Hue Setup at the Condo: Part 1

When Scott and I first moved into our condo a few years ago, we decided to install two Philips Hue bulbs in our living room to give them a try.  Until now, we really had not done much with the bulbs.  Turn them on, voila instant light as one would expect.

Being able to change the colour seemed like a cool feature, but not something that we used.  It was a novelty.   I also didn’t really understand why I would keep the switch on and control from my smart phone.  I just saw these as regular bulbs that happened to show different colours.

I bought two more and put them in my studio/man cave.  Even there, I didn’t really use the bulbs to their fullest capacity.  More to add ambience as the space looks out onto the balcony with a floor to ceiling window.

Enter my friend M Dave in Amsterdam, who I visited a few weeks ago.  Dave has an amazing Hue setup that really showed me how powerful the system is and what is possible.  I was introduced to the ‘the power’ of the Hue Motion detector – my killer app!

The Bathroom

The first bit of inspiration he gave me was the bathroom and toilet.  See, Scott and I can sometimes forget to turn off the lights in our bathroom.  This probably happens to EVERYONE.

In our bathroom, we have two sets of lights

  • Pot lights which we added when we renovated – one in the shower area, one where the toilet and sink area
  • A halogen light directly above the sink which came with the condo

At this point we have only added Hue bulbs to the pot lights.  We would have to completely change out the lighting fixture above the sink to something else if we really wanted to put Hue bulbs there.

With the motion detector, not only does it control when the lights go on, it controls how long the light stay on, the type of light you want at the appropriate time of day.  Pretty spiffy if you

  • need a bright light when waking up, such as something in daylight spectrum and throughout the day
  • want a darker light at night to help with getting to sleep, definitely something out of daylight spectrum

It also controls whether or not the light activates based on the amount of day light, prior to or after sundown, and based on the amount of movement in the room.

We placed it on a ledge where the sync is, perfectly out of the way pointed directly at the shower.  Since it’s behind the door, movement from the hall does not trigger the light.

There is even a Hue Labs version of the motion detector software, that allows to control a third time set of lighting, so you can have bright daylight in the morning, a more relaxed light through the afternoon and darker light in the evening.

So anyone can have a relaxing shower in any colour they wish.  Maybe a bit overkill for a bathroom, but it’s cool.

This then spawned off another idea for me

The Laundry Room

Scott and I have a Laundry Room in our condo where the light often gets left on as well.  Also, if you’re carrying a bin of clothes, why not make it easier and use motion control to turn on that light?

So, we did.  I had an fifth Hue bulb that I was doing nothing with that I had found while cleaning up my man cave, which was an older first-generation bulb.

It’s clear that when you buy into such a system, that you really should plan out the type of bulbs that you want in the space such as a white-only bulb, or one that does multicolour.  Given it’s an older bulb, it doesn’t do certain colours well, most notably blues and green; so its an okay bulb to put in the space.  Ideally, I would have saved money using a while only bulb.  But hey, we can do laundry in purple light!

Supplied with the motion detector is a magnetic base.  The sensor connects to it magnetically, so you can angle the sensor as you like, and from there you can place the sensor on a magnetic surface.  All of the shelving in our laundry room is metal and I could place the sensor pretty much anywhere.  I have the sensor pointing perpendicularly at the doorway.  Given the layout of our unit, movement from the hallway is not captured by the sensor.

That said, Shadow, our cat triggers the light at night, so we had to make sure we programmed the light to nightlight, from 11pm to 8am.

I had one other idea for this setup

The Man cave/Studio

The studio and man cave, I admit, I don’t spend a lot of time in.  It’s a small space which often becomes a storage area for things when we have guests over, or at holiday times and such.  As much as I clean it up, it very quickly gets filled up with crap.  Not ideal for a space that’s really meant to be where I am being creative or chilling, listening to music or playing games.

Often, I’ll pop in to get something, and then pop out and sometimes forgetting to turn off the lights with the intention to go back and do something.  So, again, an easy fix with the motion detector.  Again, it’s posted perpendicular to the door, low down and done in such a way that walking by the door does not trigger the sensor, turning on the lights.  I also have the daylight sensitivity turned up so that it adjusts nicely to daylight savings and standard time.

I also decided to add the remote dimmer so that I can easily control up to four scenes and dimming.  It’s probably more than what I need – I always have my phone on me, but I figured I’d give it a try, and I can repurpose it elsewhere if needed.

The cool thing about the dimmer switch is that

  • you can mount it in several different ways.  Magnetically to a metal surface, stick it to something or you can even screw it into a wall if you wanted
  • you can use it as a remote control off where you mount it, so I could carry it with me if I wanted

I’ve mounted it magnetically under one of my studio monitors.

Which brings me to…

The Bedroom Closet

This is the one place where I don’t have a lightbulb that can reproduce the rainbow.  Sorry. LOL!

If there is one other room light that constantly gets kept on, it’s our walk-in closet.  It irks the heck out of me when this light gets left on.

A room like this doesn’t need a colourful bulb, so I picked up a bulb that only does white light.  Now, in the Hue system, you have two kinds of white bulbs – One that only dims or one that has a wide spectrum of white.  I chose to go for the wide spectrum of white.  You can get this with a dimmer switch, saving a few bucks on the combined package.  I am using the dimmer switch else where.

So what do you do early in the morning when your husband is sleeping and you want to get something from the closet without waking them up?  Set the motion detector to use a dark colour of light – either the nightlight setting or you could actually use a colour bulb and use, say, a dark blue in the third generation bulb (more below on that).

It’s possible we may swap the light in the closet with the laundry room as we experiment.

Of course, I had to extend this to…

The Bedroom

We love IKEA, it’s all over our condo.  We recently picked up new lamps for the bedroom, and if you know IKEA lamps, they all have oddly placed switches.  The dimmer I put in the man cave inspired a neat idea – replace the switch with Hue dimmer switch and add a Hue bulb – one each for Scott and me.  On top of that, we have a third dimmer switch which is at the entrance to the bedroom.

Hue is a bit quirky in that you can’t link the accessories to a single light bulb.  It has to be a room.  However, an accessory can be assigned to multiple rooms.

So, Scott’s lamp is one room; my lamp is another, the individual switches control the single room; the one at the entrance turns on both rooms.

