At Home with Tech

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

Category: Tech Trends

5 Easy Ways to Help your Tech Run Better 

It’s probably time to give some of your tech and digital systems a tune up. And that may mean you need to look under the hood.

The promise of home tech often contains the glow of a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality. The truth is you really shouldn’t leave anything on auto pilot for too long. (Turning on ‘auto updates’ isn’t enough.) You need to check in every so often.

No machine runs flawlessly forever, even the ones without any moving parts. Over time, they need ongoing maintenance. That can also include the digital processes you create for yourself to help organize parts of your life.

Here are five ways that your tech and digital systems can use a little tuning up right now.

Clean the Lint out of your Smartphone’s Charging Port
Have you noticed that your Lightning or USB-C cable isn’t always making a solid connection with your smartphone, and sometimes you wake up to a partially charged device?

That’s because if you usually place your smartphone in your trouser pocket, the lint has slowly been building up into that tiny port. A clue that this micro invasion has occurred is when your cable no longer clicks into the port, and the connection instead feels ‘squishy.’

It’s time to take the end of a paper clip and gently pull out that mini fuzzball that’s hiding at the back end of the port. (I always turn off my iPhone first before beginning the operation.)

Hurry Up and Finish Reviewing your Photos from Last Year
If you’ve got a system set up (like me) where you review and edit your photos before you share them, you’d better set aside some time to finish all that up. Last year’s photos will only retain their value for so long. Beyond archiving and photo book creation, nobody is interested in your old photos. It’s all about what happened today or yesterday (maybe last week).

Sure, having a ‘process’ to select and polish your best photos before sharing them will ensure your audience gets to see your best work, but the downside is you may not have enough time to consistently maintain your perfectionism.

If you marvel at how fast and effortlessly some of your friends share photos, that’s because their process is stripped down to three steps across fifteen seconds.

  • Snap
  • Look
  • Share
  • (Done)

It’s worth considering.

Buy a New Memory Card for your Camera
Do you let all of your photos pile up in your camera’s SD card without taking the time to erase them after transferring the files elsewhere? And then do you decide that’s it’s a good idea to hold onto them as yet another file back-up strategy to protect against some future disaster recovery need?

To be clear, we should simply follow our existing back-up process and then wipe the memory card to free it up for more photo fun.

But, if you have a problem (like me) doing that, the other choice is to simply buy another SD card and start fresh in the New Year. (They’re not that expensive.)

Then, you can pop the old memory card in the drawer, quickly forget about it and then eventually lose it.

When aliens uncover the tiny card in a million years, they’ll transcode its corrupted data, pixel-approximate the missing elements and reconstitute your images. Who knew that humans had three eyes and two noses? What a beautiful family you had! Your legacy is now intact.

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.

Do those 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. You’ve just got to find the time to do it.

The Doctor is In
Admittedly, all these easy best practices are also chores that are often delayed, sometimes indefinitely.

One way to ensure that you keep up is to set aside an hour a week to handle it all. It may not be enough, but it’ll help you know what needs more attention.

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to keeping your tech and digital systems healthy.

Otherwise you may find they’ll stop working for you when you least expe


Why It may be Time to Upgrade your Webcam

If you still look like a shadow of your true self in Zoom meetings, you should consider using a more powerful camera.

It’s fair to say we’ll be needing our webcams, well… forever. If video conference meetings from home weren’t already part of our daily lives before the pandemic, well, now they certainly are. And no matter what the future holds, virtual meetings are here to stay.

We’ve had two years to figure out how to set up a decent Zoom shot. If you’re still not happy with it, the problem may be your computer’s mediocre webcam. If so, it’s time to upgrade and buy a dedicated external USB camera for your computer.

Can Another Camera You Own do the Job?
But before you start shopping for a new webcam, make sure you don’t already own another device that you can repurpose such as a camcorder or DSLR-style camera.

You just need to make sure that your higher-end camera can offer a ‘clean’ video output via a HDMI connector. Then you’ll need a HDMI to USB converter like the ‘Cam Link 4K’ to integrate the video feed into your computer.

My New Lumix GH5 II
Recently, I bought myself a Panasonic Lumix GH5 II
with a Panasonic 12-35 mm/f2.8 II lens.
(“Why Barrett, you shouldn’t have!”)

And of course, I immediately wanted to jack this Micro Four Thirds, mirrorless camera into my iMac to see what would happen.

Sure, using a higher-end camera with a serious lens as a basic webcam is way overkill, but it works just fine. And the look is beautiful. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

The webcam on my iMac is perfectly adequate, but when I changed over to my GH5 II, the visual difference was dramatic.

Don’t Buy More than You Need
Now, I’m not saying you should run out and spend ten times the cost of a typical webcam to upgrade your Zoom look.

But if you’ve already got a more powerful camera that can also be used as a webcam, then why not? (Previously, I had been repurposing my old GoPro as a webcam via my Cam Link 4K.)

Your Desk will get Messy
Now here comes the big disclaimer…

Yes, integrating a ‘real’ camera into your desktop computer or laptop will creating an amazing image, but functionally, the process is not elegant. You’ve got to put a tripod on your desk and position it right next to your computer screen, so you’re not looking too far off camera when you take a peek at the other folks in your Zoom window.

