Jim Bray

Jim Bray photo

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Jim publishes TechnoFile Magazine. Jim is an affiliate with the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and his careers have included journalist, technology retailer, video store pioneer, and syndicated columnist; he does a biweekly column on CBC Radio One's The Business Network.

Jim can be reached at: [email protected]Older articles by Jim Bray

Most Recent Articles by Jim Bray:

Arizer offers big vape from relatively small devices

Mar 25, 2017 — Jim Bray

Recreational marijuana may still be illegal in Canada and elsewhere, but that hasn’t stopped modern technology from marching in and helping "heads" enjoy their poison of choice safely and more subtly than by burning it.

That’s because vapourizers don’t actually combust the herb;  instead, they heat it up to a point where it releases its "goodness" without actually setting it on fire. The result can be less marijuana consumption (vaping uses less than, say, rolling the stuff up into papers), less of that obvious marijuana smell and - perhaps most important - less chance of harmful gases from combustion going into the vaper’s lungs.

If you can believe politicians, it may be only a matter of time before the casual use of pot becomes legal in Canada. Prime Minister Just-in Two-d’oh! made legalization one of the major planks during his successful campaign to replace Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and perhaps someday he’ll make good on that promise.

Then again, he’s a politician - and a Liberal one at that - so his promises may not be worth any more than the hot air with which he exhaled them. But recent history in other jurisdictions seems to point toward the evil weed not being considered so evil anymore, so time will tell what happens here in the Great Green North. Heck, I know a guy who jokes that the stuff should be mandatory, so some "tightly wrapped" folks can "lighten up".

Passengers is a thoughtful and better-than-expected 4K video experience

Mar 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

The sci-fi flick Passengers sure didn’t stick around long in theatres, but that’s good news if you’re a home video aficionado, especially since the movie has been given a welcome 4K UHD release that’s quite spectacular.

Even better, above and beyond its excellent home theatre credentials, Passengers also offers an interesting and thought-provoking story and terrific performances by lead actors Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt who play literally (well…) star crossed lovers who must cope with their own "Kobyashi Maru-type"  of no-win scenario.

It’s a shame that this movie didn’t even make back the studio’s initial investment (home video sales not counted of course) because it’s far better than the awful and pretentious sci-fi flick Arrival, which preceded it into theatres and which I really wanted to like (except that it sucked). According to IMDB, Arrival had the nerve to make a profit, too - $100,501,349 box office compared to a $47,000,000 production cost - and yet it isn’t worthy of shining Passengers’  shoes, a film which IMDB said cost $110 million but only made just over $99 megabucks.

Kia Sorento a fine ride that outdoes some higher end SUV’s

Mar 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

Though there’s only been some minor tweaking done to the Kia Sorento for 2017, that isn’t cause for any concern.

In fact, the undoubted rationale for maintaining the status quo is that the SUV/Crossover was already a darn fine vehicle, with lots of equipment stuffed into it, and even without a major overhaul it’s still highly competitive in the crowded market niche of mid-sized utility vehicles.

This is the vehicle, after all, that drove away with the Best SUV/CUV ($35K - $60K) award after competing at the 2016 Canadian Car of the Year TestFest. It beat out the BMW X1, Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Tucson (conventional and Fuel Cell Electric), and the exquisite Lexus NX 200t (F SPORT) for the honours so, unless the collected auto journalists that voted on the category were collectively delusional - and I would never accuse them of that! - it’s quite the vehicle.

Honda adds an ugly but kind of fun hatchback to its Civic line

Mar 11, 2017 — Jim Bray

You could look at it as a return to form, an extra reason to give Honda’s classic Civic a look if you’re in the market for a mainstream car.  And it is, somewhat, because Honda offered hatchback Civics in Canada for many years.

Alas, this isn’t Civics of old and, as great as it is in so many ways, it’s still a current Honda and that means it may drive you nuts as you drive.

Full disclosure: I once owned a Honda Civic hatchback, a silver 1976 model I adored and drove happily for three years, at which time it was pretty well rusted out and went from being wonderfully dependable to woefully undependable. But those were a great three years of cheap and fun driving.

I traded straight across a six month old 1975.5 MGB (which sold for appreciably more than the Civic and which kept leaving me on the side of the road) moving in the process to something that would hold the family we were planning to build at the time. And even though I only got three years out of that Civic before it informed me non-verbally that it was retiring, I never questioned that swap.

