We’re going back to Scotland this summer

11 March 2018 | 0 Comments

When I was younger, I craved new experiences. I never wanted to travel to the same place twice. Why, when there are so many new places to explore? But now I’m older (my 38th birthday is coming up. I’m not exactly ancient, I know, but stay with me here).  And in my ripe old age, I know what I like. I like Scotland. A lot. So we’re going back in July.

Our trip will be 2 weeks, and the second week will be on the Isle of Skye (the first week’s plans are undetermined – more on that to come). While on Skye, we’re staying in a small, luxurious cabin on the Trotternish Peninsula, with sea views out to Rona and Raasay. We’re looking forward to hiking the Old Man of Storr, dining at The Three Chimneys, and relaxing fireside with a wee dram.

I’ll share more as our plans evolve. And if you have any hot tips, please comment!

PS – photos from our last trip to Scotland.

Image of Skye by Paul Morris.

A Colouring Book I Wholeheartedly Endorse

27 February 2018 | 0 Comments

I’ve been known to poo poo adult colouring. I just don’t get it. But if you’re into it, or if you have a kid who loves colouring as much as mine does, you *need* to support this: The 2018 UnCommon Women Colouring Book. Heck, even if you don’t like colouring and don’t know anyone who does, support it anyway.

The UnCommon Women Colouring Book is a project from my pal Kelsey. She commissioned illustrator Rori! to create the Uncommon Women colouring sheets, featuring badass women of the open movement across libraries academia, Creative Commons, Mozilla, Open Source Software and Wikipedia.

I just ordered my colouring book and sticker set. I’m going to colour with my daughter. I might even enjoy it!

My must-have tech and electronics for traveling

24 February 2018 | 0 Comments

I travel a lot, for work and for fun. I did a quick search on my TripIt app (my must-have for coordinating my travel itineraries) and I took 39 flights in the last year. Wowza! Here’s a list of the tech and electronics I pack for my voyages.

Away carry-on suitcase
Away makes “smart” suitcases (they have battery packs in them for charging your devices on the go) but that’s not what I love most about my Away carry-on. I adore the suitcase for its durability and packing compartments. Away is a startup by two women, and their thoughtful attention to design and detail is in evident in every aspect of the bag.

iPad Pro
If I’m on a trip where I don’t need all the software of my laptop (I’m looking at you, Photoshop), I’ll bring an iPad Pro instead. I load it up with movies and TV shows for in-flight entertainment, and can easily write articles and emails when I attach the “magic” keyboard. I like the split-screen function for productivity and being able to save and access files in a folder was a big iOS game changer for me.

Bose QC 35 wireless noise cancelling headphones
These are huge and I always feel like a dork wearing giant over-ear headphones, but they’re super comfortable and work well. The sound is rich, the noise cancellation is phenomenal on planes, and putting them on is the universal sign for “leave me alone please”.

Kindle Oasis eReader
Yes, I could read on the iPad, and even though I like to pack light I often will bring both a tablet and an eReader with me. The Kindle Oasis is a gorgeous device. Lightweight, slim, and waterproof. That’s a huge deal for me – I love to read in the bath and don’t have to worry about splashes or dropping the device in the water.

Dyson SuperSonic hair dryer
I have a million hair styling tools (curling wands, hair straighteners, hot rollers, and more) but when I’m on the road I don’t have enough space to bring all those with me. I pack the Dyson SuperSonic hair dryer, because it’s amazing, but also because it’s small. It dries my hair super fast, and then I pop on the “styling concentrator” attachment and use a round brush to give myself a blow-out that rivals a salon. Seriously. It’s the only hair tool I need to pack.

Photo of a plane over Toronto, taken on a flight home from Seattle last year.

My new favourite pub in Toronto

17 February 2018 | 2 Comments

A few months ago, friends suggested we have lunch at a pub in the Upper Beaches. They said it had a killer whisky list, and we needed to check it out. I’m so glad we did – this is now my new favourite pub in the city.

It’s called The Feathers and from the outside, it’s nondescript. You’d never know what treasures are inside – amongst the worn but cozy interior is the most insane whisky selection. They have over 350 single malts (300 of them are not available at the LCBO).Don’t like scotch? They have a decent beer list too, including Fuller’s on tap (which can be hard to find in Toronto). The food is simple and delicious pub fare (mmmmm cottage pie) and the walls are covered with photos from Scotland. Between the atmosphere, the photos and the whisky, The Feathers warms my heart.

What books should I read on the beach next week?

30 January 2018 | 3 Comments

We’re escaping the cold next week on a beach vacay, and I need to load up my eReader with books. I have more than enough non-fiction, so I don’t need more of those. What fiction books have you read lately?