Which takes us to…

The Foyer

In the foyer, we have two beautiful pieces of art called “Timber 1” and “Timber 2” by Tim Yanke.  We also have the perfect light fixture for the space – A three GU10 ceiling mounted light fixture from IKEA.  We actually had the lights prior to the artwork being in the space.

I had been looking at the geofencing capabilities given the significant upgrades made to our space, does it make sense to use that feature?  Not until we really took a look at the foyer.

Why not get three GU10 bulbs and a motion detector, so that when people walk into the space to put on shoes or their jacket, that the light comes on automatically.  It also makes the geofencing functionality usable.  If we had friends in the living room, it doesn’t make sense to geofence to those lights because you’re interrupting people that may have set a particular program.

When Scott or I arrive home, whenever we get to the drive way of the condo building, the lights in our hallway automatically turn on.  When we walk in, it then resets the lights to the motion sensor programming depending on the time of day.

Which then takes us to…

The Living Room

The Living room has

  • a halogen ceiling light that’s from the 90s. It’s a really neat lamp that works for the space,
  • two taller lamps – one with a reading light,
  • a curio cabinet with LED lighting that I installed from IKEA which is okay,
  • the dining room has a five-bulb halogen ceiling light,
  • the open concept kitchen has a six-bulb halogen ceiling light

There isn’t much we can do with the halogen lights in the dining room and the kitchen, really. When we renovated the space, we spent good money on these lights and we really like them, so we are not going to change them.  Fair enough.

As I mentioned earlier, I had Hue bulbs in the living room but they were first generation bulbs. I actually moved those bulbs to the bedroom and swapped them for two third generation bulbs which produce deeper blues and greens.  They’re gorgeous bulbs.

On a whim, I decided to add a Hue Go lamp.  I liked the idea that the bulb could be recharged and used in other spaces such as our balcony.

Behind our television is a mirrored wall.  It was there when we moved in and it’s a neat element to add depth and the perception of room in the living room.  We chose not to take it down when we moved in.

I put the Hue Go behind our television just to give it a try.  Wow, the way it adds to the lighting of the space is interesting.  The light reflects off the mirror and the ceiling and adds some depth to the lighting in the room.  Scott really liked it.

So, thinking a bit further, rather than putting a light that’s meant to be moved around, behind the TV, let’s move that bulb out somewhere – we’re still figuring out where; and replace it with a Hue Bloom.  Which we did.

The Hue Bloom is created somewhat older technology so you really notice a red/green/blue shift in the light depending on the colour.  It will do.  The Hue Go, however, is fantastic and given the $20 price difference – you really could go with either.

When using scenes, the room pops.  When using apps such as Hue Camera it makes the television experience that much more interesting.  Watching Tron Legacy, it really adds to an immersive movie experience.

I’d say it was worth the investment.

For the living room, we have a Hue Tap Switch.  Scott had mentioned it would be neat to have a remote control for the light beyond our phones.  I’m not 100% sure how useful the Tap Switch is.  At a high level, it combines four switches into one and it uses no batteries.  It’s powered based on the push of the button.  Kind of neat, that way.  That’s the only switch we really have in the living room.

So, what can you do with the lights?

Pretty much anything… Well, almost anything.

As I mentioned in the front hall, the lights are aimed towards artwork and to provide light to those putting on shoes.  If I wanted to, I could add a splash of colour.  In hot pink light, the orange and reds in our art really pops.

In the living room, it’s all about mood.

As I said in the Man cave, it’s all about ambience.

The showcase is really the Living Room.  Take a movie like Tron which, in the “Grid” scenes have almost a monochromatic blue hue with the occasional orange for the Recognizers.  It’s the perfect movie to experiment with Hue Camera (https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/hue-camera-for-philips-hue/id965037211?mt=8).

To me, it adds to the immersive environment of the movie.  Completely perfect.  I’d love to try watching the original Tron as well as Bladerunner.  As for watching other kinds of films, we’ll have to see how it works out and report back.

So, what next? 

Kitchen?

Scott and I might have our sights set on upgrading the kitchen lights.  They’re already LED both pot lights and strip lighting under the counter.

In all honesty, I think going with Hue lighting would be overkill.  We don’t need a kitchen that’s got multi coloured lighting and it would be excessive.  BUT you know, it would be cool to be able to control the lights in there.  So, who knows, it’s not a priority.  We have all the wiring to do this.

Bedroom, Part Two?

The bedroom and the guest bedroom both have a ceiling fan with a light, with a smaller bulb in it.  Is there much value in having Hue bulbs in these?  In the guest room, I could see it, offering our guest a remote to turn off the lamp.  In the bedroom?  I could see changing the bulb.

The problem is finding the right size of bulb.  Do I try a PAR16 bulb?  An E14 from Europe won’t work and it’s not the right size of connector anyway.

Curio Cabinet?

My first experiment with Hue Light Strips will probably be our curio cabinet.  The lighting provided from IKEA, while quite cool, doesn’t provide the quality of light that I would like in the space.  So, this will probably be my first experiment.

Living Room, Part 3?

The halogen space ship, as we call it, the living room works nicely, but it would be nice to not use a halogen bulb.  I think the only option would be the Hue Discus or Fair White Ambiance Semi-Flushmount.

There is the Phoenix too, but it doesn’t seem like the right fixture for our space.

Hallway?

We have two Nest Protects in our condo. One in the living room and the other in the hallway.  These provide a night light based on motion.  They’re perfect for that need.

We still have a fixture with 5 or 6 GU10 bulbs that are halogen based.  Do we put Hue bulbs in those?  Do we go colour or white?  Do we spread some of the colour bulbs and white bulbs across the living room and foyer?  What is the value of doing the hallway as well?  Do we do motion detection too or more basic control?

Generation of Bulbs?

Yes, there are three generations of some of the bulbs.  Specifically, for the colour bulbs aka “White and Colour Ambience” A19 bulbs, here are some details:

  • Gen 1 bulbs with model LCT001, they can’t reproduce certainly blues and greens, so they look a bit more white.
  • Gen 2 bulbs with model LCT007 are similar to the LCT001 bulbs, to my eyes.
  • Gen 3 bulbs such as the LCT014 bulbs, can reproduce deep blues and greens.  They’re packaged as “Richer Colours” and they truly are the bulbs you want, these days.

