Number of COVID cases in Ontario declines for the first time – where to from here?

I had an entire update written up last week around the situation around the world, but to be honest, it seemed a bit boring, so I didn’t post it. Things are proceeding more or less as expected, with the German speaking countries kicking ass while southern Europe is starting to see the light of day. I thought I would concentrate closer to home, and write something when there was something of note to write about. Well today, for the first time since this pandemic hit Ontario, we’ve actually seen a decrease in active cases!

How has that been missed in the headlines? Well, everyone likes to concentrate on the scary new cases number, which in this case came in at a relatively unremarkable 437, but 491 people recovered and 24 died, which means the number of confirmed active cases dropped today by 78. This active case count is important because these are the people currently known to be infected and able to infect others. If this continues to trend down, all else equal, eventually new cases will as well.

We’ve come a long way, and the good news is this is not due to some trickery with reduced or inadequate testing. The number of tests being done per day has more than doubled since mid-month with the province getting its act together.

While the rate of positives coming out of those tests has dropped.

If there is a Goldilocks scenario when it comes to COVID, this is pretty much it. Having said that, it’s all because of the social distancing measures in place, and the scaring of the general public. This can and will reverse rapidly should anything be relaxed, or should people become less afraid, and we’ve seen the return of the spread happen in both BC and Alberta over the past week.

So where to from here? I do expect the active cases to continue falling, and in fact the fall should accelerate over the next couple of weeks. We will likely be talking about relaxing some rules around the middle of May, but I really think we need to learn the lessons of other countries that have done this successfully. I know many do not want to hear this, but in every country where the rules were relaxed, but the virus did not come back, there was some type of electronic/phone based contact tracing in place. In countries where the rules were relaxed without such tracing the virus has come back with a vengeance. Once we are down to double digits of new cases we can relax most restrictions, but we have to quickly and efficiently isolate each new case and all their contacts. There is no way this can be done without technology the old fashioned way. Interviewing people and then alerting contacts is simply much too slow and too unreliable.

I understand the privacy concerns, and the fact that this is an infringement upon our rights and freedoms, but it will be a choice between phone tracing or being quarantined for 18 months. I would count quarantine as a far more intrusive infringement on my rights and freedoms. There is also the reality that most people have “location services” on in either their Android or iPhone, which is far more intrusive than what is being suggested for contract tracing, and I would argue seeing reviews on a new local restaurant has less value than being able to return to normal’ish life.

Anyway, here is a good article on this topic, Apple and Google address privacy concerns on contact tracing, and let me know what you think in the comments section. Would you be willing to enable contact tracing if it means you can get back to normal life sooner?

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The pace of COVID spread halves again

Another week brings another set of numbers proving this pandemic is not anywhere near going exponential. This is important because pretty much all public projections are assuming some level of exponential growth in infections.

The adjusted values include all the adjustments I’ve been making to smooth out the numbers (not including China during its disproportionate decreases, or the US during its initial acceleration due to under testing, or France when they “forgot” to count their cases). Adjustments or not though, this is not what exponential growth looks like.

The situation in the EU is even better, showing that social distancing really does work, though I would have lost my bet on which country would show a decrease this week.

I would have thought Italy would be the one, but its actually the Germanic countries that are showing decreases, and Spain did show it’s first day-over-day decrease in active cases this Friday.

In the anglo-saxon world Australia is the star, with Canada far behind in second place, but maybe surprisingly US and UK not doing all that bad.

There is an important caveat here though, and that is the % of positive tests per total number of completed tests within the US and the UK.

The rate of positives is something I’m keeping a close eye on as per last weeks post and the WHO recently suggested that any country where the % comes in above 10% is simply not doing enough testing. Australia is clearly testing more than enough people to get an accurate view of their situation, Canada is doing the bare minimum with Ontario specifically is dragging the overall number down, but the US and UK are not yet out of the woods. The optimistic looking deceleration in daily case increases in those countries may yet turn out to be due to under testing. After all, the less you test, the less you find, all other things being equal.

To end this post on a positive note, I think the pandemic will wind down quicker than currently expected, but the lowered expectations may be paradoxically helping make that possible. We just have to make sure we have a solid plan in place for when active cases start decreasing, but that’s a whole other discussion.

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The spread is slowing – and it’s decelerating even quicker than last week

I am all for scaring the living daylights out of people if that is what is necessary to keep them at home and isolating. I believe that was the purpose of the release of death projections by the Ontario government this past Friday, and boy, did it ever work. The streets and parks looked like a complete ghost town on a gorgeous April weekend that would normally be a cause for packed beaches and patios.

Having said that, this weeks virus spread numbers across the world have come in even better than I expected. I included the pace from two weeks ago as well just so the scale of deceleration is more obvious.

Week over week changes of active cases per country
March 27->April 3
Filtered on countries with 500+ cases

CountryWeek ending April 3rd paceWeek ending March 27th paceAcceleration of trend in active WoWWeek ending March 20th pace
South Africa23.11%463.37%-95.01%741.67%
Dominican Republic151.61%697.14%-78.25%1300.00%
New Zealand130.82%536.54%-75.62%N/A
Saudi Arabia56.00%217.26%-74.22%450.82%
Hong Kong65.35%162.34%-59.75%201.96%
Bosnia and Herzegovina134.65%162.07%-16.92%N/A

The deceleration in the pace of increase in trouble hot spots such as Italy and Spain is especially note worthy as it pushes down the overall spread of the virus across the world.

