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Category: Uncategorized

Professional Locksmith – A Master at the Art of Safeguarding

Posted on July 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

In the sci-fi blockbuster trilogy, Matrix, there is a character on the lines of a professional locksmith called the Key Maker who assists Neo by opening doors that determine the future of the matrix system. This reel life take on a locksmith is quite true to the importance of such a job profile in the real world. An expert at the art of making and breaking locks, a professional locksmith is an indispensable skilled expert in any society or community. Technology may have changed the way locks function and look, but the role of a professional locksmith has remained pivotal from the inception of civilization.

The most ancient locking system lock can to be traced back to the Egyptian civilization that existed 4,000 year ago. The first lock and key system was discovered during the reign of Emperor Sargon II in the year 704 BC. The term ‘smith’ in locksmith refers to the one involved in shaping metal to create useful objects or to be part of a more complex structure. The terminology locksmithing is used to define the process of assembling and designing locks, locking systems and their respective keys.

Historically, professional locksmiths have been involved in the design, development and manufacture of locks and their respective keys and job orders could range include personal locks, house security locks, automobile locking systems and major locking solutions for big organizations. But with advancement in technology and industrialization each aspect of a professional locksmith’s job profile has become a specialization. For instance, small and personal locks are manufactured through mass production through assembly line production systems. Today, professional locksmiths are of two types; Neighborhood locksmiths who handle household or personal or small time security concerns.

Professional locksmiths who because of exceptional workmanship or family heritage have established specialized organization that provides locking systems and solutions to big companies and corporations like banks and other financial institutions. The evolution of locksmithing has led to the introduction of educational courses that teach the art of locksmithing and certify professional locksmiths. This once hereditary profession which determined caste and class is now a well structured subject that imparts the skill set required for locksmithing to anyone interested in becoming professional locksmiths.

Technology has played an important role in the evolution of the lock and key industry. Most locks today function electronically had use unique mediums as keys. Use of a pin number to unlock an electronic lock is quite common nowadays. The use of biometrics is slowly becoming popular when it comes to new-age locking systems and solutions. Thumb impressions, voice recognition, face recognition, eye check are now popular ways of the new-age locking system.

Technology and innovation may have changed the way lock and keys are perceived, But next time anyone wants to make or break a lock, the first person to be called would be a professional locksmith.

How to Master the Art of Sending Funds Overseas

Posted on July 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

With a little understanding and planning I’ll share some common-sense tips to put you back in control of your international transfers helping to ensure that more of your money stays with you.

The foreign exchange rate affects all of us since we are all using a currency of some sort. An exchange rate is the relative performance of one currency against another. For example, GBP/USD (pound sterling to US dollar rate), when the rate is falling like it has been, it means that the pound is getting weaker while the US dollar is getting stronger. It means that those who start off with pounds but want to buy something in US dollars will be able to buy fewer dollars for their pounds. On 1st January 2013 you were able to get 1.63 US dollars for every one pound, but on 25th February you could get only 1.51 US dollars for the same one pound. Lets say you transferred GBP 200,000 to America you would now get (0.12 x GBP 200,000) $24,000 less than at the beginning of the year. An eight per cent difference to your dreams, plans and hopes.

Conversely, while the period has seen it become more expensive to purchase US dollars, for those with US dollars it has become cheaper to buy pounds.

Staying with this timeframe as an example. If you had funds in US Dollars, perhaps from sale of property in America, or you had found a dream home in the United Kingdom, a salary in America you wanted to repratriate then it would be a wise move to consider looking at how best to move funds into pounds after such a large move.

1. Consider who will transfer your money?

In the old days anything related to financial matters would be discussed with your bank. The bank would be helping you with your savings, your mortgage, your life insurance, your investments and of course your international money transfers. Over time each of these areas have had new players come in and offer a choice to consumers and businesses alike. This has helped lower costs and offer choice where there wasn’t any before. The past few years have seen with whole banks disappearing, divisions sold off or being saved by their governments causing scandal, corruption and revealing to the public just how inefficient and cumbersome they had become. Out of all those products probably the International money transfer side is still considered a profitable area for them. Every organisation will focus on their key clients. So tip number one, if someone is looking at you as a ‘cash cow’ – look at alternatives

2. Understand the cost breakdown

When you make an international transfer, the rate given to you will largely be made of two things. One is the interbank market rate (sometimes called the mid-market rate) and the second is the bank or broker cost, to make the transfer. This will be built into the rate given to you which is why it is so difficult to know which providers offer the best value. A bank will in addition also charge you a fee for doing the transfer (sometimes up to £40), specialist FX providers may have a smaller fee for smaller transactions say £10 for transfers below £5,000 to cover transmission costs.

