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IoT in the Home: Amazon Echo vs. Google Home

Posted by cirvine on October 17, 2016

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IoT, which is an acronym for the semi-awkward buzz phrase “the Internet of Things”, is a quickly growing tech trend that is rife with possibilities. From smart ice cubes that monitor how fast you’re drinking to plant sensors that provide continuous stats on the plant’s health (which I don’t really need—I know mine aren’t doing well), IoT is making life just a little bit easier in a variety of ways.

See also: Staying Safe on the “Internet of Things”

At the top of the IoT-trending pyramid is the concept of “smart homes”: the idea that many of the devices in your home (lights, thermostat, fridge, etc.) can be controlled via wifi from your phone or some other centralized hub. So far, the Amazon Echo has really taken the lead on that front. Take a look at Amazon Echo’s introduction video below for a better look:

Pretty cool right? The commercial does a great job in showing how Echo (and its personal assistant, Alexa) could ostensibly become a super-smart member of the family, rather than just another device. Besides being able to book an Uber cab for you or plan a date night, the Echo can also play games with you including Bingo,Tic Tac Toe, and Rock Scissors Paper Lizard Spock (ya, you heard me).

Until now, smart home devices weren’t all that popular. The Amazon Echo changed all that and they have the numbers to back it up (Amazon has sold at least 3 million of the smart speakers so far).  So obviously, other companies are seeing the benefit and latching on to the idea. Oh, hey Google!

Google announced the Google Home in May but it was at their recent launch event this month that they showed off all the deets. Get a load of it below:

Also pretty cool. Like the Echo, you can make appointments, ask it questions, playback entertainment, and more. But what’s the difference? Let’s break it down.

Price – Google Wins

There’s no getting around this one—Google’s is cheaper. Google Home is selling at $130 (US), while Amazon Echo is at $180 (US).  That being said, you can’t buy the Google Home in Canada yet, and there’s no set date for when it will be sold here, but we should expect it sometime in 2017. So if you’re thinking about getting it for someone as a Christmas gift, think again.

Personality – Google Wins

One thing that’s always kind of bothered me about Google’s assistant on my Android is the lack of personality. For some reason I find it a little more fun to talk to a device using a name like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. “OK Google” just seems a little dull and utilitarian. That being said, Google sort of makes up for the namelessness by being conversational. You can ask a question like “Who scored the most goals in the NHL last year?” and after the answer, a follow up question like “What team is he on this year?” It will understand the “he” pronoun as being connected to the last question. Google is also more personal in the aesthetic sense. That is, you can change the colour of the sleek-looking device to fit your décor.

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Smart Home Partnerships – Amazon Wins, For Now

Amazon Echo has definitely benefited from being the first one out of the gate with this product. They have a wide variety of product-partnerships which include Nest, Ecobee, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Big Ass Fans, and IFTTT, all allowing you to link up and control all sorts of smart home products, and more are being added all the time. So far, Google only has Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue and IFTTT. Of course, we are bound to expect more in the future. They’ve promised they will match Amazon on this front, and realistically, who wouldn’t  want to partner up with Google? It’s Google.

Audio – Google Wins

As a big music listener, this is a huge factor for me. The various Amazon Echo devices don’t sync with eachother, which means you can’t have them all playing the same song and blasting beats throughout your house at your next party. Google Home, on the other hand, is able to command any Google Cast-enabled speaker, any speaker with a Chromecast Audio streamer plugged in and even your TV if you have a Chromecast video streamer.

Personal Assistant Highlights – Google Wins

I’m not sure I would use all of these features, but it seems Google Home does have more of them than the Echo. With the Echo, you can add items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check a flight status, and track a package. With Google Home, you can do all that, plus get personalized daily briefings of your day and check traffic, which I think are two very useful features.

Other Features – Draw?

There are plenty of other features these devices can do, and which skills are most important are up to you. Via Chromecast, Google Home can launch and control Netflix, YouTube and photo libraries. Amazon Echo can order an Uber for you, play a game, and do about 900 other skills via its app, and is learning more skills all the time. Once again, we can assume Google will be learning more skills too.

