Archive for June, 2009

Home price decline slows in many places

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Lynn Adler
USA Today

Even luxury estates are dealing with falling prices. This Boca Raton, Fla., home is on the auction block after failing to sell for $21.9 million. Concierge Auctions via AP

NEW YORK — Prices of single-family homes declined in April from March in many areas, but the pace of the decline slowed, suggesting stability is emerging, according to the latest Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller home price indexes.

An index of 20 metropolitan areas dipped 0.6% in April from March, after a 2.2% decline the month before, for an 18.1% downturn from a year earlier.

The month’s slide was smaller than the 1.8% drop forecast in a Reuters poll.

S&P’s index of 10 metropolitan areas declined 0.7% in April for an 18% year-over-year drop, after falling 2.1% month on month in March.

The rate of annual decline in these measures has improved, from 18.7% for both indexes in March.

“While one month’s data cannot determine if a turnaround has begun, it seems that some stabilization may be appearing in some of the regions,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P, said in a statement. “We are entering the seasonally strong period in the housing market, so it will take some time to determine if a recovery is really here.”

Blitzer said that the stock market has risen from March and consumer confidence gauges have turned higher, fostering improved sentiment in housing.

Thirteen of the 20 metro areas showed improvement in the annual returns in April compared with March, and every metro area except for Charlotte, North Carolina had a better monthly return, S&P said.

“This is positive news for people who don’t live in those speculative markets,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Securities in Charlotte. “Housing is going to be less of a drag on the economy but it won’t be adding to it as it traditionally does.”

Average home prices have wiped out six years of gains, returning to levels seen in mid-2003, S&P said.

The 20-year composite index has toppled 32.6% and the 10-city composite index has tumbled 33.6% from peaks in the second quarter of 2006.

Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Francisco were the three worst performing metro areas, with declines as big as 35.3% in Phoenix. Denver, Dallas and Boston fared the best, with single-digit declines.

With the exception of Dallas, all 20 metro areas have posted double-digit price declines from their peaks. Ten of the areas have fallen more than 30% and two — Phoenix and Las Vegas — by more than 50%.

“In housing, the worst is behind us, but it is an awfully deep hole we will have to climb our way out of,” said Kevin Flanagan, fixed income strategist, global wealth management, at Morgan Stanley in Purchase, New York.

Metro area

April 2009 index

Change from March

Change from April 2008

































Las Vegas




Los Angeles












New York












San Diego




San Francisco












W ashington












Source: S&P/ Case-Shiller

The indexes have a base value of 100 in January 2000. A current index value of 150 translates to a 50% appreciation rate since January 2000 for a typical home located in that market.

Contributing: AP

Copyright 2009 Reuters Limited.

Social media hits the trail as iPhone delivers thousands of hiking routes

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Users can share information about outdoor adventures on land, water and snow through a Canadian-made application by

Gillian Shaw

Now you don’t have to go any farther than your iPhone to find a hiking trail in your area with the launch of a new application for the popular Apple phone by

The Ottawa-based company, which traces its roots to the mountains around Vancouver where founder Kurt Turchan came up with the idea of a community of online users sharing their hidden hiking gems, is offering its application through Apple’s app store.

The application taps into more than 10,000 trails, with reviews by users and turn-by-turn directions to help hikers locate them.

“We have become Canada‘s largest trails website and it all started in Vancouver,” said Turchan, who moved to Ottawa in 2005, four years after he started the website.

It’s social media meets mobile in a trend that is seeing an explosion of services aimed at taking advantage of global positioning systems (GPS) in mobile devices to deliver information targeted to the user’s location.

“We think we are really hitting the nail here, we have such rich content on and now we are allowing people to get content on their iPhone, which is very cool,” Turchan said.

While your iPhone can already tell you where the nearest Starbucks is or rate the quality of the restaurant you’re strolling by, Turchan said this is the first app that offers up Canadian hikes.

“It is a fairly simple app right now, but it’s exciting because we are the first ones to do it,” he said. “With your iPhone, you can do a simple search, browsing all trails, or you can click to find trails near you.