Not every bank or FX provider will tell you how much ‘spread’ they are charging to make the transfer (the difference between the interbank market rate and the rate they quote you). One crude way to guess would be to check a currency converter site such as Yahoo Finance. This will show the interbank market rate. Comparing the rate at the same time will show the difference, which is called the spread. It gives you an idea to be used a guide but is not very accurate.

3. Separate the costs and focus

Often people get solely focused on the transaction fees alone rather than the Interbank rate.

It is best to separate these out. Ideally, you want the BEST interbank market rate along with the lowest broker cost. The interbank market rate is driven by the market, it goes up or down way beyond our control. Our only way to get the best of that is TIMING. We have no other control over it other than the time we enter and exit the market. A currency specialist can advise on the better target levels to look for. The second part however, you do have some control over which is the broker cost. Instead of acting reactively at the time of transfer. Make a plan. Get in touch with several currency firms you like the look of and explain the trade you want to take. At the end of it you want to come to a conclusion as to how much they take cost for you to transfer your funds. Cheapest wins in general but consistently cheaper is better. Instead of shopping for rates you really should be shopping for the best value provider who will take out the least amount out of your money transfer.

4. Build a good relationship with your currency specialist and get them to work for you

If you look at almost every FX provider’s literature, they will all say they are the cheapest and can save against the bank. If this wasn’t true they would be a poor provider! Like all things price is one element of the total package. A quick checklist of things to look for are:

  1. Are they regulated?
  2. Will my funds go to a segregated account?
  3. Are their fees and charges transparent and recorded on the confirmation note?
  4. Is their pricing consistent and won’t revert back to a wider spread in future?
  5. How fast will your funds arrive at the destination?
  6. Can you transfer funds online and be notified at every stage where your funds are

A good foreign exchange firm is one who is transparent and explains how they get renumerated, past that there isn’t a huge difference between a large FX provider’s service and a smaller one in terms of actual service – You fix a rate, you transfer currency 1 to their account, currency conversion happens and then they forward to your destination. A larger firm will have just like any other large organisation fixed costs, staff costs huge marketing costs. That will all come out of your rate one way or the other. They shall be either as a percentage of the transaction or number of pips (like a single point). If you are still unsure try a transfer but with a smaller amount. Most have free registration. That way you get to see the whole transfer process.

5. Avoid the tricks some FX firms play

If you think you will get a better deal by revealing to provider 2 what provider 1 quoted and can you price match, it works sometimes but what will typically happen is that provider 2 (usually one of the bigger firms) will definitely beat it – Those telephone dealers are as slick as can be and will be your best friend – Their big city bonus depends on bringing in your business. You might like all the attention you are receiving but always remember any kind of account management and attention in general is going to have a cost that will end up with you paying for it somewhere along the line. It might even be a loss leader for them but in the sales process they might find that you make regular transfers so once they have your business and you continue to use them – no-one knows any different and they have recovered their loss leading rate and gained you as a client. Fact is, until you know the actual spread you are getting, your broker cannot be relied upon to be consistent in their cost to you.

This removes the need for shopping around calling a bunch of brokers which is very inefficient way of doing it because many variables need to be aligned.

6. So now you got your costs covered, now focus on getting the BEST rate

Once you know how much the broker will charge you for making the transfer and you are happy with it. Focus now instead on getting the BEST rate. By BEST we mean that the exchange rate has gone as far as it can it that direction. If you had sold your pounds and bought US dollars in late 2007 when the exchange rate was around 2.000 that could be considered a good move as the rate has been falling ever since. To put this into perspective, the GBP/USD exchange rate has fallen some 8 per cent. Banks and FX providers will charge from 0.33 – 4 per cent of the transfer amount and everyone of these more or less uses the same mechanism, the SWIFT network to transfer funds.

7. Work with your FX Provider to put a plan

A currency specialist will be spending a lot of time looking at charts, news events, financial data and will have a good idea where support and resistance area are. These are areas where the exchange rate may no longer continue in the same direction. You should talk to the specialist who can draw up a personalised plan based on your goals and set some target rates to follow. These would include things like which target rates would suit your purpose, which type of transfer to make, if the market is ready but you are not should you fix now forward later, or you get set up a limit order where you have the funds ready but are waiting for a particular level to hit.

