Category: Product Reviews

NASCAR Champ Joey Logano Takes A Victory Lap in Houston

2018 NASCAR Champion Joey Logano stopped in Houston recently during his tour to thank sponsors and share stories of his success.  Logano’s local pitstop was at Shell’s headquarters on the west side of town.  He spent a few hours taking photos, signing autographs and attempting to shake hands with Shell employees despite wearing a heavy, diamond-laden championship ring.

Logano’s #22 racecar is sponsored by Shell Pennzoil.  He spoke to employees and the media with his success stories of winning the Monster Energy NASCAR series using the company’s lubricant product.

Here is a clip of a few fun moments chatting with the champion:

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

So I missed the Hanukkah deadline but that’s OK.  I got a rock.  Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to you as there are some pretty cool gadgets, tool and gear to be had this holiday season.  Here is a list of goodies I recently showed on my “Houston Life” TV appearance.  Watch the clip below and then start clicking and ordering:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

Start With A Thermostat When Making A Smart Home

Our annual holiday gift guide continues as we roll through Houston.  A recent appearance on “Houston Life” (NBC) found us discussing some of the benefits of having a smart thermostat and other smart home products.

TriEagle Energy (a partner of “The High-Tech Texan Show”) offers a free Honeywell T5 thermostat when new customers sign up for a special energy savings plan.  Watch here:

Safety Is Job 1 at Shell and Team Penske

6,000 ft above the Gulf of Mexico – Flying aboard a 16-person helicopter back to New Orleans I was still questioning why I spent an entire day sitting in a classroom and being dunked in a pool.  Upside down.  Harnessed to a helicopter simulator chair.  Shell explained it was all in the name of safety just in case there was an issue during the flights to and from its deep water oil and gas production facility in the Gulf we were headed to.  As we are about to land safely at the New Orleans airport there was nary an issue during the 100-minute flight but it was reassuring to have passed the Tropical Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) the day before.

I was a part of the crew invited to tour the Turritella, Shell’s Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility stationed 200 miles south of Louisiana.  The purpose of this trip was to demonstrate to media and members of Team Penske how safety and preparation are critical in the offshore environment and on the track.  Team Penske, of course, is a the professional stock car, open wheel and sports car racing team that currently competes in the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series, among other racing leagues.  Penske Corp. president Bud Denker led his team members on the trip – he was first in the training pool – which included 3-time Indy Car champ Helio Castroneves.

Day 1 of this 2-day event was spent at Shell’s training facility in Robert, Louisiana, about an hour north of New Orleans.  The 9-hour (yes, 9 hours!) training class taught us safety techniques and procedures of how to escape and survive a helicopter should it ditch in the water.  Teamwork was the theme as all participants learned how to work together to exit the aircraft should it land upright or upside down.  This is where fun came in.

The afternoon found us all in an Olympic-size pool that featured a full-scale replica of a helicopter attached to moving cables above.  After watching several demonstrations of how to enter and exit the chopper we were strapped to the 5-point harnessed seats several times in both upright and upside positions.  Notwithstanding unwanted water rushing up our noses we all passed with flying colors and were presented with HUET certificates we would need for the trip the next day.

 

A 6:00am hotel lobby rendezvous began our busy Day 2 with a bus ride to the airport.  After another safety briefing we were escorted to a helicopter that Shell contracts with PHI.  Liftoff was right on schedule and we were quickly soaring above the Gulf.  Several members of the Shell team briefed us on their Gulf of Mexico drilling and production facilities while we gazed at nothing but water as far as the eye could see.

Carlos Maurer, president of Shell Lubricants America, was quick to point out one of the final products that is produced in the water below us includes engine oil so many of us use everyday.  Helio made sure we all knew that his likeness appears on many of those oil cannisters sold at retail outlets and was the sole reason Shell continue to have record sales numbers.  Knowing that we needed to remain strapped to the seats during the flight no one was going to ague with the gregarious race car driver.

 

 

We approached the Turritella vessel which hovers over Shell’s Stones field in the Lower Tertiary geologic frontier in the Gulf.  Discovered in 2005, it is Shell’s second producing field in this region along with Perdido.

 

 

As we circled to get a good view we could see an oil tanker floating a few hundred yards behind the FPSO.  They were in the midst of off-loading millions of gallons of oil from the Turritella onto the tanker.  This process occurs several times each week.

We landed slowly onto the helipad located a the stern of the vessel.  After unstrapping ourselves we carefully walked down into a holding area where we were given more safety instructions and handed personal protective equipment.  Our tour began as we were clad in coveralls, protective eye wear, gloves and hard hats.  Over the next several hours we were led through the Turritella’s command center, bridge, engineering room, crew bunks and the cafeteria.