In the end, it seems likely that Google will come out on top on this one. There’s just no beating the price, the personal assistant features, and the audio capabilities. Personally, I’m not sure yet that’s it’s a necessity in my life, but I could see it becoming a necessity in the future when I start installing more smart home devices. Until then, I’ll stick with my phone and a Bluetooth speaker.

 

 

Sources:
http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/137665-what-is-google-home-how-does-it-work-and-when-can-you-buy-it
http://www.itpro.co.uk/desktop-hardware/26577/google-home-vs-amazon-echo-vs-apple-home-amazon-reveals-cheaper-echo-music
http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/new-product/audio/google-home-uk-release-date-price-features-specs-3640527/
https://www.cnet.com/news/google-home-vs-amazon-echo/
https://www.cnet.com/how-to/5-fun-games-you-can-play-with-the-amazon-echo/
http://www.geekwire.com/2016/report-amazon-sold-3-million-echo-smart-speakers-awareness-grows/
http://www.androidheadlines.com/2016/10/google-home-coming-to-canada-in-2017.html

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Candice Irvine, Blogger, Marketing Specialist, Graphic Designer


I'm addicted to games of all kinds: boardgames, video games, card games, mind games... nah, just kidding about that last one. Or am I?


Hoping to get Hyped for Halloween? Try Lights Out.

Posted by cfeehan on October 13, 2016

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The movie Lights Out looked terrifying from the first time I saw the trailer. In fact, I was originally going to try to avoid it altogether, but I decided to take one for the team and sacrifice my sanity to make sure that it would be appropriate for you, our beloved Execublog audience. I know, I know, you can thank me later.

The good news is that Lights Out is completely fitting for any of you, as long as you have nerves of steel. Oh, and make sure that you’re over the age of 13, as the movie is rated PG-13 – but in my opinion, you should be at least a couple of years older if you don’t want to have nightmares for a few nights afterward (or irreversible psychological damage…everyone deals with things differently…right??) This is your final warning: Lights Out is not for the easily frightened, and it is absolutely not for those who are afraid of the dark.

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Now that we’ve made it past the disclaimers, it’s time for the good stuff. Lights Out initially focuses on Martin, a young boy who begins to see a horrifying figure in the shadows of his home right around the time that his father passes away. It quickly becomes clear that Martin’s mother (who has recently stopped taking her medication) is aware of these disturbances, and even attempts to normalize them. And, when Martin’s adult sister, Rebecca, steps in to help, things only seem to get worse.

What I like about this movie is that the figure being referred to (also known as Diana) isn’t your run-of-the-mill demonic force that “is attached to the house” or “possesses the eldest daughter” or whatnot – that would be too easy. Diana’s ties to the family go much deeper than that, and this complicated and toxic relationship is played out very well in the movie. I appreciate that this interesting relationship actually helps to explain some of the twists and plot developments, because this kind of explanation and insight seems to be quite rare in horror movies these days.

The cast of this movie may look slightly familiar to you, but it’s not particularly star-studded – as is the case with most movies of this genre. Rebecca is played by Teresa Palmer, who you may know from Warm Bodies or Wish You Were Here. Her mother in the movie is played by Maria Bello, who I recently learned was a character on the ER in the 90s (Anna Del Amico). She also appeared in the more recent movie, Prisoners. They were both convincing in their roles, as was Gabriel Bateman, who played Martin. No complaints here!

All in all, Lights Out was thrilling right from the beginning, and delivered consistent jump scares and seriously haunting images throughout the film. Viewers are invited to see beyond the usual standard of what makes a “bad guy” vs. a hero, which adds a lot of depth and makes the movie much more compelling. I would definitely recommend this movie to any lover of horror films, or anyone who just wants to get into the Halloween spirit. After all, it is only a couple of weeks away!

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Prepare yourself for this haunted holiday by watching Lights Out on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from October 25th, 2016 to March 3rd, 2017.