Italy went from a 153% increase week ending March 20th, to a 75% increase week ending March 27th, then down to just a 28% increase this past week. This equates to an average daily increase last week of just 3.66%. I fully expect Italy to start outright decreasing its number of active cases for the first time this coming week with healthy recoveries driving this reduction.

The French numbers look far worse than they really are because France decided to finally include all cases handled outside of hospitals (eg. long term care facilities) in their count. Why that wasn’t included in the first place baffles me, but it also messes with trend analysis, since many of the cases were actually discovered weeks ago, but they are counted in this weeks numbers. This makes the past week look far worse than it really was, and yet even then, the week was pretty much at par with the one preceding it.

For that reason I added a line in the aggregate chart which excludes the artificial impact of that French case adjustment:

RegionWeek ending April 3rd paceWeek ending March 27th paceAcceleration of trend in active WoWWeek ending March 20th pace
Total less China91.15%159.77%-42.95%213.70%
Total less China/US71.17%125.49%-43.29%189.92%
Total less China/US/France65.19%124.45%-47.62%N/A

It’s clear the “excluding China” adjustment no longer makes any difference, so I will remove it next week along with the France adjustment, leaving only the “excluding US” line because I don’t think we’ve seen the worst there yet. The US now accounts for a full 1/3rd of the world active cases, and the rate at which people are testing positive indicates we’ve still only scratched the surface.

We can see that on aggregate the rate of spread of the virus is slowing significantly and is poised to continue to do so going forward.

In future posts I want to share the detailed stats on Canada broken down by provinces that I started collecting a bit over week ago, and maybe dive a little deeper into my favorite statistic, the % positive of tests, which is now easier than ever to calculate since Worldometers started publishing test numbers per country.

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Is 1 million tests good?

The US hit a major milestone in terms of testing yesterday, as per the Covid Tracking Project over 1 million covid tests have been conducted in the country. This is by far the most of any country that reports these numbers, and considering how late the testing started, it is truly an impressive feat. However, does this mean that we have a good idea of the spread of the virus in the US? There are a few statistics I track that might give us a better indication than just a pure top line number.

Country# of testsTests per 1M in pop% positive
S. Korea395,19477132.18%
# of tests completed as of March 31, 2020 – various official sources

The first obvious thing to do is to scale the number of tests by the size of the population. If I’m in Luxembourg 1 million tests would mean I’ve tested my entire population, twice, but if I am in China that’s not a significant percentage of the population. The US has so far tested approx. 3,200 people per 1M in population, which is the same as saying it’s tested 0.3% of its population. Given that they only started testing a couple of weeks ago, which is far later than all the other countries in the list above, that’s a pretty impressive pace, but in the end it still falls short of where it should be. There is a lot more work to do to get a good sense of where the pandemic is.

Canada is testing at about the same pace as the US per 1M in population right now (roughly increasing by 500 ppl per 1M per day), but we’ve had a solid few weeks in terms of a head start, so we are in a much better shape overall at 6,500 people tested per 1M in population.

The other key statistic to track is the % of positives identified across all cases tested. In general the countries that are testing sufficiently and are able to contain the outbreaks have lower positive rates. This makes sense because they are testing more people who have symptoms but are not covid positive, which in turn means they are not just testing the sickest of the sick but have the capacity to test beyond that. Additionally if the sample can be assumed to be somewhat random, the positive % should be relatively lower for countries where the virus is not as wide spread.

We can see that Italy has a very high positive % despite having tested a large portion of its population. This is not good because it implies they either don’t have the testing capacity to reach the symptomatic people that would test negative, or the country is in fact that infected. The situation there is improving daily, and the rate is starting to come down slightly, so I expect we’ll know the answer soon.

On the other hand the US positive % rate is almost as high as Italys, and it is still increasing daily, which are both very troubling signs. However, as bad as the overall US rate is, the NY state rate is close to 40%!! That means that for every 2 people that get tested in NY state, 1 of them tests positive for covid. That’s truly frightening, and I believe the other major cities in the US are not yet testing enough, so unfortunately I think the worst is still to come.

The situation in Canada is not all roses, as the positive test rate is still climbing, but at 3.52% overall and 6% in worst hit Quebec, I think it’s relatively speaking under control. We will know more when the backlog of test cases is cleared, which is on schedule for the end of this week or latest early next week. I’m cautiously optimistic, but a jump in the positive rate would be an early worrying sign.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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Good news on Corona?

The coronavirus pandemic has gripped the world both physically and psychologically. Everyday we see heartbreaking personal stories, terrifying death numbers, and have to give up our basic freedoms in the interest of our communities.

Being a stats geek myself I’ve been following the numbers very closely, somewhat to try to forecast the economic rebound, perhaps a bit our of morbid curiosity, but mostly because I’ve been deprived of the joys of following the stats for my precious World Champion Raptors and their ugly step sibling soon-to-turn-beautiful-swan (we hope), the Maple Leafs. What a red blooded sports following male to do?

Enough about me and my sports stats withdrawals though. Are any of these social distancing measures making any difference at all? The good news is that they appear to be helping.

Week over week changes of active cases per country
March 20->27
Filtered on countries with 500+ cases

CountryChange in activePrevious weeks paceAcceleration of trend in active
Saudi Arabia217.26%450.82%-51.81%
Dominican Republic697.14%1300.00%-46.37%
South Africa463.37%741.67%-37.52%
Hong Kong162.34%201.96%-19.62%

The virus is still spreading, and will likely continue for a while, but the rate of the spread is decreasing sharply across virtually all countries, with only 6 out of the 58 showing an accelerating trend. In addition, 3 of the 6 showing an acceleration, are already keeping the spread relatively contained, but they are worth watching should this be a start of a reversal in direction.

