A little over three weeks ago, I blogged about doing a Year-in-Review book on Shutterfly and submitting, then waiting. The book arrived, and as with a previous book by them, there are some parts that underwhelm. There are a few places where I feel like the printer colour ran a bit. Not enough in this case to send it back (I had the previous one reprinted), just enough to mildly notice.
I was also looking to do a Trip Book for the family trip to B.C. back in 2010. These ones are similar in size to the Year in Review ones, I like the 8.5×11 inches size in landscape mode, but they didn’t have to be identical. And after checking out a bunch of sites, I decided at the end of the post to go with one of Shoppers / Loblaws / Uniprix (they have the same interface software).
Except then I didn’t. I tried loading Costco, just to try it, and this time it worked. Perfectly fine. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Shutterfly, far fewer layouts and themes, or stickers, but still pretty solid. It was however a lot easier to see the full suite of what was available all at once than it is in Shutterfly, where the full list can quickly overwhelm you (20000 backgrounds????).
It is a bit harder to compare the books. The travel book is thinner than the Year ones, but overall, it turned out pretty well. I even found some of it simpler. I’m letting my wife figure out if there is a difference in quality before I do more. The timing with Costco is certainly far more controllable — printed in Canada, picked up in Canada, etc. I got it way faster than the Shutterfly book, and no printing glitches either. But I’d be hard pressed to say the quality of the covers is as solid. Nice, but not quite as good. I just don’t think I care about the difference enough to stay with Shutterfly. However, Shutterfly has some sweet deals regularly, and I don’t think Costco does. Not that I’ve seen so far, anyway.
But I’m happy with the Costco book, which is the bottom line.
I like using our digital photos for different things — the website, a digital photo frame, some prints around the office, custom calendars, etc. And annual photobooks — a Year-In-Review style that goes month-by-month. Except I’m a bit behind on them, having only completed three or so of the last 13 years worth of organized digital photos that are in my digital gallery. So when I added “Make a Photobook” to my #50by50 list, it wasn’t a specific commitment like “Make a photobook of (someone’s) wedding” or “Make a photobook of a specific trip or year”, it was “knock one off the long list of photobooks you want to do” i.e. get back into making them.
Starting with a Year-In-Review book
Just over two years ago, I took a look at several websites that offer do-it-yourself photobooks, and I gave a bunch a try. Some of them failed for software limitations, others for their variable quality. I pretty much ended up going strictly with Shutterfly in the end. For my new YIR book, I thought I might as well start with Shutterfly again.
Shutterfly is a solid site overall, with all the basics plus some bells and whistles. They have regular coupon deals, established history, and I can reuse/copy old projects to incrementally improve each year while keeping some basic consistency. And lots of extra product possibilities like mousepads, notepads, notebooks, magnets, mugs, etc. I re-familiarized myself with the site and didn’t see any major changes in the functionality of the web design in the last two years, still no downloadable software to do it and then upload as one piece but rather still just all online, and the default templates for “years in review” are still not particularly attractive (only two main defaults from which to choose). Still, a solid choice. There are e-share options too, but I’m not particularly attracted to them nor do I need the option since I have my own photo gallery site with more content than would go in the books.
I bit the bullet. I put together a year in review (or actually a partial year in review) for the second half of 2010. In so doing though, I wanted to revisit the basic design of their template and see if I could create a new master template that I could reuse for future YIRs. Some of it was quite simple — adding background colours, putting in the months of the year, making sure every month has at least four pages to start with, etc. It took me most of a day to put the template in some form that I could call a “master” draft to build from for the future, but I only have to do it once and it probably took me longer as I was coming back “new” to the software/website. I then copied it over to a new project for a backup. And then used that to create “2010 – Book 2”.
