Lessons Learned from a Family Road Trip

19 05 2014

Boat shacks at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada


For the Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad Twitter Party May 19, 2014: #TMOMChevy #TMOM #OnStar

Saturday night was my baby boy’s pre-birthday dinner at my house. His 32nd birthday. Michael, Rumi, Marisa and I gathered for tandoor scallops and shrimp, jicama slaw with lime, Basmati rice, Prosecco and strawberry pie. All fresh; all homemade. When I’m not writing, I’m cooking—although I can’t successfully make dessert. That’s Marisa’s province.

We talked about a number of things and The Vacation came up. The Vacation was a 35 day road trip through New England, Québec and the Maritime Provinces. 2,700 miles over a month and change. Michael remembered he was in fifth grade and that he had fun, but it wasn’t until years later that the trip really meant something to him. For both he and his sister, The Vacation instilled a sense of adventure and wonder.

They both have traveled much further into the world than I have in my life.

There were parallel learning experiences on the trip…how to (and not to) take a long trip with the family and how much the moments of the trip would mean as the years passed. Even though that trip was in the early 90s, it’s still known in the family as The Vacation.

I learned that I am a routing control freak – and still am. I have to know what road is traveled and what there is to see and do on the road. I also learned to be able to let go and just flow with the trip. And, I learned not to order poutine while relying solely on a French-English dictionary.


Who I want riding Shotgun

19 05 2014

For the Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad Twitter Party May 19, 2014: #TMOMChevy #TMOM #OnStar

Traveling Moms ask, “When traveling, who do you want in the passenger seat to navigate? Why?

Oh this is a tough one. Unlike the Traveling Moms, I’m a guy, and we don’t ask directions. On top of that, I’m also a geek when it comes to technology, so I want to be the one in control of the OnStar system. However, after driving with a GPS I realize this is not only stupid, but dangerous.

In the passenger seat rising shotgun, I’d want my heartthrob. She knows how to read a map and is able to quickly grasp technology. If driving alone, I’d pull over.

Looking back at my real-life experience with OnStar in the Chevy Impala, my second choice is the blue OnStar button, to be greeted and let the pros find my destination and download it to the MyLink.

Safety-Tech with Chevy and OnStar

19 05 2014
OnStar technology controls in a Chevrolet Camaro

We drove a 2014 Chevy Camaro in the scavenger hunt and used the blue button a lot.

For the Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad Twitter Party May 19, 2014: #TMOMChevy #TMOM #Onstar

Traveling Moms ask, “What feature or tech makes you feel safe in a car?”

On this one, I have to say that the geek in me really liked the Chevy and OnStar MyLink collaboration. I really like the potential of the eNav system. The ability to call OnStar to find a restaurant, directions or update the map is an important tool for someone who travels.

In our test drive, we were able to contact OnStar, and just ask, “Where is the World of Chocolate museum?” The OnStar navigator found the location, confirmed it was what we wanted, and downloaded it to the eNav. This was accomplished without taking my hands off the steering wheel. Well, not quite, when the download was completed, I had to press a touch-sensitive “OK” button on the screen.

That’s a perfect feature for providing safety when traveling.

In-car technology for swooning

19 05 2014


Chevrolet MyLink with OnStar AT&T Wi-Fi devices connected.

In the 2015 Chevrolet Impala, the MyLink and OnStar technology includes an AT&T-drive Wi-Fi hot spot that will connect seven devices.

For the Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad Twitter Party May 19, 2014: #TMOMChevy #TMOM #Onstar

Traveling Moms ask, “What in-car technology do you most love or want?”

When I was in Disney World with the gang from Traveling Mom, I really enjoyed the opportunity to try out some road-ready, and futuristic technology from Chevrolet. We had the opportunity to drive a 2014 Impala and Camaro, and tech-drive a 2015 Impala.

With the cars on the road, the technology Chevrolet offers its drivers is innovative. The car can be operated – not driven – but secured and ready to roll with a smartphone application. The MyLink app does some pretty amazing things in coordination with different OnStar programs.

Here’s what I liked…

…The backup camera. The image is clear and sharp, even in the gray, rainy conditions we faced. Its wide angle vision does not replace checking mirrors and over-the-shoulder, but it gives clarity and wider vision that looking backwards while backing.

…The OnStar emergency services. Luckily, we did not have to test this feature in real life. The car is loaded with sensors that automatically connect with OnStar when airbags are activated or the car is in a collision. The OnStar reps are not a call center, these are trained emergency service specialists who are able to provide solutions when time is crucial.

…The OnStar ability to track the car on the smartphone app—especially if driven by teens in the family. There is an ability to send a text message if the car travels beyond a certain perimeter.