If we summarize the numbers they look as follows:

RegionChange in activeLast weeks paceAcceleration of pace of active
World less China159.77%213.70%-25.24%
World less China/US125.49%189.92%-33.92%

I am excluding China because they are on the down slope of the curve and therefore can skew the numbers to make it appear as though there is no improvement in the pace week-to-week. The effect is clearly seen in the table above with World with China included not showing much of a deceleration.

I’m also excluding the US from my analysis for now because they are in a very different stage of this pandemic (testing wise) than the majority of the world, and are a large enough block to muddy the waters. The good news is that the US is testing at a truly impressive pace over the past week, quickly approaching 1 million tests completed, so hopefully we can all have a better picture of the situation there soon.

In summary, we can see that the restrictions most countries have put into place are having a very positive effect on the spread of the virus. I wouldn’t call more than doubling of the active cases in a week a victory, but it certainly beats tripling, and if the deceleration of the trend continues at -33% a week, we should be able to avoid some of the worst case scenarios being talked about in the media.

Clearly the best thing you can do to help is out is to keep re-watching those Netflix shows, play some video games, and stay at home. If you ask me that’s not a bad price to pay to make this go away quicker and save the lives of those vulnerable.

All numbers courtesy of the excellent site.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I picked one stat for today’s blog post, but there are plenty of others that I am tracking that confirm the trend, and I hope to find some time to post those in the near future.

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Easy guide to never paying a cable bill again

It is called “cord cutting” and record numbers of Canadians are doing it every year. This year alone 247,000 households are expected to sever all ties with traditional cable packages. The idea of paying for a bundle of channels, most of which you won’t watch, is as outdated as renting a movie from blockbuster.

The savings from cutting a cable bill can be substantial. The cheapest “bundle” rogers offers (internet + TV) is $116.97 per month (regular price, not limited term promotion) pre-tax while a decent set of channels will run you $141.97. In addition, to get any decent movie channels you will have to shell out another $23.95 per month for the cheapest movie theme pack. Total average bill coming out to $187.49 including tax per month or $2,250 per year. That’s some highway robbery right there.

Assuming you don’t want to give up watching TV all together, what are the 100% legal options to avoid this? It turns out there are plenty, but I’ll start with the cheapest one, costing a total of $0 on a monthly basis.

Over-the-air(OTA) TV

Monthly cost: $0

All Canadian and US network TV stations are required by the CRTC to broadcast their signal in the same digital HD format as you get through cable. This requirement has been in place since 2011 and many of the broadcasters have since added digital sub-channels so they can offer additional content.

For example, the regular PBS channel broadcasts on channel 17-1 but a special PBS Kids channel dedicated to children’s programming is available on channel 17-3.

You can review a full list of channels available in the GTA by clicking here

The technology used to transmit the signal is essentially the same old “rabbit ears” technology you likely grew up with if you are as old as I am. However, none of the old issues exist, since the signal transmitted is now digital. There is no ghosting, synchronization problems, or quality issues. When the signal is available the picture is crystal clear and extremely smooth, and in some ways superior to the cable signal.

The only device you will need to purchase is a $50-$100 good quality over-the-air antenna and mount it on the outside (will get more channels but a bit more work) or inside (2 minute setup, ideal for condos or apartment buildings) of your house. Once you’ve placed the antenna you connect the cable that comes from the antenna into your TVs antenna input. That’s it, you now have 100% free HD TV!

The selection of channels available for free over-the-air surpasses the Rogers started package ($116.97), however, for most people this will likely not be enough. To get more than enough movies, shows and sports for a reasonable price, you will likely need get on-line.

DISCUSS LACK OF 4K and why it doesnt matter

Internet TV

The amount of choice available on the Internet for TV will more than satisfy any movie or TV buff and getting setup and going is easier than ever. An internet connected device capable of accessing these services is the first thing you will need is. The good news is, you may already have one.


Monthly cost: $0

Here are some ideas for devices you may already have floating around your house

  • Your kids old gaming consoles such as the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360
  • Your TV which may be a Smart TV  – all you need to do is connect it to the Internet
  • Any relatively recent Android or iPhone – if you have a Smart TV capable of receiving screen sharing/mirroring just download the appropriate app. If not, connect the phone to the TV using the appropriate cable – I’m sure your child (or any neighborhood elementary/high school student) can set this up for you.
  • Any halfway decent laptop – again, it just needs to be connected to the TV

I will not go into any further details on the above but there are plenty of internet articles on all the above options. If in doubt ask a friendly teenager.

Dedicated box options such as the Roku or Apple TV are also available, and while those have an upfront cost ($80-$200 depending on version), they do make it a bit less of a hassle to get setup.

One note of caution, I would be wary of the Android/Kodi enabled boxes as they tend to have low end hardware and the software is not actually supported by the companies selling them. The Kodi software is free so you are actually better of downloading and installing it on a phone or a laptop if this type of thing is in your wheelhouse. At least that way you understand whats going on and are able to fix issues yourself.

Also, though the most popular options such as Netflix are available on all devices, not all devices support all services. Therefore it’s a good idea to check if the device you are buying supports the service you want to use.

Internet Access

Monthly cost: $31

Internet access options have really improved in Canada thanks to a number of favourable CRTC decisions. This means you can get quality and fast internet for very little dough if you step away from the usual suspects.

