I’m currently testing and reviewing the iRobot Braava jet 240 robotic mopping device. I’ve been skeptical about how well it can actually cover a floor area on its own. So I set up a time lapse camera to watch it work. Boy, was I surprised.
Against the parched Andean earth, flecks of brilliant white. Drawing closer, there are hundreds–thousands– of what look from afar like smooth,white pebbles here.
Woven among them, scraps of cotton bleached by decades of blinding sun, and piles of what appear to be broken sticks. But this sun-whitened debris is not at all what it seems; across this vast plain the remains of and unknown number of humans lie scattered in the open.
The wide landscapes continues unbroken as far as the eye can see, save for a couple of small palm huts. Those rickety structures are all that marks one of the largest graveyards in Latin America; Chauchilla Cemetery in Peru’s Nazca region.
Though the famous and mysterious Nazca lines get top billing here, the surreal quiet of the graveyard and its neglected condition is perhaps equally unforgettable.
For years the extinct Nazca people came to this pebbled plain to bury their dead, knowing they would be watched over and protected by the Andes mountains squatting in the distance. But even as the Nazca laid their family members here, grave robbers were never far behind them. The carefully wrapped bodies , lovingly appointed, were soon dug up; their bones and wrappings, even the odd tuft of human hair, left to scatter in the dry desert wind.
Underneath the palm huts, several graves have been properly excavated, and the mummies within exposed. They are bleached bundles that sit upright with skulls propped atop and jaws agape, stretched wide by decades of exposure and decay.
In many cases, dehydrated, leathery flesh is still visible, and lengths of hair coil to the floor. These mummies are remarkably preserved, still bound in their funerary wraps and looped in rope to hold them fast. All still clutch their knees in the traditional fetal burial position. This is the only archaeological site in Peru where mummies are displayed in their original graves.
Laid out alongside the bodies are stacks of human bones, most still unbroken, and the pile is topped with a collection of skulls. These tidy if gruesome piles are the exception, not the rule, for just outside this hut, something gets stuck in my sandal, and as I try to flick it free with one finger, I realize it is in fact a piece of human bone.
There are bone shards everywhere here. Just bending down, dozens are visible; raising my eyes, the trail leads all the way to the horizon.
Our tour guide tells us there are still many complete mummies under our feet. She twists her hair into a ponytail and, like a human divining rod, spreads her arms wide and begins walking towards some place only she seems to see.
Stopping a few meters from one of the huts, she crouches and begins sweeping sand from what would seem to be a random spot. Within seconds she has revealed the smooth surface of a kneecap, then a leg.
Shifting, she grinds away the grit of the sand to expose another skull, its eyes now wide to the bright afternoon sun. There is still clearly so much history here. But our guide, as if recovering memory of some taboo, hastily covers the bones again; these graves, she says, are not meant to be disturbed further.
Grave robbers cared nothing for the people whose eternal rest they were obviously ending. The bodies here have been yanked unceremoniously from the ground, stripped of valuables, clothing, jewels, and left to scatter with the help of birds, small animals, and the dry desert wind.
The land now bears these scars–pockmarks and potholes dot the landscape where sand has filled in the space left vacant by the removal of a mummy. The desecration so common, that hundreds of years ago, people stopped trying to undo the damage, and left the bones to their fate.
Bodies that were somehow missed by looters are amazingly well preserved and became naturally mummified by the dry desert climate. Those are the bundles that now sit propped at the bottom of these tombs.
This site was left to the whim of the winds and sporadic visitors until the late 90’s, when Peru’s government finally took over the site to begin preserving it. And though the thousands of bone shards and shredded scraps of cloth will be allowed to remain where they’ve scattered across this desert plain, those bodies that are left below are now afforded some measure of safety in final rest–if not peace from prying eyes.
Thinking of trying out some new smart devices in your home, but maybe you’re not sure what you should get first. Why not try something that fulfills two needs in one small device. The MiPow PlayBulb is a great place to start, since it’s a smart light bulb with a built in speaker.
