BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock review; it wakes with light, can call you an Uber

Beddi glow smart alarm lightCan BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock help me wake up better?

There are few sounds that irk me as much as the screech of my alarm clock. It goes off each day at 2:50am so I can snooze it a few times before I finally crawl bleary-eyed and groggy from my warm covers at 3:30 to head to work. Believe it or not, snoozing like that actually helps me feel like I got ‘extra sleep’. (Does anyone else do that?)

I’ve always hated the sound of ringing alarms. I use the radio sometimes, but I find it disconcerting to hear people talking in my room before I’m fully conscious and know what the hell is going on. It’s all the more unsettling when I realize the radio is tuned to Coast to Coast AM and they’re talking about a phenomenon of people waking up with the demonic Hat Man shadow-person standing over their beds. Shudder.

Better, more gentle wake up?Beddi glow smart alarm light

There has to be a better, more gentle way to wake up, and I think I may have found it.
I was recently sent a BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock for testing and review. BEDDI Glow allows you to wake with a simulated sunrise light, your own music, or FM radio. It’s also got a host of other neat features that makes it pretty handy.

BEDDI Glow alarm Features

The BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock gives you options for your wake up. I’ve been using the simulated sunrise feature and the ‘relax’ sound effect. Continue reading “BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock review; it wakes with light, can call you an Uber”

Write on paper, see it on your phone or TV instantly; Moleskine Smart Writing set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycIf there’s one gadget that’s blown my mind this year, it’s this; Moleskine’s Smart Writing set is a paper notebook and special pen, that allows you to enjoy the tangible feel of writing with the power of technology.

What is the Moleskine Smart Writing set?

The set consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen has black ink (but with refillable easy-to-replace 4C replacement cartridge you can switch it to whatever you prefer). The pen, which is larger than a standard pen, but not too unwieldy or heavy, has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

When you flip a page in the notebook, the app knows it, and starts a new page in the app too, so your notes are always organized.

But you can go one step further, and digitally organize the pages in a different order if that makes more sense for you. The app also keeps several notebooks organized, so if you have more than one, they’re all digitally archived for sharing, or in case you lose it.

Moleskine Smart Writing set – How it worksMoleskine smart writing set 1.jpg

Using the special Moleskine Pen+, you write in the notebook, which has tiny dots on the page. The Pen+ has “a hidden camera that traces and digitizes everything you write,” Moleskine explains on its website.

“The Paper Tablet uses invisible NCode™ technology by NeoLAB Convergence embedded within each page that allows the Moleskine Pen+ to recognize where it is inside the notebook and to transfer all your freehand notes from page to screen in real-time. It allows you to smoothly digitize, edit, organize and share handwritten notes and sketches made on the move for seamless integration between paper and cloud.”

While the pen will work with other paper, just like a regular pen, and the paper notebook can take notes written by another pen, for the kit to work and digitally transfer your notes, the Pen+ and the notebook must work together with the app.

Other amazing functions – Moleskine Smart Writing set

Moleskine transcribe smart writing erinlyycTranscribe function

Amazingly, the Moleskine Smart Writing kit can also transcribe your handwritten notes and turn them to text, which can then be shared via e-mail, Dropbox, or other services. While the app has some trouble seeing shapes or scribbles and understanding those, for the most part, if your handwriting is neat, it does an astonishingly good job at accurately digitizing it.

Use Tags to organize

Your pages can be easily organized or searched in the Moleskine app; just add keywords or tags to the digital file, and they’re instantly archived.moleskine-4

Playback function

Want to see how your sketch took shape, or how that idea you whiteboared came about?  A super-neat Playback function with re-create your words, art or notes in the order you wrote them as a video. While it looks particularly cool for drawings, it can be really helpful for recalling the order of meeting notes and conversations. The next step for this feature would be the ability to export that playback as a video, which I couldn’t seem to do; perhaps that’s a feature that can come in subsequent updates.

Voice input

The pen and app also have a voice dictation function. You record notes, meetings or whatever you need, then play it back by clicking on the ‘play’ button in the app (the same one that will play back your drawings as a video). You can listen to meetings again, or check quotes against your notes. The digital pages in the app keep track of which pages have voice notes associated to them.  The only think missing with this feature, in my opinion, is the ability to dictate notes to the pen, and then have the pen transcribe it into the virtual notebook for you like Apple’s Siri does. As it is, you can only listen back to the recording. But still… a pen that’s that smart and functional?  Impressive.