Acanac ( offers a $29 per month plan that works well for most people. The 15Mbs/175GB per month package is probably the best value assuming you do not need 4K video and watch a reasonable amount of content. HD quality video on Netflix uses approx. 3GB per hour which means 175GB gives you around 60 hours of video per month.

Teksavvy ( also offers a $30.95 per month plan that is more than sufficient for most people. The 15Mbs/200GB per month plan will allow you to watch close to 70 hours of HD quality video per month.

TV Shows and Movies

Monthly cost: $17.57

The number of options available to you for TV shows and movies will depend on the device you are using, however, the ones listed below are generally available on most devices

  • Netflix – $10.99 per month – the heavy weight champion of Internet TV. The giant library of over 5,000 movies and TV shows will ensure you never run out of things to watch. The best part though are the Netflix originals. These are shows and movies available ONLY on Netflix and they of the highest quality. Institutions such as House of Cards, Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black rival anything HBO is able to produce. However, there are also tons of great original kids shows that your little ones will love, if you have little ones that is.
  • Amazon Prime Video – $79 per year ($6.58 per month) – The up and coming challenger to the Netflix championship belt. The cost is lower, and if you do any shopping on-line, easily covered by the free shipping included on most amazon purchases as part of the deal. You are actually signing up for the Amazon Prime service, which has a ton of other perks, and just happens to include the Video. The selection of original shows is growing as Amazon is trying to go toe-to-toe with Netflix. It’s doing a great job too with critically acclaimed series such as Man in the High Castle, Transparent and the Grand Tour.
  • Crackle TV – Free ad-supported – This is actually one of the oldest online TV services and one of the least known even though it contains tons of great content for the great price of FREE. It is mostly older shows such as Married with Children, Seinfeld and Firefly, but it’s a great trip back in time to classic ad supported content.
  • YouTube – Free ad-supported – The original do-it-yourself video content provider has since tried to diverge a bit into professional produced stuff. However, it is still mostly just the MTV of the internet age, since music videos best fit it’s focus on short 2-5 minute clips.
  • Cineplex – pay-per-view – The name of this service will be familiar to all Canadians. It offers the newest releases in a pay-per-view format and in high quality.
  • Google Video – pay-per-view – Another pay-per-view option with staggering library of around 15,000 titles and all new releases.

If you are willing to spoof your location (more on that in the Sports section below) you can also get access to HBO Now and Hulu which are only available in the US. However, this requires a bit more work, and not everyone is comfortable doing this as it does violate the terms of service of the content providers. I think the above list is more than enough to be honest and it only costs $17.57 per month.


Monthly cost: $15 

Sports is an area where cable companies are making their last stand. Companies like Rogers are buying up sports franchises to guarantee their rights exclusive rights to provide live games. However, they are running into conflicts with the leagues themselves, since it’s in the interest of the leagues to get as much exposure as possible. This means despite their best efforts the cable companies have failed to stifle the move of sports to online. The number of stand-alone internet services providing live sports broadcasts is constantly growing and will continue to do so.

Here are a few current choices based on my own interests

  • Sportsnet NOW – $24.99+tax per month – Interestingly Rogers leads the way in terms of multi-sport online only offerings in Canada. Sportsnet NOW is essentially online access to all the Sportsnet channels you can get through a cable subscription. The problem is it’s over-priced and does not give you consistent access to any sport other than baseball. This can get frustrating, as all other sports are shared with TSN, which does not have an on-line only offering, leaving you with some randomly picked games. However, since Rogers owns the Blue Jays and full rights to MLB games in Canada, it is a good (even if expensive) choice for Baseball.
  • NHL Gamecenter – FREE or $149 per year ($12.42 per month) – If you already own a relatively recent cell phone plan with Rogers you get access to NHL Gamecenter for absolutely FREE. If not, then the full year subscription is still a pretty good deal since it works out to be $12.42 per month on a yearly basis. This allows you to watch all NHL regular season and playoff games, live or delayed, on virtually any device. My favorite feature here is the ability to watch a game from the start even while it is still in progress. I usually put my older son to sleep at 8:30pm, then turn on NHL Gamecenter, and watch the in-progress game from the beginning. Since I am skipping commercials and breaks along the way I normally end up catching up just in time to watch the last few minutes live.
  • NBA League Pass – $64.99 per year ($5.42 per month) – This subscription is actually for 80 games across the regular season and playoffs so it may not be enough if you are a super-fan. You get 80 tokens, which you may redeem at any time for any NBA game. There are 82 regular season games in an NBA season, and a maximum of 28 playoff games assuming your team makes it to the final and plays 7 every single round. Personally I find this number of games to be more than I can handle watching in any given year. If you are a super fan and need to watch every single game a full league pass will set you back $145 for the season. DESCRIBE THE TOKEN PROCESS AND MISLABELING OF IT AS MONTHLY. ADD ABILITY TO START MID GAME
  • DAZN – $150 per year ($12.50 per month) – This is an exciting newcomer to the live online sports stream space. The Germany company is making waves around the world offering fully independent and affordable multi-sport live stream access. They currently only support NFL, Soccer and Tennis in Canada but plan to eventually expand into every sport.

Now if we wanted to watch all these sports the costs add up quickly. Assuming a subscription of Sportsnet NOW from April to October (7 months) for the Baseball season the average monthly cost for all of the above services would end up being $46.81.

However, unless you spend 24/7/365 watching sports in front of your TV you probably don’t need all of these services. I like to enjoy the few warm days we call “summer” in Canada by spending as much time as possible outdoors, and therefore I rarely watch baseball on TV outside of late August, September and (assuming the Jays make it this far) October. I also find that the NFL games on US network channels (available for free over-the-air, see previous section) are more than enough football. In addition I happen to have a Rogers cell phone subscription which means NHL Gamecenter is free.

