At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

How to Create a Music Bubble for an Aging Parent in Rehab

Adding the sounds of Alexa and a comforting music playlist to a foreign environment can be a great gift to help maintain a sense of normal while away from home.

If you injure yourself and have to spend a chunk of time away from home in a rehabilitation facility, the experience can be disorienting. All of your daily patterns are disrupted and your tether to the normal is severed. Mentally, this can be hard for anyone, but I think it’s especially difficult for an older person.

Recently my father fell at home. Fortunately, he didn’t really hurt himself, but the fall weakened his legs, and he couldn’t move about with his walker.

So, my 89-year-old dad went to rehab to help him get stronger.

It’s been a slow process.

Dealing with the Unwanted Noise
I visit my father, smuggle in a diet coke and try to cheer him up. I talk with him and attempt to help as best I can.

I can’t pretend to really know what it’s like to be away from home like this.

That said, I feel one of the biggest disruptors is all of the uncontrollable background noise. Much of it comes from TVs that drone on nearby.

Sound Bubbles
At home, my father loved to play music on his voice-controlled smart speaker I bought him a few years back. In fact, he blanketed himself through much of the day with familiar old-time tunes.

He could easily control the soundtrack by simply talking with Alexa. (Okay, sometimes he might yell at Alexa.)

He had always enjoyed listening to music while I was growing up. His 8-track tapes and Sony record player system later gave way to his collection of CDs. Technology was his tool to help maintain his own sound bubble in our New York City apartment.

Music has always been a fundamental part of his daily experience.

Even though my father is now hard of hearing, he hears his music just fine. It has continued to permeate through his whole body thanks to Alexa.

Adding a Voice-Controlled Smart Speaker
I sat next to my father as he rested in his rehab-center bed, and suddenly it came to me. Why couldn’t I recreate his music bubble for him in this place?

It had Wi-Fi for its guests to use. So that critical piece was in place.

When I asked the nurse about installing a Wi-Fi music speaker, she replied that guests are allowed to have radios. So an Alexa device would be okay too.

So, I ordered a small Amazon Echo Dot for $25 along with an extension cord for easier installation.

And I headed back to see my dad.

The set up through the Alexa app on my iPhone was a snap. I quickly got a Frank Sinatra playlist up and running on his new Echo Dot positioned on the table next to his bed.

I was a little concerned how the music would blend with all of the other unwanted audio encroaching on his space. But I’ve got to say the resulting mix was okay. The music became the main track, and everything else turned into more a background buzz.

My father’s sound bubble was back!

The Healing Nature of Music
Alexa has been back with my father for over a week, and the reunion has been great.

He hasn’t talked so much about it with me, but everyone who’s been working with him is delighted with its impact.

His physical therapist told me that my father is happier and more like himself when the Echo Dot is playing his favorite jazz from the 1940s.

And all of the nurses I’ve met on the floor agree that using the Echo Dot as a Wi-Fi music player is a great idea.

Replace the Soundtrack
I feel like I’ve made some kind of massive discovery. (Of course, I haven’t.)

But if you’ve got an aging parent away from home, adding in a small smart speaker to the unfamiliar environment can be a really smart value add. (This is especially true if it’s difficult to reach a radio.)

Thanks to these relatively inexpensive voice-controlled devices, curated music bubbles are super simple to create.

I highly recommend it.

How to Improve your Street Photography by Ignoring the Details

Usually there’s not enough time to focus on setup when capturing a photographic moment. So don’t. Here’s what to do instead.

When you walk about in the city, do you sometimes see moments that would make for a perfect photo, if only you had a camera in your hand? Yes, me too. In fact… all of the time.

Sure, my iPhone is always right there in my pocket as I move throughout New York City, and I often grab for it to capture a fleeting image right in front of me. It’s all about how fast you can get off a couple shots before the scene shifts and the opportunity evaporates. I can’t tell you how many photos I’ve missed over the years that were taken just a few seconds too late.

Use a Camera Strap to Speed Up your Response
Wearing your camera around your neck can trim away critical seconds, as you don’t have pull out your camera.

I recently bought a strap made by Peak Design (Slide Lite) for my Panasonic Lumix LX10. I got it for my family’s trip to Grand Canyon and the famous mule ride we took along the rim.

The strap was originally a one-use purchase. Why would I ever want to ruin the small form factor of my compact camera by attaching a bulky strap to it? But then I tried an experiment and wore the camera during one of my trips into New York City. And I quickly realized that strap was my ticket to better street photography.

Be Ready for the Photo
Discarding the concern that I would look like a tourist, I’ve now worn my camera several times walking uptown from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to visit my father. And let me tell you, having my camera right there near my hand is a game changer.

If you wonder why you may see any number of people walking about the city with cameras in their hands or about their necks, I think they’re all waiting for the next photo to appear. And they intend to be ready!