8. Don’t get too focused on using comparison sites – Not impartial

Remember that comparison sites are not impartial. The website owners are running a business to generate money. They largely make a market for themselves usually from larger FX providers who re-compensate them, for passing leads to them. If you look at the FCA list of payment providers you will see that there are hundreds of providers, yet on these sites there are barely a handful. They are not in-tune with the markets and play it safe by effectively promoting the larger FX providers. The sites are generally filled with useful information for newcomers to money transfer but until the day they can either list all FX companies and be able to get an actual delivered quote from them so an actual FX provider comparison (excluding the intermarket rate) can be made then the site cannot be relied upon for being impartial. Unfortunately this encourages the situation in the FX Provider market similar to dominating power of the big banks. Only a handful of larger FX providers have access to the leads being generated which is a shame for a site wanting to offer you a comparison. While the surrounding information might be considered useful and reviews of value, be more hesitant on going through a quote on their site as the results are just revolving randomly between the biggest ad space spenders.

Presenting – Mary Lee from Spiaggia Restaurant – A Hospitality Entrepreneur with a Heart for the Art

Posted on June 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

One restaurant I have wanted to check out for a long time is Spiaggia Trattoria (“spiaggia” is Italian for “beach) at the eastern end of the Queen Street strip. Local Beach expert Glenn Cochrane had mentioned that the owner, Mary Lee, was an interesting person and recommended that I interview her. To catch her before the busy evening hours at her establishment I met her at 5:30 and we sat down in a quiet corner at the back of the restaurant.

Mary Lee indicated that she and her husband John moved into the Beach in 1989. Before the couple moved to this neighbourhood h they used to live in an apartment at the Sutton Place Hotel. When she noticed my surprise Mary Lee explained that the 19th to the 31st floor of this famous hotel in Toronto were set aside for rent-controlled residential apartments. Even today some of the apartments are still occupied by the original tenants. I had never known that there were private apartments in the Sutton Place Hotel. You never stop learning about your own city…

Prior to becoming restaurant entrepreneurs, Mary Lee was an interior designer while her husband worked as an architect at the Bank of Montreal. Spiaggia was not their first foray into the hospitality ownership; the couple had owned restaurants in Oakville and on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. In 1990 they bought the building that the current restaurant is located in; it housed five apartments and the small Spiaggia..

Mary Lee and her husband immediately set about renovating the property and when the demolition work started, they found newspapers in the wall dating back to 1902. Throughout the entire renovation process they continued to operate the existing restaurant, and the patrons enjoyed watching the stucco work being performed on the building, right through the front windows.

Today the second floor holds a beautiful apartment – Mary Lee took me briefly upstairs and I saw a spacious apartment with an unusual layout with lots of angles and a gorgeous light-coloured decorating scheme, obviously the results of her interior design talents. She took me out on the rear balcony and mentioned that she can see all the way to Toronto’s City Hall from this location.

The couple spent three years overhauling the building and dealt with the glitches along the way. One local regulation required that they keep the old plumbing intact while they were installing the new pipes. As a result, the building today has two sets of plumbing throughout, of course only the new plumbing is being used.

Mary Lee’s real estate investment and renovation skills as well as her protective sentiments about the neighbourhood became evident when a video rental store across the street was being converted into an adult video store. Concerned about the impact on the neighbourhood, the couple bought the property and turned it into an art gallery. The adult video store relocated further west on Queen Street outside of the Beach neighbourhood.

When her husband passed away in 1998, Mary Lee closed down the art gallery since she did not have enough time to manage both businesses. A graphic design business now occupies the space. Mary Lee mentions that during the difficult time around her husband’s death her loyal restaurant customers took care of her. Their support and the higher workload she was carrying by herself now helped her get through a difficult transition period.

We started talking about Spiaggia and the unique features of this fine dining restaurant. Spiaggia is open seven days a week in the evenings from 5 to 11 pm. It has two sitting areas and the area on the north side of the building can be booked for private meetings. Often this room holds special events for up to 20 people.

The cuisine at Spiaggia includes seven different types of pasta dishes, fresh fish, seafood and veal dishes. Spiaggia is part of Eat Smart! – Ontario’s Healthy Restaurant Program, an exclusive program that awards Ontario restaurants that meet high standards in food safety, nutrition and non-smoking seating. Mary Lee added that guests are able to get customized meals that are prepared right in front of them in the open kitchen. Guests always enjoy healthy, fresh food at Spiaggia.

As we were sitting there Mary Lee told me a couple of humorous stories: in late December she got an out-of-town reservation with a credit card from a prospective restaurant patron in the US. They called a week ahead to reserve a seat for Spiaggia’s New Years Eve dinner event. Mary Lee was wondering what had happened when these customers did not show up. A few days later she got a phone call from a woman in West Virginia who said she was not able to locate Spiaggia’ on Queen Street, but was finally able to find it on Michigan Avenue – in Chicago!