 

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.


Micro Machines Inventors Win Nobel Prize for Chemistry!

Posted by cirvine on October 6, 2016

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No, not those Micro Machines.

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The micro machines I’m talking about are much much smaller—1000 times smaller than a human hair kind of small. Molecular. 

Yesterday, the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded equally to three scientists: Jean-Pierre Sauvage (France), Sir J. Fraser Stoddart (UK), and Bernard L. Feringa (Netherlands) for their design and synthesis of molecular machines.

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OK, so let’s get to it. What are molecular machines exactly? Instead of trying to explain this complex science myself, I’m going to let the Youtube channel Reactions do it for me.

So these are basically controllable molecules that can perform tasks when given the mere fuel of light and heat.  That’s pretty incredible. But why should we care? Well, as the Nobel Prize website states, “In terms of development, the molecular motor is at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to electric trains, washing machines, fans and food processors.”

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Basically, we are on the cusp of some really exciting technology here. Because of these three scientists’ ground work, a myriad of other molecular machines have been built, including a motorized molecular car from Feringa’s lab. Who knows where this technology could take us? The first applications that have been predicted include artificial muscles, smart materials that can store energy or expand and contract in response to light.

The potential medical applications are really interesting. Using the same light-activated mechanism, researchers have developed around 100 drug-like compounds that can be switched on or off in response to light. For example, certain anti-cancer compounds have serious side effects because they indiscriminately attack tumours and healthy tissues alike. These serious side-effects could be reduced by using these light-switchable mechanisms to deliver drugs to certain areas of the body only.

I, for one, am really excited to be alive to see this technology take its first steps (or should I say take its first drive?) Congratulations to these three incredible scientists for their prestigious award and for bringing this seriously cool science into our lives. Thank you!

 

Sources:
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/05/496664984/nobel-prize-in-chemistry-shared-by-3-designers-of-molecular-machines
http://www.nature.com/news/the-tiniest-lego-a-tale-of-nanoscale-motors-rotors-switches-and-pumps-1.18262
https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2016/press.html
https://www.yahoo.com/news/scientist-wins-nobel-prize-world-145841684.html
http://cen.acs.org/articles/94/web/2016/10/Molecular-machines-garner-2016-Nobel-Prize-in-Chemistry.html


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Candice Irvine, Blogger, Marketing Specialist, Graphic Designer


I'm addicted to games of all kinds: boardgames, video games, card games, mind games... nah, just kidding about that last one. Or am I?


Incorporating SEO Processes into Your Business

Posted by cirvine on October 5, 2016

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This is how many times people use Google in just 1 second.
 When you consider that almost every one of those searches will lead to a business of one kind or another, it’s hard to undervalue the importance of SEO. Having your website on the first page of Google is the new American dream, and with all the competition out there, you can’t afford to keep it on the backburner.

The problem that most businesses find with Search Engine Optimization is that a lot of the associated improvements aren’t one-offs that you can assign to someone to finish in a day or two. What works to bring in traffic today will not necessarily work a year from now or even a week from now (Moz reports that Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times each year). So it’s important to remember that SEO is something that needs to be revisited time and time again to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your business website. In short, SEO is a process, not a project. Now let’s get that process started.How-to-Seo-search-bar.jpgWhere do I start with SEO?

SEO isn’t easy and it’s not something many people can jump into without feeling bombarded by information. The key is to start out small and build from there so you don’t get overwhelmed.  

  1. First things first, if you haven’t already, you should set up your Google Analytics account and watch the intro video. This is how you’ll monitor the who, what, where, and when of your website’s traffic. Eventually it will be the most important resource for your SEO game in the future, so better to set it up now, even if you aren’t exactly sure what to do with it yet.
  2. I also recommend reading Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO. It’s a great, free tool that provides a comprehensive look at all the basics of SEO. Print it out, grab a highlighter, and make notes on what your website needs to improve on.

Now that you have your head a little bit more wrapped around the concepts of SEO, you’re going to want to start diving into the nitty gritty of your website. Let’s look at that next.

