Gadget Pick of the Day: Belkin’s MIXIT hides handy extra charging cables

IMG_7404 With the battery life of many phones in a sad state, it’s imperative to carry extra cables or a portable battery pack. But they can be heavy, or clunky, or get tangled up inside your bag.

Belkin has come up with a WAY better option that I think is going to be a huge hit.  There are three smart additions to their MIXIT line of cables.


The Fancy Option



Made from natural leather, the MIXIT Lightning to USB Tassel is a chic handbag charm that hides a premium metallic charging cable in its tassels. Belkin says, “its fringe design takes a purse from bleak to chic, keeps the cable tidy and prevents it from getting tangled.” I also love the chic lobster clip that makes it easy to attach and swap it from bag to bag.

This beauty comes in greyish white, brown/beige, coral and black for $34.99USD.


The Functional & Sleek Pick

This is the on all the guys will want. The MIXIT Lightning to USB Keychain has a durable stick-shaped aluminum body and can easily be slipped onto a keychain, so that it’s handy when you need a charge. The charging cable is a stick that rotates 360 degrees out of the cover for easy charging. The aluminum body  (available in different colour metals for $34.99) also protects the Lightning connector from damage when not in use.



The Pop of ColourIMG_7401

“Boldly and functionally designed”, according to Belkin’s press materials, the MIXIT Lightning to USB Clip is the another cool take on the hidden cable concept. The carabiner-style clip latches quickly and securely to any backpack or bag. The braided multicolour cable comes in fun colours like blue and mint, “feisty pink” and peach, fresh purple and mint, or minimal black and white. The cable slides up into the cup-shaped cover to avoid tangles, then pulls out when you need it. It too is $34.99.

These Belkin cables are Apple approved

These cables are Apple approved, so you know they’re still going to work on your iDevices even months down the road.  I love these and think they’re so versatile and handy, I’m going to get a bunch to give as Christmas gifts. Click the links above to purchase or get more info.


New Qwerkywriter is the COOLEST keyboard you’ll ever see

qwerkywriter tabletAs a writer and journalist, I’ve been attached to a keyboard as long as I’ve been employed. While I missed the typewriter-in-the-newsroom era, I still understand the nostalgia of using one.  I first learned to type (self-taught, age 7) on a Smith Corona in the 80’s.  There’s something more  satisfying about the clomp-clop of typewriter keys mashing out your words, rather than the soft phush-phush of a regular computer keyboard..

That’s why I think the Qwerkywriter keyboard is going to be huge. This keyboard has multiple uses; you can use it with your laptop or desktop, or with your tablet or phone.

Qwerkywriter Features

Qwerkywriter is a solid aluminum metal (but not heavy!) keyboard that connects wirelessly via Bluetooth to iPhones, iPads, iMacs, MacPros, Macbooks, Android Tablets Devices, Windows Tablets, and more.It also has a functional carriage return bar that works as an ENTER key . But it’s also programmable, remembering up to 5 characters. (Qwerkywriter says it works by holding FN+Return Bar to record up to 5 characters).  The Qwerkywriter features a built-in stand that can accommodate tablets up to 10 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. (iPads, Samsung devices, Surface 3, and more are all supported)

qwerky keyboard

It’s a really cool experience using this keyboard.  I absolutely love the feel of the industrial strength mechanical switches that give the device a unique clacky feel and sound.  I will say, it takes a bit of getting used to to operate, in that the keys are a different shape from the square computer keyboard keys, and the spacing and distance is also different.  Not to mention punching typewriter keys requires just a touch more force than a younger generation will be familiar with.


While the Qwerkywriter is super fun to use, it looks really really nice in my home office.  In fact, I’m thinking of painting a frame on the wall and making a space to hang it when it’s not in use so it can serve as beautiful retro art when its not in use.

qwerkywriter 2

Get the Qwerkywriter from the company’s website for $329USD.

qwerkywriter tablet

Learning the history of Calgary’s Barron Building through Beakerhead 

IMG_7205Not many organizations could take a stripped to the bricks, abandoned art deco era office building and into something cool that people want to see. But Calgary’s art science and engineering mashup known as Beakerhead is doing just that.

In this case, they’ve taken Calgary’s Barron Building and turned it into a chic art showcase space.

