At Home with Tech

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

Category: Tech How To

How to Create a Music Bubble for an Aging Parent in Rehab

Adding the sounds of Alexa and a comforting music playlist to a foreign environment can be a great gift to help maintain a sense of normal while away from home.

If you injure yourself and have to spend a chunk of time away from home in a rehabilitation facility, the experience can be disorienting. All of your daily patterns are disrupted and your tether to the normal is severed. Mentally, this can be hard for anyone, but I think it’s especially difficult for an older person.

Recently my father fell at home. Fortunately, he didn’t really hurt himself, but the fall weakened his legs, and he couldn’t move about with his walker.

So, my 89-year-old dad went to rehab to help him get stronger.

It’s been a slow process.

Dealing with the Unwanted Noise
I visit my father, smuggle in a diet coke and try to cheer him up. I talk with him and attempt to help as best I can.

I can’t pretend to really know what it’s like to be away from home like this.

That said, I feel one of the biggest disruptors is all of the uncontrollable background noise. Much of it comes from TVs that drone on nearby.

Sound Bubbles
At home, my father loved to play music on his voice-controlled smart speaker I bought him a few years back. In fact, he blanketed himself through much of the day with familiar old-time tunes.

He could easily control the soundtrack by simply talking with Alexa. (Okay, sometimes he might yell at Alexa.)

He had always enjoyed listening to music while I was growing up. His 8-track tapes and Sony record player system later gave way to his collection of CDs. Technology was his tool to help maintain his own sound bubble in our New York City apartment.

Music has always been a fundamental part of his daily experience.

Even though my father is now hard of hearing, he hears his music just fine. It has continued to permeate through his whole body thanks to Alexa.

Adding a Voice-Controlled Smart Speaker
I sat next to my father as he rested in his rehab-center bed, and suddenly it came to me. Why couldn’t I recreate his music bubble for him in this place?

It had Wi-Fi for its guests to use. So that critical piece was in place.

When I asked the nurse about installing a Wi-Fi music speaker, she replied that guests are allowed to have radios. So an Alexa device would be okay too.

So, I ordered a small Amazon Echo Dot for $25 along with an extension cord for easier installation.

And I headed back to see my dad.

The set up through the Alexa app on my iPhone was a snap. I quickly got a Frank Sinatra playlist up and running on his new Echo Dot positioned on the table next to his bed.

I was a little concerned how the music would blend with all of the other unwanted audio encroaching on his space. But I’ve got to say the resulting mix was okay. The music became the main track, and everything else turned into more a background buzz.

My father’s sound bubble was back!

The Healing Nature of Music
Alexa has been back with my father for over a week, and the reunion has been great.

He hasn’t talked so much about it with me, but everyone who’s been working with him is delighted with its impact.

His physical therapist told me that my father is happier and more like himself when the Echo Dot is playing his favorite jazz from the 1940s.

And all of the nurses I’ve met on the floor agree that using the Echo Dot as a Wi-Fi music player is a great idea.

Replace the Soundtrack
I feel like I’ve made some kind of massive discovery. (Of course, I haven’t.)

But if you’ve got an aging parent away from home, adding in a small smart speaker to the unfamiliar environment can be a really smart value add. (This is especially true if it’s difficult to reach a radio.)

Thanks to these relatively inexpensive voice-controlled devices, curated music bubbles are super simple to create.

I highly recommend it.

Pair a Bluetooth Keyboard to your Smartphone for your Next Zoom Meeting

If you need to take copious notes on your smartphone during a Zoom meeting, here’s why you may want to add a physical keyboard to the equation.

It’s easy to forget the power and flexibility of our smartphones; often the only limiting factor is the compact size. Yes, the smaller screen is sometimes difficult to work with compared to a laptop. But for me, it’s the miniature keyboard that can be infuriating. It’s simply really hard to type fast.

Recently, I flew to the West Coast on a business trip, and for an hour on one evening, I needed to step away and jump on a personal Zoom call and take notes for the community group.

My first thought was to pack my personal laptop or iPad for the task. But then I looked at my iPhone and wondered if it could actually handle the exercise.

Of course, the Zoom meeting part was easy. It was the simultaneous note taking that would be the challenge. So I tested it out…

Working with Zoom and Microsoft OneNote Simultaneously
I used the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPhone for the note-taking part, and it interfaced just fine with the Zoom app. I simply swiped out of the Zoom meeting and then worked in OneNote. (The Zoom meeting still shows up in a small window.)

Yes, I could tap…tap…tap my notes. But it was not nearly as fast as I knew I would need.

I required a real keyboard. And then it came to me… What about a Bluetooth keyboard?

A Multiversal Solution?
Using a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad is common, but trying the same trick with a tiny iPhone feels somewhat absurd. Who have you ever seen do that???

Though you might have spotted it while traveling through some other part of the multiverse, some crazy old-school blogger in this reality was now going to give it a try.

Logitech Keys-to-Go Bluetooth Keyboard
While there are a few choices out there, I ended up going with the Logitech Keys-to-Go Bluetooth Keyboard… mostly because it’s featured on Apple’s website. I figured it must work properly if Apple is pushing it, right? (Spoiler alert: The two devices pair just fine, though you do have to push a little harder on the Logitech’s keys.)

At the time of this post, this keyboard was on sale
at Logitech’s website for $49.99.

It’s also on Amazon for the same price.


A Few Optional Accessories
When it was time to do my Zoom meeting in the field with my new keyboard, I must admit, I had also brought along a little more gear to facilitate a smoother experience.

