Posts on this site are never sponsored.

Extracting images from a Word document: don’t use Word! Use!

When you have images embedded in Word documents, the easiest way to extract them is to save the document as an HTML file; Word then dumps the images into a sub-folder.

However, if you are using an open source word processor such as Writer, files saved in OpenDocument format (.odt extension) exist in some weird cross between a .zip file and an XML file. To extract images from an .odt file, rename the file with the extension .zip. Open this .zip file and you should be able to extract your images. Then you can just rename the file back to the .odt extension and continue working as if nothing happened.

So there’s another reason to consider an open source office suite. Not only is it free, but there are some cool format advantages.

Why I switched from Rogers Wireless Pay As You Go to 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless (Canada!)

Last year was my first foray into the cell phone market… and my needs were very minor. I needed a phone for emergency situations and as a sort of “convenient pay phone” for times like when I need to meet up with people. I cancelled voicemail (and didn’t give out my number), as most service providers charge you when someone calls in and when you retrieve your messages.

Therefore, monthly plans were out of the question (no system access fee, thank you very much).

There was a Rogers Wireless Pay As You Go promotion last year where $100 landed me the equivalent in airtime, and a Motorola v186m (v186 MuchMusic edition) phone.

Picture of the Motorola v186m phone

The airtime lasted for 365 days, and the basic rates (the All Day plan) were as follows: 25 cents per minute for the first 5 minutes of a day, then 15 cents per minute thereafter. Outgoing text messages were 15 cents per message and incoming messages were free.

So, the rates at Rogers were decent, the phone was easy-to-use, and I could conveniently check my balance online.

Now that my balance has expired, my options at Rogers are a bit limited. $100 cards are hard to find, and not even mentioned on the website. However, they do last for 365 days and I’ve seen them on the Costco website. The problem is, the All Day plan isn’t valid for the $100 cards anymore, and thus the rate is a flat 33 cents per minute (text messaging is still 15 cents outgoing, free incoming). Plans with lower top-ups (like $10 or $20 at a time) expire after 30 days, so that’s a real turn-off. Not only that, but the Rogers website seems to be always down, and after 4 attempts at topping up an extra $10, I gave up.

So off I went looking for new plan. See my other post with links to Canadian prepaid / pay as you go cell phone service providers. Most other providers have the same problem in that their balance expires too fast. I considered Virgin Mobile, as $100 of airtime is valid for a year, with a rate of 25 cents per minute, free incoming text messages, and 15 cents outgoing text messages (5 cents between Virgin Mobile customers). But of course, Virgin Mobile plans only work with Virgin Mobile phones — not the most flexible option.

Then I discovered that 7-Eleven has a service called Speak Out Wireless. All top-up denominations ($25 through to $100) last for an entire year. Calling rates are 20 cents per minute (both outgoing and incoming), and both outgoing and incoming text messages are 5 cents per minute. [Update: In October 2009, they changed the outgoing text message cost to 10 cents per message and made incoming texts free. Also, calling rates are now 25 cents per minute] But of course I still had to procure a phone!

7-Eleven has a promotion running until the end of 2006 (January 6th, 2007 update: apparently in BC they’re extending this until the end of January 2007, so go check out your local 7-Eleven store!) where $100 landed me the equivalent in airtime, and a Nokia 1112 phone with $10 bonus airtime already included.

Picture of the Nokia 1112 phone

Thankfully, 7-Eleven piggybacks onto the Rogers network, so once I bought the phone, I managed to switch the SIM card into my GSM v186 phone (locked to Rogers). It also came pre-activated with a 604 number, so I was making my first call two minutes after stepping out of the 7-Eleven store. I also called customer service at 1-866-310-1023 (or 611 from my cell phone) to de-activate voicemail.

January 1st, 2007 update: Apparently, Speak Out no longer charges customers for callers leaving voice messages, or to check voicemail from a landline, so I’ve re-activated voicemail. There is still a charge to check voicemail from your phone, but this is nevertheless a great development!

I suppose 7-Eleven has the location advantage of its convenience stores and thus doesn’t have to waste its time with glitzy, cute promotions (ahem, Bell, Telus, Rogers).

The verdict? 7-Eleven is cheaper, more straightforward, and the airtime doesn’t expire so fast (all denominations expire after 365 days). I’ll miss the ability to check my airtime online, but heck, the Rogers site was always down, so I’ll learn to dial *777 to check airtime! If no one spams my cell phone number with text messages, the 5 cents per incoming or outgoing message will end up cheaper than the free incoming, 15 cents outgoing plan with Rogers. Having an existing Rogers phone was handy to switch SIM cards, but I wouldn’t have minded using the Nokia 1112 either. January 13th, 2007 update: I’ve noticed that 7-Eleven correctly charges a 59-second call as one minute, whereas Rogers used to charge such a call as two minutes.

