December 2015

Photo of the day: Lucas’ lego

by DaniGirl on December 31, 2015 · 0 comments

in Photo of the Day

I‘ve fallen badly out of the habit of posting photos, and I haven’t been much better about taking them. Time to get back on track. Hello 2016!

Lego day

Happy New Year, friends and family. 🙂


{ 0 comments }

Last we saw our heroine, she had braved the wilds of Google and Amazon, wandered the badlands of “available to US residents only”, faced down the demons of bleeding-edge technology and come out victorious brandishing a View-Master VR viewer for Google Cardboard. (Read part one of this post here.)

I’d been reading about Coardboard and smartphone VR and was intrigued by it. The boys knew about VR technology like Oculus Rift mostly by watching PewDiePie and other YouTubers. And yet, none of us were prepared for how very cool the virtual reality experience would be. You’re talking about a girl who doesn’t even like 3-D movies!

Using the View-Master VR viewer couldn’t be more easy. Download the Google Cardboard app to your smartphone. Open the View-Master box. Use the app to take a photo of the QR code on the View-Master to tell the app which kind of viewer you are using. Slip the phone into the viewer and hold the viewer up to your face — and be prepared to be blown away. Seriously, it’s the coolest thing I’ve never imagined.

With the viewer, you can look up, down, behind you, to the side – it’s as if you’re standing inside a photo. And then you realize you can interact with the photo by moving around. On the “Urban Hike” part of the Google Cardboard app, you find yourself on a street in Paris near the Eiffel Tower, and as you turn your head, the scene shifts in real time based on your motion and you can click to follow a Google-Maps pointer to walk down the street.

We took turns passing it from person to person, marveling and gasping and laughing at each new reaction. The only thing more fun than your first experience with Google Cardboard is watching somebody else’s reaction to their first Google Cardboard experience. It dazzled my seven year old, my teens and my 71 year old father in equal measure.

ViewMaster with Google Cardboard

With just your Cardboard device and the basic app, you’re set up for hours of entertainment. As soon as you wrap your head around the technology, though, you start to wonder what else it can do. You want more more MOAR content.

And that’s when I fell down the rabbit hole. The two-and-a-half hours after I asked myself “hey, I wonder what else this thing can do?” were a mixed bag of delight and exasperation. Didn’t I hear something about all YouTube videos being enabled for Cardboard? After all, YouTube and Cardboard are both owned by Google. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out where exactly I was supposed to see the (clearly invisible) Google Cardboard icon on a video’s watch page before I figured out that I needed to be in the YouTube app, which I promptly downloaded. It took another exasperating interval before I realized that I’d only find it in the YouTube app for an Android (also parented by Google) device, not my iPhone. And when not even Tristan’s HTC Android phone would offer up the icon (not to mention the miserable learning curve of figuring out his user interface, such a child of Apple am I) we learned that his phone does not have a gyroscope and therefore does not work with Cardboard, and Google simplifies this by simply not making the app visible to him in the Google Play store. Many, many virtual heads were banged on virtual desks in this fruitless pursuit. We finally did get it working with Beloved’s Samsung S4 mini, but after the hours of frustration, I found the results rather lackluster. I’m sure with a newer Android phone with a bigger screen, the results will be breathtaking. I’ll wait for them to roll out an iOS version. There are a growing list of other apps that work on iOS, though – this list on Reddit seems robust.

So what exactly do you do with Google Cardboard on an iPhone, beyond playing with the Cardboard app contents? Given that this technology is only about a year old, there are already all sorts of cool things you can do. There are VR experiences, like attending a Paul McCartney concert or jumping out of a plane. You can play games, watch movies, ride virtual roller-coasters, or visit photospheres (360 degree panoramas) of exotic places — like the surface of Mars! With an Android phone, you can even take your own photospheres – I’m looking forward to that being available on iOS, too.

