September 25, 2010


Netflix comes to Canada 500x352
On weekends, we watch movies. In 2000, we got the largest HDTV that would fit down our stairs (a 56" Panasonic projection TV) and a great Yamaha/Paradigm surround sound system that still shakes the walls. The challenge is finding content. As part of a low noise life, we don't have cable or satellite. Visiting video stores is a hassle. The library has a limited selection and we never tried rental by mail.

The ideal for convenience and selection is watching streaming video through our home cinema.

We have a 25 Mbps Internet connection with a 125 GB monthly usage cap. We'd upgrade to 50 Mbps and 175 GB but Rogers refuses to take another $30 a month from us unless we get digital cable TV too. There's no technical barrier, just an arbitrary corporate "policy".

The Promise

I kept reading about Netflix which offers movie rentals by mail and streaming Internet video in the US.

Well, Netflix came to Canada this week and we subscribed the first day. For $7.99 a month, you can watch as many movies and TV episodes as you like. You can watch on different devices such as gaming consoles, computers, iPhones and even iPads. You can watch on different devices at the same time. So the solution is good for the family, except for a show stopper explained below.

The technology works surprisingly well. There are none of the buffering problems we sometimes experience with YouTube and other online video. Playback starts faster than loading a DVD. You're spared the previews that some discs force you to watch. There's no FBI warning either. The quality may seem blurry at first but quickly sharpens.

The Biggest Complaint

There's lots of choice but many omissions. You won't find new releases. In the US, you'd get them by mail since streaming is included in the DVD-rental-by-mail packages. That option isn't available in Canada. Don't count on getting all the older stuff either. You won't currently find: The Shawshank Redemption, The Sopranos, any Monty Python, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Matrix series, any Get Smart, Lawrence Of Arabia, Once Upon A Time In America, What About Bob? or The Departed. Sometimes you'll find subsets of series: only Crocodile Dundee 2, only Terminator 2 and only Bad Boys 1.

However, you will find Fawlty Towers, Memento, GlenGarry Glen Ross, House of Games, Slumdog   Millionaire, Frozen River, Snow Falling On Cedars, 12 Monkeys and The House Of Sand And Fog. Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, looks interesting. You can search by title, director, performer or genre. Some titles are available in HD (which doubles bandwidth consumption to 2 GB/hour).

When a selection isn't available , you're given substitutes based on your preferences. Instead of Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark, you're offered Popeye with Robin Williams , the Golden Child with Eddie Murphy or  The Gods Must Be Crazy 2. Isn't that bizarre? Other times the choices are more relevant.

The Right Perspective

Netflix feels like a video rental store.

There's lots of choice but don't count on finding a specific title. If you're open to exploring, you'll find a vast selection available for instant viewing. How convenient during a winter snowstorm or if you want more variety than television can provide. Plus you can watch wherever you have a fast Internet connection.

The Show Stopper

There's one major caveat if you have children. In the US, Netflix lets you setup profiles for different family members. So you can prevent your children from watching content you deem unsuitable. This option is not currently available in Canada but should be coming soon.

Customer Service

Customer service is fast and friendly. You enter a six digit code which you find at the bottom of your web pages. Afterwards, you receive a short satisfaction survey by email. You're asked about movie quality after viewing, much like Skype asks about call quality. You can leave comments on the Netflix blog. You'll find many complaints about the selection in Canada.

As with books, a title is new if you haven't seen it before. 

In that sense, Netflix is convenient source of entertainment unless you insist on seeing the newest movies or specific movies. The selection is bound to improve (and is already overwhelming). The easiest way to tell is by trying the service, which is free for the first month.


Podcast Episode 85 (5:45)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS What are you watching tonight?

September 18, 2010


But I don't feel that age
"I'm almost 14."

That's what our son said when he was almost six. We were on vacation and he wanted to watch Small Soldiers on HBO.

Parents measure a baby's age in hours, days, weeks and then months. 

Children measure age differently. Mere days after your 4th birthday, your 5th feels very far away. School and other "big kid" stuff looks alluring. So your age is 4 years and 3 months, then 4 1/2, then "almost 5".

Later, we measure our age in years and milestones like the "big 4-0".

Dennis The Menace once said  that once you're "over the hill", life picks up speed. Some retirees say time moves faster. As a nonretiree, I find that hard to believe. If every day feels like Saturday, maybe a week passes overnight?