Final Thoughts

Changing out your halogen, incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, I’d say is worth it.  The power savings that LED lights give you – enough said.

Taking that to the next level with motion detectors, I think, makes sense.  I can’t imagine how much money our parents and grandparents wasted with lights left on, and with electricity prices as expensive as they are in Ontario, it simply makes sense to change your bulbs.

Scott and I live in a condo and we don’t pay for our electricity directly.  The building is on a bulk billing system and it’s included in our condo fees.  Still, why would we not contribute to try and reduce our hydro costs?

That said, a system like Hue can be expensive.  A single colour GU10 bulb is CAD$49.99, and in the US it’s USD$49.99.  Americans, if you want a deal, buy your bulbs in Canada (USD$37.80 at today’s exchange rate!).  That $49.99 is pretty standard across the board for the colour bulbs.

The white-only bulbs that only dim with the same colour temperature are CAD$14.99.  If you want bulb that does any colour of white, those are CAD$29.99.  Add CAD$20 for a box that includes a dimmer, which, alone, is regularly CAD$24.99.  Not a bad deal.

So my advice is to truly plan out where you truly want colour and where you really need white bulbs.  You don’t need colour bulbs everywhere – We certainly don’t in, say, the bedroom.

Three weeks in New York…

I’ve spent the past three weeks in New York City.  Does this count as trips 6, 7 and 8, or is it 1 trip despite flying back and forth to Toronto?  I like big numbers, so trips 6, 7 and 8 it is.

My trips to New York have always been in Autumn or Winter.  Never the summer, so it’s kind of a treat to be here in really good weather and people have said that I’m here during the perfect season.

I had an interesting reaction to starting on this new project in New York.  First was excitement, and then it progressed to, ugh, New York.

Now that I’ve spent three weeks here, I can definitely say I’m excited to be here, on several levels, much I’ve learned while here:

  • I love the diversity of this place.  No where else in the US can you hear as many languages spoken as I hear in Toronto.
  • The distinct areas of the city Soho, TriBeCa, Downtown, Midtown, Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Uptown, Harlem, Nomad, Brooklyn – And the parts I’ve not explored; bring such character to the city.
  • The food choices are overwhelming – which is a blessing and a curse to me.  If I find the right restaurant that’s compatible with my diet, I can be happy just eating at the same place.  Sounds boring eh?  But hey, BBQ!
  • I think I learned the most about New Yorkers at the 9/11 Museum and while looking out daily from 4 World Trade Centre reflecting on the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre where work daily.  Their resilience, how much the community comes together in times of need and how people do actually look out for each other.
  • People are proud of this city, no matter the gleaming towers, the grime on the streets, the flashing lights, the history.
  • In the days of right wing power, it’s great seeing New York and New York State being representative of the sanctuary city that it is – All kinds of posters in the subways, on the streets, showing the hope that exists for new people trying to make their way in this metropolis.
  • I love taking the subway to work every day,  Yes, I’m the guy that forced one of my coworkers to take the subway one day, and she said, “Never again!” Alright princess, have your taxi.
  • I love being able to walk all over this city, completely breaking my minimum step requirements on various apps.  Sweet!  And I’m getting a lot more exercise in than I would be if I were in Toronto, just going between the office and home.  I am also completely shattering how much walking I did in Portland.  New York is a very walkable city with lots to see.

In my past trips, I’ve had glimpses of what makes this city tick, but it’s always been a bit superficial because I’ve never spent a long enough time here.

NYC is more magical than I thought it could be.  I can see why people are attracted to this city.

On a personal note, I’ve been able to get way more down time than I’ve had in the past three years.  It’s been good to be offloaded and to start feeling more myself again, the real me who is considerably more funny and uplifting than I have been for a while.  A lot of energy seems to have come back too, which is a very good thing.

New York International Auto Show Thoughts

I’m on a new project through work and it’s brought me to New York City for the next two weeks.  It also happens to co-inside with the New York International Auto Show.  Since I missed the Toronto International Auto Show, I figured I’d spend some time there.

Yes I got my car geekery on, in New York City.  Ironic, given I would never even attempt to drive in this city,  If I lived here, I’d have no need for a car.

I digress.

Let’s start with companies that impressed me.

Genesis – My Aunt and Uncle had a Hyundai Stellar and friends of mine had a Hyundai Pony.  They weren’t bad cars, and I remember the Stellar fondly.  I’ve driven many a Hyundai in my time and more recently, I’ve had mixed feelings about them.  I have also driven a number of Kias with mixed feelings too – Some fantastic, others where I’m not feeling the road at all.

The interior of the Genesis shows just how far Hyundai and Kia have come.  In short, the Genesis feels more like a BMW killer than Infinity or Acura ever have.  Yeah, you can joke about Hyundai’s start in North America.  You have to start somewhere.  You can see the efforts of hiring German design gurus has had on Kia and Genesis.

Toyota – The look of the Camry and the Avalon blew me away.  Gone is the stuffy looking design, and in it’s place is a nicely appropriately aggressive look.  Hat’s off Toyota, you haven’t gone so ridiculous on styling, that I’d consider both of these cars in the future

MINI’s Countryman Plug-In Hybrid – My dealer will often skimp on loading up demo cars with the greatest and newest technology. I’m often left wondering, if I order another MINI and it’s a Countryman, how will the interior look?  The interior, and especially the technology inside has to impress me on a car.  MINI went all out on their Countryman Plug-In Hybrid, and I’m more than happy to say that, essentially, we could get the interior to mostly match our 5-Door MINI Hardtop – save for the upgrades that the Countryman comes with.

The newly upgraded MINI Connected infotainment system is very nice too, and I very much liked the design of the interface.  So there we have it – the Plug-In Countryman remains on our list.

Honda Civic Coupe – WOW, what a change, sporty… Everything you’d want in a Civic.  I really liked the LCD-based glass dashboard which many manufacturers are moving towards.  It really makes the Civic look futuristic.  Will we be saying that in the future when we look back?  We’ll see.

