Virtual reality Coldplay concert with Samsung Gear VR

I’ve always thought virtual reality is something for teenage boys, and gamers. The appeal to a middle aged woman like me has been limited up to now. But thanks to Samsung, I’m starting to see the promise of virtual reality and how it can be expanded from gaming to real life applications. Continue reading “Virtual reality Coldplay concert with Samsung Gear VR”

The backpack you need for work – Targus accessories

Mobile vip backpack commute best targusWhether it’s the bus, train or even Uber, sometimes commuting can be a pain. You need to be well armed when you head out for the day; all your papers and gear, your technology and devices, and maybe even lunch thrown in for good measure. Having the right accessories —and the best way to carry them — can make your daily commute easier.

I recently had a chance to partner with well known accessory company Targus to share some new gear picks with readers. They’ve sponsored this post, but let me pick out some of my favourites. Continue reading “The backpack you need for work – Targus accessories”

Use technology to make travel easier

passport travel document tips help adviceTravelling is either a treat or a chore, depending on your perspective. Whichever way you look at it, you can make it easier on yourself by taking a few seconds, and using technology, to keep yourself organized. Our travel hacks will also help you if your documents or other important info is lost or stolen.

Travel Tips- Snap and save documents to the cloud

It’s just a fact of life that when we travel things get forgotten or misplaced. Make replacing things like a lost passport or ID easier by taking a photo of it with your smartphone and uploading it to the cloud. Even if your phone goes missing you’ll still be able to download what you need. Same goes for plane tickets, boarding passes, reservation codes and hotel info.

Travel Tips – Make a digital itinerary

Keep names, addresses and attraction info (even directions or map snaps) at your fingertips by putting it all in one place on your phone (then back it too up to the cloud). This is particularly helpful in places where you don’t want to worry about roaming charges but there’s no Wi-Fi.

Travel Tips –Download directions

maps download google maps offline use how toGoogle maps has a great feature that will allow you to search, download and save directions to your phone or device, even if you’re not connected. This can be a lifesaver and a time saver. Here’s how to do it.

Travel Tips – No need to pack a flashlight

Most phones today have flashlight functions, but if yours doesn’t, download one of many free flashlight apps. Having some light can help you find a dropped pen on a dark plane, or help you navigate the sticky lock on your Airbnb rental.

Travel Tips –Verify your rental car

Before you get in and drive away, snap photos of all sides of your rental car, as well as the rental agreement (including the emergency roadside help number) as well as the license plate number. That way no one can claim you did damage when you didn’t. Having the license number on hand can make parking or hotel valet easier too. You can also snap a photo of you parking spot if you’re prone to forgetting, or you’re in an unfamiliar area.

Travel Tips –Use your phone as a diary or log book

Yes, it takes photographs and video but today’s smartphones are also perfect places to create and save a digital scrapbook. Snap pictures of new favourite beer, wine or local liquour labels, record menus, and take notes or even use voice dictation to save your thoughts.

If you’re taking a tour with multiple stops or a ‘city-a-day’ itinerary, it’s also handy to take snaps of your hotel and room number, or the hotel’s business card, in case you forget.

There are any number of ways you can use technology to make travel easier and safer.  Post yours in comments below, or read some top Packing Tips from our friends at ContinentalDrifters.ca 

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

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic
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”

Virtual reality for real people -Reviewing Google Daydream View

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If you think virtual reality is for kids, hipsters and gamers, think again. Virtual reality is about to come to the masses thanks to Google’s inexpensive and easy to use Daydream View headset that has just launched.

What is Daydream View?

Daydream View is Google’s virtual reality (VR) headset.  It’s essentially a pair of goggles that fits over your head to immerse you in a virtual world.  It pairs with a hand-held controller that can be used as a wand, a baseball bat, or any object you might need in your new virtual world. The headset itself is not powered or electrified in any way, so it’s completely cord-free. The viewing images come from your phone.

How does Daydream work?

The video picture is supplied by Google’s Pixel or Pixel XL phones, or using another smartphone device that supports the Daydream app; you slide the phone into the front of the headset, close the flap and secure it with the elastic loop.

The app splits the content in two so it can be viewed by each eye individually; it kind of looks like one of those old Viewmaster toys. Once inside the headset, your brain registers the individual views as one big image. As you turn your head, the image follows you.

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The controller acts as a pointer or a guide that allows you to access menus, play games and to carry out movement or motion in conjunction with what’s happening in your virtual space. There’s a touchpad on the controller which lets you swipe and scroll or click, an app-access button to help navigate, and a ‘Home’ button which lets you re-centre your cursor if things get spun around.

