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This week, a look at some technology gift ideas for those who work at home. But first, an update on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.

Samsung will brick remaining Galaxy Note 7 smartphones next week

In a statement, Samsung Canada has indicated that starting next week, it will be limiting the ability of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones to charge and to make Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections. By December 15, they will be unable to connect to any mobile network in Canada.

The company says that 90% of the Note 7s that were sold in Canada have already been returned.

Tech gift ideas to kit out that home office

Technology has revolutionized offices and made it possible for more people to work from home. Here are some new products that can turn any remote office into a productivity zone.

Apple MacBook Pro

The fanciest thing about the new MacBook Pro from Apple is the Touch Bar, a multi-touch OLED strip across the top of the keyboard that replaces the function keys. While it might seem like it’s just a gimmick, the contextual controls – insert, delete, and spell check buttons when you’re in a word processing program, for example – really do make a difference when it comes to productivity. The new laptop is also the thinnest, lightest, most powerful laptop Apple has ever created, with a brighter and more efficient display. It’s available in 13-inch and 15-inch models. (starting at $1,899)

HP DeskJet printer

Many of us are finding we need printers less and less these days. But when you need a printer, you really need one. The HP DeskJet 3758 is great to have on hand because it’s got a small footprint, so it won’t take up much space, and it’s wireless, so you can have it stashed out of the way. Despite the size, it can do everything you need a printer to do, including print documents and photos and copy and scan documents. ($90)

Varidesk Pro Plus 36

The standing desk trend came about as a result of research indicating that the amount of sitting we do is harmful to our health (that’s where the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” came from). But you don’t have to spend thousands on something new because Varidesk transforms your existing desk into a standing one. The top surface is big enough for two 24-inch monitors while a lower tier provides space for a keyboard and mouse. Available in black or white, you can move from sitting to standing in seconds, clicking into the position that is ideal for your height. ($590; varidesk.com)

Leef iBridge3

These days, our smartphones have plenty of storage space on them. Until they don’t. The iBridge3 connects to your iPhone or iPad and adds between 16 and 128 GB of storage space for those photos and videos you’re taking while on holiday. You can even configure the iBridge3 to work with your Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud accounts. Leef also has a microSD Reader for iPhones and iPads ($70) that makes it easy to transfer files from other devices. ($80 to $230)

OWC USB and Thunderbolt 2 docks

One of the ways that laptops can constantly become thinner and lighter is by removing the ports that you’d normally connect peripherals to. At the same time, we’ve got more things we want to plug into our machines: external disk drives, mobile devices, and multiple monitors. That’s where these docks come in. The USB-C Dock from OWC adds 10 ports to your system including two USB-C connections and ports for secondary monitors, including those that display in 4K resolution. The Thunderbolt 2 Dock, meanwhile, has a total of 12 ports to expand the possibilities of your Mac: two Thunderbolt 2 ports, multiple display connections, one FireWire 800, one gigabit ethernet, and five USB 3.0 ports. (US$149 and US$218)

Archer C3150 router

The beauty of MU-MIMO technology is that it can take one Internet connection and make it available to a number of different devices at the same time. The “MU” stands for “multi-user” and routers, like the Archer C3150, are different from the previous generation of routers that could only send out one Wi-Fi signal at a time. The Archer also ensures that it is using the signal band that is best for the device it’s communicating with. It’s easy to set up and has built-in parental controls, too. ($288)

Whoosh screen wipes

These wipes come from a Toronto company and are designed to clean the many screens in your life. From smartphones and tablets to laptop screens and computer monitors, these wipes will not only remove fingerprints but disinfect at the same time. The company also creates screen cleaning solution and anti-microbial cloths. (products starting at $15)

Star Wars Force Band

Anyone who works from home knows how lonely it can get. That’s why so many of them got a Sphere BB-8 droid for Christmas last year. This year, you can get them a Force Band, which provides wearers with the power to control a BB-8 with a wave of the hand. Before you know it, you’ll be able to send BB-8 to fetch coffee. ($100, $250 with a BB-8)

Philips goLite Blue energy lite

Coffee and chocolate are good pick-me-ups to get over those afternoon slumps, but you can also use the goLite Blue to energize with a dose of light that simulates bright daylight. It’s got a rechargeable battery so you can use it wherever you need it. And while the light is bright it is also diffuse so you don’t have to worry about eyes aching from the glare. The LED light is UV-free, too. ($200)

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Last night on the Corus Radio network, Charles Adler and I talked about the upcoming Computer Science Week and the fun, free opportunities for kids to have fun at Apple Retail Stores and Microsoft Stores. We also talked about gift ideas for people with automated homes, including the wonder that is the Dyson 360 Eye Robot vacuum.

Listen here.

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This week, Microsoft makes it easy for teachers to use Minecraft, Netflix makes it easy for everyone to watch TV and movies, and I make it easy for you to select an automated home gift. But first, we can all make it easy for kids to get ready for the future with Computer Science Week.