Ford F-150 – If I were a truck guy, I’d be lusting over a Ford F-150.  Annoyingly to my friends who have them, I’m not a truck guy.  I can, however, acknowledge, rightly so, that Ford is doing it’s best to make the F-150 more economical on gas.  After all, trucks are an important vehicle.  There are people that legitimately need them.    What really impressed me is the off-road monitor that tells you what angles your truck is at.  It’s fun stuff like that, that I like.

Nissan and Kia Ski Gondolas – Tank tracks on an SUV?  Sure!

Lincoln Continental – Hot damn!  Definitely a head turner in that segment.

 

GM Bolt – I don’t know what happened to GM, but again, another fantastic EV!

 

What didn’t impress me

Piano Black Interiors – Toyota a Honda, hear this – Piano Black is not sexy.  Sure looks great when it’s polished and dust free, but when it’s smudged, dusty and dirty, it’s not pretty.  Just don’t.  Stop!

Mercedes putting Smart into a corner – Come on Mercedes, Smart is a fantastic car maker.  Create the demand for them like BMW has with MINI.

Chevy Volt – The Volt is a desirable car for me, I love the concept, I love what GM has done with it – It doesn’t feel or look like a typical GM product.  In short, it’s the only GM product I would even consider.  However, sitting in the back seat – I sit OUT the back seat.  Out because there’s no headroom and with the lift gate open, my head sticks well out the car.  FAIL!

And finally, what I’m still wondering about

BMW – I’ve been focused on German luxury cars for a few months now because, honestly, I would love to own a BMW.  Always have.  It actually doesn’t have anything to do with status.  They’re phenomenal vehicles to drive, they have awesome infotainment systems in them.

There’s something that feels like it’s missing in the 3-series.  Yes, it’s BMW’s starter car, but there’s something that feels almost a bit cheap to warrant the expense in the interior.

Sitting in the X3 and X5, it almost feels like the leather interior hasn’t been cared for, or maybe it’s the plastic interior of the MINI looks so much better, that genuine leather no longer looks right.

And all this after having test driven both an X1 and the new 5-Series a few weeks ago and really liking both.  I guess it comes down to, what are my expectations?  What am I expecting in these cars?  It could be that some of their models are just, outdated…

Audi – I’m not sure what to think of Audi, honestly.  I really like the glass cockpit design, possibly even more so than BMW’s.  I like that Volkswagen Group is expanding that design to other brands, like Volkswagen.  I like the technology.

I’m surprised I fit in the back seat of an A4.  So maybe Audi should be in my impress me list.

Problem is, I was so soured by Audi at the Toronto International Auto Show a few years ago, because they were douchebags that wouldn’t let you sit in any of their cars.  When it comes down to it, they’re just supped up Volkswagens with slightly upscale interiors, but with some fantastic engines and technology.  They’re special, but they’re not that special, unless you’re talking about an R8… Now that is special and drool worthy.

Still, I have mixed feelings about Audi and I think it’s similar to how I feel about BMW, but they’re not outdated…  What am I expecting in these cars?

Volvo – I had a chance to play around with Volvo’s new Sensus infotainment system.  I can see the attempts that Volvo are making to combine safety, a large readable infotainment system that’s not flashy.  Problem is, the UI is not always intuitive.

It certainly is better than the too many buttons on the last of their current generation vehicles.  What were they thinking?  And to think, as a kid, I loved pushing buttons.  Even that younger version of me would have said, too much!

I did like the wood trim in the various vehicles, and generally, I liked the interiors.  Well thought out.

 

So those are my thoughts, from someone who isn’t an auto journalist, just a guy into the look and feel of cars.

 

MINI: I stand corrected!

Today I brought the KUMAKART to the dealership to get it’s summer tires put on and to get a software upgrade for a rattle on cold engine start.  Gotta love that a software update now fixes stuff like that!

That said, I decided to retry the Countryman.  My review was somewhat scathing, for me, and I really wanted to see – was it the car or was it me?

Turns out it was me.  Well, maybe the person who sat in the vehicle before me.  See, the back seats are adjustable.  Super adjustable, and well, I didn’t adjust the seats.  I didn’t think of that because, well, I’ve never been in a car where the back seats are adjustable.

So there you have it – The Countryman IS back on our list for vehicles to consider in the future.

 

MINI, BMW… Choices

While I was in Portland last week, I got an email from American Express – Test drive a BMW and get  $100 Starbucks gift card.

I couldn’t pass up getting $100 to spend at Starbucks.  Seriously.  Test driving a BMW to get it?  Oh pull my arm, please!

Scott and I are not in the market for a new car.  We have at least 2.5 years left on the lease of Stormer the Kumakart, our MINI Cooper.  That said, the MINI, while such a fun and amazing car, is a bit too small for us.  Scott does have some difficulty getting in, and Scott’s mum had ‘fun’ getting in and out of the back. Not the most practical car, but hey, if we had to live with it for a long time, we could.

I do not regret the lease of our MINI in anyway.  I’ve always wanted one, and if we had not got it when we did, we would probably have never had experienced the joy that it actually has brought us while driving.  I still grin when I see it and say, “This is the most ridiculous car I have ever owned”  I jump at the chance to drive it when I can.

If we had the space, I’d buy it and get a second car. – despite it’s flaws – mainly, the size.  I adore that MINI so much, after all, we designed it and ordered it.  It’s OUR car.  I’ve never felt such passion about a car – maybe our first car.

Four vehicles were on our list to test drive today, with six total to sit in:

  • BMW X1
  • BMW 530i
  • MINI Countryman
  • MINI Clubman
  • BMW 3-Series
  • BMW X3

I am going to group together sizes of cars in my comparisson.

BMW X1

The X1 was, I think, the perfect height for an SUV.  It was very nicely appointed and drove smoothly.  It’s what I was expecting in a typical BMW – responsive and could be a lot of fun to drive.  I really liked the HUD – Given we have an HUD in our MINI, I’m a big fan of the technology, and even more so on the BMW line.

The back leg room was okay.  It felt a little cramped, but we may have also had the seats back a bit further than we normally would put them to drive.

BMW X3

We sat in the X3 and didn’t test drive it.  Between the X1 and the X3, the X3 would be prefect for us in terms of back seat room, and it’s not so high up you’re having to really reach up and step up to sit in the vehicle.  The prefect size for an SUV for us, and I know it would be a quality drive.