  • I had my small Joby tripod with smartphone grip to mount my iPhone a little higher up. ( I didn’t want the shot pointing up my nose.) The taller positioning also made it easier to read the screen as I typed away.
  • To ensure I wouldn’t run out of juice, I plugged my iPhone into a little portable power (my Anker battery), as a wall plug wasn’t nearby.
  • And of course, I wore my Apple AirPods.
  • My multitasking iPhone stunt went off without a hitch, but if you strip away the optional tech, just the iPhone and Bluetooth keyboard will certainly get the job done.

Add this Technological Distinctiveness to your Own
Not having to pack an extra computer when flying is a game changer. A slim Bluetooth keyboard is hardly a noticeable add to your carry-on luggage, and it’s not an expensive piece of tech you have to worry about being stolen.

It may not be an intuitive pairing, and the tech form factor certainly looks clunky and somewhat absurd (“Star Trek” Borg-like).

That said, adding a physical keyboard to the much smaller iPhone does facilitate much faster typing speeds. So give your thumbs a rest!

I have now happily assimilated this technological distinctiveness.

Borg Barrett transmission ends now.

How to Easily Add More Light to your Home Office Desk

What do aging eyes wearing contact lenses need when trying to read a computer screen? Yes, a new LED desk lamp! Here’s how to do that when you don’t have a lot of extra space to work with.

The growing trend of working from home has clearly accelerated as a result of the pandemic. By now, I expect most of us have figured out which home spaces to convert for that purpose and have optimized them with extra gear like second monitors, Zoom lighting and ergonomic chairs. My favorite upgrade is my Uplift standing desk. (Standing through part of my day has done wonders for my lower back.)

But I’ve recently realized that I’ve not sufficiently replicated one important environmental workplace element… good lighting.

Feet Away but Miles Apart
Sure I’ve got plenty of light on my face for my Microsoft Teams meetings at work, thanks to a carefully positioned Generay PB-64A LED (providing gentle fill light) and my window’s organic key lighting. And my Uplift desk is bathed in light from a compact Uplift LED desk lamp.

But this work space is not my entire home office. It’s actually an add-on to my existing home-office desk. So when I’m working from home, the transition back to my home iMac at the end of the day from my work laptop simply requires a 90-degree right swivel of my chair. Yes, it looks a bit like one of the tech cubes in that endless work cube farm seen in “Andor” on Disney+ (though not nearly as cool).

How Many Fingers can You See?
It’s my legacy home-office desk space that I’ve suddenly realized offers insufficient lighting (and the ceiling fixture just isn’t enough).

Why now? Well, I think it simply has to do with a pair eyes that aren’t growing any younger. I spot our twelve-year-old-son reading in dim light all of the time. (I immediately turn into my mother and flick on an overhead light for him.) A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I could handle dim light too. Now, not so much.

And I’ve been really feeling it recently typing away at my iMac… in the early mornings and at night when I don’t have the benefit of the sun at my back from my window. And what’s really brought this problem into focus for me is I’ve recently been trying to wear contact lenses again.

The Complexity of Aging Eyes
Being nearsighted since I was a kid, I wore contacts through most of my adult life. (Loved them!) But then my eyes started to change, reading glasses showed up, and my vision just got more… complicated.

The bottom line was I couldn’t easily see into the distance and read a computer screen with my contacts any longer. (It’s a common problem I’m told for adults of a certain age.) I tried multifocal contacts, which are like progressive lenses that allow you to see both near and far. I’ve also tried a monovision solution which makes your dominant eye focus on distance and the other eye tackle your reading. That forces your brain to rewire itself, and the trick doesn’t always work. (It didn’t for me.)

I know I don’t need to give you a full medical history of my eyes (I’m now trying out hybrid multifocal/monovision lenses, which look promising). But there’s one detail that my eye doctor told me that has stood out and is worth sharing.

More light is better.

In my circumstance, multifocal contact lenses will work better if my pupils aren’t too large, trying to suck in more light.

But I think it’s a basic rule for everyone… More light is better.

But like my twelve year old who has the super power to read in the near dark, we don’t really pay attention to good lighting until we need… optimal lighting.

No Space for More Light?
Yes, simply adding a lamp to your desk is the easy solution. (It’s not a huge aha.) But there may not always be a lot of extra space available for that purpose.

So, you may have to go with a slim-profile lamp design.

And that’s exactly what I did.

TaoTronics LED Desk Lamps
There are any number of affordable LED task lights on the market. Amazon’s got loads of them.

But I ran across a brand that’s received positive call outs from a few different reviewers. It’s TaoTronics. So, I decided to check them out.

TaoTronics makes a seemingly gazillion LED desk lamps to choose from.

Their dimmable and color-temperature-adjustable desk lamps range from $20-$50, based on the style and features. Those are great price points, considering you can spend hundreds of dollars on a desk lamp.

So I picked out one for me and one for our son’s desk (not that he asked for it, but I couldn’t help myself).

I ordered the two lamps directly on the TaoTronics website. (Amazon doesn’t carry them.)

It took a few extra days for the package to show up, but upon arrival, I quickly set up both desk lamps.

The extra light is simply joyous. Even my son is enjoying his new lamp.

My Mother Told Me So
Are my eyes working better with my new contacts as I sit at my brighter desk?

You know it!

If my mom were around today, she would give me that “Are you kidding?” look. Of course, more light is better!

Put a lamp on your desk so you can see better? Wow, that’s so insightful.

She told me this when I was five.

I suppose sometimes you’ve just got to figure things out for yourself.

In hindsight, vision is always 20/20.

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