 2006 and are well advanced in the wine-making process.

Bigger producers, like Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, are able to offer merlot futures at a 20-per-cent discount in May with the wine shipped 18 months later.

Tinhorn Creek introduced futures in the late 1990s as a way of getting around regulations that prohibited wine discounts, said marketing manager Shaun Everest.

“Those regulations have been lifted and now the futures program is really a way for consumers to make sure they are going to get access to something before it gets snapped up,” he said. “Many long-term buyers of the futures like to keep a few bottles for several years to see how they age.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Cabo San lucas & San Jose will be on gps in next 6 months & Google Map

Monday, December 24th, 2007

It will soon work here, but with so many un-named streets, it

High-def TVs can take some smarts to set up

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Marc Saltzman
USA Today

Beth Bruederle, 40, watches 13-month-old son Liam as her husband J.B. attempts to get a signal on a new 46-inch high definition flat panel TV at their home in Chicago.

So you finally bought the big-screen TV you’ve been dreaming about — or perhaps Santa was exceptionally generous this year. You excitedly open the box and plug the new set into the wall.

But for some reason, the picture doesn’t look as sharp as it did at the store, or as clear as your neighbor’s high-definition television.

Don’t worry. Chances are there’s nothing wrong with your new HDTV. You just need a little help setting it up for optimum performance. Here are a few pointers:

• High-definition programming. You might be able to receive some free high-definition broadcasts if your television has a built-in ATSC tuner (for over-the-air broadcasts), or QAM tuner (a way to get HD channels over basic cable). Still, chances are you’ll be subscribing to high-definition programming through your cable or satellite provider. This involves upgrading your receiver box and paying a few extra dollars per month for access to the HD channels. (Don’t worry; it’s well worth it.)

If a channel is available in “widescreen” (16:9 aspect ratio), the television will automatically display it in this presentation. But if it’s a standard definition (4:3 aspect ratio) channel, your TV will either show vertical black bars on each side of the picture, or stretch it (you can choose). The onscreen TV guide through your television provider will usually write “HD” before or after the name of the show or network name. Example: “HD —Lost” or “NBC HD.”

Use the right cables. That’s so you can connect your high-definition components to your television. High-definition programming requires either component cables (red, blue and green), a digital visual interface (DVI) cable, or a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cable. This is in contrast with the red, yellow and white composite (“RCA”) cords, or the round-ended S-Video cable.

An HDMI is the preferred pick for the ultimate in uncompressed digital audio and video quality. Look at the back of your TV and you’ll see a few options; you might have to buy these cables separately.

• Want a quick, easy way to improve color? Turn up the contrast on your TV almost to full, and reduce the brightness down to below half. This little-known trick makes blacks blacker, colors richer and gets rid of the washed-out look some HDTVs have. Alternatively, find a THX-enhanced DVD, such as one of the Star Wars films or Finding Nemo, and use the disc’s built-in video test, which walks you through setting up contrast, brightness, color and sharpness.

You can always have the home theater professionally installed and calibrated.

• Get a sharper picture. Leave the television’s video setting on full-screen, but change your cable or satellite receiver box’s video output setting to 720p or 1080i. Many TV viewers will instead use the TV remote to “zoom in” to see the picture with no vertical bars. But this will likely result in a blurry or pixilated image — or might cut off some of the picture.

• Listen up. George Lucas once said audio is half the movie-viewing experience. If you’ve sat in the middle of a good surround-sound system, you’d be inclined to agree. Rather than settling for your television’s two-channel (stereo) audio, invest in an audio/video receiver that amplifies the sound to fill the room, and splits the audio into six or more speakers.

Those speakers would include two front speakers (usually placed on the left and right of the television); two rear speakers for the back of the room, at ear level; a center channel, which sits just below or above the television and delivers an estimated 80% of a movie’s dialogue; and the multidirectional subwoofer that sits on the floor, emitting the low-frequency bass. This setup is usually referred to “5.1 surround sound,” for the five speakers and “.1″ for the subwoofer.

Subwoofers are multidirectional, so you can put them anywhere in the room. But many audiophiles say to place them in a corner to maximize the subwoofer’s output.