Choosing the photos is a bit more of an iterative process than one might think. Here’s my general work-flow:
a. I copy all the photos from Andrea’s phone, the compact point-and-shoot camera, my phone, my tablet (rare), and the DSLR, plus any that others happened to send us of shared events into a set of photos by month;
b. I then sort them into days and events;
c. I pick the best ones for uploading, sending everything else into sub-folders called “extras”, keeping about one for every 2-3 that go in the extras folder (I don’t delete photos unless they’re blurry or technically wrong for some other eason…I’ve gone back too many times to a photo that was perhaps good for everyone, but in looking at the extras, I find one that is GREAT for a specific person, allowing me to crop it to just them);
d. For a Photobook, I start with the web choices, and weed it down to a smaller list of possibles, and then let Andrea weed even further.
I uploaded the weeded set to Shutterfly and the template worked almost perfectly. A couple of little tweaks here and there, but not enough to warrant changing the master, more tweaks for colouring with the photos I was laying out in the template. I added some prose, chose some photos for the covers and inside page, and bam! I submitted the book with a 50% off coupon. Sweet.
Now I just have to wait.
Considering a Trip Book
I’m willing to experiment with other sites, just to try them out, and I’m going with some trips as the theme. But which one to try?
Last time I tried Mixbook, the software was a bit unwieldy. This time, I found 11 templates for “Year in Review” style books. The Minimalist style was a bit black and white, but cute; Linen / Vintage / Colourful YIR / A Year to Remember / Year in Review / My Year Magazine / Graduation Year in Review / Watercolour Year in Review are all more thematic or event-driven than I would like. The one called Family Yearbook would be an awesome style for people with multiple kids and I could see easy ways to adapt it. However, the Kraft Year in Review is outright awesome. Simple chronological design, exactly what I am looking for in YIR-style without weird or wonky titles for each month. My only complaint is it is a bit drab … most of the layouts could benefit from a bit more colour per page. The software seemed to work okay, and as with most, you do a lot better with everything pre-chosen before you start. Definitely a viable option, and an improvement over previous attempts.
Since the last time I tried, CostCo has updated their software and their book builder looks a little better, albeit somewhat slow to get it to click over to the “ready” stage. Or more specifically, it goes off to “prepare” the book for editing and never returns. Just sits and “spins” that it is doing something and never finishes. Maybe it doesn’t like Firefox, maybe the site is busy, I don’t know. Pass.
c. Shoppers Drug Mart
The software seems better this time than last, and I was able to navigate through a few choices to get to a reasonable option for a book. I chose their one and only Year in Review template, and it isn’t bad. The overall layout and control options are much more basic than other sites, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — some of the others are a bit overkill. Definitely a viable option I might consider.
If you go to the Loblaws site, you won’t find their photo book options because their photo service is separate — aka Photolab.ca. And it looks surprisingly familiar. Like with my previous review, Loblaws has the exact same software as Shoppers Drug Mart for their site, it just has a different name. But functionality, templates, etc are the same. So again, a viable option.
I wasn’t overly impressed the last time I tried the UniPrix site, but a friend suggested I give it another try, as he had good luck with it. So I gave it a go. Like SDM and Loblaws, it has some basic options, nothing extravagant. And while the opening interface is different, the final operations are almost identical for the software with Loblaws and SDM. A few differences, for sure, but functionally the same.
PhotoBookGirl is an online reviewer of photobook designs, and she has a bunch of reviews of different photo sites (mainly in the U.S.), so I wanted to give a few of them a try too. Blurb was up first. Blurb has some amazing options to upload a PDF and to sell things onwards into Amazon, but that’s not my focus. When Blurb Bookify starts, you get to the editing options pretty quick but that’s because the main options of other sites — draft templates, layouts, etc. — are all missing. Pass.
Like Blurb, it has options to create a book for sale — including kids books, etc. But the templates that come with it, and the basic interface are a bit too menu driven and mechanical than designed to populate things for you. Pass.
h. Clark Color Labs
The software for CCL is pretty clean. I set up an account easily, uploaded some photos pretty fast, and wandered through their templates. I’m looking for Year In Review designs, and while there weren’t many (only 3), they were all quite vibrant in colour. A very different look and feel to the template than Shutterfly or even Mixbook. The only challenge was that some of the months were set for a single page, others were spread over two, with no rhyme or reason. Plus there didn’t seem to be a reason why in some months they chose to put the name of the month on the page and others just a symbol (St. Patrick’s Day images for March, for example). Where they make up for some of it though is in their easy to access clipart. On a lot of sites, it is hard to find good clip art to add to the layout, but they make it pretty easy, and it was easy to add the months of the year for example or change a background. Overall a pretty simple and direct option. I have no idea if the quality out the other end is any good, but it’s a pretty nice site.
