At Home with Tech

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

Category: Tech Trends

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.

Click.

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.

Why You Should Spend More for these Backgrounds in your Lifetouch School Photos

It’s another Picture Day! Here’s why choosing the right background is the most important part of your kid’s Lifetouch Picture Day portrait. And what exactly is the right background…?

Our son’s 7th grade school ‘Picture Day’ is coming up, and it’s time again to decide which Lifetouch photo package to order. Sure, it’s nice to have another official ‘portrait,’ but I’ve already got plenty of photos of our twelve year old. For me, the reason to pay for yet another Lifetouch picture is only if it visually represents a specific moment in time. If you can’t tell it’s his 7th grade photo, what’s really the point?

While you can also write that detail on the back of a physical print, it’s best if the photograph itself displays the year or his grade.

The Two Best Digital Backgrounds
The ‘standard’ background offered in the less expensive photo packages is relatively useless. It’s just a colored background. That gives no indication that it’s a school portrait from a specific year.

In the old days, it may have been worth it to have one of these generic ‘professional photos’ for the coffee table. But today, come on… aren’t we all photographers who are capable of capturing countless amazing moments of our children to frame?

The standard background is a non-starter… I don’t need it. Don’t want it. Not worth it.

And remember, the portrait is shot on a green screen. In the post production process, the digital backgrounds can be easily changed with a click of a button. It really costs nothing to switch them around. (This is all about the perceived value of something, and what people will pay for it.)

Here are the two best digital backgrounds:

  • 7th Grade
  • 2022-2023

Either of those backgrounds provide the critical context. Without context, the photos aren’t school photos.

So, will you pay more for the right background in your kid’s Picture Day photo?

That’s certainly the hook for me.

The Digital-Only Package
I really only require the digital file of the portrait. (I can print out my own photos, thank you very much.) There’s no need to pay a premium for a physical print.

Clearly Lifetouch knows this, and they’ve been pretty stingy over the years giving up digital files, and they baked them into the more expensive packages.

Happily, this year, Lifetouch offers a Digital-Only Package for $34.99.

For that price, you get two digital files and no physical prints. It’s actually the same photo, but you get that generic background with the first photo file. Fortunately, the second photo file can have the background of your choice.

So really, you’re getting one jpeg for thirty five bucks.
(Then, you’ve got to print it out yourself, if you want a hard copy.)

The Basic Package
By comparison:

The least expensive Basic Package is $19.99.

  • You get one digital file with the awful standard background
  • And a few physical pics with the same standard background

Not interested.

And what do the more expensive packages get you?

The Plus Package
The $49.99 ‘Plus Package’ provides:

  • A whopping 5 digital files with the background of your choice
  • Plus your kid’s name and grade listed on the bottom of the photo
  • And all of the prints you’ll never really need (1 8×10, 4 5×7, 2 3×5, 8 2×3 wallets)

Do I need 5 digital backgrounds? No, not at all. (Only the two matter to me.)
Do I need all of those prints? Nope.

All that said, is it nice to have a couple prints? Sure. That way, I don’t have make the effort to print anything out. It’s delivered and done.

Delivered and Done
Is it worth $15 more to get what I really want and not have to boot up the Lester Printing Factory?

Or should I just spend $35 on the Digital-Only Package to get the one usable file and call it a day?

I’m sure the execs at Lifetouch have spent a fair amount of time noodling over this exact question.

$50 for what you want or $35 for what you need?

On mylifetouch.com, the Plus Package is promoted as “Best Value.”
After all of my griping on this topic, I must admit…that much is absolutely true.

Plus it is.

Click.

Fifty Bucks a Year?
Will I ever break free from my annual spend for Picture Day?

Unclear.
(I certainly haven’t reached escape velocity yet.)

But here’s one way to resolve my ongoing dilemma, if at least at least for another year…

At the end of the day, all I really want are the digital files with the background of my choice. Plus.. maybe one physical print for the convenience of not having to do it myself.

And how much does Lifetouch charge for an extra 8×10?
$16.99

So by choosing the Plus Package for $49.99, I’ve actually saved myself two bucks!
(By comparison, the Digital Package plus the à la carte 8×10 print = $52)

I call that Lester Math Logic.

Happy Picture Day. And don’t forget to smile.

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