How to celebrate Computer Science Week

Next week is Computer Science Week, and there are lots of ways that kids can get involved in fun, free experiences.

Code.org has a bunch of free tutorials that teach the critical thinking skills that are at the core of coding and programming. There are Hour of Code tutorials based on Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen, and more.

There are also free workshops being held across Canada and the world next week.

Apple is staging free workshops at 487 Apple retail stores worldwide from December 5 through December 11, where participants will get an introduction to Swift Playgrounds, the free iPad app that has kids learning to program while having fun with the tablet.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is holding “Coding Camps” at Microsoft Stores where kids can work through a new Minecraft tutorial.

Minecraft moves into classrooms

Minecraft is a phenomenon. Often referred to as being digital Lego, the game/building tool/exploration toy is now available on nearly every digital platform you can imagine, from computers and game systems to smarphones and tablets.

And Microsoft, which owns the franchise, has now opened Minecraft up to educational institutions.

Minecraft: Education Edition is now available in 50 countries at the cost of only $5 per user, per year. Microsoft also has licensing discounts available for educational institutions.

In addition to the regular features, the Education Edition includes a Classroom Mode which gives educators control over world settings and lets them communicate with students, give them in-world items, and even teleport them.

A website, education.minecraft.net, provides support for teachers and instructors. At that site are lesson plans and opportunities to collaborate and connect with other educators.

Netflix gives customers an offline option

The streaming video company has updated its mobile apps – and it’s licensing agreements – so that viewers can download select TV shows and movies to watch later.

The idea is to help users curb their cellular data charges by letting them download video when connected to Wi-Fi.

Some of the options available for download include many, but not all, of the Netflix Originals. The new Gilmore Girls is not available for download in Canada, but The Crown and Black Mirror are.

Series including Breaking Bad and The Office are also available to download.

Gift ideas for those who are automating their home

Wink
At the centre of an automated home is the Wink Hub, which connects to and communicates with a bunch of different products from different manufacturers that use different protocols. With the Hub you can, with one interface, control a host of different LED bulbs and switches, programmable thermostats like Nest, connected outlets, and electronic locks.

August This family of products includes a smart lock that can be operated by your smartphone, a doorbell camera so that you can see who’s at your door even when you’re not at home, and a keypad that enables people to use a numerical code to open the door.

Dyson 360 Eye Robot vacuum
This little robot is the best thing that’s ever happened to our house. It’s got powerful suction that is expected of Dyson’s products and it can operate across any type of floor thanks to a tank track. It navigates the environment with ease while avoiding any obstacles, brings itself back to its docking station to charge, and remembers where it left off when it heads back out again.

Philips Hue LEDs
The Hue bulbs come in two configurations, white and colour. The white bulbs can be set to different “temperatures” of white, from cool to warm, and can even be set to automatically dim or brighten when you want them to. The colour bulbs can be dimmed, too, and can be set to emit the entire range of visible light colours.

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This week, another group of University of Waterloo students impress, a look at some of the best tech companies in Canada, and the annual holiday tech gift guide begins with picks for the best tech toys. But first, you’ve heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but do you know about Giving Tuesday?

The antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Giving Tuesday

Today is Black Friday, which has become as big a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S. On Monday, all the things you could ever want to purchase online go on sale, if they aren’t already.

And then there’s Giving Tuesday.

In Canada since 2013, the initiative aims to bring together efforts to support charities by encouraging donations and volunteering.

Among the founding members are Canada Helps, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and the Canadian Red Cross.

You can give to any charity through the Giving Tuesday site, or find ways to get involved.

Other participating charities this year include the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Gifts for the Cure collection and True Sport.

Canadian students runners-up in international engineering competition

University of Waterloo students who have designed a contact lens that can automatically monitor glucose levels to help people with diabetes have taken third place in the James Dyson Award.

The three students formed a company called Medella Health and the Smart Contact Lens is based on a nanotechnology design project from one of the students. They are currently working on miniaturizing the various subcomponents.

The runner-up award is worth five thousand British pounds.

A student from the United States took the top prize for a folding, recyclable helmet designed for use by bike share systems.

This is the third year in a row that a team from UW has placed in the competition. Last year, a design for a small printer that prints circuit boards won the top spot.

Canadian tech companies are “diverse and growing faster”

Last week, Deloitte revealed its annual list of 50 Canadian tech companies [PDF] that the professional company believes “demonstrate innovation, leadership, and rapid revenue growth” according to a release.

In the top three spots this year are two tech firms from B.C. and one from Calgary.

UrtheCast, based in Vancouver, provides imaging data and services that look at the Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) and a series of satellites. The company’s website also gives you a live look at our planet from the ISS. UrtheCast’s revenue growth between 2012 and 2015 was nearly 73,000%.