Extra notes:
– If you’re not from Canada, note that no prepaid cell phone service (Speak Out Wireless included) has free incoming calls.
-Petro Canada runs a very similar service to 7-Eleven and if you have Petro points, you might even be able to score a free phone or free airtime.
-Rogers Wireless has an “inactive period” of 12 months, which means that you can have a balance of zero and still keep your number and account for a whole year. This is handy if you are like me and want the option to switch back if a better deal comes along!

April 5th, 2007 update: I’ve started an unofficial 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless FAQ at

A comparison of Canadian pay-as-you-go cell phone plans

Here are some handy links to information about pay-as-you-go plans for the major Canadian carriers. Most prepaid plans are a rip-off as your credit expires after 30 days for most lower amounts, thus making them pretty darn similar to monthly plans. The two most important details for a customer like me are 1) how long credit lasts and 2) the per-minute calling rates.

At the end of 2006 I switched from Rogers Wireless to 7-Eleven Speak Out (and am very happy with it) and posted a detailed comparison.

On there’s a very good rundown of which plans are most cost-effective depending on your per-month usage.

Company Top-up & Rates Voicemail included Special notes
Rogers Wireless Top up cards page
Rates page
Bell Mobility Top up cards page
Rates page
Telus Mobility Chart on prepaid plans
Top up page
Fido Chart on prepaid plans
Top-up page
Virgin Mobile Rates chart
Top-up page
7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless Information page
Unofficial forum
X - SIM cards available at 7-Eleven stores for $10
Petro-Canada Mobility Top up cards information
Rates page
X - SIM cards can be purchased at participating Petro-Canada gas stations for $15
President’s Choice Telecom Top up cards page
Rates page
Wind Mobile Information page - limited time offer with free incoming calls
– runs on less common 1700/2100 MHz network bands

Custom Google Map: Online bank locations in Vancouver

You can do all sorts of crazy stuff with custom Google Maps. You can even create maps with your own images that aren’t even maps (just visit that link and you’ll see what I mean) with that familiar interface.

One useful implementation using the traditional map is to show a certain category of locations for your neighbourhood. For example, you could map out all of the hockey rinks in the Lower Mainland, or cool places to see Christmas lights (hint hint, someone please do that). Type in “hockey rinks” into and Storyeum is one of the results…

Anyway, this week I noticed that three of the “online banks” in Vancouver have offices that are very close together. As you might have read, the topic of high savings interest accounts is of interest to me, as I wrote a brief review on some of them. So, my first foray into this custom mapping thing is to show the Citizens Bank, ICICI Bank, and ING Direct locations in downtown Vancouver. If you’re curious to find out more about this whole online banking thing, but would like to speak to someone in person, drop by three competitors all within one and a half blocks!

Please know that there are cheaper, better options than the SanDisk MobileMate Reader

I picked up this free hub:ce magazine, confusing it for regular hub magazine (they’re both made by the same company). Usually hub has some useful articles. But hub:ce is simply a massive promotional tool masquerading itself as “Canada’s premier consumer electronics magazine”. I don’t want to knock the magazine any further, but I feel the need to point out that one of the products that it features in the 2006 “holiday issue” can be had much cheaper and with better features. (This is the case with a lot of the other products, but I’ll just stick to this one.)

The product featured in hub:ce:

Card-carrying member
It’s fun to look at digital photos on the back of the camera, but why limit yourself to a 2-inch screen when you have a laptop or PC? Products like the SanDisk MobileMate Reader: : $24.99 are a clever idea. Buy the one that fits your camera’s memory card type (such as SecureDigital or MemoryStick) and plug it into your PC to view your pics.

This MobileMate Reader is, in short, a memory card reader that is compact like a USB key, plugging into your USB port. It is quite handy for those who 1) don’t have a built-in memory card reader on the computer they wish to use; and 2) want more convenient access to what’s on their memory card, as opposed to lugging out an adaptor or bigger memory card reader. Such products are great because you can also turn unused memory cards into USB keys.

The problem is that 1) a product with the same features as the MobileMate Reader can be had for $4.99 here (and no, I am not affiliated with that site); and 2) the $4.99 product reads both SecureDigital and MemoryStick cards, thus eliminating the need for multiple readers.

I actually already talked about the $4.99 product but I suppose one can never do enough to try and prevent others from being ripped off on memory card readers!