120 crew members were on board during our visit, most working the typical off-shore schedule of 14 days on, 14 days off.  The crew certainly eats well as we dined with them during a lunchtime shift.  Homemade hummus, salads, baked cod, pasta, potatoes and dessert was served by the trained cooks and kitchen crew.  The menus change daily which makes for a happy, well-fed crew.

At some point we needed to see the equipment and learn the process of how oil and gas – almost 10,000 feet below us – was being extracted from 27,000 feet below the earth’s surface onto the vessel on which we were standing.  The Turritella is a modified ship with one key feature – an extremely large turret is situated near the bow.  This structure rises several hundred feet above the main deck and extends through the vessel nearly 30 feet under sea level.  This feature allows the Turritella to circle around the stationary turret ensuring the vessel is constantly pointed into the Gulf’s waves to minimize rocking and swaying.

Deep inside the vessel at the bottom of the turret is an incredibly engineered system where a large buoy connects to the ship.  Underneath the buoy are a network of steel pipes that creep almost 2 miles down to the bottom of the Gulf.  Oil is pumped up through these pipes into the massive storage tanks aboard the Turritella where it is held until it is off-loaded onto tankers.

We were told this FPSO concept was created, in lieu of a stationary oil rig, for several reasons including safety, of course.  An FPSO can disconnect the buoy and float away from danger should a hurricane enter the Gulf.  The process of disconnecting the buoy – which floats about 200 ft below the water surface – and reconnecting it to the Turritella takes about 7 days.  To ensure a smooth operation should the vessel be in the path of a hurricane Shell goes through the drill once a year.  An estimated 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day is produced from Stones field.

Our visit ended with most of the Turritella’s crew listening to Helio and Team Penske members talk about teamwork and the importance of their work.  Helio made sure to let them know their efforts propel his team to race throughout the year and his checkered flag finishes could not happen without Team Shell.

Upon landing back at the airport we realized the HUET certification we received the previous day was but a small percentage of the measures Shell goes through to ensure its employees and equipment remain safe.

 

 

LISTEN TO THE TRIP RECAP AS HEARD ON IHEARTRADIO’S “THE HIGH-TECH TEXAN SHOW WITH MICHAEL GARFIELD”

It’s a water bottle with a Bluetooth speaker!

Aquio is releasing a water bottle with a twist.  Literally.

The 16oz double-walled stainless-steel bottle houses a modular 5-watt Bluetooth speaker that can either twist off or be used right on the bottle.  Aquio partnered with audio company iHome to create the unique product which will be on sale August 1.  The company claims it can keep hot liquids hot for up to 14 hours and cold beverages cold for up to 24 hours.

The iP67 rated speaker (waterproof and sandproof) actually sounds quite good with a 360 degree throw.  It has digital echo cancellation for speakerphone use and provides audio caller ID.  Yes you can talk to your water bottle.  Battery life is up to 6 hours.

Aquio is available in black, seafoam, blush and merlot and lists for $69.99, though the company is offering a 30% launch discount plus free shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch and take a LISTEN here:

VIDEO: Summer Tech/Travel Gadgets

Summer is halfway over but you may still be packing up to hit the road.  Here are some smart and sharp products to help you with packing, monitoring your home, sharing your memories, and helping you sleep in those noisy hotel rooms.  I will elaborate on these and more products, as usual, on my High-Tech Texan radio show (Saturdays 11a – 1p CT) on iHeartRadio around the world.

Click screenshot below to watch clip from HOUSTON LIFE (NBC-Houston)

PRODUCTS SPOTLIGHTED:

Eagle Creek/National Geographic Explorer Series Travel Bag
Guardzilla 360 degree video camera
B-hyve WiFi hose faucet timer
PhotoSpring digital photo frame
SleepPhones headphones for sleeping

Living The Dream, Costa Rican Style – A Visit To Reserva Conchal Beach Resort, Golf & Spa

It’s 9:45 in the morning and I’m already starting to sweat. Maybe because the temperature is creeping towards 90 degrees and the humidity is approaching that same number. Or it could be that I’m staring at a small flag 178 yards away surrounded by 5 deep, sandy bunkers.

The par 5, fourth hole at Reserva Conchal Golf Club in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica has me thinking. 5 or 6 iron? A slight fade to avoid the tall, luscious, swaying trees should put my ball solidly on deck. Too much club could carry my new, logoed Top Flite right into the Pacific Ocean.