I must admit, I did get a little cranky about having to download a new app for each thing I wanted to try. I did download the Star Wars app (of course I did) and it has several Cardboard mini-adventures in it, but they are huge and space is already at a premium on my photo-stuffed iPhone. The app does have a nice section where you can manage the data being clogged up by the app, so I will keep this one. (Bonus Star Wars content: countdown to Episode VIII!)

My favourite discovery by far has been the Google Street View app. Enter any place on earth that Google has mapped with their street view camera and go for a virtual walk. With literally the whole world at their fingertips, my boys were most entertained by “walking” down our street from our house to our mailbox – go figure. Imagine, though – check out the street view of a hotel before you visit it, revisit your favourite vacation spots, see if the house where you grew up still looks the same.

I remember the very first time I used the Internet, probably back in 1992 or so, and I was paralyzed by the question of “where do you want to go?” When the answer is both anywhere and everywhere, it’s tough to narrow the answer down to just one place to go first! The funny thing is that I have the same feeling with Google Cardboard’s VR that I had the first time I surfed the Internet – that sense of wonder mixed with the feeling that you’re standing at the beginning of something so full of potential that you just can’t wrap your brain around it. Accessible VR for everyone? Mind = blown.

So, what do you think? Are you intrigued? Or am I preaching to the choir? Have you already taken a Cardboard viewer for a spin? Feel free to share any great experiences or apps you’ve found. (And if you’re interested in getting the View-Master VR viewer, they’re starting to roll them out in Canada. I found them online at Best Buy and Toys R Us for less than $30.)

If you do pick one up, or have a different Cardboard viewer, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


{ 2 comments }

Through October and November this year, I became increasingly intrigued by Google’s efforts to make virtual reality (VR) accessible to the masses through its Google Cardboard device. “Experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way with Google Cardboard.” My curiousity was originally piqued by the ways we might harness the nascent technology in the work I do for Agriculture Canada in social media, but the more I read, the more fascinated I became with the idea of VR for anyone.

I understood the concept loosely. Assemble the viewer by folding up pre-cut cardboard and attaching a few lenses and widgets, download an app and insert your smartphone into the device. Use the viewer to experience immersive 3-D “virtual reality” on your smartphone. Pretty cool!

For a couple of weeks, I poked around various sites considering my options to acquire a cardboard viewer. They’re so inexpensive to manufacture that all home subscribers to the New York Times got one with their newspaper in early November. If you’re a US resident, you can buy one for less than $20, but they’re tougher to find from Canadian retailers, and when you do find them, of course they are more expensive. I was temporarily seduced by the idea of making one with the boys: “To build your own viewer all you need are a few everyday items you can find in your garage, online, or at your local hardware store: cardboard, lenses, magnets, velcro and a rubber band.”

Google cardboard

Hey, that doesn’t look so bad, right? I could totally do that. Ha! All my delusions of craftiness came to a crashing halt when I opened this, one of seven pages of design schema in the DIY download:

Google cardboard schema

Right. That’s absolutely not going to happen. With middle age comes the grace of acknowledging one’s own limitations, and one look at the fiddly details made it crystal clear that Google Cardboard as a DIY project could only end in misery.

So, with my options reduced to acquiring rather than making a viewer, I poked around various sites trying to decide whether I was invested enough in the concept to fork over upwards of $50 for a cardboard viewer and grumbling about how so many others seemed to be able to get one for free. Cost aside, choosing an appropriate viewer is incredibly intimidating if you only have the vaguest understanding of the technology. There’s a V1 from 2014 and a V2 from mid-2015. Some have NFC chips, some do not. Google endorses a handful of viewers, but most of the ones I clicked on started at the $25 US range, with an additional $5 to $10 for shipping and the dreadful exchange rate, pushing it outside of how far I was willing to go just to satisfy my own curiousity.

My head nearly exploded in mid-December when the Google store offered FREE Star Wars: The Force Awakens viewers – to US residents only. The rather robotic Google Store support person I harangued via help chat was cheerfully immune to my pleas and offers to pay for shipping. “Do not worry, Miss, there will be many enticing and exciting options available to Canadians in the very near future!”

