Thursday 5 November 2015

We’ve noticed you're a good customer. If that continues, we will soon have to unsubscribe you.

On Friday the 1st I made a shopping list. Saturday the 2nd I loaded some tempting offers on one of my loyalty cards. On Sunday the 3rd I went on a spree and purchased 125 dollars of Health & Beauty Aids. Creams. Lotions. Ointments. Products that make your dull hair shiny. Products that make you shiny skin dull. Stuff that I needed. Because I had carefully chosen the promotional offer that suited my needs, I was rewarded with over 18,000 bonus points. Nice.

On Monday the 4th I went to pick up something at the post office of that same store. And I remembered I needed some bar soap. Cha-ching, another 120 points. Here, I thought, was a merchant who really gets it. I'm spending money I usually spend at other retailers here, at this store, because of the rewards. And, frankly – d'uh. That's how a loyalty program works.

So imagine my surprise later this week when I got home and opened this email:
“Are you still there?
We’ve noticed you haven't opened our emails in a while. If there continues to be no activity, we will soon have to unsubscribe your email address.”
I was going to be fired as a customer. For using my loyalty card to buy hundreds of dollars of merchandise at their store!

How can they have created a stack where, even though I am loading offers on my phone from my emails into their app, and buying products on both a promotional-driven and a daily needs basis, there is some feed that cannot see any of those transactions and decides to fire me as a customer?

This is a retailer whose marketing department is staffed by people who are not in the first quartile of any cohort.

The moral of the story is “watch your stack”. Don't pull a data feed of customers to fire without parsing a feed that shows you customers that have just purchased. In fact, better yet – don't fire your customers using a loyalty program.

BTW worst of all, the only way to re-enroll in the program is to follow phishing-scam style links to dodgy login pages. Priceless.

And PPS. Of course I can't send them an email capturing the above information. Their loyalty campaign emails are do-not-reply.

Thursday 10 September 2015

The Search for General Tso...

There's been a trend since the turn of the Century (or Millennium, if you prefer) to examine the story of the Chinese diaspora in North America in terms of restaurants. Young Chinese are exploring their own cultural heritage via the lens of a menu.

Here's a link to Karen Tam's 2006 Installation at YYZ Gallery: Shangri-La Caf: A Division
of Gold Mountain Restaurant

In Canada the first wave of immigrants from China built the CPR. Every navvy camp (to use the historically correct and fortunately ethnically-neutral term) had a group of men who cooked traditional meals for the work crews. Obtaining certain items was always an issue.

Food issues were often the cause of work stoppage and job actions. Some Chinese would drop off the railroad and open a restaurant in whatever prairie town they happened to be in. Stepping out from that center, those millennial artists observe that Chinese-Canadian cuisine was the first Fusion cuisine. Also, these restaurants were seen as a tasty window on the exotic East. In that sense it presages the fascination with all things Egyptian that occurred after the successful Howard Carter-Lord Carnarvon opening of Tut's tomb.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Cover Song Wednesdays - James Last- 17 Apr 1929 to 9 Jun 2015

I encountered James Last on a hot summer evening when the townies were getting their groove on at some country club. By prior arrangement I was there to help with the equipment. And in case you're wondering, that's "Last rhymes with Lost" not "Last rhymes with fast". Deutsche, don't cha know.

James Last and his Orchestra were beyond camp. They took bright, poppy hits of their day and arranged them into even brighter, poppier orchestra arrangements that drew you into a "Get Happy" mode that just won't stop.

Your first impression on encountering a James Last track is "Oh no, I've bought a recording of elevator music!" But after listening to enough of his work, you realize that the musicians in this band are cats with some really great chops, man. Including muttonchops, by the 1970s. They're so "out there" they're orbital. Great arrangements, great players. Wall to wall camp.

But don't believe me. Listen to the YouTube of the great James Last...

Judy in Disguise (With Glasses). This song is a Buggles-style parody of the great Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. How hip is it? According to Wikipedia "Jello Biafra released a live version as part of his 2015 live album of New Orleans rock and soul covers, Walk on Jindal's Splinters."

Note: This clip goes on for an hour, so watch as little or as much as you want.

Non-Stop Dancing! Live in Berlin in 1982, non-stop medley of Can't Stop the Music, El Dorado and Xanadu.

For me this whole thing has such a Wes Anderson feel. The band is wearing random and vaguely matched outfits. "Blue, with piping - sure. You're in the horn section. Plum? Swing by strings".

