At Home with Tech

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


13 Tech Tips from 2013

We’ve covered a lot of technology ground this year.
I hope you’re finally feeling a little closer to Tech Zen at home.
If not, don’t despair. It can be a long (never-ending?) journey!
So I’ve got a quick tech review to help you stay ahead of your many demanding gadgets in the year ahead.

Here are my lucky 13 tech tips to remember:

You’re Going to Need a Bigger Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged with Rattle

Even if you have faith your external hard drives can withstand the forces of fate, they’ll eventually buckle under the load of all those home videos you’re shooting.

There’s No Question. USB 3.0 Rocks!

The Choice

Thunderbolt is great. But USB 3.0 is just fine. Both blow FireWire (R.I.P.) away.

Build Your Home TV Studio for $44

My favorite piece for this home-grown tech solution is the $2.99 teleprompter system for your iPad!


That Bad Photo You Took May Be Your Best Yet

The Eye

You may not know it, but some of your best photos are slipping through the cracks. Maybe they first struck you as flawed, or you didn’t recognize their hidden value. Time to recognize your ugly ducklings!

Find Your Neighbors on

Nextdoor enters the neighborhood

You can create your own virtual neighborhood based on your real one.
Talk about two worlds colliding!

It’s Time to Buy LED Bulbs

Passing the Torch to Cree

The price is right for this Cree LED bulb. Convert!!

Transcode Your Camera Videos to Windows Media Files

When you want to email your child’s birthday party video to grandma, you’ll need the power of Flip4Mac. Then, she’ll be able to watch the magic
candle-blowing moment on her PC.

Create a Shared iCal Calendar for Your Family

Connected and Happy iPhones

Missing a family commitment can be a thing of the past if your family iPhones share a calendar.

Video on Instagram Gives You Your 15 Seconds of Fame

Watching a Blade of Grass Grow

If you can’t muster up 15-seconds worth viewing, you might like Vine instead.
They only offer you six seconds. If that gets too complicated, try taking a photo, and call it a day…

Strap Your Smartphone into Your Car while It’s Doing GPS Duty

iPhone navigating in cup holder

Don’t let another road trip go by with your smartphone sliding about as its GPS app shouts out turn-by-turn directions from the car floor. Mount it onto your dash!

Buy a Nest Learning Thermostat

My Nest and Me

How’s your 1950’s-era thermostat handling the extreme weather? Did you forget to adjust it before you left home today? Wish it were smarter? Well, now it can be…

If You Buy an HD iTunes Movie, You Also Get the SD Version for Free

Movies for the Road

You just need to know how to ask for it. And why would you want the SD copy? Ask your bloated iPhone…

BlackBerry is Toast

BlackBerry on the Floor

You don’t need me to tell you this news, but I really want you to read my little poem about this former giant.

Happy New Year!

Well, there you have it.
Feel free to add your own favorite tech tips from 2013.

(Yes, even I am not a Tech Jedi yet…)

Finally, thank you for visiting At Home with Tech over the past 12 months.
I hope my posts have been of some assistance or at least a bit of amusement.

I look forward to working through a few more of the universe’s many
tech mysteries with you in 2014…

Nanu! Nanu!

Looking for My Nextdoor Neighbors

If you’re looking to become a little more neighborly, you can bake some cookies to share or join

If you’re looking to become a little more neighborly, you can bake some cookies to share or join

I have a confession to make…
I am not neighborly.

It pains me to face the truth, as I usually like to think of myself as a friendly guy.

But I’m still a bad neighbor.

Don’t get me wrong…
When I see someone on the street, I smile and say hello.
The problem is… I’m a commuter.
A road warrior in fact, if you haven’t heard.

The simple problem is… I’m not around that much to act neighborly.

Yes, I’m more about on the weekends now, since spring has finally sprung.
And I’m often out walking with my preschooler, who is usually his own ambassador.
He’s such a friendly little guy.
(I’m so proud!)

But it’s hard to create my own individual neighborly moment when I’m competing with such cuteness.
(He’s got a killer “hello…!”)

I know…
I simply need to invest a little more time.
A little more face-to-face time.

No, I don’t mean I want to Skype my neighbors, when I can easily walk outside my front door to say hi.

Or do I….? to the Rescue!
These days, there’s hardly a problem in life that can’t purportedly be solved by technology.

And guess what?
The wonders of modern home tech do offer, in fact, an aid of sorts to mitigate the effects my little affliction, which we’ll call ‘BCS.’
(Bedroom Commuter Syndrome)

The cure to Barrett’s BCS is a website called Nextdoor. is a private social network for your neighborhood.
Kind of like a micro, local Facebook that only your neighbors can join.
It’s been around since 2010 and according to TechCrunch, boasts over 10,000 neighborhoods nationwide.

