Mont-Tremblant, Canada – If there is one thing I learned from my 28 hours here in the frozen north, it’s that -40 degrees Celsius is the same as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Though our group did not see that number on the digital thermometers of our vehicles, we got very close. But that was the point. Driving, braking and learning to control a vehicle when on snow and ice.
Lots of ice. So hello, Montreal.
Nissan invited a small group of auto journalists and enthusiasts from across the U.S. to test the latest technology on its all-wheel drive (AWD) versions of its 2019 Altima sedan and Murano CUV. The winding, wintry roads here in early March proved to be the perfect proving ground for these tasks that seem simple in normal weather.
The Altima is the first AWD sedan that Nissan has sold in the U.S. market. This affordable ride starts at $23,900 and has several configurations scaling up to the Platinum version at $31,930.
With gas mileage at 26/36/30 mpg, Nissan says it’s the most fuel efficient AWD in its class.
We weren’t too concerned about fuel efficiency on this particular venture as we kept the speedometer in check most of the time due to the snow-packed roads around this beautiful mountain village. But our destination, Circuit Mecaglisse, had more than white fluff waiting for us.
This famed, looped driving track has been groomed since November to pack 8-12 inches of solid ice on top of its paved curves and straightaways. Nissan figured there was no better place to than bring unskilled winter drivers like us there and let us have our way for a few hours.
Alas, we did have professional drivers in our passenger seats giving us detailed instruction on when to brake, hit the gas and start a controlled turn.
The Altima handled the icy track with very little sliding and taking off from a stop was not an issue. There’s an initial 50-50 split front-rear power before the drive shifts to 70/30 when road conditions become slick. When the ground is nicely thawed the car rolls along in front-wheel drive mode.
This sixth-generation Altima has a 2.5-litre engine and boasts 182 hp – a bit higher than the previous model. The AWD is pretty techy but Nissan’s ProPilot Assist continues to wow me. This driving aid, found on several of the company’s other vehicles, offers semi-autonomous acceleration, braking and steering.
The heated seats and steering wheel were a bonus and the inside is quite spacious. An 8” nav/entertainment screen in the center of the dashboard was easy to read. The other displays and readouts were intuitive.
The look is sharp and sleek with LED lights all around and a floating roof. I’d call it stylish especially for a sedan – a shrinking segment that many people think has had its time.
I doubt I will personally need the driving skills nor the new technology in the AWD Altima on a daily basis as my home base of Texas keeps the winter weather in check. But should I one day move to a cooler climate where I have to learn how to shovel my driveway, I could totally see an Altima backing out of garage.
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My 15th year of covering CES brought a slew of things I never thought I would see. Let’s start with 5G…because I didn’t see it! Rumors swirled for weeks that many companies would be touting new 5G services and products that could utilize the highspeed bandwidth. Bust. I saw a few products that wanted to latch on to the 5G hype but nothing solid because there is no actual 5G yet. I’ll save that story for CES 2020.
What I did see was plenty of companies touting partnerships with Google and Amazon, the leaders in voice assistants. Alexa was the only player here a few years ago but this week was tough to get away from a product that didn’t turn on after hearing “Hey Google.” The search company which is much more than search built a monstrosity of a booth in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center that was part mansion, part “It’s A Small World” ride.
A Google rep told me they had to pour a slab of concrete – on top of the current parking lot concrete – to construct the temporary shrine to the five colors. Visitors walked through “rooms” made to mimic a kitchen, living room and even a garage complete with Google-made and 3rd party-made products. The other part of the building housed a roller coaster-like ride that moved through scenarios of a typical day in a home. Voice activated curtains opened in the morning continuing to mom asking the Google Assistant how to make a birthday cake. The queue had a waiting line of sometimes up to 45 minutes; not really worth it save for the Google Home Hub that was given out to all riders at the end (so yeah, I guess it was worth it).
