HicksBiz Blog

Complicated credit cards - what's the best deal? Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun March 23, 2012

How complicated can credit-card comparisons get? It was a simple exercise in personal finances — I thought. Out of all those credit cards, those thousands of credit cards, which ones offer the best value for loyalty program points? Travel points are addictive. To qualify for trips, you end up packing every purchase possible onto your credit card. Which is what the credit card issuer wants. Even if you never pay a dime of interest, they collect a 1% to 3% fee from the merchant as a transaction fee. Complicated! To keep things simple, I only compared travel-point cards to travel-points cards, and cash-back cards to cash-back cards. At least I thought it would be simple. To calculate the value of travel-point cards, I'd measure the number of points needed for the equivalent of a seat sale to Vancouver, say $400 excluding taxes. And cash-back cards, what could be simpler? If you're packing $30,000 a year, or $2,500 a month onto your credit card, how much cash do you get back? (Assu ... Read the rest of entry »

Citadel Theatre heads into exciting but unchartered artistic waters for 2012/13

“Transformative” is already one of the most over-used descriptives of the 21st Century. But “transformative” is the only way I can accurately describe the "new" Citadel Theatre that will debut for its 2012/13 season. At first blush, it appears a game of cutting losses -  The smaller “edgier” plays of the  Rice Stage season are  gone. Gone too is the Children’s Series, other than Christmas Carol.  Only six shows will be produced on the Shoctor and Maclab stages, three of them co-productions with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre or Theatre Calgary.  Added is “Beyond the Stage,” a series of one-time cabarets in the Rice Theatre featuring leading Citadel performers, musicians and conversations (informal talks) with well-known contributors to the 2012/13 season who can command an audience. The Citadel will also enthusiastically endorse and welcome other theatre companies to use its multiple-stage facilities.  Touring shows, T ... Read the rest of entry »

Many Ways to Move Our Oil - Hicks on Biz column from The Edmonton Sun of Sat. March 17, 2012

One way or another, our bitumen (heavy oil) will get to China. There's a myth building up that the proposed but seriously opposed Northern Gateway pipeline is the only option to get oil from the oil sands to Asia.Not true. It's the most practical and likely the cheapest option, heading straight as an arrow from Edmonton through the northern B.C. interior to the port town of Kitimat.Here's the deal.We now produce 2.9 million barrels of oil a day (MBD) in Western Canada, about 60% of that from the oil sands.We can't come close to using that much - 2.1 million barrels are exported, fairly easily at the moment through existing pipelines, 99% of it heading to the Excited States.The source of our wealth? Do the math! At $100 a barrel, that's $210 million a day — or about $75 billion a year.By 2020, only eight years, we'll be up to 3.5 million barrels a day. Of that, 80% will be from the oil sands.The pipelines will get crowded. The last thing we want, as the principal beneficiaries of this thick black gooey stuff, ... Read the rest of entry »

Consistency, thy name is Earls - Weekly Dish review of Earls Tin Palace, originally appearing in the Edmonton Sun on Wed. March 21, 2012Arl

There’s a certain mantra that happens in this town every day.“Let’s meet for lunch.”“Sure. Where?”“I dunno, something different?”“Can’t think of anything ... let’s go to Earls.”Ah, Earls.The city’s default restaurant. Top of mind, top of choice.And with good reason.Earls — seven locations in town now — has been a name in this town since 1982.The now 63-strong restaurant chain started in Edmonton, circa 1982, as a playful beer, burgers and toy parrots joint on Jasper Avenue around 122 Street.Earls, 30 years later, continues to make good food.It was good when it was burgers, it’s still good with its pastas and steaks, trendy wok stuff, interesting sandwiches and nods to ethnicity.To review Earls, our party visited Edmonton’s Earls classic.Earls Tin Palace opened in 1986 at Jasper and 119 Avenue and is now among the most enduring restaurants in town.The Tin Palace has much going for it, mostly the location: just off downtown in resident-rich Oliver, plus oodles of indoor and outdoor space, plus free parking.The ... Read the rest of entry »

Micralyne Inc. seeks restructuring of debt load

Micralyne Inc., thea highly-regarded  Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) manufacturer and developer on Edmonton's South Side, officially announced on March 8, 2012 to its suppliers that it is "pursuing restructuring with its creditors."  Micralyne has about 160 employees.