SEO-Write-For-People.jpgMake a Good Foundation

Once you’ve read Moz’s Beginners Guide, you may start to realize there are a lot of technical and stylistic changes you could be making to your website even before thinking about Analytics. These are tried and true SEO tactics that will start your website on a good SEO foundation.

You’ll need someone who can edit the code of your site either through FTP or a Content Management System like Wordpress, as well as a firm process to get it all done; this will depend on the size of your team and the scale of your site.

Here are just a few of the simple ways to start improving your SEO right away.

  1. Start a blog and stick to it. Companies that blog will have, on average, nearly 450% more indexed pages than a company which doesn’t. That’s time well spent. Just remember, quality is more important than quantity. Write about what your audience cares about.
  2. Write for humans, not search engines. In recent years search engines have cracked down on websites trying to “trick” them into ranking their page higher. Don’t do this. Make your content valuable to your audience, rich with specific long-tail  keywords that your demographic will be searching for.
  3. Improve your on-page content structure. For instance, <h1> tags should be for your main headings. <b>Bold</b> the important stuff, and make sure you have no broken links. Create effective <title> tags for your pages that incorporate your most popular keywords.
  4. Link to high ranking sites.
  5. Get social. Utilize social sharing buttons on your site and post your new content to your networks.
  6. Make sure your urls include the keywords for which you’re optimizing. Eg. www.birdwatching.com/bird-calls-of-ontario rather than www.birdwatching.com/bcallsontario1 . You don’t want a url to be too long-winded either. Make it something easily copy and pasted and shareable.

There are many other ways to boost your SEO of course, but these are a few of the main tactics that can create a solid foundation to start from. Now you can move on to your Analytics and create processes for that.

SEO-data-on-computer.jpgLooking at the Data

To start, you’re going to want to check up on your SEO stats fairly frequently, probably weekly. Set up a schedule that works for you but make sure you stick to it. Google Analytics has a handy email feature that can email you the specific reports you want to check in on. Here’s how:

  1. Log into Google Analytics for the account you want to focus on, and pull up whatever report you’d like to start emailing.
  2. Set the parameters for the report. If you’re setting up weekly reports, you’re going to want to change the date range in the upper-right hand corner, and use the dropdown menu to select “last week”.
  3. You can also choose to play around with other reporting options, including how data points are plotted (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.) and more. Make sure everything is how you want it to look.
  4. Underneath the title of the report in the upper-left hand corner, click “Email”.

The “from” address will automatically be the email address associated with the account. You can add as many “to” addresses as you want. You can also choose the format, the subject line, the frequency, and the day of the week you’d like to receive it.

You can do this with any report or screen on Google Analytics, but you probably want to start simple with an Acquisition Overview. This report will give you an overall view of how your audience is getting to your site—organic (search engines), social (Facebook, etc.), direct (typed in the url) and referral (linked from another page) traffic. You can see in general what’s working, and where you need to focus more of your energy.

As you become more familiar with your Analytics, you can start adding to the reports that you receive. Check out this great article from Forbes about the 4 Weekly GA Reports Every Business Owner Should Set Up.

A couple final tips:

If you’re a visual learner like I am, you might find the below infographic helpful. It’s a simplified periodic table of the elements of SEO, ranked from most important to least. I find keeping graphics like this pinned up around me reminds me to keep my SEO game in check.

Periodic-Table-of-SEO.png

It also may be helpful to keep your ear to the ground via popular SEO blogs like Search Engine Land, Moz and Hubspot. If there’s an algorithm change or any other big SEO news, these popular SEO companies will be the first ones to post about it.

Once again, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with SEO. The key to it, like most things, is sticking with a plan. If you make SEO a process, rather than a project, you will find your way to the front page. Good luck and happy keywording!

