Author: Ian Hull
The move to retail automation amazes me – its impact is so unpredictable.
The most recent kerfuffle relates to claims by Shoppers Drug Mart cashiers that they’ve been made to pressure customers into using self-checkout stations rather than traditional cashiers. Cashiers claim (probably correctly) that stores are encouraging self-checkout to reduce the number of cashiers needed in store. You can read about it here.
Where will it lead?
I have no doubt that the use of self-checkout at grocery stores will increase in the future, but will it lead to the near elimination of cashier jobs? That’s hard to say. When ATMs started breeding like rabbits in the 1980s, the loss of bank teller jobs seemed almost a certainty. While there have been some branch closures and job losses, there are still thousands of branches across the country. Go into any one and the human touch is alive and well, even with online banking at our fingertips.
Contrast that with the move to self-serve gas stations. Even though a couple of cities in British Columbia (Coquitlam and Richmond) still ban self-serve gas, more than 90% of automobile gas sold in Canada today is self-serve. Most of us never think twice about it – we just pump our own. A lot of gas attendant jobs have gone by the wayside.
Prediction – a niche only for grocery self-checkout
In London, England, I went to a 24-hour Tesco grocery store recently that had no cashiers on the overnight shift. The store had just one attendant at the front whose job was to help people navigate the self-checkout machines. That’s a use that makes sense. If you want the convenience of shopping overnight, you’ll need to do a bit of work yourself at the end. I can definitely see that trend carrying on in Canada.
But my best guess is that grocery self-checkout will remain a niche offering. Bricks and mortar retailers need to differentiate themselves from their online cousins, and the personal touch is a key way to do that. I think many people will do what I do – use the self-checkout only when the line at regular cashiers looks too long.
And who wants to make that impulsive scratch & win lotto ticket purchase from a machine anyways?
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull
It started innocently enough. I was in a supermarket with my son on the weekend, and he picked up a Jiffy pop container and handed it to me. You likely know the product – a round tinfoil container with oil and kernels that expands when heated over a stove to produce popcorn.
I didn’t even know they still made it – it was something more common in the 60s and 70s before microwave popcorn took off. I laughed and we stuck it in the grocery cart for fun and went home.
Later that afternoon, my son turned on the stove and started making the popcorn. I told him that I could still chant the Jiffy pop jingle. And out of my mouth it came:
Jiffy pop, Jiffy pop the magic treat – as much fun to make as it is to eat.
Where did that come from? I hadn’t thought about Jiffy pop in 30 years. Why did I still remember a jingle from my childhood? Were 30-second Jiffy pop commercials like this one that powerful?
Advertising can work – for many years
Apparently so. And it got me thinking: what other products were etched into my mind in childhood, and could potentially still be playing a role in my purchasing decisions today?
Research has shown that there can be a connection. Studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research looked at adult judgments of the healthiness of products, some of which were heavily advertised during the person’s childhood. The study found that when children under age 13 were exposed to advertising using characters, they develop positive long-term feelings towards the characters and the brands’ nutrition for years to come. You can read a short summary of the studies here.
While this study focussed on “characters” in advertising (think Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, the Kool-aid animated jug), I wonder if other associations from childhood also work, like jingles? I can still rhyme off the ingredients in a Big Mac, and say the words to Coke’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing” song. Is that why a Big Mac and a Coke still represent comfort food to me today (even if I don’t indulge)?
Re-examine product decision
Buying habits – and fond associations – can keep us locked into many things whose benefits may be long past their best-before dates. So, it’s never a bad thing to reconsider what you buy and why you buy it. You may never kick that Cap’n Crunch habit, or the lose the magic of Jiffy pop, but at least you’ll be self-aware when you make your next purchase.
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull
It’s a near universal experience. Almost everyone over age 50 understands the rather uncomfortable, humble experience of the colonoscopy. For me, it wasn’t the worst experience in the world, but when I had my introduction to this procedure many years ago, I remember being delighted to hear that by the time my next one was due, they would likely have an entirely new “non-invasive” procedure in place.
For example, this “camera pill”.
Or these, which include a “virtual colonoscopy” or “at-home stool tests.”
With the profit-driven U.S. health care system just south of us, and the general hatred of the colonoscopy procedure, I knew I’d be in the clear. Bottom line (couldn’t resist that pun) – I’d never have to go through the procedure again.
So, what happened to innovation?
My, how time flies – I’m due for another colon check, but it appears that medical advancements haven’t flown quite as fast. What procedure did my doctor recommend for testing? A colonoscopy of course. Same clinic, same specialist, same 1.5 days of awful prep.
