Most of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation. While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it. Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead. Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want the coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts. Continue reading “What is IFTTT and what can it do for you?”
This is a gadget I found unexpectedly cool. The Muse headband helps you relax or meditate by playing a guided relaxation session, while you wear the Muse headband, which senses your brain activity. From a 3 minute meditation to 45, Muse will talk you through relaxed breathing exercises, then display the results of your brain activity during this time. I tested it out over a couple weeks and with different friends and coworkers and was surprised to find it worked really well. A full review and explainer will be on the blog soon. Meantime, you can get your hands (or brain) on one at Best Buy for $249.
A digital scale that’s sleek and pretty, this is a nicer addition to your bathroom than what’s standardly available. iHealth connects to you phone via Wi-Fi and tracks and stores your weight or BMI data, and it can even be shared with your doctor or a fitness buddy. The backlit display even auto-adjusts brightness based on how dim or bright the room is. The iHealth scale is available at Best Buy for $49.
The Beardtrimmer 9000 is a standard trimmer by many accounts, but it has a few cool features that are making it popular with men, including lasers. The lasers act as a guide to give you nice even edges to your facial fur. Read the full review on the blog here. You can also pick one up from Best Buy for $79.
Sony Xperia Z5 Smartphone from Bell
We also shared info about the Sony Xperia Z5 smartphone giveaway — the same phone James Bond uses in the new movie Spectre– on the CTV contest site. Click here to be redirected to the site to enter.
You can usually find me testing out the latest gadgets and high tech gear. But this time, some of the new gear I got that I’m most excited about isn’t as high-tech as I’m used to. I love it nonetheless and want to share.
First up, this awesome Stanley French Press Coffee Kit I got at Campers Village. This versatile set up allows you to boil water in the compact narrow kettle pot, add your coffee (grounds are conveniently stored in the lid!) then use the French press plunger grid to press fresh quality coffee, and transfer it to the thermos where it’ll stay hot for 24 hours. It also keeps drinks cold or iced if that’s your thing. I also thought it was really clever that the lid unscrews into two coffee mugs.
I also got a lot of use out of this kit by pairing it with a Biolite CampStove. Check out my video of how it all worked together!
Next, I tested out a handy flashlight charger. The Black Diamond Ember Power light gives you light when you need it, which you always do when you’re camping, plus its USB port will also charge any gadget you have with a USB plug. Dead camera? No problem. Phone out of juice? Easy to fix. I kept this gadget in my purse and also found it really versatile when we were short-cutting home through a park after visiting a neighbour after dark. My husband’s also been stealing it for everything from finding some papers in his truck after sunset, to recharging his phone on the golf course.
Speaking of light, I also love these new 10″ LED Light Tent Pegs from Coghlans. They secure your tent, tarp or lines, and have a simple twist on/off bright LED light which will keep you from tripping in the dark. I found myself using these to mark hazards around the campsite too, like big rocks and roots. Now, if only we could build LED lighting fibers into the tent strings….
I also picked up a couple other low tech options that I find I’m using constantly while camping and on the road.
The Nemo Helio Pressure Shower is super handy if you like to camp away from crowds and off the beaten path. It comes in a tiny zip pack about the size of a mixing bowl. The 11L capacity means plenty of water, and because it rests on the ground, you don’t need to worry about hefting it overhead, or trying to fill it while it’s dangling from a tree. So how does it work then? You pressurize the “tank” with a foot pump then use the sprayer to enjoy 5-7 minutes of shower time.
Curious how it works? Watch the short video!
Lastly, I snagged one of these versatile hooks, thinking it would come in handy and it did. The Nite Ize Gear Line is a handy line with rigid twist-tie-like tabs on each end. It’s got several different carabiner-type S-clips along its length, meaning you can string up whatever you want and keep it there with ease. You can use it on a tree like I did to keep a garbage bag within easy reach, or use it in a tent to keep gear, towels, water bottles, or keys off the floor and within grabbing distance.
That’s just some of the new gear I’m loving this season. You can find everything I mentioned at Campers Village in Calgary and Edmonton, or online at Campers-Village.com
I’ll also be showing off these gadgets and some other cool camping gear later in July on CTV’s Tech Talk!
