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New Westminster downtown internet options

I recently moved my web development company‘s office to downtown New Westminster (at Columbia Street and 4th Avenue). I was very surprised to discover that Telus’s maximum download speed for my building was 6Mbps (which is not feasible for a web development company!), and that Shaw did not service the building at all. By contrast, 15Mbps is effectively the minimum speed at home. As it turns out there are a few blocks in downtown New Westminster where the internet speeds are awful.

After multiple calls to both Telus and Shaw, I was resigned to the fact that they weren’t going to add or improve service any time soon. There is old copper wiring more than 10 kilometres to the nearest substation and neither company said they had plans to install new wiring. The only thing I was offered was something called “managed internet” where you pay Telus to build the fibre for you (tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars) — not even close to a realistic option!

Some of the other service providers such as Teksavvy weren’t able to offer anything better, since they simply lease capacity from the “big 2″ of Telus and Shaw.

After reaching out to the City of New Westminster and talking to some businesses in the area, I found that the bad internet speeds are well known in my area, although the speeds are much better a few blocks further west. I also found out about the Intelligent City initiative; a major component of this initiative is to build a fibre optic network through the city. The City of New Westminster does not intend on being an internet service provider, but they would build and own the network, leasing out the capacity to other service providers. This is an exciting development whose general plan has been approved, but will realistically take at least a couple of years before it is ready for commercial use.

Other options included:
* Wireless cell phone plans, where LTE networks now offer great speeds. However, the bandwidth offered with the Telus, Bell, and Rogers plans (as well as some of the smaller companies) topped out at 20GB per month, at which point the costs per GB skyrocket.
* Satellite internet from a company such as TeraGo, although it would cost at least $350 per month for a 5Mbps connection, and a 15Mbps connection would cost $950 per month.
* A “bonded” connection through Lightspeed Internet — this involves combining multiple connections into a single connection. They lease capacity through Telus’s lines, but Telus does not offer this bonded connection. The cost for my building for 3 bonded lines for an effective speed of 15Mbps is $340 per month.
* As suggested by my building neighbours Techno Monkey Media, get a company or building down the street (where they have decent internet speeds) to agree to let me get a normal Telus, Shaw, or other wired connection in their building, then send the signal to my building via rooftop satellites. This has some modest up-front costs, and the ongoing costs are no more than a standard connection.

I ended up moving forwarded with the bonded connection. However, the cost is not something I want to be paying in the long-term. While I wait for fibre internet to come to New Westminster, I hope to set up the “beam an internet connection via rooftop satellites” connection. In any case, this is a problem I would have never expected for downtown New Westminster!

Tangerine Bank 3% savings account interest promotion for 6 months

If you have a Tangerine Bank regular savings account (not a TFSA or RRSP savings account), it’s worth calling in to see whether you can get the latest promotional offer of a 3% interest rate for 6 months.

When ING Direct was launched in 1997, it was a clear leader regarding high interest savings account interest rates. Over the years, savings account interest rates everywhere in Canada have dropped significantly, making the term “high interest” a bit of a misnomer. However, even before Scotiabank bought ING Direct and rebranded it as Tangerine Bank, ING Direct’s savings account interest rates had been dropping faster than other comparable accounts, and it is currently tied for last on this chart.

Tangerine Bank has been putting out a lot of interest rate promotions with unattractive stipulations. For example, the rate might be only on net new deposits, or there might be a bonus for taking a one-time action such as switching your direct deposit payroll, or with terms that steer you towards locking in your money for lower rates in the future.

The latest promo is more straightforward, although if you haven’t received a call or an e-mail about it, you’ll have to call in to see if you can get it. In short, it offers a 3% interest rate (technically a 1.95% additional rate on top of the current 1.05% rate) for all money in your regular savings account(s) for the next 180 days / 6 months. The 6-month 3% rate makes Tangerine the temporary leader for a savings account interest rate in Canada. Once the rate is applied to your account, you don’t have to change how you save or set a reminder to pull the money out before it gets locked in — the additional interest rate will just get removed after 6 months. I first read about it in this thread, where you can read about other people’s experiences in getting the promotion.

Not only is this promotion not publicly advertised, but there is no official information about how someone is eligible to take part in the promotion (whether it’s based on your account history or balance) or when the offer will end. When I called in, I told the customer service representative that I read about the promotion on an online forum and that I’d like to take part in it. They said “Sure, we can see whether we can apply that right away” and then almost immediately after, “Yes, I have access to add it”. He couldn’t tell me why he had access to add it, though.

I was able to confirm that the promotion was applied by clicking on the “My contest entries and Bonuses” on the left menu:
My contest entries and Bonuses link

… and then it appeared in the “Your special rate offers” table:

Your special rate offers table

Here is the full list of terms and conditions that appeared on my account.

Modo car co-op review in New Westminster: convenient car sharing

I’ve been interested in car sharing programs for quite a while as a second car option (if not eventually a primary car option!). The promise is that they provide the convenience of a car without the costs and hassle of actually owning one. However, outside of Vancouver itself, there are very limited options in Metro Vancouver. After moving to New Westminster, I discovered that Modo operates here (and is the only car sharing company that does); as of the time of this post, there are 11 vehicles in New Westminster, including 3 at the Quay and 1 outside of the Columbia SkyTrain station.

I decided to try Modo. It was easy to sign up, easy to book a car, and pretty fun, too.

All but 2 of the Modo cars in New Westminster are a 2012 model year or newer. The older ones are a 2011 Prius and a 2009 Dodge Caravan. They are all sedan or hatchback sizes except for the Caravan and a RAV4.