Live At The Royal Albert Hall, London 1978
Hey- That's Star Wars a la disco...

Note: This clip goes on for an hour and a half, so watch as little or as much as you want.

Mamma Mia. James Last and ABBA. It's like a gold-plated black-velvet painting in a champagne fountain infinity pool. FYI the Saxophonist is Matthias Clasen.

Dancing Queen. James Last and ABBA. It's like a Rolls-Royce drenched in Nutella in a Louis Vuitton double-wide trailer home. FYI the Saxophonist is Matthias Clasen.

Orange Blossom Special. The whole show band on Ocean Drive in Miami. So Miami Vice. In 2001. That's PEAK James Last.

MacArthur Park. Are you frickin kidding me?! Have you even been listening to these tracks? James Last was born to orchestrate this cover. Jimmy Webb meets "Hansi" and kicks major butt at 5 minutes 40 seconds...

Derek Watkins on the melodic flugelhorn solo in the early part, and then switches to trumpet.

Live in Vienna 17th april 2013.

Sunday 31 May 2015

Boyhood circa 1942

In 1942 my father is now 11 years old. When I was 11 all I could think about was the moon landing. Projecting that back to my father's childhood, WWII must have dominated his boyhood daydreams.

And 1942 was action packed. First of all, the 128 Thorold Flying Dragons Air Cadet squadron was formed on April 29, 1942. Although my father was not old enough to enlist even as a cadet, I can only imagine the thrill of seeing the unit of boys only slightly older than him in uniforms. And the air service would have been impossibly glamorous - the moon shot of its day.

According to their website "Though no longer a High School Squadron, 128 still parades in the City of Thorold with their local headquarters out of the Trinity United Church and are proud to serve over 70 years for and with the City."

From April 4 to 18, 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings are the Stanley Cup finalists. According to Wikipedia- "After losing the first three games, the Maple Leafs won the next four to win the series 4–3, winning their fourth Stanley Cup. It was the first Cup Final in history to go seven. Leafs win the cup"

The naval history of WWII is often seen as a series of military engagements, which it was. But the merchant marines are also caught up in the maelstrom of destruction. In some ways a ship carrying cargo is a more attractive target than a frigate or a corvette. And on February 22, 1942 the steam ship SS George L. Torian of St. Catharines, Ontario was torpedoed in the Caribbean by U-129. Depending on the source, 13 to 15 souls were lost in that encounter. Only one has a memorial on the WWW - In memory of Master John Allan February 22, 1942. But, there is a U-boat website that gives the crew roster...

Here's the story of U-129.

Skip Gillham writes "George L. Torian headed to the Caribbean to load bauxite at inland river ports for delivery to the transshipment center at Trinidad and then north to the aluminum mills. The vessel had a full cargo and was en route from Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana, when it was torpedoed and sunk by U-129 off the coast of British Guiana seventy-two years ago today. This was one of seven ships sent to the bottom by that infamous German submarine prowling in the area over a two-week period.

And in Esquimalt on 2 May 1942 at Yarrows yard the hull K325 is launched. More on HMCS St. Catharines later...

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life with a memory project by featuring some milestone events from each year he lived.

Saturday 2 May 2015

The wreck of SS Thorold...

By 1940 WWII hits very close to home with the loss of the cargo ship SS Thorold in an air raid attack while she was bringing vitally needed supplies of coal to support the war effort. Here's a memorial to the able seamen we lost that day.

Steamer SS Thorold, 1,89grt, (Quebec & Ontario Transportation Co.) had been sailing from Cardiff to London with a cargo of coal. On the 22nd August the ship was attacked and sunk by German aircraft South of the Smalls in position 51' 41N 05' 40W. 10 of her 24 crew killed.

And here's the memorial...

Our cousins the Furneys start The Thorold News, as per this delightful recollection by the late Alun Hughes.

Judged fairest of them all in the national beauty contest held Sept. 4, 1940 at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, was Mary Ellen Batten of Thorold.

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life with a memory project by featuring some milestone events from each year he lived.

Thursday 23 April 2015

1939 - It's a boy! And the Queen rolls out a superhighway

In 1939 my father's birthday gift would be the birth of his brother Harry on Nov 16, a couple of weeks after my Dad's own birthday. This occurred shortly after Canada went into war in Europe. Something very exciting in newsreels and comic books for a boy of 8, but not something that would touch his family's life in the heartland of Canada.

