At Home with Tech

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

A Poem for Dads on Mother’s Day

Photo collages are ideal for creating the perfect holiday card. Here’s how to do it all at home with a poem for easy reference.

What have you been doing with those thousands of family photos you’ve collected over the past years? Posting a few on Instagram or Facebook? That’s great. But what about all of the others?

Well, you can create annual photo books that will capture hundreds of your favorite photos. Those photo books should last through the century (actual mileage may vary). But that’s always a huge project to pull off.

Tackling a smaller version where you’re collecting only 15-20 images is clearly more manageable. How about applying that towards a “photo collage?!”
(Light bulb moment)

Photo collages are perfect for holidays or any occasion to give a physical card.

You just load your photos into a template. (Lots of photo websites like Shutterfly offer this.) You can pay them to print your card, or you can take a screenshot and instantly print out the photo collage card yourself. (That’s what I do.)

In honor of all mothers (and one in particular), here’s my little poem for fathers that doubles as an emergency instruction manual.

Instructions for Fathers on Mother’s Day

That day has arrived
When dads should applaud

With a pile of gifts
Though we are so flawed

But time is fleeting
Delays mute your plans

Amazon is late
Your wish is now sans

You are on your own
Just laptop and pics

A photo collage
That could be the fix

The story is there
For you to now share

You’ve got the photos
For you to declare

Websites will help you
To do this cool trick

Just load it all in
A template is slick

Then print out your card
It’s easy as pie

You’re back in the game
It’s okay to cry

Stuff doesn’t matter
It’s the life you share

Your collage reflects
Each day that you care

Say Happy Mom’s Day
For all that you are

This photo collage
Shows you are my star

A Tale of Three Headsets to Get through Fifth Grade

If you’re concerned about getting the right headset for virtual learning that will help protect your child’s hearing, you’re not alone. Here are the results of my shopping journey to date.

It’s not like my son has never worn a headset before. But over the past year of Zooms and virtual learning, our fifth grader has seemingly had one fused to his head. (Haven’t we all?)

And I’ve been concerned about the level of audio streaming into his ears. Is it too loud? What about the risk of long-term hearing loss?

So I’ve wanted him to wear a headset with volume-limiting capabilities. And I’ve got to tell you, strangely, there’s not a lot of choices out there.

POWMEE is for Younger Kids
I originally landed on a pair of POWMEE P10 Kids Headphones with a built-in microphone on the cord.

The POWMEE worked well, and they were only ten bucks. But the headphones were a little tight on his head. Four months later, they gave out. That may not seem like a long time, but I imagine the designers didn’t assume so many hours of daily use and cable twisting by little hands.

When I realized the POWMEE were small, I immediately initiated a new search to find a bigger headset designed for tween/teen heads.

Even fewer options with volume limiting capabilities exist for that age group. I suppose the idea is a real buzzkill from a marketing perspective.

PuroGamer Barely Got out of the Box
I finally landed on the PuroGamer Volume Limited Gaming Headset, which is targeted for teens. I bought it for $29.99 on Amazon, although it’s now gone up in price.

I got it and threw the box in the back of the closet. I knew the PuroGamer could be called to action at any time.

And the day came when boy my walked into my home office to see me. He had a stricken look on his face. Had Old Yeller gone to the doggy pasture in the clouds? (Actually we have a cat.) Nope. His POWMEE had died.

When I instantly pulled out the replacement, his shock and instant glee were priceless. (I felt like a hero.) And off he scampered with his PuroGamer.

But I didn’t have much time to take my parental victory lap.

The PuroGamer lasted about 2 weeks before the sound in one ear started to fizzle. (The USB connector gave out shortly after that.)

The cable was seemingly the culprit. It couldn’t handle all of the bending and ‘action’ a child will likely offer. Perhaps a gaming teenager wouldn’t give the PuroGamer cable the same workout?

Maybe the fault was mine getting the PuroGamer for a ten year old. Or perhaps I’m just making excuses, and the PuroGamer should be more durable.

Either way, it was back to the drawing board.

Time for an Adult Headset
I eventually decided my mistake had been limiting my search to headsets designed just for kids and teens. It was time to look for adult headsets.

Yes, shopping in the adult aisle is inevitably going to cost more. But I’ve already crossed that line for his sneakers and summer sandals. (He’s growing up fast!)

And unfortunately, technology for kids is often marred with inferior gear that won’t hold up. Yes, it may be cheaper, but you get what you pay for.

I’m certainly seeing that now.

