At Home with Tech

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

Category: Tech Fixes

The Double-Edged Sword of Repeat Deliveries

Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program is a great time saver, but over time it may be more than you need. Here’s why…

Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program originally made me feel like I had been transported to a Star Trek-like future where people could focus on higher-level cognitive challenges as opposed to pondering if they were about to run out of toilet paper.

It was a magical leap forward in shopping design, where you could automatically receive your supplies without worrying that you’d forget to reorder. Plus, you’d get an ongoing discount on these Subscribe & Save orders. How great is that?!

It was set-it-and-forget-it, and your stuff showed up.

What could possibly go wrong?

Too Many Vitamins!
This morning, I woke up, walked downstairs to the kitchen and opened up the cupboard to take some vitamins, including my daily Omega 3 supplement. I grabbed the plastic bottle, unscrewed the top and took out the very last capsule.

I smiled, because I knew I was ready for this moment. There would be another Subscribe & Save bottle in the back of the cupboard ready to go. I peered behind some other vitamin bottles, and I squinted to be sure what I saw. I didn’t see a replacement bottle. I saw three.

Three?

Clearly my family and I weren’t consuming as many Omega 3’s as my subscription was providing. You might say it’s an easy arithmetic equation to figure out. It is, but somehow it had gotten way off balance.

And I hadn’t been paying attention, because it was set-it-and-forget-it.

Inevitable Imbalance
I sat down at my desk with my cup of Joe and finally allowed myself to fully face the other recent clues of imbalance in my shopping utopia from the future.

  • I had collected in my basement an extra year’s supply of AC/furnace air filters.
  • My paper towel subscription for the premium Bounty brand had been inexplicably cancelled and replaced by the less luxurious Brawny.
  • My toothpaste subscription was also cancelled, and I needed to actively replace it, which I didn’t. (I was supposed to “forget it,” right?) Then, I ran out of toothpaste.

The Best Price?
Amazon clearly states that prices go up and down. If you’re looking for the best pricing over time, I’m not sure that repeat deliveries will get you that, even with the subscription discount.

You’ve got to keep track. And that doesn’t align well with the set-and-forget mentality.

The Easy Fix
Yes, the odds are running out of supplies are certainly lower with repeat-delivery subscriptions, although it can happen if your subscriptions get cancelled, and you don’t choose an alternate item (guilty).

But unless your estimated consumption metrics are perfect, you’re likely to over order.

Subscribe & Save will save you shopping time, but over the months, your supplies may start to pile up.

It’s not like I was entirely unaware of this, and it’s easy to fix by going online and adjusting the frequency of the repeat deliveries. But it’s the kind of thing you tell yourself you’ll do tomorrow.

And then tomorrow never comes.

Until you realize you’ve got an extra year’s worth of Omega 3 tablets piling up in your cabinet.

So today, I reviewed all of my subscriptions and made the necessary adjustments.

It’s Time to Wake Up
Amazon would tell me that I regularly receive reminder emails to check and adjust my Subscribe & Save items. And I do.

So why didn’t I just follow their ongoing recommendations to perform a little subscription maintenance?

Because I wanted to set-it-and-forget-it.

Autopilot-mode is nice. But you really shouldn’t disconnect for too long. Otherwise you may wake up one day and realize you’re surprised by what you see.

9 Tricks to Eject Unwelcome Ghosts in the Machine

Do you sometimes get spooked by your tech’s unexpected glitches? Here are a few of the ways I chase away the unwanted ghosts in my gear.

A good day is when all of your tech behaves and operates properly. While it’s sometimes fun to get a little scared during the Halloween season, that feeling should never kick in, simply because your gear starts glitching out on you.

Here are my 9 tricks to help your tech treat you right.

#1
Remove the Pocket Lint from your Smartphone’s Port
Is your smartphone misbehaving and not charging when you plug it in? Or do you have to wiggle the connection until the juice starts flowing? The culprit is likely a fuzzy pocket-lint mass that’s collected inside the phone’s port. Here’s the fix.

#2
Adjust your Camera’s Internal Clock
If maintaining the chronological sequence of your vacation photos is important, and you’re using a second camera on top of your smartphone’s camera, both clocks had better be synced. Otherwise your vacation photos will end up being displayed out of order.

#3
Turn off Portrait Orientation Lock on your iPhone
If you’re trying to watch a video, and your iPhone won’t play it full screen when you rotate it horizontally, the problem is likely the Portrait Orientation Lock. Here’s how to turn it off.

#4
Delete Downloaded Podcasts You’ve Already Listened to
Is your smartphone almost out of storage? Of course it is. Here’s one big way I like to free up badly-needed memory on my iPhone.

#5
Back Up All of your iPad’s Data
Last year, I lost a lot of my son’s photos and videos on our family iPad when we took it to an Apple Store for maintenance. I was devastated by my rookie mistake of not setting up the iPad’s iCloud backup properly.