To join Modo, you have to pay a $20 application fee. Then you can choose 1 of 2 models:

  • pay a refundable $500 buy-in fee to become an owner, then for actual usage pay $4 per hour + mileage (40 cents per kilometre for the first 40km, then 20 cents thereafter); or
  • pay $5 per month as a standard member, then for actual usage pay $8 per hour with the first 200 kilometres free

(There are a few more differences in the different membership models, which you can find out more about on the Modo website.)

Gas is included in the cost, as are Golden Ears and Port Mann bridge tolls. You are expected to fill up the tank past 1/4 full at all times, although you use a Modo credit card, which is included in a pouch next to the steering wheel:

Modo pouch for the car keys and gas card

You pick up your car from a designated spot and have to return it to that same spot when you are done.

You don’t have to worry about car insurance or maintenance. If you pay for your bookings with a credit card that has collision damage insurance for rentals, that coverage is valid for Modo bookings as well. Otherwise you can pay into a damage insurance pool, which is currently $39 per year.

Extra note: I was surprised to find out that you can take a Modo car to the USA.

Here is a brief summary of my experience when registering for a Modo membership, as well as making my first booking:

The application process was done (almost) entirely online. After completing the application, I had to call ICBC to get them to e-mail my driving record to Modo. After that, it took exactly 1 week for my Modo fob to arrive in the mail:

Your key (fob) to all Modo cars

Once I had my fob, I signed in to the Modo website to search for available cars for a specific time period and location:

Enter your location and dates to search for a Modo car

Select from the available cars and times

I was able to view information about each car and see a map showing where to pick up the car:

Information about the car

Once I’d selected a car and time period, I could view additional information about the car, such as special operating instructions for a hybrid car. (There are no keys, and to power it on there is a… Power button!)

Special instructions about the car

When the time came to pick up the car, I walked over to the location and there was the Prius, in a dedicated Modo parking spot:

Designated Modo parking spot

Using my fob, I waved it over the sensor on the dashboard and the car automatically unlocked. To lock the car (and disable the engine) at any of my stops, I waved the fob over the sensor once again.

Fob in to unlock the car and enable the engine

I thought I had plenty of time to return the car, but I ended up being stuck behind a train for 15 minutes. (Tip in New Westminster: if you’re returning a car to the Quay, consider using the overpass at Quayside and Carnarvon, as you might get stuck at Front and Begbie!) I called Modo to tell them about this. Thankfully the next booking wasn’t for another 30 minutes, so they extended my booking by the extra half hour, which cost me an extra $4 instead of having to pay the $25 late fee.

I then parked the car back in the same parking stall, “fobbed out”, and walked home.

I can definitely recommend Modo. If you think it might suit your needs, you can essentially try it out by choosing the monthly $5 membership option. You can of course do your own calculations to figure out whether a car sharing service makes sense for you, whether Modo is the best option compared to the competition (such as Zipcar, Car2Go, and Evo), and then within each service, which plan suits your needs.

Extract font information and size from PDFs for free

My company was implementing a tool to auto-generate PDF reports from a web content management system. We needed to extract font information from the design mock-up PDF. While you can extract a list of fonts used in most free PDF readers including Adobe Reader — go to File > Document Properties > Fonts — we needed the font sizes and the exact places where each font was used.

With the paid Adobe Acrobat Professional you can edit text, view specific font information, and a lot more, but since we only needed very specific functionality, we looked for a free solution first.

There are apparenty quite a few free command line tools that can extract font information, but ones with a graphical user interface were harder to find. I stumbled upon PDF-XChange Editor: PDF-XChange Editor’s full version can be purchased for $43.50 US (which warrants a good look if you need its more advanced features). Its free version allows you to use the “Edit Content Tool” where you can not only edit text, but get the font and font size information:

Edit Content Tool in PDF-Xchange Editor

This was exactly what we needed.

You can also annotate the document, which enabled us to quickly make some nice QA documentation on the font information:

Edit Content Tool in PDF-Xchange Editor

The only downside to PDF-Xchange for the purposes of extracting font information is that it is only available on Windows operating systems.

Extra note: check out wkhtmltopdf if you need a command line tool to convert HTML5 to PDF!

Apache rewrite rule: conditionally strip HTTP header

With mod_headers, you can set, unset, and modify HTTP headers in Apache.

To conditionally set / unset a header, you have to do a bit of a roundabout process and make use of environment variables. In other words, you have to do a test for the condition and set an environment variable based on the result. Then, you can use a RequestHeader directive based on the environment variable.

In this specific example, I wanted to strip an X-Forwarded-Host header only for a specific subdomain. This is because the subdomain was being used to proof the site through a proxy, but I didn’t want the content management system (CMS) behind it to generate links based on the subdomain; I wanted the CMS to generate links based on the normal site domain / URL.

RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-FORWARDED-HOST} proof.yoursite.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^.*$ - [ENV=ISPROOFSITE:true]
RequestHeader unset X-Forwarded-Host env=ISPROOFSITE

You can do something similar with the mod_setenvif Apache module together with the mod_headers module.

SetEnvIf X-Forwarded-Host proof\.yoursite\.com ISPROOFREQUEST
RequestHeader unset X-Forwarded-Host env=ISPROOFSITE

Bonus notes: here’s an example of how to block traffic based on an X-Forwarded-For header. This is useful if you are behind a reverse proxy such as Akamai or Varnish and you cannot block the source IP directly (since the source IP is of the reverse proxy); in these cases, usually you have an X-Forwarded-For or True-Client-IP HTTP header that represents the end client’s IP address.

RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For}i 123\.127\.77\.38 [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For}i 124\.127\.45\.59 [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For}i 87\.164\.134\.73
RewriteRule ^(.*) - [F]