A letter to Canadians from the Honourable Jack Layton

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Even at his weakest, Jack could still inspire us to be our strongest. Sir, you will be missed.

Read the full letter | See Jack at his best best: happy | Six ways Jack Layton helped build Toronto

A final word and a thank-you | Slave Lake Book Auction

Well folks, that’s a wrap for the Slave Lake book auction.

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While the auction was an unbelievable amount of hard work, it was also a lot of fun. I LOVED watching the bidding wars going on and all the fun comments between bidders, egging each other on (yes Angie, I’m looking at YOU!). I loved that some of the books were hand delivered to the winners. I loved that authors offered up a SECOND copy to auction losers who wanted to pony up the same amount as the winners. I loved that up until the last post I was still getting donations in.

So thank you all so, so much for making this auction a roaring success. Because of you Slave Lake Library now has $4,909 to put towards rebuilding their library.

And that’s just freaking awesome.

Despite not winning any books, this is still beyond awesome. Great job Colleen!

On the failures of Online Banking

It seems to me that with every upgrade or enhancement, online banking (in Canada) get less useful and far more difficult to use. Having had a 4-month co-op stint at a bank (doing QA for the Online Banking team), I know all about the red-tape involved, plus the antiquated mindset, skills, and technologies at play, so I’m not really surprised; just disappointed.

Some highlights:

  • One bank no longer lets me view my statements online but rather forces me to download a PDF.
  • Several banks don’t actually let me download PDF statements.
  • One bank fails to list the actual statement date when viewing a statement.
  • Two banks limit their passwords at 6-8 characters.
  • One bank has two separate systems: one for their credit card and one for regular banking.
  • One bank forces me to indicate the fact that I’m from Canada every time I visit their site (because the domain on their cookie isn’t set correctly).

Banks should spend less time on building peripheral money management webapps, and focus instead on the core experience. They could pick up about a million cues from mint.com.

As skeptical as I was about the idea of BankSimple, I now wait with bated breath.

Twitter Tip: Email Notifications for @replies

Ever get one of those out-of-the-blue @replies? Someone off-handedly mentions you in a Tweet, but because you’re out-and-about, you don’t actually see it until you got back to your computer and fire up your favourite Twitter client. Wish you could find out instantly when someone @replies you?

I wish I could I could say I that I was announcing an awesome new webapp to help you do just that (I made sketches for it and everything!) but turns out that Google (indirectly) beat me to it. (I guess their deal to buy Tweets is slowly paying off for users.)

Enter Google Alerts.

Setting up email alerts for @replies using Google Alerts

Setting up email alerts for @replies using Google Alerts is easy

If you’re already using Google Alerts to monitor keywords, this should be familiar territory.

To set up an alert:

  1. Go to Google Alerts.
  2. For “Search terms” enter your username, e.g. @God_Damn_Batman
  3. Set “Type” to “Updates”.
  4. Set “How often” to “as-it-happens”.
  5. Set “Volume” to “All results”.
  6. If you’re signed in, your email should be populated. If not, enter your email address.
  7. Click “Create Alert”.

…and that’s it.

Google will now email you anytime you get an @reply, typically within a few seconds to a couple of minutes. (In most cases, it might even be faster than your Twitter client if it’s not Real-Time APIed yet and set to poll every 5+ minutes.)

Google Alerts Email

Google Alerts Updates Email are clean, fast, and useful

Google adds the user’s profile pic, linkifies usernames and hashtags in the Tweet, and includes a permalink to the it. They’re even nice enough to expand shortened URLs from some of the popular services (e.g. bit.ly).

Note: this likely won’t work for official retweets, only unofficial “RT”-style retweets (which are way cooler anyway). (2010-10-19: Turns out, the notifications work for official retweets as well!

Bonus Tip: you can technically set up alerts for any term(s) you like. Try to be very specific though because if you pick an actively-talked-about topic you’re likely to get a constant barrage of emails.

Extra Bonus Tip: If you want to stalk follow someone else’s tweets via email just set up an alert for their name (without the @ symbol), e.g. mjangda. Set up another one for @username and now you’re following everything that user is doing on Twitter. Yes, it’s creepy, so don’t actually do it.