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Category: Product Reviews

High-Tech Auto Reports – July 2015

Listen to the latest trends and news in the auto industry.  Michael Garfield covers all you need to know to keep up the rapidly changing world of cars and trucks.  Send questions or content suggestions here.

APPLE AND GOOGLE VIE FOR A SPOT ON YOUR DASHBOARD

MANUFACTURERS DEVELOPING AUTONOMOUS DRIVING, SMARTWATCH CONTROLS

 

 

Prime Living Magazine – July/August 2015

The latest edition of Prime Living Magazine is out just in time for mid-summer tips on backyard grilling and cooking.  Here is my column on some utensils to help with the preppin’.  You are now ready to do some eatin’.

Here are links to the featured products:

Backyard Flat Top Grill
Eva Solo Gravity Cookware
Breville Smart Convection Oven Plus

Prime_Living_JulyAug_column

Touring San Francisco – A Treat Indeed

I have been to San Francisco many times and – just like the song says – I have left my heart there each time.  The Golden Gate City is arguably the most unique city in the U.S. with its hilly terrain, sweeping views, late 19th century charm mixed with 21st century buzz, and different international-flavored neighborhoods everywhere you turn.

Why do I keep going back?  And why do I recommend it as a “must see” place for one’s bucket list?

Maybe it’s the weather.  Not so much the fog but the cool, dry air that makes me ask myself why I live in a hot, humid climate (oh yeah, probably the cost of the living).   It could be the food.   Within a few blocks walk one can dine on fresh seafood, authentic Italian, world-class Chinese and old-fashioned Mexican.

I believe the answer is all-of-the-above.  Like the city itself, I love the melting pot atmosphere of the residents and the tourists that come from all over the globe.  I recently spent a few days traversing the area by foot, go cart, subway, boat and bicycle.  I even threw in old school transportation with a ride on the famed cable cars and new school with an easy to grab Uber car.

So let’s go find my heart:

The first place I began my journey was online, of course.  Before your visit, take some time to plan your trip on San Francisco Travel, the city’s official guide for visitors and meeting planners.   Everything from activities to dining, nightlife to shopping, and even hotel suggestions are found on this website.  I knew I would be there for three nights so I made an itinerary that allowed me to play, eat, exercise and eat.  And eat.

My home base for my stay was Union Square.  I really enjoy this vibrant area as it is located near the city center with easy access to cable car lines, the underground subway, busses and trains.  It is an easy walk (despite some of the notorious hills) to get to Chinatown, the financial district and of course, all the shopping you can handle.

Yes there are high-end stores that can also be found in places like Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue and London’s High Street but I found many boutique shops and local hangouts with a northern California flair.  The fact that a pub or bar seemed to populate the area also added to my pleasure.

One must not forget a nickname of San Francisco – “The City By The Bay.”  So it makes sense to get on the bay to view the scenery and cityscape from a different vantage point.  First-timers to the area will enjoy a dinner cruise on the Hornblower, a sightseeing ship with several decks for fine dining, weddings and parties, and perches with unrestricted views no matter which way you look.

This three-hour cruise departs from the Embarcadero not far from the Bay Bridge.  Guests are welcomed at their assigned tables with a glass of champagne and a four-course dinner menu.  Live entertainment and dancing will keep you having fun down below when you aren’t on the top deck looking at the beautiful sights.  The Hornblower breezes past Alcatraz Island, circles underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, all while delivering breathtaking views of the city.

San Fran (we are pretty tight so I can call it that) seems synonymous with fishing and seafood which is why a visit to the Wharf is a must.  Two cable car lines drop off passengers within walking distance of this area where cool breezes during the day and night may call for a stop at one of the many souvenir shops for a lightweight jacket.

No doubt many of the restaurants, stores and venues are geared to tourists but you can find some wonderful food and plenty of things to keep busy.  Lunch at Cioppino’s on Jefferson Street was a treat as I sat on the outside patio sipping a local beer.  The menu offers – what else – fresh seafood along with Italian fare that draws customers from blocks away with smells of garlic and clams.

It would be a sin not to get the clam chowder in a freshly made bread bowl.  The Dungeness crab cocktail is also very tasty but those appetizers only led up to the main dish of which this place is named.   Cioppino is the signature dish here.  A bountiful seafood extravaganza of Dungeness crab, clams, mussels, snapper, calamari, shrimp, and tomatoes braised in a fennel scented stew.  ‘Nuff said.

It is no secret that I try to keep in shape as much as I can so when I enjoy a fine meal I need to find a way to work it off.  A glance down the street found Bay City Bike Rentals & Tours.  I haven’t been on a bike in years but there was no time like the present to hop on for good exercise but also a fun way to see more sights.