“It will bring up a Google map and show with push pins the trails closest to your present location.”

The application free for downloading with Trailpeak getting feedback from users for future improvements.

“The feedback we hear from users is that they love and they are really looking for this mobile app,” Turchan said. “We wanted to get it out there and it will be continuously improving and evolving.”

With the mapping and GPS technology changing constantly, it’s a non-stop job to keep up. Currently the Trailpeak iPhone application goes to Google maps to generate its mobile trail offerings. Apple’s recent announcement of the new compass function with mapping in its new iPhone 3G S means Trailpeak will switch to the native iPhone maps, a process that will be seamless for users but should speed up the map delivery.

I inadvertently became a tester of the Trailpeak application when it failed to show any trails near me. The company has testers across the country and apparently I was the first to uncover a glitch that left the app unable to connect the list of nearby hikes with my location.

Once corrected, the application plastered the page with colour-coded push pins, from nearby Vancouver beach trails to more adventuresome treks in the mountains of the North Shore.

The mobile app is an adjunct to the successful, where 100,000 to 150,000 people a month peruse and share information about their outdoor adventures. While hiking is a popular focus, the site also caters to water sports from kayaking to canoeing and surfing, to mountain biking climbing, snowshoeing and cross-country and back-country skiing. Its reach has extended across the border to the United States where users get details of adventures from San Juan sea-kayaking to back-country skiing at Mount Baker.

“It really is a social media site,” Turchan said. “The idea is, it is run on karma points. If you don’t see a trail you know about, then you add it.”

Users can also upload GPS waypoints from their hikes to provide the equivalent of a GPS bread-crumb trail for other users. Under the karma system, every time a user uploads a GPS trail, he or she gets credit to download three.

The site also has a $25-a-year premium membership but Turchan said it differs only in adding some GPS downloads without the karma exchange and a few other perks.

– – –

Trailpeak’s on the phone

Following the success of his website, Ottawa-based Kurt Turchan came up with an iPhone application that lets outdoor enthusiasts share their favourite hikes and paddles with others while harnessing the mapping and global positioning powers of Apple’s iPhone.

Users click on red push pin icons to get details about the routes.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Telus launches into satellite TV business

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Hundreds of channels will be available to 90 per cent of customers in B.C. and Alberta following deal to sell Bell’s service in the West

Fiona Anderson

Vancouver-based telecommunications giant Telus Corp. has added satellite television to its suite of services.

Telus satellite TV — with more than 500 digital channels, including more than 80 in high definition — is now available to more than 90 per cent of homes in British Columbia and Alberta, the company said in a news release.

In May, Telus announced it had signed a deal with BCE Inc. to sell Bell‘s satellite TV in the two western-most provinces under the Telus brand.

Telus also has its own television service, Telus TV, which is delivered through its broadband network. That service has been launched in major centres — where the broadband infrastructure exists — and has more than 100,000 subscribers.

With the launch of satellite TV, Telus can now attract television customers in rural areas sooner and provide bundled services to 90 per cent of households in the region.

“We’re very committed to providing that triple play of video, local and broadband across the widest footprint possible,” Chris Langdon, Telus’s vice-president of networks services said in an interview. “So we’re really excited about Telus satellite and we think it has lots of legs for Telus.”

With Shaw Communications gaining local telephone subscribers who can bundle with its cable television service, bundling is important.

“The strategic imperative for Telus is all around bundles and ownership of the home,” Langdon said.

But Telus will continue to invest in its broadband, which would enable Telus TV to reach more homes, Langdon said.

“We very much view the two services — both satellite and IP TV — as complementary and it just puts us in such a better position to offer bundles across a much broader percentage of households,” he said.

Langdon expects the two will remain complementary for a long time.

The services will be very similar, but there are some advantages to each technology type, he said. For example, some people won’t want a satellite dish on their home so they would be better off with Telus TV.

“There are lots of cases where both will have their niche and I think we’ll be advantaged by having both,” Langdon said.

Greg MacDonald, an analyst with NBF Financial, called the agreement between Bell and Telus “a marginal positive” for Telus.