Audio
Audio is supplied by your phone’s external speaker, and during my testing was plenty loud enough.  The device can also be used with headphones for a fully immersive audio-video experience.

Do I need Google’s Pixel phone?

img_6264Not necessarily.  But the Pixel or Pixel XL are optimized and built to work with the headset. Google says any “daydream-ready phone” can work, so basically as long as your phone manufacturer supports the Daydream app, you’re in.

Getting set up with Google Daydream View

Check out my Unboxing video (in which I RE-box the Daydream kit) to see firsthand exactly what’s in the package; basically a set of goggles (comes in a white, gray and a rust colour), and a controller.

You’ll need to have a phone separately.  Once you’ve downloaded and launched the Daydream app you’re basically ready to dive in. Slip the phone into the headset with the screen facing you, clip it in, and then adjust the headset so it’s tight but comfortable.

What happens when you enter Daydream Home?

Daydream 'Home"
Daydream ‘Home”

The app will set you down in ‘Daydream Home’ a forested, cartoony virtual world where you’ll learn how to interact with your environment.

You’ll be guided through using your controller, how to move around, and you’ll get a taste of what you can watch, see and do.daydream-world-2 daydream-street-view

the Home world, you can access Google Streetview maps to explore popular landmarks, like the Taj Mahal. You can watch YouTube videos, check out a VR movie, or view your Google Photos collection.

What kinds of things can ordinary people do with Virtual Reality?

Tour a home for sale or check out a vacation property
Buying a new home in a city across the country? Hoping to book a sweet suite in Spain next summer? Virtual tours are just one way real people are using VR to get educated about holiday destinations, and purchases. Take a virtual tour a condo complex under construction to help decide it it’s got the right feel for you – way more immersive and helpful than staring at 2 dimensional floor plans!daydream-view

Use Daydream view to take a virtual tour of that charming AirBnB rental or to swoop through the lobby of a local hotel.

Visit Museums, see masterpieces, learn science
Virtual reality devices like Daydream View can also allow you to re-immerse yourself in your vacation experience.  Start by using Google’s Pixel phone to take 360 degree photos of your cottage, downtown San Francisco, or the pyramids, then play them back over Daydream View. You’re instantly back there, and it’s not as though you’re looking at someone else’s anonymous snaps; with Pixel phone and Daydream View, you can look down at your own feet, or even see your spouse or family posing in the picture.

Watch TV
You can also use virtual reality to tour museum exhibits, learn about the biology of undersea mammals while watching them swim around you, or even to watch videos on YouTube. Content makers like HBO, Hulu NBA and Netflix are all also launching VR content this winter.img_6705

My experience with Google Daydream

First off let me say that while I love technology and gadgets, I’m not a gamer, and haven’t been one of those people who’s been overly excited about virtual reality. So it was with a bit of detachment I unpacked the Daydream kit, readied it and strapped it on.

I’ll say the system was very easy to set up; it’s as simple as launching an app and putting the phone in the goggles.img_6687

Once I was transported to the virtual world and kind of got my bearings, I was impressed. While the home world is animated, it’s actually a great place to begin; it’s obvious you’re in a virtual world, so there’s no weird, “what’s real? what’s fake?” acclimatization.

Google Daydream view wearing size
They look big and awkward in this angle, but they’re light & comfortable.

Using the cursor I was able to go through the turorial; learning how to re-centre the cursor, getting a taste of how to see my way around.  It only took a couple minutes for me to get my vision adjusted and used to the  inside of the goggles.

There were a couple of different experiences I was able to have during testing; some animated worlds, but also real street view and photo visualizations.

I found I was able to see pixels or stippling more in the animated worlds than with photos and more realistic content, but only if I was looking for it. It’s easy enough to take your focus off the details and focus on the bigger virtual picture.

Using other virtual reality headsets, I felt like they were bulky, heavy and uncomfortable. With Daydream View, the goggles were light, soft and comfortable.  The biggest issue was there was a bit of a gap at the bottom of the goggles. I was able to remedy it somewhat by tightening the strap, but then I had the strap as tight as it would go and it still could have been tighter to hold it more securely to my face. In the end, I was just able to focus past the gap and the slight light bleed.

Overall, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this virtual reality experience with Google Daydream View. It’s easy, the quality was good, the headset is comfortable, and the virtual worlds I was able to explore were really well done and immersive. If you’re looking to get started with virtual reality,  $79 USD is a great entry point.

Check out Google Daydream here.

 

 

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!

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.

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.