Apparently she had found information about Spiaggia on the Internet and planned to have a nice New Year’s Eve dinner in Chicago, but ended up making the reservation with Spiaggia Trattoria in Toronto!

Even more humorous and unusual is the story behind Mary Lee’s espresso machine. In the 1970s she travelled to Florida with her husband in their Corvette. On the way back home John spotted an unusual object in a shop window in Fort Lauderdale. He made an immediate U-turn and went into the store to inquire about this interesting-looking item.

It turned out that the object was an espresso machine made in Italy, but the 1970’s was an era before fancy coffee concoctions. When Mary Lee’s husband inquired as to what the object was, the man simply responded in a southern drawl “it makes coffee”. John had to have the espresso machine and ended up buying it for $21,000, which 30 years ago was more money than what he had paid for the Corvette.

He simply had to buy this espresso machine, and because there wasn’t enough space in the car for both Mary Lee and the espresso maker, he dropped her off at the airport and drove home with the espresso machine strapped into the passenger seat sticking out of the roof. Mary Lee laughed and said “I am the only broad who has ever been dumped for an espresso machine”. Today the machine is still used to make coffee.

Mary Lee told me about her attachment to the Beach neighbourhood. She said she loves the area and enjoys taking walks on Queen Street or on the Boardwalk. It is a neighbourhood with a very high quality of life, one of those Toronto neighbourhoods that even have a busy street life on Sundays. She chuckled when she mentioned a popular local saying: “you can’t live in this neighbourhood unless you have a dog or a stroller.” The Beach is indeed very popular with dog owners and young families.

Unfortunately international events have had an impact on the Beach. The restaurant owners in the Beach and Toronto in general have really been affected by the slow-down of American tourism in Toronto. In 2003 Toronto was hit by the SARS crisis and more recently travel between Canada and the US has become more difficult due to passport requirements and terrorism prevention measures. Mary Lee has noticed a significant decrease in American customers over the last few years. In addition, the popularity of the Beach as an entertainment area has raised rents for many merchants which makes doing business in this neighbourhood more difficult. Mary Lee indicated that she is fortunate since she owns Spiaggia’s building.

MaryLee explained that she has about 14 full-time and part-time staff members working at Spiaggia. Her chef Jacobo Guerra is originally from Ecuador and has been in Canada since 1979. He started in the hospitality industry 16 years ago after completing a chef’s course at George Brown College. In addition to his culinary education Jacobo also has a talent for arts and took a fine art program at the Ontario College of Arts. Jacobo’s assistant Victor hails from India and came to Canada in 2001. He has been working at Spiaggia for almost three years now and says he has learned everything he knows from the expert, Jacobo.

Art is a common theme at Spiaggia: Brittany Ross works part-time as a waitress at the restaurant and she owns her own photography and web design business. (She designed the Spiagga website.) During my visit I also had a chance to sit down and chat with John Dowding, a renowned local photographer and photography teacher, who regularly participates in the Beach Studio Tour. John has an interesting event coming up in early February: a photo tour to Havana, he and I were going to arrange a one-on-one interview so I would have a chance to learn more about one of the many artists in the Beach.

John indicated that Mary Lee is an active sponsor of the Beach Studio Tour and is always available to help if the artists need something. He commented that over the years he has enjoyed a great friendship with Mary Lee and loves to come here for a good dinner.

After my interview with Mary Lee and my conversation with John Dowding I had a chance to sit down and sample some of Spiaggia’s cuisine myself. Spiaggia’s menu is extensive with many mouthwatering choices, and a prix-fix menu including a starter, a main course and a dessert, is available at the reasonable price of $25.95 .

I decided to go for the prix fix menu and had a Caesar salad to start followed by an extremely tasty “Vitello alla Balsamic” – a delicious arrangement of grilled veal, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, with a leeks balsamic Dijon sauce and garlic butter capellini on the side. I am not usually much of a meat eater, but the tender veal accompanied by an interesting array of vegetable flavours was scrumptious. My dinner partner had the Gorgonzola Carbonara and commented that it was fabulous as well. After a delicous tiramisu, my favourite Italian dessert, Mary Lee treated us to a sampling of the famous chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. All I can say I was glad I had finally made the trek down to discover Trattoria Spiaggia.

And I had a chance to meet Mary Lee, a gifted interior designer, a restaurant owner committed to serving high quality fresh and healthy food and an entrepreneur with a big heart for the arts…