Bay City Bikes rent several types of equipment for a leisurely or a high-performance stroll.  I opted for a lightweight, 21-speed model with a front camera bag, lock, water bottle holder and a map.  They also offer an electric hybrid bike with a battery and pedal assist feature lets riders experience the fun with less exertion.  I almost regret not choosing the hybrid but at least I worked off my lunch.

I opted for a guided tour and took my place amongst a dozen fellow tourists donned with bike helmets and spandex pants (No such pants for me.  Shorts will do just fine.)  We departed from the Wharf on a two-and-a-half hour journey that led us on paved trails and streets with sweeping views of the water.

The final destination of the tour would be in Sausalito, a small town just north of the bay filled with stunning sidewalk restaurants, shops and parks.  But to reach this point we would need to cross the water.  And the only way would be to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Bam!

I have driven across this (arguably) most famous bridge in the world several times but traversing it on two wheels was almost an out-of-body experience.  An exclusive lane for walkers and bikers was crowded but allowed for a slow-paced pedal underneath the rust-colored towers of the bridge.   I had to stop a few times only to take in the view of the city to the south, Marin County to the north, and lots of water right below.

After crossing the bridge with high-fives amongst my fellow pedalers it was literally all downhill into Sausalito.  Part of this tour package from Bay City Bikes included a ferry ride back to the Wharf that allowed me to soak up the sights from the water again and rest up from the bike ride.

SF June 2015

Similar to dining at a restaurant, touring the city and visiting places can be done by itself (a la carte) or enjoying many things on an all-you-can-eat menu.  Like a buffet, the GO Card is a smart way to visit a variety of places across San Francisco and saves money in the long run.  A 1-day card can be purchased for $60 ($45 for kids) up to a 7-day card for $160 ($115 for kids) that gives entrance and discounts to over two dozen venues around the area.

The GO Card can be used to access several museums from the Asian Art to the U.S.S. Hornet; even to Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.  My favorite place to use the card was another way to tour the city…the GoCar Tour.  The card allowed for a 30 minute use of these yellow, battery-powered vehicles equipped with a GPS-enabled storytelling experience.

The GoCar is easy and fun to drive.  As you drive, it tells you where to turn and gives an audible story of sights like Ghirardelli Square, The Presidio, Cliff House and Golden Gate Park.  My personal highlight was driving the GoCar down the curves of famous Lombardi Street.

As if I hadn’t had enough touring – and one can never get enough in this city – I found an intriguing way to learn about the vastly different neighborhoods while experiencing the unique cuisine each is famous for.  The Local Tastes Of The City Tour makes it easy to learn, eat and explore within a few hours but an experience that lasts a lifetime.

Offering several tours daily one can hop on its decorative bus or choose to walk a late morning, early afternoon or evening stroll through a choice of celebrated districts.  I opted for a night walking tour of Chinatown and North Beach as I wanted to learn about these two different cultures but also chow down on some good Chinese and Italian grub.

Our small group was led by an exuberant guide that started at the foot of Chinatown.  We were led at our own pace while listening to the historic significance of the neighborhood and its architecture.  Walking creates an appetite so every few blocks we stopped to sample local cuisine.  A dim sum selection was offered at a local shop followed by samples of freshly-made fortune cookies at a baking company in an out-of-the way alley.

We spent about an hour leaning about tea while sipping several varieties at Vital Tea Leaf.  I have never been a lover of hot tea but after learning the health advantages of these drinks I found myself purchasing several bags to take home.  Tip: try the Pu-erh.

Before we found our way out of Chinatown we popped into Begoni Bistro Wok & Wine.  The stop was initially for a bit of wine but after seeing the prawn salad spring roll and grilled French rack of lamb we could not help but have a quick snack.  (Say hello to the gregarious owner, Ming, for me)

That snack tied us over only for the next two blocks as we entered North Beach, a vibrant district named after the part of town that used to be the northernmost section of the city.  The iconic pyramid-shaped TransAmerica Tower hovered over us like a welcoming concierge.  We meandered slightly uphill to pass inviting clubs, book shops and restaurants inviting us with tempting scents of Italian flavor.

A few slices of pizza and a glass of wine were waiting at final stop of this journey.  We tipped our gracious guide and then tried to remember the spots we had just passed to go back and enjoy a little more of the local sounds and flavor of these unique neighborhoods.

I could go back to San Francisco every year for the rest of my life and still be able to discover something I haven’t seen before.  Maybe a small park with centuries-old trees or an alleyway that winds its way out to a view of another part of the bay I have yet to see.

