24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8

How do you know if a smartphone can be right for you? Many people get their first hands-on experience with a new phone while standing in a retail store or browsing online. It’s not a very elegant way to decide whether or not you’re going to make a commitment to something that will be in your hands and part of your most intimate moments likely for the next 2 to 3 years. Ideally, instead, you’d get to hold it and get a real feel for it, try out the camera, interact with the device and its apps, and use it as if it were your own before you decide. I had a rare chance to do exactly that with the Samsung Galaxy S8 before its public launch. But this was no ordinary review opportunity. Continue reading “24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8”

Smart keyless travel lock – Locksmart by Dog & Bone

Travel locks get a bad rap; either they’re too puny to be protective, or they’re easy to pick. Or perhaps you’re the type that is always misplacing the key or forgetting the combination, while you’re a million miles from home.

Smart travel lock uses no keys, no combinations

A solution is digital locks. I’ve written previously about smart, cell phone-controlled padlocks by Dog and Bone. They’re easy to use and work well. Continue reading “Smart keyless travel lock – Locksmart by Dog & Bone”

Smart mirror is robot concierge for hotels

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Panasonic + IBM’s smart mirror – your digital concierge.

At the world technology show CES 2017 today, Panasonic and IBM have introduced a product that will help travelers make the most of an unfamiliar city.

Smart mirror is digital concierge

Built into hotel room mirrors (which are essentially transformed into large touch screen computer terminals), this smart mirror concept is basically a robot concierge which provides words and pictures on the mirror to help you navigate news, weather, messages and more. The Panasonic Digital Concierge, as it’s been called, applies IBM’s ‘Watson’ computing power to a digital mirror designed specifically for hotels and other hospitality industry customers.

Mirror, mirror on the wall….

Need restaurant recommendations? The mirror can help you. Want to know what time you’ll need to leave for a meeting? Ask the mirror. You talk, it helps.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonicSmart mirror specially made for hotel industry

“Panasonic has identified a need for this and several other kinds of connected solutions in the hospitality industry,” said Yasuji Enokido, president of Panasonic Corporation’s AVC Networks Company.  “Working with IBM, we plan to further implement our connected solutions vision while making use of Watson intelligence to provide end-users with more natural cognitive functionality as well as richer feature sets.”

While some guests may prefer the personal touch of a face-to-face interaction, others like the privacy of accessing information from the comfort of the hotel room. While there’s no mention of cameras inside the device, I can see some folks being weirded out by such a technologically connected device presiding over the room when they’re walking around naked.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic

“IBM Watson gets to truly know the individual and provides highly personalized experiences and recommendations,” said Bruce Anderson, Global Managing Director, IBM Electronics Industry.  “Together with Panasonic we are bringing the power of cognitive to the hospitality industry to introduce a new level of customer service and Coming soofurther brand loyalty.”

The Panasonic Concierge is on display at CES 2017. There’s no indication of where or when you might find it in a hotel any time soon.

Christmas traffic; technology of when to avoid the road

It’s not your imagination; Christmas traffic gets crazy.  And there’s data to prove it. Waze, the guys who make the super cool traffic and navigation app, have released some info about when are the best and worst times to drive around some of the places that see a flood of vehicles around the holidays.

Is Christmas Traffic the worst?

How’d they do it? Waze analyzed Canadian user data from December 24, 2015 and flagged the busiest times for drivers and the worst periods for traffic. All of this lays out what times you should avoid certain destinations.   Continue reading “Christmas traffic; technology of when to avoid the road”

Goutte D’O rain drop cabins from Parks Canada entice campers

gouttedo590_I LOVE this idea.  A six meter mini-cabin in the shape of a drop of water is now open to campers in Canada.  The Goutte D’O (water or rain droplet) is a small portable accommodation option designed to entice campers who might find tenting too rustic.

Gouttes D’O make debut in Canada parks

gouttedo275The Goutte is a hard-sided wooden structure with screened windows and a suspended net loft to add space. Parks Canada says, “there is a sofa bed on the main level and a hammock loft above. TheGoutte d’Ô can accommodate a couple or a family. Ideally, this accommodation is suspended or on stilts. For the piloting phase, the Goutte d’Ô will be installed on a wooden platform at Point Wolfe Campground in Fundy National Park.”