I’m wrapping up Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan right now, and was thinking of downloading the Crazy Rich Asians books next. There’s also Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill, which recently won the Giller Prize.

Last year I read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and loved it. I’m thinking of trying her Truly Madly Guilty. Have you read it? Thoughts? Any tips you have for great beach reads would be so appreciated!

Photo of me starting Manhattan Beach on a plane on my Kindle Oasis earlier this month, from my Instagram

For work and play, the Dell Latitude 5289 2-in-1 is all the laptop you need

24 January 2018 | 0 Comments

Over the past two years, my work habits have really changed. I used to wake up, take Clara to school, brew some coffee and head upstairs to the desk in my home office. Then I’d work for hours at my desktop computer. Now I hardly ever sit at that desk. Most days you’ll find me working in one of two places: I’m either on the couch at home (close to the fireplace on a chilly winter day) or I’m at my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop, Te Aro.

The change in my routine really comes from advancements in laptops. I used to need to use my desktop computer because a laptop wasn’t powerful enough for me, or the battery didn’t last long enough, or it was too dang heavy to carry around. Now all I need is a modern laptop, my backpack, Wi-Fi and a coffee. Have laptop, will travel!

Recently Dell invited me to check out their Latitude line of laptops, and put one through its paces. I spent a week using the Dell Latitude 5289 2-in-1 laptop, and it was all I needed to power my business. This laptop is a workhorse. It has the speed and power to run all the apps I need (including Photoshop, which can make a lot of devices chug). Its battery lasts really a long time (literally ALL DAY on one charge), and the size and weight are perfect for portability.

Between Dell’s security software and Windows Defender, I didn’t need to worry about safety with the Latitude. My files are secure, and the device can only be unlocked with my face (using Windows Hello) or my secure PIN. Even Ian couldn’t get in to try it out without my permission!

I love 2-in-1 laptops (the keyboard and screen hinge backward, flipping from laptops to tablets). It’s so easy to covert the Latitude into a tablet, grab the Active Pen, and start writing on the screen. Perfect for to-do lists, jotting notes, and leaving comments and markup on documents.

When I’m on the go (especially on business trips) I like to use a laptop for a bit of work, and then I want to switch it up for some entertainment. This is where the “tent” mode works so well in the Latitude 5289 2-in-1. I can pop open Netflix, tent the laptop, and catch up on The Crown (I’m halfway through season two now). The built-in speakers aren’t bad, and if I want big sound I can connect my Bluetooth headphones to the laptop easily. Speaking of connections, this laptop has a bunch of ports (HDMI, SD card, USB-C and USB 3.0) so you don’t need to carry a bag of adapters and dongles with you.

During the week I used the Dell Latitude 5289 2-in-1, I never once wished I had a different device with me. From work to play, it really can do it all.

This post was developed in partnership with Dell. The content is sponsored, but the opinions are my own.

Whoa you have to check out this architectural vacation rental website

11 January 2018 | 0 Comments

I am drooling over PlansMatter, a new vacation rental website. It’s like Airbnb but specifically for vacation rental properties that have beautiful architecture. You have to see the four-bedroom house with pool on a cliff in the Santa Monica mountains in California (pictured above). Could you imagine staying there?!? Or this strikingly simple farmhouse in Denmark?

Not all the listings are far away… there are many properties in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Michigan, and there’s a large cottage for rent just a few hours outside Toronto, in Haliburton.

View all the featured properties on the PlansMatter website here.

Smartphone hacks: how to extend battery life & be more productive on your phone

3 January 2018 | 0 Comments

The New Year is a great time to take a few moments and tidy up your smartphone to make it faster and more efficient. Or, if you received a new device over the holidays, get it set up for success right out of the gate.

I was on CTV Your Morning earlier today, sharing my top smartphone “hacks”. Watch the clip above, and read my suggestions below.

3 tips for cleaning up and clearing space

  1. Update your operating system. Yes, it can be tedious and those update notifications always pop up at the most annoying moments… but updating your phone’s operating system is the best way to keep it running efficiently.
  2. Delete apps you’re not using. If you have a few minutes to kill while waiting for an appointment and you forgot a book, scroll through the apps on your phone. If you haven’t used one in a while (or never used it in the first place, as is often the case with the apps that come pre-installed), get rid of it! It’s taking up precious space on your smartphone. And if it turns out that you miss the app, you can always reinstall it later.
  3. Back everything up – especially photos. The most common reason for running out of space on a smartphone comes from the photo and video library. The cameras on modern smartphones take amazing photos and videos. Those in turn take up a lot of space on your phone’s memory. Back up and optimize your photo and video storage using iCloud for iOS devices (instructions here) or Google Photos on Android devices (instructions here).