Then, you’ve got the HDMI and power cables coiling in front of your screen to contend with. It’s a mess. (You start to feel like a battery person trapped in “The Matrix,” even though the cables aren’t actually coming out of your body.)

Even attaching a tiny new webcam to your laptop involves an extra cable and a webcam mount, and it takes a couple more steps every time you prepare for a video conference. Plus, you’ve got to adjust your webcam and test your shot to make sure you’re framed correctly.

That’s takes work… sometimes a lot of work. One might say it’s an absurd effort. And for what?

Nothing beats the ease of simply clicking on ‘join’ and letting your integrated webcam do its job. Whatever your viewers see, they see. If you’re only partially in the shot, that’s better than nothing, right?

What’s so bad with that approach? (And if you really feel that way, please continue taking your blue pills. Your next Zoom meeting in the Matrix is in ten minutes!)

Can You See Me Now?
Frankensteining any camera into your computer is a bit messy… sometimes very messy. But the good news is it’s not really that complicated.

Do you still make an effort to put on a nice shirt for your Zoom meetings, and have you spent more than a few minutes trying to adjust the lighting on your face? Are you still unsatisfied with your shot?

If so, then you’re a prime candidate to consider upgrading your webcam. (And if you’re already in the market for a nice camera to handle your photography and video projects, you can free two birds with one key, like I did.)

I expect you will not be disappointed with your decision to improve your Zoom look. It’s actually a great New Year’s resolution, and one that you’ll continue reaping benefits from throughout the entire year!

Make a Friend when Calling Customer Service

You have more power than you think to find a happy resolution during your next call to customer service. Here’s how to access it.

Recently, I had a problem with a streaming app for a pay TV service that suddenly wouldn’t recognize my subscription. The app was tethered to my cell phone account as an added benefit, because I’ve maintained a higher-level data plan. The relationship always seemed a bit complex, but it worked… until it didn’t. And of course I realized my subscription had prematurely ‘expired’ right when I pressed play for a family movie night presentation of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

After I wiped egg off my face, I switched apps, and we found something else to stream. Later, I picked up the phone in search of a solution to my misbehaving app.

We all know the proverb that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But it’s also easy to forget when having a frustrating moment with a customer service representative.

Customer Service 1.0
While growing up, I often observed my father apply negative pressure in any number of customer service moments to help mold his desired outcome. I think it was a simpler time when resolutions seemed more achievable, and customers had more power to influence them. But getting angry and threatening to take your business elsewhere is never a sustainable strategy. Even as a kid, I remember feeling that.

Customer Service 2.0
Not to over-generalize, but eventually business trends changed and customer service shifted. We can debate this decline, but I think a key ingredient is added complexity as a result of business efficiencies. Plus, much of the decision-making power has been taken away from the front line of customer service and replaced by the weight of following process.

Your dissatisfaction is likely not the fault of the person on the other end of your phone call. Sure, you may feel a sense of genuine disconnection with the conversation, but there could be other factors you’re not aware of, such as computer systems containing your account info that move much slower than the human mind (how ironic).

Customer Service 3.0
While I’ve been mindful not to practice my father’s bad customer behaviors, that doesn’t mean I’ve succeeded at living on a totally Zen plane when calling customer service. Sure, I get frustrated, just like the rest of us.

But when I made the call to fix my broken streaming app, I had an amazing ‘aha moment’ that changed my entire perspective.

Yes, I ended up speaking to three customer service representatives across two separate phone calls spanning two hours (including waiting on hold for 30 minutes for the first call to begin).

No, it wasn’t a great start. However, the three people I spoke with were all stellar in their positive disposition. They all truly wanted to help me out. Unfortunately, I think none of them had access to all of the information they needed. The third rep had the greatest understanding of the issue, but was still confounded why her technical fixes weren’t working exactly the way they should. Eventually, she moved around a final glitch to MacGyver a solution for me.

It was entirely imperfect, but I appreciated that all three were totally focused on working the problem for me. And, yes my app was reborn.

Throughout this experience, I didn’t see them as adversaries, even though the first two couldn’t solve my tech riddle. Instead, I felt they had joined me on a spontaneous road trip together. And that shifted my attitude.

Together, we needed to locate a hidden variable, and it was buried somewhere in the computer system. No person could totally solve my problem. The machine would need to play nice too.

Make a New Friend
The reality is the computer controls much of the customer service conversation. And if you’re open to this cold truth, that should shift the fundamental relationship between you and the customer service representative. In fact, it should create an alliance. Because it may take both of you to figure the problem out… together.

Your impersonal connection can magically shift. Now, it’s the two of you against the machine. This momentary alliance is powerful, and it can wash away all of the negative impulses you may be feeling.

Because, you can’t get angry at a inscrutable computer system that won’t behave. The only solution is to team up with that other human being on your phone call.

Then, you’ll have a fighting chance to resolve your problem.

Nice is the New Mean
Being civil as a customer is no different than how we should strive to act throughout life. But that’s easy to forget, especially during these pandemic years when patience can be even harder to maintain.

And if you can put aside your past frustrations with customer service, you’ll realize your perceived enemy can be your ally if you actively reach out to create that alliance with the other person.

Your most powerful weapon is simply showing your humanity.

And as we begin another year, remember that this truth applies far beyond customer service interactions.

Treat everyone well. See the big picture. We’re all in this together.

Make a friend.

Happy New Year.

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