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Categories Consumer technology |

The annual gift-giving season is upon us, and over the next five weeks I’ll run down some of my picks for the best tech ideas to put on your list, and to consider giving to others.

This week, toys and fun things for kids.

Lego Boost

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lego as a device for creative, unstructured fun. Lego Boost brings some more technical to the play by merging play with programming. I’ve written about how it is packed with potential. A kit, which brings hours of fun, is $199.


This cute programmable robot is for an older kid who is ready to explore more sophisticated coding possibilities. Exclusively sold in Canada at Best Buy for $250.

Sphero R2-D2

For the past couple of years, Sphero has been all about BB-8 droids that you can operate with a smartphone. This year, R2-D2 gets the attention. Get your own R2 unit for $250.


The great Canadian invention is what every kid wants. They get to care for an egg until it hatches, and then nurture the young creature as it matures, digitally. There are many Hatchimals to choose from starting at $85.

Kidz Gear headphones

Young kids may not know how easy it is to damage their hearing. Kidz Gear headphones have a limiting device so that you can make sure that the sound from their Nintendo 2DS or iPad Mini doesn’t blow their doors off. Around $30 for wired headphones, also wireless option.

SmartMax magnetic construction toys

Perfect for younger kids, these magnetic construction components are too big to swallow, and are great for learning how to build. Early exploration with the power of magnets and magnetic fields will set toddlers up for long careers in science and technology. Between $45 and $180 depending on the kit.

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Categories Consumer technology |

This week, how you can block Facebook memories and four Canadian cities appear on a new smart cities index. But first, students from McMaster University have won the James Dyson Award.

Canadian scientists from Hamilton win James Dyson Award

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Canadian finalists in this year’s James Dyson Award.

Yesterday, the English inventor announced that this year’s winner is a team from McMaster University in Hamilton.

The team of four engineering undergraduates – Michael Takla, Rotimi Fadiya, Shivad Bhavsar, and Prateek Mathur – win a prize of Can$50,000, with an additional $8,500 for the supporting institution.

Their project is called the sKan, a low cost, handheld device designed to help diagnose melanoma. The device, expected to cost about $1,000, would replace a detection device that costs some $50,000.

The team plan to use the prize money to continue developing the device and plan on submitting it for FDA approval. In a release, the four said, “Winning the James Dyson Award means the world to us. The prize money will help us to continue developing a medical device that can saves people’s lives. We are truly humbled and excited to be given this remarkable opportunity.”

Vancouver places eleventh in new smart cities index

A new ranking of cities around the world orders them in terms of how smart they are. The idea is that cities that are digitized, providing easy wireless access, clean energy and environmental sustainability, and online access to government services.

Vancouver placed eleventh on the 2017 Smart Cities Index.

The analysis included more than 500 cities from around the world. They were considered on 19 different categories and assigned a score out of 10 on each.

Categories included things like car sharing services, education, clean energy, internet speed, and citizen participation.

Vancouver scored high on smart parking (number of spaces, availability of parking apps), car sharing, clean energy, urban planning, and poorly on traffic, smart buildings, waste disposal, and environment protection (CO2 emissions per capita).

Montreal (#16), Toronto (#19), and Ottawa (#40) also made the list.

The study was commissioned by EasyPark, which provides apps and services designed to help drivers find and pay for parking. The company operates primarily in Europe.

How you can stop Facebook from reminding you about things you want to forget

For all you Facebook users out there – you know who you are – you’ll be familiar with how the service automatically shows you posts from your past.

There may be some posts that you shared in the past that you don’t want to be reminded of. Because the events and information that we share on our social networks are not always positive, happy things.

Well, there’s a Facebook setting that you can use to specify periods of time or specific dates you don’t want to be reminded about.

You do this through the settings, or preferences, for the “On This Day” feature.

In a browser, you can find this in the left hand sidebar. On your mobile device, it’s found in the hamburger menu.

When you’re in “On This Day” you’ll see posts from your past. Find the “Preferences”, located in the top right corner of your browser window or by tapping on the gear icon in the top right corner of your mobile device.

In preferences, you can create filters to prevent Facebook from showing you previous posts from particular people or particular dates.