The X3 is getting a refresh soon, so when the comes out, I look forward to test driving it.

MINI Countryman

The MINI Countryman is built on the same platform as the BMW X1.  We fit in the X1.  We didn’t fit in the Countryman.  A serious let down.

One of the most important tests that we do on any vehicle is sit in the front seat, adjusting the seat for where we would normally sit.  I then go sit in the back seat.

I couldn’t sit in the back seat.  There was no where for my knees. There just wasn’t any room!  I can sit in the back seat of my MINI Cooper 5-Door behind Scott.  I couldn’t sit in the backseat of a Countryman.  What kind of bonkers big MINI is this and based on the X1?

We had every intention of test driving the Countryman to see how it feels relative to the X1.  Sadly, it was a no go from the start.

MINI Clubman

Now, unsurprisingly, if I can sit in the back seat of a MINI Cooper 5-Door, I can definitely sit in the back seat of a MINI Clubman.  I knew this would not be a problem.  Successfully behind Scott as well.  It was a no-brainer, we took this for a drive.

The Clubman is definitely wider than the MINI Cooper 5-Door that we have and, probably appointed nicer with some nice design changes for the interior.

It drives the same way as our Cooper, just slightly bigger.  Not overbearingly so.  It was peppy and fun.

I am concerned that Scott did have some problems with the height of the door opening. He often hits his head getting into the car, and certainly did on the Clubman.

Betty, Scott’s Mum, would have no problem getting into the front of back of the car with big door openings.

We know the brand, we know what we want in the interior, and our friends would appreciate the room in the car.  We love the trunk space.  All taken into consideration, this car is, hands down, on our list to consider.

BMW 3-Series

A BMW 318i was the first car I attempted to drive.  In downtown Toronto on Harbord St, in a manual car I had no idea how to drive.  I was shitting myself at the time.  My uncle was a bit silly to have done that to me, bless his heart.  The next time, we took it to a parking lot.

We sat in a 3-Series just to see how we would fit.  The car was definitely too low down.  I felt like I was lying in it, maybe even more so than in my MINI.  That said, we fit and Scott said it would be acceptable, but would, “Just be okay”.  All in all, the 3-Series is a sport car, hands down and it exudes that.  I know they’re fantastic, I’d probably enjoy driving one just as I enjoy driving my MINI.

Back seat-wise, not too bad either.  BMW did a great job of raising the ceiling for us tall people in the back seat, and not in a noticeable way that Volkswagen has done in either the Golf or the Jetta – I can’t remember.

The 3-Series could be a consideration, though I’d say the 4-Series Gran Coupe would be more apropriate.

BMW 530i xDrive

If heaven were a car, then this must be heaven.  I can’t gush more about the most expensive car I have ever driven in my life.  The car we drove was easily worth between $64,000 and $71,000.

It was so smooth.  The HUD was amazing.  The glass dashboard.  The new gesture controls made me feel like Miranda Priestly telling the car, “No no, I want the volume up.”.

I let my foot off the brake, and I’m used to a car starting to move forward . The car was stopped dead, no rolling forward, no anticipating the light.  Whoa!  It was so smooth in it’s ride.  Switching modes, the pick up was quite something in Sport mode, and Eco Pro mode definitely didn’t feel like Green mode on my MINI.

The new entertainment system with BMW Connected Services – Just a joy to use, as one would expect from BMW.  I’m so glad they’re keeping the iDrive dial along with adding the gesture controls, and touchscreen.

Scott reversing the 5-Series, with the rear camera and obstacle detection system, it brought a degree of confidence in parking such a large vehicle.  Maybe, just maybe, Scott and I can own a large vehicle and be confident, that we wouldn’t hit the back passenger quadrant on a concrete pillar – like we did with both of our Prii.

I can say, hands down, I would buy this car in a heartbeat, and Scott would too.  What a gorgeous ride.  I cannot say I have sat in a more luxurious car, other than the classic Bentley that my cousins rented when they got married.  The level of technology – This is a serious geek car.

In Conclusion

The best words out of Scott’s mouth when sitting in a MINI after the BMW experience: “This looks kind of cheap!”  Oh dear, MINI.  I know you’re definitely a Premium brand.  You truly are, but… yeah there’s a certain degree that the interiors do have a degree of cheapness to them in some of your base models.  But hey, that’s why people upgrade the interiors.  Compared to other companies, alright they’re premium.

Our perceptions were definitely skewed for a brief moment by the sheer beauty of the new 5-Series for sure.

I can only imagine what the 7-Series is like to be driven around in.  Maybe I should leave that for the ride from Munich’s airport to BMW Welt in 2019 or 2020.  Can you say, European Delivery?  Oh yes.

A boy can dream, right?

Christmas 2016 Ornament – Using Arduino

I created a Christmas ornament using an Arduino Uno and an 8×5 NeoPixel Shield.

In short it,

  • Displays one of seven messages randomly
  • Displays a set of bars that animates – Based on this thread
  • Displays a star that moves and cycles colours – Based on this tutorial

The code is, essentially, C and REALLY easy to develop, and the APIs from AdaFruit make this wicked fast to get code up and running quickly.  The language used for Arduino actually is based on Processing, but also accepts C and C++.

