A 3D printer, a drone simulator, and gadgets galore: Where to find them in Calgary

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Want to see what it’s like flying a high-end drone? There’s a simulator for that!

I was hunting all over my house for my power cord — my one lonely, last Apple power cable— and realized I’d left it at work.  My phone was about to die, and I figured it was well past time for me to get a second cable.  I was dreading having to go to the mall and fight summer vacation traffic, so I googled “Apple retailer” to see if there was a better way to get that cord.

When London Drugs came up I felt a bit dumb, “oh RIGHT! I thought, “London Drugs has a huge electronics department,” but I didn’t realize they also carried Apple products.

I grew up in Ontario but lived in BC for many years, and out on the coast, London Drugs is people’s main source for electronics, cameras, computers and gadgets.

It sounds weird that a “drug” store should be the go-to destination for tech gear.  Maybe it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that London Drugs carries just about anything you could want that uses power or batteries.

That got me thinking about London Drugs, so I got in touch with Assistant Store Manager Dan Do to see about getting the 411 on the store people might not have at the top of their minds.

Computers, Electronics, and yes, drugs
Dan gave me a tour of the Royal Oak store in northwest Calgary.  It’s kind of the opposite of a traditional electronics store.  It’s warmer and brighter for starters.  And yes, there’s also a huge part of the store devoted to the eponymous ‘drugs’, health and beauty, and household goods.
Living in BC, and something I’d totally forgotten, was the handiness of being able to pop in to London Drugs, pick up some specialty batteries, a camera peripheral or whatever, then grab a few things from the drug store.  It’s one stop and two items checked off my to-do list.IMG_6311

But back to the computer and electronics department. The day I was there, there were lots of staff on the floor.  Anyone looking blankly at the cameras, or the Fitbits for instance, had a friendly employee swoop in and ask if they needed help.

The Fitbits were one of the things that first caught my eye when I walked in, as part of a display with the Aria scale.  The whole line was there for people to look at, touch and get to know. Indeed, London Drugs has a lot of other wearables available too.

Drone Simulator in-Store
Speaking of displays, Dan led me over to a really cool set up that has to be a huge draw.  There’s a drone flight simulator right inside the store!  As part of the promotional set up for the ultra high end Solo drone by 3DR, there’s a controller right next to one of the drones.  You can test it out and see how easy it is to fly (if you let go of the controls, it doesn’t crash, it hovers!).  Test flight over New York’s Statue of Liberty?  Yes, please! The Solo is built to work with GoPro cameras, something else you can pick up at London Drugs.

3D Printers?  They’re HERE

The Tiertime Up Mini 3D printer spit out this tiny dinosaur model.
The Tiertime Up Mini 3D printer spit out this tiny dinosaur model. You can buy this printer on the spot if the demo wows you.

If you want to get wowed some more, the London Drugs store I visited in Royal Oak also has a functioning 3D printer.  Yes, that technology you’ve been hearing about on the news is actually available at your corner London Drugs store.
The Tiertime Up Mini works just like a regular home printer, except with the obvious distinction of printing objects in 3D.  While the store model is for demonstrations, the printers are in stock, so if you want one, you can probably take one home on the spot.

While we’re on the subject of printers, London Drugs has a full selection.  Printers are so inexpensive now, it’s shocking.  The store also had a large scale Epson Surecolour art-quality printer for sale, which is a perfect back to school must-have for an art or photography student, or an amateur photographer. (Not to mention, the photo lab in the back can also do professional photo processing and printing and can print up to 44” prints in house! Plus there’s often free shipping. But I digress.)

While I was looking over all the amazing electronics and computer equipment at London Drugs, Dan reminded me they’re a Canadian company.  I really love dealing with Canadian companies.  It’s probably some sort of underlying patriotism, but it’s nice to know, and makes me feel good about spending my money here. That’s when I also found out London Drugs must be some kind of great employer, because one of the employees I talked to on my tour had worked at the store for 12 years, and one had been there 30 years, and apparently that kind of long-term service is common! Something else I didn’t know? London Drugs has been in Alberta for 30 years.