Function 1: Smart LED Light
I’ve written about the PlayBulb line of lights before. The line, which includes the versatile Comet light strip, the Sphere portable lamp and the PlayBulb candle, is very easy to use, versatile, and works perfectly every time with no bugs or glitches.
This light bulb is no different. The long-lasting LED bulb has the ability to provide regular white light, or different coloured light, as well as dimming or brightening features and special effects. You control this light with your smart phone, but if you don’t want to be bothered with that sometimes, it works just fine as a regular light bulb too, and can be turned on and off with the wall switch.
The PlayBulb app allows you to control dozens of different shades, or recall quick colours with a single touch. You also have dimming and brightening abilities right in the app, and the bulb will remember the settings you left it on.
Playing with Colour: Intensity isn’t as strong
While the colour in this particular bulb is not as vibrant as some other coloured LED smart bulbs (Read my reviews of the Philips Hue Go lamp or the LIFX bulbs) , it’s still enough to provide some ambiance. My own personal thinking is that because more than half of this bulb is taken up by the speaker itself, that leaves only the top third of the bulb to kick out the light, so that’s what I blame for its lack of intensity.
In the photo at right, the Playbulb has been placed in a dining room light with two other bulbs. The Playbulb is in the center. In three different photos, you can see the top is red, middle is blue and the bottom photo shows green. While you can see subtle differences in colour, the colour is not intense enough to spread across the room.
Function 2: Speaker
The other function of this smart light bulb is what makes it truly unique. There is a small speaker built into the bulb. I found it most effective used in a overhead fixture in my dining room. There, the sound is distributed more evenly through the room, so it can be set low but still reach everyone sitting around the dining room table.
How to Connect the PlayBulb speaker
To connect the PlayBulb speaker to your music, you’ll need to go to your device’s Bluetooth menu, locate the bulb, and click ‘connect’. The bulb will emit it a short tone so you know it has been successfully paired. You’ll need to do this each time the bulb is switched off. Yes, that is a bit of a pain, but since it takes mere seconds it shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.
Once connected, just go to the music app on your device, select what to play, and you’ll hear your music coming from the speaker immediately.
Overall impressions of PlayBulb Colour
The truth about this speaker is that it’s not going to give you high fidelity sound. It will give you audio quality that is very similar to other wireless portable speakers that are out there; I’m talking about devices like the Jawbone mini Jambox for example. There’s probably a lot more treble in the music, more of a tinny sound, and much less bass then some might like, but that’s typical of speakers that are this small.
If you are looking for amazing audio sound, as opposed to convenience and novelty, you obviously want something more robust like a portable Bose sound system (I reviewed that set for Best Buy Canada) or a true home theatre system. But if you like the idea of subtle music playing for your guests at a dinner party, or coming from the lamp in the living room as you’re having cocktails, this is a great device.
There are definitely, brighter and more intense coloured light bulbs out there; but then you’d need to buy one of those AND a new portable speaker too. With this light you can at least sample what a smart light bulb can do for you, and see if you like it. I also think it works better in a single-bulb lamp, as opposed to a fixture with several bulbs, because the colour is less easily overshadowed. If you want to paint the room with light, as I did with a different smart light, this is not the bulb to do it with.
Overall, for the price, this device is an excellent way to get your feet wet in the smart home pool. You’re essentially getting two smart home devices in one small and relatively inexpensive package (it’s just $45 at Best Buy). The light, since it’s LED, is going to give you years of use, and since there’s a speaker packed in there too, you’ve killed two birds with one stone.
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Paying the cheque at a restaurant can be… awkward. From first dates, to business lunches, who buys can sometimes be fraught with complexities. A new app may change that for good.
JOEY Restaurants launched a new mobile payment app today called JOEY Pay, and while at first it may seem unnecessary (Why an app? Will EVERY restaurant need an app soon??), it does seem like a good idea for many situations.
Pay faster; no waiting
“JOEY PAY allows customers to “Dine and Dash” by paying their bill using their iPhone, ultimately saving time by paying faster. JOEY Restaurants created the JOEY PAY app in response to growing customer demand for speed of bill payment,” says the company’s news release.