40 or 41?

Suppose you turned 40 on January 1. How old are you in March, June, September and December?
You'd probably round down and say 40. We age every day but give of our age as of our last birthday. Maybe this is a psychological trick to  help us feel younger. Maybe it's just simpler.

What works in real life doesn't work for insurance. If you're 40.01, do you want to pay the same premiums as someone who's 40.99? That means you're subsidizing the older ones. Similarly, if you're a nonsmoker, you don't want your premium rates blended with smokers. If you're healthy, you'd want credit too.

To be fair overall, insurers usually base your premium on your age as of your nearest birthday. That means an insurance age of 40 covers a range from 39.51 to 40.49 years from birth. The calculations are done via computer algorithms. You needn't worry about them.

41 or 40?

Confusion may arise when you look at your age on insurance projections (often called "illustrations"). The output might show your age at the time of purchase (say 40) or at the end of the first policy year (say 41).

Practices vary by company. The projection may only show the policy year (starting at 1). These differences means you'll need to pay attention — especially if comparing proposals from different companies or different advisors. If you want to compare projections on your 65th birthday, the output might show 65 or 66.


Using our example of you turning 40 on January 1, what happens if your insurance takes effect on August 2? Your nearest birthday is the next January, which means you pay premiums as if you're 41. That may not feel fair.

Companies will often let start coverage a few months earlier, say June 2. You'd pay the premiums for June and July for this option. This process is called "backdating" and lets you "save age".

40 or 44?

Insurers really want to estimate your biological age.

So an unhealthy 40 year old may get "rated" and pay the premium rates for a healthy 44 year old. Insurance ratings are much like the surcharges that banks add if your credit rating is shaky.

In the future, age might get calculated daily. So the longer you wait, the older you get and the more you pay.


  1. How Pink Floyd's insights on mortality help you
  2. Iron Man didn't save Leslie Bibb but another superhero did
  3. How advisors really prepare term life insurance proposals
  4. Your life expectancy exceeds 1,000,000,000 seconds
  5. The high cost of Joint First To Die (JFTD) life insurance
  6. image courtesy of Gabriella Fabbri (Italy)

    Podcast Episode 84 (4:15)

    direct download | Internet Archive page

    PS We relented and all watched Small Soldiers. After all, ages 6 and 14 are so close to each other.

    September 11, 2010

    Iron Man Didn't Save Leslie Bibb But Another Superhero Did

    Leslie Bibb in Iron Man
    Floods. Hurricanes. Power failures. Disease. Financial meltdowns. Drought. Y2K. Famine.  Global warming. Killer bees. Toxins. Avalanches.

    What do we learn from devastation? Sometimes, we can take simple, quick, cheap precautions like washing our hands and covering our mouths when we sneeze. Other reactions are very expensive, such as the gigantic costs in time, money and anxiety from the escalated security following 9/11. Since memories fade, the precautions only be temporary.

    This post isn't meant to scare you about possible future horrors. Why complete with the news or movies?
    We have trouble associating with big numbers but we connect with individuals. We like stories and listen to celebrities. Let's scale down to one family.

    Leslie Bibb's Tragedy

    Leslie Bibb 250x310
    Leslie played reporter Christine Everhart in Iron Man 1 and 2 but Tony Stark didn't avert a tragedy in her personal life. Neither did Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Hancock, Defendor or Dr. Manhattan.

    Her dad was the superhero.

    He died in an accident when she was only three but had enough life insurance to keep her family going. She's got three older sisters and a mother.
    We would have been sunk if it weren’t for your father’s life insurance.
    — Leslie's mom
    Leslie didn't realize the role this silent protector played. That's the magic of life insurance. You barely notice the premiums but you get immense peace of mind. Should you die, your family gets the financial resources to survive. The tax-free proceeds can payoff the mortgage, provide ongoing living expenses and fund higher education.
    We would have had to sell our home. My mom would have been forced to work longer hours or get a second job. But none of that happened because of my dad’s thoughtfulness. — Leslie
    Leslie is the spokesperson for the nonprofit LIFE Foundation and tells her touching  but hardly unique  story herself.

    60 seconds with Leslie
    I can't embed this video, so you'll need to click to view.