Big Bucks for young Albertans: Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Friday, March 9, 2012

A friend of mine had a kid finishing high school. He was a smart, practical young man with a good attitude, but he didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do. They made a practical decision. They looked at the projected earnings for grads from NAIT’s technology programs. Off he went to enroll in the course with the highest earning potential. Good decision. Three to four years after graduation, he’s an electrical engineering technologist. Now 24, this young man is pulling down $100,000 a year in base salary, half that again in overtime. Plus benefits. Welcome to Alberta, 2012, where young adults – with the right diploma and a willingness to work – are often making $100,000 a year. There’s cause for concern – too much money, too fast, too young, unrealistic expectations, and so on. But as long as the building boom continues in the oilsands (and it will continue, with $20 billion being spent on construction alone in 2012) , skilled ... Read the rest of entry »

Top chef puts mark on Murrieta's - Graham Hicks' Weekly Dish review of Murrieta's West Coast Bar + Grill, originally published in the Edmonton Sun, March 14, 2012

Shane Chartrand is newly arrived as the executive chef of Murrieta’s West Coast Bar + Grill on Whyte Avenue. The Fantasyland Hotel’s L2 Grill, under Shane’s direction, was named in  this column  as the city’s top restaurant in 2011. New management at the hotel led to a change in culinary philosophy not compatible with Shane’s talent. Fortunately, the executive chef job at Murrieta’s came vacant. Shane was head-hunted for the position. While Murrieta’s is part of a three-restaurant group – with Murrieta’s in Calgary and Canmore – the owner believes each chef should have full rein over his or her kitchen. The Weekly Dish went to dine at the “new” Murrieta’s last weekend, not realizing Chartrand’s spring menu, his first, was still weeks away. Not to worry, we were offered a “sneak peek” at the menu to come, with pricing comparable to the current offerings. Oh boy … a w ... Read the rest of entry »

Fear of fracking in the oil and gas biz

Here's the best story I've read to date explaining what "fracking" - the new technology that is unlocking heretofore unobtainable oil and gas out of "conventional" oil and gas fields - is all about. From the Globe & Mail, Sat. March 10, 2012 edition,http: "Fear of fracking: How public concerns put an energy reniassance at risk." And it's a considered review of the environmental worries around fracking. Seems to me there is a quite simple solution to immediate fracking concerns, that all the underground explosions are upsetting the natural order of things in the sub-stratas, a fear that contaminates could leak into clean-water underground acquifers. Whether this fear is justified is a whole different story. Most fracking happens hundreds, if not thousands of metres below the water zones that play into the Earth's ecological cycles. Responsible governments should simply impose no-drill precautionary safety zones - at whatever distances the scientists agree upon - around all hamlets, villages, towns and citi ... Read the rest of entry »

Little Turkish Delight: Graham Hicks' Weekly Dish review of Sofra Restaurant originally published in the Edmonton Sun, March 7, 2012

After a string of superlative Edmonton dining spot reviews, of East, Corso 32, Culina Mill Creek and Cafe Amore, the Weekly Dish has run into a major disappointment.Sofra, the much-praised, cute but elegant Turkish restaurant just south of MacEwan University, is not what it is cracked up to be.On a Saturday, before the 50-seat restaurant had filled, service was slow and somewhat shoddy.The food was OK, but by no means lip-smacking. The bill reflected champagne prices ($25 to $30 for the fish/meat entrees) for beer food.I was surprised, given this restaurant’s good reputation, from both word-of-mouth and on the Urban Spoon website.Sofra sits in a storefront unit within one of the city’s first downtown condo complexes, on 106 Street south of 104 Avenue.It’s actually a dull building, but to walk into Sofra is to be transported into a pleasant, lofty, bi-level bistro — with hardwood floors, a burnt apricot colour scheme and a balcony with private dining spaces.In the middle, guarding the stairs to basement washro ... Read the rest of entry »

Still delectable: Graham Hicks' Weekly Dish review of Culina Mill Creek - originally published in the Edmonton Sun on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2012

Are you slightly apprehensive when you return to a restaurant with wonderful memories from a year or two before? Has the restaurant changed hands? Is the chef still on top of his or her game? Does the owner still take pride in the kitchen and service?Over the years, we've had two or three excellent evenings at Culina Mill Creek.But it had been a while. And executive chef/owner Brad Lazarenko has been busy elsewhere, restlessly partnering in other culinary ventures in Edmonton and B.C.Would Culina be forgotten?The good news, the beguilingly great news, is Culina Mill Creek's high standards have not dropped a whit.In fact, Lazarenko has such trust in Culina Mill Creek's chef de cuisine Christine Sandford that the upcoming spring menu, a complete overhaul, will be all hers.I love the look of Culina Mill Creek. It's equal parts rumpus room/taverna, with dated stucco walls and the occasional '70s swag lights piercing the gloom.One enters through a curtain-created vestibule into a compact space Ñ there's only 42 se ... Read the rest of entry »
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