Need I say it? They can put someone on the moon, but they can’t figure out a way to check for colon polyps without a long tube going where you don’t want it to. At this rate, I think we’ll have cities on Mars before I can avoid the indignity of “now, just relax; you’ll feel some pressure, but it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.”
Think of the positives
I do need to keep the many benefits of our health care system in mind. We live in a country that routinely checks us for common cancers – at no out-of-pocket cost. And let’s face it, not eating for two days highlights the hunger that many people experience daily. So yes, time for an attitude reset and a positive mindset as I go into battle.
But I still hope that 10 years from now, a doctor just waves a magic wand over my belly and pronounces me cancer-free. Until then, bottoms up!
Thanks for reading.
The popularity of cryptocurrencies has heightened the world’s attention on the versatility of blockchain technology. An interesting development is the application of a blockchain solution for estate planning of crypto assets.
Generally speaking, a blockchain is a shared, real-time ledger of any type of information that can be recorded ranging from financial transactions to ownership of real property. Blockchain technology allows for blocks of information to be stored in a chain on a distributed peer-to-peer network.
The traditional method of estate planning, as we know it, involves hiring a lawyer to prepare a will, which appoints the executor(s) and lists the beneficiaries. When the testator passes away it is the responsibility of the executor to administer the estate in accordance with the will. This traditional method has created uncertainty for testators who own Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency and intend for their beneficiaries to receive them.
It is estimated that millions of Bitcoins have been lost as a result of testators not adequately factoring this type of asset into their estate plan. For testators that have considered their crypto assets, concerns still remain as to whether the executor has the technological ability to access and distribute a cryptocurrency holding.
One possible way for the testator to address this uncertainty is to author a plan with detailed instructions and provide the private key to the executor(s).
A start-up company in the United States has fostered a novel approach to this issue. The company’s product offering uses a blockchain-registered will also known as a “crypto-will” to enable digital assets to be transferred automatically. The idea behind the product is that once a testator’s death record appears in the Death Master File, a computer database of death records made available by the United States Social Security Office, the crypto-will is then activated and executes the wishes of the testator. This potential solution eliminates the need for an executor to administer this portion of an individual’s estate.
As the crypto-will is still very much in the development stage, many questions still remain. It will be interesting to discover how the concept of a crypto-will evolves in the near future.
Thank you for reading,
Ian M. Hull
In the recent decision of Fica v Dmytryshyn, 2018 ONSC 2034, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice confirmed that an attorney for property and/or estate trustee has a duty to pass accounts in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure.
The facts in Fica feature a family dynamic in which the mother of two sons heavily favoured one over the other. The mother’s favouritism towards her younger son (the “Favoured Son”) was evident throughout his whole life, and manifested in him receiving generous financial support from his mother, for anything and everything that he needed. Her other son (the “Older Son”) appears to have had a fractured relationship with his mother and was somewhat estranged from his family.
In January 2012, the mother appointed her Favoured Son, and the mother’s brother, as her co-attorneys for property and personal care, and as her estate trustees. Both sons and Uncle were beneficiaries under the mother’s will, and entitled to share equally in the residue of the mother’s estate.
In August 2012, the mother became very sick with cancer, at which time the Favoured Son and Uncle began acting under the mother’s power of attorney for property. Even after the Favoured Son and the Uncle began acting in their roles as attorneys for property for the mother, the Favoured Son continued to receive generous financial support from the mother’s assets and, with the knowledge of his mother, continued to use her credit card to support his lifestyle.
After the mother died, the disgruntled Older Son demanded information about alleged misappropriated money and expenses incurred when his younger brother and Uncle were acting as co-attorneys for the mother. However, in what would prove to be a significant error, the Favoured Son and the Uncle declined to provide an accounting upon request. Steps were only taken in this regard by the Favoured Son and the Uncle after the Older Son brought an application to compel and obtained an order to pass attorney/estate accounts.
The Older Son also sought a court order requiring the Favoured Son and the Uncle to reimburse the mother’s estate for the funds that he alleged had been misappropriated by them. In light of the mother’s pattern of behaviour, of being frequently and consistently generous towards her Favoured Son throughout his life, as well as her knowledge that the payment of such expenses continued after the Favoured Son and the Uncle had begun acting as her attorneys for property, the judge dismissed the Older Son’s motion. The judge stated that it was the mother’s prerogative to decide what she wanted to do with her money. The judge concluded that the funds were accounted for and no undue influence was present.
