For Christmas, support your local economy

John Kiru, President of Toronto Association of BIA’s, contributed the following to the C’est What email newsletter. I found it fascinating for its directness.

As the holidays approach the national chains have had their displays up since before Halloween and the giant Asian factories have kicked into high gear providing Canadians with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods – merchandise that has been made at the expense of Canadian labor.

This year can be different. It’s time to think outside the box. Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper?

Everyone gets their hair cut. Gym membership, home cleaning, or computer tune-ups? And who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed or the oil changed? Small, Canadian owned shops would love to sell you a gift certificate for these types of services.

Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plonking down the Brown Plastic Notes on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

Remember, this isn’t about big National chains this is about supporting your neighbour. Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants, go out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theater or find a venue showcasing local bands.

Honestly, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house? When you buy a five dollar string of lights, about fifty cents stays in the community. If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy, waiter, or babysitter a nice BIG tip.

Christmas shouldn’t be about draining Canadian pockets so that China can buy another Canadian company. It can be about caring about your neighbours, encouraging Canadian small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. When we care about other Canadians, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine. THIS can be the new Canadian Christmas tradition.

Or consider a local charity. The annual St. James Cathedral Food Drive is underway, you can donate online.

Why Pocket Rocket isn’t available for Android

Pretty well the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd questions that we fielded regarding Pocket Rocket went like this: Why isn’t there an Android version?

The answer is, because there is no appreciable Android market. Let me explain what makes a market: people willing to buy, the ability to complete a transaction, and people willing to sell. Spoiler: All three points = FAIL.

1. Are people willing to buy? A long-time inspiration, Philip Greenspun says, in a net pro-Android analysis, “in nearly 2.5 years of using Android daily, [I have] never purchased an application.” Philip has his fuck-you money. He can buy any app he feels like without thinking twice. And still, he hasn’t bought a single one, more or less since Android shipped.

2. Are people able to close a purchase? Have you seen the nightmare that is Google Checkout in Canada? Developers hoping to offer in-app purchase have to create a US corporation so they can run Google checkout transactions. News flash: Many of us have better things to do.

3. Do developers see an incentive? I am loath to give our esteemed competitors airtime, but Rocket Radar has been the victim of a sleazy knockoff in the Android Market. They are truly the only game in town on the Android app store, and yet the sleazy knockoff that is TTC Radar has one rating (four stars) among their less-than-fifty installs.

The answers, for Canadian developers, with Canadian users, aiming at a market for Candians, is no on all counts.

Let me be clear: We could write an Android app. My partner Bill has sucked up the misery that is figuring out how to develop for that platform. I know Java to the point where it bores me. I have a handful of offers from Indian and East-European firms to take our code and port it over for under a thousand bucks. And even so, the best vendors in the Android market aren’t able to manage more than 50 installs.

There just isn’t a viable business in the Android market unless you are a port of a multi-million-install game or social-networking app on iOS, and even then, I’m not sure it matters. Apple iPhone and iPod touch owners are inured to buying new features through the App Store and in-app purchase. They really, genuinely, don’t mind. Apple has returned a billion dollars a year, roughly, to developers. How many cheques has Google cut?

Let me put it another way. If anyone feels like making an Android version of our app, using our source code, algorithms, original artwork, and blessing: we will take you up on it. Our price is a really nice night out on the town for myself and my three partners.

Change Ontario’s liquor laws

The province is updating its liquor laws and is in the midst of a public consultation until March 17, 2011.

If you have ever been trapped in a beer tent at some event, and wondered why you can’t walk around with a drink in-hand, you should comment.

If you’ve just gotten back from Quebec and wondered why you can only buy alcohol in government-run or -sanctioned stores, you should comment.

If you think a beer-distribution system owned by the major breweries, slanted towards distributing only those major breweries’ lame-ass product, is an acceptable status quo, you should comment.

Of course, the government is only looking at a limited range of updates to the law, because this is Ontario and we only do things halfway. This issue needs your voice.

Executive looting

The Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives reports that executive compensation is alarmingly high. A sarcastic axe-grinder in the Post says it’s all a bunch of hot air by people with an axe to grind, only admitting at the end that there might be a point in all this.

Executive compensation isn’t the problem.  It’s executive looting.

Let’s have a look at Onex, with the #3 best-paid CEO, Gerry Schwartz @ $16M total package.

Their 2009 annual report makes a big deal out of their option plan, proudly proclaiming that management is the largest shareholder.  They transferred $161M of cash to shares in 2009 (again, mainly to management). The options that can be exercised in the future show up as a liability, which increased $86M to $138M.  They have 13 million share options outstanding, at an average price of $18. The current market price is $30.

ONEX’s share structure lets directors buy back shares (up to 10% of their float per year).  “Onex believes that it is advantageous to Onex and its shareholders to continue to repurchase Onex’ Subordinate Voting Shares from time to time when the Subordinate Voting Shares are trading at prices that reflect a significant discount to their intrinsic value.”

The web page they made to crow about this sham has a convenient number at the bottom: more than $1 billion over 13 years was spent repurchasing shares.  They could have returned $1.40 a year  in dividends instead of the $0.11 our grandparents seem to be happy with.

All this money has gone to people who managed return 5% on their stock price, lost half their business’s value in the collapse of 2008-2009, and have never out-performed the TSX index for any sustained length of time.

Onex (blue) vs. TSX (red) from 2000-2010