GoPro Hero 5

So after a few years of seeing other people using them, I finally invested in a GoPro.

We are a skiing family when finances permit (the fourth generation are just getting started). Sports cameras are prolific on the slopes these days and most of the helmets I saw on our trip this year had fixings with a camera attached or ready for one.

I’d not been tempted before now, mainly because we don’t do enough sport to warrant one. Why have a sports camera and not a family video camera? We’ve had several video cameras in the past but I have not used one in many years, not since our children became adults.

Now a grandparent; I’ve been using my mobile phone. It is always with me. I can take a short video in the moment without having to carry extra equipment around and the quality is fantastic. I’ve put together several films using these snippets of footage from my iPhone using my iMac. For convenience it is hard to beat. Using your mobile does have downsides though. Battery life for instance. Filming drains a phone battery pretty quickly. They are not great at a distance (dog walking or the kids playing in a field) that kind of thing and it is hard to hold the phone and keep it steady when walking. Also they are difficult to use hands free, so you wouldn’t get much footage on a ski slope or any active holiday, although you’d be fine by a pool or wandering around a town, so long as you are not interrupted by a phone call or using maps on your phone to find your way around.

My dilemma in a nutshell; why buy a sports camera when I also wanted to film my grandchildren as babies, or in school plays, or just out on a day trip? Capturing moments I can do anyway but the bigger stuff is so varied I’d need a sports camera and a general family video camera. In which case it is all too expensive, requires too many decisions about what to carry where and when, so I’ve done without. Until the GoPro 5 Black.

The newest GoPro has multiple view options. The sports modes are still wide angle so you capture the scenery as well as the moving subject, but now they do a linear and a narrow view. So when filming at home or at the park, you no longer have to worry about the fish eye lens edges or losing your subject in a busy scene when they are the only part you care about watching.

If you watch a promotional video, it will tell you all the fantastic things the GoPro can do. Wireless uploading to social media, taking it up mountains, in the sea, attached to your bike or your hand glider; but for me the fact that I can film a school play, follow my kids on skis whilst filming or in the pool with the grandchildren learning to swim, makes all the difference. It isn’t just a sports camera, it’s a small, compact family video camera you can use anywhere and everywhere.

I bought mine this year just before we went skiing. They are not cheap and you have to buy spare batteries because each one only lasts a couple of hours. It comes boxed with two fixings (one is for a helmet) which means you have to buy extra accessories if you are not going to wear it on a helmet. A mono pod for instance or a floating pod so if you drop it in water it won’t sink. The kit cost me just under £500 (one extra battery, battery charger, accessories kit from Amazon and the GoPro itself). Definitely an investment.

Our footage was taken on a helmet fixing and on chest straps. Both worked very well, the sound and quality were fantastic. We used voice activation a few times which needed a little getting used to but in cold weather is particularly handy. As I’ve never used a sports camera before it took me longer to get good footage than it did for my son. Getting it wrong when you are in the mountains all day is costly as far as battery life is concerned. I wish I’d bought two extra batteries as a safe guard (I only bought one). However over the seven days we filmed more than enough to make a video we will all enjoy for many years to come.

GoPro have their own editing suite, but I am used to iMovie, so I used that. My son-in-law used the GoPro editing suite and found it very easy to learn. He loved it.

We have since used it for family outings, a summer holiday by the pool, the school play, at parks and playgrounds. It has been great and I am looking forward to our next big trip to New Zealand and all the footage we will take there. Meanwhile though, my smartphone is still the one I use the most because it is always there, ready and waiting, to catch those incredible moments which become our favourite memories.

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The Wonders of ……

White Vinegar and Dish Soap.

Okay, I know it’s been forever since I posted. I also know this is a blog about gadgets which make life easier.

Vinegar makes my life easier! And when you mix it with dish soap (fairy liquid in my case) – it is brilliant at removing limescale on the shower door, the tiles and bathroom chrome. My chrome is quite literally gleaming.

I have also used the spray in the toilet; you know the bit at the back of the bowl where the water runs and no matter how hard you scrub, there is always some kind of mark there. It is a revelation. The mix for the bathroom spray is equal parts white vinegar and dish soap.

Today I cleaned a mirror in the bedroom and my french window glass. They both came up lovely after first spraying, then wiping with a cloth; but they did need buffing with a dry cloth to finish. I used the same spray (or mix) in the bedroom as the bathroom.

Before discovering this wonder cleaner though, I had started using white vinegar instead of fabric softener in my washing machine. Another stunning revelation. This natural, sustainable and cheap product keeps all my clothes soft, no smell, brighter than ever and even better, keeps the soap dispenser drawer clean. No more of that slimy build up to worry about. If you like a nice scent to your laundry, invest in a bottle of Zoflora disinfectant and add a small amount to your vinegar. Low and behold, a scented super softener that kills germs too!