Organize your apps for quick access

You may already have your smartphone apps organized in a particular order (or even in folders). You can go one step further and have your favourite apps and most used tools available to you when you need them first by changing what’s on your lock screen, home screen, and control centre.

If you have an Android smartphone, consider using an app launcher like Nova Launcher to customize your home screen with colours, apps, and other settings that you choose. iOS users can customize the Apple control centre (the tools that you can access by swiping – before unlocking your device) by following the instructions here.

Check on your battery health

Smartphone batteries have been a hot topic in the media lately, with Apple apologizing for slowing down older iPhones to compensate for aging battery performance. Most phone batteries can be charged around 500 times before they start to show their age. Replacing a battery is much cheaper than replacing the entire phone, so if you suspect you have an issue you can check your battery’s health with the free Battery Life Doctor app for iOS, or the free Battery Doctor app for Android.

5 tips for keeping your smartphone battery in top shape

  1. Dimming the screen or turning on auto brightness will help your battery last longer between charges.
  2. Be careful of the temperature! Using a smartphone in hot or cold conditions (below 0 degrees or above 35 degrees) can wear the battery down faster than normal.
  3. Update to the latest software. The smartphone’s operating system controls how apps interact with the phone’s processor and battery, and updates often include upgrades for battery efficiency.
  4. Enable low power mode when it looks like you’re going to run out of juice to conserve what’s left until you can charge again.
  5. Find out where your battery power is going by checking your battery settings in the smartphone settings. You may have a lot of apps and notifications running in the background that can be disabled.

Conserve your data

We all love to check email, get texts, and log in to social media while we’re on the go. That can wreak havoc on your data plan (especially any activity that’s transmitting images or videos over the cell network – I’m looking at you, Instagram). Use the free MyDataManager app on iOS and Android to see what apps are hogging your data and adjust your habits (or increase your data plan) accordingly.

2017 Year in Review

31 December 2017 | 0 Comments

I have a confession. I’m a procrastinator. Like, huge. I need to feel the pressure of a deadline or some other external motivation to get a task done, and I will usually leave it until the last possible moment. So here we are, on the last day of 2017, and I’m doing my annual reflection. It’s a Sunday morning, I’m in my jammies and slippers with a coffee while Clara watches cartoons and it’s snowy and cold outside. A fairly normal weekend morning in our house.

When I think back to where I was this time in 2016, I’m amazed at what a difference a year makes. I was in a low spot at the end of 2016, mostly because I was in that gross place in the middle of a big transition where things are unclear and confusing and messy and scary. I was moving away from my web design business (although it took me another whole 8 months to properly shut it down). Camp Tech’s Vancouver location needed big changes to be profitable, and we were having serious issues with our office location in Toronto. At the same time, Ian was on jury duty for a first-degree murder trial, and we weren’t supposed to talk about it. Overall, it was a super stressful period.

2017 was a shit year for our society, civilization and culture. I’ve spent so much time being angry and outraged, shocked and sad. That emotional and psychological stress takes its toll on all of us. We’re all so tired. Nevertheless, we persevere. Despite Trump and #metoo and natural disasters, I had a good year in 2017, personally and professionally.

Best Moments

Stopping work as a web designer

I’ve been a freelance web designer for 10 years. It’s the job that sustained me financially while building Camp Tech. But in 2017 I realized it was time to leave web design behind. I thought about what kind of work I want to do in the world, and what value and meaning I can bring to people. I care about the impact of my work, and did a lot of soul searching to figure out the best way for me to have the most effect.

When I thought about the work I do with website clients, and my favourite parts of the projects (which are also the parts I’m best at), I realized that the actual designing wasn’t it. While I’m not a horrible designer, sketching layouts and developing visual assets isn’t my strongest skill. I’m better at strategy and communication, and that’s where I bring the most value to a website project.

Of course, old habits die hard and it took me the better part of the year to stop accepting web design gigs. I’m now happy to say that I only take on contracts as a web advisor and digital consultant, which allows me to do my best work (and also have time and energy for Camp Tech and my media gigs).


Gather North

I hosted the third annual Gather North professional getaway for women in tech in November. This year I held it at the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, and it was magical. The huge fireplace and cozy lodge feel was perfect for our conference, and the speakers blew us away. I love the Gather North community, and how we support and inspire each other.


Clara loves school

I couldn’t do everything I do professionally if my home life wasn’t great. A big part of that is making sure Clara is thriving in her world, and she totally is! She learned to read in 2017, and moved from kindergarten to grade one in September. She loves her school, teacher and classmates and is happy and challenged. It is a huge relief for us as parents, and makes us so proud.


