Not All Bandwagons are Created Equal

They said, “Ceramic or glass cook-tops are more efficient!” They said, “Glass cook-tops are easy to clean!” They said, “You’ll save loads of time in the kitchen!” They said ceramic cook-tops were the answer to our stressed out, busy lives!” Okay, maybe not that last one, but like many of you, we jumped on the ceramic stove-top bandwagon and bought one when our electric coil-top stove was beyond repair. We would have purchased a natural gas cook-top, but it wasn’t an option in our neighbourhood, so ceramic it was. I was so excited to get the new technology in our kitchen. I wondered what are we going to cook first? Just think how much time we are going to save.

It’s a good thing I saved time on cooking because, apparently, I needed it for cleaning. Out of all the rules of using a ceramic cook-top, and there are a lot of them, the one that says not to spill stuff on the glass when it is hot irks me the most. I don’t know about at your place, but at mine, dripping, or spilling over pots and pans happens all the time. Grease spatters from bacon and sausage; stews and pasta sauces end up spitting up onto the surface; numerous spoon drops; and food transfers that never go as cleanly as I’d like; and who knew that water could cause so much damage to a cook-top. Bottom line? If I am cooking, I am messing up my stove. Actually, I don’t know anyone who can cook without having something inadvertently landing on the cook-top. Possibly Martha Stewart, but she has people. I don’t have people and don’t have the time to invest that a ceramic cook-top requires.

I certainly did not want to invest in an overly dependent stove that requires more attention than the average Kardashian and more than I can devote. No one said that I had to purchase an expensive specially made ceramic cleaner that one would think would clean everything; it doesn’t. No one told me that a razor blade would come in handy in the cleaning process. No one said you had to use one cloth for wiping up the initial mess, another for applying the cleaner and one for buffing. I don’t give that much attention to my car, why would I for a stove?

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be cooking than cleaning, and I would undoubtedly prefer cooking over worrying about if my pots and pans will damage my new cook-top. Which brings me to the pot rules. No, I don’t mean the regulations implemented by the Federal government concerning marijuana. These rules have to do with the pots and pans you, and I cook with.

First, and most egregious, “You must not use cast-iron skillets on the stove top.”

You mean the cast-iron skillet that is older than me and has been lovingly seasoned and passed down and still works as good as it did for previous generations? The only skillet I took camping that one time when we forgot our other pots and pans? From eggs to steaks, we cooked everything in that skillet that week, and nothing stuck. I love that skillet.

But… okay, if I must comply, no cast iron on the stove.

Second, “No glass or ceramic pots that have unfinished or rough bottoms.

That takes care of all my Corning ware passed down from my in-laws and my 6.7-litre cast-iron Creuset casserole pot. So what should I cook my risotto in, or what should I use to braise my stewing beef? What about my chicken pot pie? I think my stove is creating a pot and pan desert or wasteland. My choices are becoming a bit limited.

Okay, no Corning ware or fancy cast-iron casserole pots on the ceramic stove-top. Well, I guess I still have my other non-stick skillets and my tried and true metal pots.

Third, “Keep the bottoms of skillets and pots clean.”

Wait, what?

Apparently, a build-up of grease on pan bottoms can leave rings or mark up the cook-top. I’ve scrubbed the bottoms of my pans. My pans are clean, but they have years of wear on the undersides. Mostly a yellowish or brownish tint to the pots. This is problematic for a ceramic stove-top?

Okay, my old pots and pans are out.

I have a wok.

“Don’t cook with rounded bottom pots or pans.”

Oh, come on!

Results in a poor distribution of heat. Honestly, this rule, although irritating, feels the least invasive, because it is possibly valid for all types of stovetops. So, I guess cooking with a wok is out? But, I do have a wok ring, so maybe it is okay? I also have an electric frying pan, a Coleman stove and a Weber smoker barbecue–all nothing to do with the stove-top–no worries there, but these things defeat the purpose of buying a glass cook-top stove in the first place, and it is not very convenient to entirely forgo using a stove-top.

It does seem like a purchase of a new stove of this type requires an investment of new cookware as well. I am sorry, but I am not about to purchase new pots and pans when decades-old pots and pans have served me well. Besides, we all know that they don’t make things like they used to. I would like to report that my handy, loyal skillet and my other pots and pans have outlasted my 11-year-old ceramic top stove and will be staying as long as they will have me.