Calendar and GPS

Another neat function I discovered is that the app records your location and activity in its built-in calendar. Not sure whether you sent that page to your team? Can’t remember where you or what triggered that great idea? The calendar keeps track of all the data to remind you.

Sharing optionsmoleskine smart writing 3

Your notes, drawings, scribbles, whiteboard brainstorms, or meeting notes can be easily shared, saved and sent using a huge number of services. Pages can be saves as images or PDFs, as text/transcribed pages, or as SVG for Adobe illustrator files. You can also connect and share seamlessly with services like Evernote, Dropbox, Spark, Pinterest, or Google Drive, among others. Another cool feature?  Just check the tiny envelope icon on the top corner of the page, and your notes will be instantly emailed to you; you can even pre-set the send-to email address for instant delivery.img_5486

Editing Modes

With a tap you can make changes to your digital notes. Undo/Redo functions make edits or corrections easy, plus Select/Deselect lets you work only on certain areas. A pen or highlighter function means you can feature words or content too.

Use it with mirroring and a TV – Amazing for whiteboarding ideas

A function I thought was super cool is the ability to ‘broadcast’ your notes as you write.  I used Apple TV and the iPhone screen mirroring function to display my scrawls on a large TV screen. This would work great for a presentation, or brainstorming or whiteboarding session where everyone can watch what’s being drawn out, and can then receive a digital copy of the session. Check out my YouTube video to see this feature in action.

Overall review -Moleskine’s Smart Writing set

The Moleskine Smart Writing set really and truly surprised me at how well it worked. The connection between the Pen+ and the app was instant and seamless every time. The connectivity and real time transfer function was also consistently trouble-free.

From voice notes, to video playback of your work, calendars so you know when you worked on items, instant emails and sharing, and tags to make notes fully searchable this kit does a whole lot more than you think.

The kit is expensive, yes, ($249 CAD) but in terms of the technology and versatility, you’re getting your money’s worth here.

Get the Moleskine Smart Writing kit from Moleskine’s website, from select Indigo stores, or Indigo.ca 

 

 

How to be a better photographer: getting help in Calgary

Photography by Kristian Bogner © 2012
Photography by Kristian Bogner © 2012

Kristian Bogner is still haunted by a photo he didn’t get. A professional photographer, Bogner was in the front row for Canada’s gold-medal winning hockey game at the Vancouver Olympics when Sidney Crosby took a pass from Jarome Iginla, wound up, and shot, winning bragging rights for all Canadians.

Though Bogner got hundreds of amazing images from the game, the one he wanted was not meant to be; a shot of the puck touching, then leaving Crosby’s stick as it headed for the net, and a place in history.

“I think if I’d just been half a second quicker, I’d have the shot no one else did,” says Bogner.

We all have regrets when it comes to shots not taken, or photographic misses. Sometimes missing a shot is just luck, or timing, but often there’s skill involved in getting consistently great photos. That’s where Bogner comes in.  A Nikon ambassador, he also works with GoPro and Manfrotto, and enjoys educating amateur photographers about his craft, with helpful tips, tricks and basic education.

Bogner will be just one of the photography experts taking part in London Drugs #LDFotocon this month, where experts are available for advice and education at Calgary-area stores.

“I like to get them stoked and energized and to help them not be afraid to take their photography to the next level,” says Bogner, “It’s very rewarding, and one of the best parts of what I do.”

#LDFotocon aims to help photographersDSC_0892

You can take part in #LDFotocon events at many local London Drugs locations.  #LDFotocon is a series of workshops and info sessions where recognized experts in photography take you through various aspects of the craft.  Want to learn about using a DSLR? Maybe even a specific camera brand like Canon, Nikon or Pentax? You can get information, expertise and an education all month long at London Drugs.

Tips from a pro can really up your game

I’ve always been interested in photography, but I’ve only ever guessed at how to take a good photo.  So recently I decided to take a class with well-known local photographer Neil Zeller.  In just a couple hours, many of the basics of photography had been demystified for me.

I learned what all the dials and buttons on my hand-me-down DSLR did, what exactly an F-stop was, and how to adjust my settings based on lighting conditions.  The bottom line is, getting some pro help can make all the difference not just to your finished photos, but to your confidence too. I know because it worked for me.

DSC_0905Don’t let those pics gather digital dust!

