Apple watch – my initial reactions

I went ahead and ordered an Apple watch back in April – the 42mm stainless model with the Milanese loop band. It arrived quite a bit sooner than than I had anticipated, three days ago. I own an original Pebble, as well as an original Samsung smartwatch that we acquired for next to nothing when people didn’t buy them.

Both the Pebble and the Samsung are currently collecting dust in a drawer. Why would the Apple watch be any different?

When the watch arrived the first thing I noticed was that, as per usual, Apple is a master of packaging. While the large box felt quite wasteful, the quality of it all was clear from the beginning. The final box holding the watch is a pristine, heavy white plastic lined with a white felt. The watch itself is substantial without being too heavy, the Milanese band thin and flawless. The first, and immediately noticeable, difference between Apple’s entry into the market and the competition is that this aims to be a watch, a quality timepiece with added abilities, not a plastic wrist computer with a limited lifespan.

The weight, the craftsmanship, the beautiful fit and finish all came together to justify the purchase price just shy of $1000. It’s a beautiful, substantial bit of kit, probably the nicest Apple has ever made.

Setting the watch up didn’t take long, but was probably the most confusing experience I had so far with any Apple product. Now, given that I’ve been a Mac user since the days of the Mac Plus, my understanding of the Apple way of running a computer has long passed into muscle memory, but either I am getting old, or the process of setting the watch up, and to start using it, wasn’t as straightforward as most things Apple are.

Pairing the watch took seconds, a very cool process where a unique pattern appears on the screen of the watch that is recognized by the watch app on the iPhone via the camera. Very futuristic, seamless and cool.

But then the learning curve started, not helped by some very un_apple like hardware decisions. For example, the large button underneath the digital crown does one thing only – call up a screen from where I can either call or message a list of predefined contacts. While this is no doubt helpful, allocating a dedicated hardware button to this function feels weird.

The same thing could have been achieved in a number of different, and more elegant, ways.

The digital crown is nice, works well and is another hardware interface I rarely use. The touchscreen is fast and responsive and controls almost all aspects of the watch perfectly. In most case, the digital crown does little more than add a secondary way to control functions that can be called up perfectly well via the touch interface. It feels like Apple have lost their nerve here, trying to please everybody and predicting all eventualities.

The biggest surprise for me was how the watch has changed my use of Siri, Apple’s voice recognition solution. Before the watch, I rarely used it, but now it has become my favourite way to interact with it and, by extension, with my phone.

There’s something addicting to raising your arm and saying “Hey Siri, call my wife” or “Hey Siri, send a message to dad” and have the voice recognition do it’s job, quickly and flawlessly.

But the biggest thing about the watch isn’t in what it does, the biggest benefit is in how it does things.

After wearing it for half a day, I switched almost all notifications off. The exceptions were messages, Slack (a messaging app we use at work), Sunrise calendar and phone calls. Even here, all notifications are set to silent, haptic only.

And here’s where the watch shines, quietly.

Rather than pinging every five seconds, rather than advertising, and justifying, its presence through frantic activity, it fades into the background. But it’s the kind of background where 10 minutes before my next work meeting I get a gentle tap on my wrist. Where the watch keeps track of my activity levels and, quietly, reminds me to get moving if I’ve been sitting too long or haven’t met my daily activity goal.

Messages from my wife reach me immediately, so do personal, i.e important, mentions on Slack – while at the same time filtering out any noise.

When the phone rings, I can answer or dismiss, according to need. I can even answer and say, “hey, will call you back in ten minutes” if that what the situation calls for, without getting my phone out. Those are all genuinely helpful tools, well executed.

So for me, the Apple watch succeeds not because of what it is doing, but of how it is doing things. In the background, quietly, without making a fuss. Like a watch, not a computer.

To Dodge, or not to Dodge

After my recent conversation with Andy Thomson at CanAm I went to check out autotrader.ca to see how much a Dodge Durango would set us back.

We always buy vehicles that are off lease, for cash if possible. They’re 50% cheaper than new, and just as good as new, with a full service history and typically some manufacturer’s warranty remaining. I’ve owned one brand new vehicle in my life and that was when work paid for it – even then I hated the monthly payments. It seemed a total waste of money, even though it wasn’t my money.

The three things we need in our next car are: Space for the boys, oomph to move the Airstream and a high payload so we can pack bikes or kayaks on the roof and still stay within specs. Oh, and a decent drive. I got seduced by the space and the high payload capacity of the Ford Expedition, but driving it is an insane experience. As somebody who’s used to European cars I don’t understand how people put up with the wallowing, wandering, can’t-even-drive-in-a-straight-line-at-speed driving these body on frame vehicles deliver. The Ford was out.