This moment ends up being the toughest decision of my five-day stay at Reserva Conchal, a 2300-acre planned community in the northern Pacific coast of this beautiful country.  After all there is not much to think about when exploring parts of this Central American paradise, hiking through a wildlife refuge, or taking a cool dip in the blue, coastal water.

I was invited to the property by the marketing staff to check out the many opportunities to live in the land of Reserva Conchal. I jumped at the chance as my lifelong travels had never brought me to Costa Rica.  I wanted to see if there was more to the tales I heard about the howler monkeys and the strong, flavorful coffee.  (note: as my readers know I do not drink coffee so I took the word of my fellow traveling journos…it is good)

This private residential community is about an hour drive from the International airport in Liberia.  The perfectly landscaped, guarded front gates open to winding roads that take off in many directions to unique properties where visitors come to play and others come to stay.

I unpack my bags in a three-bedroom condo overlooking the 3rd fairway of the sprawling golf course.  The Bougainvillea Condominiums are spacious with a two-level dining and living room just off the fully appointed kitchen. A utility room with washer and dryer made me feel at home knowing I will put those to use with my swim and golf gear during my stay.

Though we stayed at these 3-story condos for just a few days you can’t rent them directly from the property management.  They are owned by residents who use them or lease them out during the year.  There are several units  currently available for purchase.

This was just the first of the many living options I would see throughout Reserva Conchal.  Just up the road was Roble Sabana, a more contemporary styled condo with ocean and golf views featuring 1- and 2-bedroom units. The living space was smaller than the condo I was staying in and reminded me a bit of apartment-style living.  Certainly a potential place of ownership for couples and small families who would enjoy walking downstairs to their own picturesque pool and cabana.

Property owners here live around the world and most utilize their Reserva Conchal residence as a second – or even third – home.

Summers in Costa Rica can typically be toasty and keep some owners away until the cooler months. That may have been the reason for the quietness and relaxing, lazy feel of the area during my early June stay.  Or maybe that’s the year-round vibe that drives people to live here full-time or partially.

Condo life is just a part of the eco-oriented property nestled in this hilly, oceanside development.  A drive through more gated subdivisions had me yearning to jump out of the property’s air-conditioned, WiFi equipped shuttles to knock on front doors of the beautiful, custom-built homes for a tour.

We stopped at a privately-owned home that appears in some of the Reserva Conchal brochures.  And rightly so.  This 3-bedroom, 2-story modern wonder could be considered a dream home, much less a second dream home to the couple that built it a few years earlier.  Airy in feel, the floor-to-ceiling windows offered a backyard view of the lot-sized pool with the meticulous, green golf course just behind that. Wood floors and a clean, modern kitchen seemingly await hosted happy hours with friends or breakfasts with the grandkids.

The home is in the Llama Del Bosque subdivision where lots start at $197,000 (US). For those wanting to an immediate move-in a few spec homes dot this secluded area with prices beginning at $799,000.

Throughout my stay I was reminded by the friendly staff that Reserva Conchal is more than just a residential community with resort-style amenities such as a beach club and spa.  The developer makes it a point to be as eco-friendly as possible.

To prove that point we were given a tour of the off-site recycling post that resembled nothing less than a well-tuned factory. Dedicated employees oversee an operation that separates biodegradable products from waste to make sure everything at Reserva Conchal is carbon positive.

Sustainability is a way of life here.  Ownership embraces this philosophy by focusing on three pillars that form the business plan:  economic, social and environmental development.

Plastic wear is not found anywhere in the communal areas which explained the use of paper straws in the ice-cold drinks served at the bars and restaurants.

Towards the end of the week our guided tour continued to a construction site where the Aromo Townhomes are being completed.  A hard hat walk-through of these self-contained, 2-story units offered a peek inside what will soon be contemporary 3- and 4-bedroom residences complete with their own pools.  These start at $629,000 and should be finished by the end of summer.

Just above the townhomes is a groomed patch of dirt marked with stakes and construction tape.  This will be an exclusive enclave of five ocean view home sites.

Maybe I was wrong about that golf shot being toughest decision of the week. I was now wondering where in this beautiful property I would build my dream home. Again, a fun dilemma that kept my mind off the real-world I was about to go home to at the end of the week.

Costa Rica is a popular place to both vacation and live due partly to its easy-to-reach location.  It is a short 3-hour flight from my hometown of Houston and accessible from all parts of the world via non-stop flights from airport hubs nearby.