You can also get help with what to do with all the photos that are gathering digital dust on your hard drive.  London Drugs also has classes designed to show you how to make the most of enlargements or gallery wraps, or how to get printed photos onto aluminum panels to create show-stopping home art. It’s all as close as your nearest participating London Drugs location.

But learning about what to do with your photos is just the beginning. Other learning opportunities at #LDFotocon include

•    Face-to face workshops with camera vendors from all the top brands
•    Learning about retouching and colour management
•    Preview the hottest new cameras, hardware or software products
•    Get point-and-shoot photography tips
•    Take part in a DSLR showcase from top brands: Nikon, Canon, Pentax
•    Compact system camera (CSC) photography and showcases
•    Learn about drone photography
•    See how to take better photos on your smartphone
•    Find out how to build a Moments photo book or calendarDSC_0860

Photo help in-store, without feeling intimidated

I’ve learned so much about photography lately that I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade my circa-2002 camera to something a little sleeker, smarter, and easier to use.

London Drugs is stop number one on my shopping excursion, because the selection is huge, and it’s right in my neighbourhood. I don’t need to go downtown or to a mall; I can get expertise and great prices right where I live.Photo 2016-04-23, 9 54 33 AM

When I went in to get hands-on with the cameras on my shortlist, the gent I spoke to was helpful, patient, and if there was something he didn’t know, he looked it up for me on the spot.

Bogner is also a London Drugs fan, having started shopping there well before he signed on to teach workshops.

“London Drugs is my saving grace whenever I needed equipment, filters, whatever; I’m always impressed with what London Drugs has to offer. And I’m always amazed how they have all the stuff I need, whether it’s LowePro or Apple, or Nikon, they have a good selection of accessories in particular. I’ve shopped at London Drugs for years, because it’s very convenient and nice to know they have all the high end products.”

Bogner is looking forward to being able to share some of his wisdom with participants, like the advice he often gives to new photographers; “if you see a moment and think, ‘oh, I’ll get it later’, it’s never the same.  Capture it now, don’t wait, because later will never be the same. It’s a unique moment”.

Take a look at the events, workshops and guest experts at London Drugs this month, by following the hashtag #LDFotocon on Twitter or Instagram. You can also find Kristian on both those platforms @KristianBogner

London Drugs #LDFotocon stops in Calgary on June 4th and June 5th, 2016. 
Click here for the schedule of events and to register.

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This post is sponsored by London Drugs. 

Gadgets for Tech and Travel

ERIN FEB TECHThis month on Tech Talk on CTV, we looked at gadgets and gear that are perfect for travel, since it’s March Break/Winter Break season!

Spyder Commuter Power Pack

img_1168The Commuter is a 3-in-1 universal battery charger. It can be used in the car, by plugging it into the wall, or as a standalone power pack for on the go needs.The wall outlet and car charger end both fold into the battery pack so it stays sleek and compact when it’s not in use.

The Commuter is a perfect companion for travellers, since it weights a scant 4.5 oz or 128 grams, and you can charge from an AC wall outlet, via USB on your computer, or in the car. Plus it works with any smartphone or tablet.

Check out the full write up on the Spyder power pack on the blog here.

Mipow Power Tube 3000mipow power tube

This lipstick-sized tube is infinitely portable and gives your phone about one full charge. The feature that puts this one above others for me is that it comes with an Apple lightning cord hidden inside, meaning no tangled cables, and no forgetting one either! The tube comes in fun colours too. Get one from MiPow’s website.

Cable Cases & Wraps

We all need cables when we’re travelling; for powering everything from laptops, to phones, tablets, cameras and a host of other gadgets. Keep everything tangle-free and organized in a chic case. Levenger makes gorgeous soft leather cases with a variety of snap straps and zippered pockets to keep cords organized. The company also makes neat leather-wrapped cable ties that let you quickly tie up cables and stash them away. Big tabs let you find and grip them easily.

Nite Ize Cable wraps

These are like twist ties or pipe cleaners on steroids! Super bendy, but they’ll hold firm, these cable ties keep everything from earphones to power cords from getting tangles in your bag, on a flight or even in the car.

Parrot Zik3 Over Ear Headphones

Parrot Zik3 are an ideal pair of over ear headphones for traveling, thanks in particular to one of their great features; noise cancellation. These headphones, when paired to your smart phone or device, allow you to set different levels of noise canceling. For example, you can set them to block out any and all outside noise electronically. Meaning if someone else in the room is watching TV, kids are playing, or an airplane is droning on in the background, you can mute this outside noise and focus on your music, podcasts, TV, or whatever you’re listening to.