“We have witnessed this dual-prong approach of IP/satellite TV with AT&T, which has seen some merits,” MacDonald wrote in a note.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Call for investigation into mouldy Olympic Village allegations

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Ian Austin

The 2010 Olympic Athletes Village takes shape in Vancouver. A city councilor wants the developer to investigate allegations that the project could be susceptible to mould. RIC ERNST – THE PROVINCE

The 2010 Olympic Athletes Village on the shores of False Creek in Vancouver June 28, 2009. Photograph by: Ric Ernst, The Province

Construction continues yesterday on the Olympic Athletes Village on the south shore of False Creek. The plagued project is scheduled for completion Oct. 1.

Coun. Raymond Louie – PROVINCE FILES


Photo shows wall insulation being placed over uninsulated hot and cold water pipes. — HANDOUT

Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie wants the Olympic Village developer to investigate serious allegations that the development may become plagued by mould.

Louie said Millennium Southeast False Creek Properties Ltd. should inspect hot- and cold-water pipes in the massive developments after The Province revealed that unwrapped pipes could cause mould and mildew inside the project that is being fast-tracked to provide housing for Olympic athletes in less than eight months’ time.

“I expect the developer to ensure that the contractors and subcontractors do the job properly,” said Louie.

“If there have been shortcuts, I would expect them to do a level of inspection.

“Depending on what they find, they might want to do further inspections.”

Lee Loftus, business manager for the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union Local 118, provided photos and brought the substandard practices to the attention of Millennium Properties.

But, after little was done, Loftus alerted The Province, and by Sundday the controversy was everywhere.

“It’s been a zoo,” said Loftus, fielding nonstop calls from media outlets and various contractors.

“The developer has called all the mechanical contractors, and the mechanical contractors have called the insulation contractors. There are threats of litigation already.”

Despite the controversy, Loftus feels he did the right thing to protect both future condo owners and taxpayers, who could end up paying if substandard practices are permitted.

“We’re glad we did it,” said Loftus. “It’s something that needed to be done.”

The $1-billion project has already made plenty of news — for all the wrong reasons.

The City of Vancouver has already invested more than $450 million to make sure the athlete’s village is completed — money it hopes to recoup when the units are sold or rented after the Olympics.

The city was also forced to finance the development after buying out the troubled Fortress Investment Group earlier this year.

Wayne Peppard, executive director of the B.C. Building and Construction Trades Council, said he knows the developer is under close scrutiny and pressure with the tight Olympic timeline for completion.

The development is scheduled to be completed on Oct. 1. It is to be handed over to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on Nov. 1.

“The schedule is tight — the pressure is on for completion,” said Peppard. “I’ve been in this industry for 40 years, and I’ve seen these kinds of pressure, and things can happen.

“The urgency is there to get things done — there’s always a potential for problems when the pressure is on.”

New Democratic party Olympic critic Kathy Corrigan said she hopes the Olympic legacy is facilities and buildings, not a huge debt load.

“The crunch is on, and that’s a time when you can make costly mistakes or quality-control mistakes,” said Corrigan. “We’re supposed to have a legacy of buildings from the Olympics — I hope it’s not a legacy of cost overruns.

“Most of us are excited about the Olympics, but at the end of the day we’re going to have to see whether this was a good expenditure of taxpayers’ money.”

Olympic executive Dan Doyle said he is still confident that the Olympic Village will be a successful venue to house athletes during next February’s games.

“The City of Vancouver is a key partner and we’re in constant contact regarding the South-East False Creek project,” said Doyle, executive vice-president of venue construction for Vancouver 2010.

“They are making excellent progress, and we have every confidence their team will continue to address any issues as they arise and deliver a spectacular home for the world’s athletes in 2010.”

© copyright (c) CNS Olympics

No paperwork means strata pays for repairs

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Tony Giovetun

Dear Condo Smarts: We bought a townhouse in the fall of 2007 in Langley. There are 48 units in the complex and they are all slightly different in design and layout.

Similar to several others, our unit has two skylights, one over the living room and one over the kitchen.