IMG_6317Back on the tour, I got a look at the computers and tablets all on display and ready to play with.  From the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad line, and even London Drugs own computer brand, Certified Data, there’s a whole host of computers to pick from. Plus, if you ever need serious help with your computer, there’s an emergency service centre right in all stores.  That means you can bring your computer or tablet in and get it triaged, and fixed, all right on site in many cases. There are even Apple certified technicians in-store, meaning you can skip the Genius Bar, and the frenzy at the mall!

Skip the mall and your your Apple here
Speaking of Apple, I was really wowed at the full selection of Apple products at London Drugs. I’m a full-on Apple girl, so being able to pop into London Drugs to service my MacBook, or pick up Apple-authorized cords, cables or screen protectors or cases for my iPad is super convenient. (Because let’s be honest, those cables you buy from the internet will stop functioning with your Apple products after a few months and you’ll need new ones anyway. Take my advice and just buy the real thing.  It’s more expensive, yes, but you’ll have it for the life of the product.)

Back to my cable conundrum.  I finally decided to place my order on line and pick up in store later that day, another great London Drugs option that means you won’t need to waste a trip to a store only to find they’re fresh out of what you need.

So now London Drugs is top of mind for me again when it comes to electronics, computers and gadgets. And I can thank them for the power I needed (and the inspiration) to write up today’s blog, right from my fully re-powered phone!

3D Printing Demo TOMORROW:
Looking for more info about 3D Printing?  Looking beyond the novelty of 3D printing, noted expert and enthusiast John Biehler will be visiting the 130th Avenue SE London Drugs in Calgary for a talk and demonstration, and the public is welcome to attend.
WHEN: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more info, call the store, located at 4701 – 130th Avenue. SE, Calgary. 403-571-4964

A sampling of what London Drugs can do with its 3D printer.
A sampling of what London Drugs can do with its 3D printer.

This blog post has been sponsored by London Drugs.

Watching Your Health? Qardio Arm Blood Pressure Monitor Review

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It’s a pain, and a time-suck going to the doctor.  You have to find parking.  You sit and wait.. and wait… and wait some more.

What if you could take care of some of the routine tasks you see a doctor for, at home, WITH the permission of your doctor? A new gadget I found can help you do that.

The QardioArm is an at-home blood pressure cuff that works just like the one in your doctor’s office. You just strap it to your arm, pull the velcro closure tight, and use your smartphone to take a reading.

How it worksIMG_5105
Download the Qardio app for iPhone or Android, and set up an account.  It’s quick and takes barely any time.  Once you have an account, you unroll the cuff, and slip the QardioArm over your arm, then cinch it tight.  A small box on the outside of the cuff holds all the technology. When you’re ready, tap the app to tell it to take a reading.  The cuff inflates, just like the one at your doctor’s office, and in a minute you have your blood pressure and heart rate, plus more:

What it measures
>Measures your systolic, diastolic blood pressure as well as heart rate, includes irregular heart beat detection.
>Tracks your measurements over time with smart charts, trends and stats.
>Supports multiple users.
>Fully integrates with the Qardio product family using the companion Qardio App which automatically stores all your data in Qardio’s secure cloud.
>Allows you to share your measurements and progress automatically with your doctor and family.

The app keeps track of your readings, and can chart your progress over time. It’s infinitely portable, rolling up inside the cuff, which also acts as a cover.  Plus it’s small enough to take just about anywhere with you.  Qardio says, “unlike traditional blood pressure monitors, QardioArm wireless BP monitor is cleverly designed with an integrated cuff serving as a protective cover. It’s portable, stylish and blends seamlessly into your daily life.”

IMG_5108QardioArm also has some cool features, like its “Places” function, which allows you to monitor your blood pressure across multiple locations and, as Qardio explains it, helps you “understand how your lifestyle impacts your health.”