Similarly, if you do need to hear what’s going on outside those headphones, there’s a way to allow that sound in.  For more, read the full blog review.

For more tech, gadget or travel news don’t forget to Like my Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter and Instagram @ErinLYYC

To enter the Samsung contest I mentioned today, please go to www.ctvcalgary.ca

ERIN TECH TALK FEB 2

 

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.

IMG_7188
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.

IMG_7175

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.
IMG_7252
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.
IMG_7288
 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?
IMG_7270

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.

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Some type of metal storage canister in the old projector room.
IMG_7258
An old mint green dumbwaiter.
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Old office space in the basement
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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.

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

IMG_6278
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.

12 Things I Love About Calgary #YYC

Calgary can be  a tough town to adapt to–mainly because of the climate. But there ARE  many things here I’ve learned to LOVE. Here’s just a few.

1. The Ruins; Lindsay’s Folly— Calgary has 2 sets of cool ruins. The crumbled bricks of a man’s incomplete and ruined mansion-cum-money pit alongside the Elbow (Lindsay’s Folly), and The Rundle Ruins (the old sandstone Glenmore Hospital) near 12th Ave and 6th St. Only doorways and arches are left, but they’re gorgeous. Click HERE to read an article I wrote for Avenue Magazine on the ruins and their future.

Photo: http://members.shaw.ca/bvinge/calgary11.htm
Lindsay’s Folly. Photo: http://members.shaw.ca/bvinge/calgary11.htm

2. Crave Cupcakes. If you’ve never had one DON’T START! Luscious icing with spot-on flavours (crushed strawberry!) and the moistest cake this side of the 100th meridian.

Photo: crave.ca
Photo: crave.ca

3. Rene Thibault: an Alberta artist with an amazing eye for colour and detail. Sometimes his work looks like it’s been photographed, rather than painted. Thibault paints a lot of mountain landscapes, so our canvas often doubles as a window.

Art: Rene Thibault
Art: Rene Thibault

4. Charcut Roast House; for meat-loves only!  Top Chef Canada contestant Connie DeSousa and partner John Jackson run the show here.  Amazing what they can do with food.  Some past faves include the Chicken-skin Caesar Salad, White Beans with Nettle Pistou, and the house made poutine.

Photo: charcut.ca
Photo: charcut.ca

5.  The Cookbook Co. Great food and ingredients, amazing kitchen tools ( I love my Cuisinart cylindrical ice cream scoop!) and a wine shop to round out the meal preparations shopping. ‘Nuff said.

6.  J Webb Wines; great selection of unique wines, spot-on recommendations from interested, smart staff, and a tasting bar that’s always open.

8. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo; a die hard city girl,  I’ve never considered myself to be the least bit “country”.  But when the Stampede rolls around, I get my cowgirl on!  The rodeo is chock full of amazing athletes, action, and a beautiful outdoor setting, taking full advantage of Calgary’s limited summer sunshine.

9. Peonies. We may only have summer for a couple short weeks, but the peony plants take full advantage. They bloom big, long and colourful, and are always an eye catcher.  20130521-154321.jpg

10. Manuel Latruwe Take n Bake Frozen pastries ; this downtown cafe is phenomenal.  Glossy cakes fill the display cases, and the espresso is some of the best in town (take a bag home!), but my fave is grabbing a pack of take home chocolate croissants.  Take them out of the freezer, let them rise overnight, and bake first thing Saturday morning.  Weekends never had it so good!

11.  The Peace Bridge; Let’s be honest.  EVERYONE hated the idea when it was rolled out.  probably because of its lack of public consultation, multi-million dollar price, and construction mistakes that delayed opening.  But now that we have it, it’s a gorgeous, modern landmark.  Beautiful both during the day and night. Future city icon.

Photo: erinLYYC
Photo: erinLYYC

12.   The Bow Building & Wonderland; tallest building in the city now, it took years to put up and included a massive 2-day concrete pour.  Home to one of the city’s myriad oil companies, the building is beautiful and soaring. The Wonderland sculpture out front is constantly surrounded by people.  A giant metal-mesh girl’s head it looks different in every different kind of weather.  And that can happen all in one day in Calgary!

