At Home with Tech

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Category: Tech How To

Be Careful what You Say Around your Tech

When your voice-activated tech misbehaves, the problem may be caused by something you said. Here’s a fix to consider.

I’ve just put my old GoPro to work as a webcam, tethered to my PC laptop that I’m using for my job. Wearing my MacGyver hat, I easily connected the GoPro to my computer with an Elgato Cam Link 4K video converter. This adapter can transform many cameras with a HDMI output into a simple USB webcam.

I prefer my GoPro’s shot to my laptop’s built-in webcam, because the GoPro offers a wider-angle view. That framing gives me more room to use my body language when I talk to colleagues on Zoom. And I’ve found that can help me better connect with people I’ve never met in person.

But there was a problem.

Who’s Controlling your GoPro?
A couple days into its new mission as a webcam, my GoPro inexplicably began glitching out. One day it magically kicked into video mode and began recording my conversation. The next morning, it snapped a burst of pictures during a Zoom meeting. Its little blinking red light was the dead giveaway that there was a gremlin in the system.

Or was there?

I put on my diagnostic lab coat to see if there might be a GoPro setting that was causing the problem. I first upgraded the GoPro’s operating system and then poked around the menu. I eventually came to the voice control option. It was set to ‘on.’

Hmmm….

Is your GoPro Simply Following Orders?
“GoPro, take a photo!”

That’s the fun phrase my eleven-year-old son and I love to blurt out when taking GoPro selfie shots during weekend hikes with friends.

Yes… my GoPro can be voice activated. And it has been reliably obedient for selfie shots during our weekend hiking adventures.

So why wouldn’t its audio parlor trick also be in play during its weekday duties? Of course my GoPro was listening to me during my Zoom meetings! I must have said something that resembled, “GoPro start recording,” or “GoPro shoot burst.”

After my big ‘aha,’ I simply deactivated my GoPro’s voice-control mode, and thankfully, my GoPro started behaving again.

Problem solved.

But my reestablished tech Zen was short lived.

What Did You Say?
Uncovering my mistake brought up a larger question. How much of my tech is always listening to me, and how often is it misinterpreting my words and reacting in ways that it shouldn’t?

My Alexa-enabled Sonos speaker in my home office occasionally interrupts me when I’m on the phone or doing a Zoom meeting, because it thinks it heard me summon it. I usually shrug it off and shake my head, both slightly amused and a tad irritated.

Even Siri on my Apple Watch has awkwardly tried to jump into my conversations.

User Error
I’m not exactly sure what to make of all this, except to accept that voice-activated tech can sometimes react in ways we don’t want. Its skills may be imperfect. But then again, so are humans. That combination can easily lead to unexpected and imperfect results.

As more components of our smart homes begin to possess voice control, it will become increasingly important not to forget what we’ve set up to listen to our lives. (And I’m not talking about the whole privacy question. We’ll leave that topic for another day.)

Sure, it’s cool to control your surroundings with your voice. That said, I hope you talk clearly and remember the right command phrases. It would be a shame if your future tech misinterprets your intent and ruins your day… or worse.

But don’t worry. It’s probably just ‘user error.’

Time for an upgrade?

This Visual Upgrade will Instantly Improve your Experience Working from Home

It may be finally time to build out a multiscreen home office work space. Here’s what I did.

Ironically, working from home during the pandemic has contained some silver linings. But not having access to a fully decked-out office computer station with multiple monitors can be limiting.

So, I bought myself a new second monitor for my home office. It paired up with my work PC laptop’s screen to provide more room for all of the open windows that collect throughout the work day.

During the early months of the pandemic, I repurposed my old Sony 21” LCD TV and connected it to my laptop via an HDMI cable. I thought I was so clever MacGyvering it, but its non-HD resolution wasn’t doing me any favors. Sure, I could extend my laptop’s screen, but the clarity on the Sony wasn’t there. If I came across small text, I often had to move it over to my laptop screen to be able to read it.

Favoring one screen over another adds unnecessary complexity.

Though I did eventually have another monitor solution temporarily in place, it was clearly time to upgrade my own gear. Not to mention a long-overdue reset surrounding my mindset over these many months.

Post Pandemic Mindset
The pandemic forced me and so many others to instantly adapt to a 100% work-from-home lifestyle. There were inevitable compromises where functionality trumped form.

  • Were you connected?
  • Did you have a comfortable location to do your home video conferencing?
  • Could you simply get your work done?

It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t matter. My laptop’s second screen wasn’t great, but I didn’t feel it was an important enough limitation. (So I needed to squint a little.)

But thankfully, we’re moving away from that bunker mentality as life begins to return to normal in the US. Coming back to the office is on the horizon for many. But it’s going to be different.

Band-Aid Solutions No Longer Needed
Hybrid work will include working from home as a new norm as opposed to an occasional convenience. Even though remote work existed long before the pandemic, I think many of us viewed it as an infrequent arrangement that didn’t require fully-built-out technical solutions. Again, function over form.

But the pandemic forcibly evolved the very concept of working from home as a new standard. New hybrid work schedules are on the horizon. So, if you haven’t already done so, it’s probably time to finally focus on form over function when working from home.