What can you do with home automation ?
From controlling your thermostat, door locks, light bulbs, light switches, sockets or plugs and even a power bar, manipulating the devices in your home for security, convenience or money savings has never been more possible.
WeMo was easy to use right out of the box. I started my testing with the Lighting Starter Kit ($99), which comes with two LED light bulbs and a hub or the “Link”. Getting things going was as simple as downloading the WeMo app (for smartphones or tablets), plugging the Link into a wall outlet, and screwing in the bulbs. The Link connects to your homes existing wifi, and uses that signal to control your bulbs. Once the bulbs were installed and turned on, the app found them immediately by doing a scan. Once they’re set up, they’re set up for good, even if you remove them for a time.
The app walks you through the set up, making it foolproof.
One plus of this system for me is the Link hub is tiny compared to other hubs I’ve tested; it fits in the palm of your hand, and easily blends into the wall so you don’t notice it. It’s important to note that while you need the Link hub for the bulbs, other WeMo devices connect on their own, and need no external hub or Link. In fact a WeMo staffer pointed out to me, “most of the existing WeMo product line doesn’t need a hub at all: the WeMo Switch, Insight Switch, Light Switch, Netcam, and Crock Pot connect directly to Wi-Fi.”
So why do the bulbs need one? Simply put, the technology to connect to the wifi takes up space. Some bulbs I’ve tested, like the LIFX system, are much larger and heavier than the average bulb. So while those bulbs do not need an external wifi link, they do not fit in every fixture. The WeMo bulbs do, but the tradeoff is the small Link.
The WeMo bulbs are white light bulbs only. I’ve written before about the fun of colored LED bulbs that you can change, but for now, the WeMo bulbs are traditional. Maybe that will change soon; having a colour option is really fun and allows you to really customize your home.
Setting up the WeMo plugs or outlets was a bit harder. There are essentially two set up screens within the app, and for the first few attempts I was apparently using the wrong one. I kept connecting to “WeMo Set Up Instructions”, but I needed to be using “Add WeMo Link Device”, as seen in the screen grab. It seems like an easy mistake to make, and I figured out the error quickly enough, but I could see this being confusing and frustrating for others too.
Additionally, I found the set up screen getting locked, and having to force-quit the app in order to try again. Then, somehow, mysteriously, the device would be connected and working.
Now, while this was frustrating for me, a person who likes to understand what’s happening each step of the way, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. After a few tries, the WeMo system took care of itself and from then on worked just fine. Since then, I’ve had absolutely no trouble to glitches with the system; it works reliably and flawlessly.
There have been rather frequent firmware updates required; not that it’s a problem. In fact, I like companies who are constantly trying to keep software up to date. But it’s good to be aware you may actually need to do the firmware upgrades before the app and devices will work properly.
Easy to Use Timers, Away Function, Auto-On
One of the easiest aspects of the WeMo system is how easy it is to set up what WeMo calls Rules. It allows you to turn your bulbs, plugs or switches on or off at appointed times, which is great if you’re going away, or frequently get up before sunrise or get home before dark.
I’ve made some rules which turn on a light in my living room, softly at 50% brightness at 3am when I get up to go to work. I also have the same lap set to come on at sundown, and turn off later at night. Similar rule and timer functionality is also available on the plugs/outlets. More on that below.
Testing the WeMo Switch
One of the things I like about the WeMo Switch ($49) I tested is that it’s powerful enough for me to plug in a fan or heater. Some wifi-enabled plugs only have enough juice for a lamp, so it’s good to check the packaging or details before you buy and make sure the appliance you want to plug in to the switch (from any company you buy from) is safe to use. During my testing, I plugged a small space heater in, and set a timer rule to turn on about 30 minutes before bed so the room was warm. I also set it to shut off automatically after an hour. Another rule setting turns it on about 15 minutes before I wake up, and off again 30 minutes after that. That’s it; it’s ‘set it and forget it’! I have all these items functioning for me, on the schedule I decide, and the best part is that it’s easy, so very easy to program with the free WeMo app.