The Libraries used are:

  • AdaFruit GFX Library
  • AdaFruit NeoMatrix
  • AdaFruit NeoPixel

Here is the code:

#include <Adafruit_NeoMatrix.h>
#include <Adafruit_NeoPixel.h>
 
// MATRIX DECLARATION:
// Parameter 1 = width of NeoPixel matrix
// Parameter 2 = height of matrix
// Parameter 3 = pin number (most are valid)
// Parameter 4 = matrix layout flags, add together as needed:
// NEO_MATRIX_TOP, NEO_MATRIX_BOTTOM, NEO_MATRIX_LEFT, NEO_MATRIX_RIGHT:
// Position of the FIRST LED in the matrix; pick two, e.g.
// NEO_MATRIX_TOP + NEO_MATRIX_LEFT for the top-left corner.
// NEO_MATRIX_ROWS, NEO_MATRIX_COLUMNS: LEDs are arranged in horizontal
// rows or in vertical columns, respectively; pick one or the other.
// NEO_MATRIX_PROGRESSIVE, NEO_MATRIX_ZIGZAG: all rows/columns proceed
// in the same order, or alternate lines reverse direction; pick one.
// See example below for these values in action.
// Parameter 5 = pixel type flags, add together as needed:
// NEO_KHZ800 800 KHz bitstream (most NeoPixel products w/WS2812 LEDs)
// NEO_KHZ400 400 KHz (classic 'v1' (not v2) FLORA pixels, WS2811 drivers)
// NEO_GRB Pixels are wired for GRB bitstream (most NeoPixel products)
// NEO_RGB Pixels are wired for RGB bitstream (v1 FLORA pixels, not v2)

#define PIN 6
Adafruit_NeoMatrix matrix = Adafruit_NeoMatrix(6, 8, PIN,
 NEO_MATRIX_BOTTOM + NEO_MATRIX_LEFT +
 NEO_MATRIX_COLUMNS + NEO_MATRIX_PROGRESSIVE,
 NEO_GRB + NEO_KHZ800);


// Global Variables
// matrix_x, y used to drive the size of the LED matrix
// text_pass used to change text colours after each pass
// starpos used to position the star when switching to different colours
// starpos_incdec is used to move the star back and forth based on the boundaries of the matrix
// rand_messages is used to randmize the messge that is shown
// text_colours is an array of colours to use for the text, star_rgb used for star color values, star_colour used to drive the actual colour of the star
int matrix_x = matrix.width();
int matrix_y = matrix.height();
int text_pass = 0;
int starpos = 0;
boolean starpos_incdec = 1;
int rand_messages = 0;
unsigned int star_rgb[3] = {255,255,255};
uint16_t star_colour = matrix.Color(star_rgb[0], star_rgb[1], star_rgb[2]);
const uint16_t text_colours[] = {matrix.Color(255, 0, 0), matrix.Color(0, 255, 0), matrix.Color(255, 255, 0),matrix.Color(0, 0, 255), matrix.Color(255, 0, 255), matrix.Color(0, 255, 255), matrix.Color(255, 255, 255)};

 // Merry Christmas Message 
String myMessages[]={"Merry Christmas", "You've been naughty", "Krampus is here", "Ho Ho Ho!", "Happy Holidays","Meet me under the mistletoe", "Home for the Holidays"}; 
int myMessagesSizes[]={-98,-120,-98,-80,-95,-170,-140};
// Code
void setup() 
{
 Serial.begin(9600);
 matrix.begin();
 matrix.setTextWrap(false);
 matrix.setBrightness(6);
 matrix.setTextColor(text_colours[0]);
}

void update_star()
{
 // Future code fix - Make dynamic based on matrix_x and matrix_y
 // In short, if the star hits the Y boundaries, move back
 if (starpos+4 == 7) { starpos_incdec = 0; } 
 if (starpos == 0) { starpos_incdec = 1; } 

 // Clear screen, draw star
 matrix.fillScreen(0);
 star_colour = matrix.Color(star_rgb[1], star_rgb[0], star_rgb[2]);
 matrix.drawLine(0, starpos, 4, starpos+4, star_colour);
 matrix.drawLine(0, starpos+4, 4, starpos, star_colour);
 matrix.drawLine(0, starpos+2, 4, starpos+2, star_colour);
 matrix.drawLine(2, starpos, 2, starpos+4, star_colour); 
 matrix.show(); 
 delay(1);
}

void color_morph(unsigned int* value, int get_brighter)
{
 // Updates the colour through updating the refence. 
 // Get brighter flag increments/decrements
 for (int i = 0; i < 255; i++)
 {
 if (get_brighter)
 (*value)--;
 else
 (*value)++;

 update_star();
 }
 if (starpos_incdec) { starpos++; } else { starpos--; } 
}

void rowColorWipe(uint32_t c1, uint32_t c2, uint32_t c3, uint16_t wait) 
{
 // Borrowed code to draw green, white and red bars
 // Clear screen
 matrix.fillScreen(0);

 // Draw the bars
 for(int j=0; j<2; j++) {
 for(int q=0; q<6; q++){
 for(int y=0; y <= matrix.height() + 10; y=y+6) {
 matrix.drawLine(0, y+q-11, 5, y+q-6, c3);
 matrix.drawLine(0, y+q-10, 5, y+q-5, c1);
 matrix.drawLine(0, y+q-9, 5, y+q-4, c1);
 matrix.drawLine(0, y+q-8, 5, y+q-3, c3);
 matrix.drawLine(0, y+q-7, 5, y+q-2, c2);
 matrix.drawLine(0, y+q-6, 5, y+q-1, c2);
 }
 matrix.show();
 delay(wait);
 }
 }
}

void loop()
{
 // The main Arduino loop
 // Displays the christmas message, then the Christmas Wrapping bars, and then the star animation
 // Easier to have the message scroll here rather than using a separate method/function
 
 // Clears screen and sets message
 matrix.fillScreen(0);
 matrix.setCursor(matrix_x, 0); 
 matrix.print(myMessages[rand_messages]);
 // matrix.print(F("Merry Christmas")); // If using a single message

 // Enter this only if the message has been fully displayed. It's displayed by moving the cursor
 if(--matrix_x <= myMessagesSizes[rand_messages]) {
 // Reset message scroll
 matrix_x = matrix.width();
 matrix.setCursor(matrix_x, 0);

 // Christmas Wrapping bars
 rowColorWipe(matrix.Color(255, 0, 0), matrix.Color(255, 255, 255), matrix.Color(0, 255, 0), 500);

 // Cycle through the star colours
 color_morph(&star_rgb[0], 1); // transition to red
 color_morph(&star_rgb[1], 1); // transition to yellow
 color_morph(&star_rgb[0], 0); // transition to green 
 color_morph(&star_rgb[2], 1); // transition to aqua 
 color_morph(&star_rgb[0], 1); // transition to white
 color_morph(&star_rgb[1], 0); // transition to violet
 color_morph(&star_rgb[0], 0); // transition to blue
 color_morph(&star_rgb[2], 0); // transition to black (all off)
 
 if(++text_pass >= 8) text_pass = 0;
 matrix.setTextColor(text_colours[text_pass]);
 rand_messages = random(0,7); // Random number between 0 and 7 (n-1)
 } 
 matrix.show();
 delay(100); 
}

Gaming past

I look at most of my younger friends going crazy for Pokemon Sun and Moon these days and realize, they don’t know anything outside the realm of Nintendo, Sony Playstation and XBox.  It’s like there wasn’t a gaming history prior to the time when the NES came out.