The art is really really cool. But the inside of the barren building is also pretty neat all on its own. First to the art then to the architecture.

On display in the building is Peter William Holden’s Solenoid.  It’s a sound and light installation featuring tap shoes which dance on their own and tap to food beats under white spot lights.

Solenoid art installation

The other art installation features Nanoleaf lightbulbs, which I’ve written about before. In this case they are set up in an abandoned warehouse style space inside mirrored triangle towers. They reflect crazily with in the spires to create a really cool environment. It’s like new and shiny technology contrasted with old and spartan space.


Barren Barron Building becomes temporary art space

Now to the venue for this crazy art installation. Strategic Group in Calgary opened up the historic Art Deco era building for Beakerhead this year. For  years  this  historic  building  has  been  hidden  behind  locked  doors.  Now,  thanks  to  the  Strategic  Group,  it  is  once  again  open  to  the  public. The building itself has been stripped to the bricks inside, and as you can see in photos is very bare.

BarronBuilding-Art  Deco  office  towers  are few and far between  in  Calgary.    It’s said that a local entrepreneur named Jacob Bell Barron found a lack of office space in the city, and set about correcting it. With the help of architect  Jack  Cawston, he had plans drawn up for an 11-storey tower with Art Deco lines at  610-­‐8th  Avenue which was built in 1949 and finished by 1951.barron
Insider Access Tour
I got a rare chance to tour the hidden areas of the building, with an authorized escort. The most noticeable aspect of the building is the now-defunct Uptown Theatre.
You could shoot a horror movie in the lobby alone; it’s dark, dusty and abandoned, but with hints of the Art Decor grandeur that made the building historic.
IMG_7245Gorgeous railings, and architectural details are still visible, along with beautiful deco-style light fixtures. Two theatres take up the first two floors of the building, which Strategic Group says will eventually be removed.
Abandoned movie theatre.

One theatre sits in ghostly darkness, with row upon row of seats folded permanently. The other theatre has gorgeous sculpted lines, and is lit with construction floodlights.

 IMG_7276-0We also got access to the old projector room, which is still filled with what looks to be a 1980’s era film projector that’s the size of a smart car. No film remains inside, but scraps of manuals, canisters, and a few 70’s era chairs are tipped acrosss the room like toys.
The Projector.
The Projector.
Floors three through ten are basic bricks and lathe, flooded with light from huge windows. Architecturally, these floors are barren, but for the stylized “B” in mosaic tile just outside the elevators. IMG_7167
The space is cavernous, in the way empty pre-built office spaces can be before someone puts in drywall, cubicles, closets and desks.
The Barron Building was originally  named “Mobil  Oil  Building” after one of its biggest tenants, and this is said to mark the beginning of Calgary’s status as the oil industry’s core in Canada. (Other notable tenants in the oil industry  have included  Mobil  Oil,  Halliburton,  Shell,  Socony, Vacuum  Oil,  Sun  Oil,  Trans  Canada  Pipelines,and even Smithbilt Hats.)
There are some neat features still inside the building; a safe room and a massive floor safe.  The safe room appears to be a former vault where film was stored, if the reel emblem on the door can be taken as a clue. While the door sits open, inside the room is just bare bricks and some wood.  If it was a safe or fire-proof room before, it isn’t any longer.
 In another room on the main floor sits a massive carved-footed floor safe.  It’s locked up tight. I wonder if it’s empty?

One of the most interesting floors is the penthouse on 11.  It has expansive views of the city.  But what makes it truly interesting is that it used to be living quarters for first, JB Barron and his dog until his death.  His sons then sold the building in 1981 to a Swiss family. Eventually Blake O’Brien bought the building in 1992 after Calgary’s real estate market fell on hard times (sound familiar?) and he was able to pick up the Art Deco relic for a paltry $250,000. He was the next resident of the soaring penthouse suite, which featured a  Frank  Lloyd  Wright-inspired roof garden.

While the garden’s location is still visible, it’s now filled in with unruly grass and broken glass.

IMG_7225IMG_7224In 2007 the  building  was  purchased  by  Strategic  Group, who are preparing for a massive renovation of the building.