This is how it works…
They ask the first neighbor to designate the borders of their neighborhood via an easy-to-use map.
(more on this in a moment)
Then they take the important step to confirm you actually live where you claim to reside.

How do they do this?

  • By phone
  • Credit card
  • Or postcard

I selected the postcard option, because I joined up a couple weekends back when I was visiting friends out of state.
(which unfortunately doesn’t qualify as acting neighborly)

I wasn’t at home to receive the confirming phone-call option.
Nor did I want to unnecessarily give out my credit card number online since I wasn’t buying anything.

But when I got home, I became impatient.
I didn’t want to wait the extra few days for the postcard to arrive.
So I logged onto to Nextdoor and simply reselected the phone option.

My landline number displayed on the following page.
(another example of a digital society without secrets)


Instantaneously, my phone came to life.

An automated female voice announced the secret code I required to fully activate my Nextdoor membership online.

Clickety click.

(I guess there is a reason to hold onto your landline number!)

It’s Alive!
So, my Nextdoor neighborhood had a heart beat.
How exciting!

But that was the easy part…

Nextdoor gives you only three weeks to generate at least ten members for your virtual neighborhood.

Or they take your neighborhood website away from you.
(How harsh!)
The idea is to allow someone else (presumably more popular) to generate more interest, if you fail.

So my quest for neighborly redemption was not over…
I still needed neighbors!
Nine more to be exact, and the clock was ticking.

Fortunately, I had an old neighborhood list with phone numbers and email addresses.

I sent out the invites.
And I waited.
…and waited.

While I stared at my empty virtual neighborhood, I decided to focus on low hanging fruit.
I got my wife to join.

Well, I actually signed up for her.
Is that breaking the rules?
(at least I had her consent)

Three days later, one friendly neighbor next door accepted.
I was on my way!

Dark Clouds Roll In
Then I got an email from another neighbor.
She couldn’t join!

She sent me a copy of her denial message from Nextdoor.
It explained she was living outside my neighborhood on the other side of town.
But she lives right down the street!!

Clearly, Nextdoor has a mapping problem with certain addresses.
My neighbor emailed tech support explaining the issue.
(That kind of glitch can be a deal breaker… don’t you think?)

And for the next few days, it was radio silence from everyone else.
(Perhaps they were being denied as well?)

I was stuck at 30% of the required membership level.

Tumbleweeds Abound
As of last weekend, it was looking like my virtual neighborhood was doomed to early oblivion.

Maybe I had to face the fact that every story doesn’t have a happy ending.
Or adjust my life to become a better neighbor in person before I could enjoy a neighborly life online?

I was ready to throw in the towel…

Delayed Execution
At the eleventh hour, I decided to delay the news of my defeat.

My soon to be three year old suddenly demonstrated amazing photo-taking capabilities.

I think he got inspired after eating some yummy strawberries at breakfast…

He enjoyed his strawberries so much, he ‘adopted’ one of the really plump ones.
Meaning…he opted instead to carry it around in his favorite cozy blanket, like one of his furry animal toys.

Together with his new strawberry companion, he started snapping some really cool pictures using my old iPhone…

Hold the front page! I’ve found a new headline to share…

So while I wrote about my son last week, and featured a collection of his cool photos, the news of my sputtering Nextdoor project sat idle.

The Spark
This week began like any other…

  • In the car at exactly the same time to depart my neighborhood…
  • Drive to the train station…
  • Head down to the big city where nobody knows your name….

Then something happened.
“Something Wonderful…”
(2001: A Space Odyssey reference. Actually, from the 1984 sequel…
2010: The Year We Make Contact.)

Another neighbor accepted my Nextdoor invitation.
And another!

And they began inviting even more neighbors…

Faster than you can say-
“It a beautiful day in the neighborhood…”

…My virtual neighborhood was officially born!
We hit our critical threshold, and we were off and running!

So Far, So Good…
Immediately the online discussions began…
I started a chat about street trenching work by the gas company, and two neighbors responded with helpful updates!

And my family and I have already been invited to a party down the street!

Even that one denied neighbor (and another with the same problem) got Nextdoor tech support to quickly resolve the mapping error.

They are now happily a part of our virtual community.

Come on…
Sing along with me as I do a little victory dance!

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood.
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine…”

(Musical moment halts abruptly.)

Excuse me. I’ve got to go.
My recycling box outside just blew over.
(It’s been kind of windy out…)
And it contained about 5,000 of those packaging styrofoam peanuts from a discarded Amazon box.

Oh no! They’re traveling down the street….
Now, they’re airborne…

I’m shutting my shades and hiding…

“Won’t you please,
Won’t you please,
Please won’t you be…my neighbor!”

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