How did this vinegar journey start though, you might ask? With none of the above as it happens. My kettle needed descaling and I wanted to use something chemical free. I checked the wonderful world-wide-web (either Google or Pinterest, or maybe both) the answer came back as white vinegar. I tried it and it worked brilliantly. No, the water did not taste of vinegar for days after either. I just poured white vinegar in the bottom of our kettle, covering the limescale, for a couple of hours. Then, as the limescale was on the sides of the kettle too, I added a little water and boiled it. Once emptied, I rubbed the limescale off using a plastic spatula. The vinegar had softened the limescale so it rubbed off very easily. (If heavily scaled, you might need to leave it overnight). So easy to do, not harmful to the environment and you don’t have to rinse it a dozen times just to be sure you don’t poison yourself or your family by accident!

Anything I can find that a) makes cleaning easy and b) is natural and doesn’t harm the environment has to be a winner.

Therefore, the newest life gadget in my arsenal is White Vinegar. Give it a try, you might well be as surprised as I was.

Sat Navs and Hire Cars

Hello people, long time no see!

My son recently went on holiday and told me a story which has prompted this post.

First things first:- When hiring your car, ask if it has built in satellite navigation. These days many new cars have it as standard and hire cars are often only two or three years old (many we have had have been brand new).

My son took his wife and son on holiday to Spain and arranged a hire car. They were staying in a friend’s apartment and had no idea of the way, so a Sat Nav was arranged with Avis Cars together with a child seat. They arrived at the Avis desk, were given paperwork and the chap serving them double-checked their requirement for seat and navigation (even asking if they wanted it in English). They agreed, signed the paperwork having not actually seen or inspected the car, were handed the keys and sent to find their car in the car park.

When they got there an attendant in a hut handed them the TomTom and car seat, which they had to fit themselves. When they finally got to their Avis car, it was a brand new Audi A3. They were delighted.

However when acclimatising to the car controls, as one does when jumping into unfamiliar territory, my son pressed a button and up popped an integral satellite navigation system set to English, which is the one they used.

Of course they questioned the £150 added to the invoice for the TomTom loudly and clearly. Having signed the Terms and Conditions of Avis Cars when picking up the vehicle, customer service just referred back to this fact and would not enter into a discussion about it. It may be legal but it is not morally correct.

So anyone heading off on a self-drive holiday. Remember to ask if the car you get has onboard navigation. If not, take an old one of your own and update the map (it won’t cost £150) or look at buying data and use your mobile phone. It has excellent free apps!

Revolut is a must have for travelling

It has been a while, I know. However I finally have something worth writing about! It is not exactly a gadget but as I’ve said before, I will share anything that makes life easier and this definitely comes in to that category.

Revolut is an online bank account with an App and a debit card (see http://www.revolut.com) backed by MasterCard. You don’t need the card to use the app however. You top the account up with your base currency (in my case sterling) ready for your holiday and off you go… but why would you, and what makes it different?

First point: Your sterling is only exchanged when you actually spend it, so you don’t have to buy large amounts of currency just in case and get stuck with it, either having to save it until the next trip or exchange it back again.

Second point: The exchange rate is the bank rate and not the tourist rate you would usually get from buying currency. This can make a huge difference.

Third point: The card is a contactless debit card which can be used in shops, hotels, ATMs for all purchases and cash requirements.

Fourth Point: There are no charges for the service. The app is free. The card is free. Withdrawal of cash is free (there is a limit of a ‘charge free’ withdrawal of £200 cash per month. After that there is a charge of 2% for any more cash withdrawn that month).

There is so much flexibility in the system that it is difficult to précis it all for a blog post, but the above points are the ones that will appeal to anybody who travels. Being my blog though, I would like to share all the ways I have used Revolut, and I only signed up about three months ago and have left the country once so far.

Late last year we had a visit from some Spanish friends. She had exchanged euros to sterling for the trip but at the end of the week was left with £150. I kept the sterling and used Revolut to send her the equivalent in Euros. She does not have a Revolut account but that doesn’t matter. Revolut send a link to her email address or mobile number (your choice which). She receives the link and fills in her bank details. The money is then deposited in her account. Simple and effective.

Next was a Christmas present for my niece in Australia, and later that month a 60th Birthday present for a close friend, also in Australia. Both gifts I bought were on Australian websites for local delivery. If I had used my own credit card or debit card, there would have been an extra charge so I used Revolut to pay in their local currency. Inter Bank exchange rate, no charges.