Some type of metal storage canister in the old projector room.
An old mint green dumbwaiter.
Old office space in the basement
Massive giant boiler in the basement of the Barron Building
Old fixtures still intact.
Old fixtures still intact.


-with thanks to Beakerhead for sharing some of the historical information, and thanks to Strategic Group for the behind-the-scenes look.

The power of mushrooms! How fungi can replace styrofoam, at Beakerhead #YYC

mushroom 4Beakerhead is Calgary’s celebration of science, art and engineering.  For five days, there are myriad events all over Calgary, from massive art installations, the Ted-style Talks, plus food/chemistry events and even engineering feats.

One of those is In/flux, an art installation that uses mushroom bricks as faux-construction material.

In/flux is created by two Calgary engineers, who designed and built a castle-style structure with moveable walls from mushroom bricks.

mushroom1What are “mushroom bricks”?  They’re the creation of U.S company Ecovative, which can grow and shape these bricks to take any form. Using agricultural fibres like corn husks, and hay or straw, they mix these fibres with mushroom spores, pack them into a mould, and allow the spores to grow.  They form what’s called mycelium. which is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like fibres. These fibres are very strong, meaning the bricks hold together well. After the mycelium fibres have filled every nook and cranny, the bricks are heated to stop the growing process. The bricks are theyn ready to use.

While the Beakerhead installation looks like a structure, the bricks aren’t structural at all.  They’re mainly used for packaging materials and insulation, so I guess you could say they’re not necessarily bricks either. The company has sold them to manufacturers to use to keep washing machines from moving in their transport crates, and as wall panels of eco-friendly insulation.

While the bricks will biodegrade when exposed to water or the elements, kept dry they’re stable indefinitely.

The In/Flux structure at the corner of Memorial Drive and 10 St NW is a beautiful example of art, science and engineering, and it’s meant to show off an alternative to styrofoam packaging.  Because with mushroom blocks, once you’re done with the package, you just toss the blocks into your composter.


Beakerhead celebrates science! 

 It’s not even officially underway yet and already it’s cool! I spent this afternoon volunteering for Calgary’s art, science and engineering mash-up Beakerhead.

Just one of the amazing visual events is Intrude at Central Memorial Park. It’s a set of giant inflatable bunnies you can’t look away from.

They’re the brainchildren of artist Amanda Parer who was here to supervise today’s installation.

Amanda has taken her art installation to countries across the globe, including Belgium, England, France and the USA.

Amanda is Australian, and likes to work with the natural world, “with startlingly beautiful creatures enlarged and frozen within their chosen habitats” Her website goes on to explain, “When viewing one of these iconic, mostly feral animals inhabiting a beautifully haunting landscape, the environmental message is enhanced by the artist’s finely crafted traditional technique in any of her chosen mediums such as painting, sculpture and public installation.”

While these Intrude bunnies are super cool against a blue blue sky they’re going to be even cooler at night.


Set up on Tuesday involved unpacking the bunnies, inflating the canvas part way then climbing inside through a small zippered opening to lay sandbags for stability and set up lights for later. The bunnies were later tied down for safety. Being inside was like being inside a bright, white tent.

 Pop over to the park and have a look before Beakerhead wraps Sunday.

Open to the public September 16 – 20

  • Wednesday, September 16 to Saturday, September 19,  10:00 am – 10:00 pm
  • Special A Trip Down the Rabbit Hole party on Thursday, September 17, 6:00 – 10:00 pm
  • Sunday, September 20, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Nanoleaf Lighting as seen on CTV Tech Talk!

bloom glassOn CTV Morning Live’s Tech Talk segment I told you to come here to enter for a chance to win a Nanoleaf Lighting Kit. ***THE CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED


The winner is Samantha van Gorp. Congratulations, Samantha!

Thanks for entering, and I’ll be drawing a winner within 3 days of contest closing. By entering this contest you agree you have read and accept the rules and are to abide by them.

Here’s how to enter:

–> Choose one of the following methods or websites below, you only need to enter once.

On this website: 

Write a (nice) comment on this blog in the comments section below, or on the Nanoleaf Light blog article. Use the keyword I provided on TV.

OR On Twitter:

Follow me on Twitter, (so I’ll be able to DM you if you win! No DM, no win possible), then tweet me  @erinLYYC to tell me how much you’d like to win the Nanoleaf Light Kit. **Use the keyword I provided on TV.