This all means my actual bill comes out to $5.42 per month for basketball and between $2.35 and $4.7 per month for baseball depending on how well the Jays are doing. Let’s call it a total of $10.12 per month for Sports.

There is a minor inconvenience though since NHL Gamecenter and NBA League pass won’t let you watch Toronto teams live if you are actually in Toronto. What do I mean by that? Well, if I am in New York I can launch my NHL Gamecenter and NBA League pass and watch Toronto teams without a problem. This means my subscription does in fact include these games, they are just locally blacked out due to licensing issues. You can watch Raptors games the minute they end and Leafs games 48 hours after they end. ADD A NOTE ABOUT LEAF GAMES THAT ARE BROADCAST ON NATIONALLY (either network or sporstnet) AND HOW THEY ARE OK TO WATCH

To get around this it’s possible to use a SmartDNS service ($5 per month) such as Unlocator to virtually travel to a different part of the world. This is a bit of a grey area since it does violate the terms of your agreement but is not illegal. It means the services could theoretically cut you off without a refund but I have never heard of this happening to anyone.

Summing it all up

Monthly cost: $63.57 – $100.38

Adding all the monthly costs brings us to a total of $63.57 per month or $762.84 for the year. This is a savings of $124 per month or $1,487 per year compared to a comparable Rogers plan!

The above calculation is based on my personal costs but even the full blown maximum cost combo comes in at $100 which is close to half the price of the Rogers package.

Best of all, there is no commitment needed to sign up for everything. Don’t like basketball? Don’t sign up for NBA League Pass. Not feeling the Amazon Prime shows, then just use Netflix, or forego both and do pay-per-view. The choice is entirely yours.

Also, let’s be honest, even if you are paying for cable you are likely subscribing to Netflix as well, to watch their exclusive content. This means Netflix is technically not even an additional cost.  When it comes to Amazon Prime, chances are you’ll save more than the $79 per-year (subscription cost) by using it to buy various other items at lower prices and with free shipping.

Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this content, please don’t forget to click the “like” buttons below or subscribe to mailing list on the right hand side.

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What is Bitcoin actually worth?

Lately it’s hard to go a day without someone asking me a question about Bitcoin. What is it? Why is it so valuable? Should I buy some? How do I buy some? The guy down on the corner in the pawn/gold exchange shop said he can buy me one (yes, this is actually happening!).

It seems Bitcoin and the crypto-currency craze has truly reached the mainstream and the implication of that are as of yet unknown. What we do know is that it’s attracting every shady crook and scam artist in the world. And why not? There really is tons of money to be made. I hope the following sheds some light on what Bitcoin is and isn’t.


Let’s start our discussion with the technology which made Bitcoin possible called “blockchain”. In very simple terms the blockchain technology is a record of all transactions ever done in Bitcoin. Imagine a gigantic piece of paper that lists every transaction ever completed. Then imagine that there are thousands of copies of this paper, and all of them are automatically updated when any two people agree to exchange Bitcoins. Every time a transaction takes place all these copies are checked for consistency to make sure you actually have the Bitcoins you claim to have. If everything checks out the new transaction is added to all the pieces of paper at once.

This is the heart of the truly genius idea that is blockchain, and it is what it makes it possible to have certainty over a Bitcoin balance someone owns, without needing any central party (like a bank) to verify it. If all the pieces of paper agree then the balance is correct, and trying to doctor or fake all the pieces of paper at once is impossible. The best (and worst) thing about this technology is that it has been made available for absolutely FREE to anyone who wants to use it.

Bitcoin is simply the oldest known use of the blockchain technology. Someone, a long time ago (in technology terms), decided to create a coin called a “Bitcoin” using blockchain and started trading it with other people. This was quickly picked up by all types of criminal and illegal activity providers as a way to exchange money without having to go through a bank. Fast forward a few years and everyone and their mother wants to own one because they saw it on  TV.

Crypto-currencies or e-coins

The best (and worst) thing about blockchain technology is that its FREE, which means anyone can create a coin out of thin air, name it whatever they like, and start using it to trade with other people. It quite literally takes less than 24hrs to do so for someone with mediocre tech skills. The only difficult part is convincing suckers, err sorry, I mean lovely people, that the coin you created is worth something. This simple fact has led thousands of scam artists throughout the world to create their own coins and sell them to unsuspecting retirees and “I wanna get rich quick” targets.

You may have heard there is a limit to the number of Bitcoins that can be created and therefore the supply is limited, which is in turn is used as a justification for its price. For a number of technical reasons this is true, however, there is absolutely no limit to the number of crypto-currencies that can be created. Have you heard of Bitcoin Cash? How about Bitcoin Gold? Bitcoin Silver? Ethereum? Litecoin? There is an even a Dogecoin, as in Doge-coin. Yes I am NOT kidding, Google it. It was created as a joke and it now has a 700 million dollar market cap. Yup, they all exist, 1,365 different coins as of last count, and thousands more will be created as long as people are willing to throw real money at them. So much for the “you can’t make more of it!” argument.

Intrinsic Value vs. Market Value

How is it possible that something so easily created and with nothing to it other than a name and a story can be worth so much money? It all comes down to the difference between intrinsic and market value.