There is no doubt when visiting this great city that every one of all ages and from all places around the world will leave with several things:  great memories, suitcases of souvenirs, an appreciation for a beautiful cityscape and atmosphere, and recommendations for others to go back and enjoy.

Oh yeah, and you won’t leave hungry either.

Golden Nugget Lake Charles Welcomes The High-Tech Texan (and all Texans)

When it comes to gambling, eating, sipping cocktails, playing in the sun or – heck – just about living life to its fullest, I am your man.  This fact is not hard to figure out since Las Vegas is my most-visited city in the U.S.  (confession – but don’t be a hater – I’ve already been to Vegas 4x this year alone).  But instead of hopping a flight for all this fun I may have found my new hangout just a few hours drive from Houston.

Golden Nugget Lake Charles Casino.  (PRNewsFoto/Landry's)

The Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, Louisiana, opened in December 2014, and I recently spent a Friday night at this palatial playground near the swamp lands.  My crew and I headed eastbound along Interstate 10 to broadcast my radio show from “the Nugget” and we experienced a wonderful time from arrival to departure.  The $700 million project came into view as we crossed over the I-210 bridge.  Thoughts of ringing slot machines and stacks of casino chips in my head had me more excited than seeing Space Mountain the first time I approached Disney World as a kid.

Walking into the hotel was akin to entering one of the glitzy hotel casinos in Las Vegas.  That is a high compliment from me as I have been in many casinos around the world that looked similar to my upstairs poker room at home.  The marble floor and high ceiling gives the lobby and casino a roomy feel.  Several retail shops dotted the aisles and I caught a glimpse of several restaurants throughout the ground floor.  More on this later as restaurants play a large part of the Golden Nugget since it is owned and operated by Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta.  Yes, that Tilman Fertitta of Landry’s Inc. fame and fortune.

Check in was quick and simple probably because I was staring at the large window behind the counter which overlooks the H20 pool and bar.  It was a Friday afternoon and the outdoor area looked rocking as tanned guests were wading around the swim-up bar.

My pool view room with balcony overlooked this same scene and I could not wait to get down there to sample the libations and do a quick site check for my radio broadcast location the next day.  But I spent a while in the nicely appointed room looking at the many features.  500 square feet of space included a large soaker tub, king size bed, 42″ TV, stand-up shower and a dining nook.  I’m not sure how many guests utilize the small table and chairs to eat as we soon found out there are so many things to do to keep you downstairs.

The pool scene was indeed loud and fun.  Cabanas are spaced around the adult pool and bar (21 and up) with a large stage for DJs, concerts and other entertainment.  A lazy river is adjacent to the adult pool winding its way around a waterfall and under foot bridges.Golden Nugget photo4

Back to the restaurants.  It is hard to determine whether this facility was built around the restaurants of Fertitta’s empire or the hotel/casino just happened to place a Fertitta-owned restaurant every few feet along the spacious corridors.  Familiar brands can be found throughout the grounds including Saltgrass Steakhouse, Grotto, Landry’s Seafood House, and Cadillac Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar.  We wanted to go all out for dinner so we opted for Vic & Anthony’s, a top steakhouse with locations in Houston and Las Vegas.

V&A General Manager Craig Harrington was inviting and worked the elegant dining room filled with guests dressed in sport coats, blue jeans and even shorts.  An order of maple glazed quail and a jumbo lump crabcake started us off.  Those appetizers quickly gave way to a table full of prime porterhouse, organic lamb chops, blackened scallops and grits, and of course there was a lobster tail.  The wine list is extensive and – my personal affection to a bar – the bourbon collection was first rate.

Golden Nugget photo2Once our bellies were full and happy it was time for one of my favorite ways to kill time and money (or hopefully make money)…the casino.  The Golden Nugget has 70 gaming tables and 1,600 slot machines.  This Friday night seemed busy and it took a little while to find an open spot at a craps table.  But once I realized there was 20x odds on the numbers all was well.  A large bar sits in the middle of the casino floor which makes for a nice place to relax and meet on the couches or tabletops.  A high roller section is situated in the back of the casino with its own bar and higher minimum tables and slot machines.  I did not notice a VIP lounge on the casino floor but, alas, there may be one somewhere for actual VIPs.

The staff was friendly whether they paid you winnings or took your losses.  This was a real Vegas “feel” which is hard to replicate outside of those large Nevada casinos.

Saturday morning found us broadcasting my radio show back to Houston (KPRC 950AM) and the world (iHeartRadio app).  The marketing staff found a wonderful location for our booth with a backdrop just a few feet away from the sparkling water and in-pool lounges.  My guests on the show included the property’s executives from the resort, operations, and beverage departments as we learned some of the interesting facts about the gleaming property.  [Note to self:  I need to visit again soon to play the recently-opened Country Club 18 hole golf course]  And our good friend Craig Harrington stopped by to bring some more delicious snacks from Vic & Anthony’s.