There are also other things of concern to the makers of ceramic or glass stove-tops like don’t drag your pots and pans across the surface to avoid scratches, and don’t place a heated domed lid (handle up) on your glass cook-top to avoid the risk of cracking or breaking the glass. Never put your utensils on the stove-top while cooking, and don’t spill sugary substances on a smooth surface cook-top to avoid discolouration, or worse having the sugary offender permanently stuck on your stove-top.

What does that mean “sugary substances?” No teriyaki sauce based foods; no fudge; no making of jams and what about sugar snap peas and cooking with bananas or fruit?  It feels a bit like Seinfeld’s soup Nazi, except the stove-top has control. You spill something, you panic to get it cleaned up before it becomes a permanent part of the stove-top. You risk burning yourself because if you wait until the burner cools, it’s too late; the proof that you’ve been cooking remains forever etched into your stove-top for all to enjoy. The upside would be that you would have a journal-esque stove-top. Let me explain… Remember when we made Christmas fudge? That’s here. (Me pointing to a blob of sugar from the 2016 spill.) And, remember when I was making that nutmeg fettuccine that one time and the water boiled over in the fall of 2014? That’s all here. (Me making a circular motion over a back burner with water stains around it.) Get the picture? No matter how diligent we tried to be, our 11-year-old stove with the fancy cook-top can never have that shiny new look to it again. We’d miss a spill or a drip here and there, or suddenly scratches would show up uninvited, as we wondered crestfallen, “How did that get there?”

To add to our defeated state of mind, the exorbitant cost of replacing ceramic cook-top burners when they die–and they will die–gave us a bit of sticker shock. For an idea, coil burners, depending on the size, run from about $25 to $40 each to replace. When replacing elements on a sexy, attractive smooth ceramic cook-top, prices can range from $100 (aftermarket) to a whopping $375 (name brand from the dealer and the highest I’ve seen so far). Should you need your glass or ceramic top replaced, depending on your model, things can go north of the $375 range quite quickly. Apparently, sexy equals costly.

All things considered, to save time and money, we decided to go back to an energy-efficient stove with coil ring burners. This type of range served us well in the past, without all the headaches of those time-sucking-obsessive-compulsive-finicky operational and cleaning needs that a ceramic cook-top requires. What I have learned from this is that not all bandwagons are created equal. The next time a shiny new thing comes out; as these things are wont to do, I will take a more measured and considered approach to whether or not I actually need the newer tech-laden gizmo.

If you are firmly fixed in the I love my ceramic or glass stove-top camp, then that is great. I love when things work out for people. If invited for supper, I will come over to your place and admire your stove from afar, but don’t expect me to clean it or cook on one at my home anytime soon.

Advertisements

Search and ye shall find…unless…

Recently, I purchased a PC with Microsoft office already installed. What I did not expect was how Microsoft tried to force me into using their sad, sub-par search engine, Bing, which comes pre-packaged with their proprietary browser, Microsoft Edge. What’s worse is Microsoft does not make it easy to change your search engine preferences, because Bing is hardwired into Microsoft’s AI assistant, Cortana, which is also linked to their browser. However, if you don’t need Cortana, the path to search-engine choice is much easier.

First off, WTF is up with that name? Microsoft is a billion dollar company and all they could come up with is Bing? A name chosen, presumably, for its onomatopoeia–as if it were some kind of sick Pavlov’s dog experiment for the masses. Once you find your answer “Bing!” leaving you wanting to find more. That is just plain ridiculous and would be torturous were it true. Thank God, there are no ringing bells that go off after finding an answer. By that reasoning, they should have called it, “Piece of S**t,” because that is closer to truth of what really happens when you perform a search on Bing; you don’t get what you are looking for and end up hurling obscenities at your computer or cellphone.

When I first started using the Internet, Google was one of many search engine players, along with Yahoo. Excite, Ask Jeeves, Dogpile and a host of others; some still around and others not. The thing that these companies didn’t do was try to force you to use their search engine. Sure there was online advertising for all sorts of search engines, but in the end, it was always our choice. We chose a browser and our favourite search engine and away we went.

Now, I understand Bing wanting part of the Google, et al market share, but forcing it down my throat is the not the way to go about it. I also find Microsoft’s product placement of Bing throughout the CW television network a bit disconcerting, if not somewhat pathetic.

Me hypothetically: “Oh look at what’s his name from that whatchamacallit show using Bing. I should do that too.”

Me realistically: “Um, no. Not now, not ever.”