Avoid awkward cheque grabs
The app not only lets you easily pick up the cheque without argument or fuss, it will also allow you to use multiple credit cards for bill splitting among larger groups, and also track receipts for business expense purposes. It’s actually a pretty smart idea when you’re dining and trying to get going to a movie, the theatre or just to get one with your night. It also lets you sneak the cheque away from that friend who never lets you pay, or from a pal who always wants to argue about whose turn it is. It’s kind of brilliant for first dates, since you can pay by phone and then make an impression when you usher your date to the door, saying, “it’s all taken care of”.
Here’s how it works:
· The guest inputs a six digit code from the bottom of their bill, into the app
· From the app guests have the ability to pay with multiple credit cards or JOEY gift cards within their profile
· Guests receive a message letting them know payment was successful
· The receipt is emailed to the guest instantly and stored in their profile for easy reference
It must also alert the server in some way, otherwise you’d get stopped at the door trying to leave. claiming, “I paid with the app,” and pleading techno dummy probably wouldn’t work. There may also be questions in the future about whether people will cheap out on the tip because there’s no doe-eyed server standing next to them while the tab is being paid.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
JOEY says the app is just as secure as any other credit card payment platform, and will be in use in their 26 locations across Western Canada, Ontario, Washington State and California. It also allows you to make reservations (it takes you to a website outside the app) and even add a gift card to apply that to your bill. You can even scan your credit card to avoid tedious typing.
JOEY is giving you $10 to try the app
Everyone that downloads the app and creates an account before April 21st, 2016 at midnight will receive a $10 gift card loaded into their profile. Feel free to spread the words with friends, family or on social as we want to give away as many gift cards as possible! The app is available on the App Store or Google Play.
Ever wonder if your spouse if sneaking your phone while you’re asleep? Have you caught your kids sneaking into your room to recover their grounded technology? This new cable might be able to help. The Skross Buzz cable will vibrate and sound an audible alarm if unplugged. It could also come in handy if you’re charging in an airport or cafe and need to turn your gaze from your phone.
Check out the video to see how it works.
It was once the largest waterfall, ever in the world, but today it’s a massive dry cliff. Dry Falls Washington is just one of the amazing sights we visited on a roadtrip through Washington state.
The other very cool hidden place is Palouse Falls, a well-hidden gem in the middle of nowhere that stuns when you finally find it.
Dry Falls, WA
It was once the largest waterfall ever to have existed on earth, but unless you’ve stumbled accidentally across its now-dusty shoulders, you’ll likely never have heard of it. Dry Falls Washington is a massive three-miles-wide ridge of sheer 400-foot tall cliffs that centuries ago would have been the edge of the world. Dry Falls would have been Goliath to Niagara Falls’ David, since Ontario’s pride is just a mile wide and only drops 165 feet.
The views over the top and into the desert below are spectacular, and very few places I’ve ever been have made me feel so small. Especially when you realize you can get down to the bottom and look up, pondering the absolutely unimaginable volumes of water that would have been crashing and roiling over top.
This basalt chasm was left high and dry thousands of years ago as the last of several Ice Age floods swept through the Grand Coulee. The US Parks Service explains the formation this way: “One especially large lake, covering a portion of northwest Montana, played an important role in the formation of Dry Falls. As this lake grew in size, it eventually broke through the ice dam, unleashing a tremendous volume of water to rush across northern Idaho and into Eastern Washington. Catastrophic floods raced across the southward-dipping plateau a number of times, etching the coulees or ravines that characterize this region, now known as the Channeled Scablands.
“Dry Falls is the skeleton of the greatest waterfalls in geologic history. It is 3.5 miles wide, with a drop of more than 400 feet. By comparison, Niagara, one mile wide with a drop of only 165 feet, would be dwarfed by Dry Falls.”
This natural marvel is just a 10 hour road trip from Calgary, and is so worth the visit. However since it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere approximately 2 hours’ drive from Spokane, it’s largely unknown and there’s no fighting tourists for a photo.
Palouse Falls, WA
Tucked below the horizon, across miles of rolling spearmint hills of winter wheat, is a hidden gem; a giant waterfall, spilling millions of litres of water over a sheer stepped cliff. This is no ordinary waterfall. Carved by decades of erosion, the 198-foot tall waterfall is tucked well below level ground, and it drops even further into a vast gorge and tumbles into a swirling river.