Point and Press
In my ongoing exploration of street photography, I’ve also been trying out an alternate shooting strategy. It’s simply to proactively point my camera at a potential scene as I walk by. Before I actually see anything worth capturing, I press the shutter a few times, move on and hope for the best. It’s all about playing the odds that the camera captured an image I didn’t have time to spot and process.

It’s about meeting a moment and reviewing it later to see if there’s actually any visual interest in it.

Happily, this technique has yielded unexpected success.

Photo Finish at the Track
My father likes to tell a story from the 1970’s when he practiced his own amateur photography with his old SLR camera. He was at Yonkers Raceway and had a seat up close near the finish line. As the horses crossed by in a flash, he simply squeezed his shutter button to burst through his 36-photo film roll.

Later, when he picked up his developed pictures from the photo store, he quickly sifted through the group. He saw a bunch of useless mushy blurs… all except for the last photo. It was perfect. It was like a shot you’d see on the sports page of the New York Post.

My father met the moment, pointed in the right direction, and his camera did the rest.

Your Speed Factor
Whether you see a moment or anticipate one, snapping your photo as quickly as possible is the key factor to better street photography. Plus, it really doesn’t matter what you see. It’s what your camera captures.

So, you might want to ignore more of the details and focus most of your attention on getting your camera going and its general position. Keep it simple. There’s often not more time for much else. You probably won’t know if you got ‘the shot’ until you review it later.

I’m still very much a student of this art form. That said, here are a few examples from my recent walks in Manhattan.

Pair a Bluetooth Keyboard to your Smartphone for your Next Zoom Meeting

If you need to take copious notes on your smartphone during a Zoom meeting, here’s why you may want to add a physical keyboard to the equation.

It’s easy to forget the power and flexibility of our smartphones; often the only limiting factor is the compact size. Yes, the smaller screen is sometimes difficult to work with compared to a laptop. But for me, it’s the miniature keyboard that can be infuriating. It’s simply really hard to type fast.

Recently, I flew to the West Coast on a business trip, and for an hour on one evening, I needed to step away and jump on a personal Zoom call and take notes for the community group.

My first thought was to pack my personal laptop or iPad for the task. But then I looked at my iPhone and wondered if it could actually handle the exercise.

Of course, the Zoom meeting part was easy. It was the simultaneous note taking that would be the challenge. So I tested it out…

Working with Zoom and Microsoft OneNote Simultaneously
I used the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPhone for the note-taking part, and it interfaced just fine with the Zoom app. I simply swiped out of the Zoom meeting and then worked in OneNote. (The Zoom meeting still shows up in a small window.)

Yes, I could tap…tap…tap my notes. But it was not nearly as fast as I knew I would need.

I required a real keyboard. And then it came to me… What about a Bluetooth keyboard?

A Multiversal Solution?
Using a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad is common, but trying the same trick with a tiny iPhone feels somewhat absurd. Who have you ever seen do that???

Though you might have spotted it while traveling through some other part of the multiverse, some crazy old-school blogger in this reality was now going to give it a try.

Logitech Keys-to-Go Bluetooth Keyboard
While there are a few choices out there, I ended up going with the Logitech Keys-to-Go Bluetooth Keyboard… mostly because it’s featured on Apple’s website. I figured it must work properly if Apple is pushing it, right? (Spoiler alert: The two devices pair just fine, though you do have to push a little harder on the Logitech’s keys.)

At the time of this post, this keyboard was on sale
at Logitech’s website for $49.99.

It’s also on Amazon for the same price.


A Few Optional Accessories
When it was time to do my Zoom meeting in the field with my new keyboard, I must admit, I had also brought along a little more gear to facilitate a smoother experience.

  • I had my small Joby tripod with smartphone grip to mount my iPhone a little higher up. ( I didn’t want the shot pointing up my nose.) The taller positioning also made it easier to read the screen as I typed away.
  • To ensure I wouldn’t run out of juice, I plugged my iPhone into a little portable power (my Anker battery), as a wall plug wasn’t nearby.
  • And of course, I wore my Apple AirPods.
  • My multitasking iPhone stunt went off without a hitch, but if you strip away the optional tech, just the iPhone and Bluetooth keyboard will certainly get the job done.

Add this Technological Distinctiveness to your Own
Not having to pack an extra computer when flying is a game changer. A slim Bluetooth keyboard is hardly a noticeable add to your carry-on luggage, and it’s not an expensive piece of tech you have to worry about being stolen.

It may not be an intuitive pairing, and the tech form factor certainly looks clunky and somewhat absurd (“Star Trek” Borg-like).

That said, adding a physical keyboard to the much smaller iPhone does facilitate much faster typing speeds. So give your thumbs a rest!

I have now happily assimilated this technological distinctiveness.

Borg Barrett transmission ends now.

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