The Friends and Family function lets you follow others or allows others to follow you, “creating a support network for better health outcomes,” according to the company. Using the app you can also set reminders, notifications or track your monthly stats and averages.

The device also comes in an array of fun colours, so it doesn’t look like a medical device.  It looks.. cool.

Is it accurate?
I’m not a doctor.  And I have no major medical problems that require me to take my blood pressure every day.  So with that out front, let me say I can only recommend this gadget on the basis of it’s technology, and ease of use.  I can make no claims about its accuracy.  For any medical advice or recommendations about this device, you can contact Qardio directly, and/or speak to your doctor.

On the subject of the Arm’s accuracy, Qardio says,  “QardioArm smart blood pressure monitor is clinically validated to accurately measure your systolic and diastolic blood pressure along with your heart rate. Easily perform a triple measurement average for the most precise feedback. QardioArm also has irregular heart beat detection and will store the data, providing your doctor with more actionable insights into your heart health.”

The Review, from a patient
I lent the device to a friend who does have a need to measure blood pressure a few times each day.  He found the device very easy to use and quite accurate, saying he appreciated that the app will coach you through the process of taking readings, as well as showing what the readings mean; whether they’re in a normal range or high, or into hypertension territory.

He took measurements using both the blood pressure cuff his doctor had provided him, and the QardioArm.  I’ll attach a copy of his readings over a few days.  The readings he got from each device were not identical, but they’re very close.

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My friend loved that he was able to get his readings on his smartphone and then text them to his doctor right away.  His doctor appreciated that too.  If my pal had one complaint, it’s that he found the device itself a bit bulky and a touch hard to apply with one hand.  He says he was able to get used to it but it does require a bit of dexterity. His doctor told him he was happy with the readings it was giving him.

Overall

I found the QardioArm very easy to use and set up. The data is easy to read, and fully shareable.  If you have aging parents, or know someone who needs to keep a closer eye on their health, this is a great gadget to have.  Plus it’s simple enough that even a non-tech savvy person could operate it with ease; if you can use a smartphone, you can use the QardioArm.

You can get one of these little devices for about $124  from Qardio’s website or from Walmart, Staples, London Drugs, or Amazon.

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The winner of the Ring Video Doorbell from Ring and Tech Talk!

I’d like to congratulate winner Gerda Cones! <applause!> Gerda is getting one Ring Video Doorbell, courtesy of Ring.

Please watch the blog for upcoming contests and giveaways.  And if you have any ideas for upcoming tech segments, blogs, or products you’re wondering about, please reach out and make a request.  Some of my best ideas come from YOU!

Installing and using the smartphone-controlled Osram Lightify Flex LED kit

Osram Lightify KitI’ve been looking for an easy under-counter lighting solution that can brighten up my dark kitchen, without requiring a degree in electrical engineering.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the Osram Lightify Flex system was to install. Even better is the option to control the lights using my iPhone, and being able to change their colours!

There’s a full review coming soon, meantime, check out my video showing what’s in the kit, how to install it, and what it can do for you.

If you have any feedback on the Lightify line, I’d love to hear it.  Add your comments below.

Presence App turns old smartphone or tablet into a wifi video surveillance system: Review

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.28.57 AMHome security systems can be expensive, cumbersome, and pain to install. However I’m happy to report that I’ve recently been testing several home security options where installation is quick and easy (read my review of the Ring video doorbell), and operation of the systems is a snap.

The free Presence app is one of those. Presence turns your spare, unused, or out of date smart phones or tablets into wireless video monitors. How? You plug them into a power source, prop them up in a room you may want to keep an eye on and they connect to Wi-Fi. From there, you use the presence app on another phone to remotely access the video feed. You can watch what’s going on in your home, garage, or business, either obviously, or surreptitiously. The presence app has a neat feature where you can dim the screen, but the app stays running in the background, so no one will know it’s watching. Great if you need to use it as a nanny cam or similar.