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Okidokeys Smart Lock: Great idea that needs some work – Update: Okidokeys responds to review

okidokeys lock** I originally posted this review July 10.  On July 14 Okidokeys posted a comment below regarding this review.  It was quite surprising, because for one they called a Tweet I sent “inflammatory”, and for another they imply the facts of this review are not accurate, and in essence that I lied. I’ll respond to their comments at the bottom of this page.   **

I love the idea of a smart lock.  In my head I envision approaching the door, laden with groceries and bags, only to have the door unlock audibly and allow me to slip in without dropping everything and fishing for keys.

That’s what I’d been hoping for when the Okidokeys Smart Lock arrived on my doorstep.  But, much to my disappointment, that wasn’t quite what I got.

The Okidokeys kit looks simple enough, and the instructions seemed straightforward.  It comes with the automatic lock mechanism, 3 different colours of back cover, batteries, (4 AAs) and the tools needed to install it. The instructions says to just remove the back of the deadbolt from your door, leaving the rest of the locking hardware in place, slip the Okidokeys motorized locking system over top, screw it in, and voila! Except that’s not at all what happened.

(Bear with me.  I’m going to give some detailed info here about the problems I encountered, in the event my troubles can help others.  If you’re looking for the straight up ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’, go ahead and skip to the bottom)

Installing Okidokeys Smart Lock

Replacing the back of the lock with a new plate.
Replacing the back of the lock with a new plate.

While all you need is a screwdriver to do the installation, and it doesn’t mark or ruin your door, Okidokeys did not fit over top of my existing lock. Some adapters are included with the kit, but none of them seemed to fit right.  No matter which I used, the lock would not sit flush with the door.  Finally I realized the correct adapter was included with the package, but it did not fit properly on our lock; the deadbolt post was just too long. When I called customer service for assistance, I got a rather surly woman, who finally told me the only way around this was to buy a new deadbolt, or to try to file the lock bolt mechanism down so the Okidokeys lock would fit over top of it.

Not wanting to go out and buy another lock just so this new lock would work, I eventually located a file and spent a good amount of time grinding down the post.  It was a lot of work, extending the installation by a good hour.

Once the installation was done I downloaded the app for iPhone 6. Except then I found out you can’t download the app and sign up for an account on your phone.  For that you need a computer.

Once the account was set up on the laptop, I signed into the app using my newly created account, and nothing happened.  while the app loaded, there appeared to be no way to actually tell the app which deadbolt I had. Plus, when I manually engaged the lock, it made a horrible loud grinding sound. After another frustrating 45 minutes trying to sort that out, trying to get the deadbolt to connect to the phone, I put the whole thing away for the night to resume in the morning.

Was It a Dud?

Turns out the next day it was no easier. I went through all of the set up again but had no luck getting anything working. I finally decided to call the Okidokeys support line again. The customer service rep could not seem to figure out what the problem was and said she did not know what was going on, and I was kind of left hanging.  What was I supposed to do with a non-functional lock, and someone who was out of ideas to help me?

I asked to speak to a supervisor or someone with more detailed tech-support background to help me, as I felt that “I don’t know” was not an adequate customer service response. Instead, the CSR asked me to email her a still photo of the lock, to prove it was mounted flush against the door. I declined, because it was flush, and because I was getting annoyed at the non-functionality of the unit. In the end I left a message for a supervisor to call me back at the first available opportunity. In the meantime, I uploaded a video to Twitter of my problem, and hoped someone would be able to help me. Turns out Okidokeys is monitoring their Twitter account rather well (kudos), and within an hour they had called me back to say they had seen my video, and thanks to that they could tell the lock itself was malfunctioning. They offered to send me a new one right away.

Meantime, I decided to get my account set up and ready for when the new lock arrived.
Once signed in to the company webpage on a desktop computer I was able to get logged in and get started. I finally figured out you need to put in the serial number of the lock on the computer (not your phone, again). One small frustration with this is that I went through the process of entering the serial number, door name, door time zone, and a picture to apply to it, but I chose not to select the optional “door group name”, and when I went to click “next”, it gave me an error message for not picking a door group name, and it had reset half of the settings. Annoying since I had to go through and re-set up the lock all over again.  Once that was done I was able to start assigning people to use the door. That process is fairly straightforward you can give certain users a key tag, wristband, or plastic credit card style key, and then you can then assign certain hours of the day they will be able to swipe their ‘key’ to open your door.

The separate Smart Reader and additional keys.
The separate Smart Reader and additional keys.