The big takeaway from this decision is with respect to costs. Notwithstanding their success on the merits, the Favoured Son and the Uncle could not recover any of the costs incurred in passing their accounts. The rationale for this decision was that, as co-attorney/co-estate trustee, the Favoured son and the Uncle failed to comply with their obligations pursuant to the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Under the Rules, an estate trustee, attorney or guardian can pass his or her accounts voluntarily on notice to the appropriate parties, or can be compelled by an order of the court under Rule 74.15. Rule 74.15(1) provides that any person who appears to have a financial interest in an estate may move for an order requiring an estate trustee to pass accounts. Furthermore, Section 42(1) of the Substitution Decisions Act provides for the passing of accounts of an attorney or guardian of property.
Thanks for reading.
It’s a new year, and we all want to live well and healthy. While our bad habits can get in the way, we generally try to do the right thing.
But what’s right? In 2019, the notion of what’s “right” for our health is getting fuzzy. The reason? We live in an “always on” marketing world, and what can actually help us live well can take a back seat to the shiny new wellness tools that are being thrust upon us.
Think about it. Has there been a major “wellness” finding, backed by science, that’s emerged over the past 20 years? I’m not sure there has been.
Scottish writer, broadcast and family doctor Margaret McCartney lays out the truth we don’t want to hear in this Globe and Mail article. We don’t want to hear it because the advice is boring, obvious and “old news”.
“The truth is that well-being is simple, if not straightforward. Don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, do exercise you enjoy, eat a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, interact with people, work at a job and hobbies you like, and don’t be poor.”
These are the evidence-based factors that contribute to health. And while poverty is not a choice for most people, the other factors are. Margaret McCartney’s fear is that we’re becoming so focussed on the shiny new wellness trends (cleanses, colonic irrigation, crystal-infused water, 10,000 steps, this diet, that diet) that we’re missing the bigger picture and the very basic things that can help us stay healthy.
The beginning of a new year is when wellness “hype” is at its peak. My advice? Don’t buy it. By all means, enjoy your Fitbit, your new exercise program, your life without sugar or carbs, or whatever it might be. But don’t ignore the science. None of us are perfect in our health behaviours, but let’s at least strive for what can make a proven, meaningful difference.
Thanks for reading,
Your annual physical is approaching, and you’re still averaging three to four alcoholic drinks per night – despite the fact that you told your doctor last year that you were going to cut back.
At your appointment, your doctor reviews her notes and asks how the drinking is going. You surprise yourself by blurting out a complete lie – that you’re now going drink-free every other night and have effectively cut your drinking in half.
Your doctor is pleased, and she begins her examination. In your mind, you move on too, but with one perplexing question: why did you lie?
More common than you think
First, if you do lie to your doctor, you’re not alone. In a recent survey carried out by the University of Utah, about 80% of respondents admitted they lie to – or conceal information from – their doctor on issues that could have health implications. The people most likely to do this were women, younger patients, and those who rated their own health as poor.
The top three reasons?
- Not wanting to be judged or lectured
- Not wanting to hear how harmful their behaviour is
- Not wanting to be embarrassed.
This recent CBC article has more information on the research.
A new approach
Whether you blame this lying on preachy doctors who scare people into not fessing up, or on cowardly patients who don’t own up to their behaviours, one point is crystal clear: lying to your doctor does nothing to advance your health needs.
With more health professionals now available online (either by email, chat or video conference), we now have the tools to move to a more non-judgmental “health coaching” model, with regular check-ins on areas of concern.
For example, a regular smoker will still have an annual physical with their doctor, but rather than dealing with the issue of smoking annually in a single (dreaded) conversation, the doctor diverts the behavioural elements to a nurse practitioner with experience in smoking cessation who provides online coaching on a regular basis. Even if the smoking continues, the nurse practitioner can encourage the person to adopt other behaviours that at least move the needle on health (“hey, how about walking to work twice a week – is that doable?”). And with electronic medical records, they can add any changes to your file, so that your doctor stays in the loop.
In short, we free up doctors to focus on physical health needs at annual physicals (such as blood pressure and heart and lung functions) and rely on encouraging, non-judgmental health coaches to focus on behaviours that may be harming our health (such as risky sex, poor eating, gambling or drug and alcohol issues).
Some of these models exist today in various forms. So, if you’re tired of your own “dance with the truth” at your annual physical, ask your doctor about health coaching alternatives.
Thanks for reading.
It’s an “aha” moment I’ll never forget. It was February about 10 years ago and I was in the large sunny plaza outside the hockey rink in Tampa Florida. I was visiting a friend who lives in Florida, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were in town to play that night.
It was still hours before game time, and we saw a very happy family of four – a husband, wife and their two daughters – walking the plaza in Maple Leaf jerseys. We asked them where they were from and they said Thunder Bay. It sounded like a long hike to come for a game, but they said it was way cheaper than flying into Toronto and getting tickets for a home game.