The one over the kitchen has failed and needs to be replaced, but the strata council has told us that we have to change it ourselves because it wasn’t part of the original construction.

We went back to all of our documents and double checked everything and there is no indication in the sale documents, the Form B, or the strata information that this is an alteration.

Does council have the authority to make us responsible for this alleged alteration, even though it was never disclosed or included in any of the documents we requested in the sale?

— Karen and Dave

Dear Karen and Dave: Alterations and alteration records and documents are a complicated problem with many strata corporations.

A strata corporation does have the ability to grant an owner permission to alter common property with an item such as a skylight installation.

Some types of alterations could be significant and require a three-quarter vote of the owners if they affect the use or appearance of common property, but normally the council grants the alteration request.

At the time of the request, the council does have the authority to require that the strata lot applying be held to a number of conditions.

Those may include supplying the strata council with engineering or consulting reports, building permits and inspection reports, environmental studies, plans and drawings, to cover the costs of related services and legal agreements, and to take responsibility for the future costs associated with the maintenance, repair and renewal of the common area alteration, but not the organizing and carrying out of the maintenance and repairs.

The reason for the difference between costs and actual repairs is to ensure the strata corporation still controls, maintains and repairs the common property in the interest of all owners.

If the strata corporation did not require a written alteration agreement, and it did not disclose it with the Form B when it was requested, and there is no reference to the alteration in the bylaws, the alteration is likely now the responsibility of the strata corporation to maintain and repair at its cost.

Strata corporations are far too casual about alteration agreements. Many councils are simply trying to co-operate with owners and support their requests, forgetting that the future may spell costly repairs for the strata.

In your case we found out that the alteration was done three owners ago in 1994.

There was no way that the previous owner could disclose the change as she was unaware of it also.

Buyers need to ask the vendor and the strata corporation about changes to strata lots if they are unsure about the alterations, and strata corporations and strata managers need to maintain suite files that include alteration agreements so that they may be included with a Form B on request.

The records however, are only as accurate as the records provided from the previous council or to the strata manager.

When in doubt, confirm in writing.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association. The association’s website is

E-mail: [email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Province

Developer realizes minimalist vision with elegant Fairview townhomes

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Revolution thrives on smaller lots

Lena Sin

The floating staircases were an ‘engineering and architectural nightmare’ but worth the effort, says developer Randy Lim. Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost — The Province

The concrete and steel townhomes feature cedar-cladding strips.

The kitchen cabinets are custom black walnut millwork, which took three weeks to complete.

The homes were built with professional singles or couples in mind.

What: Koi, eight townhouses
Where: 850 W. 8th Ave. Vancouver
Builder/Developer: Revolution Developments
Sizes: Two bedrooms and two-bedrooms and den, from 1,204 sq. ft. to 1,372 sq. ft.
Prices: Starting from $799,900
Presentation Centre: 850 W. 8th Ave., open Sat. and Sun., 1 to 3 p.m.
More info:

When Randy Lim purchased the land for his current development, Koi, three years ago, friends would often ask him where it was.

He’d usually reply: “You’re standing in front of it — see that bush? That’s the site!”

At 50 feet wide, the site is about as wide as a typical single-family lot in Kits. Many assumed it was too small to develop. But as a staunch believer in compact living, Lim was undaunted. After 15 years of slowly growing Revolution Developments, which started out building duplexes on spec on Vancouver’s east side, Lim was exhilarated by the thought of venturing west side to build a set of luxurious townhouses in the Fairview neighbourhood.

“Every year we build, we get hungrier for finer details. The artistic side of you wants to go more refined and more architectural. So as we were designing, which was a long process of permiting, we basically went full out with our capabilities financially and architecturally . . .

Building this project truly felt like building eight custom homes,” says Lim, principal owner of Revolution Developments.

Koi is Revolution’s second foray into multi-family housing development. The first was a Mount Pleasant development of 11 townhouses at Prince Edward and East 15th Avenue a few years ago.

In a region where land is precious and new developments tend to occupy two extremes — condo buildings downtown or larger homes in the suburbs — Revolution finds itself in an interesting niche of building on smaller lots usually overlooked by major developers.