My son was annoyed, but he quickly moved on and simply took more photos. (And I’m still writing about it.)

#6
Stop your Email Program from Suggesting Old Addresses
Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody had one email address assigned at birth, and that was it for life? How simple would that be? Then, you could easily keep track of all your contacts. No more old email addresses that don’t work.

Until that happens, here’s an easy way to clear out old email addresses from ‘Auto-Complete.’

#7
Do your Software Updates
Keeping all of your digital gear current with software updates is an endless process that requires a fair amount of effort and organization. And following an auto-update strategy can sometimes lead to updates that aren’t ready for prime time. I think it’s best to have your tech remind you about the updates, and then you can manually install them.

#8
Reorganize the Apps on your Smartphone
If you’ve been having difficulty finding certain apps on your smartphone or they’re not where you thought you left them, it’s time to take a few minutes and do a little reorganizing. That can include placing some of your apps into topic folders and perhaps pruning others you haven’t used for a while. (You can always reload them!)

Losing a few long-forgotten apps will also free up memory on your device.

#9
Make Sure You have Enough Wi-Fi Bandwidth at Home
When you’re presenting during a Zoom meeting from your home office, the last thing you want is for someone to interrupt and report that you’ve frozen up. While there’s no bulletproof way to prevent that, you can certainly upgrade your internet plan to improve your odds.

Going old-school and hardwiring your computer to your router may also result in faster streaming speeds.

Boo!
Hopefully these tricks will help prevent your tech from acting naughty and spooking you out!

How to Improve your Zoom Background at Home

Making sure you’re properly lit in your Zoom shot isn’t always enough. What about the supporting cast in your webcam’s view?

It’s clear we’re at a point where participating in Zoom meetings is a permanent part of home life and a necessary tool to communicate with our world. So, it’s important to create a ‘remote video communications’ home set-up that really works for you and your viewers.

I hope most of us are beyond the chaotic experience of working from home and participating in meetings all day. During those early pandemic months, simply finding a quiet spot to open up your laptop for a Zoom, Skype or Teams meeting was a challenge.

How your shot looked understandably may not have been your priority.

Keeping it Real
But as we’ve settled into our new routines, many of us have improved our Zoom look.

I’m sure you know the basics by now:

  • Make sure you’ve got enough light on your face.
  • Don’t sit with a window behind you.
  • Position your webcam perpendicular to your eyes, not looking up your nose.
  • Declutter your background.

I know many folks are fond of using virtual backgrounds. While that’s okay, I like to keep my shot as authentic as possible.

I’ve tried digital and blurred backgrounds, but I always felt like I was in a science fiction movie.

Can you See my Robots?
So, even though my home office is hardly an ideal space to create the perfect video shot for my Zoom meetings, I’ve continued to tinker with my background throughout these many months.

Recently, I moved the furniture around in my home office, and to a certain extent I’ve created something of a blank canvas to work with.

I repositioned a short bookshelf into my Zoom background, and I used the top shelf to display a few robot statues I’ve collected over the years. (R2D2, C3PO, Robby the Robot and Robot from the original “Lost in Space”)

They’re also nice ice breakers as people sometimes ask about them when they spot my metal robots in my Zoom shot.

The only problem is my robots looked like shadows in my background. That’s because my back wall didn’t have a lot of light hitting it.

Time to Add More Light
Like any professional studio TV set, you’ve got to properly light your entire space, and that includes the background. Otherwise your environment will look drab, no matter what it contains.

And webcams are usually happier if your lighting is more even throughout the entire shot. That means you’ll look better and not over exposed.

So, I needed to figure out how to throw more light on that back wall and my little robot display.

Vertical LED Table Lamp
There are any number of ways to do that. A floor lamp next to the bookshelf would be an easy solution. That said, I didn’t want to clutter my background (or my home office). Instead, I looked for a lighting solution with a smaller footprint: some sort of lamp that could sit on the end of the book shelf just outside of my Zoom frame.

I found a small vertical LED table lamp made by Edishine on Amazon.
It was the perfect solution. It added the background fill light I needed without overwhelming my shelf. The lamp’s cold, minimalistic look also blended nicely with my little metal companions.

Think of it more like an under-cabinet lighting solution, but designed as a self-standing vertical glow.

Now, my robots are easy to spot in my Zoom background. Plus the extra light also helps my back wall pop.

Zoom-Optimized Rooms
If you want to really show up for your close up during Zoom meetings from home, you’ve got to do more than light your face and wear a nice shirt. Your environment is an extension of you, and it’s important to give it the same attention as you set up your webcam shot.

That means your whole room (or at least the part people see) needs enough light.

I know we don’t live in TV studios (well, most of us don’t). But I think it’s fair to say that when you think about how to decorate your living spaces moving forward, it’s not crazy to plan for the creation of Zoom-optimized rooms.

It’s not science fiction. Yes, reality has caught up.

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