Setting up the smart keys, like the included key tag, the credit card key, and the wristband, was easy, thankfully. You simply go to the drop-down menu on the website for smart devices, register smart tag using the  serial number that is very clearly printed on the smart tags, and you’re good to go. Then it’s as easy as creating new user profiles, and assigning those people whichever keys you want them to have.

Try, try again

When the new lock finally arrived about a week later, I was already very similar with how to install it, so it went quickly. When I did the self test, everything worked smoothly and the lock was able to turn on it’s own quite easily with no grinding, although the lock is quite loud. Then I decided to try locking the door with the app. The app told me that I first needed to ‘sync’ the door to the app.

Locking Not So Easy

IMG_2551Trying to get the lock to sync took about six attempts, before it randomly worked. Then I tried locking again, but kept getting an error message that I was not standing near enough the door, when I was probably about a foot and a half away from it. Then I tried to manually lock and unlock the door using the buttons on the back of the door lock. That didn’t work either, although I got a helpful looking blue light each time I tried.

I decided to close out of the app and restart it in hopes this would jazz things up a bit. Only then to my frustration I realized I needed to log in again. But when I tried to do that I kept getting an error message saying my login credentials were invalid. At this point, admittedly I was ready to throw the damn lock out the window. To me, a product should not be this hard or this frustrating to set up.

Buggy & Frustrating App

Fortunately, after another attempt at logging in I got back into my account. This time when I went to lock the door using the app it worked! Hallelujah! But my joy was short-lived. The next time I tried to lock the door, I got an ‘operation timeout failure’. I decided to do an experiment and standing next to the door I tried to lock the door or unlock it ten times from a couple distances. The lock only responded four out of those ten times. This is an enormous frustration. No one has time to stand around in front of the door holding loaded bags of groceries waiting for three or four attempts at unlocking the door before it listens.

26 seconds to open

It’s also worth mentioning that the lock, when it actually functions, takes a long time to engage and open.  I timed it, and on one occasion when trying to unlock the door it took about 26 seconds before the lock would finally respond. Again, I could have unlocked the door in about two seconds flat with the old fashioned key in that time.IMG_2554

At this point I was pretty much done with this device. But I decided to give customer service a call one more time to see if perhaps there was something strange going on they could easily remedy. Alas, it was Saturday, and Okidokeys voicemail hopefully told me that their customer service office closes at 2 PM MT on Saturdays. Great.

Later on, feeling optimistic, I decided to try to use the app to lock my door when I left. When I went to load up the app, it wanted me to login from scratch again. Uggghhhh!
I gave up.
Turn On Automatic Login, for gosh sakes!

Another constant frustration was the fact that I needed to input the username or email and password to access the app every time I tried to use it. Making that even more frustrating, is despite entering the username and password correctly at least half a dozen times, I kept getting an error message saying that the ‘user is invalid’. When I left the phone to sit for a few minutes, and tried again by simply hitting ‘enter’ on the information I had already put in, for some reason it would randomly allow me access. Very frustrating. Eventually I figured out that by turning on “automatic logins” in the settings menu in the app, I could forgo logging in every single time I wanted to use it.
Also, in what almost seems like too much security, every time I logged into the Okidokeys webpage on the computer to access my account, it emailed me a security code that I had to input before I was able to login. More steps, more frustration.

smart-lockokidokeysNo remote access

Another thing I found frustrating about this lock set was that there’s no way for me to open the door from a remote location. It would be so handy if I could let the cleaning lady, neighbour, or even a key-forgetting spouse in from my smartphone kilometers away in my office, but that’s not an option.  To let someone else in if I’m not at home (and have not given them a key previously), they’d need to download the app, and I’d have to email them access permission.  But since getting the account working in the first place was such a hassle for me I was not comfortable foisting it on someone else. It would be great if I could just press a button on my phone from far away, and the lock would open for whoever I needed to let in.  But alas.. no.  Okidokeys also says it has a Hands-free Mode where it will unlock your door when your cell phone gets close to it, but (noticing a pattern?) I couldn’t get that to work either.

The Verdict

The Okidokeys Smart Lock was not easy to use.  In my experience it was buggy and unreliable, and took far too long to perform the simple task of unlocking the door. I’m not going to fault the first lock for being a dud, but I also didn’t have great experience with Okidokeys customer service folks on their phone help line.