For me, that meant upgrading my second screen for today and into the future.

The Power of a USB-C Connection
My first thought was to simply purchase a computer monitor with 1080 HD resolution and connect it via HDMI. That’s a cost-effective strategy to get the job done. But it’s based on older tech.

Newer computer monitors include a USB-C connection. Sure, that makes the screen more expensive, but it opens up a huge opportunity for your computer.

Laptops are notorious for not having enough outputs for peripherals. But if there’s a UBB-C port, that connection can do much more than simply connect to a monitor.

You can multipurpose one USB-C connection:

  • Feed your second computer screen
  • Power your laptop through that same USB-C feed
  • Connect an external keyboard and mouse via the monitor’s USB-A ports

It’s a no-brainer.

After I came to that conclusion, my next challenge was figuring out which monitor to buy.

Billions of Choices
I’d like to say that I combed through every option on the market. I didn’t. That’s an overwhelming exercise. Instead, I called B&H and asked for some help. And I got it. The affable sales consultant and I agreed on these specs:

-27” screen size (based on my own workspace)
-4K (Future-proofing choice)
-USB-C input (the golden connection)

Then, he offered me a few options, and we quickly landed on this LG 27” 4K screen:

The LG had everything I needed, and I liked it because it has built-in speakers. (The B&H consultant also mentioned he was partial to LG monitors.)

I said, “Let’s do it!”

And my new LG screen arrived two days later.

You’ve Got to Have Some Trust
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Barrett blindly took a salesman’s recommendation. Ha!

Well, not entirely. The LG does get good reviews. But yes, I followed the salesman’s lead.

You can’t be an expert on everything. There’s simply not enough time. Instead you’ve got to find some trusted support systems to help you along with certain decisions.

B&H has always offered me great advice and customer service. I’ve been buying my tech there for years. I trust their recommendations.

Multi-screen Home Office for your Hybrid Future
Adding the right monitor for a multiple-screen setup instantly creates a more effective home office workstation.

After I plugged in my new 27” LG computer monitor and connected it via the USB-C port, I felt like I had just bought a new pair of glasses.

Perhaps it’s also time for you to have a larger and clearer digital canvas to work on at home, even if your new hybrid work schedule means it won’t be used every day.

Not to repeat the term, but consider all of this as part of the new normal.

It May be Time to Say Goodbye to your Nest Protect

No tech lasts forever. Here’s what I did when my Nest Protect let me know that its ‘life’ was ending.

My Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm recently informed me that it was about to reach the end of its life and cease all operations. I received the sad message via the Nest smartphone app that communicates with it. My Nest Protect has been stationed on the ceiling outside our bedroom for the past six years.

It has glowed reassuringly green as I passed by it every night on the way to bed. (A yellow color ring would suggest that all was not well.)

Feeling like You’re in a Movie
When I got the news, I felt like I was in a slick sci-fi flick, and my trusted AI bot had informed me that it was time to say goodbye. Its makers had programmed its end, and there was nothing I could do.

Wait. Scratch that.

The year is 2048. It’s my grandson’s bot. They’ve been inseparable over the years, while my son was away for long stretches conducting critical science experiments on Moonbase Alpha. The bot walks up to the eight year old and presents the bad news. There are tears and a huge hug. But my grandson can’t accept it. There must be a way to save his life-long friend!

Cue the opening credits…

My Next Protect Experience
Costing $99, my battery-powered Nest Protect was an expensive investment as far as smoke detectors go, but it has provided peace of mind over the years. And the fact I could check its status on my iPhone was pretty cool.

It would also talk to me in a friendly voice as opposed to projecting angry chirps like most smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Of course, it did possess the important capability to project a mind-melting alarm if needed. (Thankfully, I’ve only been exposed to that dimension-ending sound during tests.)

One of its big selling points, that it wouldn’t chirp when it was time to replace its batteries, didn’t quite work out for me. My Nest Protect was simply supposed to tell me that. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but over the years, I still got that blasted chirp… more than once.

And you should know that the Nest Protect is picky regarding what kind of batteries you feed it. It requires six Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries, which are super powerful and can keep the Nest Protect happy for long stretches.

So the Nest Protect does need a little extra love. You can’t just treat it like a cheap, throwaway detector. And yes, eventually it will be time to say goodbye.

But not for long.
I’ve decided to re-up my commitment to this tech relationship.

Time for a New Google Nest Protect
I just bought the second generation model. And it’s now part of the Google product line.
So, it’s the Google Nest Protect.
$119 on Amazon

  • It has a split-spectrum sensor. (I think that’s like a warp drive upgrade for smoke detectors.)
  • You can turn off a false alarm from the smartphone app.
  • Its ‘pathlight’ is brighter.
  • This model is supposed to last for up to a decade.

Return to the Happy Green Glow
I’ve got my new Google Nest Protect in place, and tech balance has been restored in the Lester home (for now).

If all goes well, our home’s new guardian will be around past 2030.

That said, something tells me a newer model will show up before the decade is out to attract my attention. We’ll talk more then!

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