On the other hand, 1939 saw a whirlwind of Royal visits and the opening of Canada's first superhighway. The QEW was a four-lane blacktop not named for the current Regina Elizabeth the Queen, but rather for Queen Elizabeth - the Queen Mum and the King's consort.

There at at least two blogs devoted to its ceremonial lion monument with the other about the sculpting couple who created one of its two still-extant monuments.

The QEW is so important that even the hipsters of today blog about it. And here - "Historicist: From Magnificent Thoroughfare to Death-Trap"

There's even a cool website about the landau and other ceremonial cars used in the 1939 opening. Many of which are now in collection.

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life with a memory project by featuring some milestone events from each year he lived.

Thursday 16 April 2015

1938 - Hello Mr and Mrs America and all ships at sea

In 1938 Canada was totally ramped up for the war effort. In the US they were sleeping at the switch (their attack wouldn't arrive until Pearl Harbour)

Read all about War Industry in St Catharines at

Wednesday 8 April 2015

The King gave a speech - Ironic Mr Fox 1937 Falls Freezes Over Edition

In 1937 my father turned 6 and was now in school.

It was an exciting time in Thorold... there was a royal coronation to celebrate as George VI was made King. Yes, this was the "King's Speech" King. Here's the facade of Macartney's pharmacy bedecked in bunting.

And it's Still there. Here's a recent image of the front facade of Macartney's (later Henderson's) Drug Store courtesy of Thorold's LACAC.

Yet the Great Depression still loomed over the economy. Just up the road and down the hill Fort George was being restored to 1813 splendor, a "famine folly" that used government funds to put food on the tables of the working poor, and ensure an historic attraction that would last to today.

Just up the road the other way, Niagara Falls freezes over.

Trans Canada Air Lines takes off, serving the upper crust... Eventually they would become Air Canada, with the motto "We're not happy until you're not happy".

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life with a memory project by featuring some milestone events from each year he lived.

Sunday 22 March 2015

1935 - Happy New Year! It's a girl!

Happy New Year! My Dad welcomes his sister Evelyn into the world. Here's the world that greeted these two siblings at the height of the Great Depression...

1935 in the Niagara area

1935 marked the 53rd Canadian Henley Rowing Regatta (link is to a large scan of program) on Martindale Pond in Port Dalhousie, They still race there.

They also swim there - at Lakeside Park, as this postcard from 1935 shows.

The Great Gorge Route was a tourist railway that took sightseers down the valley of the Niagara River and along a scenic run past the roiling waters and the whirlpools. On Sep 13th a 5,000 ton rockslide near Whirlpool Rapids Bridge destroys more than 200 feet of track and railbed. The Great Gorge Railway never ran again.

1935 saw the founding of The May Court Club of St. Catharines. According to their website - "The May Court Club is Canada’s oldest women’s volunteer association.  Membership consists of women dedicated to active volunteerism in their community, in both direct service and administrative placement or on boards of charitable organizations."

1935 in Canada

In 1935 Alfred Hitchcock completes his film The 39 Steps. As it happens, the film is based on a novel by John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and Governor-General of Canada at the time.

The unrelenting economic Depression leads to the On-To-Ottawa Trek of 1935. It was a workers protest that would march from the west to Ottawa to present grievances to Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. The federal government ordered the Trek ended when it reached the RCMP station in Regina. Thus did July 1, 1935 become the day of the Regina Riot, a terrible and violent moment in Canadian labor history.

On a smaller scale of oppression, in 1935 the Dionne Quintuplets become wards of the King, and entertainment icons, being moved into an amusement park where they were the main attraction.

1935 marks the first issue of bank notes (money) by the Bank of Canada. Off denominations include $25 and $100 dollar bills. That reminds me -I have a friend who was in a variety store behind an elderly gent trying to buy a pack of gum - with a $1,000 dollar bill!

1935 in the United States

The Hoover Dam is completed.

On May 25th Babe Ruth hits his last 3 home runs - Boston Braves vs Pirates. On June 2nd, at the age of 40, Babe Ruth announces his retirement as a player

On Jun 28th American President Franklin Roosevelt orders a federal gold vault to be built at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Finally on Nov 5th, 1935 Parker Brothers launches the game of Monopoly, which gives the abject and penniless unemployed a few hours of enjoyment in lives that were otherwise likely to be bleak.

