At Home with Tech

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

Category: pandemic

Pro Packing Tips for your Vacation Tech

Joining this Colgate University reunion torchlight ceremony with hundreds of other alumni after a two-year delay was especially meaningful. Packing my tech for this weekend trip took a bit longer than I expected. If it’s been a while since your last vacation, you might also need a refresher on packing your gear. Here are my top tips…

Going on vacation again with my family after more than two years into this pandemic has been amazing. Our recent New Orleans trip and drive to our college reunion weekend both felt like the good old days.

But my packing powers were a bit rusty. Sure, I brought the right clothes (mostly), but when it came to certain peripheral supports for my tech, I didn’t score 100%.

If you feel you could also benefit from a few reminders, here are my pro packing tips for your tech.

Remember to Take a Small Power Strip
It’s rare to find enough plugs in your room to charge your tech when you’re on vacation. I find it especially helpful to set up a charging station using a small power strip with a short extension cord. (Plus, it’s so easy to pack.)

The mini power strip also keeps all of your charging cables in one place and reduces the chance that you’ll leave anything behind.

Carry a Peak Design Backpack as a Personal Item on your Flight
If you’re planning on flying with your camera and travel tripod, and you want to pack it into a bag that will fit under the plane seat in front of you (as a personal item), you’d better pull out a tape measure and start measuring dimensions. No matter what, it’s going to be tight!

For our New Orleans vacation, I bought a Peak Design V2 30L Everyday Backpack. It just barely squeezed in on board both flights, but it did! (phew)

And then this knapsack was the perfect travel companion on my back as we walked about New Orleans.

Pack a Thermos with Tomorrow Morning’s Coffee
I’m an early riser and always like to have my first cup of coffee as soon as I get up. If you’ve driven somewhere where breakfast doesn’t start for another hour or two, you might be out of luck finding an immediate cup of Joe. But not if you already have your coffee with you!

I brewed a pot of Peet’s Major Dickenson’s coffee right before we drove to our Colgate reunion, poured it into my hi-tech Yeti thermos and then packed it in the car. Early, the next morning, I unscrewed the top of the thermos, lifted it to my face and was delighted to still sense faint warmth. No, my coffee wasn’t at all hot anymore, but it was absolutely fine for this need.

Use your Apple Watch as a Silent Wake-Up Alarm
If you’re thinking of ditching your Apple Watch on your next family trip, don’t!

Whenever my family is sleeping in the same room on vacation, I don’t want to wake everyone up with my early alarm on my iPhone. That’s when I continue to wear my Apple Watch during the overnight hours. Its silent, vibration-only morning alarm is perfect for this purpose. A little haptic action on my wrist is all I need to start my day.

One thing… I normally charge up my Apple Watch at night. So if that doesn’t happen, I have to remember to immediately do it before breakfast.

Bring your Apple TV
If you want your hotel room TV to mirror the streaming options on your home TV, packing your little Apple TV puck just might do the trick. Just connect your Apple TV to the hotel’s Wi-Fi and the TV’s HDMI cable.

I’ve found this kind of MacGyver maneuver works best with less advanced hotel Wi-Fi systems that don’t require signing in with anything more than a password. If you’ve got to first navigate through a hotel web portal to sign in, the Apple TV will get stuck.

Write Down your Streaming Apps’ Passwords
If you don’t end up taking your streaming puck on vacation, you might be surprised to find one already connected to your hotel room TV. (That’s what we found in our New Orleans B&B.) If that’s the case, all you have to do is sign into your streaming accounts. Of course, you’ll need your passwords for that!

And when you’re packing up to leave, don’t forget to sign out of your streaming apps!

Travel Back to the Future
Going on vacation again can be a big step towards returning to the normal patterns of life. And if playing with your tech is part of your vacation fun, then I say bring it and enjoy!

Feeling Comfortable Yet?

Our cat has no problem relaxing, and even occasionally expresses her feline Zen for my camera. I find her disposition a helpful reminder to take a deep breath every now and again.

These are, no doubt, strange times. Complete with plenty of stress and uncertainty. So, it’s probably a good idea to take a few cues from our companion animals and chill out whenever possible. After all, it is summer.

