From barbecues to Bublcams

18 Nov
Things got off to an okay start with the Nexgrill portable from Costco, but soon the fires roared out of control.

Things got off to an okay start with the Nexgrill portable from Costco, but soon the fires roared out of control. (Geoff Meeker photo)

By Geoff Meeker

November 18, 2013 – This week, a miscellany of material, beginning with a second look at a barbecue I reviewed earlier this year.

I was in the market for a small gas barbecue, as a supplement to my charcoal-burning Weber (which is sometimes not practical for quick grilling burgers and dogs). I settled on the Nexgrill portable, a seemingly solid and well-built product from Costco ($122).

Things got off a good start. The barbecue did a decent job on everything, from steak to chicken breast, as you long as you stayed close by watching for flare-ups. These happened occasionally, as they do on most barbecues, but, because the grill is so close to the drip pan over the burner – because of the unit’s compact size – a fire can ruin that expensive slab of meat in a matter of seconds.

However, the problem escalated. For the last few months, every time I barbecue something, anything, there is a serious flare-up. Most times, I get to it in time, removing the meat to a plate or the other burner. But occasionally, a full two minutes had passed before I lifted the lid, revealing a charred, inedible mass. Frustrating, indeed.

I tried burning off the fat from the previous meal before grilling the next, but to no avail: a fire erupted every time, no matter what I was cooking.

I took the barbecue apart and cleaned it, top to bottom, paying special attention to the drip trays, which I scraped down to the metal with a chisel. Again, this was to no avail: a major fire erupted almost immediately, and some food was ruined. I now have a barbecue that is essentially useless, because a four-alarm fire breaks out every time I grill – without exception – and food is often tainted or ruined.  Frankly, that’s not good enough.

If you see this barbecue on the shelf, don’t be fooled by the sturdy appearance. It’s a crematorium, not a barbecue. Take a pass.

You can make this neat little smartphone tripod yourself, adapting an old cassette case and a standard mount miniature tripod. (Geoff Meeker photo)

You can make this neat little smartphone tripod yourself, adapting an old cassette case and a standard mount miniature tripod. (Geoff Meeker photo)

A tripod for your iPhone

I have become a fan lately of the HDR (high dynamic range) photography app on my iPhone 5. I shoot most still (not action) photos with this app, which takes two exposures and merges them into one image. This creates rich colours, deep blue skies and plenty of detail in shadow areas. However, because it fuses two images into one, you need to hold the camera perfectly still – otherwise, you end up with a useless blur.

So big thanks to reader Michael H., who drew my attention to a neat, homemade tripod for any smartphone, made partly from a repurposed cassette tape case. A soldering gun is required – something I don’t have – so I dropped in on brother Steve, who put it together in a matter of minutes. (Steve, it should be noted, can put the arse back in a cat.)

In a nutshell, you take the front part – the door, if you will – of a plastic cassette storage case and, using a soldering gun, cut open one end, allowing the case to form a cradle around the smartphone with the lens side projecting out one end. You take a miniature tripod with a standard mount, then drill a hole in the bottom of the plastic cradle using a bit that matches the mount’s screw head. Carefully heat the plastic at the drilled hole with the soldering gun, and screw the tripod in while the plastic is soft. Steve improvised by adding felt pads to hold the phone more snugly in place, and there you have it – a tripod that works like a charm.

The instructions to make this little device can be found at, a fabulous web site full of neat do-it-yourself projects. Search for “cell phone tripod” and it’ll be your first hit. You can also download an app for this page that allows you to access site content from your smartphone.

The Bubl-cam will purportedly produce 360 degree images.

The Bublcam will purportedly produce 360 degree photos and videos.

Canadian tech startup gets kickstart

I received a media release this week announcing the imminent launch of the Bublcam, purportedly a “portable and affordable 360 degree camera and software suite” developed by a technology startup in Toronto.

According to the release, the handheld device captures full panoramic photos and videos, and was inspired by the spherical camera technology developed by Google for its mapping software. “About the size of a baseball, the Bublcam combines 4 independent lenses in a patent-pending tetrahedral design,” says the release. “The content from each of the four lenses overlaps the adjoining one, so there are zero blind spots. Bubl software then stitches the footage into a sphere, seamlessly blending the photos and videos together in real-time. With an easy click of the computer mouse or swipe on a tablet or smartphone, users can control their point of view, looking up, down, sideways, diagonally, or all around, with zoom features.”

The Bublcam concept was first unveiled at, a crowdfunding site that allows ordinary consumers to invest in technology innovations, enabling them to move to the next level. The Bublcam startup had achieved its target investment of $100,000 within 12 hours of posting its pitch and, last time I looked, had reached $243,000. It looks like we’ll be seeing more of the Bublcam in the very near future.


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