The site has some power, no doubt, and if you want to start from a very minimalist book layout, it’s a great choice. There are only five main themes, variations on “white”, but no choice between a year in revew or a trip or graduation. You can add all that, but you start with a blank template. Not a problem, but why would I want to do all that extra work unless I was starting with a very unique project? Pass.
Upfront, Snapfish has some great opening choices in sizes. I’m mainly interested in the landscape 8 x 11 books, but there were quite a few other choices too. When I chose YIR, just because it is an easy way to decide if it’s viable or not, eight sample templates came up. Most of them are comparable to the Shutterfly and Mixbook options, so nothing to really sell me there. Clicking on “Travel” pulled up another 12 options. One of them was called Road Trip (which a lot of my trips are), and pre-organized around Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc. So a viable option again.
So that gives me a full dozen options, including the original Shutterfly.
I’ve passed on: Costco, Blurb, Bookemon, and Picaboo;
I’m considering: Mixbook, Shoppers/Loblaws/Uniprix, Clark Color Labs, and Snapfish.
However, there is one small feature I like about the Shoppers / Loblaws / Uniprix option. I can print it and pick it up. No shipping required. And while I can’t guarantee the quality until I try it, it’s also not likely being shipped off to the lowest common producer elsewhere. There is a bit of local production involved. I hope at least. So I’ll try one of those three first.
I’ll see how it goes and update later. In the meantime, I’m waiting for my YIR book for 2010.
Here are my “four” options, although the first two are obviously tongue-in-cheek:
A. Give up — either get a different scope or take up knitting…I actually thought about both.
B. Do it wrong for five years until two people help you figure out why it’s not working (see above two posts).
C. Regular Auto Two-Star alignment – Short version…I’ll give the full write-up below with all the bells and whistles, but this will just be the short process steps.
** If you are using a wedge, add wedge plate underneath;
** If you are using vibration suppression pads, set them under the legs;
Attach Optical Tube Assembly (OTA), and then retighten the supporting plate on the tripod with the new weight on it;
Plug in the power source;.
Turn on scope, lower tube to a horizontal position, turn off scope;
Level the scope;
Turn on scope;
Align spotter scope or TelRad or red-dot finder;
Press enter to start alignment;
Change to AUTO TWO-STAR;
Hit BACK/UNDO to go back to CUSTOM SITE, enter GPS COORDINATES;
Enter time, date, DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME or not, and timezone;
Choose a star from the formal list, centre it roughly in the eyepiece, press ENTER, fine-tune your centring (Up and Right as last movements) by eyeball, reticule or doughnut methods, press Align;
If you used the doughnut method, refocus to a tight star point view;
Choose Star 2, let it slew to near that spot, centre star roughly in eyepiece, press ENTER, fine-tune alignment (Up and Right again) by eyeball, reticule, doughnut methods, press Align;
Wait for “Alignment Success” message;
Test your alignment on the two alignment stars you used;
Turn off your TelRad or another device;
Start looking for new objects!