TVs continue to be a big thing and 8K was the winning number-letter combination at CES (sorry again 5K). LG showed a 65″ TV that rolls up-and-down at the push of a button. Samsung, TCL, and other manufacturers had so many monitors I was afraid of getting sunburned as I walked by. 8K screens (twice the resolution of 4K) looked great even side-by-side of 4K monitors. But wake me up when networks and providers start delivering even 4K content on a prevalent basis. My guess is my grandkids may one day enjoy 8K TVs with content to fill the screen. Note: my kids are relatively young.
CES has seemingly become the de facto national car show as most every major OEM – from Audi to Mercedes to Hyundai – had massive booths and displays to tout their new vehicles and concepts. Audi always brings it A-game booth design and tricked out an A8 with front and rear seat video screens along with seats similar to a D-BOX rumble seat found in movie theaters. A quick screening of “The Avengers” while sitting in the back seat reminded me of a 4D ride at Universal Studios. All they needed were motion sickness bags.
No new smartphones were announced at the trade show; most companies are waiting to release them next month at GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Bad news: my travel budget does not reach that far so I’ll have to report from afar. While smartphones were not found amongst the 4,000+ exhibitors it seemed like half of the vendors were handing out smartphone cases. I got one for my Samsung Galaxy S9 that apparently can withstand a drop from 5 floors up and continue to work in 10 meters of water.
My main takeaways from CES 2019 were that this massive gathering of tech giants, buyers and media does not seem to be slowing down despite the dearth of new products that are already on the market or planned to be released soon. But it is OK to dream and ooh and ahh. Because I certainly did. Especially when I went to sleep each night after walking an average of 18,000 steps each day (according to my high-tech watch).
For all the highlights, join me in a 12 minute video recap:
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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:
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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:
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:
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I love me some subscription boxes. From beer-of-the-month clubs to food services like Blue Apron, it is pretty cool to receive packages on a regular basis with things you need and sometimes don’t need.
Deodorant is something that falls into the former category. Everyone needs help in smelling clean along with anti-perspirant. Helmm is a product that smells great, looks good and really works.
I received a starter box from the company and it felt like I was opening a long, lost treasure box. Smartly designed and packaged, there sat the holy grail of men’s beauty – a leather-bound cannister with a glistening, nickel-plated top and bottom. This is not your ordinary deodorant where you roll it on and toss the bottle when done. Helmm is a device that uses refillable cartridges. Simply click one in and you are ready to roll it on.
Helmm has a proprietary formula free of parabens, talc, sulfates and aluminum. Sign up for subscription and a new cartridge will arrive at your door once every 6-8 weeks. I am particularly fond of the Trailblazer scent (crisp, cool, adventurous!) but it also comes in 3 more options.
The starter kit runs $25 and comes with one container, one cartridge and a subscription that can be canceled at any time.
Now you – or the guy in your life – can smell good with no sweat of running out to the store for a new bottle. Listen to my thoughts below as heard on “The High-Tech Texan Show” on iHeartRadio:
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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”
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Alexa is everywhere and most everyone assumes that to utilize that voice-enabled assistant one would need an Amazon Echo or Dot. Not so fast. There are other devices on the market that utilize the Alexa operating system while also giving you other interesting features.
One example is Fabriq, a Bluetooth/wireless smart speaker that is an alternative to the Amazon devices. The speakers are customizable with different patterns on the outside that make them personable. The bright colors and decorations are unique so no matter if your kid wants to spice up her college dorm room or you want a little color in your office, there is a Fabriq for everyone.
You can connect 10 Chorus units throughout your home so you can create a whole-house music system. Set up is easy as you simply connect the device to a WiFi network.
The Chorus is priced at $99.99 and the smaller Riff is $49.99. Each can be bought online at Amazon.com and Target.com.
Listen to my thoughts below as heard on “The High-Tech Texan Show” on iHeartRadio:
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Tinkerman’s Gin Master Distiller Brian Prewitt joined me recently to sway my tastes towards gin. Everyone knows I’m a bourbon guy but, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the refreshing concoctions made with Tinkerman’s. Take a listen below:
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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:
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