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

Last night, Charles and I talked about Amazon’s presence in Vancouver, which will include a second, 150,000 square foot office space and another 1,000 employees, to add to the 1,800 already working in B.C. We also talked about Microsoft’s plans to add staff to its Vancouver studios. Other topics included Super Mario Odyssey, and the economic impact that the video-game industry has in Canada.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, the numbers are in and Canada’s video-game sector is bringing in big bucks. Plus, why you’ll want to get a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. But first, Amazon and Microsoft are building out in Vancouver.

Amazon opening second Vancouver office, hiring another 1,000 people to work there

Cities across North America are vying to become the home for Amazon’s second headquarters, but the company already has a significant presence in B.C. It employs 1,800 people across the province, with more than 1,000 in Vancouver and a significant number at fulfillment centres in Delta and New Westminster.

This morning, at its offices at 510 West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver, Amazon announced the opening of a second corporate office. The company has secured 150,000 square feet of space at 402 Dunsmuir that will accommodate an expected 1,000 employees.

“We’re still hiring,” said Amazon’s Alexandre Gagnon.

Gagnon, the vice president for Amazon Canada and Mexico, said that about 90 percent of the staff at the existing Vancouver office are software engineers, and that the company is one of the largest employers of software engineers in Canada.

Premier John Horgan took the opportunity to talk about the continuing need for affordable housing, transit, and investments in post-secondary education, which he said his government promised to address and would continue working on.

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough represents the riding of Delta and is the federal minister for Public Services and Procurement. She remarked that Canada’s immigration system makes the country an appealing place for companies to set up offices. “It’s great that global leaders like Amazon see Vancouver is a place to invest,” she said.

Jesse Dougherty is the general manager of Amazon’s Vancouver operations. While Dougherty was born in Vancouver and raised on the Sunshine Coast, he worked in Seattle for some 10 years after graduating from UBC. “I always wanted to come home,” he explained, “and wanted to find a way to contribute here.”

In addition to the new corporate space, Dougherty announced a $25,000 donation to B.C.‘s First Nations Technology Council. The money will be used to purchase laptops for indigenous students to use during programs, which they will keep afterwards.

The donation is only the first step in a parternship, explained Dougherty. Amazon will continue to support the Council with mentoring and coaching.

Executive director Denise Williams said that technology “has the power to be an equalizer” and that the Council is working to ensure that “all 203 First Nations communities in B.C.” get equal access to digital technology.

Microsoft in Vancouver

Microsoft also had some announcements about its presence in Canada. The company is adding 50 people to Microsoft Vancouver in its mixed-reality division, which includes work on virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality experiences like those that come from its HoloLens.

High schools in B.C. are also getting access to the TEALS program, which pairs computer science professionals with teachers who want to teach computer science but may not have the knowledge or skill base. The program, which previously has only been offered in the U.S., uses curricula from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington.

Microsoft is also partnering with BCIT to develop courses and degrees in mixed reality.

Super Mario Odyssey is why you want a Nintendo Switch in your house

Nintendo expects to sell a total of 17 million Switch consoles in its first year since release. That’s an astonishing number of units, and is more than the company sold of its Wii U in more than five years. Nintendo Canada says that so far this year, the Switch is the best-selling console in the country.

The hardware, which is portable if you want it to be, is excellent. But it’s always the games that make consoles sell, and with the release of Super Mario Odyssey last week, Nintendo has provided gamers with another reason to pick up a Switch. That game has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone in just a few days.

The game stars the popular Mario, and brings a more open world experience to the game, giving players opportunities to roam around the colourful and varied environments and encouraging exploration.

With new mechanics enabled by the motion sensing Joycon controllers, Odyssey is a thrill to play.

Video game industry in Canada a major economic force

The Entertainment Software Association of Canada this week released a report with the latest numbers on the impact of the industry on the national economy.

With nearly 600 studios across the country employing nearly 22,000 people full-time, the research, conducted by Nordicity, found that the sector contributes $3.7 billion to Canada’s GDP. The average annual salary of employees is $77,300.

While development of mobile games has diminished, there is lots of activity in the VR and AR space.

And premium, blockbuster games are still being made in Canada, like Assassin’s Creed Origins, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, which released last week, and EA’s upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II, for which the single player experience was created at Motive Studios, also in Montreal.

There are significant independent developers across the western provinces, too, in Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon, and Calgary and Edmonton. And, of course, Edmonton is home to the venerated BioWare, which makes some of the best role-playing games ever created.

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