Discouraged but stubborn, I was surfing cardboard-related reviews to parse what I could get for what price when something tweaked my attention. Wait, what? A View-Master cardboard viewer? You mean, like a Fisher-Price View-Master? The one every kid of my generation and most kids since played with? THAT View-Master?

20110318-DSC_0249

Turns out the View-Master got all fancy and 21st century when I wasn’t looking! Check out the 2015 View-Master VR, redesigned to work as a Google Cardboard viewer:

Mattel View-Master VR viewer

How cool is that? Intrigued, I did a little research and found they were very highly recommended as an inexpensive but sturdy Cardboard viewer fully endorsed by Google, but could not find them for sale in Canada anywhere near the $20 price range they were selling for on Amazon.com. I reached out to my old contacts at Mattel, where they are just getting ready to widely distribute the View-Master VR viewer to Canadian stores and long story short, one arrived on the porch a scant 24 hours later, just in time to be put directly under the tree for Christmas.

You’ll have to check out part two in this two-part series to find out how we liked the Google Cardboard experience with our new View-Master VR viewer but here’s a hint: it was worth every arduous minute of research, contemplation and dithering, and was easily the most intriguing gift under the tree this year!


{ 3 comments }

Do you have all your holiday shopping done? Still looking for the perfect gift, or maybe filling in a few last-minute gaps? You’ll find a little something for everyone at the Ottawa Originals Christmas Craft Show, and I’ve got three pair of tickets to give away – but you’d better be quick! This giveaway only runs through Thursday, with one winner being picked on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from all entries.

Ottawa Originals craft showThere will be over 200 artisans exhibiting their wares at the show, which runs today through December 20 at the EY Centre. I went on the weekend (thanks to complimentary tickets from the fine peeps at the Originals Ottawa show) and have to admit that I could have spent a LOT of money giving myself a very Merry Christmas indeed! These are a few of the fun things I saw.

Sounds great, right? What a great way to find unique and unusual gifts. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post (not on Facebook) telling me your favourite Christmas gift ever – given or received.

Here’s the fine print:

  1. This is a giveaway for a pair of (that’s TWO) tickets to the Originals Ottawa Christmas Craft Show, which runs now through December 20, 2015 at the EY Centre.
  2. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook, must appear on danigirl.ca/blog) telling me your favourite gift ever given or received.
  3. Winners will be chosen at random from all comments posted. Each winner will receive TWO tickets. One winner will be chosen at 6 pm on each day, Tuesday December 15 through Thursday December 17.
  4. This giveaway is open only to residents of Canada, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  5. This giveaway will run until 6 pm EST on Thursday December 17, 2015.
  6. If you win, you must be willing to share your name and contact information with the Originals Craft Show. Winners will pick up their tickets at the “will call” desk.

Thank you to the Originals Craft Show for providing tickets to give away and a set for me too. Good luck!


{ 9 comments }

For weeks, I’d kept an eye on the forecast, hoping for just a wee crust of snow to be on the ground for this weekend. Alas, with sunshine and temperatures well above zero, there was not a flake in sight (heh, except maybe the one behind the camera) as we launched our family Christmas season in the traditional way.

First, the annual Santa Claus parade in Manotick. You can never have too much sunshine for a parade!

Christmas traditions

Can I just take a moment to say that there is a special place in my heart for people walking in parades who make the effort to ensure that even the tallest, gangliest and peach-fuzzed kids get a piece or two of Christmas candy along the parade route? I was touched by the number of people who offered candy canes and other treats to all three boys, even though one is now as tall as me. He may be big, but he still loves Christmas AND candy. 🙂

And then, lack of snow be damned, we took a lovely autumnal walk through our favourite Christmas tree farm. This year, the saw was handed down to the middlest boy for the first time. It’s the first year we’ve had to worry about mud instead of snow on the ground, but the tree is as lovely as ever.