Having tried some products like the Ring Video Doorbell recently, or the Nest Learning Thermostat which worked perfectly from the moment the box was opened (and reliably from then on), this product appears not quite ready for use by an average customer. It’s just too frustrating.  I’ll be interested in seeing further software updates, but until then, it’s back to using my key.

UPDATE:

I recently wrote the above review of the Okidokeys Smart Lock. It was not flattering, but it was fair, and I stand by it.  Since then, I received a comment on the blog from ‘Okidokeys Team’.  I was rather surprised at the content.  For one it implies I lied in my story; that when I say I spoke to two different customer service reps by phone, that I did not, since the company claims to have no record of this.

Secondly Okidokeys Team calls my Tweets about the installation problems I had “inflammatory”.

Here’s the blog comment :

Dear Erin,
We regret your experience. However we believe it is important to point out that according to our records you did not reach out to us for support, we found your inflammatory twitter post of 2-3 months ago and proactively reached out to you.
According to your responses, we solved your issues as we shipped additional adapters at no charge which are now part of our standard package.
Also, as your test dates back to 2-3 months, we precise we have had a completely new version of handsfree mode with geo fencing available for 3 weeks now.
Best Regards,
OKIDOKEYS Teamokidokeys tweets

Here are the facts:  I keep notes on my calls and dealings with any customer service departments I encounter during each review, and make notes too, as I work on installation and setup as I’m testing products.

I called Okidokeys twice, and my description of each interaction above is factual, and accurately reported. Why they don’t have a record of it I can’t say. I’m also not sure why they indicate they sent me ‘adapters’, when what they sent me was a whole new unit.  Perhaps these ‘records’ are not quite as accurate as they think? As for my “inflammatory” tweet, well, you can see for yourself what I said, and even the follow up kudos I gave.

I find it offensive that instead of addressing the problems with the product’s operation and non-functionality in their blog comment, the customer service response to me was to call my credibility into question, and dub my factual tweet “inflamatory”.

I deliberately don’t read other reviews before I test products, so as not to colour my judgement. However since receiving the comment, a simple Google search showed me other reviewers having the same problems I encountered, to varying degrees of frustration.  While it would have been nice to be able to post an update with the fixes and updates Okidokeys has done, instead I must respond to their other comments.

Review: Ring Video Doorbell

ring doorbell

I may have found one of the easiest, simplest, and most straightforward gadgets on the market these days.

Watch my 3 minute VIDEO review of the Ring below

I recently had a chance to test out a Ring video doorbell. A coworker had tipped me off to the product, as he’d just ordered two, and was in love. After testing out numerous gadgets recently that connect to Wi-Fi, and require you to have an account, and do your own installation, I was a bit apprehensive about this one. I’ve found a lot of new gadget releases to be quite time-consuming, tedious, and buggy to set up. Not so with the Ring. I was blown away, and minutes after downloading the app, my account was set up and ready to go. Then it was onto installation.
IMG_4760I love that the Ring video doorbell comes in a kit complete with absolutely everything you need to install it yourself, including screws, screwdriver, and a tiny little level. That was absolutely brilliant, as I was not looking forward to have to rifle through my husband’s tools to find what I needed.
I watched the video they have at the ready for you on their app to get an idea of what to expect with installation. The video was short, and easy to follow, and made the installation seem super easy, which it was. In less than 10 minutes, I had an account set up and the video doorbell affixed to the front of my house already to go. I pressed the button to test it out, and it worked perfectly from the first try.
How it Works:ring graphic
When pushed, the doorbell will send an alert to your smart phone, and show you who is at your door. From there, you can decide if you want to engage in conversation with them, or ignore. The HD video picture is super crisp and clear and gives you a very good view of who is there. A recent new addition by Ring, cloud storage, also means that you can get access to images of who rang your doorbell, even if you aren’t by your phone to monitor the alert.
The audio interaction between yourself and your visitor is also quite handy, meaning you can accept and authorize a package delivery to your front door, even if you are miles away at work. Similarly, you could instruct a florist to drop your bouquet off at a neighbors house if you won’t be home for several hours. Ring also adds, “built-in motion sensors detect any activity on your property and trigger instant mobile alerts, giving you peace of mind when you’re away.”
You might be wondering how you avoid having your fancy new expensive video doorbell stolen. Good question, so was I. The Ring doorbell comes with special security screws, which require a specialized tiny screwdriver. Without the tiny screwdriver to free the unit, the video doorbell is securely bolted to your wall, and a thief cannot just run off with it.
 IMG_4774
The Verdict:
I’ve had the doorbell for a couple months now, and I already think it’s a really great invention. Primarily, I love how easy and user-friendly it is. Even non-tech savvy folks will have an easy time getting this product up and running.
The Ring video doorbell sells for $199 at Best Buy and Amazon.ca

Polaroid Socialmatic Camera &Printer and Zip Printer Reviews

polaroid socialmatic 2If there’s one review I’ve been looking forward to the spring, it’s this one.