…eNav. Honestly, we had some issues, but the potential is there. The OnStar folks were trying to get a group of nearly 40 people trained and ready to test the OnStar in a very compressed period. I’m looking forward to a more leisurely test OnStar is arranging for me here in Phoenix.

Where the road takes me this summer

19 05 2014

For the Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad Twitter Party May 19, 2014: #TMOMChevy #TMOM #Onstar

Traveling Moms ask, “Where will the road take you this summer.”

Life is good this summer, with a planned 3,800 mile road trip from Phoenix, Arizona, to Port Townsend, Washington. Now, if the route were direct, the four-plus weeks on the road would be far less than the estimated mileage. The trip is going to meander through Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, California, and then home.

The trip will meander through national parks, natural scenic wonders with a couple of high-tailing-it stretches in between.

The first day will take us to Lake Powell National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah. We’ll take in some of the of the overlooks at the Lake and Marble Canyon on the Colorado River. From there, it’s off to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah, followed by a couple of days at Bryce Canyon National Park.

From Bryce, we’re going to head across the Utah backcountry to Great Basin National Monument, Nevada. The state’s only national park is sometimes called the Yosemite of Nevada. We’ll camp at Great Basin, and then head down the loneliest highway in America, U.S. 50 to Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California.

A night of gaming (I’ve got $50 in quarters all saved up), and a drive around one of most beautiful and scenic lakes in America, will put us on the road to see friends in nearby Pine Grove, California. If there’s time, we’ll catch lunch with Traveling Mom Carmel Mooney in the gold country. From there it’s a bullet drive to Port Townsend, Washington.

That’s the epogee of the trip. After visits with family and friends—and a cruise on the Puget Sound—it’ll be back south. We’re going to head through Olympic National Park and the Hoh Forest. From there, it’s southward bound down the Washington and Oregon coasts to Mendocino County wine country and a dash to San Francisco to see more family.

A few days with grandson, Dash, and it’s back to Phoenix by mid-July.

Five Reasons Why My Lumix ZS-40 is Retiring my DSLR

17 05 2014

By Eric Jay Toll

“I feel naked with just one camera,” says Rick Gerrity, a professional photographer for Panasonic assigned to help a gaggle of Traveling Moms (and one Traveling Dad) on a drippy afternoon in Disney World. “I usually have a couple of cameras with me and enough gear to make the TSA really nervous.”

We’re gathered around Rick in the tunnel under the Magic Kingdom train station. The seven of us in Group Bashful are clustered near a pillar splitting the unending stream of Disney World arrivals glued to a demo of the Panasonic Lumix ZS-40 digital camera. “Camera” does not give full credit to the multimedia, Wi-Fi-enabled device for all it delivers in imaging. This 8-1/8 ounce (245kg), 2-1/2 inch by 4-3/8 inch (63mm x 111mm) camera is capable of 18 megapixel still images and high definition, 4x video recording.

This camera is simple enough to use it can be handed off to the kids or anyone to snap a photo. It has much of the versatility of a digital single lens reflect camera without any of the bulk.

Lumix—light mixing with technology—is so versatile, I’m retiring my DSLR from everyday use. Here’s five reasons why:

  1. The LED viewfinder

One of the major reasons I skipped meals to buy my first single lens reflex camera was the ability to see exactly what I was going to shoot. That imperative didn’t change when I stepped up to my DSLR. One of the features best features on the Lumix ZS-40 is that viewfinder that gives you a through-the-lens view on a miniature video screen. It worked in the rain, at night and in bright sunlight the one morning we had it in Orlando. It also lets you see your adjustments in real time—cutting down the “retakes.”

  1. Simultaneous RAW and JPG recording

As a writer who illustrates stories with photos, I work with the RAW image to be able to adjust the photos as needed in Photoshop. RAW images are more accurate—recording exactly what the camera sees. The images are also substantially larger than the compressed JPGs used for email and web. It takes time to process the photos, and that generates gripes from close friends waiting to see the images. The ZS-40 has a feature allowing a simultaneous RAW and JPG image. This means I have an immediate image I can email to a friend, upload to Twitter or Facebook, and take my time with RAW image processing without the incessant calls to “send me that picture you promised.” The dual photos slashes the number of photos held on a memory card. About 270 high resolution RAW images can be saved on a 2GB memory card. I have a 16GB card to hold around 2,400 images in my Lumix.

  1. Wi-Fi file transfer

Smartphone, tablet, laptop…I’m traveling with a slew of devices grasping for bandwidth. I also need one USB cord for the iPhone 5c, another for the iPad 2, a third for the portable scanner, a fourth for the DSLR and now one for the Lumix ZS-40. Nope. Don’t need that one. The Lumix creates a Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a before-the-trip one-time setup, and then works flawlessly to transfer all or selected images from camera to smartphone, tablet or laptop. It’s fast and once the initial setup is complete, painless.