Copy this sample tweet if you like: “I saw @ErinLYYC on TV, and I want to win a @Nanoleaf Light Kit #(insert keyword here) #tech #YYC”

OR On Facebook:

Go to my Facebook Page, “Like” it, and write a short comment on the Ring Contest section. Per FB rules, you need to do both to be properly entered.  **Use the keyword I provided on TV.

The Fine Print:

I’ll pick one winner at random from among all the social media and website entries! Only 1 entry per person please; duplicate entries will be discarded. Contest closes at 11:59pm MT tonight, September 8, 2015. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries received. Not valid in Quebec.

Winner will recieve a Nanoleaf Bloom bulb [charcoal black, arctic leaf, or arctic white], Nanoleaf Tee, and Nanoleaf tote bag and keychain, courtesy of Nanoleaf. Nanoleaf reserves the right to make modifications to this prize pack based on availability. bears no responsibility for prizes not delivered, delayed or misdirected. Prize will be shipped direct to recipient by Nanoleaf.

I’ll get in touch with the winner via same somed/website platform by which they entered. Non-response within 48 hours, and I’ll redraw under same 48 hour timeframe until I get a winner.

Winner’s name will be posted to this website and social media after the drawing.

If for any reason the Internet portion of the Contest is not capable of running as planned, including infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures or any other causes beyond the control of Company which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct of this Contest, Company reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, and to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Contest. Prize may not be exactly as show in accompanying photographs.

By entering this contest you agree you have read and accept the rules and are to abide by them.

They may look crazy, but Nanoleaf makes the world’s most energy efficient light bulbs

nanoleaf lineEvery so often you come across a cool tech device that blows your mind, and makes you rethink what you thought about a gadget. In this case, it’s an everyday object that’s been re-imagined: the light bulb.

Since Edison’s day, light bulbs have been largely the same shape and structure: glass chambers with tiny wire filament inside, heated to glowing by an electrical current. While in modern days we’ve seen the introduction of compact fluorescents, and LED lights, the lowly light bulb has been largely the same, until now.

Enter Nanoleaf. The small startup, with a University of Toronto grad at its helm, began life on Kickstarter. Hoping to raise $30,000 the Nanoleaf team shot past their fundraising goal in 24 hours (2 hours, to be exact!), going on to get over $192,000 pledged to their goal of reinventing the light bulb. These can-do inventors are coming to Beakerhead, the art science and engineering festival in Calgary (September 16-20, 2015).

A whole new look: no rounded edges, no glass

So what did Nanoleaf do? For starters, they changed the shape of their light bulb from rounded, to dodecahedron — a sphere-like shape made from 12 flat plains.

“Our patented Laser-scoring process allows us to fold PCB just like a piece of origami, giving us the freedom to ‘think outside the bulb’ when designing Nanoleaf One,” explains Nanoleaf’s website.

Then they imbedded the Nanoleaf One with dozens of tiny LEDs, so much the better for being able to throw out of a ton of strong, clear and long lasting light.

“Heat robs LEDs of efficiency and longevity,” the website foes on to explain, “that’s why we use individual, tiny, pure copper heat sinks for each LED instead of the less efficient aluminum of competing bulbs. It costs more, but it’s just one of the many ways we achieve such high efficiency and long life.”

Printed circuit board or PCB unfolded, and before becoming a Nanoleaf bulb

Then they decided to eschew glass altogether, and cut those flat plains from computer circuit board, aka Printed Circuit Board, or PCB. PCBs are made from something called “FR-4”. It’s a woven glass fabric with epoxy resin and other materials like plastic and copper sheets.

So why reinvent the light bulb? Nanoleaf’s Sunny Han says, “In the beginning, the three co-founders Gimmy, Christian and Tom got together to create a solar product as a solution to relieving the global energy crisis. They wanted to add an energy efficient light bulb to go with the device. However, after searching the market, they couldn’t find any LED bulbs that were as energy efficient as they had hoped for. The more they looked into it, the more they realized just how big of an impact greener lighting could have on global energy consumption, so they decided to challenge the industry and create something better.”

“The world’s most energy efficient” bulbs, and they can back that up

Producing Nanoleaf bulbs.
Producing Nanoleaf bulbs.