One of our christmas gifts from our kids was an overnight trip to Berlin (how lucky am I?) so of course I topped up my Revolut account for the trip. I used it to pay for train tickets, restaurants, gift shop and also in an ATM to withdraw some cash I know we will need for an upcoming skiing trip. Not a single extra charge was paid. The app shows you the amount you paid, who to, the exchange rate on the day and you can even catagorise the purchase and add your own note for reference later.

We wanted to buy something we could only get in America on Amazon. So we paid for it and had it sent to a friend in Texas who arranged to post it to us. She messaged me with the amount in US$ and I paid her through Revolut (she got a text message etc). She was so impressed by it, she asked how I did it and has now joined up herself.

My children have signed up to Revolut themselves. In fact it was my daughter-in-law who told me about it. It makes life even easier! We are off on holiday together in the near future and I payed for all our seats and luggage requirements. They paid me straight back on the Revolut card just by ticking my name in their contacts.

If you prefer to know your exchange rate rather than be subject to the highs and lows in these volatile times, not a problem. You can exchange your base currency in to the currency of your choice and spend it in all the forms mentioned above. All on the same account using the same card.

Revolut have promotional videos and a very good website which you should check out. Here I just wanted to share it’s versatility in every day life from the perspective of a very ordinary person living a pretty normal life.

Happy Travelling

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Babysitting using an iPhone

You are on holiday with your family staying in a hotel, half-board, when one of your children falls asleep at dinner. What do you do? There is no babysitting service, the parents still have to eat and you didn’t bring the baby monitor with you. 

This was our situation last week when I was on holiday with my family in the Pyrenees. Our granddaughter fell asleep at dinner and her mother had to leave the dining room to put her to bed and would have had to stay there with her if I hadn’t had ‘the App for that’. 

At home, when I was babysitting for my first grandchild and was worried I would not hear her cry, I checked the App Store for a solution and found Cloud Baby Monitor. It required two monitoring devices and a wifi connection in my house. Perfect. We used an old iPhone 3, installed the App and set it up in the baby’s room as the child monitor. Then I downloaded the same App (you only purchase it once if you use the same account) on my computer and my current iPhone, setting it up as the parent. It meant I could choose to monitor our sleeping child from my phone or my main computer, whichever suited me best, at any time I needed to. 

So when my daughter was about to be stuck upstairs, I told her to download the Cloud Baby Monitor App on the old iPad our three year old granddaughter uses to watch kids’ YouTube and to play games. I told her to register it to my account and set it as the child device. Downstairs in the Dining Room, we set our iPad up as the parent device and carried on eating whilst we watched the child sleeping and her mother returned to eat her meal. 

It worked beautifully. Not only could we watch our grandchild sleep (using the front or rear facing camera) we could hear her too. You can also play lullabyes through the iPhone/iPad speaker and you can speak to your child as well; an addition we were very grateful for when our granddaughter woke up and I could tell her ‘mummy is coming’ through the App as my daughter legged it up three flights of stairs to get to her. Hearing my voice and not seeing me did not seem to phase her one bit. When my daughter entered the room, all was quiet and calm and in minutes the child went back to sleep. 

For travel and even for everyday use, I highly recommend the Cloud Baby Monitor App. You get the added pleasure of finding a use for your old tech and save a fortune as baby monitoring systems cost in excess of £100. 

Best Thing About The Apple Watch?

I know people that rave about the Apple watch, saying it is ‘superb’; a ‘must-have’ and other happy exclamations.

I was lucky enough to be bought one for my birthday last September. I have the rose-gold version with a lilac strap and it does look pretty on my wrist, more like a piece of jewellery than a gadget, which is important in the case of a watch.

I enjoy it. I like the fact that I don’t have to carry my telephone around with me all the time for step counts, business emails and family messages (although wearing leggings is not so good for my waistline and carrying a mobile at least kept me in my jeans with pockets!). I thought I would mind taking it off at night to charge it, but it turns out that I don’t. When you lay it sideways on your side table, it gives you a digital time display when you need it in the middle of the night because you have been woken up by that screeching cat outside your window or just because you are too hot.

All that said, I don’t quite get why people rave about it as they do. It is convenient and fun but not a life changer in the same way the original iPhone was in its day (June 2007, I believe). I am reading a lot of reports of-late written by people who want less intrusion in their lives rather than more, which might be why the smart-watch is not on the wrist of every smart-phone owner. My biggest problem with it personally, and the reason I didn’t buy it for myself but received it as a gift, is not being able to wear it in a swimming pool. As my preferred exercise (other than walking our dog) is swimming, it really misses the mark for me.