Given the videogame market crash of 1983, it’s somewhat not surprising.

For someone of my generation – yes I know how that sounds, there were a lot more options.  My collective group of friends not only were into NES and SNES, but we were also into our Amigas and Ataris – ST that is, not just the 2600.

Games like Worms (Team 17), Super Stardust (Team 17), Wipeout (Psygnosis) and pretty much anything out of Sony Studio Liverpool  (which was formerly Psygnosis) would be no where today without the Amiga.

There are some fantastic games such as Zool, The Lost Vikings, James Pond, etc. that came out during that time period.  Simply fantastic, that people seem to have forgotten and simply don’t seem to care about except for those of us who lived it.  Which is sad because there are some real gems.

I’ve owned, in my lifetime, two CD32s, picking up the latest one about two years ago, and I own a fully working Amiga CDTV completely with a hard drive. I’m slowly refurbishing the CD32, which at this point needs a replacement CD spindle to work.  Everything else on it seems perfect.

Which brings me to an interesting quandary.  I can perfectly emulate the CD32 on my Surface or MacBook. Do I really need the original hardware?  There is something to be said for owning a piece of iconic history, especially if you can keep it going.

Things I learned during a Disney Cruise

The second in my series about cruising with Disney.  In the first blog, I talked about things we learned prior to going on our cruise.  We learned a lot more during and after the cruise!

Culture, Entertainment

  • There is definitely a unique culture on board, especially on the WBTA (West Bound Transatlantic) cruise.  People were so friendly and gregarious.
  • You have a lot of repeats cruisers who have done this cruise before, regardless of the destination, i.e. to Miami or New York City, via Canada or Castaway Cay, etc…  And they truly love it for various reasons.
  • For Disney, you did not see a lot of people wearing ears on board.  I was definitely not in the norm, wearing my Stitch hat I picked up at TokyoDisneysea, and my Stitch slippers.
  • I was expecting the cruise to be primarily just North Americans, and while Canadians and Americans did make up a significant number of passengers on the ship, there was a significant presence from France, Germany, Austria, The United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia; and all who appreciated Disney whether it’s the characters, the level of service, etc…
  • On the longer cruises, the are two must-dos (among many)
    • The Officers Deck Party – This surprised me
    • Do check out the kids areas when they have the open houses.  It’s your chance to experience what they experience.
  • Normally I am not one for shows on board and deck parties.  Have to say, I was pretty blown away by the shows and the deck parties.  Okay, some of the deck parties can start out a bit hokey, but there are some really really cool elements to each of them.  I don’t want to ruin the element of surprise, but you can definitely see videos of the experiences on YouTube.
  • Did I say, do the shows?  I say, do the shows. They are fantastic and the things Disney does with the stage is pretty amazing given we’re floating at sea.
  • Do see a movie in the Buena Vista Theatre.  Probably the best 3D screen I have seen.  When watching Finding Dory at an angle, we still had a prefect 3D image with the glasses on!
  • Characters will roam about the ship.  This one afternoon, I kept on running into Belle and we finally chatted about the book she was reading (Winnie the Pooh).  You can even get advice from Rapunzel on the conditioner she uses (Disney H2O for sure!).

Activities

  • As an adult, you will not be bored!  There is a lot to do:
    • Character meets – If that’s your thing
    • Chocolate and wine pairing, tastings
    • Cheese and wine pairing, tastings
    • Mixology classes
    • Karaoke in After Hours
    • Game shows in After Hours
    • Learn to draw characters
    • Bingo
    • Deck parties
    • Use the pool
  • The kids won’t be bored either, there is a ton of stuff for them to do.  Interestingly, on the Disney Magic all the kids areas are on deck 5.  There was a point where I had to go to Deck 5, stepped out of the elevator and wondered, “Where am I?  I don’t recognize this deck.”  Of course!  It’s the kids deck, where the Buena Vista There is also found.

The ship

  • Disney Magic is a gorgeous ship.  Upon walking on the ship, I was looking at the ship and, despite being from 1998, it is very very well maintained.  Now, it went through dry dock renovations in 2013, but the ship is constantly being repainted on the outside (saw this in Halifax and Ponta Delgada) and fixed where needed.  It’s all part of making magic and the high bars that Disney sets.
  • We got talking to a couple of contractors from an engineering company that were working on the ship.  They had told us that Disney had quite a few redundancy systems on the ship unlike any other cruise line they had worked with.  Think backup, to the backup, to the backup, to the backup.  Given the history of other cruise lines and the challenges the industry has had, it’s clear that Disney takes the safety of their passengers seriously, as well as the investment in their ships, the cruise industry and even their stockholders.
  • Not every ship in Disney’s fleet is the same.  Despite Magic and Wonder, Fantasy and Dream being sister ships and similar size categories, the design for each is different.