It seems that they are trying desperately to position themselves in a better light, and in that, they are entirely failing. Filling Microsoft’s home page
with click-bait-garbage doesn’t help matters either. I know it is sad that we use company names as verbs, but people don’t ever Bing s**t, they Google s**t. I’m sorry Microsoft, that ship has already sailed and your search engine still sucks.

(Disclaimer: I have not been paid by or affiliated with Google or any other search engine. This is my own opinion.)


The Price for Free Play

toothpasteSome bad actors are playing fast and loose with our personal information. If you hadn’t heard, Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based political consulting firm, harvested 50 million people’s Facebook data without their knowledge in 2014. Cambridge Analytica purports to “measurably improve your brand’s marketing effectiveness by changing consumer behaviour.” This explanation might be helpful if you agreed to answer some questions, but what about all those other hijacked friends in your contact list that had their personal information harvested without their knowledge?

Big data is big business, and you can bet that Facebook is in business to make money. Part of that money-making machine comes in the form of gaming or psychological testing apps. Much like Apple’s App Store, Facebook generates about a 30 percent commission on each app that rolls across your Facebook feed. This revenue stream is one of the most significant sources of revenue it has.

Facebook does have a privacy policy, which they are in the process of changing, but no matter how many regulations are in place, there are always some shady characters around who are intent on getting your information without your knowledge. In fact, Facebook claims there was no breach at all. In other words, they knew data was going to Cambridge Analytica, but contends Cambridge Analytica violated the company’s terms of service — that makes me feel a whole lot better.

Facebook had been in hot water over privacy concerns before. According to a report in The Guardian, Facebook allowed the conduct of secret psychological tests on nearly 700,000 users in 2012. They hid “a small percentage” of emotional words from peoples’ news feeds, without their knowledge, to test what effect that had on the statuses or “likes” that they then posted or reacted to. At the time, COO, Sheryl Sandberg said, “We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously because that is something that allows people to share” opinions and emotions.”

Okay, Ms Sandberg, given recent events, I think Facebook’s idea of taking privacy and security concerns seriously is vastly different than many others. If these social media companies and apps have the privilege of accessing our private information, they should make damn sure they or no one else can sell it to the highest bidder. The alternative is a breach of trust that goes beyond the pale and reaches further than just the social boundaries of one application.

Facebook, for example, uses many third-party companies like nametests.com or quizly.co, for example, to “enhance” their user experience. The irony is both these companies do not post their addresses or names of people who run their operations on their website, but yet they insist on getting access to our address books, contacts and other personal information. Most of these apps’ primary function is to drive advertising. Nametests say they use third-party analytics and re-marketing tools. A third party to the third party? I think it is getting crowded in here.

One of these third parties is an image processing app called FaceApp. The app analyses photographs and edits them according to the functions selected by the users like a prediction of how the person depicted will look older. The Nametests privacy policy states:

“The processing of the user’s personal data resulting from the photograph is carried out by FaceApp for the sole purpose of the selected function. The photograph is only temporarily stored temporarily for this purpose and is then deleted within five days. Data other than the photograph will not be transmitted to FaceApp. The data is transmitted via an interface to FaceApp so that FaceApp itself cannot collect any further user data (e. g. no IP address, cookies, etc.).”

I am not convinced. I must ask if “Data other than the photograph will not be transmitted to FaceApp,” why do they need any personal data at all?

What FaceApp really is, is a facial-recognition app, developed by a team in St. Petersburg, Russia. They may not advertise that it is a facial-recognition app, but by using their app, you have given them the ability to match your name and other information to your face — that could be worth a lot of money to those in the business of identity theft. According to the Australian Privacy Foundation, apps like this “can remove the data from any effective legal protection regime, share it with almost anyone, and retain it indefinitely.” FaceApp asks for access to so many more options and rights than they need. Plus, FaceApp’s privacy policy states that if they sell their business, your data will be going with it. If it sounds scary, it should be. One thing is clear — it is not clear what happens to all the data you give it.

There are so many third-party apps from all over the world it is almost impossible to keep track. I’d make an educated guess that not everyone reads the Terms and Conditions, the Privacy Policies, or the fine print of all these apps. Even if we do read them, how do we truly know if our private information is safe with them? The answer? We don’t. Facebook cannot guarantee this; no one can.