The car that included all of our mandatories was the Mercedes GL class, but we had a couple of concerns. First, there’s the price, both for purchase and for servicing and repairs. I’ve owned three Mercs in my life, two classic models and one recent B-class. Cheap, they were not.

Then, there is the question of parts availability. The plan is to take time off work in a couple of years and drive across the continent for a summer. Should anything go wrong in rural Manitoba, a Mercedes isn’t the best car to be in. Parts and repair would be difficult.

So when Andy recommended the Dodge Durango, I was all ears. The Dodge and the Mercedes share the same platform, a hangover from the days when GM and Mercedes were, briefly, one company. As a result, the Dodge is pretty much a GL class Merc, but at a fraction of the cost.

There’s one big drawback however and that’s the choice of engines. The Dodge doesn’t have access to the wonderful Mercedes BlueTEC diesel power plant, which is both fuel efficient and gutsy, with oodles of torque. However, given that we don’t actually drive much most of the time, I am ok with not worrying too much about fuel efficiency. The eight cylinder hemi engine in the Dodge delivers all the grunt we could ever want to move our trailer. An added benefit is that few people want the big engine, making the car even more affordable. Andy’s take was that dealers “can’t give them away” and prices I’ve seen so far seem to corroborate that opinion.

So, if you’re interested in buying a gently used Honda Odyssey with less than 70K km on the clock annd a CanAm reinforced hitch with a Prodigy II brake controller that’s all set up for towing, drop us a line. We’re planning on making the switch next spring, but could make it anytime.

Back from winter quarters

I picked up our Airstream from Can-Am in London today, where we kept her over the winter to get a number of gremlins sorted out.

We had a small leak somewhere at the back, the hot water heater had issues igniting and the furnace had developed a squeal. Nothing out of the ordinary for a 30 year old trailer, and nothing we hadn’t been expecting.

In the end we replaced the hot water heater and some other plumbing but just capped the furnace for now. The burn chamber is rusted out, which is a recipe for CO2 leakage. I want to do some research before deciding on a new furnace, and for the cooler evenings we have the heat pump on the roof that’s more than capable of keeping us all warm and toasty. The leak turned out to come from one of the awning lights, so we replaced the entire row of them.

Other than that, it was great to get the Airstream back on the road. I decided to avoid the 401 and the 403, the direct highway connection from London to Hamilton where we park the Airstream, and head home via the small rural highways instead, grabbing lunch on the way. No traffic and sunny weather made for an enjoyable drive, listening to the British History Podcast on the way.

It’s always surprising how just how well and obediently this huge old trailer tows. The 34′ triple axle models have the reputation to be the best towing trailers Airstream have ever made and I’m sure there’s truth to that. In combination with the Hensley hitch there’s no movement, no sway, even with some large trucks passing and during a very short stop at a suddenly changing traffic signal.

The Honda too behaved perfectly, towing much of the way in eco mode, running on four cylinders. I do make sure to inflate the tires to above normal before a towing session, which makes a real difference as far as stability is concerned.

We’re in the market for an SUV next spring, and will most likely go with the Mercedes GL series diesel. Having said that, I had an opportunity for a chat with Andy Thompson during pickup and he highly recommended the Dodge Durango for our needs. It’s basically the same car as the Mercedes, the two vehicles share the same platform, but at half the price.

Decisions, decisions.

Camping in Long Point


Shots of the gang – almost all taken with our GoPro Hero 3+.

We just spent a wonderful week tucked away on a camp site in Long Point Provincial Park.

Long Point is one of our favourite parks in Ontario. Only two hours from our storage facility in Hamilton, it’s easily accessible via winding country lanes. We love the lush, green landscape of Norfolk County, so different from the harsher feel of Lake Huron. The shorter trip is ideal for the kids who tend to get cranky when we’re travelling for longer than four hours.

I had been in touch with Karen Matthews, manager of Burning Kiln Winery, to secure an overnight spot for our upcoming trip in August, but as Burning Kiln happened to be on our way to Long Point, we decided to drop by unannounced for a quick lunch. Karen graciously showed us around the winery, pointing out a spot by a forest where we’ll be staying when we’re returning in a couple of weeks.

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The Airstream parked at Burning Kiln

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A delicious lunch of Lake erie perch tacos, for the adults, and pizza, for the kids, later and we continued on our way to the campground.

The road out to the sandbank is a little like a fairy tale of summer. Old, rickety family cottages, some little better than shacks, sit next to newer buildings along the sandy shore. Little beach stores sell ice cream and sun screen, boats are everywhere.