It’s the kind of natural wonder you’d never find if you were just driving by. Even its name, Palouse Falls, after the river that feeds it, just seems ordinary; Hidden Canyon Falls would be more appropriate, but I digress.
The falls are located off a secondary highway about 2 hours’ drive from Spokane, and the nearest towns are one-horse affairs with populations that would have a hard time forming a basketball team. A short winding road leads you from extremely flat, dry scrub and grassland, down to a small parking lot, and a short path takes you the rest of the way. The roar of the falls finds you before you find it, and the first glimpse is spectacular. The falls are tall and wide, and clearly very powerful. What makes them so breathtaking is how deeply they’ve carved their way through the rocky landscape. A column of rock lines the area above the falls like castle spires, and the weathered stone winds down in layer-cake lines to become softly rounded.
The area used to be called Aput Aput, but was renamed to honour the local Palouse indian tribe. Legend has it four giant brothers, were hunting a mythical creature called Big Beaver. According to the Palouse Falls State park website, they “speared the great creature five times. Each time Big Beaver was wounded, he gouged the canyon walls, causing the river to bend and change. The fifth time he was speared, he fought the brothers valiantly and tore out a huge canyon. The river tumbled over a cliff at this point to become Palouse Falls. The jagged canyon walls show the deep marks of Big Beaver’s claws.” The geological explanation is a little more subdued; “The exposed walls of the river channel are columnar basalt, the basalt is layered from different flows some as much as 100 feet thick,” explains the SCC Geology website “You can actually see 200 feet of columnar basalt (that castle spire formation I mentioned) exposed at Palouse Falls.”
We found a path around the back of the falls that leads down to river level and is a gorgeous, albeit steep hike. At the bottom is a set of small falls and rapids that winds its way behind the rocks, before bursting out into the canyon even further below. We followed the river backwards though an impressive and steeply walled canyon that looked like it would be a great swimming spot. The water was invitingly warm on a hot day, but we passed on swimming the unfamiliar waters. Up and out of the river bed, we hiked up to an even higher viewpoint for a look way down into the canyon and Palouse Falls. It’s a spectacular sight worth the detour.
From cleaning robots to room-freshening lamps, on CTV Morning Live this month, we looked at some cool new gadgets for the home.
iRobot Mopping Robot
I’ve been testing the iRobot Braava jet 240. This little lunchbox-sized device will sweep and mop your floors for you. It uses small pads with cleanser infused inside them and a jet of warm water to mop your floors and sop up spills. You just hit the button on the top of the device, and the robot will clean about 100+ square feet of space on one battery charge.
A full review of this little housekeeper is coming soon, meantime, check out the unboxing video to see what you get.
iRobot Roomba 880
The iRobot Roomba 880 vacuum is a large circular gadget, significantly larger than a dinner plate, and about three or 4 inches tall. You can schedule this vacuum to clean your home while you’re at work or away, and come home to a floor free of dust and pet hair; even under the furniture.
While Roomba’s weighty, he’s not heavy and he comes with a built-in handle so you can pick him up and carry him around. The Roomba can also be used at any moment (off the schedule) simply by pushing the ‘clean’ button in the center of the vacuum. The robot will back away from its base station and begin cleaning in a somewhat hard to follow but linear pattern. The robot learns its way around furniture and is smart enough to back away from stairs. The Roomba will clean an entire floor of your house and then return to his base station when the battery begins to run low. The Roomba 880 also has the ability to sweep up small spills by pressing the “spot” button.
For my full review of the Roomba 880, click here.
MiPow Playbulb Sphere Lamp
I love colour changing lights. They can totally change the look of a room. MiPow Playbulb Sphere is a beautiful, affordable frosted glass globe lamp that rests on a small base when charging but it can be moved anywhere for a portable colorful glow. You can get 6-8 hours of light on a single charge.