My Apple watch has one feature though which I use all the time and saves me a lot of stress. One little press of an icon on the watch face makes my iPhone ping when I can’t find it, which is often. Down the side of the sofa; in the kitchen when I have been slouching around in the living room; in the car when I could have sworn it was in my handbag. This week, on holiday, it pinged in my daughter’s bedroom when I was trying to find it in my own room.

So there you have it. Five months after my birthday, having worn it every day since, I have found a reason to post about my Apple Watch. I think that says it all.

 

iPhone and Photography

I have a pretty good camera. I’ve also had a couple of video cameras over the years (rather large compared to modern ones) but these days I use my phone more than anything else. The quality of photographs and video has improved a great deal but more than anything, I always have it with me so convenience wins the day. 

At one time I downloaded a few editing apps but gave them up, preferring to use the generic iPhone camera and editing tools. I’m not particularly arty; more a ‘snap and go’ sort of girl. 

Recently I noticed my niece editing a photograph she’d taken with her iPhone and was struck with simplicity of the format she was using. I asked her what it was and she introduced me to VSCO.cam

I downloaded it when I got home and was about to delete it again, realising it was a bigger app than I’d imagined, but then changed my mind and decided to give it a go. It took a few minutes to work out the menus but the basic taking of a photo and saving I picked up quite quickly. The extras I ignored until I’d decided to keep the App. Once I had, I used this VSCO-com Tutorial to understand the editing tools. 

I can still use the generic camera if I want to (I need to for video anyway) and swiping up on my iPhone still gives me easy access. But for photographs I am going to carry on using VSCO now I have the hang of it. 

Why don’t you give it a try? I believe it is available on Android too. Snapping a photo doesn’t mean it can’t be a good photo, once you get time to play with it. 

It’s Your Fault Email Is Broken

The idea that any form of chat will kill off email is ludicrous (to me anyway). Email is a super-fast mail service which can be used to verify actions taken, confirm aural agreements and provide proof of receipt, as well as keep families in touch, chat to friends, receive advertising etc.

Email and chat are too different for either to affect the other no matter how individuals use them.

The TechCrunch article is an interesting read and reminded me how important these communication sectors have become and how happy I am not to have to rely on snail mail all the time even though I still love to receive and post a letter now and then.

My iPhone Anti-Gravity Case

You may not have heard of Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site for people with great ideas who need financial backing. Kickstarter and Indiegogo both give us, the general public, a chance to invest in ideas and products and help bring them to the world market.

One such product is my anti-gravity iPhone 6 case by Mega Tiny Corp. The idea caught my attention when I was scrolling through some of the things on offer. It is a case with a sticky back which you can place on glass, cupboards, tables and such like so you can use your hands whilst using FaceTime, when cooking (to read your recipe), or to take selfies without having to hold the phone in your hand.

I supported their campaign by pledging the price of three cases with glass screen protectors included, due for delivery in May 2015. Mega Tiny Corp were very good with regular progress updates. They had to produce prototypes, then take it into production, finalise their packaging and many other things before the product was ready to ship. I enjoyed the process which included emails giving the backers regular updates about the process and its ups and downs.

As with anything innovative, the process is prone to delays and this was no exception. However we were advised every step of the way which avoided any unrealistic expectations. My order was delivered about six weeks later than initially expected but it was all very professional. The packaging was well designed, the product completely as expected and the continued support from MegaTiny excellent.

The case itself fits my iPhone perfectly. The ‘sticky’ back is super-sticky to begin with and gets dirty quickly which would be off-putting for some. However if you persevere it becomes less sticky to the touch with handling yet still has enough to attach to hard surfaces. My feedback to Mega Tiny Corp suggested that a cover for the ‘sticky’ back could be useful when not using it, but that is probably not practical. I use this ability of the case more than I expected. It is even good when you are out and about and leave your phone on the table. It is hard for someone to knock it off accidentally, and takes a decent grip to lift it, which makes it harder to steal too!

I am glad I decided to give it a try and I really like my case. My phone is well protected. The back of the case can be cleaned with a damp cloth. It does what they promised it would do and overall it was a good experience.

Birthdays

I have just come across the simplest of improvements to Contacts on IOS and one that makes me wonder why it has taken so very long. 

I was just adding a birthday to a contact after realising it was missing. Low and behold, finally you can add the date without the actual year of birth. There are many times you need to know the date of something but the year doesn’t matter. 

Hardly worth blogging about, you might think. Personally, I love these little improvements and the feeling that when you buy a smartphone, it doesn’t stay the same forever.  Tomorrow it will have improved yet again and by next year, who knows what you will be doing that you can’t do today.