Canadians want reliability in their cars - so how does 2017’s crop stack up?

Mar 11, 2017 — Jim Bray

Forget fine Corinthian leather, ultimate connectivity and high horsepower. It appears that Canadians are more interested in buying a vehicle that doesn’t leave them stranded on the side of the road than they are in creature comforts or high technology.

That’s according to a survey of Canadian men and women (or, to be inclusive "memen"), as reported by a GfK survey of over 22,000 Internet users in 17 countries, though only 1,002 of them were from the Once Great White North. It appears to be a "yuge" majority,  too: more than eight in 10 women (83 per cent) and 77 per cent of men named reliability as the number one feature they seek out when they put down their hard-earned after-tax cash for a new set of wheels.

That’s a pretty hefty margin! On the other hand, only 23 per cent of guys and 17 per cent of gals seek out the latest technology in a vehicle they purchase. I can see that to a certain extent: some of the current safety nannies, like lane departure warnings, can be very obtrusive and annoying, and the first time one experiences them can be a bit of a freak-out.

Mitsubishi winter driving event helps teach control on snow

Mar 4, 2017 — Jim Bray

Winter may be on its way outsoon, but there’s still enough of the “old person” around to ensure that snowy Canadian roads will be challenging for at least a few more weeks. That means there’s still ample opportunity for more skid-related fender benders before spring springs and the grass starts rizzing.

And to that end, Mitsubishi Canada has been on the road as well, bringing some professional drivers and some of their Outlander SUV/Crossovers to Alberta to not only showcase the “crummy weather capabilities” of their vehicles but to give some handy tips to attendees who find themselves oot and aboot when the white stuff sticks.

I love these events; they’re not only fun but they can help you “navigate the neige” with more confidence and skill. I did a similar type of thing a couple of years back when Ford came through and will always show up for such events because you can never have too much practice - and it’s a real hoot sliding around a snowy open area in someone else’s vehicle (and they treat you really nicely, too).

So it was that Mitsubishi and their folk, armed with a squadron of Outlanders, came through Calgary last Saturday on the last leg of their three stop tour to Wild Rose Country. They were accompanied as well by representatives from Morrisport Advanced Driving, a group of personable driving experts with whom I’ve worked before as well.

Gump director makes a romantic WWII spy thriller

Mar 4, 2017 — Jim Bray

Robert Zemeckis has made a lot of interesting and innovative movies during his decades-long career and he has also pushed the state-of-the-moviemaking-art during that time.

I don’t think he’s had a huge hit like he did with Forrest Gump, the Back the Future trilogy or Who Framed Roger Rabbit (among others) in a while, perhaps since Cast Away at the turn of the century, but you can always rely on him to push the cinematic envelope in one way or the other, and his films are always entertaining as well.

He’s also the guy who pushed the 3D IMAX envelope, starting with the exquisite The Polar Express, which means that such famed movie tech visionaries as James Cameron are really standing on his shoulders.

Zemeckis’ Allied, his telling of a couple of World War II spies who fall in love and start a family back in England, sees him recreate the world of the day beautifully via his typical use of digital effects. The film is a bit of a change of pace for him as well: a romantic drama that’s laced with more “F-bombs” than I can remember from any other Zemeckis film I’ve seen.

High tech gloves let you use your smart device without getting frostbite

Feb 24, 2017 — Jim Bray

Drivers and/or texters in climes where winter rears its ugly head repeatedly have an interesting new ally in their quest to operate smart devices without getting their hands cold.

Glider Gloves is a line of hand wear that promises to let you text, phone, and even operate vehicles’ LCD screens without having to remove them, a promise that - given my history of trying to use my smart stuff while wearing gloves - seemed like a product that was simply too good to be true.

So I asked them if I could try a pair - and they responded by sending me two - one from their "Urban" line and one from their "Winter" collection. They also market "ingress gloves"  which I assume are for facilitating doctors’ prostate exams when they’re performed outdoors in winter.

Toyota’s 2017 Highlander a handsome and comfortable SUV

Feb 24, 2017 — Jim Bray

The popular Highlander SUV/Crossover is about mid-way through its current generation and Toyota has enhanced and upgraded it for the 2017 model year, making it an even more pleasant vehicle to be in.