The Playbulb Sphere (full review & write-up here) works beautifully on the small side tables, or even as a chic dining table centerpiece since it’s only about 15cm in diameter. PLUS — Click the link just above here to see how this lamp can transform a whole room with colour.
Philips Hue Go Lamp
The Philips Hue Go lamp connects with a nice long AC cord for power but it also works off the cord, as the rechargeable lamp is also fully portable and lasts up to six hours on a charge. For the newbies, you don’t even need the app to start playing with it; a small button on the bottom of the bowl allows you to cycle through a variety of light colours and effects while a small wedge keeps the lamp steady on its rounded bottom.
Getting the lamp set up on Wi-Fi was very easy. You just download the free app then “add new device”. Once you do that the app will search for devices on the network and it automatically finds the Go lamp. Once it pairs you’re in business. read more about the Go lamp in my review.
The above products are available at stores like Best Buy, London Drugs and Home Depot.
If you have any suggestions for gadgets I should learn about or check out for possible blogs or TV segments, I’d love to hear from you! Just use the “Contact” form here on the blog, or message me on Twitter or Instagram @ErinLYYC
Just in to the test centre this week; the iRobot Braava jet 240! This little lunchbox-sized device will sweep and mop your floors for you. Watch the unboxing video to see what you get, and watch the blog in the coming days for a full review of the device.
Will today’s teens ever know what a VCR is? Will tomorrow’s teens find TVs obsolete? A friend told an amazing tale of technology that’s become lost to today’s generation of young people.
Her son has a fear of being trapped in an elevator; and that’s exactly what happened to him. Leaving his dentist’s office in a multi-storey professional building, the elevator stopped abruptly and the power went out. In the dark and afraid, the teen used his cell phone’s flash light to look around his prison box. A small sign on a small door on the wall indicated he should, ‘Open for Help’.
Opening the door, the boy saw a sign that said, “For immediate help, use this phone, dial (phone number)”. But the boy was puzzled… there was no phone inside. Recounting the story to his mother, he told her, “Behind the door was a spin-dial machine, with a small barbell-type handle”.
While it looked familiar, the teen had no idea how to operate it. He began pushing the ‘buttons’ inside the holes where numbers were marked. Nothing. Then he tried twisting the dial, and that sort of worked, there were some clicking sounds… but he was getting no connection. Then he noticed the crescent shaped ‘stopper” and had an idea: he pulled the dial around to the stopper, then let it go. The phone seemed to wait for him. He dialed the next number. Another good sign. Then he dialed the wrong digit.
“Mom! I had to start all over!” he told her afterwards.
Eventually, the boy got the spin-dial machine to connect to someone. The person on the other end of the phone told him help was on the way. He then called his mom and told her about the strange new machine he’s had to use to get unstuck. She told him it’s called a Rotary Dial Phone; a device many people will remember from their youth. A device almost never seen today.
It’s fascinating to wonder what technology we have today that will vanish before children born today grow up. Will TVs still be around? Will cameras become obsolete? Cars? Digital thermometers? If you imagine single-purpose technology, you can bet one day it will vanish, replaced by more multi-purpose gadgets.
Fitbit launched two new devices this spring; the watch-like Blaze and the chic and stylish Alta. Each device has the signature Fitbit capabilities, like step counting, activity monitoring, and sleep tracking but each has its own features too. What’s the difference between these new devices, is it worth it to upgrade to a newer, better Fitbit, and what can they do for you? Click here to read my review of the Blaze, and for what the Alta’s all about read on.
All about Fitbit Alta
The Alta is the fashionista version of an activity tracker. Slim and bracelet-like, the Alta actually looks a lot like the original Fitbit Flex (and comes with all the basic activity tracker features you’d expect), but with some improvements:
- more sleek bracelet/band options including more watch/jewelry style options
- vertical display on the front of the band with built-in watch
- smart alerts come directly to the bracelet
The Alta is meant for a person who wants to be fashionable and not be seen to wear an ‘ugly’ rubber athletic band all the time. The band does the physical tracking and it pairs with a free smartphone app where you can store and access stats from day to day and long-term.
This band charges using a special clip that attaches to the band, and can be plugged in to a USB port on a computer, or using an AC plug.