Dining, Drinks and Service

  • Dining is an experience on DCL.  Each dinner had some form of entertainment, so you want to stay until the end if you can.  Now Scott and I noticed that people would often leave before the entertainment began and wondered why, however I just realized, if you’ve seen it before…  For a first timer, definitely stay and experience it.  And often, they’re short surprises.
  • The serving team is fantastic and get to know you.  With Princess we had anytime dining, so didn’t get to experience that level of service.  With Royal Caribbean, we had specifically timed dining, and the degree to which the staff got to you know you wasn’t there.
  • Disney is also the first cruise line where our stateroom host specifically introduced herself and was quite visible.  If we needed anything, she was there.  Fantastic.  On Princess we never met our stateroom host.  We did on RCI but didn’t seem as approachable as they were on DCL.
  • On DCL there is no drink package required. Pop, water, coffee, tea and hot chocolate is included in your stateroom fees.  We did order a bottled water package as we missed having water on our cruise in February on RCI.
  • That said, if you want wine with dinner, there is a wine package available.  You can order this in advance or in one of the dining rooms when you board.
  • If you could not get that elusive Palo Brunch dining reservation, you can order it on board when you arrive.  In the case of Magic, go directly to Lumiere’s and line up.  The line does go quickly.
  • If you want premium coffee, for adults there is the Cove Cafe, and for Teens there is Vibe.  At Cove Cafe, you pay for these, I’m not sure about Vibe since I’m not a teen.
  • At Cove Cafe you get a buy 6 get one free card for coffee.
  • The coffee in Cabanas and at the drink station is kind of lacking in flavour. LOL.  It looks dark, but, yeah… I won’t say skip it as I need my coffee fix in the morning, but, yeah…
  • Tea offerings were from Twinings.  Awesome!
  • Get yourself a water bottle to fill during the cruise.  The cups at the drink station are small.
  • Disney has a rotational dining concept, so on Magic, you go between the three restaurants – Animator’s Palate, Carioca’s and Lumiere’s with their various themes.
  • The restaurants all serve different meals every night.  That doesn’t mean you’ll miss a particular meal because, again, rotational dining.
  • Palo is fantastic and the service is top notch.  You will be stuffed after so heed everyone’s advice – Do not eat at Palo for Brunch and Dinner in the same 24 hour period!
  • Palo beats out Princess’ Sabatini’s for best Italian at sea, hands down.
  • I can’t talk enough about the service we received from the staff on the ship.

Shopping, Photos, Excursions

  • If you are a Disney Vacation Club member you get 10% off at the stores on board for when your order is $50 or more, and they were offering spa treatments at a discount all cruise long, not just on port days.
  • Depending on the price of the excursion booked, we found Disney’s pricing to be a bit cheaper than some other cruise lines.  I figure you pay a bit more upfront, and hence excursions are a bit cheaper  That said, while you could pay for your own local excursion, you get the guarantees that you’ll be back on the ship on time and if there is an issue with an excursion, that the cruise line will help out.
  • There are a LOT of photo opportunities, every night with or without characters.  For the WBTA, the Photo package was $399 for digital photos only.  Add $100 for printed photos too.  We ended up with 163 photos and didn’t hit each of the stations each night.
  • Staff are more than willing to take photos with your camera just like in the parks, and do get into the spirit.

Personal Lessons Learned

  • I think three days is the longest I want to go without seeing/being on land.  We’ll have to see one of these days.  The WBTA 2017 we booked is only two days at sea at a time.
  • I don’t feel like I relaxed on the cruise.  There was just so much to do.  I did say after the first sea day that I did not want to spend my full cruise in lines waiting to meet characters. LOL
  • In terms of the WBTA, definitely spend time up front by the pool, in the sun, etc… It does get colder the closer you get to Canada.  That said, I was hoping the weather would have been a lot better so the last sea day on our way to New York was spent by the pool.  Nature had some alternative plans with rain.
  • I think my tactic for the Palo Brunch is to decline any of the cooked items from the kitchen and just have the buffet.  There’s just so much there that’s tasty and awesome.  But that said the pizza and the calzone is AMAZING and a must do.
  • For the Palo Dinner, one main is definitely enough.  Have the Calamari, it is AMAZING.  Did I say have the Calamari?  It’s a must do.
  • Having done my first Disney cruise, there are definitely those “first timer” opportunities I no longer have to do, especially when it comes to dining, so I think I can effectively manage my weight better.
  • Things I need to do on the next cruise
    • Buy a cigar and smoke it.  Anyone want to join me?
    • Go on Aqua Dunk
    • Determine if, as an adult, if I can go on the other waterslide and if so, go on it
    • Chill by the pool more often, and actually swim more
    • Paint an animation cell in the Mickey Mouse Club

Things I learned prior to a Disney Cruise

Prior to this September, Scott and I have gone on two previous cruises.  I wouldn’t say we’re experts, but we pick up on things pretty quickly.

I can definitely say, cruising with Disney is quite a different experience from cruising with Princess or Royal Caribbean, who we cruised with previously. Here are some things I learned prior to cruising with Disney.  I will also be writing an entry on the things I learned while on a Disney cruise.

I’m going to write this from the perspective as an adult cruising without children.  A lot of people wonder why would adults want to cruise on Disney?  Well, it’s like, why would an adult want to go to Walt Disney World?  I think over the next two blog entries, you’ll see.

Some of these may also be unique to the longer Disney cruises just given the length and opportunities that you don’t necessarily find or have on a shorter cruise:

  • While on Cruise Critic, there are “Roll Calls” to connect with other passengers that are taking the same cruise, Disney cruises also create Facebook groups that allow you connect even more with other cruisers.
  • The longer cruises like a Transatlantic and Panama Canal definitely drive camaraderie.
  • Through the Facebook group, there are all kinds of events created
    • Group get together
    • Mixology classes
    • Chocolate and wine tasting sessions, and many more…
  • There is definitely a tradition of decorating your stateroom door.  We had seen it on other cruise lines.  For example, when we celebrated our honeymoon, Princess posted a congratulatory magnet on our door.  Disney cruisers take it to the next level, sharing all kinds of artwork and designs that you can print ahead of time, and post on your door.
  • We learned about “Fish Extenders: – being part of a group and trading small gifts throughout the cruise, is definitely a tradition.  People will make hanging pockets to receive mail and gifts hanging from the fish at each door where you would normally receive mail from the ship.
  • There was a recipe exchange arranged prior to the cruise that we were part of.
  • There are cruises that definitely have more adults on them, versus kids.  The Transatlantic and Panama Canal cruises are definitely more adult oriented due to how long they are, and the length of time.
  • There are several events you may want to book ahead of time
    • Princess Meet & Greets
    • Character Brunches
    • Palo Dinners
    • Spa Treatments
    • For the kids, booking the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Disney sets up Adult-only excursions/tours, so if you don’t want to be around kids (we had no problem with kids), you don’t have to be.
  • There will be a way to book a Palo Brunch and wine package once on board.  Head straight to Lumiere’s on Magic once you board.  As mentioned above, you can book Palo Dinners.  Supposedly you can book Palo Brunches online, but they go very quickly.

That’s probably it when it comes to what we learned.