D. Regular Auto Two-Star alignment – Long version
Setup tripod, extend legs;
** If you are using a wedge, add wedge plate underneath to ensure legs are at full extension and locked;
** If using vibration suppression pads under the legs, add them underneath;
Add top of mount/arm if not already attached (I leave mine attached all the time);
Attach Optical Tube Assembly (OTA)…some people attach it with the tube horizontal, Celestron nameplate facing you and readable, tightening knob underneath. I find it FAR easier to have the knob facing left so that I am attaching the OTA vertically with the opening facing up and my star diagonal / backplate facing down. This allows me to rest the star diagonal in my right hand while standing “behind” the arm, and guiding it with my left hand into the mounting rail slot. Then I tighten. By doing this, I also make sure that my star diagonal has clearance underneath i.e. the thickness of my hand, so just in case when I’m viewing I go to zenith, it will clear my base. This works awesome for me. I also then retighten the support plate under the tripod — when the weight gets added, it often goes a bit wider so the plate isn’t “tight” anymore;
Plug in the power source, as the AA batteries drain quickly (which will then make the alignment and mount start to go wonky fast);
Turn on scope, lower tube to a horizontal position, turn off scope;
Level the scope…now that the weight is on it, you need to level it, mostly by adjusting the height of the legs on the tripod. I have both a simple bubble level (allows you to see all directions, not just the one direction that a typical hand level shows you) and an app on my Android phone called Cliniometer / called Bubble level on iOS;
Turn on scope, wait for the screen to clear (about 3-5 seconds);
Align spotter scope or TelRad or red-dot finder. Note: When you are using your spotting tool, the benefit is that it and your scope should be pointing at the same thing, so if you see it in your spotting tool, you should see it in your scope. Therefore, you can use your spotting tool to find something, and then move to your scope. However, this only works if the two tools (spotting tool and telescope) are actually pointing at the same thing as closely as possible. This step is to make that happen before you start trying to align your scope. First, find a distant object on the horizon, like the top of a telephone pole or a tree. If it is already dark, you might have to use something really bright and easy to find like the moon or a really bright star, but it is better to do it in the daylight. Second, use your spotting tool to move your scope so it is pointing close to it, and then look through the telescope to fine-tune your view, centring your object in the view of your scope. Third, once it looks dead centre in your scope, your spotting tool (spotting scope / TelRad / Red-dot finder) have little manual adjustment knobs, dials, or screws to do a small physical adjustment (without moving the scope) so that it points to the same place your scope is looking. At this point, then, your scope is looking at a distant object and is centred on it, AND your spotting tool is now centred on it too. From this point on, you can use your spotting tool to point at anything in the sky, and your scope should be looking at the same object too. [Note: Generally, I find TelRads are the quickest and fastest spotting tool, but some people like having a separate spotter scope mounted. Nobody likes the red-dot finder. However, regardless of the three options, the process is generally the same];
Press enter to start alignment;
Change from STAR ALIGN (i.e. default 3-star) to AUTO TWO-STAR;
It will then ask you for some basic data, but if you have changed locations from the last time you viewed, you should hit BACK/UNDO to go back to where it says something like CITY DATABASE or CUSTOM SITE, and if possible, use CUSTOM SITE. It will then ask you for your GPS coordinates in longitude and latitude by HOURS:MINUTES:SECONDS. Google Maps will give you the coordinates if you go to the exact spot, and then right-click on the spot, choose What’s Here. It shows you decimal coordinates, click on them and it will show them in HOURS:MINUTES:SECONDS. Or skip GOOGLE MAPS and download an app like GPS COORDINATES for Android or iOS which will tell you directly, or use software like Sky Safari or Sky Portal by clicking on settings, current location. It will give you the exact coordinates you need. Enter both longitude and latitude. Ignore the negative sign, it will ask you if it is north/south or east/west. [My coordinates are 45 degrees for latitude and I enter that with minutes and seconds and choose West; -75 degrees for longitude so I enter 75 plus minutes and seconds and choose NORTH to handle the negative part). Note that alternatively you can use the city database, rather than GPS coordinates, but cities are large, and the larger the city, the greater margin of error you are adding to the process;
Enter your time, date, whether it is DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME or not, and the timezone you’re in. Best if you can be as accurate as possible on your time;