Speaking at Creative Mornings

I’m a longtime fan of Creative Mornings (the free breakfast lecture series that happens in hundreds of cities worldwide). When the opportunity came to speak at Toronto’s Creative Mornings chapter this year, I was beyond honoured and also terrified. A friend said, “Avery, you regularly appear on live network television with a lot of people watching. Why does speaking at Creative Mornings freak you out?” and I realized it was because it mattered so much to me. I love the Creative Mornings community and wanted to do well by them. I spent months preparing a 25 minute talk on Compassion and Computing, including my thoughts and concerns about how technology is designed and made for humans. I was nervous as all hell, but I think the talk went really well. It will be online for you to watch soon.


Covering the Apple Event for CTV

As a tech correspondent for CTV, I get to attend some pretty cool tech events. Hands down, the best one in 2017 was the iPhone X press announcement at the new Steve Jobs Theatre at Apple Park (in Cupertino, California). It was my first experience reporting live in the field for Your Morning (I previously had only done in-studio appearances on the morning show). Being one of the first in the world to be on-site at Apple Park, and standing in the press box overlooking the Steve Jobs theatre while the sun came up was a surreal moment for me. Yes, it’s nerdy and dorky but my inner fangirl was screaming with excitement.


A special weekend with family

Many members of my family are gone, so it’s important to me to spend special time with family while I can. In September my sister, Dad and I flew to Florida for a weekend to catch up with our beloved great Aunt, and other members of our American family. We almost didn’t make it due to logistics and a hurricane, but the stars aligned and all worked out. I’m so so glad we had that time together.


Developing and teaching the Digital Transformation Program for Small Business

Camp Tech was contracted by the City of Toronto/Digital Main Street to develop and deliver an 8-week digital skills training program for small business owners. Those in attendance learned about different options for using technology to enhance their businesses, and then completed a Digital Transformation Plan for how they’d like to implement what they learned. Those that finished the training successfully received a $2500 grant to put towards their plan.

I devised the curriculum for the program myself, and taught the first two cohorts. Spending 8 weeks with small business owners, talking with them about their struggles with technology and helping them to pick practical solutions was so rewarding for me. This is the kind of impact I love to have with tech – showing people how it can make a real difference in their lives and business.

(Psssst if this sounds interesting to you, we’re running the program again in February and March. Details here.) 


Worst Moments

Moving offices. Twice.

At the end of 2016, we abruptly had to move Camp Tech’s Toronto office and took a sublet from another tech company in the city. It was fine for the short-term when we were in a pinch, but by early 2017 it was clear the new location wasn’t the best (we had noise and temperature issues, and big problems with our neighbouring tenants). It was super super stressful trying to make it work, and then when I finally accepted it wasn’t to be, I had to hunt for a new office. More stress there. Finding a commercial space in downtown Toronto is as difficult as finding a residential space. After looking at countless offices that wouldn’t work, I finally found one that fit our needs. I signed a two year lease with the option to renew, so hopefully I won’t have to go through that process again for a long while.


Lesson Learned

The biggest lesson I learned in 2017 is a professional one. It comes from Camp Tech, where I’m the sole owner and decision maker. It’s so easy to get distracted and forget to take the pulse of your business, in a quantitative and qualitative ways. It’s not fun or glamorous, but regular reviews of short-term and long-term financials are super important. In 2016 I took my eye off the numbers for a while, and it took a lot of effort in 2017 to get things back on track. A hard lesson learned for me, but one I won’t forget.


What Next

I have so much great stuff already planned for 2018 and I can’t wait to share it with you as it all comes together. Every year I choose a word that sets a bit of the intention I have for the months ahead. Yes, this is a cornball tradition and borderline woo-woo for me (and I generally can’t stand woo-woo). The word I’ve chosen for 2018 is “focus”. That means taking all the activity, potential, attention and energy I have and gathering it together into concentrated efforts. Less diffusion, more precision. I get distracted easily, so “focus” also means discipline to me – discipline to stay on track and engage in the deep work I want to do. It’s hard, but I feel up for the challenge.


If I had a spare 3 million, I’d totally buy this house

17 December 2017 | 0 Comments

When Ian, Kinnon and I were in Palm Springs last month, we did a self-drive Mid Century Modern home tour (this app was our guide). We all loved the Edris House, and were shocked to discover it’s for sale. It’s in the foothills of Mt San Jacinto, so it has gorgeous views over Palm Springs and the valley.

If I had a spare 3 million, I would totally snap it up. View the real estate listing for the Edris House here.