Three years later, the once barren plot located three blocks west of Cambie has been transformed into eight concrete and steel townhouses with graphic cedar-cladding strips that run from top to bottom and lush bamboo landscaping in the inner courtyard.

The homes are signature Lim.

“For me, I’m always about modern design. I love modern architecture,” says Lim.

Four of the townhouses sit side-by-side on 8th Avenue with another four behind, separated by an inner courtyard featuring a bamboo “wall” for added privacy.

Inside, the details are both impressive and surprising. The concrete lobby seems dark at first, until you notice the beautiful cedar ceiling above and the red-tiled wall to the left and water feature sunk into the ground. The mailboxes are set against a custom-made glass wall — built by Revolution Glazing, a company Lim started when he couldn’t find the glass and window features he was looking for.

The three-level townhouses with expansive views of downtown range in size from 1,204 sq. ft. to 1,372 sq. ft. and prices start from $799,900 to $889,900. The homes were built with professional singles or couples in mind –buyers who want to be close to downtown, but not in the downtown core.

Lim tried to replicate the luxurious feel of a custom home, much to the chagrin of his contractor and Revolution’s chief financial officer. The floating staircases were an “engineering and architectural nightmare,” he admits.

And the kitchen cabinets are custom black walnut millwork, which took three weeks to complete, as opposed to the one week most developers spend installing kitchens — costing Lim time and money he didn’t necessarily need to spend.

The homes are priced to be competitive with other townhouses on the westside, but Lim hopes buyers will be impressed by the custom details. “It’s at a level where architectural magazines start to get interested,” he says.

Next, Revolution is returning to its eastside roots with a townhouse project in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood. But the ultimate dream? “I want to get comfortable with this mid-style development and get very good at it. And then potentially do a tower one day. That’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing,” says Lim.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Subcontractors are accused of taking shortcuts in building Olympic condos

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Wendy Mclellan

The Olympic Athletes Village under construction at False Creek. Photos indicate some of the pipes are being installed without insulation. GERRY KAHRMANN – PRIVINCE FILE PHOTO

The Olympic Athletes Village under construction at False Creek. Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Province File Photo

Lee Loftus, business manager for the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union Local 118, says the pipes are not being properly insulated, which could lead to mould and mildew problems, as well as a lack of energy efficiency.

A photo inside the new Woodward development shows a set of properly insulated pipes — HANDOUT

An example of uninsulated water pipes inside the walls at the Olympic village. Drywall has been installed over bare pipes – HANDOUT PHOTO

Vancouver‘s Olympic Athletes Village is being promoted — and sold — as one of North America‘s most energy-efficient, green communities, but tucked away behind the new drywall are the ingredients for a mouldy, energy-leaking mess.

The “model for sustainable development” has been built without insulation that is supposed to completely wrap hot and cold water pipes. Insulation reduces energy loss from the hot water pipes; it also prevents condensation from pooling around the cold water pipes, where it can turn into mould and mildew.

The problem won’t be visible until long after the athletes have left, but in about three years condo owners will begin to notice the tell-tale signs of a situation that may cause health problems for some residents as well as a financial nightmare to fix.

“We know the water will be pooling inside the walls, but it won’t show for 18 months or a little longer,” said Lee Loftus, business manager for the local union representing mechanical insulators.

Loftus and a colleague from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union Local 118 have taken photographs of the bare pipes in several buildings on the Southeast False Creek site under development by Vancouver‘s Millennium Group.

The photos show drywall installed over uninsulated pipes in several buildings. Some pipes are insulated where they are visible outside the walls; others are mostly insulated. In some areas, the drywall had already been completed so there was no way to see whether the pipes were properly wrapped.

Millennium Southeast False Creek Properties Ltd. is paying engineers and consultants to inspect the development that is supposed to meet LEED gold standards, a designation for buildings that meet high standards for energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality and sustainability. But the partially uninsulated pipes will mean lost heat and efficiency, and air quality will suffer when mould and mildew grow, Loftus said.