What can Fitbit Alta do?
Fitbit Alta is an activity, step and sleep tracker that will:
- count steps
- track activities like walks, running, biking
- measure sleep length and quality
- receive smart alerts (calendar, text messages, etc)
- send you ‘fun’ reminders and motivational messages to remind you to move more.
The Alta has a great feature called Smart Track which knows when you’re doing activities like a walk, or a run, even aerobics. It will automatically register duration of the activity, calories burned, pace and fat burn. Previously (like with Flex) you’d need to add these activities manually, but it would still count just the steps.
What it doesn’t do:
- measure heart rate
- display full length text messages
- give you fancy options for display
With the Alta, you need to rely more on the app than you would with, say the Blaze. That’s because the band’s display is narrow and limited, so for detailed stats and to make changes or adjustments, you need to log in to the app.
Limited Display options
To view the data that is available on the Alta, you tap the display; twice to access the built-in watch/clock, and once to advance through data which is limited to steps, kilometers traveled, calories burned and active minutes.
The display is black and white and also has very limited options for customization; you can change it from vertical to horizontal, add a black and white flower, or change “2:00” to “Two o’clock”, but that’s about it.
How does Fitbit Alta differ from Fitbit Blaze (and Flex)?
Let’s start by comparing Alta to the original Flex. (Read my review of the Flex here) The Flex tracker can be popped out of its rubber band, and the Alta tracker can too; both trackers are tiny units that can be slipped into a bra, sock or pocket if you don’t want to wear one on your wrist. While Fitbit doesn’t brag about this capability, due to the fact it’s likely not as accurate as wearing it properly, I found it’s a handy option for the four years I’ve been a Fitbit owner.
The Alta and Flex are nearly identical in width, but while Alta has the aforementioned limited-ability display, the Flex has no display whatsoever, so the Alta’s already an upgrade. Alta can also receive shortened message alerts, while again, original Flex has no such abilities.
Both Alta and Flex track all the same data, but where the Alta wins out over the Flex is on the style front. Alta can easily be snapped into a nicer metal, leather or custom coloured band. Really, you can make this band so pretty, and so jewelry-like, you won’t ever need to remove it for nights out or formal events.
When compared to the other new Fitbit offering, the Blaze, there are more striking differences. Blaze has a full colour screen, it can show longer alerts and reminders, and you can adjust some settings right on the tracker. While both Blaze and Alta have a built in watch, Blaze’s can be changed to a much different variety of faces.
Both Alta and Blaze have much more attractive band options (at extra cost) so they can be dressed up, or back down or for more vigorous use in the gym
Is it worth it to upgrade to Alta?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need/want to get alerts on my wrist?
- Do I just want basic fitness tracking?
- Do I care more about having a tracker that looks like jewelry?
- Do I need/want a watch?
- Do I want ‘wardrobe options’ for my tracker?
- Can I live without monitoring my heart rate?
If you answered yes to three or more of those questions, you’ll probably be pretty happy with an upgrade to the Alta, from a device like the Flex.
Overall review of the Fitbit Alta
For me personally, I like the Alta as a small scale upgrade over the Flex, as I found myself becoming very reliant on the built-in watch, just for starters, and the alert function is also handy. I also really, really like the options for making it look more like jewelry and less like an activity band.
However when factoring in price, if I was ready to upgrade, I’d probably just go all the way and get the Blaze. (Fitbit Flex is $129 and the Alta is $169 plus significantly more for fancier bands. The Blaze sells for $249. Fancy bands are extra here too) If price is a major factor for you, in my opinion, I’d get the Flex over the Alta, since they’re very similar and the display isn’t so much more advanced as to make it as must-have for the price. However if alerts to your wrist are a priority, it’s Alta all the way.
If you’re looking to get your first Fitbit or fitness tracker, either the Flex or the Alta are great starting points; the Flex is the most inexpensive option but the Alta does more. If you want a tracker with a few more features, and you’ve got the budget, go for the Alta since it can be more beautifully customized. If you need a device with more options, check out my review of the Blaze to see if it’s right for you.
Read more from my archives about Fitbit bands, and apps that work with the device.