Reserva Conchal offers so many options of living styles it will probably take some time to decide which one is right for you. My suggestion would be to be visit and stay for a while at the all-inclusive Westin Golf Resort & Spa in the heart of the development.  Guests have the use of the same golf course that challenged me along with its own pools and 10 restaurants and bars. Try the sushi and catch a few games on TV in the sports-themed Pura Vida bar.

Or perhaps go later this year after the grand opening of W Costa Rica.  This hotel will surely be a world-class destination for vacationing jet setters with luxurious suites, grand lobbies and ultra-private beachfront units.

Between golf, hiking, or a relaxing day at the spa, the on-site staff will share all the options that Reserva Conchal offers for primary living or a perfect second home where Central American escapism will pervade your thoughts when not in Costa Rica.

Your biggest decision then will not be whether to use a 5 or 6 iron on that approach shot at the Robert Trent Jones II designed course, but rather whether to build on a lot, move into a spec home, or choose what subdivision within this massive planned community is right for you.

But if you are faced with my similar decision during your time here, go with the 6 iron and drop that ball softly on the right side of the green.  Birdie.

For more information about Reserva Conchal Beach Resort, Golf & Spa, please visit www.reservaconchal.com or call 855-851-5000.

-by Michael Garfield, as published in Prime Living Magazine

Nissan’s New CUV Kicks You-Know-What

It’s the middle of June and I’m driving south on I-95 headed for Key Largo, Florida.  Temperature 95 degrees with humidity to match.  There may be better times of the year to visit this tropical escape but I’m not feeling the heat as I push down the pedal on the all-new Nissan Kicks.

Nissan hosted a select number of auto journalists to kick the tires on their new CUV.  So as I wind my way from Miami Beach down to the land of Bogie and Bacall, I crank the A/C and enjoy a comfy ride in what seems to be a deceivingly large yet smallish looking Kicks.

First, about that name.  I assumed it was a tie-in to the World Cup but Kicks is not related to soccer and is oddly plural.  Nissan is targeting this vehicle to the young-minded and creative types so maybe they can work the name into daily conversations better than me.

The Kicks is not a flat-out replacement for the recently killed Juke but it does fill the void of the not-too-expensive crossover SUV with an attitude.  You can first see the attitude in the shape of the vehicle with its short wheelbase and sloping roof.

Color is a big theme for Nissan here as the Kicks is offered in five colors and several two-tone combinations.  The French Powder top on Deep Blue Pearl base caught my eye and I can only imagine the customization that can take place with colored door handles and mirror caps via Nissan’s Color Studio.

The steering is smooth and the stop-and-go city driving is comfy with good braking.  But taking it up to highway speeds took a little effort as the power is on the low side, as it is with most inexpensive crossovers.  A 1.6-liter engine pops out just 125 horsepower.  But I didn’t feel too concerned about getting it up to fast lane speed limits due to its power-to-weight ratio.  The base model Kicks weighs just over 2,600 pounds making it a good competitor in the lightweight category.

The South Florida winds were whipping hard during my drive to the Keys yet the noise level was minimal.  That could have been the result of the optional Bose audio system with eight speakers, including two right behind my head in the driver’s headrest.  It is clear that Nissan wants to attract not just the young-minded set but also the people who like to listen to their tunes.

The Kicks has two 1-inch tweeters, one in each A-pillar; two 6.5-inch wide-range speakers, one in each front door; two 2.5-inch speakers built into the driver’s headrest; and two 5.25-inch speakers, one in each rear door.  To balance out this impressive sound there is a digital amplifier with six channels of custom equalization and digital signal processing.

Nissan partnered with Bose to create this “Personal Plus Sound System” and is an option on the highest-level trim – about a $2,500 upgrade.  This upgrade also includes heated front seats and a security system.  Though I didn’t need the heated seats on this summertime jaunt I would recommend this upgrade package to audiophiles and those who want to crank up the jams.

My 65-mile drive was exceptionally comfy on my posterior thanks to NASA-inspired zero gravity seats.   I’m not sure if there is gel or air inside but Nike may learn a thing or two about adding more comfort to its shoes by sitting in these bad boys.

There are three USB ports and the availability of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.  A seven-inch touchscreen fits nicely into the modern, gliding wing dashboard.  There is no onboard navigation but that is a growing trend among all manufacturers as smartphone mirroring is on the rise.

Nissan touts that automated emergency braking comes standard on all Kicks.  The mid-level SR model adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

For a low-to-the-ground CUV I had no problem getting my 6 foot-tall frame in the front and back.  In fact I had several inches of headroom clearance and 43.7 inches of front leg room, which Nissan claims to be best-in-class.  Three people easily fit in the back seats and, I imagine, baby and child seats would have a lot of room back there, too.