 

Sources:
http://blog.hubspot.com/insiders/how-often-should-i-revisit-my-seo-strategy
http://www.shiftcomm.com/blog/how-often-should-you-check-seo-metrics/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/edmundingham/2014/10/23/the-seo-secrets-every-business-should-know/#3b0a20ba6119
http://www.bitrebels.com/technology/10-simple-ways-to-quickly-improve-seo-rankings-infographic/

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Candice Irvine, Blogger, Marketing Specialist, Graphic Designer


I'm addicted to games of all kinds: boardgames, video games, card games, mind games... nah, just kidding about that last one. Or am I?


The Top 10 Most Viewed YouTube Videos of September

Posted by cfeehan on September 29, 2016

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Thank you for joining us, Execubloggers, and happy almost-October to you all. September marked the return of classes for some, and just the return of cooler temperatures for others. It looks like summer is actually over this time, but I’m okay with that, because Fall brought some pretty great YouTube hits with it. This month, the list is absent of the typical classics like Fallon and Corden, making room for more unique content. This is one installment that you don’t want to miss!

THE $21,000 FIRST CLASS AIRPLANE SEAT
20,225,629 views

I cannot even fathom the idea of a plane ticket being worth $21,000. Unless you get compensated in diamonds every time there’s turbulence or receive an envelope of money to put toward your mortgage at the end of the flight, it just doesn’t seem rational. However, the maker of this video proves that these tickets do exist, by being upgraded to first class on an Emirates flight from Dubai to New York, and documents his experience for us peasants who will never be able to afford such a thing.

First off, he has his own little cabin with closing doors. Total privacy for a 14-hour flight? Yes, please. Also, he basically has enough leg room for two people, a huge touch-screen TV, a minibar with drinks accessible to him at any time, a snack basket, and the option to order any food he wants whenever he wants it – including caviar – which he opts to do. The seat also fully reclines into a bed, and passengers are given a kit with slippers, toiletries, and even pajamas so that they can get comfy. AND, you can even schedule time to take a shower. Incredible! If I was a multi-millionaire, the first thing I would do is hop on a long flight in one of these deluxe cabins, lounge out in my Emirates PJs, and take advantage of the gourmet menu. Dream life = achieved.

Apple – Introducing iPhone 7
20,085,764 views

The news of Apple introducing the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus to the market has been almost impossible to ignore. It has been a hot topic this month, and for a good reason – Apple completely removed the headphone jack, which has never been done before on a smartphone, and announced some other major features. I won’t go into them all here because I already highlighted many of the new features in my blog about the unveiling earlier this month. If you want a more visual run-down of the features, however, this informative video may be the perfect learning tool for you.

THE AMAZING TRIPLE SPIRAL (15,000 DOMINOES)
13,637,419 views

This girl is the definition of dedication. She spent 25 hours – yes, you heard that correctly – building a design out of 15,000 dominoes, just to destroy it within a minute and a half. I spent the whole video in a flurry of apprehension; while she was setting up the design, I was so worried she was going to sneeze and ruin it all (probably because that’s something that I would do). Then, when the show started and dominoes started tumbling, I was afraid that something would go wrong and the chain reaction would be disrupted, or something would fall incorrectly, or the entire room would burst into flames…all totally rational concerns, I’m sure. If you’re unlikely to get emotionally invested in the process (lucky you), check out the video for a really cool domino show.

Waffle the Kenyan Sand Boa playing with his new toy!
12,880,337 views

Yes, this video contains a snake, but there is no reason to be afraid. Waffle is a tiny sand boa who loves his new turtle sandbox, and he makes it abundantly clear by showing his appreciation at the end of the video. You really do need to watch all 39 seconds to get a full appreciation, so hang in there, even if you have a fear of reptiles! Waffle is actually adorable, and I don’t say that about just any snake. Check out this video for a new appreciation of our scaly (and smiley!) friends – it’s worth it!