The WeMo Insight – It gives you data
I tested another WeMo plug; the Insight ($59). The WeMo Insight Switch will send notifications to your smartphone or tablet showing how much energy your electronics are using. Of course, you also have the ability to turn your electronics on and off and monitor their behaviour via the app.
One of the limits of home automation systems has been that you need to be at home, on your wifi network to control your devices. But now many companies, WeMo included, are adding internet connectivity or Remote Access to the mix, allowing you to access your bulbs and switches online, meaning if you forget to turn off a light, or the heater, you can do it from the office, or from the resort in Mexico.
Other WeMo Products
While I didn’t test these below, it’s worth mentioning some other neat peripherals in the WeMo lineup. The Crock-Pot® Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo™ works with the app to adjust cook settings. WeMo says, “if you’re stuck at work or running late, you don’t have to worry. You can turn it on and off, change the cooking temperature, set timers and watch its status all with the simple, intuitive and free WeMo App for your smartphone or tablet. WeMo works over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G, so you can easily adjust your dinner schedule whenever you like, from wherever you are.”
The Belkin NetCam works with the WeMo collection of products so you can program home automation triggers like turning on your lights when you walk through the door. WeMo is also adding to its home automation arsenal, announcing partnerships with OSRAM, the parent company of OSRAM SYLVANIA, and Jarden Corporation, maker of
Crock-Pot®, Mr. Coffee® and more, to bring home automation to more products.
WeMo also makes a wifi-enabled Light Switch. The company says it ‘allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere–from across the house, from the backyard, or from the other side of the world. WeMo Light Switch replaces a standard light switch in your home and can be controlled remotely with an Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It works with your existing Wi-Fi® network and anywhere your smartphone or tablet has an Internet connection (3G or 4G LTE). Easy for most Do It Yourselfers.”
The Bottom Line
I thoroughly enjoyed the Belkin WeMo experience and I recommend it to others who may be looking to get started on home automation. The system is easy to use and trouble free once it’s up and running. Make sure to set up via the “Add WeMo Link Device” screen, and not the “WeMo Set Up Instructions”. I’ll be watching to see when WeMo adds coloured light bulbs to its arsenal, as I’ve gotten addicted to those of late. And I’m interested to try the other products in the lineup too to see just how useful they are.
It’s worth noting that the prices I posted for these products above are recommended retail, but at the time of posting this (mid-February), there was a good deal on the devices on the Belkin website that may give you extra incentive to pick some up. In Canada, WeMo is also available from Future Shop.
There’s a new trend I’ve noticed in accessories for your high tech devices; they are going much more rugged and raw. Wood is all the rage right now when it comes to cases, covers and gadgets. Read all about it below, or watch the segment on CTV News by clicking here. (You’ll be redirected to the CTV site)
The lumberjack plug is a great example of where adding small touches of wood can really make a difference. Yes, it’s your standard USB plug, but instead of plastic or metal, it uses a nice soft wood; just enough to warm it up. It’s not only a nice touch if you prefer more natural materials, but it looks less sterile, and it’s something that’s just a bit different from a regular charger. iLovehandles also makes my new favourite organization accessory (as seen in the video) Paperback notes that stick to the back of your phone for reminders, grocery lists, etc. Yes, it’s not technically wood, but it is paper, and we all know where that comes from, right?
Wood headphones sounds like a contradiction in terms, but these headphones from Meze are a great example of adding natural materials to technology. The company says the wood in these headphones makes for a richer sound when listening to music or other audio. While I don’t think I’m enough of an audiophile to fully appreciate the resonance wood headphones would provide, I love their soft feel, and warm richness, just as a fashion statement alone.
Wood iPad sleeves:
When I first got my iPad, I searched high and low for a really great case. I wish I had known about these sooner. Grovemade makes these very flexible wood skins, with a soft fabric lining that will hold your iPad securely in place, and keep it protected.
Just one more example of the way many of us are looking to nature, instead of to technology to enrich our lives. This coffeemaker from Canadian company Canadiano, is very similar to the old-fashioned pour over filter set ups that many of our parents grew up with, but instead of ceramic or plastic, this one is a natural wood. The company says that over time, the wood will delicately infuse your coffee, and as such they offer this coffeemaker in a variety of woods, like walnut, cherry and birch. It brews a cup of coffee that reminds me of the French press style. You need to let it settle because there will be a wee bit of grit in the coffee, but it gives you that bold richness that you expect from coffee that’s been made by soaking in the grounds.
