Photo Of The Day: Science Center Dragon Boats

This Photo of the Day, titled “Science Center Dragon Boats,” comes from Gadling Flickr pool member James Wheeler and was captured using a Nikon D600.

In the caption for this image, James tells us, “Dragon boating has become a popular activity on False creek in Vancouver.” Dragon boats once exclusive to the Pearl River Delta region of China’s southern Guangdong Province are made of teak wood in various designs and sizes.

Want to be featured? Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

Tips for being featured: well, first of all, don’t tag your photos as “all rights reserved,” which will make them basically untouchable for our Photo of the Day. Also, add a caption describing the image and (better yet) your personal experience when capturing it, details of the photography gear used and any tips you might have for others wanting to emulate your work. I pick the Photo of the Day every Saturday and often tap James Wheeler for some inspiring photography for these very reasons.

Now, you can also submit photos through Instagram; just mention @GadlingTravel and use the hashtag #gadling when posting your images.

Friday Rocket Blast To Be Streamed Live

Earlier this week, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) fired up their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft in a successful test to prepare for launch to the International Space Station, set for Friday, March 1, at 10:10 a.m. EST. Space travel fans can follow along during the event via LiveStream starting at 9:30 a.m.

Monday, SpaceX teams ran through all the countdown processes as if it were launch day. All nine engines on the Falcon rocket were successfully fired for nearly two seconds, clearing the way for the historic launch.

Friday’s launch will be the fourth flight for SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo spacecraft and the fifth and final flight for the company’s two-stage Falcon launch vehicle. It it the second SpaceX operational mission contracted to NASA under a Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Did you ever wonder what they send to the International Space Station on resupply missions?

[Photo Credit- NASA]

In addition to what we might expect; food, clothing and gear needed for survival in space, the 1493-pound mission manifest includes experiments sent from a variety of nations.

Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, for example, is sending stem cells. The Canadian and European Space Agencies have experiments going up also. NASA and the Russians are sending various supplies, computer resources and replacement parts.

With favorable weather expected, coverage of the launch from NASA’s Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida will begin at 8:30am on NASA TV.

Here is a short clip of that test-fire earlier this week-

Future Of Space Travel Is Here, Next Month Anyway

If all goes according to plan, privately owned, space travel company SpaceX will send an unmanned capsule, launched from its own Falcon rocket, to dock with the International Space Station on April 30. It will be the first time a privately owned spaceship docks with a space station in orbit and it will mark a new era of private, manned space travel.

Under the watchful eye of NASA, the program might quickly get the United States back in space, while being mindful of budgetary concerns.

NASA‘s International Space Station program, along with our international partners, will take a look at the readiness of both the station and SpaceX for the mission,” NASA officials said, according to an article in Forbes. “If all is go, then SpaceX will be given a green light for an April 30 launch.”

Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal in a round of grants last year was “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created,” the space agency said in a press release at the time.The lion’s share of those grants, $92 million, went to Boeing for development of their front-runner CST-100 spacecraft that uses existing materials and technology that is safe and affordable. The CST-100 is planned to carry up to seven people or a combination of people and cargo and is to be compatible with a variety of existing expendable launch vehicles. That vehicle is slated to fly in 2015, following two test flights earlier that year.

SpaceX began work on that concept too. Their version, called Dragon, is slated to fly next month.

The seven-seat Dragon spaceship will be unmanned for April’s operation, but the next goal for SpaceX is to send a crew to the International Space Station so NASA does not have to rely on Russian technology, currently priced at about $400 million per ride. Dragon costs about $115 million.

“My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to re-fuel on Mars – this is very important – so you don’t have to carry the return fuel when you go there,” SpaceX (and PayPal) founder Elon Musk told the BBC.