Market value is simply determined by the difference between supply and demand. If the demand exceeds supply at any point in time then the price will go up and vice versa. You can easily observe this in the “wild” each Christmas. A few years ago it was the PlayStation 4 that was bought up by “investors” and re-sold at ridiculous premiums to desperate guilt-riddled parents wanting to make up for not being around all that much. The PS4’s sticker price was $500 but on eBay they were selling for well over $2,000. The demand for PS4’s far exceeded supply during that Christmas season time period.

Fast forward to 2017 and PS4’s are on sale for $299.

Has the PS4 changed since that $2,000 Christmas? Does it provide 10 times less value to its owners now than it did back then? Is it no longer able to play games or access Netflix? Does it have fewer games and less accessories? The answer is of course a big fat NO. So why is it so much cheaper? It’s because fewer people are competing to buy a far larger supply of PS4’s on the market. The PS4’s market value has changed drastically but it’s intrinsic value has moved very little.

Gasoline has intrinsic value because you can burn it to move your car. In turn your car has intrinsic value because it can move you from place to place. Your stock holdings have intrinsic value because they are expected to eventually pay you dividends. Your home has intrinsic value because you can sleep in it and it can keep you warm and dry. Your dollars have intrinsic value because the government guarantees you can pay taxes and buy government services with them.

The intrinsic value of anything is simply the tangible value it provides and may or may not equal the market value at any one time. A good way to think about intrinsic value is as a floor to the value of any object. If the market value falls below that floor, enough people will simply choose to use the object rather than sell it, since they get more value out of keeping it. This in turns reduces supply and increases price back up to intrinsic value.

If there is a sudden interest in a product, market value often goes far above the intrinsic value, and then settles back down once the hype dies down. Thus financial bubbles of all kinds are born.

In some cases calculating intrinsic value is fairly easy (bonds, loans, mortgages, investment real estate) and in other cases it’s much harder (new technologies, your own home, time spent with family).

The good news is that calculating the intrinsic value of Bitcoin is extremely easy!

Let me get my calculator out…. Drum roll please…… It’s exactly….. $0!

It’s essentially the same thing as printing your own fraud-proof monopoly money. Should people stop wanting to buy your monopoly money, the only intrinsic value it will have is a certain bathroom function, which is still more than you can do with an e-coin.

Coins vs tech

Normally investors disagree on the intrinsic value of something and bring up arguments such future potential of a technology to justify various valuation. However, remember, Bitcoin is NOT a technology, it is an electronic piece of paper with transactions listed on it.  Just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s in a bunch of computers backed by absolutely nothing. Block-chain itself is a very valuable technology freely available to anyone, however, you are NOT buying blockchain when you buy Bitcoin, you own none of the tech behind it.

To illustrate imagine that someone had found a cure for cancer and posted the step-by-step instructions on how to make it on-line, freely available for anyone to use. Now imagine that the same person also created a product called Cancer-Pill using their own instructions, trade marked it, and started selling it to the highest bidders. I think we can all agree a cure for cancer is immensely valuable to society (blockchain may or may not be, we still have to see), however, how much is a Cancer-Pill worth?

Initially, with no one else making cancer curing pills, and people hearing about the trade-marked name, it’s very likely the profits would be quite large and the price of the pill ridiculously high. However, as the money flows in, another person would without a doubt create a pill using the same freely available instructions and call it Cancer-Away. Cancer-away may not initially be as recognizable as Cancer-pill, so it might fetch a smaller price, but eventually both prices would converge as they are essentially the same thing. Over time, with more and more cancer curing pills with different names arriving on the market, the price of all of them would converge to something very close to the cost of production (ie. materials + time to make it). I think we can all agree this is a good thing, as it means the maximum number of people will be able to cure their cancer at the lowest possible price.

How does this apply to Bitcoin? Well, Bitcoin is simply the initial Cancer-Pill, but as mentioned above there are now 1,365 different “pills” in production and counting. While creating a cancer pill, even with step-by-step instructions, would require some materials, equipment and incur some costs, the production of a random generic e-coin costs pretty damn close to $0. All you need is a website and some hype.

The bottom line is that while a cancer pill is very valuable, it would not be a good investment to buy up the pills for far above the cost of making them, if the formula for making them is freely available to anyone. Similarly buying Bitcoin, or any other e-coin, is a bad investment even if you truly believe block-chain technology will change the world.

It’s amazing to see all these coins get created and their “inventors” claiming theirs is for some reason a slightly better version of blockchain, and then selling you the damned coin instead of the supposedly superior tech! Next time you see one of these guys on TV notice how deftly they switch between the term “coin” and “blockchain” creating an illusion that it’s all the same thing. Believe me these people know exactly what they are doing.

So is it all just a giant pile of poop?

No, not at all, the technology used in creating Bitcoin is great. However, at this time, I’m not aware of anyone offering a good practical use for it. The problem with the current crop of e-coins and blockchain applications is easy to illustrate.

Imagine for a second a world where only Bitcoin exists and you are going to buy some milk. What would be the price printed on that milk carton?

1 BTC? Or 1.5 BTC Or 2 BTC?

Aside from the fact that, at current prices, this would be some seriously expensive milk, the answer is that no price could be printed. That’s because if a price was printed, a poor grocery employee would have to sit there with an eraser and pencil, and every minute or so change the price. And then by the time you got to the cash register, the price would have changed again.

The point is that a real currencies primary “intrinsic” value is as a medium of exchange or a measuring stick for value. If a centimeter or inch on a measuring tape was constantly changing in physical size, it would not be particularly useful to ask for a 6 inch sub. It might end up being the size of an airplane.

