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Why is my tech broken? Why do my devices crash? Why is technology unreliable? How can I fix it?

pixellated tvI’ve tested a LOT of technology, gadgets and devices as a tech writer, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that most gadgets will require regular maintenance to keep working well.

Just like your car, the fluids need to be topped up, and when you hear a rattle you need to take it to a mechanic and get it looked at to prevent a bigger problem down the road. It’s the same thing with all the high tech gadgets we buy; you’ve got to do your part to keep them in good working order.

Why is my tech not working?

In the last few months alone, I’ve had home automation devices stop working, smart light bulbs cease to function, headphones that crashed constantly, and many other devices where they’ve just stopped working altogether, or only function intermittently.  Here’s a few common reasons why your devices may not be performing as they should.

1. Software/Firmware Updates Need to be Done

What’s the difference – Firmware vs Software

For starters, what’s the difference between firmware and software? Software is a program you run, often designed to run on a computer’s hard drive.  Usually software is something you, the user, adds to your arsenal of programs by choice. Firmware is software that’s embedded my a manufacturer into a device, that’s absolutely essential to it running. Firmware often lives inside a tiny chip deep within your device.

With that said, some products bring in constant firmware or software updates, like every couple of weeks. Others far less frequently. The key is, when your device gives you those push messages that say it’s time to update, don’t ignore them.  Updates are designed to remove bugs, patch security flaws and keep things running smoothly.  That’s why when you call a tech support hotline for help, the first thing they’ll ask is if your device is up to date.

2. Integration with your phone is not quite perfect yet

Have you ever tried to write a program for an app or device?  Yeah, me either.  It’s frikking hard, time consuming and expensive. That’s why a lot of companies will start by writing a program for just one smartphone OS, and bring in the second one later.

Why is there only an Apple App for that?

Often the development team has a preference for one device or operating system over others.  Why? This article from The Guardian explains it pretty well: “Developing iOS apps means ensuring they work nicely on a small range of iPhones and/or iPads: generally 6-8 different devices depending how far back the developer wants to go. On Android, it’s a different story: nearly 12,000 different devices out there in the hands of people, with a wider range of screen sizes, processors and versions of the Android software still in use. Many developers’ lack of enthusiasm for Android is down to concerns not just about the costs of making and testing their apps for it, but also the resources required to support them once they’re launched, if emails flood in about unspotted bugs on particular models.”

So to that point, keeping every single device out there running smoothly with your software or firmware is no easy feat. So that means if you’re having troubles you can try waiting it out until the next batch of updates, and hope that helps.

3. The product wasn’t quite ready for market, but they released it anyway

I’ve tested numerous products this year where it feels like the company’s gadget was definitely not ready for public release, but they started shipping devices anyway. Selling units helps get cash flowing in, which in turn helps pay for customer and tech support, which is one reason companies might release a not-quite-ready gadget or device.  The other reason a product might hit the market too soon?  There’s no better way to beta test something than to put it in the hands of thousands of users and see what happens.  At that point, you need to hope they have really good customer service and fast developers to get things working well quickly.

Did I get a bum device or a dud gadget?

4. It’s a dud.

There’s another reason your gadget or device may be causing you to pull your hair out. It’s a bad apple.  From where I’m sitting right now, I can see four smart gadgets/devices that have had to be replaced within hours, or weeks of getting them, because they were duds.

How do you know if they’re duds?  I’d say these days, if you’re spending any more than an hour on set up or installation and it’s not working properly, you may have a did. Today, most quality, well-made devices are set up and ready to go in less than 15 minutes.  Any longer than that and you might have a problem.  If you’ve been fighting with a gadget for more than an hour, or repeating the set up process over and over and getting nowhere, contact your company’s help line.  They can — and will —tell you if you have a bad device. And in 100% of the cases where this has happened to me, they’ve replaced it within days, at no cost to me, and the new one has worked smoothly.

How can I fix my malfunctioning tech?

So to get back to the original question: what can you do to keep your stuff running smoothly?