The cost of four “cheap seat” tickets in Tampa at that time? US $11 each from the box office (they couldn’t even get Leaf tickets in Toronto from the box office). They had to fly anyway to see the game in Toronto, so the extra cost to Florida was just $150 per person. It all made perfect sense.
Escape the big city madness
If you live in the Toronto area like I do, you gain the benefit of everything a big city has to offer, but you bear the burden of a rabid sports culture that makes it difficult and expensive to see games. That’s why I love seeing my team (the Leafs) play away games in less-rabid sports towns with lots of availability.
Three reasons make it hard to resist:
- You see another city: A couple of nights in a new city makes the experience that much richer, and since most cities are south of Toronto, you’ll likely enjoy some nicer weather as well.
- You meet people: If you wear your Toronto jersey, you’ll not only meet other Toronto fans, you’ll also meet home-team-supporting locals looking to razz you into some friendly competition.
- Cost: I checked on StubHub, and the cost of a 3rd row, centre ice seat to the Leaf game against Florida in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday Dec 15, 2018 was US$235. The best you could get for the following Saturday night in Toronto was the 11th row for US$616. That savings of nearly US$800 on a pair of tickets goes a long way towards covering the cost of flights and hotels. It might not be cheaper in the end, but it’s close enough and comes with a 26 degree Celsius daytime high.
Looking for a gift idea? Take a look at your Leaf or Raptor away game schedule in 2019 and plan a short trip south. Once you get hooked, you’ll never see a home game again.
Thanks for reading!
I think the coverage of George H.W. Bush’s recent funeral tweaked my interest in some of the things that make Canada unique. Once again, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was chosen to give a eulogy for a U.S. President (he spoke at the funerals for both Ronald and Nancy Reagan as well). And what a eulogy it was – personal, humorous at times and eloquent throughout.
The Globe and Mail described Mulroney as “emerging as something of the eulogist-in-chief for American commanders-in-chief.” That speaks very highly for Mr. Mulroney but also very highly for Canada. It’s clear that there was (perhaps still is?) a high level of respect for our country and the role we play in the world.
Aside from having a former Prime Minister who was clearly adept at fostering close international friendships, what else makes us unique? I think it starts with the country itself:
- We have about 20% of the world’s fresh water
- Almost one-third of the country is covered in trees – and we have 10% of the world’s forests
- We have the world’s longest coastline
- Along with the U.S., we share the longest demilitarized border in the world
We may not have the population size to match many other countries, but certainly have the physical size.
The quirky side
We also have character. Maybe that’s what the U.S. political elite love about us. Consider these:
- We love comfort: We eat more mac ‘n cheese than any other country in the world (I have no idea who measures this stuff)
- We’re sweet: One Canadian province (Quebec) makes more than 77% of the world’s maple syrup
- We’re inventive: Hawaiian pizza was invented by an Ontario man, not by the Hawaiians
- We’re procrastinators: We didn’t get our own flag until our country was nearly 100 years old
- We’re talkers: The famous Canadian interjection “eh”is listed in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as a valid word. Who knew?
Thanks for reading!
We’re all too familiar with the conventional advice for living longer – and the same ol’, same ol’ is being trotted out again by scientists. A new study says that sticking to the following five things can prolong your life expectancy by more than a decade. The five things?
- Never smoke
- Maintain a healthy body-mass index
- Keep up moderate to vigorous exercise
- Don’t drink too much alcohol
- Eat a healthy diet
Any surprises? I didn’t think so. It feels predictable and a bit puritan for my tastes, but you can read more about the study here.
Offbeat tips for living longer
I much prefer these five tips for living a long life. The article here outlines 10, but these are the five that caught my eye.
- Work hard and be stressed
An 80-year study that began in 1921 followed a group of 1,500 children. Are you ready for this? Children who were happy-go-lucky, carefree, and had a good sense of humor lived shorter lives than those who were more serious, persistent and prudent. As adults, these people were the most involved with and committed to their jobs. Three cheers for the workaholic!
- Get rich
Wealth and long, healthy living are positively correlated all around the world, with poorer countries having predictably lower life expectancies. While you don’t need to be rich, money helps. There’s something to be said for playing the lotto.
- Learn a second language
Studies have shown that the ability to speak two or more languages significantly slows the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, both of which are fatal diseases of old age.
- Do good in the world
Many studies have shown that volunteering increases your life expectancy significantly, especially if you’re doing it for purely altruistic reasons.
- Live on a mountain
In the US, seven out of ten communities with the greatest longevity are in high-country Colorado counties. And in a mountain town on the Italian island of Sardinia, as many men as women live to be 100. Seek elevation, live longer.
So, if we combine these five tips, you’d live on a mountain working hard at a job that made you rich, while learning a second language and volunteering in your spare time. See you at my 100th birthday party!
Thanks for reading,