Now you’re ready to choose your first star. The scope will give you an obvious list of good stars to choose from. If you are like me and aren’t always sure which one is Polaris (don’t ask), or Vega, choose one that you can learn and that you can’t miss. For me, that’s Mizar, and it’s almost always on the list (if it isn’t there, I can do MANUAL TWO-STAR and select it). I can almost always see the Big Dipper when I’m viewing, and it is pretty clear which one in the handle is Mizar. Plus it’s a double star so if I look through the scope and see it, I know if it is Mizar or I’m off i.e., it’s pretty easy to tell if it is the right one or not. The alignment of your first star takes TWO steps. First, you get it in your FoV generally using your red dot finder (blech) or a TelRad or spotting scope — you just need to get it close enough so you can see it in the eyepiece, don’t worry how close to centre it is. Then, you press ENTER. Now you’re ready for fine-tuning your centring…the important part to know though is that the drive for the scope has slippage in it. To keep it tight, and give yourself the best alignment, you want to be pressing UP and RIGHT as the last two movements on your scope before pressing align. For me, with a star diagonal on my scope, it means I need to be in the upper left quadrant of my eyepiece. Then, when I press UP it will take me down towards the middle, and right will take me the right to get to the middle. If I overshoot either one, I can’t just back up a little, because that would mean going down or left on the hand controller i.e. within the “play” of the scope, and the alignment won’t be tight. Instead, I have to go past the middle points again, back to the upper left quadrant, and then go UP and RIGHT on the hand controller to get to where I think the middle is. (** Note that UP / RIGHT is only “tight” if your motor speed is 1-6 at that point, speed 7-9 would be the opposite.) How do you know if you’re in the “middle”? Three ways:
Eyeball it. Of course, the less precise you are, the greater the margin of error when you’re done. Then press ALIGN;
Use a lighted reticule — this is basically an eyepiece you can buy that has a little red light in it and a grid. It looks like a target screen. You can use your general eyepiece to get in close to the centre, and then this lighted one to get it exactly dead-centre. Then press ALIGN;
Use the doughnut method — this one is completely counter-intuitive. Instead of a “tight” focus, turn your focus knob to make it extremely UNFOCUSED. Your tiny little star will start to look like a small doughnut, then a medium-sized doughnut, then a large doughnut. Which will let you gauge the distance from the edge of the doughnut to the edges of your eyepiece. In other words, instead of guessing if your little marble is close to the centre of a basketball hoop, you’re unfocusing it to the size of a beachball and estimating if your large beachball is centred in the same-sized hoop. Much easier to tell how far from the “four” sides (up / down / left / right). But again, you still want to be going UP and RIGHT as your last movements. Then press ALIGN;
If you used the doughnut method, refocus to a tight star point view;
Choose Star 2 from the list (see some notes below about which combination of stars to choose). You ideally want a star that is in a different part of the sky, at least 15 degrees above the horizon, and preferably, at a different height than your first star (so that it is working with different angles, not just rotation along the same altitude). The great part is you don’t really need to know which is which. Once you press ENTER to choose the star, the mount is going to rotate to that star with its best guess as to where it is. So it might say let’s go to Skat. Except you don’t know Skat at all. Doesn’t matter. Because when it slews to Skat, you’re going to likely see only one really bright star within a Field of View (FoV) of where it stopped. In other words, you’ll just go to the nearest bright star to where it stops, centre it in the same way as you did for the first star, get it close to centre in your eyepiece, press ENTER. Then do your UP and RIGHT to do a final alignment to centre (with eyeballing it, using a lighted reticule, or making it look like a doughnut again). Press align;
You should get a message after a few seconds that says “Alignment Success”;
Test your alignment. Most people will pick a third target and say, “Okay, let’s look at Saturn.” Which makes sense, right? You did alignment on two stars, let’s see how it finds a third. Instead, though, you should tell it to go back to the first star (Mizar in my example above). Because it’s one of your alignment stars, you should be DEAD CENTRE for that star. And then you can tell it to go back to Star 2. If either are not dead centre, something’s wrong with your alignment. And if I had to guess, I would bet it was the UP and RIGHT play for your final alignment. It could also be levelling, or your choice stars, or whatever, but I’m betting you’re off with the final alignment step, it’s the most common. Which part of the alignment was the problem? If you’re generally above or below the star, it was your vertical (your final UP motion) aka your altitude. If you’re generally left or right of the target, it is the horizontal (your final RIGHT motion) aka your azimuth. Note that on my default settings, the UP/DOWN settings were initially set to INVERTED in the menu, so I spent two years doing UP and RIGHT without realizing I was ACTUALLY doing DOWN and RIGHT, thus throwing off my altitude every time. Grrr…;
If your two alignment stars came back solid, you’re good to go. Turn off your TelRad;
Start looking for new objects! Note that objects close to your alignment stars will be the most precise, including those in between. Those objects farther away from those points of alignment will be less precise, but likely still within the FoV of a 25mm eyepiece. That was the default EP sold with the 8SE in most cases, and apparently the accuracy of the scope was kind of geared to it.
