At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Can You See What’s Right in Front of You?

This close-up of our cute feline beast is one example of focusing on the few inches in front of your camera.

Life often teaches us to focus on the big picture. But it’s also a good idea to sometimes pay more attention to what’s right in front of you. I explored a photographic exercise to look more closely at my immediate surroundings and uncovered some cool imagery in the smaller spaces. Here’s what I found.

From the Lester Garden
This is the tomato we will eat tonight.

Aging Beach Fence Post
The rings of time are locked in by thick paint to help battle against the elements.

My Garage Door Light’s Motion Sensor
This sentry covered in cobwebs looks onto my driveway. The red LED indicates it has spotted its moving target.

HP Tango Printer’s Cylon Glow
The always-on light moves horizontally and changes color to communicate with me. My printer’s designers are clearly fans of “Battlestar Galactica.”

My Shirt Collar
They say it’s the little things. I am happy when my collar stays straight throughout my work day.

The Key to Control
Why isn’t this the alpha key on every keyboard?

88 Keys
Our piano demonstrates the art of collaboration to our son.

Bird on the Beach
This seagull walked up behind me to beg for food on Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, CT. Its piercing stare had the power of a Jedi mind trick.

Looking More Closely at my Life
Snapping these photos helped me to see more of what’s in plain sight during my day-to-day activities.

I highly recommend you try it!

How iCloud Photos Saved my Family’s iPhones

If your iPhone is running out of storage, it may be because it’s housing too many photos and videos. Here’s why iCloud Photos can help.

My wife and I have been happily shooting and collecting thousands of photos and videos on our iPhones over the years. But there’s a problem. We’re running out of storage on our devices.
(As we upgraded from one iPhone to the next, the digital files simply ported over, and our huge visual libraries kept on growing.)

On one level, it’s nice to have access to every photo and video you’ve ever taken on a smartphone. But it’s entirely impractical. It’s way too many files, and more importantly, any iPhone probably can’t handle that much content without being overwhelmed with the storage need.

Sooner or later, your iPhone will become hobbled. And when you find yourself deleting apps to try to free up precious memory, you really know you’ve got a problem.

Yes, I’ve been there. You need a better solution.

Fortunately, Apple’s got one.

iCloud Photos
To access more storage, you have to look to the cloud. You simply activate Apple’s iCloud Photos, and all of your photos and videos will sync to your iCloud account and across all of your other Apple devices.

How does this help your iPhone? Well, just be sure that “Optimize iPhone Storage” is checked in the settings for your iCloud Photos. That’s the magic step.

When you activate this setting, your iPhone will generate and hold onto smaller versions of your photos and videos while the full-resolution versions live in iCloud.

With just the compressed versions of your photos and videos on your iPhone, you’ll suddenly have a whole lot more available local storage.

Plus, you’ll have all of your media backed up in iCloud.

There is a Cost
Of course, there’s a price for this iCloud ‘upgrade.’ (The measly 5GB you get for free will barely cover a week’s worth of content.)

50GB costs 99 cents/month, and 200GB is $2.99/month.
(2TB goes for $9.99/month, but that’s much more data than your iPhone can generate.)

Before your turn on iCloud Photos, you’ve got to upgrade to an iCloud plan that will cover your needs.

I decided to go with the 200GB plan and share it with my wife’s iPhone through Apple’s Family Sharing feature.

No Finish Line
iCloud Photos is a simple solution to solve for the problem of your ever expanding library of photos. Paying a few bucks a month to activate this capability is definitely worth it.

But simply maintaining a disorganized library of imagery over the years isn’t going to do you any favors. You’ve got to eventually go through your photos… choose the best ones, organize them and then delete the rest.

You need to do the work and curate your best images. Otherwise, they’ll get lost in your sea of countless photos.

Sure, they’ll be safely stored in iCloud. And your iPhone will have more storage.

But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Good luck as you continue this life-long photo and video project!

How to Power your Smoke Alarm for a Decade on One Battery

If you’re tired of having to feed new batteries into your smoke detectors, you may want to consider this solution…

It was 2:15am last Wednesday. An annoying electronic chirp tore me out of sleep. Of course, one of my smoke detectors was proclaiming that it needed a new battery. I stumbled downstairs and waited impatiently for the next chirp to identify the cranky smoke detector.


Wait a minute… Didn’t I just replace the battery on that one less than a month ago?

Still half asleep, I ripped the battery out of the unit’s innards, threw the mess on my desk and went back to bed.

The next morning, I sat down with my cup of joe with the intention to order more 9-volt batteries. But something didn’t feel right. I picked up the plump disc and looked at the fine print. It was manufactured back in 2010. Oh… That’s not good.

It was past its 10-year life span, and still going?

Time for a new unit.

10-Year Battery that’s Baked into your Smoke Detector
As I performed my research, I quickly realized that there’s a whole smoke detector product line that features a 10-year lithium battery sealed into the construction. No need to ever replace the battery. One and done!

Some states require this type of smoke detector, but this upgrade seems like a no-brainer for anybody to buy.

I found some chatter online that these 10-year batteries may not actually last you the full decade. I think that’s still okay. If I can get 7 or 8 years of peace at night without ever having to hear a chirp again, I’d say it’s still a huge bargain.

There are any number of 10-year battery models to choose from. I went with a basic unit for my hallway:

Why this one?
(Wirecutter liked it.)


Don’t Forget my Google Nest Protect
For those who are paying attention to my previous thinking on smoke detectors, you may recall my passionate commitment to my Google Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm. (In fact, I recently replaced my original unit which had reached its own end of life.)

So why am I still dabbling in old-school tech, even with an upgraded battery design?

Yes… my Google Nest Protect is our main line of defense, standing guard upstairs outside our bedrooms. I feel that’s the key location in our house, especially for a carbon monoxide detector.

I just haven’t yet committed to converting all of my smoke detectors over to the Nest Protect line. (It’s a bit of a costly project.)

And a twenty-buck solution from First Alert that should last us the better part of this decade felt like an easy move.

An integrated, multi-unit/smart-home set up will need to wait for a future post. Yes, I just bought myself another 10 years. But knowing me, I also don’t think it will take until 2031 to get there!

Stay tuned…

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