  1. Plan to update your device.  When an update is ready, do it.  That will decrease the liklihood of problems.
  2. Don’t ignore problems, especially early. If a device keeps crashing your computer, performing poorly or otherwise driving you crazy, call tech support and get it dealt with. If it requires a replacement device, that’s easier done a month in, rather than leaving it three or four months because you’re just too frustrated to deal with it.
  3. Keep your receipts/order numbers. All my receipts and manuals for major purchases go in one drawer, so they’re always easy to find. You’ll likely need some kind of proof of purchase to get help or a replacement.  If it’s a gift, you can always redact (black out) the price and make a copy of the invoice or receipt for the recipient.
  4. Don’t take no for an answer. If you have your receipt, and are having legitimate troubles with a device and tech support can’t help you, don’t accept that.  I recently dealt with a company that basically told me of its malfunctioning gadget, “we don’t know what to do.. soo..”. That’s not good enough.  Ask to speak to a supervisor, who often has more experience, and the authority to do something for you.

Having specific problems with your smart light bulbs?  Try a reset.  Read my blog on How to reset Your Smart Light Bulbs here.

Do you have tips or advice for people dealing with glitchy tech?  Share your wisdom in comments.

A 3D printer, a drone simulator, and gadgets galore: Where to find them in Calgary

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Want to see what it’s like flying a high-end drone? There’s a simulator for that!

I was hunting all over my house for my power cord — my one lonely, last Apple power cable— and realized I’d left it at work.  My phone was about to die, and I figured it was well past time for me to get a second cable.  I was dreading having to go to the mall and fight summer vacation traffic, so I googled “Apple retailer” to see if there was a better way to get that cord.

When London Drugs came up I felt a bit dumb, “oh RIGHT! I thought, “London Drugs has a huge electronics department,” but I didn’t realize they also carried Apple products.

I grew up in Ontario but lived in BC for many years, and out on the coast, London Drugs is people’s main source for electronics, cameras, computers and gadgets.

It sounds weird that a “drug” store should be the go-to destination for tech gear.  Maybe it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that London Drugs carries just about anything you could want that uses power or batteries.

That got me thinking about London Drugs, so I got in touch with Assistant Store Manager Dan Do to see about getting the 411 on the store people might not have at the top of their minds.

Computers, Electronics, and yes, drugs
Dan gave me a tour of the Royal Oak store in northwest Calgary.  It’s kind of the opposite of a traditional electronics store.  It’s warmer and brighter for starters.  And yes, there’s also a huge part of the store devoted to the eponymous ‘drugs’, health and beauty, and household goods.
Living in BC, and something I’d totally forgotten, was the handiness of being able to pop in to London Drugs, pick up some specialty batteries, a camera peripheral or whatever, then grab a few things from the drug store.  It’s one stop and two items checked off my to-do list.IMG_6311

But back to the computer and electronics department. The day I was there, there were lots of staff on the floor.  Anyone looking blankly at the cameras, or the Fitbits for instance, had a friendly employee swoop in and ask if they needed help.

The Fitbits were one of the things that first caught my eye when I walked in, as part of a display with the Aria scale.  The whole line was there for people to look at, touch and get to know. Indeed, London Drugs has a lot of other wearables available too.

Drone Simulator in-Store
Speaking of displays, Dan led me over to a really cool set up that has to be a huge draw.  There’s a drone flight simulator right inside the store!  As part of the promotional set up for the ultra high end Solo drone by 3DR, there’s a controller right next to one of the drones.  You can test it out and see how easy it is to fly (if you let go of the controls, it doesn’t crash, it hovers!).  Test flight over New York’s Statue of Liberty?  Yes, please! The Solo is built to work with GoPro cameras, something else you can pick up at London Drugs.

3D Printers?  They’re HERE

The Tiertime Up Mini 3D printer spit out this tiny dinosaur model.
The Tiertime Up Mini 3D printer spit out this tiny dinosaur model. You can buy this printer on the spot if the demo wows you.

If you want to get wowed some more, the London Drugs store I visited in Royal Oak also has a functioning 3D printer.  Yes, that technology you’ve been hearing about on the news is actually available at your corner London Drugs store.
The Tiertime Up Mini works just like a regular home printer, except with the obvious distinction of printing objects in 3D.  While the store model is for demonstrations, the printers are in stock, so if you want one, you can probably take one home on the spot.