Wood iPhone dock:
I first found Valliswood on Etsy. Mario, who makes these beautiful solid wood iPhone docks in a variety of configurations is a one-man operation. The docks he handcrafts are great because they can be configured to any phone or tablet style, the cords run through the middle and out and nicely carved niche in the bottom, so the wood dock sits flat. Docks like this are a really great way to bring more wood into your office workspace; a little bit of the outdoors indoors.
Bamboo Lap desk
One of my pet peeves working with a laptop has been it gets really hot. Whether it’s on a table surface, or on your lap, it heats up constantly. The bamboo lap desk from iskelter is loaded with lots of giant holes, which allows airflow to keep both your lap and your laptop cool.
Wood Cell phone covers
Many people go looking for a shiny slick case for their new phone. Others wish for a simpler time, and for them, there’s wood cases by Canadian company Keyway. They make wood and wood hybrid cases for all varieties of cell phone, which lets you keep a rustic and raw look for your tech.
Is there a wood tech accessory you love? tell me about it in comments below.
The debate raged a year ago; which espresso machine to choose? And my narrowed-down choices couldn’t be more different; the Rancilio Silvia is a fully manual machine that relies heavily on the skill of the operator to make a great cup. The Jura Impressa E80 is fully automatic, and there’s little you need to or can do to alter your espresso in this machine.
Both get very positive reviews online in their respective classes. My decision was basically a simple one; did I want to work for my espresso each morning, or did I want is handed to me on a silver… shot glass?
The Rancilio costs about $700 new. It also, however, requires an expensive burr grinder to be able to finesse just the right coffee coarseness. I went with the very well-rated Baratza Vario, which itself retails for about $400. By comparison the Jura retails for about $1700 new (and up from there, and requires no special grinder, as it’s built right in.
In the end I went manual. Mainly because I want to learn how to make a great cup of coffee, and all the intricacies and factors that go into making it properly. I’m no coffee expert; save for knowing what I like and what I don’t, and occasionally being known to import coffee from my favourite California coffee house, Urth Caffe. Even being a novice, the Rancilio has been fantastic. While it’s a wee bit on the noisy side when pulling a shot, they’re always piping hot, and with the right bean and the right grind, the shots are always delicious with just the right amount of creamy crema. The water tank hold plenty for my needs, and the machine is easy to clean. The only downside if it can be considered one is that the machine is fincky. Many online reviews told me this and they’re correct. Heat, humidity, beans (roast, grind), tamping pressure and even time of year make figuring out what grind setting to use to get the beans just right a challenge. Once you’ve got it, you’re usually good; unless the weather changes drastically, then it’s back to the grinding board.
Now I didn’t mind this process so much because as I say I want to learn. But I have gone through a good amount of (fine, pricey) beans to get things just right.
So when I was able to pick up a used Jura Impresa E80 for a song, I snapped it up, figuring now would be the time to see if I was missing anything. If I elected not to keep it, I could always put it back on the block.
The Jura, as I say takes the human factor out of the espresso. While some things (grind, shot size, auto-off) are all somewhat adjustable, the Jura leaves little for the operator to do. At the push of a single button I get a fresh espresso, with beautiful crema.
The machine heats up quickly; within a minute it’s ready to go. With the hopper loaded with beans, there’s nothing to do but press a button for your mild/regular/strong espresso. The shots are pulled in seconds. This machine will be a major advantage when we’re having dinner parties. My biggest complaint about the Jura is I feel the water is not as hot as the Rancilio. With the Rancilio I’d need to leave the shot for a moment to cool before I could take that first sip. With the Jura, it’s at a drinkable temperature right away. This is where i find pre-heating the cups is very important or it cools off much too quickly.
On a bleary-eyed morning, there is some definite advantage to poking a button and ending up caffeinated quickly. But I do miss the process and the love-labour of the Rancillio. As a result, both are currently snuggling on my kitchen counter, much to my husband’s dismay. I’m still deciding who stays and who goes.
if you have any insight.. please post below. I could use some help!