Flickr photo by mr.skeleton

SkyMall Monday: Wild Lawn Ornaments

I keep myself safely secluded in the SkyMall Monday headquarters. It’s built inside a mountain, under several hundred feet of granite, in a secure and secret location. This protects me from the fearsome animals that I now assume rule the Earth. While I fear all wildlife and assume that they are out to get me (and/or my Lucky Charms), I do enjoy their decorative properties. But how can I take advantage of the aesthetic qualities of our furry, feathered and scaled friends without being bitten, constricted or dry humped? Taxidermy is expensive and requires first killing animals before they have a chance to kill me. That seems not only difficult but likely to involve unseemly people who peddle in taxidermy and will most certainly make me uncomfortable. That leaves only one viable option for harnessing the majestic beauty of creatures both real, imagined and extinct: lawn ornaments. Lawn ornaments tell everyone in your neighborhood that you’re classy and bored. But where can I satiate my appetite for animal lawn ornaments? Who would have such a buffet of faux-fauna? Who could possibly…oh, come on, you know the answer to these questions. It’s SkyMall’s time to shine! Leave your tranquilizer darts and nets at home. You won’t need them on this safari. Simply pack your imagination and obliviousness to your tacky sense of style. We’re hunting wild lawn ornaments.SkyMall product descriptions in italics followed by my thoughts on these fine works of “art.”

T-Rex Dinosaur Sculpture
Visitors will admire your creative garden style as T-Rex makes a Mesozoic statement! And you won’t understand their Cenozoic response. Nerd joke. Look it up.

Brown Bear Garden SculptureOur realistically sculpted, 3-1/2-foot-long mischievous Brown Bear is sculpted 360 degrees to be admired from all sides while lumbering through your garden. I like to admire bears from the backside. Yep, I like bear back.

Raccoon Garden Sculpture They can be a nuisance–but posed in this adorable pile-up of three, raccoons can also be among Mother Nature’s most endearing creatures. Who doesn’t want to cuddle with some raccoons. Why not create a realistic scene and scatter some garbage around them. And get a dozen or so shots in your stomach for the pretend rabies. Adorable!

Garden Deer Sculpture“The privilege of a visit from a majestic six-point buck isn’t confined to the tradition of grand European landscapes! The quintessential garden piece, our amazingly accurate investment in garden art stands four-feet-long and over a yard tall, complete with an enviable rack of antlers. A visit from a buck is a privilege not a right. You have to earn it by covering yourself in fake deer urine and sitting in a tree all day. Also, there is no lawn ornament more quintessential than a giant deer. And if you envy antlers, you can always get some of your own. But if you envy antlers, well, you have issues, man. Serious, serious issues.

The Regal PeacockAlmost a full yard of metallic gold and iridescent blue plumage shines in an expansive panorama in this classic English garden piece. Our artisans have hand-painted each feather of this highly textural work in the peacock’s royal palette. I have no joke here. Just high praise for the lofty prose used by one bold and highfalutin SkyMall employee. No plumage is as alluring as his wordsmithing.

Dragon of Falkenburg CastleYour neighbors will steer clear when they see this intricately sculpted, more than two-foot-long dragon stretched out in your flower bed. This lifelike sculpture is complete with scales, wings and a treacherous tail. Yeah, blame the dragon for keeping your neighbors away. That’s the ticket. Also, who knows what a lifelike dragon would look like? Who here has seen a dragon? Quick show of hands. Anyone? In the back there? No? OK, moving on.

Musical Raccoon MaestroGreet passing garden visitors with a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song,” and you’ll get a standing ovation every time. This cute conductor is wearing an appropriately formal black-tie-and-tails outfit and has a motion-activated sound chip for surprising and delighting his audiences. I’d prefer a casually dressed squirrel that plays Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride.”

See, you don’t need to venture to the wilds of Africa or Wal-Mart to have animal encounters. You can assemble your own menagerie that will show your neighbors that you are fashionable, sophisticated and not at all lonely. Be it raccoons, a deer or an extinct predator, you will be the undisputed beastmaster of your trailer park.

As for me, I’ll stay in my bunker. My mountain fortress has no lawn to ruin with ornaments.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Product review – Callpod Dragon V2 Bluetooth headset

Welcome to my review of the Dragon V2 Bluetooth headset.

When looking for products to review, I’ll usually stay clear from Bluetooth headsets. There are simply too many of them, and rarely does a headset do anything special. The Dragon V2 is different, and has a long list of features not found on most other headsets.

The Dragon V2 promises a couple of things that made me pay some extra attention to it; amazing battery life, huge range, the ability to connect to other Dragon headsets and use it as a Walkie-talkie, and the ability to pair to multiple Bluetooth devices at the same time. I’ll go over each of these features one at a time.