PASSENGERS - Official Trailer (HD)
11,596,968 views

The trailer for Passengers starts off almost as if it takes place in present-day. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence walk into a normal-looking bar, have normal-looking drinks, then all of the sudden JLaw pops the question, “So, why did you give up your life on earth?”, and the whole trailer is turned on its head. The movie takes place on a space ship, and Pratt and Lawrence are the only humans to have woken up early from the “hibernation” they were placed under for the journey from earth. Inevitably, things go terribly wrong, and the trailer contains clips of explosions, crying, running, and all other typical indicators of an action movie. It definitely looks like it’s full of suspense and it will draw attention with its big-name actors alone. Press play to see if this movie is one you’ll be planning to see this Christmas break!

Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis: Hillary Clinton
11,243,633 views

Between Two Ferns is an incredible talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis, an actor you probably know from the Hangover series. In this series, Zach asks his celebrity guests many questions – both those pertaining to the subject matter, and those that seem a little off-colour. The way I see it, Zach tries to make his guests feel as uncomfortable as possible, and this is very entertaining to watch, especially when a presidential candidate is invited onto the show. This installment in particular features Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party nominee in the American presidential election, and that’s all I’m going to give away. Give it a watch and bask in its cringe-worthy, awkward glory.

Pentatonix & Dolly Parton - Jolene
10,494,903 views

Do you remember the movie Pitch Perfect? It brought the “a cappella” genre into the spotlight, which relies only on the vocal abilities of group members, and does not use any form of instrumental accompaniment. Pentatonix, the group featured in this video, is an a cappella group that became very popular on YouTube because of their talent and creativity – just check out this video, which has over 209 million views, for proof. In this video, they accompany Dolly Parton while she sings her hit “Jolene”, and it’s an interesting merging of different genres and generations.

Moana Official Trailer
9,112,510 views

Disney movies are my thing. I grew up on them, and I’m still an avid watcher – I’ve probably watched 20 of the classics in the past year. There’s just something about them that’s timeless, nostalgic, and so genuinely heartfelt. So when I heard that a new one was coming out, I couldn’t wait to see the official trailer!

The newest addition to the Disney world is Moana, the story of a young girl from an island in the South Pacific who sets sail on a dangerous journey and meets some friends along the way. It stars Dwayne Johnson as Maui, Moana’s companion on the trip, and introduces Hawaii native Auli'i Cravalho as Moana. It should be a great film, and I can’t wait to see it in late November when it arrives in theatres.

iPhone 7 Water Test! Secretly Waterproof?
6,634,687 views

It seems like a basic human instinct to keep all electrical appliances away from water, both for the device’s safety as well as our own. And while dropping your smartphone in the tub won’t have the same effect as doing the same with a toaster, both have traditionally been frowned upon, to say the least. Now, smartphone manufacturers are changing this idea by making their new models waterproof or water-resistant.

Take the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, for example. These phones are reported to be “water-resistant”, which means that they would emerge unharmed after spending 30 minutes at a depth of one meter under water. In this video, one brave man decides to test this out. First, he puts the iPhone in a homemade tube of water, but then he takes it further and goes swimming, diving, and more with the iPhone in hand. Will the new model hold up to expectations? Watch the full video for the final verdict!

$4 Burger Vs. $777 Burger
6,077,951 views

If there’s one thing that has continued to surprise me over the last year or so, it is that no BuzzFeed video has ever had enough views to make it onto our “Most Popular YouTube Videos” list. BuzzFeed publishes so many videos, and many of them are downright hilarious, so I’m happy to see one finally being recognized on this series.

This video in particular follows the journey of two friends, one of whom I recognize from other BuzzFeed videos, in their quest to try hamburgers at many different price points. They try a $4 one, a $20 one, and then, somehow, they find a $777 one in Las Vegas to try out. The high-end burger looks absolutely phenomenal, and is accompanied by a bottle of Dom Pérignon Rosé champagne. The burger itself is topped with aged goat cheese, lobster, fancy balsamic vinegar, and other ingredients that raise the value to astronomical heights. The bottom line, basically, is that if you have the means to head to Vegas and give this burger a go, do it.

Just like that, we have reached the conclusion of the September edition of the “Most Viewed YouTube Videos” series. I hope that you had fun checking out and sharing each video, and I wish you all a wonderfully wicked October!

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.