Go with What You Know
As I puzzled over how to attack this new shopping challenge, I took a look at what I had fused to my own skull throughout much of my work day.

I was wearing a Plantronics (Poly) Blackwire C5210T single-ear headset.

My Blackwire headset had been great. It was comfortable, and sported two interface options. (3.5mm and USB connectors)

Like father, like son?

Another Blackwire
So I Googled the Blackwire headset and looked at the specs. And guess what?

Yes, it’s got built-in hearing protection. I didn’t even know!
(The SoundGuard DIGTAL technology protects against sound levels over 118 dBA, and Time-Weighted Average prevents average daily noise exposure from exceeding 85 dBA.)

There’s also a dual-ear design that would be perfect for my son.

Before I made my decision, I called my boy over to try on my headset. Within seconds, I saw that big smile.

Research complete.
Click.

If at First You don’t Succeed
Yes… this headset purchase was expensive. But sometimes you’ve got pay for what you really need. (And by the way, I purposely avoided going down a Bluetooth headset rabbit hole.)

It’s been almost a month, and my boy’s Blackwire headset has been holding up. (Fingers crossed.)

No, I’m not especially excited that it’s taken three headsets to get him through fifth grade, but if that’s the biggest technical glitch through this year of virtual learning, I’ll take it!

More importantly, I’m trying to do what I can to protect his hearing.

The Struggle Between Good and Good Enough on Zoom

Showing up properly for your next meeting requires a different set of tools and attitude in this Zoom-centric reality. Here’s why it matters.

Over the past year, the Zoom revolution has put the spotlight on home video production to handle content creation for any number of needs including work, web and broadcast.

If you want to create a quality video feed using something less than professional video gear, it’s been demonstrated that you can do that. It takes some cash, though not a boatload of money, compared to what professional gear costs.

You may need to invest in:

  • A good webcam
  • A desktop tripod
  • Lighting that’s soft on your face
  • A decent microphone

Then, make sure you’ve got a real background that’s interesting, but not cluttered. (I’m less excited these days about virtual backgrounds.) And now you’re probably ready to create some decent looking video content.

No, it’s not going to be the same quality as what thousands of dollars of gear can do for you, but it’s not terrible either.

Unnecessary Effort?
But to generate a video and audio feed that’s good, you’ve also got to put in some effort. It’s not only about the gear you’re using. And there’s the rub.

It takes time to set it all up and maximize your shot.

It’s clearly a different level of commitment than opening your laptop and clicking on Zoom (or other video conference apps).

A simple click is still going to get a video and audio signal out to your viewers. And I bet a lot of people would say that’s good enough.

Good enough.

If good enough works for you, why spend money and unnecessary time to make it better?

The Allure of a One-Click Solution
I think that everyone should always try to look their best, both in person and in a virtual environment. Presenting yourself to your world is a life-long task. But I think when using Zoom, that can be a difficult sell.

Sure, if you’re hosting a webinar or doing a live shot for a media company, you probably understand that your video and audio feed should be the best possible.

But I imagine there are countless Zoom moments when people feel it’s not particularly important to do anything more than the bare minimum. Why not just open your laptop and simply click and start your video stream?

It’s good enough.

Why Deal with the Mess?
Whether using your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, technology has given us the ability to do the impossible. Generating a live video feed once took lots of people and expensive production gear to accomplish the same feat through a TV station’s full resources.

Professional video production often looks like a mad scientist’s lab with cables and power cords running askew and bright lights dangling from the ceiling.

You can also create a mess if you’re trying to improve your Zoom game at home when adding in your extra gear. Simple isn’t exactly the way to describe the experience.

On the other hand, simplicity, speed and dare I say… elegance is what comes to mind when you just lift up your laptop screen without any additional video prep, and you’re instantly ready to activate your next Zoom.

That’s hard to beat and a great reason for good enough.

Zoom is Now a Part of Life
In most Zoom situations, why should anyone feel the need to do more? (Heck, even activating your video feed is an step that so many opt out of.)

I like to say you’ve got to show up for your close up. But it’s really more about simply showing up.

This is your life. Like it or not, Zoom is now a necessary part of it.

We are a social species. To be most effective when communicating, people really need to see you. And a terrible representation of your image that barely looks like you isn’t enough. It can say you’re dialing it in. Or worse… You don’t care.

That’s why good enough isn’t good enough.

It’s Time to Shine
Face it. Your life is being televised now.

So put on your Zoom shirt. Set up your Zoom shot. And do your best to fully inhabit your little Zoom box.

Then reach out and connect.

Good.

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