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life with a memory project by featuring some milestone events from each year he lived.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Gold diggings from 1934

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life with a memory project by featuring a milestone event from each year he lived.

It seems unlikely, but it was not until 1934 that historic evidence proved Laura Secord's claim to have walked 15 miles to warn the Loyalists of the imminent American attack,

What is now the Vineland Research Station (agricultural research facility) expands the Dominion Entomological Laboratory in Vineland when it opens a St Davids facility.

Avondale Dairies adds a second delivery route!

St. George's Anglican Church genealogical records from 1934 are now available in microfilm at McMaster University.

My Dad always loved the official Province of Ontario Road map. Here's the 1934 edition...

If you're from St Catharines you believe the zipper was invented here. Which is a corporate marketing history "fact". The truth that goes with that is dreary and detailed. A true fact that can be shared is that the zipper was used for backpacks and other portable pockets until the then-Prince of Wales had his tailor add a zipper fly to his Saville Road suits.

Voila fashion!

I always find aerial views difficult to interpret but here's a great selection of "Then and Nows" of Merritton.

In 1934 a sleazy wrestling promoter was fined by the Ontario Athletic Commission for fraudulent practices in bouts in communities including St Catharines.

Sunday 8 March 2015

October 13, 1933 was my father's first Friday the 13th!

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life for a while by featuring a milestone event from each year he lived.

October 13, 1933 was my father's first Friday the 13th!

On Nov 7, 1933 radio station CKTB began broadcasting. The "TB" in CKTB represented the station owners Taylor and Bate brewery. Locals japed that CKTB represented "Canadians Know Their Beer".

The radio station building is haunted...

Also in 1933 the Morningstar mill ceased regular operation.

Photo by Sujit Sivanand at English Wikipedia

The Mill has been preserved.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Same ship. Different day.

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life for a while by featuring a milestone event from each year he lived.

My father's first birthday was Oct 13, 1932. Only a few weeks earlier the Grain Carrier S.S. Lemoyne navigated into Lock 8, and thereby opened the 4th Welland Ship Canal. This canal was second only to Panama in allowing low-cost transportation of goods in North America. Typically known only to those who live on the Great Lakes, the Welland Canals are part of the economic engine that fueled an economic boom that has held for two centuries now. In many ways Great Lakes shipping drove the first wave of globalization. Sugar from the Caribbean was shipped to Toronto Refineries. Wheat was shipped from the Prairies to Russia. Coal and iron ore went from the hard granite of the Canadian Shield to Korea and points further east.

1932 - the World's largest Grain Carrier S.S. Lemoyne makes the maiden voyage on the Fourth Welland Ship Canal. (courtesy British Pathe)

Here's the news story from the Granby Leader-Mail Aug 5, 1932

A coming-of-age ritual for teens growing up along the Welland Canal was for a couple to go parking and have a make-out session along those dark shores. Although there was no guarantee able seamen would make an appearance, local wits described this as "watching the submarine races". Imagine my delight when I located this clip of the submarine HMCS Ojibwa being transported on Welland Canal headed for display at a museum.

Here's the website.

Bonus - One of my best friends served in the Navy and did at least one tour on an Oberon Class vessel.

Sunday 22 February 2015

In Dog We Trust - Downward Dog Edition

Note - My father recently passed away after 83 years on this earth. I'd like to commemorate his life for a while.

My father was a secular man who loved his dogs. So we begin on a Sunday with a couple of cromulent items harvested from the WWW.

My father was born Oct 13, 1931. Only a few weeks earlier the first parachuting K9 was deployed in St Catharines. Quoting sources:

On August 4, 1931, the first parachuting dog successfully reached ground* at the St. Catharines airport. Four-year-old police dog Cal readily climbed aboard a plane with his master, Harold Brooker, a member of the St. Catharines Flying Club. With club engineer David Imrie at the controls, they travelled to a height of 1,800 feet. Cal’s parachute was fastened to the wing of the plane, and the dog leaped into space without hesitation when his name was called and Brooker disappeared over the edge of the wing. Cal made a perfect four-point landing near where Brooker touched down safely.

Cal doing "Downward Dog"

I was curious as to what that looked like. Here's a British Pathe newsreel of a K9 drop circa WWII.

*Read this sentence as many times as you'd like but it's the funniest statement I've seen in a while... "the first parachuting dog successfully reached ground". Here's a tip -anything that is jettisoned from an airplane will successfully reach the ground. It don't stay up there!