Choosing good stars
What are the best two stars to choose? There are some basic tips online ranging from types of two-stars (generally at different altitudes, not complete polar opposites, both more than 15 degrees above the horizon, etc.) to specific suggestions. On CloudyNights, a guy named Curt B posted back in 2015 and suggested the following stars:
January: Capella & Aldebaran
February / March: Sirius & Rigel
April: Regulus & Procyon
May: Regulus & Arcturus
June/July: Vega & Arcturus
August: Altair & Deneb
September: Altair & Rasalhague/Vega
October: Altair & Vega
November: Altair & Caph/Vega
December: Enif & Hamal
As I mentioned above, I often choose Mizar if it isn’t too high because it is so CLEARLY Mizar and not something else. Most people start with Polaris as they are confident they can find it. Depending on my light polluted skies, I’m not always 100% sure. Mizar has no doubts. Some people like software combos on their desktop to make a list and http://www.ilanga.com/bestpair/ has some free software. It has been superceded by a program called AstroPlanner, but you have to pay for that one (although it has lots of great functions). If I run Best Pair II, and enter the 15th of the month for 2017 and 8:00 p.m., here is what I get as the best pair in my rough area (Ottawa):
Jan 15: Deneb and Arcturus
Feb 15: Vega and Hamal
Mar 15: Vega and Hamal
Apr 15: Vega and Hamal
May 15: Polaris and Mira
June 15: Bogardus and Markab
July 15: Capella and Denebola
Aug 15: Capella and Denebola
Sept 15: Alkaid and Procyon
Oct 15: Alkaid and Procyon
Nov 15: Vega and Denebola
Dec 15: Alkaid and Altair
None of which are Mizar. Vega, Altair, Arcturus, Polaris and Capella are great choices, eminently “findable” with the naked eye, and would give you one star out of the two to start with for 9 of the 12 months. Not bad.
Alternatively, there is a program by Jean Piquette, and available from the NexStar resource site that Michael Swanson runs. http://www.nexstarsite.com/Downloads.htm#SAS will take you to the program for download. This is a bit more technical than most people are likely going to be comfortable with in terms of setup…you have to edit a couple of text files to put in your info, then run the program, with it spitting out a few files that will tell you good choices. It is based on the 21 “NexStar” alignment stars that it likes by default.
When I run it today, Oct 22, 2017, it suggests the following for my area:
Six combinations of Altair, Polaris, Mizar and Vega, and almost all of which I could find no problem. Overall, I would say that this estimate is far better for me than the other one, although the first one has more range in a choice of possible stars. This one does, however, give out a MUCH longer list of choices too, almost overwhelming in fact.
I’ll keep both programs and see what they give me from time to time. Something else to remember to do before I leave the house though. I’d prefer an app for that, and there ARE some options for downloading things in Sky Portal and/or Sky Safari Pro, but I’m not entirely clear how to combine the lists properly for prioritization. More like “good sets” in general, regardless if they are actually visible tonight or make good combos for tonight compared to others.
But I’m getting farther afield from the original premise — how to align properly for a general process, not which stars are chosen. Hope this helps. Of course, your mileage may vary.
I’m a government HR geek, and I like reading Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board decisions just to see what’s going on in the world of grievances that make it that far (many drop out earlier with simple alternate arrangements or the government realizing it did something wrong and reversing itself). One that made it that far recently was Song v. Deputy Minister National Defence. And mostly what I like about it was the unique outcome.