Recently both a Polaroid Socialmatic and a Zip printer arrived for testing, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I was a bit shocked when I opened the box for the Socialmatic. The camera itself is quite large, much larger than I was expecting.  It’s very flat, very square and was difficult to grip. While many digital cameras fit neatly in your hand, this camera is quite the opposite. That’s probably because it does more than just take pictures.  It’s a video camera and  printer too, all in one package.

The lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic.
The lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic.

From full off to on and ready to go, the Socialmatic takes a frustrating  30 to 40 seconds to start up. Then if you don’t touch the screen immediately it goes dark with no obvious way to get it back on. Eventually I figured out a quick touch of the power button does it, but it was bothersome.

I started taking photos almost immediately and noticed a few things right off the bat.  First of all, it takes about three seconds from the time you press the shutter button until it actually registers the photograph, which resulted in plenty of closed eyes and movement in my test pictures. The other thing I did not like was the quality of the screen was not good. The resolution was surprisingly low.

Photos & Quality

Initially I was expecting Polaroid style photos with the papery white border, however Polaroid no longer owns this technology. So my test pics printed edge to edge on the photo paper.  The photo quality was not great. For the most part the photos were grainy and dark. Even photos I tried to take in good strong light didn’t come out looking as high quality as I was hoping for. I tried to take some photos in a pub that was not super dark, but all the photos came out very very dark and grainy. We turned on the flash to compensate but using it made us all look like deer in headlights. There was no happy medium.

One thing I did enjoy about the photos was the sticky backing on the Zink photo paper so you could use the photos as stickers. That’s a nice touch.

After testing for a couple hours that first day, I put the camera away until three days later. When I went to turn it back on, the batteries were already dead.  I’m wondering if perhaps this was because I didn’t turn it fully off, only put it to sleep. That’s something to be aware of.  I would charge it up for several hours to full battery, turn it off and use it once or twice for just a few minutes, then power it down again, a few days later if I went back to it the battery was dead and required a full recharge.

Video Review of the Polaroid Socialmatic Camera & Printer

Polaroid Zip printer

The Polaroid Zip printer is much smaller than the Socialmatic, but is it it is a printer only. I found this device very easy to set up and use, in fact, within seconds of plugging it in and selecting a photo you’re printing. The quality of the photos is not quite what you’d expect from a high resolution fancy camera shop, but for the size and availability, it’s very handy and easy to share with family and friends where you are, and for me, the fun and convenience factor here is more valuable than crisp HD copies.

Polaroid Zip photo printer.
Polaroid Zip photo printer.

There are some things about the Zip app I don’t like. For example it does not have a ‘reprint’ feature like others do. This means you cannot easily select photos for reprint without starting the printing process over from scratch. However the app’s layout and user interface are straightforward and simple, and very easy to read, navigate and understand.

The Zip also used Polaroid’s Zink paper, and as I said, the quality of the photos is not good.  Worth noting, it does not appear that the photo paper is light-sensitive, like film is, or like some other photo papers can be. I dropped the printer and the back popped open and scattered the remaining photo paper pieces all over the place. I reloaded it and put it back together, and in subsequent print jobs, everything printed just fine. So it’s nice to know the paper is not light sensitive, and losing the back off the printer will not destroy a whole stack of expensive photo paper.

The Verdict Overall

While I’d definitely like to buy a Zip printer, I’ll take a pass on the Socialmatic.  The Zip is easy to use, infinitely portable, and makes printing fun sized photos easy. I also like the sticker option for the photos.

The Socialmatic is just too large and unwieldy to be a fun take-along.  Basically it was just a bulky exercise in frustration, and not a fun and enjoyable and social tool. I’d much rather use my smartphone for great quality photos and a high-res display, then print them on the spot with the Zip. I’m interested to see if there’s a future incarnation of the Socialmatic, and if there is, I’d love to give it another chance.

The Socialmatic and the Zip are available at Bestbuy.ca as well as from Polaroid.com