So whether you’re hanging out in the country side…

Or beginning to get out again in the big city…

I hope you’re finding some time to relax and recharge. My family and I just returned from a little excursion to the Berkshires.

Find your sunshine.

Tales from a Suburban Commute: Business as Usual?

Are you also nervous about returning to your commute into the city? If you live in the suburbs, you may not be experiencing how life is returning to normal. Here’s my own story getting back into New York City, and what I witnessed.

Last week, I reactivated my old commute from Connecticut into Manhattan on a Metro North train. No, my work schedule hasn’t entirely shifted back, but it’s the beginning of a new normal for me. I don’t think I could have imagined this just a few short months back, but I’ve jumped back into the flow of the physical world, way beyond my limited and carefully curated social engagements during the pandemic.

I’m vaccinated, and I believe it’s finally time to take this step of reintegration. (Hopefully, the Delta variant doesn’t reverse this general trend in my area.)

My Return to New York City
This isn’t my first time back since the pandemic began. I’ve also been in Manhattan on weekends to visit my father, and I’ve recently traveled to the city on another occasion with my wife. We drove in for an event at a restaurant.

All of these trips felt both jarring and entirely normal, but my workday commute was especially surreal.

For those new and former road warriors from the suburbs who are on the cusp of the same return-to-the-office journey, here are my travel notes from my New York expeditions.

Train Parking
I was delighted that my station’s small parking lot was barely half filled. Not having to stress over whether I could find a spot on a workday was a joy. I think all of those empty parking spaces were due to summer vacations and remote work still in effect for many commuters.

New Haven Line Trains
My Metro North trains weren’t packed, but they weren’t entirely empty either. Everyone wore masks. Thankfully, the center seats remained unoccupied, as there was enough room for people to spread out.

I must admit I used to be a fan of taking the center seat, as opposed to having to stand for my entire train ride. No more.

And I think there’s a new, unspoken social-distancing norm not to sit shoulder-to-shoulder. We’ll see how that holds up as trains fill up in the fall.

Off-Peak Tickets
Metro North is not currently operating a full schedule. That means all trains are off peak. So DON’T buy a peak ticket from the ticket machine on the platform like I did. That’s a rookie mistake and a waste of money.

To add insult to injury, I had purchased a 10-pass ticket, because they’re less expensive per ride. (Peak ride, that is.) Thankfully, the train conductor kindly explained to me that you can fill out a form for a refund at the ticket counter in Grand Central Terminal. (If you do it within 24 hours, you can immediately exchange a peak ticket for off-peak rides.)

New York Subways
I couldn’t imagine myself in a subway during the pandemic, but here I was again… just like old times. Almost everybody was wearing a mask, although it’s supposed to be everyone.

The subway trains I took weren’t packed, but there wasn’t really enough space for true social distancing.

New York City Restaurants
My biggest shock as a suburban creature was to see so many New Yorkers happily packed into restaurants, and nobody wearing masks (with the exception of restaurant employees).

Sure, if you’re eating, you can’t wear a mask, but it wasn’t like people were re-masking between courses. There were no masks, and that was it.

The Power of Group Psychology
I’ve got to admit how quickly I was influenced by the group norms I passed through.

Remember that New York City restaurant my wife and I went to? We walked in wearing our masks. I was surrounded by what seemed like a sea of people happily chatting away, and there wasn’t a mask in the house. I immediately felt like some kind of leper. By the second, it became increasingly uncomfortable for me to keep my mask on, and it was off within moments.

The CDC currently says that’s okay for those who are vaccinated. But was everyone in the restaurant vaccinated? It’s impossible to know.

I’m not so sure what this all means about my resolve. Am I a lemming following an irresponsible course? Perhaps, I’m simply acting normal and following the science. To be fair, the guidance on safe pandemic practices is always changing.

Still, the intense power of group psychology is undeniable.

Back to the Future
Taking my first steps in my return to New York City were the hardest. It got easier from there. Much easier.

Do I feel safe? Well, I’m vaccinated. And I’m watching the headlines. For now, I’m okay with my choice.

At some point, you’ve got to go live your life. You can’t stay home forever.

If you want to dip your toe in the water and try a trip into the city, I’d say that now is a decent time for that. It’s not crowded.

Good luck, don’t forget your mask, and be prepared to feel the massive pull from the psychology of the masses.

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