At Home with Tech

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

Category: Tech in the News

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.

Why “Loki” is my New TV Series for Father and Son Streaming

If you’ve been looking forward to watching “Loki” on Disney+ with your kids, you won’t be disappointed. Here’s my review.

I always enjoyed watching Tom Hiddleston’s Loki throughout the Marvel movies. His god of mischief was especially interesting because of the flaws and tragic elements of his early story that made him who he was.

The end of his story in “Avengers: Endgame” was tough to watch, not only because it was so brutal, but because he would never get his chance to redeem himself.

At the end of the day, even though Loki always caused problems, we were still rooting for him…at least I was. All that pain and anger that was just under the surface and rarely revealed by the talented Hiddleston was plenty reason to forgive his naughtiness.

It was hard to say goodbye. And I’m really glad his departure was short-lived.

It’s All Part of the Plan
As I expect you already know, Disney+ has resurrected Loki and given him his own series. It picks up after that time-altering glitch during “Avengers: Endgame” when the Avengers go back in time to get the Tesseract as part of their Infinity Stone collection project. They mess up this part of their mission and Loki escapes his custody via the Tesseract, which isn’t what happened the first time around.

Beyond a momentary setback for the Avengers, it’s an amusing scene in the movie. And the consequences for Loki aren’t addressed. He’s still (spoiler alert) dead at the end of the story, but when you mess with time, there are always unexpected consequences.

It’s a fantastic bread crumb, and I applaud the architects of the larger MCU for dropping it in this way.

Loki Variant
I watched the series premiere of “Loki,” and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, Loki gets another chance to get it right, but this clever and snappy series is much more than that. It introduces so many new elements into the MCU that you’ve got to pay attention…Time Variance Authority/Multiverse/Time Keepers/Variant People/Sacred Timeline. You need a training film to keep it all straight. (Yep, they’ve got that!)

It’s fresh. It’s retro. It’s trippy.
It’s really fun.

The writers also quickly get to the heart of Loki’s flawed character and make him face his past and future choices. It’s essentially a breakthrough therapy session managed by Mobius (Owen Wilson’s TVA character). It feels quite cathartic.

I can’t wait for the next episodes where Loki and Mobius try to fix the timeline and confront the big threat. Plus, you’ve got the god of mischief being asked to follow the new rules and prevent multiverses. What could possibly go wrong?

Family Friendly?
Across the pandemic, my eleven-year-old son and I effectively consumed all the Marvel movies on Disney+. We also massively enjoyed “The Mandalorian” series.

Sure, the Marvel movies have some bad language and plenty of intense action, but it’s been okay for our kid at his particular stage of development.

My wife and I did watch the first episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” with our young Padawan. (Apologies for mixing universes.) We felt the increased level of bad language and violence was a step too far for our boy. (The whole series is pretty dark.)

So, I did not suggest that we watch the next episode, and my son didn’t complain. (Instead, we moved on to “Agents of Shield” on Netflix. That series also got too dark for him.)

I enjoyed “WandaVision,” and will eventually introduce that Disney+ series to my boy. I haven’t done that yet, because it moved so slowly in those first few episodes. Plus, you’ve really got to be a child of ‘60s and ‘70s television to appreciate them.

Granted, I’ve only seen the first episode of “Loki,” but I feel this series is perfect for my son. Like me, he’s especially enjoying the humor and mind-bending quirkiness.

Plus, there’s minimal bad language (so far) and the violence is relatively tame. That’s not to say there’s no action… there’s plenty!

Yes, I did prescreen the first episode, (after being burned by “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”) but now, I’m planning to watch the rest of the “Loki” series alongside my son.

Wednesday is the New Friday
I’m not sure why new episodes of “Loki” are dropping on Wednesdays as opposed to Fridays. Perhaps it’s a summer scheduling strategy. I’ll still plan on making it a Lester Friday night family event.

So please don’t give anything away while I time shift our viewing. We’ll be just a bit behind everyone else’s timeline.

Looking forward to a summer of Loki-goodness!

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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