    Your Options

    Some people think it's morbid to anticipate the worst. Well, sometimes the worst happens and thankfully for my family, my father had planned ahead. 

    I doubt people will buy life insurance just because I said so, but maybe it will remind them to follow through on something that has been on their to-do list for awhile. 
    — Leslie
    We can't predict the future but we can protect ourselves and those we care about. This takes time and money. So does inaction.


    1. Leslie Bibb's real life story (video on
    2. Leslie Bibb on IMDb and Wikipedia
    3. Leslie Bibb to serve as national spokesperson for Life Insurance Awareness Month (
    4. One way September 11th changed me (Chris Brogan)
    5. The fine print taketh away … except in life insurance
    6. Lease or buy? How life insurance compares with getting a car
    7. What happens when you call 911 for a medical emergency?
    8. Three steps to keeping financially solvent
    9. Three keys to getting your insurance claim paid
    10. Why insurers won't insure you
    11. How Lamar Odom's mom saved his life (new)
    12. How 'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro made bitter batter better at 17 (new)
    13. At age 7, Boomer Esiason learned no one is guaranteed a tomorrow (new)

    Podcast Episode 83 (3:55)

    direct download | Internet Archive page

    PS This is Life Insurance Awareness Month. Do you have your own story?

    September 4, 2010


    reBOOT donation 500x450
    We rely heavily on technology and so do those less fortunate. How long do you keep a computer? What do you do when you no longer need it?

    Upgrade Schedule

    When do you upgrade? My timetable is every two years. I might delay a bit if there's a new operating system on the way. Vista wasn't worth the wait but Windows 7 was.

    The new equipment is high quality and generally made for business. I'm writing this on a ThinkPad X200 tablet with multitouch, pen support and a silent hard drive with no moving parts. A month after I bought, the X201 was launched … that's another story. The point is that the equipment will last. We cascade within the family and then donate.

    Here's what we just gave
    • two Pentium 4 desktops, each the size of a large loaf of bread (QBIC, Shuttle XPC 20th anniversary edition)
    • two 15" LCD monitors (Samsung 570)
    • a flatbed scanner with a sheet feeder (HP Scanjet 6250)
    • inkjet printer (never used)
    • assorted wireless keyboards, wireless routers, etc
    Please don't ask what this equipment cost when new.


    Search online and you'll find many places that accept equipment. We picked reBOOT, with locations across the country. This national charity sends refurbished equipment to charities and nonprofits across the country and abroad. One shipment of 60 computers is destined for schools in Afghanistan but the Taliban are blocking delivery because girls would also be educated.

    Worried about identity theft? Me too. So I wiped the hard disks at home. reBOOT does too using RCMP standards. That's important for peace of mind and a key reason I'm careful about where equipment goes. If you're really worried, you can remove the hard drive and smash it to bits with a hammer. Extreme but effective.

    Thanks to Microsoft, all computers come with Windows XP and Office XP (Word, Excel, Outlook, Publisher, PowerPoint, Access and FrontPage).

    You can buy equipment there too.

    New Homes

    Since we upgrade regularly, I wasn't sure that what's obsolete for us would be useful to anyone else. It is. Here are the likely destinations.

    Mini-desktops to UNESCO?

    Aid organizations want small, light, reliable equipment because space is at a premium. Our computers are ideal. They can be turned into servers after adding 2 TB hard drives. Our computers use low power, which is also a bonus.

    LCD monitors to UNESCO?

    A 15" LCD with 1024x768 resolution is still usable. The smaller size helps with portability. Our monitors might accompany the mini-desktops.

    Scanner to Seniors?

    Seniors have old photos and slides and other things to scan. Our scanner has a slide adapter, a sheet feeder, a white light and the character recognition works with text as small as 4pt. So it's still useful.

    The Rest

    The future of the rest of the equipment isn't known. It works and will likely find nice homes. Now that we know that old equipment can be reused, I'm happier about donating more and sooner.

    Your Turn

    Some computers — especially Macs — were almost old enough to vote. We saw a Mac donated three weeks ago that's now a door stopper.

    You probably have stuff to donate and causes you care about. Why not give while the equipment can still be used? You may get a tax receipt. You'll also clear up space at home … for more gadgets.


    Podcast Episode 82 (4:29)

    direct download | Internet Archive page

    PS Back to School time is a great opportunity to give.