Battery life

One of the main reasons I’ve never been a big Bluetooth headset fan has always been the lack of endurance from their batteries.

A headset becomes pretty useless on a trip if you need to recharge it every 8 hours. The Dragon V2 has a manufacturer specified battery life of 8 days standby or 300 hours talk time.

Since I wasn’t willing to devote a full week to talking on the phone, I simply left the Dragon paired to my phone in the on position for over a week. After 7 days it was still able to make a phone call for me.

Transmission range

If you have ever been suckered into buying one of those $10 headsets from the bargain bin at your local drugstore, you’ll probably have some experience with the Bluetooth crackle of death. This is when you start to lose the signal as soon as your phone moves more than 5 inches away from the headset.

Improvements have been made with Bluetooth devices, including a newer version of the technology, and most A-name headset companies have switched to this new system.

The Dragon V2 naturally supports this, but takes it one step further with an even larger range. In my test, I was able to leave my phone in one corner of the house, and walk outside to the mailbox before I started noticing a very slight drop in call quality. This extended range is fantastic if you leave your phone in your jacket, and walk away from your desk to get a cup of coffee.

Dragon to Dragon communications

This feature on the Dragon V2 is one that impressed me the most. To use a Bluetooth device with another Bluetooth compatible device, you need to “pair” them. This involves letting each device know who they are allowed to communicate with. In a normal setup, this would be between the headset and a phone, or a laptop computer.

The Dragon V2 actually allows you to pair with another Dragon headset. By pairing 2 headsets, you instantly turn them into a Bluetooth enabled walkie-talkie! The headsets communicate directly with each other, without the need for a phone.

When you are wearing the headset, you simply press the multifunction button to open a voice channel to the other paired headset. This feature is perfect for at the airport, or anywhere else you don’t want to make an expensive phone call.

Of course, the range is limited to the transmission range of the headset (about 330 feet), so don’t expect to be able to talk from one end of Disneyland to the other. One other advantage, is that Bluetooth is an approved system in almost every country in the world, so you don’t have to worry about the legality.

Multipoint communications

Another benefit from the newer Bluetooth standard is the ability to use a headset with multiple devices at the same time. If you are often on the road, you’ll probably have some kind of VOIP or Internet calling program on your PC (Skype is a prime example).

Using multipoint means you can have the headset connected to your PC and your phone at the same time, and don’t have to worry about connecting or reconnecting each time you need to use either one.

The Dragon V2 in day to day use

If you are used to a tiny headset, then you’ll probably find the Dragon to be a bit of monstrosity. It really is quite a bit larger than most headsets on the market today. That said, it is still about a third the size of my very first Bluetooth headset (the Ericsson HBH-10).

The headset has an easy to adjust ear clip, and once you find the right fit, it actually feels very comfortable, without feeling like it will fall out of your ear at any moment.

The headset has 2 buttons; one is a rocker switch/power button on the side, and the other is the multifunction switch on the front. The rocker switch also controls the volume.

The headset charges using a regular mini-USB charging cable, which in my opinion is absolutely brilliant. Almost anyone on the road will have at least one mini-USB charger in their bag. The headset package includes an AC charger, a DC (car) charger, a USB cable and a mini-USB charger tip for the Callpod Chargepod (recently featured as one of our top 25 travel products of 2008).

Also included in the box is an assortment of ear pieces and a carrying pouch with enough room for the headset and all its chargers.

Audio quality on the Dragon V2 is outstanding, and I found it to be one of just a few headsets that is actually able to produce a good amount of volume. The headset features an active noise cancellation system and dual microphones, and not once did I hear any complaints from people on the other end of my calls.

The Callpod Dragon V2 costs $99, but is available from retailers like for around $67.

Final thoughts

The Callpod Dragon V2 has restored my faith in Bluetooth headsets. Good battery life, excellent range and the ability to charge using a common mini-USB charger make it a winner in my books.

Of course, the one thing no Bluetooth headset will ever change, is the “dork factor”, don’t be one of those people wearing their headset 24/7, and remember that there is no need to yell when you are making a call on your headset.