The thing that makes crypto-currencies such a speculative craze right now, their stratospheric increases in value, is also the reason the current crop will likely fail in their intended use as currencies. However, out of the ashes of that, it’s likely that a new use of blockchain will emerge. The decentralized fraud proof ledger might be used to keep track of balances in another exotic currency called the Canadian or US dollar or Euro.

On that note, if you still want to invest in e-coins, I would like to invite you to buy my brand new UB coin for only $1 per coin. I don’t have blockchain up yet, but I’ll keep track of all your purchases in my Excel, and the second I hit 2K I’ll spend the the 2 days to get the blockchain up and running. It’s your opportunity to get in on the ground floor before it’s worth $10,000 per coin!

Ahhh, sometimes I wish I had looser morals….

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Easy guide to never paying a cable bill again – part 1

It is called “cord cutting” and record numbers of Canadians are doing it every year. This year alone 247,000 households are expected to sever all ties with traditional cable packages. The idea of paying for a bundle of channels, most of which you won’t watch, is as outdated as renting a movie from blockbuster.

The savings from cutting a cable bill can be substantial. The cheapest “bundle” rogers offers (internet + TV) is $116.97 per month (regular price, not limited term promotion) pre-tax while a decent set of channels will run you $141.97. In addition, to get any decent movie channels you will have to shell out another $23.95 per month for the cheapest movie theme pack. Total average bill coming out to $187.49 including tax per month or $2,250 per year. That’s some highway robbery right there.

Assuming you don’t want to give up watching TV all together, what are the 100% legal options to avoid this? It turns out there are plenty, but I’ll start with the cheapest one, costing a total of $0 on a monthly basis.

Over-the-air(OTA) TV

Monthly cost: $0

All Canadian and US network TV stations are required by the CRTC to broadcast their signal in the same digital HD format as you get through cable. This requirement has been in place since 2011 and many of the broadcasters have since added digital sub-channels so they can offer additional content.

For example, the regular PBS channel broadcasts on channel 17-1 but a special PBS Kids channel dedicated to children’s programming is available on channel 17-3.

You can review a full list of channels available in the GTA by clicking here and see what’s on these channels here.

The technology used to transmit the signal is essentially the same old “rabbit ears” technology you likely grew up with if you are as old as I am. However, none of the old issues exist, since the signal transmitted is now digital. There is no ghosting, synchronization problems, or quality issues. When the signal is available the picture is crystal clear and extremely smooth, and in some ways superior to the cable signal.

The only device you will need to purchase is a $100 good quality over-the-air antenna (will likely be on sale after Christmas) and mount it on the outside or inside of your house. Mounting it inside is a 2 minute setup, and is ideal for condos or apartment buildings, while mounting outside is a bit more work but does give you more channels if you live in a house. Once you’ve placed the antenna you connect the cable that comes from the antenna into your TVs antenna input. That’s it, you now have 100% free HD TV!

The selection of channels available for free over-the-air surpasses the Rogers started package ($116.97), however, for most people this will likely not be enough. To get more than enough movies, shows and sports for a reasonable price, you will likely need get on-line.

More on that in Part 2 of this series

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rrsp retirement saving money

How to legally avoid taxes by making optimal RRSP contributions

It is that time of the year again. As many of you already know I’m a big advocate of RRSP accounts and believe them to be the best wealth building vehicle available to salaried Canadians. However, the benefits of contributing, and the optimal amount of the contribution, vary greatly from person to person. Below I will try to help you make the optimal choice for your situation.

How much you should optimally contribute depends mostly on your marginal tax bracket.

Marginal Tax Brackets

(Note: to see the exact income ranges and marginal tax rates I suggest you head to

The key observation to take away from the above chart is that marginal tax rates do not go up in an even step like pattern. They’re flat for the first 40K of your income, then jump very quickly from 42 to 46K (blue box above), go flat again from 46 to 74K, then again jump really quickly from 74 to 91K (red box) just to level out and go up very slowly afterwards.

The way to think about an RRSP contribution is as a reduction of your taxable income. Think about the red line as the per-$ value of your contribution. The higher the line the bigger the value of the contribution. In fact the per-$ value of the contribution is equal to the marginal tax bracket, so 43.41% simply means you get back 43.41 cents in tax reduction for every dollar contributed. To determine your own optimal contribution amount you can follow these steps:

  • Find where your 2016 income fits on the graph
  • Move left until you find a large drop in the graph
  • Calculate the amount of RRSP contribution you need to make to reduce your income from your starting point (your actual income) to the large drop in the graph (where you want your taxable income to be)

This approach gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of RRSP contributions because it ensures you max out your contribution room with the largest per-$ benefit in terms of a tax refund. You will still get a benefit if you choose to contribute more, but that benefit will get smaller very quickly on a per-$ contributed basis.

Example #1 – Sarah

Sarah made 95K last year so she is just right of the steep drop at 91K

Each dollar Sarah contributes to her RRSP moves her taxable income down or left on our chart above. The per-$-benefit or value of this contribution is equal to the marginal tax rate she happens to be in.

Since she starts on the 43.41% marginal tax rate line for every dollar she contributes she gets back 43 cents tax free but only for the first 4K contributed (green arrow above). This is because contributing 4K drops her taxable income down to 91K at which point any further contributions are at a lower marginal tax rate.

The next 4K of contributions will earn her only 38 cents per dollar contributed (blue arrow)

The next 3K of contributions will earn her only 34 cents per dollar contributed (yellow arrow)

The next 10K of contributions will earn her only 32 cents per dollar contributed (purple arrow)

I hope you can see how quickly the value of her contributions deteriorates after that initial 4K, which means Sarahs optimal contribution would be 4K and would net her approx. a $1,700 tax refund.

