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Fred's Views


The State of the Internet in Canada

It's been about a year since I last reported on my attempts to do commerce on the web in Canada. I have made relatively few purchases over the web, not because I fear for the security of my private information - I'm sure there is far more out there about me than anyone could possibly be interested in - but because I find that delivery costs are quite high, sometimes higher than the product, and because I simply haven't been buying much of anything, lately. Until now, I was out and about most days of the week. If I needed anything, I picked it up during my daily commute. That may soon change, and I may start to use the Internet more.

On Saturday, I whipped up our family's favorite chocolate cake for dessert. (We were celebrating my younger son's and my birthdays.) The oven seemed to take forever to get up to temperature. That should have been a clue, but it didn't penetrate the cobwebs of my mind. Our oven almost always requires more time than the "recommended" amount, so I wasn't particularly surprised when I had to add ten or so minutes to the baking time. Nor was I particularly surprised that the cake did not rise all that much. Finally, it appeared to be done, I removed it from the oven and set it on the rack to cool. Later, I frosted it. All quite normal. (Actually, not quite normal since I hardly ever frost cakes, but my wife has been a little under the weather for the past two weeks.)

My older son's girl friend asked if she could have a piece of cake. Of course she could. Then, a few minutes later, she asked if it was a "pudding cake". I thought she was asking if it was one of those "super moist" cakes that have "pudding" as a secret ingredient. I said "yes", since it is a very "moist" recipe. But something rang a bell and I went out to see what she was talking about. We often have a dessert consisting of cake on top with a sauce underneath, sometimes called a "sponge pudding". That's what she had meant, for, although the cake appeared to be baked on top, underneath, it was still batter. Scratch one scratch cake (sorry). After some investigation, we concluded that the bottom element in the oven had died.

So, Sunday morning, I set about removing the offending element. I knew that Canadian Tire did carry oven elements, but, since it was a Sunday, and I seldom shop on Sundays, I wasn't sure what hours they would be open. Time to turn to the World Wide Web.

Locating their site was no problem. Found the store "location and hours" link. Clicked it. Up popped a damnable pop-up advertising window. I had to let it load because, at that point I didn't know what it was. It wasn't the store location page, so I closed it, feeling somewhat less than charitable about the intrusion. Finally, the location page loaded with an error message: "bad connection to the database" - or words to that effect. Time to reload. Same result. I then spent a few minutes moving about the site hoping to find another link to the location page which possibly might work. (Assuming there was something wrong with the link information.) No luck. I never did find out what their hours were, but I did have to close down that annoying pop-up a couple more times.

While I was there, I decided to see if oven elements would be listed. In all honesty, since they are a somewhat obscure product, I didn't expect to see them listed. Even now, the on-line catalog of most sites I visit, is far smaller than the variety of stock in the store. I still don't understand why, but I've come to expect it. In that regard I wasn't disappointed. There was a "Kitchen and Bath" section; there were microwaves listed, but no oven elements. Still, I could burrow down a fair bit into their catalog system.

But I wasn't primarily looking for information about the elements, since I knew they were stocked in the store. However, it would have been nice to have some idea of how many different types and sizes might be kept in stock. Perhaps I should check out another site.

Okay, Home Depot has just about everything, although I have never seen oven elements in the store, I've never looked for them there either. Again, finding their web page was no problem. Lots of links, including a link to kitchen stuff, but no oven elements. Actually, the links never really worked. They took me to a page that asked for my postal code. The Canadian postal code consists of six characters, arranged in two groups of three. Sometimes they are entered as two groups of three, sometimes as one group of six. I have seen web sites that accept the code in one form but not the other as well as sites that accept both forms. I have also seen sites (American, of course) that only accepted five characters, period. Seldom have I seen a site that gives me a clue as to how the code should be entered. Neither Canadian Tire's nor Home Depot's sites gave a template. For no particular reason, I entered the postal code at the Canadian Tire site as one group of six. No problem. (As far as I can recall, I did not need to enter the code to surf the site, it merely allowed them to customize the site for my area.) Again, for no particular reason, I entered the code as two groups in Home Depot's site. No good. Only accepted six characters. So I took out the space. Not a big deal, but why not tell people how you want information entered. (Same thing goes for provincial identification.) Okay, submitted the form. Back comes a page saying that there is no on-line shopping available in my area yet. Dead end. Can't go any further into their site. In fact, it looked like I was now on Home Depot's U.S. pages, even though I had entered a Canadian URL: "www.homedepot.ca". Oh well, so Home Depot is still in the dark ages. On a whim, I decided to give their store locator a try-out. No stores were found for my postal code. (I was curious to see if it would list the St. Catharines store rather than the Stoney-Creek/Hamilton store. Hamilton is closer to me and more convenient, but I live in Niagara Region and "politically" attached to St. Catharines.) Okay, so now I'll try for a store in Stoney Creek. Nothing. Hamilton? Nothing. Okay, their Stoney Creek/Hamilton store is right on the boundary between the two municipalities, so it could be listed under either. Now that we have a new "super city" of Hamilton, it should be listed under Hamilton. Next I try Ancaster, where they also have a store. Nothing. (In reality, Ancaster has been amalgamated into Hamilton as well, so it should have been listed under Hamilton, too.) Okay, so their store locator script is not working very well. One final point. When I was using the script, there was no indication how the province should be entered. As far as I know, there are three "legal" methods: Ontario, Ont. or ON. "On" is not one of these methods, but it was the choice presented by the Home Depot site. No big deal, but you expect better from such a big corporation.

Once again, my journey into the tangled world of the Canadian Internet and e-commerce community has been way-laid. Once again, Canadian companies have demonstrated that they are not yet up to speed on this new technology. Will the Internet ever reach its potential?

I know you are all dying to know how the "Oven element" adventure ended, so I won't leave you on the back burner. I decided to visit my local Canadian Tire in person. If I found it wasn't open, or didn't have the element, I could always drive a little further into Stoney Creek/Hamilton. Well, to make a tediously long story short, but just as tedious, they were open. They had oven elements. They had one that said it fit a 30" stove, which is what I had, but it was about 3 inches deeper than the element I was replacing. I bought it anyway. I got to the counter and presented my Canadian Tire card. The sales clerk asked if I wanted to redeem any of my "points". I said, "Sure". Turned out I had enough points to get the element without spending a penny. Got home. Installed the element, replaced the racks and the fuses. Turned it on. Everything worked perfectly. Made another cake. Baked it. Baked it for about 15 minutes longer than the recipe said (normal for this stove). Took it out. Let it cool. Frosted it. Ate it. Delicious!

All's well that ends well.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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