After the 2 hour show it was time to pack up the radio gear and change into swim gear.  We hung out the rest of the afternoon in a cabana which I recommend reserving if you have several people in your party.  It provided a nice place for shade with couches, small refrigerator stocked with bottled water, and a TV.Golden Nugget photo1

Our quick 24 hour visit left a great impression on us and many of my radio listeners.  Lake Charles has become a booming destination for entertainment for southerners but especially with Texans who daily cross the border in hoards.   Until Texas approves legalized casino gambling (hint: do not hold your breath) this will continue to be a hot place to visit.  The Golden Nugget is shiniest new star in the area and I can’t wait to go back.

Listen to The High-Tech Texan Show podcast from the Golden Nugget:

Hour 1

Hour 2

Review: Simplicam

There are many webcams on the market and most are easy to setup and monitor.  When looking to purchase a webcam you need to look at the different features each one offers.  One killer feature on the Simplicam is facial recognition.

Simplicam can be placed most anywhere as long as it can be plugged into a standard power outlet and within range of a WiFi signal.  It can be used as a baby or pet monitor, home or business security detection, and even welcome the kids home from school via the two-way talk feature.

The facial recognition feature lets you create up to 10 profiles for your camera to recognize. Imagine getting a text alert letting you know your son came in past his curfew.  Priceless.  $149

Simplicam

Review: Arccos Golf GPS + Tracking App

I am always looking for ways to improve my golf game.  In addition to spending more time on the driving range I am now getting immediate feedback from a tiny device attached to each of my clubs.

The Arccos Golf GPS + Tracking app tracks every shot, every distance and every hole on your iPhone.  There is no need to input anything as each shot is recorded and measured by a virtually weightless sensor that attaches to the end of each club.

Just pair each sensor once and follow your analytics on the free app in real time.  It hasn’t shaved many strokes off my game yet but at least I know how poorly I’m playing. $399

Arccos Golf

Review: Samsung Gear Circle

It seems a new headset or wireless earbuds come out every day and most of them are personal preference based on the style you are comfortable with.  I prefer lightweight Bluetooth-enabled earbuds and I am very impressed with Samsung’s near Gear Circle.

The unit weighs just a few ounces and securely fit in my ears thanks to several earbud sizes that come included.  They charge quickly and the battery power lasts quite a while.  But my favorite feature is the magnets built into the tips of the buds. When not in use they securely clasp together and can be worn like a necklace.

Oh…the sound is great and the unique touch-style volume control works well which reduces the number of buttons.  $99

Samsung_Circle

Review: Ring Video Doorbell

Home security products are popping up everywhere and many of them are do-it-yourself devices.  A video doorbell named Ring is the latest offering on store shelves and it can not only enhance your home’s security but also let visitors know you have a high-tech home at the push of a button.

The device streams live audio and video of a home’s front doorstep directly to a smartphone or tablet. Built-in motion sensors detect activity on your property and trigger instant mobile alerts, giving you the ability to know what’s going on even if you’re not there.

The doorbell comes with everything you need for installation.  Once installed it connects to the Internet via WiFi.  You can sync an unlimited number of smartphones and tablets.  The HD night vision camera works well in any light and can be customized with four faceplate finishes.  $199

Ring video doorbell 2

Review: Oort SmartLED

The OORT SmartLED is based on Bluetooth technology, allowing users to manage the bulbs in their home from their smartphones or tablets without an internet connection.

Put the bulb in a standard socket and download the app.  You can schedule actions up to one week in advance such as turning on and off the light.  With a SmartHub connection, you can create custom actions, such as triggering blue light to flash when you receive a Facebook message or red when your child comes home.

You can also change the atmosphere of your home or office within seconds – 16 million different colors are available.  The SmartLED is energy efficient as the company claims it will last up to 40,000 hours.  $40

oort

Review: XY Find It Bluetooth Smart Beacon

We lose things – keys, purses, wallets and even pets.  Here is a smart little gadget that can help track those lost items.  The XY Find It Bluetooth Smart Beacon helps find nearby items just by attaching it to your valuables, your possessions and your pets.

Download the app, remove the battery protector and then open the app to sync it.  You can assign each beacon a name and a picture, to make it easy when using multiple devices to track multiple objects.

It has a 150 foot range and tells you how close the selected beacon is.  You can also set a function to alert you when you move out of range of the tag.  3-pack $60; 6-pack $100

XY-Find-It