Features

IMG_6011Presence has a few interesting features. For one, you can load multiple cameras into your stream, meaning you can have as many eyes as you need. You can control the camera functions remotely from pretty much anywhere in the world you can get access to the Internet; whether on another smart device, or on a desktop.  The app also allows motion detection recording, meaning if it detects anything moving in your home, it will start making a movie of it, and you can even set how long it should record for, and the time between recordings, so repeated emotions can be eliminated  as any source of concern.  You can also adjust the sensitivity of the motion recording, and the Presence app also gives you access to your smart phone or tablet microphone, meaning you can hear what’s going on inside your home as well.There’s also an option to creat your own customized rules for using the app.

Presence also has an interesting/creepy feature called Twitter auto sharing. When enabled, Presence will automatically post motion detection videos or  thumbnail photos to your Twitter account on your behalf. Presents says “it’s a great way to share interesting moments with the world while building a following”. I think the potential for posting stuff you don’t want for the world to see is enormous and terrifying. But that’s just me. You maybe wondering how presence makes any money by giving away the service for free. I know I was. Presence actually also offers more traditional security and home safety devices, as a bundle from its website. Those devices can integrate with the Wi-Fi cameras from your old smart devices giving you a full spectrum home security system.

Privacy Concerns

Presents addresses any security or privacy concerns in its privacy policy. If you’re wondering what happens to any video that’s recorded in your home, here’s the answer.

“1.4 Digital Video Our Presence application includes a feature which allows you to use a smartphone or tablet as a video monitoring device. Videos, Audio, and Images are captured locally and automatically by your device when triggered by motion or audio detection events, sent over a secure channel to our server, and then immediately encrypted while being securely stored in our servers for future playback via streaming. Video, Audio, and Images may be archived even if they do not appear in your account interface. Each video has time and date information as well as unique identifier to link it to your account and device. Video and audio is stored in common video file formats such as MOV or MP4 but may change as needed for efficiency or to adapt to emerging standards. Images are typically stored in .jpg format. Unless you select a different permissions or sharing level, then by default all your content is privately stored encrypted on disk using AES-128 encryption, to prevent anyone but you or anyone you’ve given access to your account from accessing it.”

Now, is there some chance your camera could be hacked remotely? We’ve seen that happen with several baby monitors recently (read more here). I’ve gotten in touch with the folks at Presence, and here are their answers to my two most burning questions, straight from President & CTO David Moss:

Erin: What measures are there in place to prevent an unauthorized person hacking into my video feed?

David: “Presence implements a much more advanced method of security than standard IP cameras.  First, your username and password is require to gain access to any camera or device in your Presence account.  Next, cameras will not begin streaming content until they receive a command from our cloud servers to start streaming.  All communications to and from the cloud (including the command to initiate streaming) are encrypted with 2048-bit SSL, and delivered to the device over a channel that is bi-directionally authenticated with a cryptographic token.  This level of communication is more secure than a banking website.  The biggest security risk is divulging your own password to someone else, or selecting a weak password.”

Erin: Would there be any way for, say, a Presence employee to surf people’s video feeds at will?  i.e. is there any potential for my video feed to be viewed by anyone other than myself, and those I choose to authorize?

David: “No – your video streams and video feeds are accessible only by you.  In fact, we architected the cloud server FabrUX which powers Presence (read more), to prevent everyone, including our own employees, from being able to access users’ video feeds or motion detection videos.  Motion detection videos are stored in the cloud encrypted with AES-128, using the same methods used in banking websites to store credit card information.  Because of the level of security we’ve implemented, all of us here at People Power Company (creators of Presence) are comfortable having Presence cameras throughout our own homes.”

The Verdict

I like this app a lot. It has great functionality, excellent options, and seems like something I’m definitely going to have set up next time I’m away from home. For now, Presence will be watching the dog while I’m at work. The app gets 4 1/2 out of five stars from reviews on the Apple App Store. You can also get more info from the Presence website.

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