Arriving at Long Point, I remembered just in time that the main dumping and fresh water station is actually outside the park – last year, we had to turn around and go back out. We had booked a campsite just opposite the playground, so the boys could just run across. What we hadn’t counted on was the prolific growth of poison ivy that the park rangers allowed to grow, so letting the kids run unsupervised wasn’t a possibility after all.

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Our campsite at Long Point

Add to this that our site was very exposed, I don’t think we ever had less privacy, and we’ll be choosing differently next time. On the plus side, we were very close to the beach and with the kids now all able to walk, we had a lot less work on our hands than we had last year, when we visited on our maiden journey.

When we arrived, I had the chance to try out my home made backup camera for the Airstream. Our GoPro Hero 3+ connects to a tablet or phone via its own WIFI network, streaming the camera view. The stated range is 600ft, but that’s line of sight with nothing between camera and receiver. A 34′ Airstream can cause quite a bit of an obstacle for a WIFI signal.

When we arrived at the Park, I mounted the camera to the back of the Airstream with a gopro suction cup, then connected our iPad to the camera’s WIFI signal. Driving on, the stream was clear, with perhaps a 1/2 second delay – ample for reversing into a tight spot.

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Testing the gopro on the way into the Park

The stream did stop and reconnect a couple of times on the last mile or so towards our camp site, so it’s not a perfect solution for a permanent rearview camera. But, as these are in the $800 range, I think we’ll make do with the gopro for now when we need to be able to see what’s happening behind us.

The next morning we were joined by our friends Ed and Marina and their kids, also from Toronto. After a fun day at the beach, and a shared dinner, we all retired, tired but happy. The kids all slept the second their heads touched the pillow and didn’t wake up until 8:30 the next morning.

Ed and company packed up to get back to the city for the week, which turned out to be a good thing as a heavy thunderstorm drenched the entire campground the following night. A bolt of lightning struck a tree nearby, knocking out the electrical system in a trailer parked underneath and even causing a small fire. Not much fun in a tent.

The following days were spent at the beach, when it was sunny, and exploring the surrounding area, when it was raining for two days. Norfolk and Elgin County reminded us of England, lush and green with gently undulating hills. We visited some amazing lavender farms and wineries, we ate fried lake fish, we saw some beautiful little villages and hamlets.

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Port Dover in the rain
What was interesting for me was that there were many opportunities to park the trailer for the night. Port Stanley has a huge, free, parking lot down by the harbour where one lonely Class C was already parked, the village of Sparta offered free parking to visitors as well and almost all the farms we visited would have allowed us to stay as well.

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Steed and Company, a beautiful horse and lavender farm deep in Elgin County

The week ended with a visit from more friends, more good food and then, all too soon, it was Sunday and time to hitch up and drive back to the city. We dropped the Airstream off at the storage facility and were soon home in our brick house again – until next time.

Favourite photo

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Felix, coming down the slide, a split second before splashing down into a puddle, soaking his pants. Anja, just realizing what was going to happen. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time.

For those who are thinking “bad dad”, these were swimming trunks and we had towels and a change of clothing with us.

Canada Day

After all the fun we had at Dufferin Grove last weekend, we decided to spend our Canada Day morning there as well. The second we left the house it started raining hard for ten minutes, but we decided to go on anyway. In the end we were glad we did, as it cleared up into…Continue Reading

At the Dufferin Grove Playground

Today we spent a happy, muddy morning at the Dufferin Grove Adventure Playground. Water, sand, wood and shovels. Tasty hot dogs and macaroni cheese from a little volunteer manned cafe. It doesn’t get much better, especially in the middle of the city. I took our waterproof GoPro Hero with me, so we could grab some pictures without worrying about a…Continue Reading

Lake Erie – a tour

We’ve always been fans of Lake Huron. The sandy beaches, the wonderful sunsets, the wide open spaces dotted with well kept Mennonite farms, those were the reasons we bought our little weekend getaway farm cottage near Kincardine some years ago. Lake Erie via Landsat. The tongue sticking out from the top is Long Point Provincial…Continue Reading

“You can’t tow it with that”

Just got a lovely message on instagram, on a picture from last year as we were on our maiden trip to Long Point Provincial Park. We met a guy who asked the usual question, how do you tow an Airstream with a van, and I of course pointed him towards CanAm RV in London. Turns…Continue Reading

Exploring The Pinery Provincial Park

The Pinery Provincial Park has a bit of a mythical status – hard to get in, forget it on a long weekend, it is supposed to be one of Ontario’s most beautiful Provincial Parks. The Pinery is home to North America’s last surviving oak savannah habitat, the dunes along the shoreline were formed more than…Continue Reading