Cargo space in the Kicks is typical for a small-size CUV.  There is 25.5 cubic feet behind the back seats that expands to 53.1 cubes when those seats are folded.  Still plenty of room for a combination of luggage, gym bags, baby strollers or possibly a small surfboard.

I didn’t have to stop for refueling on my journey, in fact I barely noticed the gas level go down as I head south.  The Kicks gets an estimated fuel rating of 31 mpg in the city, 36 on the highway for a 33mpg combined average.  These numbers are a bit better than other vehicles in its class such as the Mazda CX-3.

As I pull into our seaside stopping point for lunch I park the Kicks in the glistening sun near the hot, white sand.  A few gawkers approach and ask me about the unique shape and wanted to sit in it.  It seems Nissan doesn’t have to worry about getting people to notice the Kicks and taking it for a test drive.

The impromptu audience may have been impressed when a Nissan representative told them the Kicks started under $18,000.  No response when asked if dealers would accept Venmo for payment (oy, kids!).  For me, that may be biggest selling point for this crossover as it is difficult to find a ride in this category at that inexpensive price point.

The S base model starts at $17,990 and is less than a Hyundai Kona, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and the Ford EcoSport.  The SV adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an intelligent key and a few other features sets you back $19,690.  The SR begins at $20,290 with additional things like LED low beams and signature accents, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and fog lights.  My ride this afternoon was in the SR Premium package at $21,290 which allowed for that big time Bose audio system and speakers.

After contemplating my 90 minute trip over fish tacos and key lime pie I kicked back and stared out at the Atlantic Ocean.  A parasail boat was pulling a young couple in the blue sky while a group of what looked to be new college graduates hung out near a pool dancing to thumping music.  These are the people, I thought, who are the low-hanging fruit that Nissan covets for the this new CUV.

I then promptly got out of the blazing tropic sun, hopped back into the Kicks, and cranked up the A/C to head back up north to our starting point.  All the while listening to the sultry sounds of Bertie Higgins (look him up) at crystal clear, noise shattering levels.  Thanks, Bose.  Thanks Nissan.

Unboxing: CouchBed

I’ve tried this before with a bed.  Order it online and then a big box shows up at your door.  Carefully open it, stand back and – voila! – a piece of furniture pops out.  To me that is technology and convenience at its best as I didn’t have to deal with crazy mattress salespeople nor schlep it home on the roof of my car.

CouchBed uses the same business model plus one-half the product of those other “mattresses-in-a-box.”  The other half is a product to use during the day…a couch (the name gave it away, huh?).  With the functionality of two pieces of furniture in one, CouchBed is a cool-gel memory foam mattress that flips into a modern couch in seconds.

The process is simple enough. Choose a twin or queen size, pick one of the five colors (I opted for classic Charcoal) and place your order online.  Within a few days, FedEx delivers a golf bag-sized box with the CouchBed.  Unboxing the product is actually quite fun and most people capture the experience on video for social media.  I must say it pretty amazing when a large, 10″ mattress slowly unfolds and comes to life in front of your eyes.  I suggest placing the unopened box in the room where you plan to put the piece so you don’t have to carry or drag the CouchBed to its resting place in your home.

The upholstery is comfy yet built for durability.  I can see many people using it in playrooms for their kids to sit and jump on while playing video games or hosting sleepovers with friends.  I placed the CouchBed in my home office, which is actually an extra bedroom.  It sets mostly next to a wall as a couch but when guests stay the night…TA DA!!!   It takes just a few seconds to flip the back part of the couch down to form a flat mattress.  My CouchBed has actually become a conversation piece.

It’s made with 100% CertiPur certified ultra-dense memory foam combined with phase-change material to actively cool the sleeping surface and has a 10-year warranty.

It would make a great addition to a playroom as I noted above but apartments, dorm rooms and man caves would also be smart choices for CouchBed.  My only concern is that the piece sits directly on the floor and is a bit low for a couch.  The company will soon offer a 10″ wooden platform to raise the sitting and sleeping height.

Queen versions currently run $449 and a twin unit is $299.  FedEx shipping is free and there is a 30-day return policy.  I doubt many have been returned, not for the lack of comfort or usefulness, but maybe trying to figure out how to ship it back to the company is a bigger task than receiving the shrink-wrapped product.

Facebook Knows What???? Google Knows More!

Think Facebook knows a lot about you? Google is worse. From deleted files to location history, these companies know too much about us.

Here is a column that sheds more light onto the subject including tips on how to take back some of your personal information.