Richmond’s Cooledge Lighting is capitalizing on the shift to digital lighting technologies to drive growth of nearly 17,000%.

Calgary’s Benevity provides services to make it easier for corporations and employees to participate in workplace giving and volunteerism.

Another 10 companies from B.C., including Unbounce, Neurio, and Avigilon, are in the top 50.

Two other Calgary companies made the cut: Livestock Water Recycling and VistaVu Solutions.

Two companies from Saskatoon, Solido Design Automation and Vendasta Technologies, are also on the list.

Tech holiday gift guide: Tech toys for kids

  • Code-a-pillar ($70) from Fisher-Price for kids as young as three, rearrange the segments of the creature to alter its path.
  • Robot Turtles board game ($32 at your local board games store and Amazon) helps young kids learn the building blocks of coding.
  • Osmo Coding ($100) brings logic and problem-solving to the iPad with fun learning experiences.
  • Force Armband ($100) from Sphero works with the BB-8 droid, and enables you to control your robot by simply waving your hand.
    Dash ($150), a cute robot that can be programmed using a number of different tools, including Wonder and Blockly.
  • Kidizoom Smartwatch from VTech tells time, includes action challenges, and has a camera and voice recorder built in.
  • Hexbugs, including the new AquaBot Wahoo ($7) a perfect stocking stuffer, and the Nitro Habitat Set ($30 to $35), which has kids creating a track for the nanobots to skitter around in.
  • Boogie Board Play n’ Trace ($40 to $50) is like an artist’s palette, but digital.
  • Rubik’s Spark ($35) turns the cube into an interactive puzzle game.

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This week, will new home roofs be made of solar panels? Plus, the AC Conversion card is made for world travelers, and the annual video game glut has arrived. But first, Microsoft Teams looks to take on Slack.

Microsoft announces communication and collaborative tool in Microsoft Teams

If you’re young and hip and a technophile, you may be using Slack as a tool for communication.

Well, as part of its continuing reinvention of itself into something relevant and super useful, Microsoft has released a similar communications tool it’s calling Teams.

And for anyone with a commercial subscription to Office 365, the company’s suite of office productivity tools, Teams is a free application.

Teams includes chat functionality, as well as collaboration tools for working on projects, documents, and spreadsheets.

And Microsoft is opening up Teams to developers so they can integrate their software and services. Hootsuite, which helps organizations manage social media, will work with Teams.

Air Canada and CIBC have a solution for world travelers

Sending your kid on a gap year experience? Doing some traveling of your own to visit some faraway places? You don’t have to play around with credit cards or travelers cheques anymore. A new account at CIBC and supported by Air Canada will let you use up to 10 different currencies.

The AC Conversion card is a prepaid Visa account that can be used with a card or your mobile device. You can use your account online, at retailers, and to make withdrawals from ATMs.

The 10 currencies are active in 45 countries. They include:

  • Australian dollars
  • British pounds
  • Canadian dollars
  • Euros
  • Hong Kong dollars
  • Japanese yen
  • Mexican pesos
  • Swiss franc
  • Turkish lira
  • U.S. dollars

The crazy season of video games has begun

Released in the past week are a host of video games that are among the year’s best. Battlefield 1 is a first-person shooter set during the First World War. Titanfall 2, another shooter, is about a pilot and his artificially intelligent bipedal tank.

Dishonored 2 is a game in which players can decide how they want to play, ranging between sneaky or guns blazing. Watchdogs 2 is set in San Francisco, and is an open world adventure that puts players in the guise of a hacker trying to take down a city-wide surveillance system.

And then there’s Pokemon Moon and Pokemon Sun, two versions of the same game that feature some different “pocket monsters” to collect and train.

This is also the week that Sony releases the PlayStation 4 Pro, a new edition of the game console with beefed up specs, and Nintendo drops the NES Classic Edition, a cute little device that is a mini replica of the Nintendo Entertainment System released in 1985, and which comes loaded with 30 games built in to the system.

It’s barely November and there’s already too many things to play.

Elon Musk and Tesla show off roofs constructed of solar panels

So the next phase of Elon Musk’s master plan has been revealed. It involves turning all roofs into power generating surfaces.

But he’s not talking about putting some solar panels on your roof. He wants the roofing tiles to be solar panels. That’s the idea behind Solar Roof and there are four styles of roof tile being offered: slate, smooth, textured, and Tuscan.

The roof panel idea is a product of SolarCity. Musk is the chair of that company and Tesla Motors has made an offer to purchase it, all part of the plan to integrate the power generation with the power storage and use.

The Solar Roof, you see, would be connected to Tesla’s Powerwall 2 battery system (priced at US$5,500 each).

Eric Wesoff, writing in Greentech Media, cautions that providing roofs for homes is “not a semiconductor, mechanical, or financial engineering problem”. It is, said Wesoff, a construction, building, and distribution problem.

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