Using any application online must be approached with a buyer-beware mentality, especially when no money changes hands. When you partake in free social media platforms, quizzes, tests and other social media game apps, you put your personal information at risk. Anything online that seems free is often not. When doing anything online for free, there is often a trade-off of personal information for targeted advertising, or other nefarious options that I don’t even want to think of. If an app asks for access to things that have nothing to do with the functionality of it, or you cannot find contact information for an app company, I’d suggest running away as fast as you can. If companies like Facebook cannot ensure your data is secure, either governments need to step in with laws that carry stiff penalties, or we need to be more careful of what we put out there and with whom we interact.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are a few things you can do right now:

1. Use ad blockers. Most browsers have them in the browser preferences under privacy and security.

2. Use tracking protection. Tracking protection, also normally found under privacy and security, protects you from online trackers that collect your browsing data across multiple websites.

3. Do not give out personal information online or by email. Once you share your personal information, there is no assurance as to what may happen to it in the future. Unencrypted email is like sending a postcard — anyone can read it. If someone needs your personal information, it is best to use snail mail or the phone.

4. Do not fill out your social media profiles. The people that need to know your email addresses birthdays and phone numbers probably already know them, so there is no point in offering up this information to Twitter, Facebook and other social media apps just to be sold down the line at a later date.

5. Use your privacy settings in your social media applications. However, just because you’ve set your privacy settings to “Private” means nothing to those harvesting your personal information. Using this alone is not the end-all, be-all of protection, but any little bit helps.

6. Use strong passwords or logins to prevent your account from being hacked. A couple of good programs are LastPass and 1Password; they are both great at password management and both have free versions available.

7. Be wary of free online games and questionnaires. Nothing is free. You can easily assume you are trading your personal information for the use of the app. What happens afterwards is anyone’s guess.

8. If you need to fill out security questions, you must lie, lie, lie. It is much easier to find out your mother’s maiden name or the actual city you were born than when you use bogus or obscure answers that no one could ever guess, like for example:

What is the name of your favourite teacher?
Answer: Printer Ink
What is the model of your first car?
Answer: Garden Nome

Of course, to remember all these bogus answers you would be wise to, again, use a password management site like those mentioned in point 6. (I am not getting paid for any of this, by the way.)

9. The ultimate solution is not to use social media at all. This one may not be an option for many, but it can be for some.

We take the time to lock our doors and windows, but yet we freely give strangers from the other side of the world access to our personal information by way of our computers, as well as through the apps we use online. Perhaps what we need is our own terms and conditions protecting our privacy, our photos, our stories, our tweets, or whatever it is we post online. After all, these social media companies are nothing without people like us who keep them afloat.

The Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal has now included other entities and has become a “he said, she said, he said” litany of disparaging remarks, accusations and excuses. No matter who is at fault, our personal information is at stake. The bottom line is no one cares more about your privacy than you do; therefore, you should take an active role in protecting your privacy. You can’t easily put toothpaste back in the toothpaste tube, but that is no reason to stop protecting yourself as much as you can from future thefts and underhanded actions. That is why it is so important to be wary of what you share in your profiles, when answering psychological tests and when playing games online. My advice is less is more. The less personal information you share, the better off you will be.

My Red “Whine”

red-wineI get headaches from drinking red wine. Apparently, I am not alone in this conundrum. It seems every time I talk about this, people can relate, or at least know of someone with the affliction. It is a sad thing to deny oneself a drink that may boost heart health, improve cholesterol, fight weight gain and improve memory. They should add this to Canada’s Food Guide; it’s a bona fide superfood… in moderation of course.

Even though “leftover wine” seems to be an oxymoron in our house, it is not from over indulgence, well, not usually. A headache can occur after drinking only one glass. I have to say, however, that it is not all red wines that give me this unpleasant experience, so I keep trying.

Often things usually start quite innocently with an offer of red wine to which I respond, “Sorry, I can’t drink red wine. I get headaches.”

Hosts usually look at me with a mix of puzzled amazement or sadness as if I had just drowned their puppy.

“Oh come on, have just one,” the host pleads, “It can’t be that bad,” thrusting a glass of the red elixir my way.

Or, it might go something like, “Oh, I don’t have anything else to give you. Are you sure?”

Not wanting to offend anyone, I usually cave with a “Well okay, but just one.” Then, I must live with the consequences.

There are a few theories milling about on what causes red wine headaches. The most popular of which is said to be Sulphites (SO2). SO2 is a key ingredient that occurs naturally in all wines giving them antioxidant and antibacterial powers used to preserve its freshness. While it is true that people can be allergic sulphites, I would say that it is probably not the cause of your headache. If it were the culprit, people would react much more violently to a number of foods, including baked goods, deli meats and bacon, because these types of foods contain sulphites at a much higher rate then that of wine. In fact, many wines end up having 0 ppm because sulphates deteriorate over time. Suffice it to say that I am incredibly grateful I don’t get bacon headaches.

