Archive for October, 2010

26 Oct 2010

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts,Geekstuff

iTunes + Apple TV vs. Shaw + HD PVR

Well, we aren’t the biggest TV watching family in the world, in fact we managed to go for 10 years with only “peasant-vision”.  (That’s over-the-air analog television, in case you can’t remember life before cable TV.)  It was only developing the basement and the subsequent unleashing of my inner geek’s requirements for 7.1 channel HD home theatre in 2006 that made us call Shaw and ask, “Don’t you guys also provide cable TV on the same wire as the internet?”

Anyway, for the past 3 plus years we’ve been coughing up the big dough to Shaw for HD content to justify having spent all that money on the home theatre setup.  When I took the layoff from work in April, we looked at our finances and decided that the the cable TV could go, we only really could name about 3 TV shows and often to forgot to watch them – even if they were on the PVR.  I do miss the motorcycle road racing (WSBK and MotoGP), but not that much.  Besides, we told ourselves, with the Apple TV (especially after souping it up with a big hard drive) and an iTunes account we can buy or rent more stuff than we ever watched on cable for less than our monthly Shaw cable expenditure.  Sure enough that’s been more than true over the last 6 months – HD cable was costing about $60/month, but we spend about $10 to $15 a month on iTunes movie rentals and show purchases.

Now fall is here and the cool weather has driven us indoors and there are a few shows that we’d like to watch, so we need to find them in the iTunes  store.  Sure enough, the Canadian  iTunes store carries a couple of the shows we’d like to watch and we can make a more reasoned evaluation of whether we’d pay that much for that show.  ($70 for House season 7?? Meh.) So far, so good.

But then we discovered a show that we wanted but were thwarted when it turned out to be unavailable on the Canadian iTunes store.  All it takes is a  little bit of searching and the show turns out to be available on the American iTunes store.  But you can’t have a US  iTunes store account if you don’t have a US credit card – so I guess that’s the end of it.

Of course not! We are nothing if not totally up for a “stick it to the man” challenge! It didn’t take much research to figure out this trick:

  • Head to a local store that sells the “Vanilla” prepaid MasterCard (corner store, drug store, grocery store – whatever is handy)
  • Purchase a Vanilla MasterCard in an amount that seems reasonable for the iTunes usage you anticipate over the next 6 months.  Why six months? Because Mastercard applies a fee on the card starting the 7th month after activation – you don’t want to be going to all this trouble only to have the man stick it to you!  Note that you can always use the card directly anywhere else besides the iTunes store as well.
  • Scurry home and spend a moment to do a little research about our neighbours to the south.  Which states have no sales tax? (MT or OR are good choices). What is the area code for that state (MT = 406)? What’s a nice town in that state and what phone exchange and ZIP code would be plausible in case the iTunes store does any data validation?  Write some of this stuff down.
  • Now,  activate the prepaid MasterCard at the site, using the ZIP code you chose. *

UPDATE: August 2011

You need to ensure the ZIP Code registered to your Vanilla MasterCard matches the ZIP code in your iTunes account. Previously the Canadian site allowed registration with a US ZIP Code, but the card setup has changed. To do this you need to register the card on the US site by going to …then select USA (English), and enter your card details. Edit the card info registering the US ZIP code chosen above.

  • Fire up iTunes and open up the store,  if you already have a Canadian iTunes account then sign out and select Sign In again.  The easiest way to get to the US store interface is to “Create New Account”, continue through the splash screen then click through on the “If the billing address is not in Canada, click here” link.
  • Select US as the new region.
  • Now the US iTunes store interface will load and you can Sign In and select “Create New Account” again, continue through the splash screen noticing that the message at the top now says “If the billing address of your payment information is not in the United States, click here”.
  • Accept the T&Cs and set up your account using the Vanilla MasterCard number and expiry date plus matching address and phone info from your research.   The only critical address detail is the ZIP code which must match  the one registered for the Vanilla MasterCard. Of course, you’ll need to use a unique email address for the new account.
  • Bingo! You have a live iTunes account on the US store.  There should be no problems switching back and forth between the two stores. Just use the appropriate email address to login to the store that you want to use.

Of course, all of the preceding information is purely theoretical and strictly for educational purposes.  No recommendation, nor endorsement, of your personal propensity to misbehave, wear an eye-patch, or say “Arggh, matey” is implied by any of the content of this post.

*  Bonus geek points if you buy the card in the middle of the night, rip home and try to use it a couple of times before the store clerk gets around to activating the card.  The card is supposed to be activated for immediate use, but if you beat them to the punch it turns out that your card is credited $1.03 for each time it is denied!  We managed to recover $2.06 out of the $6.95 activation fee that we’d just paid to get the card!  Now that’s stickin’ it to the man!

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21 Oct 2010

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts

The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home

Today was a beautiful fall day in southern Alberta; just the type of day made for playing hooky from work and heading to the mountains on the motorbikes. Sadly, we couldn’t quite pull that off, but did at least take the scenic route home after work was done. Brenda & I had both taken our motorbikes to work today – the kids had a professional day off of school and Steven was game to hold the fort for the day.

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06 Oct 2010

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts,Family

Great Falls Getaway

Last weekend Brenda and I had a chance to head off to the States for a weekend away. My parents graciously agreed to look after the kids, so we pulled the kids out of school on Friday morning and dropped them off at lunchtime with Gramps. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to go to Great Falls – we have neighbours who drive down about once a year and they always seem to enjoy the trip.

The weather was very nice, the driving easy and we were off! We crossed the border by about 4:30 then stopped for coffee in Shelby, MT before eventually arriving in Great Falls just at dusk. We booked into our hotel then went and did a little shopping before having dinner out.

Saturday was just a beautiful autumn day – warm, bright sun and perfect for some exploring. We drove through the Little Belt Mountains to Helena and spent some time in the downtown area window shopping and stopping for a nice lunch before heading back to Great Falls. We did a little more shopping at the mall before grabbing some pitas for dinner and taking them back to the hotel.

Sunday, after we checked out of the hotel, we found Great Springs State Park and walked along the Missouri river a while before we headed to lunch at a very nice Greek restaurant. The drive home was easy and no hassles at the border, although we did manage to spend almost to the duty free limit!

We picked up the kids and were home by 9:30 or so. It was a pretty good couple of days away and we wonder why we don’t do stuff like that more often!

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