Christmas traditions-2

Jackets unzipped, or carried casually in hands, and nobody thought to bring gloves to protect our hands from sticky sap and picky needles instead of frostnip, but we managed to get by without the snow.

Christmas tree and reindeer

And though I didn’t catch it here, Lucas even took a turn carrying the tree this year. My boys, they’re growing up fast!

Did you catch the reindeer in the background? Shockingly, nobody seemed to notice him lounging in the forest when we were getting our tree. He only became obvious when I was processing the photos. Oh the magic of Christmas!! (I’m sort of like a toddler who learns a new trick and then must repeat it ad nauseum. I promise, I’ll get it out of my system in time for spring 2016’s porch portrait season! Probably.)

Turns out we didn’t really need that snow after all. I’m happy enough if it holds off until December 20 or so, now. You can take plenty of lovely Christmas photos even without a snowy backdrop, and a magical reindeer or two. 🙂


{ 1 comment }

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve recycled this post, but it somehow just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve shared it again. Besides, with a new job and a new circle of friends, there’s a whole new audience to edumacate about this most important Christmas factoid. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the annual reindeer rant, because especially at Christmas, traditions matter. Also? Because Donder.

Reindeer Games: Team Donder

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen;
Comet and Cupid and DONDER and Blitzen…”

You did know that Santa’s reindeer is actually Donder and not Donner, right?

Here’s a little history lesson for you. The poem “A Visit From St Nicholas”, commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”, was written back in 1823 and is generally attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore (although there have been recent arguments that the poem was in fact written by his contemporary Henry Livingston Jr.) The original poem reads, in part:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!

As explained on the Donder Home Page (no relation):

In the original publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel, “Dunder and Blixem” are listed as the last two reindeer. These are very close to the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, “Donder and Bliksem”. Blixem is an alternative spelling for Bliksem, but Dunder is not an alternative spelling for Donder. It is likely that the word “Dunder” was a misprint. Blitzen’s true name, then, might actually have been “Bliksem”.

In 1994, the Washington Post delved into the matter by sending a reporter to the Library of Congress to reference the source material. (In past years, I’d been able to link to a Geocities site with the full text, but sadly, Geocities is no more.)

We were successful. In fact, Library of Congress reference librarian David Kresh described Donner/Donder as “a fairly open-and-shut case.” As we marshaled the evidence near Alcove 7 in the Library’s Main Reading Room a few days ago, it quickly became clear that Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” wanted to call him (or her?) “Donder.” Never mind that editors didn’t always cooperate. […] Further confirmation came quickly. In “The Annotated Night Before Christmas,” which discusses the poem in an elegantly illustrated modern presentation, editor Martin Gardner notes that the “Troy Sentinel” used “Dunder”, but dismisses this as a typo. Gardner cites the 1844 spelling as definitive, but also found that Moore wrote “Donder” in a longhand rendering of the poem penned the year before he died: “That pretty well sews it up,” concluded Kresh.

So there you have it. This Christmas season, make sure you give proper credit to Santa’s seventh reindeer. On DONDER and Blitzen. It’s a matter of family pride.

Photo of three boys and a reindeer


{ 0 comments }

A fine (art) idea for Christmas

5 December 2015 Mothership Photography

Are you looking for a unique holiday gift this year? How about locally-grown fine art photographic prints? Over the years, I’ve produced quite a few of these on a one-off basis, but I finally got around to making a gallery of some shots that have been given as prints or that I think would make […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Photos of the day: Reindeers and Christmas Jedi

1 December 2015 Happy holidays

How do you torture a photographer? Send her two exquisitely cute families for Christmas portraits on the porch, and then make her choose just ONE for the photo of the day. I seriously couldn’t do it! First, these two dropped by. Little Miss was a little bit shy, and a lot three years old. Sometimes, […]

1 comment Read the full article →