“There’s nothing green about that,” he said. “These people think they’re buying something well-made and green, but they’re not getting what they’re paying for — and the developer isn’t getting what they’re buying.”

GM says problem fixed

Loftus said he met with Hank Jasper, general manager of development and construction for Millennium, six weeks ago and showed him the photos.

Jasper acknowledged he met with Loftus as well as representatives from other trade unions, and that he was given photos of improperly insulated pipe. But he said only one photo taken in a parking garage showed a problem, and it was fixed.

“They pointed out, I think in one location in one parcel, that there was a temporary piece of insulation that had been put on a piece of pipe that we dealt with immediately,” Jasper said in an interview Friday.

He said the site is being monitored and inspected by various inspectors, contractors and engineers and drywall could not be installed before every pipe was properly insulated.

The photos tell a different story. Jasper said he is not familiar with any photos other than the one taken in a parking garage.

“There’s no location I’m aware of where that has occurred and there’s no way that could happen anyway, because all of the suites, all areas, before any board is applied, inspections take place,” Jasper said. “No boarding can proceed without those sign-offs by inspectors. Every suite gets checked.”

At least five mechanical insulation companies — both union and non-union — are working as subcontractors on the site, and the development is so large inspectors may not see problems, says Loftus. He said he had hoped Millennium would have responded quickly to concerns about quality control, but after waiting for weeks, he decided to go public.

“They [the subcontractors] are cutting corners, and I will bet that the savings aren’t flowing back to the developer,” Loftus said. “The developer is spending money for LEED standards and they should get what they paid for.”

$450 m and counting

The city has already invested more than $450 million in the development that is supposed to provide a mix of market and social housing. The City of Vancouver is also financing the $1 billion project, after buying out Fortress Investment Group earlier this year.

The city retains ownership of the land during construction and expects to recoup its investment when the units are sold or rented.

Loftus said B.C. Building Trades Council organized a meeting between various trades representatives and Millennium Group on May 11. Wayne Peppard, executive director of the trades council, said he had approached Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs with some concerns about subcontracting at the development and Meggs suggested he speak with city manager, Dr. Penny Ballem. Ballem advised the trades to meet directly with the developer.

During the meeting, Loftus says, Jasper was shown photos of the uninsulated pipes in various buildings on the site and said he would get back to the insulators union, but Loftus said he’s still waiting. A second visit to the site weeks after the meeting found the drywall still in place with the pipes now hidden behind it.

“I don’t think they can fix it on time,” Loftus said. “They would have to take the walls down, inspect all the piping and then do it right. It would certainly be cheaper to do it now rather than later, but I’m guessing it would cost millions.

“And if they found mould, it would be even worse.”

Ballem said she wasn’t told about any specific problems with the construction of the Olympic Village, only that a union had some concerns about quality control.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this,” Ballem said when contacted by The Province. “If the concerns are true — and I have no evidence of whether they are or not — and they not being paid attention to, that’s a concern for the city.”

She said she will direct the city’s project manager assigned to the Olympic Village development to consult with Millennium about the issue.

“Clearly this is a major concern for the developer because they will own the vast majority of the project — it is their development,” Ballem said.

“To have a newspaper article saying we’re building leaky condos is not great for anybody.”

Campbell confident

Senator Larry Campbell, who purchased two units at Millennium Water, didn’t know about concerns over the pipe insulation but said he’s confident the developer will fix any deficiency.

“I’m not concerned about it,” Campbell said. “I have complete faith in the developer — I wouldn’t have bought there if I didn’t. I’m looking forward to moving in.”

He did say he intends to check into the issue.

A common problem

Andre Pachon, president of the B.C. Insulation Contractors Association, said contractors often bypass the building specifications that require insulation around pipes as a way to save time and money. He has ripped out ceilings in municipal and residential buildings to repair damage caused by condensation dripping from cold water pipes, and added insulation to hot water pipes that were left bare while cold water pipes were insulated properly.

“It’s the last thing that should happen,” Pachon said. “Without insulation, your heating costs go up and the building has a bigger carbon footprint, plus there’s condensation problems that show up years later with mould and mildew.

“Everyone knows they should insulate pipes properly — they just don’t do it.”