Career Stage

Simple right? Well, ok, there is a bit more to it. If you truly want to maximize the benefit you get from your RRSP contributions, over your entire working career, you need to consider what stage of your career you’re at. In the Sarah example above we implicitly assume she is in the middle of her career and is likely to increase her salary at a slow and steady pace until she retires.

Example #2- John

John is in his 20’s and has an entry level job in his field paying him 55K, but is hopeful to progress quickly up the ladder. The average salary for an intermediate level employee in his field is 95K.

Since John is currently making 55K, based on the marginal tax analysis alone, it would seem he should contribute 9K to bring his taxable income down to 46K  (green arrow). This would ensure he receives a tax refund of 30 cents per dollar contributed, or $2,700 for the entire 9K contribution.

However, since John is in his 20’s, in an entry level job in a lucrative field, it may actually make sense for him to forego his contribution entirely this particular year. This is because RRSP contribution room is cumulative and rolls over to the next year if you don’t use it.

Let’s say John salary goes up to 100K next year, his contribution maximum would be based on his previous tax assessment of 18% of 55K income, which would be around 9K. Therefore, if he contributed in the prior year, he could bring his taxable income down to 91K with this 9K contribution for a total refund of $3,900 (blue arrow).

If John contributes in both years he will receive a total net tax refund of $2,700 (year one) + $3,700 (year two) = $6,400.

However, if John foregoes his contribution in year 1, he would now have 18K worth of contribution room in year 2. If he contributes the entire 18K in year 2 he would lower his taxable income to 82K (purple arrow). This would net him a total tax refund of 9K * 41.43% + 4K * 37.92% + 3K * 33.89K + 2K * 31.48% = $6,900, which is an extra $500 in his pocket.

To summarize:

Year 1 contribution Year 2 contribution Chart Arrow Colors Total Refund over 2 years
$9,000 $9,000 Blue + Green $6,400
$0 $18,000 Purple $6,900

Example #3- Brad

Brad is in his early 40’s and an experienced veteran in his field.  The average salary for someone with his qualifications is 65K and he is making exactly this average. Since his salary did not change very much since last year his contribution limit is 12K.

Since Brad does not expect to move into an appreciably higher tax bracket, he should probably try to max out his contribution every year. Even if Brad ends up getting a raise to 74K he would still be in the same tax bracket, so the extra contribution room would not help him next year any more than it does today. In fact he would have to get a raise in his salary above 85K before he would start to see any noticeable difference in his marginal tax rate (and his per-$ contribution value).

Putting it all together

Most people follow an upside down U curve through their life when it comes to Marginal Tax Rates. They start out at a low marginal tax rate early in their careers, go up the curve to a maximum sometime before retiring, and then go back down to a low tax rate in their retirement. Understanding this is key to good RRSP contribution planning.

The general rule is to contribute as much as possible during high earning years, and contribute less, nothing at all, or even withdraw during low earning years. This makes the RRSP an excellent rainy day fund in addition to being a great retirement vehicle. The times you are taxed the least on your withdrawals are also the times when you need money the most. It also makes it a pretty good vehicle for saving for an extended time away from work. This could be a maternity/paternity leave, change of careers, return to school or a round-the-world trip of a lifetime. The withdrawals in “lean” years will be taxed at far lower tax rates than the same amount of income would have been taxed at in the high earning years.

I hope this helps you find an optimal contribution amount for your situation, and as always, I invite you to to subscribe to the blog by entering your email on the right side of the page, or use one of the buttons below to follow me on social media.

Note: Do not confuse RRSP withdrawal ‘penalties’ with tax rates. The ‘penalty’ is only a temporary withholding tax, and in a low earning year, you will get most of that money back when you file your taxes.

Note #2: An interesting observation is how slowly tax rates inch up for incomes over 91K. This basically ensures that contributing down to 91K or the maximum allowed (whichever is less) is the optimal strategy for any income over 91K.

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Investing your politics is guaranteed to lose you money

Investing your politics is one of the biggest mistakes individual investors make. If you listened to republican media over the past 8 years you would think the economy was always on the verge of falling apart and Obama was killing American businesses. It was time to get out of the stock market and put all your money under a mattress.

Instead this happened to the US stock market:


The bottom line is that if you are a republican (or Canadian supporter of them) who invested their politics (stayed out of the market) over the past 8 years you missed out on more than doubling your money.

We now have a new president in the US and he is just as hated by democrats as Obama was hated by republicans. Even before his election there were warnings that the stock market would immediately crash 10%-20% if he was elected and that the world economy will collapse. No such thing happened nor is likely to happen.

Like everyone else I have my own views on Trump as a man and as a political force. However, this blog is not a political blog, it is a blog on personal finance and investing for retirement. Therefore on here I am only concerned with the effect of likely Trump policies on the economy as a whole, and what that means to your investments. The reality is there are good and bad proposals/policies from both sides of the political divide, and many market friendly policies may not be ones you agree with ideologically. You can’t change these policies, they will happen whether you like them or not, so the only thing you can do as an investor is take advantage of them.

Therefore, if you are a democrat, be careful about assuming that everything Trump proposes will be an economic/market disaster. On the other hand, if you are a republican, be careful not to confuse the recent market rally with support for Trump policies. The market always rallies after a presidential election because some uncertainty is lifted. Namely we know who the president will be for at least 4 years and we can start to plan for that.

My next blog post will try to make some predictions as to which Trump policies are likely to pass senate and congress and what effect they will have on various stock markets.

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