Many also blame the release histamines that create allergy-type symptoms. Problem is most allergy-type symptoms like itching, sneezing, hives, runny nose and watery eyes are never present. If your nose runs after drinking red wine, I would suggest you have a different issue.

There is another theory that many people cannot metabolise prostaglandin, which may cause headaches. The definition of prostaglandin is way too long to discuss in this article. Suffice it to say that the solution may be as easy as taking prostaglandin inhibitors like Asprin or Ibuprophin less than an hour before drinking red wine. (This is probably not the wisest advice as extended use can lead to unwanted adverse reactions. I am not a doctor, so please consult yours first.)

Researchers say that the problem could originate with the yeast or other bacteria found in red wine. Researchers also admit that they don’t really know the cause. But, one thing’s for sure: odds are if you indulge in a night of excess and wake up with a headache you have a hangover — Another self-induced alcohol-driven malady that people have been trying to cure for centuries.

Red wine headaches are not a very popular research cause. Understandably, the wine industry is not interested in throwing money at something that could throw shade on their livelihood. There is no Run for the Cure race or ice-bucket challenge to raise awareness and funding. True, it is not as popular as… let’s say… research for Viagra, but rest assured, even though they are a small group and they may not yet have the answers, there are people out there dedicated to finding a solution.

Although the verdict seems to be still out on what officially is the root cause of red wine headaches, I am sure that denying myself the drink of the Gods is not the only answer. Hopefully, someday I won’t have to say those dreaded words, “Sorry, I don’t drink red wine.” Until that day, I will stick to mostly white wines and keep on trying the occasional red — you never know, maybe one day, I’ll grow out of it — just a theory I have.

To your health!

Rewarding Incompetence – What the Sears IS going on?

SEARS-EXTERIOR-CO-drn-634x360
Sears Canada recent promotional banner
(Photo credit:  durhamradionews.com)

In the face of insolvency, Sears Canada has had to ask for court protection from its creditors. The problem, besides the obvious, is that the people that hold the keys to the executive washrooms have given themselves bonuses in the midst of laying off thousands of workers without a severance package.

Companies usually pay bonuses as an incentive to do good work, or they are paid as a consideration for a job well done. Leading a company to bankruptcy is not the definition of good work or a job well done. If the average worker does not perform well, he or she could see a decrease in the amount they receive as a bonus or no bonus at all. If an executive does not perform well, why is it that he or she be allowed to get a bonus? If everyone rewarded incompetence, our nation would go broke. It does not make sense.

We have seen this scenario before, most infamously with the collapse of the housing market started by our neighbours to the south, which had a devastating ripple effect throughout the world. In that case, bank executives, charged with fraud over the subprime mortgage fiasco, were still given millions in bonuses. Many of these companies (and don’t doubt for one second that banks are not companies in business to make a profit) say they need to pay out bonuses to executives to get or retain the best executive staff. How can these people be the best at anything when they are in effect the worst the world has to offer? What Sears Canada is doing to its employees and former employees is morally reprehensible. They happily walk away with their bonuses acutely aware that people at their feet are drowning.

These bonuses are not a paltry amount either. In the case of Sears Canada, 43 executives and senior managers and 116 general managers will receive $9.2 million dollars for leading the company to bankruptcy. Good Job! That is an average of just over $57,800 for each person if Sears distributes that amount equally. The truth of the matter is no matter how the company distributes the money it is people within the upper echelons of the corporation who will receive the benefit; no clerk, cashier, or sales associate will see a penny.

If Sears Canada had chosen to distribute these funds to all concerned, including the 2,900 employees currently on the chopping block, they would each get about $3007 each; that is certainly enough to tide most people over until they work out their next move. I am also positive that if Sears Canada had taken this route, they would have more than enough employees to work throughout the “transition” – a euphemism for the state of bankruptcy the company has found itself.

Managers and executives complain when Millennials quickly move on to their next job, screaming, “There is no loyalty anymore!” Perhaps Millennials have it right. Look what dedication has brought the employees of Sears and other companies who see fit to put their loyal and dedicated employees through the ringer without a second glance.

It doesn’t take rocket science to see that this is not the way to ensure employee loyalty and retention. The 65-year-old company has a reputation of standing behind every product they sell. The company executives and management should also support and stand behind their employees by paying their severance packages; it would be the right thing to do.