As is often the case, the issue started with a competition where a candidate was screened out at the application stage. It is always the applicant’s responsibility to demonstrate they meet the criteria and if they don’t, they’re out. This can and often is a pretty hard and fast rule. Many rulings are out there on this factor — if they don’t say it in the application, you don’t have to accept follow-up info or anything else, and if you do, it should only be in very unusual situations (for example, the person has to prove they did budget forecasting, and they say they completed three years work of budget updates in their current job — without specifying that it includes both reporting and forecasting for the coming year…when they follow-up, they find out that the screener’s department use different terminology, and so “updates” there doesn’t include forecasting, but now that they know what it means, and they may even look at a sample, they say, “Oh, okay, you do meet it” and might screen them in…or say, “Sorry, no, you didn’t prove it in the original application, not our problem, you’re out”). In this case, the applicant contacted the hiring manager, had some additional weak examples, and wanted a chance at the interview.
At this point, the hiring manager made an error. They thought, “no harm, no foul” giving them a chance — but says she really didn’t think they met the screening criteria. That shouldn’t happen. You meet it and you’re in, or you don’t and you’re out. Borderline is a different story, but here she said the applicant clearly wasn’t qualified and let them continue anyway.
The assessment phase seemed to be a combination of written exam + interview, with part of the written to develop a presentation that was then given as part of the interview. The applicant became ill during the session, so much so that they laid down and the Board actually discussed calling an ambulance. While testimony varies as to who decided to proceed after she felt better, this too was another error. They should not have proceeded.
The candidate failed two elements for the assessment that shouldn’t have continued, and she fought the decision as well as damages for suffering. Under the old PS Tribunal, that wasn’t an option, but the reformed PSLRB+PSTribunal = PSLREB has some extra party favours for participants. However, the outcome is a bit different.
The decision states that the first problem was letting the candidate proceed at all and the second was proceeding after the illness. So the complaint is substantiated at that point. However, the candidate shouldn’t have made it to the assessment, and regardless of what happened, there was no evidence of malice or intent. So no damages. End result? The tribunal says “yes there was an error, you’re right, but I’m not telling them to do anything else about it”.
So for the complainant? She gets told not only are we not going to give you any money, not only are we not going to put you in the pool, not only are we not going to let you redo the assessment, but also you weren’t qualified in the first place. Or in other words, “Yep, you’re right overall. Case closed.”
While I don’t think she should have got any money for her supposed suffering (there was no bias, discrimination or malice, she just had an illness spell during the process), the outcome is a bit harsh for the complainant. This is often the case — the government people felt from the beginning she was wrong, so they pushed through to the end to technically lose but still win.
So I’ve been spending a lot of time uploading old photos to my website, and now that I have a healthy base to work with, I’m working on some photobooks. Nothing too “fancy”, mostly just “year in review” type books.
I’ve used Shutterfly before, and while it puts out a decent book, I have two reservations with it. First, because they aren’t produced in Canada, you end up spending a heavy chunk of cash on shipping. Not exorbitant, just enough to notice. Price goes higher the faster you want it, as it would be anywhere.
Second, and a little more vague, the photo places often ship them overseas for production to Asia, and there is little regulation for either labour or the production methods used in a lot of the hot spots. We recently had a canvas print shipped from Malaysia (by Photobook Canada, not Shutterfly) and it came in smelling like musty canvas — turned out it was a lacquer they used on the finishing. There’s no way it would be allowed to be shipped in that condition in Canada, would never pass the sniff test, literally. The print stunk bad enough I had to put in the garage for a few days to air out. It’s relatively fine now, but not the most reassuring of experiences. And Shutterfly uses the same printing options/places.
On the plus side, they are reliable, they have regular sales, their coupons are stackable (i.e. 30% off for a sale, $10 off on books, free shipping etc. — most sites would make you choose one, Shutterfly usually lets you apply all of them to your order at once). I recently did a full year in review book with them, haven’t received it yet, but it has a LOT of extra pages (80+, when standard is 40) and price is about $75 in the end, including shipping, etc. Not great, not horrendous. None of the extra bells and whistles. And their software has a couple of painful omissions (an ability to duplicate or move pages, for instance). A solid 8 / 10 for sure on quality, software and price.