It goes without saying that there are no bathrooms inside these tiny huts, and campers need to bring their own bedding and supplies, but that’s not unlike regular tenting. Pets are also verbotten in the Gouttes. Four people can fit inside and sleep inside the gouttes; two in the sofabed and two in the loft, thhough I’m guessing it might be a bit more comfortable with two adults and two kids.

A handful of these would look so cool hanging in a campground, don’t you think?

The Gouttes are $70 a night to rent during a trial phase. This structure is just one of a handful of new structures appearing in Canadian National Parks in hopes of enticing more people to commune with nature. Micro Cubes, Tree Cocoons and Tiny Homes are some other examples. (Read this cool blog from This Big Adventure about the cocoons)

Check out the new cabins here. I’d love to know who is making these chic spaces, because honestly, I’d love one for my backyard! I’ll see what I can find out from the fine folks at Parks Canada.

Tiny home_website

 

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Reviewing ASUS Pocket Projector

ASUS Zenbeam E1 2As technology continues shrinking, new categories of home entertainment are also finding ways to make smaller and smaller components. Take home theatre projectors, for instance. They used to require a suitcase and a weight belt to cart them around, but that’s changing with the introduction of pico or pocket projectors from several manufacturers.

ASUS is one of the first to make a consumer-ready mini projector for home theatre or business/portable use.

I had a chance to test and review the ASUS ZenBeam E1 Pocket Projector (coming soon to Best Buy) over several weeks in my home.

What’s a Pico/pocket projector?

Pico projectors are tiny battery powered projectors that are portable. They are often connected to streaming devices, mobile devices, laptops, or other home entertainment components.

They’ve actually been around for several years, but thanks to their costs coming down, they are gaining popularity and familiarity among home theatre enthusiasts.

Getting Started with the ZenBeam E1

It was not easy to learn how to use this device. The small Quick Start Guide provides no help in how to use the device itself, aside from getting it plugged in. The buttons on the back of the projector are not labelled very intuitively, so it’s hard to know what does what.

The Quick Start guide lists Asus.com/support as the place to download e-manuals, but after spending 15 minutes searching the site and Google, I still didn’t have a manual in hand. Frustrating. Similarly, a social media inquiry went unanswered.

The full review of the ASUS ZenBeam E1 was done for Best Buy Canada. Please click here to read the full review. Or watch the video version below. Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel if you like video and technology/gadgets!

Mpowerd inflatable lamp is fun & versatile

img_2756When we’re spending more time outdoors, decorating our outside space can be fun.

img_2755Whether you’re chilling in your backyard, or camping in the wilderness, you can spice up your space with a solar powered space saving lantern, like this one from Mpowerd.
The Luci light comes flat-packed; you blow it up with lung power, then let it get juiced in the sun.  Once it’s ready, you can select any number of colours, and the sparkly skin of the lamp makes for a subtle and interesting glow. I’ve been using it outside on the deck, but it also looks chic inside on a side table or as part of a centrepiece for your next dinner party.  When you need to store it, deflate the lamp and pack it away.

I found the lamp took quite some time to charge up in the sun (Mpowerd’s website says 7-8 hours, or 2 full days if it’s cloudy, which for me is way too long), and it was necessary to keep it anchored to something so it wouldn’t blow away or turn over.  The light is said to last for 12 hours, but I found it was more like 8.luci-color.gif

I wanted to leave this outside, turned on, so that it would come on at night, then recharge in the day, but it doesn’t really work like that.  It really needs to fully charged while turned off, so it’s not so much a dusk-to-dawn option as I might have liked. Nonetheless it’s a fun party light, and it’s waterproof and it floats so it’s also a fun option for the pool, hot tub or koi pond. They retail for $24 USD.

I’ve tried out some more fun garden gadgets too this season. Read about them here.

 

3 amazing volcanic parks in the Pacific Northwest

Parks are more than picnic tables and trees. America is fortunate to have several amazing places where the word ‘park’ just doesn’t do enough to describe the eye candy you’ll find.  The US is home to several preserves with a truly interesting volcanic and geologic pedigree.

The sights you see at volcanic National Parks and Monuments include towering triangular cinder cones, crumbly piles of lava stretching across expansive fields, and even bubbling mudpots and boiling water. I took a two week roadtrip recently through many of these parks and can’t get over all there is to see and do.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

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The leading edge of the lava field.

This amazing park, located in the northeastern corner of California is filled with amazing features.  Start your visit at the charmingly rustic wood and stone cottage that doubles as a visitor centre and get some hints about what to do from a ranger.  While you’re there, you can see archival photographs of an eruption captured in progress, back when taking photographs was a labourious minutes-long process, and check out the tiny outbuilding that houses an old seismograph.

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Can you spot the tiny people climbing the cone?

There are several short hikes and walks where you can check out mountain lakes or more dynamic geological features, but be warned; some of the roads are closed well into June due to snow. One of the big lures here, Bumpass Hell, features “boiling springs and mud pots, hissing steam vents, and roaring fumaroles,” according to tourism California. However snow on the trail to this spot meant it was strictly off limits to tourists the week  I visited.

Instead, we made due with another breathtaking climb.  One of the highlights of this park where I spent a day was hiking through pine forest, paralleling a massive lava field and some painted hills, to climb a volcanic cinder cone, then get down into the inside of the crater.

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This is what the inside of a volcano looks like!

This hike is a long time going up, and a quick ride down.  The trek begins with a walk in shifting volcanic sand, deeply scattered through a tall, wide, and thus bakingly hot pine forest. While it’s just a 4 mile hike, it’ll take you at least a couple hours.  That’s mainly because the forest walk amounts to a beach or dune hike thanks to the soft sand, and because once you start to climb the cone, the black and rocky sand is doubly deep and for every step you take upwards, you slide back half a step.

Once at the top the views are stunning; snow-capped mountains in the distance, rippled hills at the base that look as if they’ve been dotted with pastel colours from an artists palette, plus a craggy charcoal rockfall of lava scattered like jagged marbles as far as the eye can see.

If you want to camp in this park, be warned that even in slower months like June, it’s booked solid during the week.

Another easily accessible site to see is Sulphur Works. Located right off the side of the road, with a parking lot carved out nearby, is a bubbling mud pit and steaming fumaroles. The mud and water mixture tumbles through the mountain valley, and falls under the road as it meanders towards oblivion.

You’ll know you found the right spot when the steamy scent of hot sulphur, not unlike rotten eggs, wafts through the vehicle and assails your nostrils. You can park and walk over to the big mud pot, which is more active in the spring, thanks to lots of runoff.

Newbury National Volcanic  Monument

img_3624-1You’re unlikely to find this park in a lot of the guidebooks.  While this volcanic park takes up a lot of real estate, it flies under the radar, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Located just off US highway 97 in the Deschutes National Forest just south of Bend Oregon, this park is minutes from a major city but feels like a world away.

The park has a visitor center which butts up against a large cinder cone with a winding pathway travellers can stroll.  It’s a good climb, with beautiful views from the top. But the best experience I had was miles away from the crowds.  We asked a ranger for a great off-the-grid (but still vehicle accessible) campsite, and were rewarded with a spot just feet from the remnants of a massive ancient lava flow.

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That’s not a hill; we’re camped at the base of a massive lava fall.

Several miles from the visitor center, up an unmarked dirt road, and in the thick forest, we found a large clearing; the site of an old logging camp, according to the ranger.  Steps from where the trees thinned to form a circle, was a massive wall of haphazardly piled rocks. This was the leading edge of the ‘Newbury Flow’, a massive lava flow that cooled and crumbled even as it was pushed forward, leaving now heaps of crumbled sponge-toffee-looking black rocks. It made quite the spectacular backdrop for our remote camp.

We hiked a couple of times to the top of the pile, which is probably 2-5 storeys tall in various places, and the rocks are loose and sharp. But the views from the top are spectacular; you can only see charcoal coloured lava rock all the way to the horizon. Gnarled trees cling to whatever small dustings of soil have gathered in the pockets in the rock, but otherwise vegetation is nearly non existent across the flow, making it look like an otherworldly landscape.

The Newbury park’s big attraction is a giant lava tube cave, the Lava River Cave, which is one of the longest in the world.  It’s a good couple hours to hike it, so we passed.  But for cavers, it’s a big draw. We did, however, make time to hike the short rocky trail called Big Obsidian Flow. Obsidian is a shiny black rock that’s essentially volcanic glass. (As a hobby silversmith and jeweler, I geeked out on the geology of this, and loved seeing massive obsidian boulders in their natural habitat)

The climb up some steel stairs is easy enough, and the short loop trail has some plaques to help you understand what you’re seeing. Seeing what looks like giant chunks of black diamonds glinting in the sun is surreal.  While it’s tempting, taking souvenirs is verbotten.

Crater Lake National Park

img_3682It’s a massive tourist draw for a reason; Crater Lake National Park may look like a puddle on a map, but the massive sky-high volcanic lake cupped in the Oregon Cascades mountains will have you feeling like you’ve climbed to the top of the world.

The highway is frustratingly slow, clogged with vehicles, RVs and cyclists.  Make peace with that quickly, since your traffic situation won’t improve the entire time you’re in the park. The snowfall remnants along the road are impressive; the drifts and piles tower meters overhead, a testament to just how much snow falls here each winter. (In the Lodge overlooking the crater there are archival photos that show it’s not unusual for the lodge to be entirely buried in the winter, with the roof barely visible.)

In June when I was in the park, much of the road that circumnavigates the crater was shut down because it hasn’t been cleared.  As with the other parks in this list, if it’s important to see certain sites or features, you’ll want to make sure they’ll be accessible when you plan to visit. That’ll likely be July and August, but you will need to compete with the higher volumes of tourists then. We were able to drive about half the road, and had beautiful vistas from several viewpoints along the rim. The photo opps here are stunning.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet, but for many years before it could be properly plumbed, it was thought to be bottomless. The water is pristine and blue, but don’t get the idea you can dip a toe in it’s glacial coldness; sheer cliffs with a jagged drop mean visitors can’t get close to the water easily.

“Crater Lake rests in the belly of a dormant volcano,” says nps.gov, “The volcano once stood 12,000 feet tall, but it collapsed after a major eruption 7,700 years ago. Later eruptions formed Wizard Island, a cinder cone that rises from the water. The park has an abundance of fascinating volcanic features, including a second rocky island, the Phantom Ship.”

You’ll need a warm coat to spend any time up here even in summer. My best advice is to plan to get here early, and make peace with fighting the hordes through the afternoon, and really take time to enjoy all this volcanic park has to offer. If you don’t have a reservation months in advance, don’t even think you’ll get a camp spot near the crater.

Bonus Park: Craters of the Moon National Monument

I’ve previously written about another amazing volcanic park, Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  It’s a staggering landscape, and a mind-bending visit.  Read more about it here.

Have I missed checking out a volcanic National Park that you really enjoyed? Let me know in comments below or on Twitter @ ErinLYYC.

Napier Sportz Truck-bed Tent Review

Getting out of the city, away from the job and into the outdoors can really make you feel relaxed. That’s why I love camping. I can turn off my mobile, light a fire, and sit and contemplate the stars.

I’ve been a tenter from the beginning; no fancy RV’s for me! I’ve had a couple different tents over the years, and had a hand in setting up even more for tag-along friends and family, so I was excited to try out a whole new type of tent. The Napier Sportz Two-person Truck Tent was along for the ride as I took a two-week road trip through the northwestern USA.

Napier Truck tent featuresnapier tent poles
The Napier Sportz Truck Tent fits into the box of a pickup truck, and has straps that keep it anchored and in place. The tent is tall enough to stand up in, and has three large, wide windows with both screens and covers, plus a wide door opening at the tailgate. There’s also an included gear loft, plus a rain fly. A couple of pockets on the inside also allow you to stash small items where you can reach them easily.

There are some major considerations with this tent, including some potential limitations, and some trouble I had with the tent poles splitting. As this review was published on the Best Buy Plug In blog, please click here to read the full review, or watch the video review below.

Volcanos, National Parks & world-class cities – a 16-day camping road trip

map trip

85 hours in a vehicle isn’t everyone’s idea of a great vacation.  I spent 15 days driving from Calgary to San Francisco this summer and saw some amazing sights, several national parks and forests, climbed a volcano, ate amazing food in San Fran, hung out with hipsters and saw some baseball. Plus we survived having the sprinklers turned on at our campsite in a local city campground in Washington, and saw stars and the milky way in a night sky devoid of and light bleed from big cities.

Watch the blog for stories about some of these amazing places and experiences over the next weeks; there are some stunningly beautiful, fascinating and interesting places across the US northwest and Canada.