Nanoleaf calls its bulbs “the world’s most energy efficient” and declares their bulbs will save you about $300 over its lifetime in energy cost alone.

So how do they back that up? Nanoleaf’s Han says “Lighting Facts – a program run by the U.S. Department of Energy to regulate industry standards – has certified our light bulbs as the most energy efficient in the world. With the Bloom’s efficacy levels reaching 120 lumens per watt, our bulbs are the most energy efficient out of over 33,000 other LED lights listed in their database.”

Nanoleaf says its bulbs are 87% more energy efficient than a regular incandescent, and will last 27 years, meaning you may never need to change the bulbs in your home, for as long as you live there! At about $30 a pop, they’re right in line with the price point of other high-efficiency bulbs.

Dimmable bulbs without the dimmer switch

With the invention of the Nanoleaf Bloom, the company set another benchmark: creating a dimmable light bulb that doesn’t need a dimmer switch.  Instead by clicking the switch on whatever fixture you have it in on and off, you gain the control to dim the bulb to whatever level you choose. That’s a lot of versatility in your home.

Nanoleaf is brighter than bright: but why?

The bulbs themselves are super bright, almost too bright, but thankfully they can be easily dimmed from any switch.  They’d be great in a workplace, workshop, garage or basement, because they’ll give you what feels like twice as much light as any other bulb. Why is that? Han tells me, “the Nanoleaf Bloom is indeed a 75W equivalent. It appears to be brighter because there is no diffuser being used. Most bulbs are made with frosted white glass, which ends up causing the light to appear less bright. Since we place the LED chips right on the exterior of the bulb, the result is a very bright light. The shape of the bulb also gives it true omni-directional lighting, something that the LED industry has struggled to achieve.”

The Nanoleaf bulbs are simple to use; if you can screw in a light bulb, you can up the efficiency in your home. Getting the hang of the dimming function might take a bit; you need to start with the bulb on, then do a quick on/off cycle and wait until the bulb has lowered to the level you like, then you turn it off and on again to set that level.

Nanoleaf has big news to sharenanoleaf

The Nanoleaf folks shared with me that they have a new connected product coming out – a starter pack that will come with a smart bulb and hub, similar to bulbs you’ve read about here, like Philips Hue, LIFX, and WeMo/Osram. Want more general info on what a smart bulb can do for you? Check out my blog post.

“The smart home space is growing every day, but most of the new products out there only focus on the ability to control your lights wirelessly. Nanoleaf’s introduction into the connected space will keep in line with our focus on energy efficiency and offer convenient connectivity, but is one-of-a-kind with its unique dodecahedron design. We want to make products that will create meaningful experiences for people – something that they will remember and take with them wherever they go.”

Advice for inventors?

It’s no small feat, inventing something truly new, but plenty of people with amazing ideas never get past having a doodle and a dream.  What advice does the Nanoleaf team have for other inventors out there who may have an idea for something great?

“The best advice would be to just go out there and do it!” says Han. “The longer you wait, the more you stall and the less likely it will happen. Our CEO, Gimmy Chu, says that he’s glad he didn’t know everything he knows now. Otherwise he would’ve been more hesitant to take that initial plunge. Having a great idea is a good starting point but you need to be ready for a lot of hard work, late nights and bumps in the road.”


See NanoLeaf at Beakerhead

You can see Nanoleaf in action.. for free, as part of Beakerhead’s Temporary Gallery of Lasting Impressions. Check Beakerhead’s website for info.

Its doors were locked for years, but thanks to Strategic Group, Calgary’s historic Barron Building is coming back to life as an engineering backdrop for contemporary art. During Beakerhead, it will be a sublime stage for SoleNoid, a western Canadian premiere by German artist, Peter William Holden, and Nanoleaf, an illuminated installation by internationally renowned Calgary-based artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, made of Nanoleaf light bulbs that can last up to 40 years. Nanoleaf is a Beakerhead for a Better World project, presented in partnership with Trico Charitable Foundation.

Get more info or order a Nanoleaf bulb from their website.

Erin is a Calgary-based tech writer, TV producer, gadget ninja and wanna-be geek.  Follow her on Twitter @ErinLYYC or check out and Like her Facebook news page.