Ontario-based mould remediation specialist Graham Dewar said if conditions are right, mould can begin to grow in a few weeks, but it may take months or years to be visible.

“You won’t necessarily see it, but if it gets going, you’ll definitely smell it — that mustiness,” said Dewar, who was the senior project manager for a $23-million mould removal and repair job on a provincial courthouse in Newmarket, Ont.

“I’m a huge supporter of the Olympics and I know Vancouver is under tremendous pressure to meet a deadline — I know it’s a huge task, but if they aren’t fully insulating the pipes, they’re taking risks.

“It may or may not cause problems for the athletes, but long term, there’s the potential for condensation to build and that’s not going to be a good thing. I think they’re making a grave mistake.”

© Copyright (c) The Province


Anti-theft software on the laptops

Saturday, June 27th, 2009


You’re wise to install anti-theft software on the laptops. They’re particularly attractive targets for thieves.

There are plenty of paid programs to protect laptops. For example, there’s Lojack and Computrace. But the yearly fees can be high.

There is LocatePC. It is designed to run undetected. There will be no pop-ups, icons or saved e-mail. That way, a thief won’t know that the program is running. Further, the process name is obscure. This makes it more difficult to detect in Task Manager.

By default, LocatePC sends an e-mail to the owner daily. The e-mail declares the IP address it is using. It also sends an e-mail when it changes Internet Protocol addresses. (The IP address is a unique number used on the Internet.) So your kids can expect plenty of e-mail.

When a laptop is stolen, the e-mail keeps coming. Hopefully, the police can track it with the IP address.

Next up: LocateMyLaptop. Again, it is free.  

LocateMyLaptop offers many of the same features as LocatePC. But it also lets you view information online. That means you can track it from anywhere. When it goes missing, the program will send a stealth message. This goes to LocateMyLaptop. It will then provide you information to help you recover it.

LocateMyLaptop also offers a premium version. The features are beefed up. It also offers another handy tool. You can remotely delete the laptop data. But, you’ll pay $3 monthly for the privilege.

Disney themes make for a fun netbook for children

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Gillian Shaw

Disney Netpal, Asus

Olympus E-P1

DualFit Sport Armband iPhone 3G and 3G S

Mini Surge Protector, Belkin

Disney Netpal, Asus, from $350 US

Everyone else has a netbook, why not kids? This one comes with 40 parental control options, an 8.9-inch LCD screen, Wi-Fi, Windows XP Home and cute little Disney characters. Disney Magic comes to the desktop with a gadget tray that offers Disney-themed e-mail (parents can choose who they want their kids to correspond with) and a Disney-themed browser. Geared for kids ages six to 12, the Netpal comes out in late July in two versions. The Disney themes range from ones for the younger set, like Club Penguin and Toy Story and to Hannah Montana.

Olympus E-P1

Olympus, from $850 Cdn

Small is big when it comes to Olympus‘ newly launched E-P1, the world’s smallest 12.3 megapixel camera with an interchangeable lens system. It combines ultra portability with the features and photo quality of a digital single lens reflex camera. It also has HD video and stereo audio, making it a one-camera-fits-all for those times when you can’t lug around a large case. It’s a compact 12 cm wide by 7 cm high by 3.6 centimetres deep and it weighs in at 334 grams. Available in July, the body-only price for the E-P1 is $850; with ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens, it’s $900 and with an ED 17mm f2.8 with optical viewfinder, $1,000.

DualFit Sport Armband iPhone 3G and 3G S

Belkin, $30Cdn

Now that you’ve picked up your new iPhone 3G S, you’ll want to protect it while you out on that marathon run or bike ride. Belkin has a whole new line of cases for the iPhone 3G and 3G S with the armband a useful accessory for iPhoners on the go. Find that, and other cases, at

Mini Surge Protector, Belkin, $25

Also from Belkin, a handy gadget to throw in your laptop or netbook case, the mini travel surge protector. Also useful for conferences where you find yourself crowding around a single power outlet with other notebook users who are losing power fast. Pull one of these from your case and you’ll be the most popular computer user there.