  1. 30x (300mm) optical zoom

At one time, I carried both the DSLR and a portable digital camera. The latter was no better than a (I’m dating myself) Kodak Instamatic. Its zoom lens was limited and the switch for “optical” zoom to “digital” zoom was an instant quality loss. The ZS-40 has a Leica – made by Panasonic – 30x zoom lens moving from 24mm wide angle to 300mm telephoto. Essentially it functions the same as my primary DSLR lens. I will confess that the ability to change lenses on a DSLR is an advantage over the fixed lens Lumix. However, the DSLR is only needed for special circumstances where a very wide angle or long telephoto are needed. For about 80 percent of the illustrations I shoot, the 24-300mm lens is perfect. There are some digital extensions to go up to 70x, a more than 600mm lens, but I haven’t used that feature yet.

  1. In-camera editing

As a writer, the ability to push your platform is becoming more important. In Orlando, I was the straggler while the other Traveling Moms in the group were shooting photos, wirelessly transferring to phones, and posting to Twitter and Facebook on the move. I’m not there yet, but need to be soon. The Lumix has built-in editing features that transform images with artistic effects and basic image edits. The artistic settings can be imposed while taking the photo or added afterwards. The available modes and options allow basic editing work that’s perfect for an instant upload.

The camera also has 780p and 1080p high definition video recording capability. The microphone is tuned to the zoom, so without modifying settings, it picks up sound from the focal point as you zoom. Video is my weakness, so others will need to talk about the features. I liked the zoom and the simplicity of starting-and-pausing recordings.

I found it priced online between $440 and $450. Panasonic provided the Traveling Mom group with cameras – and for disclosure purposes, they let us keep the Lumix ZS-40.

Scientists Find LinkedIn Endorsements Fight Depression

9 01 2013


By Eric Jay Toll

©2013, Eric Jay Toll. All rights reserved.

Pushing that endorsement button for your friends, acquaintances, and the casually-known members of your LinkedIn network keeps you from depression. A new study by a group of scientists found that LinkedIn members who clicked dozens of endorsements were happier than those who had to manage unwanted endorsements.

The study found that those who spent time clicking skill endorsements – even when they barely knew their connection and had no knowledge of the individual’s skills or preferences – generated high levels of endorsephins in their brains.

“Endorsephins,” explained study lead Clarence Taragot, Ph.D., in a report issued by Columbian Pacifica University, San Rafael, Calif., “are a serotonin-related enzyme released when an individual is doing happy things on LinkedIn.”

The study followed several LinkedIn members who avoided unpleasant work spending most of the day clicking endorsement icons on the formerly professional-oriented networking site now undergoing a renaissance as a social media site for professionals. LinkedIn added endorsements as a knock-off to the Facebook-captured “like” button.

The recently-added feature confronts profile visitors with a challenging question, “Does (Profile name) know (skill)?” If the profile visitor clicks “yes,” the visitor’s avatar shows up on that profile page next to the endorsed skill. As more and more people endorse a LinkedIn member, endorsed skills are ranked by the number of people clicking the skill. The result creates a photo-collage bar graph on the profile page.

“We found that people would rather sit at the computer with a cup of coffee clicking endorsements than actually working,” reports Taragot. “The more the study participants clicked, the happier they became and the greater the effort they put into finding people or skills to endorse.”

Taragot’s study found a new substance in the brain, with levels rising as the endorser added more and more endorsements. “We gave participants profiles from people they didn’t even know, and found they would continue to endorse skills,” he explained. “Every five endorsements, we’d give them a fresh cup of hot coffee.”

The study determined that the chemistry of the participants and found this previously unknown enzyme responsible for the repetitive happiness. “We’re calling it an ‘endorsephin,’” Taragot said.

The study also followed LinkedIn members required to manually manage the rising tide of endorsements. The profile owners needed to individually hide and delete skills not applicable to their business objectives. The endorsement recipients—especially those who did not return endorsements—were found to be significantly more depressed than the endorsers.

“It’s obvious,” Tatgot’s study concludes, “people who endorse others are far happier than those who manage endorsements.”

A LinkedIn spokesperson would not confirm rumors that the social media site is adding badges for “top endorsers” and “most endorsed.” It’s reported that a new graph will appear ranking people by the number of skills endorsed to show which site members are tops in the world with a skill set.

No one at the company would respond to the rumor that a new Resume Timeline feature will be imposed on profiles beginning this summer. The timeline is anticipated as a blue horizontal line across the screen showing a point in a year denoting when the LinkedIn member changed jobs. At press time, there was no way to confirm that a “most job changes” badge and bar graph  to the LinkedIn features.