While we’re on the subject of printers, London Drugs has a full selection.  Printers are so inexpensive now, it’s shocking.  The store also had a large scale Epson Surecolour art-quality printer for sale, which is a perfect back to school must-have for an art or photography student, or an amateur photographer. (Not to mention, the photo lab in the back can also do professional photo processing and printing and can print up to 44” prints in house! Plus there’s often free shipping. But I digress.)

While I was looking over all the amazing electronics and computer equipment at London Drugs, Dan reminded me they’re a Canadian company.  I really love dealing with Canadian companies.  It’s probably some sort of underlying patriotism, but it’s nice to know, and makes me feel good about spending my money here. That’s when I also found out London Drugs must be some kind of great employer, because one of the employees I talked to on my tour had worked at the store for 12 years, and one had been there 30 years, and apparently that kind of long-term service is common! Something else I didn’t know? London Drugs has been in Alberta for 30 years.

IMG_6317Back on the tour, I got a look at the computers and tablets all on display and ready to play with.  From the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad line, and even London Drugs own computer brand, Certified Data, there’s a whole host of computers to pick from. Plus, if you ever need serious help with your computer, there’s an emergency service centre right in all stores.  That means you can bring your computer or tablet in and get it triaged, and fixed, all right on site in many cases. There are even Apple certified technicians in-store, meaning you can skip the Genius Bar, and the frenzy at the mall!

Skip the mall and your your Apple here
Speaking of Apple, I was really wowed at the full selection of Apple products at London Drugs. I’m a full-on Apple girl, so being able to pop into London Drugs to service my MacBook, or pick up Apple-authorized cords, cables or screen protectors or cases for my iPad is super convenient. (Because let’s be honest, those cables you buy from the internet will stop functioning with your Apple products after a few months and you’ll need new ones anyway. Take my advice and just buy the real thing.  It’s more expensive, yes, but you’ll have it for the life of the product.)

Back to my cable conundrum.  I finally decided to place my order on line and pick up in store later that day, another great London Drugs option that means you won’t need to waste a trip to a store only to find they’re fresh out of what you need.

So now London Drugs is top of mind for me again when it comes to electronics, computers and gadgets. And I can thank them for the power I needed (and the inspiration) to write up today’s blog, right from my fully re-powered phone!

3D Printing Demo TOMORROW:
Looking for more info about 3D Printing?  Looking beyond the novelty of 3D printing, noted expert and enthusiast John Biehler will be visiting the 130th Avenue SE London Drugs in Calgary for a talk and demonstration, and the public is welcome to attend.
WHEN: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more info, call the store, located at 4701 – 130th Avenue. SE, Calgary. 403-571-4964

A sampling of what London Drugs can do with its 3D printer.
A sampling of what London Drugs can do with its 3D printer.

This blog post has been sponsored by London Drugs.

Review: Honeywell’s Lyric Thermostat Just Doesn’t Stand Up to the Test

lyric

If you’re still running a retro thermostat with only basic controls, you’re missing out on an opportunity to save money each year by controlling the efficiency of your furnace; turning it down when you’re away, or asleep, or at work, and only keeping at at temperature when you’re home actually using it.

I’ve tried a number of programmable thermostats in my home, from the most basic computerized one, to the high-end fully automated Nest. Read my review of the Nest here.
So I was pleased (and had a wee sense of Deja Vu at how similar the Lyric looks to the Nest) when Honeywell’s Lyric thermostat arrived at my home for testing.

The Lyric bills itself as a “reinvented” thermostat, outlining the energy savings you can expect with its “perfectly in tune” device.  It also specifies “no complex menus”, and “one-touch buttons save you time”.  Sounded great to me, however, I’d soon come to feel this was not accurate.IMG_0117

Installation was super easy, despite the fact there are no instructions.  Step one (of only one step) on the tiny paper-doll-folded card was to download the Lyric app, which walked me through which wires to connect, and it was on in minutes.  From there, it walked me through how to connect the thermostat to my home’s existing wifi network, and get it running.  It was connected in a few minutes, but that’s where things started to go off the rails.

To find out how, click here to read the rest of the review on Future Shop’s Tech Blog!