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New disposable dishes trash paper, plastic

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Kim Davis

Now that you have your organic beverages and barbecue fare all lined for your Canada Day gathering, one niggling issue needs addressing: paper, plastic or papyrus?

While the last may seem a little farfetched, a trip to your neighbourhood grocery store, let alone an eco-oriented mega destination like Whole Foods, will demonstrate that there is no shortage of disposable party paraphernalia catering to the conscientious consumer.

From paper plates made with recycled-content to a growing array of cleverly conceived alternates, including edible tableware, finding a platter that best accommodates your palate is becoming increasingly easier.

Now while there is something rather eco-disconcerting about the garbage created in using toss-away dinnerware, sometimes the BYOD system (bring your own dishware) or funky thrift store finds just aren’t suitable.

When they aren’t, consider the following appetizer-sized review of plates (with a nod to other utensils) before dishing up your next do.


Like the potluck dishes that we pile on them, and endeavour to finish before they begin to warp and sag, paper plates have long been a staple for gatherings large and small, informal and elaborate.

PROS: Light, convenient and reasonably priced, these tree-based products come from a renewable resource and readily degrade under most conditions.

CONS: While paper platters now come in forest-friendly varieties, many of which also eschew the use of nasty and harsh chemicals, be aware that not all recycled-content versions are created equal.

Most of the recycled paper plates on the market today are made with post-industrial (think sawdust from logging operations), rather than the more desirable post-consumer (what we put out to the curb) paper waste.

What to look for: Avoid virgin materials, seek out products with at least 30-per-cent post-consumer content and keep a big tree in mind to remind you to use them sparingly.


Not even a vacation on an isolated, deserted island will spare you contact with the pervasive and disturbingly persistent creature known as the plastic polymer. Taking many shapes and forms, some more manageable (i.e. recyclable) than others, plastic is a favourite with those looking for something a bit sturdier, and immune to the moisture malaise that compromises paper plates.

PROS: Like their paper counterparts, disposable plastic dishes and cutlery are generally light, convenient and reasonably priced. Water friendly, plastic has the added benefit of multiple uses, as it can be (hand) washed and reused several or more times.

Recent evolutions, in the way of compostable, vegetable-based (corn, potato, sugarcane) options, are making the species even more attractive for unlike earlier generations, these new ones break down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass when properly discarded.

CONS: Most of the species are petroleum-based, possessing unnaturally long lives that endanger both humans and the environment during all stages of their development.

While compostable bioplastics are an improvement, those such as corn plastic give rise to whole host of other issues, such as the appropriation of food resources.

What to look for: While most plastic plates are pretty pesky, if you are determined to take some home, opt first for bio-based versions, most of which can be composted (commercially or in the backyard), or at least will eventually break down in a landfill.

If a vegetable variety is not a financial option (being slightly more expensive), or even available, choose a product that can be recycled readily in your curbside blue box. Sugarcane (or bagasse) based plates can be found at a variety of health food stores. At Whole Foods Market, 15 plates measuring 25 centimetres (10 inches) in diameter go for $4.69.


‘Too pretty to throw away’ is how many people describe the growing number of disposable products made from such materials as bamboo or discarded palm leaves. While often sold and recommended for single use, their visual appeal often inspires people to keep them around for as long as possible.

PROS: A mix of the best qualities of paper and plastic — sturdy, reusable, readily biodegradable or compostable and sourced from renewable resources — plates made from materials like bamboo and pressed palm leaves are attractive both environmentally and esthetically.

CONS: More expensive, sometimes significantly so, than your average disposable paper or plastic plate.

What to look for: Whenever possible, choose products that indicate they were sustainably grown (i.e. no pesticides) and harvested, and used no chemicals in their production.

For those looking to support local, consider Earthen Disposable Dinnerware.

The company was started by Victoria-based Alex Casewa who came up with the idea as part of his sustainable development thesis project. You can buy Earthen’s innovative products at MarketPlace IGA stores, where 12 plates measuring 22 centimetres (9 inches) in diameter go for $6.99, or at on the Internet.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun