DEWALT phone built rugged & tough to take abuse on job sites

Smartphones are often delicate pieces of technology.  The glass screens and thin metal casings may look pretty, but they’re not suited to some industries or locations like a construction site. Now DEWALT, known for its power tool line has come out with an Android phone that’s built so tough it doesn’t even need a case. The DEWALT MD501 also has a host of other features that are designed for job sites. Continue reading “DEWALT phone built rugged & tough to take abuse on job sites”

Artists to use old farm equipment to create giant walk-in camera

graineryFour artists are banding together to create works of art inside a giant empty grain bin.  The project will create a massive ‘camera obscura’ inside the old corrugated metal structure.

The plan is unfolding at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage northeast of Nanton, Alberta. Camera obscura is Latin for ‘dark room,’  and as the group undertaking the project explains it, “the basic idea is to have light enter through a pinhole into a dark space; thereby creating a projected image,” says Dr. Josephine Mills, Director/Curator at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. “This is the forerunner of the camera and the source of the name of this technology.”

Pinhole camera technology is one of the earliest forms of photography, and using the grain bin just takes something that can be make out of a cereal boxSketches or cardboard tube, and expands it to a huge scale, with what could be very interesting results.

“I’ve always wanted to exhibit the fabulous contraptions built by Kamloops artist Donald Lawrence to take pinhole photographs and make projected images,” explains Mills, “When I heard about Donald’s major SSHRC Research Creation Grant and the team of artists he had put together for the project, I knew that bringing these artists to work at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage was a perfect match,”

So what will the finished photographs look like?

Calgary artist Dianne Bos is setting up her “See the Stars” prospector’s tent where she’ll make cyanotype prints.  “Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, says Mills.  “It was used by engineers well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost way to produce copies of drawings called blueprints.”

A simple pinhole camera
A simple pinhole camera

Holly Ward, from Vancouver, is using cyanotype photography to explore the Coutts’ herbarium collection and will provide demonstrations throughout the day.  Sarah Fuller, based in Ottawa, will install video projects related to the Coutts home and gardens and conduct an Anthotype workshop using local spinach.

The Prairie Sun Project, as it’s being called happens on August 21, 2016 is the first project involving major Canadian artists creating work at the Coutts Centre.

‘Magic Wand’ is a reality on Kickstarter

Magic wands are the stuff of sci-fi and Cinderella. While once upon a time a Fairy Godmother used a special stick to sprinkle magic and turn pumpkins to coaches and mice into horses, it turns out a magic wand, of sorts, may actually exist.

gestor 4.jpg

Developed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the Gestor is “wireless air mouse” that can be used to control your computer, power point presentation, even your smart TV or smartphone.

How does the ‘Magic Wand’ work?

Gestor is a cool looking stick-shaped device with touch-ring buttons. If you rotate it in your hands, it scrolls the content on your screen. What makes this mouse different is that it doesn’t need to touch any surface to work. It functions by touching and holding its ring buttons, and pointing it; you can move a cursor on your computer screen by tilting Gestor up or down, back and forth. You can use it with any computer or any device that supports a traditional USB mouse. Gestor buttons have gentle ‘haptic feedback’, which means when you touch the buttons they vibrate gently back at you so you know it’s working.

Watch the video of how Gestor works

Using Gestor does feel like magic

I had a chance to play with a Gestor at CES 2016 where the company that makes the devices gave us a private showing. It’s actually a really neat experience and feels like you’re using some futuristic gadget.  It’s a bit strange to get used to the motions and gestures of using a mouse off a surface, but it worked perfectly and was very responsive.

Helpfully, Gestor will work with both Mac OS and Windows operation systems.

Made in Calgary, Canada


While many companies outsource their production overseas, Gestor is making their air mouse locally. The company explains in their Kickstarter campaign they use, “local companies in Calgary for plastic injection molding, metal tubes cutting, painting, PCB manufacturing and final assembly.”

To check the Gestor campaign on Kickstarter click HERE.




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.

BioLite’s cooking and camping gear charges devices and may blow your mind

rsz_biolite_recropI’m forever sourcing out new camping gear. Every time I pack up, I realize how much duplication we have, how heavy or unwieldy some of our items are, or that we often bring things we just don’t need. So when I read about BioLite, I was intrigued. The company develops and manufactures what it dubs, “advanced energy products that make cooking with wood as clean safe and easy as modern fuels”, but recently it’s also been working on ways to create electricity to charge your electronics too.

BioLite for Cooking and Charging

biolite nanogrid 22
BioLite NanoGrid lighting system.

The BioLite CampStove was the company’s first production piece. The concept is simple and genius at the same time: the CampStove creates a smokeless campfire that can cook meals and boil water in minutes. Setup is easy, fuel is free, and the company says, “flames are hyperefficient with performance on par with white gas stoves”. Then at the same time, the stove’s heat generates usable electricity for charging LED lights, mobile phones, and other personal devices. The stove’s USB connector will charge up most devices, and every twenty minutes of charging with a strong fire gives you about an hour of talk time on most smartphones.

BioLite also has several options for lighting up your campsite, but the one I most want to get my hands on is the NanoGrid. BioLite calls it, “a revolutionary lighting and energy storage system” that consists of a main PowerLight, and peripheral SiteLights. The PowerLight is the central hub, and can be used as a flashlight or a lantern, plus it will power your gadgets and devices. Interestingly, Biolite says the PowerLight doesn’t have any burning-bright hotspots, because it uses what the company calls ‘Edge-lighting’, where the lantern’s panels “bend light around the internal battery, resulting in a compact design and soft light”. The SiteLights connect to it, and then allow you to string more lighting around your campsite. These extension lamps throw off about a 10-foot circle of light and they can be individually controlled, and even dimmed.

Read about the rest of the gear in the BioLite line on the Best Buy Plug In blog I wrote.

“Frost Quake” Boom Rattles City, Rip in Ground Now Located at Epicentre

“Frost Quake” Boom Rattles City, Rip in Ground Now Located at Epicentre

The epicenter of what’s now believed to be a ‘frost quake’, has been located in northwest Calgary.

A ruler and a pencil inside the large crack at the site of  possible Frost Quake.
A ruler and a pencil inside the large crack at the site of possible Frost Quake.

A group of researchers was able to pinpoint the location with help from an amateur seismologist who recorded the quake’s seismic signature on his home-built basement machine.

On Saturday, a group led by Dr David Eaton, descended on Captain Nichola Goddard School in Panorama Hills, scouring the frozen ground for signs of prior movement. It didn’t take long before they found a jagged tear in the earth several meters long,  at least 50 cm deep and possibly up to a meter deep.

Frost quakes, also known as cryoseism, occur when prolonged cold temperatures cause water deep in the ground to freeze quickly. That puts pressure on the bedrock, or surrounding frozen soil, causing it to crack.  The sudden movement can create loud noise, especially if it takes place close to the surface.

Update: How to Avoid Unnecessary Brokerage Fees

I’ve written previously on the Step-by-Step process for saving yourself money on brokerage fees, which can amount from a few dollars to (much more common) paying the entire value of your package over again. (For the Step-by-Step on HOW, Click HERE to read my previous blog.)

What Exactly IS Brokerage?

To quickly re-iterate, brokerage fees are fees charged by your shipper (UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc) to clear your package through customs. The problem is in many cases, your brokerage charges are much, MUCH more than the actual duties and taxes.

Very often, the fees are not broken down when you pay at the door, so many people actually think they’re paying taxes to the government and there’s nothing they can do about it.  Next time you get a package, and before you agree to sign and pay for it, ask for the detailed receipt of the fees, or call your shipper and ask for a breakdown while the package is in transit. Alternately, check over your old receipts.  You’ll see you could have saved a lot of money.

How Do I Avoid Paying Brokerage Fees?

To avoid these fees, recipients are able, by LAW,  to “Self-Clear” or “Self-Import”, thus saving potentially a LOT of money. The trade off;  your time. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. But in most cases, I’m able to self clear a package in about an hour; including travel time to our airport area in Calgary.

I’ve gotten quite good at the self-clearing process now , having done it a few times. As a result, I’m hearing a lot of new excuses and deflections, that the shippers are hoping will have me throwing up my hands, throwing in the towel, and just agreeing to their exorbitant fees.

Here are the most common excuses, and how to successfully deflect them.

1. “Oh, you can’t self-clear now, because we’ve already cleared it for you.”

Untrue. The shipper is attempting to coerce you into paying a fee for a service you did not ask for, likely don’t want, and can easily do yourself. You were likely never offered or even told about any possible alternatives. I think this is wrong. It’s negative-option billing.  I’d probably have a lot less of a problem with brokerage fees if I got a phone call or an itemized list of the fees, taxes, duties and brokerage and could make an informed decision about whether it’s worth it for me to pay it before it’s at my door. In most cases, it’s NOT.

Here’s a list of recent (non-commercial) packages I received, what UPS in my particular cases was going to charge me, and what I ended up paying on my own: (keep in mind different goods, from different countries are all brokered and dutied at different rates; these are my personal experiences)

Women’s clothing/accessories: Approx total value: #$200 UPS Brokerage + Fees: $22.37 Customs & Taxes using Self-Clearance: $7

Women’s jewelry: value $30 UPS Charges: $22.37 Customs & taxes using Self-Clearance: $4.50

Vitamins: value $200 Brokerage from UPS: $80. Duties & Tax using Self-Clearance: $1.15

Coffee: Value $45 UPS Charges: $41.68 Duties and taxes owing using Self-Clearance: $0 (outrageous!!)

Check your invoice before you agree to pay at the door. Your shipper may be charging more than the Government.
Check your invoice before you agree to pay at the door. Your shipper may be charging more than the Government.

So no matter what they try to tell you, stand firm and demand to speak to a supervisor if you need to. They MUST give you the option of self-clearing if you ask for it. It’s your right. I spoke to a CBSA official who told me, “Shippers have no right to hold your package ransom,” adding, ” it seems some shippers’ brokerage and self-clearing policies are meant to confuse people and get them to give in.”

Even UPS admits it must allow you self-clearance.  Their Media Relations department tells me, “It is a CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) policy which allows casual importers to clear their own goods. It is not a policy that can be changed by UPS.Regulations for importing and exporting are controlled by various government departments.”

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) policy allows casual importers to account for their own goods directly with the CBSA.  In order for the customer to self-clear outside the port of arrival, certain conditions must be met:

-The customer must be a casual importer (non-commercial).

-The shipment must be low value ($2500 CAD or less) and not manifested.

-The customer must be willing to go to a nearby Customs office where Courier Low Value Shipments Program clearance is performed.”

If you need to, invoke this paragraph above on the phone.

2. “We can’t e-mail you the paperwork. You have to come pick it up.”

Yes, they can. They may not WANT to make it easy on you, and would probably rather you felt the cold sting of having to make that extra stop at their office in person to pick up a copy of your paperwork, but they can certainly e-mail it to you and WILL if you insist strongly enough. (And by law they have to give you access to it). The shipper (again, I most frequently deal with UPS) has an electronic copy of your waybill/packing slip/invoice in their system. It’s about a 1 minute task to email it to you. Insist. Again, ask for a supervisor if you must. I have yet to be denied this request by a supervisor, even if a call-taker did. As an aside, they seem much more happy to FAX you the papers. If you still have this relic, go for it.

3. This is a “Dutiable/manifested/cargo controlled shipment and is not eligible for self clearing. You need to wait for the port of entry to contact you before you can self-clear”.

Ummm, no. Likely more double-speak designed to discourage you from self clearing, or perhaps a confused employee. If your shipment is a personal (ie non-commercial) package, you can always self clear it. Insist on receiving a copy of the invoice/packing slip/bill of lading by email, no matter what they try to tell you about the shipment, its status, or what you can and can’t do with it. UPS recently tried to convince me they had some new-fangled system in place and I needed to wait for a representative of the Government of Canada to contact me, and send me the paperwork (also called a Port Form or a “B-15”) before I could self clear. I believed that to be false, so I called up Canada Border Services. They told me that was, in a word; bunk. Non-commercial shipments can self clear at any time. The government is not involved. Your shipper has to provide you with a copy of the paperwork. You do NOT need to wait for the government to do anything. Can you imagine if the government had to approve every parcel coming into the country, do the paperwork for you, and call YOU at home to say it’s ready. HA! No. Again, escalate to a supervisor if necessary, and if they still won’t help you, ask for the paperwork, ask for the package to be held for pickup, and take care of business on your own.

The needed B-15 form. You get a copy of this when you've paid your duties & taxes. It's your packages 'get out of jail free' card.
The needed B-15 form. You get a copy of this when you’ve paid your duties & taxes. It’s your packages ‘get out of jail free’ card.

I recently faced this excuse, and went straight to UPS’ Media Relations Department for the answer.  Here it is verbatim: “An individual can slef-clear any of their personal shipments and UPS has a process which allows for this.”

4. Well, it’s already on the truck for delivery.. soo its too late…”

In a word, it’s NOT. Shippers can and will change the package’s status in the computer, and have it returned to the warehouse to await your pickup after self-clearing. If the driver doesn’t get the message in time, and they DO try to deliver it again, you can refuse it at the door, and say you’ll be self clearing it. It’s never too late.

In a pinch, you can stick the delivery sticker/notice on the door and write “Hold for Self Clearing” on it for the driver to see, as I’ve become aware many drivers will just repeatedly try to re-deliver the same package without checking for an updated status.

UPS tells me, “It is considered too late to self-clear a package when you have already agreed to have the courier clear the package for you.” So if you have not actually agreed to this process in writing, you’re good to go.

5. Any other excuse that results in them basically saying NO to self-clearing, or making it hard for you to self-clear

Shippers charge a LOT of money for brokerage. In the last week alone, I’ve avoided $140 on 4 packages. That’s a lot of money out of the shipping company’s pocket. Imagine if everyone did that? They’d be hooped. So, in my experience, they try to make it hard,  unreasonable or just downright troublesome to get the package self cleared. Case in point; on another recent occasion I had two nice customer service reps from the shipping company promise to e-mail me my paperwork. Both times it never came. After a lot of phone time and a supervisor, I got it by both e-mail and fax.


Need more help? The Government of Canada WILL HELP you deflect brokerage fees:

If the feds aren’t charging you money, why should the shippers? The Government of Canada has been very helpful to me in providing information about importing and self-clearing packages. Check out their website.

You can also call and speak to a real live person: 1-800-461-9999 (make a selection from the 4-option voice prompt, then you can hit ‘0’ for a real person)

To self-clear your packages in Alberta; there are (sadly for rural Albertans) only 3 offices where you can complete your paperwork: Calgary, Edmonton, and Coutts Border Crossing. For other offices across Canada here’s the list.

Worth noting; as of April 2013 the Calgary office has re-located to (a new street not yet on some mapping services!) It’s at Unit 162, 175 Aero Way NE, Calgary, Alberta T2E 6K2. Complete details on the new location HERE


So why do I go to what seems like a lot of trouble to self-clear my packages?

  1. The Money. There’s a LOT of money to be saved. I’d rather have it in MY pocket.

  2. The Principle. I hate that shipping companies can charge you such fees, and basically hide them as duties and taxes. Most people never look at the invoices when the pay the COD fees at the door; in fact they’re usually wrapped up in plastic sleeves tapes to the box. To me this is a clever way to gouge customers. I also resent the fact they don’t offer you a choice in advance to do this yourself.

  3. It’s not really that much trouble any more. I’ve gotten good at it; and the above deflections I get from shippers really make it kind of like a game now. I want to win at this game; and I do. And now I get to share the tools with others, in hopes you can all save some money too.