Mixbooks is the big blogger darling in the U.S. at present, with lots of people saying it is 10/10 for quality and software, maybe 8/10 for price. They are competitive with the other companies, but coupons are not stackable and their sales are not as frequent or as deep. I found the software good, but unwieldy at times. In the end, I bailed before completing an order.
Photobook Canada is one that everyone likes to say is better because it is supposedly Canadian, but the stats on their production in Canada are extremely limited. Most of their cheap stuff they farm overseas, maybe they used to do their stuff and prints here in Canada but looks like it is all off-shore now. The smelly canvas came from Malaysia, two calendars came from Malaysia. A small astronomy book I did awhile ago came from Asia somewhere. I’ve just ordered a small book as a gift, and I suspect it will also come from Malaysia. Software is not as good as Mixbooks or Shutterfly, but functional, and their cheap options are good for price at least, if not enduring quality. Their other fantastic feature, in my view, is that their software is 100% downloadable. You can build the entire book on your own computer and just connect when you’re done. It takes a while for everything to upload at that point, but it’s better and faster than working in the cloud the whole time. I used them for the calendars (and make a rookie error with them) and the canvas print (that was initially smelly and is okay now), but I should also give them credit for the fact that my vouchers had expired (I didn’t realize they did that when I bought them last January), and they extended them with no trouble at all. Nice.
I checked out a bunch of other sites this week too.
Shoppers Drug Mart has a good basic option, software seems a little limited, and prices are okay but competitive. Their big “savings” offering is that it is free shipping to their local stores (I discovered their options earlier this week when sending some simple prints to a remote store). However, the software crashed completely in basic options working with both Firefox and Microsoft Edge. I’m not willing to invest any time in buggy software.
Uniprix seemed okay, nothing flashy. Basic software, prices were okay, seemed more geared to the pamphlet-style softcovers than some of the other bigger companies. I don’t know that I gave them a truly adequate test though.
Loblaws was a surprise for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t know they had a photobook option — it strikes me if they were kicking butt, everyone would know about them. Second, their software is the SAME as Shoppers Drug Mart. Whoever is their backend supplier has given them the same front-end interface, with only minor differences. Seemed good, not as big and powerful as Shutterfly, Mixbooks or Photobook Canada, but decent enough. I even found some default templates I liked. But here’s the weird part…I chose a special template with some contemporary features i.e. not everything was blocky, squared designs. About half the default pages had a bit of a scrap-book feel to them, a common design feature. Except when I then went to the layouts feature to see what the options were for additional pages, none of those scrap-book layouts were available to select. All the rest were blocky, perfectly squared line ups. No obvious option to copy the existing templates either, unless I wanted to copy a page element at a time. But then it got even weirder…I chose a default template, added it to a page, and the photo sizes were completely wrong. I had the book set for 9×12″ size, and it put photos down as if they were going in a 6×6″ book. In other words, just part of the page…and no option to drag them as a group to make them bigger. You could manually adjust each and every photo individually. Nuh-uh, no way. That would be incredibly time consuming if I add some 50-60 additional pages, all of which required custom layouts. However, I have discovered that you CAN duplicate the original pages, just a bit of extra manual work to do it, kind of counter-intuitive.
Lots of people have used Costco and while I admire their commitment, the software was the worst one of all. Slow, few options, etc. If you had, say, 75 photos, and you wanted it to pre-populate them into a book template, it might be okay. But 10 minutes in and I’d already found 3 things I couldn’t do in the format. Not an option. Most importantly they had a lower limit on number of pages allowed. I was two-thirds of the way through a photobook when I came to a screeching halt — I couldn’t add anything else, and couldn’t copy the project to another project (I would have just split it into two books).
Henry’s has a site that has the same back-end as Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart (same themes, etc.) but a completely different interface. Looks okay, but it won’t actually let me load any photos from the album into the layout to try it. It didn’t want to sync with other sites either. Kind of hard to do a photo book if you can’t get photos into the layout! Fail.
I think I’m going to give the Loblaw’s one another go. We’ll see if it works out. Might try UniPrix after that, based on a friend’s recommendation. In the end, I’m likely to end up back with Shutterfly, but it won’t be for a lack of trying to find a Canadian supplier.