In fact, I’d reckon that, after my week in Toyota Canada’s sample Highlander XLE AWD model that it’s an even nicer vehicle than its up market cousin, the Lexus RX 350. That’s because, while it isn’t as luxurious or, ahem, prestigious as the Lexus (which rides on the same basic platform), the sample was plenty luxurious enough, more handsome inside and out (with the usual "eye of the beholder" caveat)  and easier to operate.

The ease of use comes mostly from Toyota’s decision to put a touch screen in the centre stack and mount it within reach of even short people. And it’s easy to fathom and to use. The Lexus has its screen mounted high and out of reach, forcing the company to put one of those damn mouse-like Remote Touch devices on the centre console, and as nifty as that sounds it’s actually counterproductive if you’re just trying to get stuff done because you’re fiddling with the knob and menus all the time instead of just poking and choosing.

Volkswagen and Subaru drive off with Canadian Car of the Year honours

Feb 20, 2017 — Jim Bray

The best new car and utility vehicles in Canada for 2017 come from Germany and Japan and, while one is considered a car, both could be considered utility vehicles as well.

That’s because the Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) overall winner, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, is not only a great car in its own right,  it’s also what once would have been known in these parts as a station wagon, a family-and-hauling-friendly vehicle that blends the best of both worlds while never forgetting that at heart, it’s a Golf - which is a very good thing indeed.

The other side of the Car of the Year coin is Utility Vehicle of the Year, which for 2017 has gone to the Subaru Forester, which just happens to be my favourite Subaru year after year (though I must admit liked earlier ones better).

Virtual reality demonstrations showcase a technology with plenty of potential

Feb 19, 2017 — Jim Bray

The term "virtual reality" has been around for years, and for about the same length of time we’ve been promised that it’s the next big thing we’ll have in our lives.

Like so many technological promises, however, it’s been mostly vapourware when it comes to consumer products, with only a few baby steps taken on the journey to immersive virtual worlds for us to play in. But it appears to be coming, and if a couple of demonstrations I attended over the past couple of months are any indication, there should be some really cool stuff available over the next few years.

I can also see such technology being very handy when it comes to training (why read a dry textbook or suffer through an insufferable lecturer when you can "experience" something first hand?) and in other applications.

Vapourizers offer handy portable and/or party performance - usually

Feb 11, 2017 — Jim Bray

Marijuana - whether medical or not - is inching its way toward broader legalization across North America, and perhaps around the world.  This could lead people who are interested in imbibing but not keen on inhaling carcinogens to look at vapourizer technology, much in the way some tobacco smokers are moving toward e-cigarettes as a way to ingest their favourite herbs cleanly and with less telltale odour than they get when smoking the evil weed (whichever evil weed it might be)

Late last year I did a column outlining in its most basic terms the issue of marijuana use, and in the process I introduced a few of the popular vapourizers available on the marketplace today.  In that column I assembled a group of baby boomers I know, folks who’ve been "imbibing" the still-illegal substance for decades and who are (surprisingly to some folks, I’m sure) productive members of society who just happen to enjoy the odd toke. They provided me with valuable insight and opinions, most of which were very positive of the vaping experience.

On the heels of that column I was sent samples of a couple of other - and very different from each other - vapourizers, so over the past few weeks I reassembled my panel to get their impressions (and no, Rich Little wasn’t one of them) of these new units, one of which had the potential to be the slickest little portable they’d seen. The other vapourizer isn’t portable at all, but my panellists discovered it has its own joyful positives that made it a real, well, hit.

Let’s get the more negative review out of the way first.

Honda moves in the right direction with the new CR-V

Feb 11, 2017 — Jim Bray

Maybe Honda is listening to its critics because this new CR-V is a nice step back toward Hondas of old, Hondas that weren’t just great vehicles, but which didn’t really annoy their owners at the same time.

I’ve been one of those critics over the past few years,  though I can’t imagine a small potatoes guy like me being responsible for Honda moving back toward the light - but it’s sure good to see.  

LG makes a cool roll-up keyboard and a flexible cell phone

Feb 5, 2017 — Jim Bray

Continuing a theme from a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been playing with - I mean reviewing seriously - a couple of products that might be good places to drop some of that after-holiday cash you may have left over or received as a gift.

This time, it’s a pair of products from South Korea’s LG, which is probably best known for TV’s and appliances, but which is also a big player in the mobile device market. And these two products fit securely in that niche: a nifty Bluetooth keyboard and a fully featured cell phone that even offers virtual reality capability (for an extra cost, of course).