At Home with Tech

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

Tag: smartphones

Why I Chose Amazon Photos to Archive my Family Photos in the Cloud

Good photo organization means having a plan that allows you to quickly and easily access your most important photos from anywhere. Here’s why I chose Amazon to help me out…

I’ve talked about how important it is to maintain your most important pictures in cloud-based photo albums that you can access from anywhere, including your smartphone. These are the photos that reflect back on your life’s big moments… not necessarily the best few pics from your recent family vacation.
(Your smartphone’s local photo app and your index finger can handle that.)

If you sit down for a few minutes and think about which groups of pictures you’ll always want available at a moment’s notice, you’ll probably come up a short list of categories.

I decided to create this group of cloud photo albums that I can also share with my wife:

  • Our son’s first day of school each year and his annual school portraits
  • Our boy’s birthdays
  • A sampling from our best vacation photos
  • My mom’s photo archive
  • My dad’s photo archive
  • My photo archive of me growing up
  • Our wedding
  • Other weddings
  • Group shots at big family events

These nine photo albums will hopefully cover most moments when I’m talking with family or friends, and I want to magically access a photo from my life to support the conversation using my iPhone.

But there’s one important technical detail you’ve also got to have in place to ensure your cloud photo albums grow properly over time. And I must admit, I forgot about this piece until I realized it wasn’t there…

Retaining the Constant of Time
Your photos in each cloud folder still need to be sortable by date. That will allow you to keep the chronology of a photo group in order when you add other pictures to the album that are out of sequence.

This may seem like a minor detail, but believe me, it isn’t. The natural order of any group of archival pics is the constant of time. Without that, you’ll eventually end up with what appears to be a random group of photos.

Sure if you start this project when you’re five years old and keep going in perfect order until you’re ninety nine, you’ll be fine. But I’m still sorting through my family photos from many years back.
(I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much time it takes to keep up with all of your life’s incoming pics.)

Some photos inevitably get integrated into long-term storage faster than others. And the last thing you want to worry about is having to process them in the order in which you took them.

iCloud Photo Streams aren’t the Answer
I thought I was all set using Apple’s tools when I began creating shared iCloud photo albums through Photos to handle this archival need. But then I realized these sharable photo albums were essentially just sharable photo streams. The photos simply positioned themselves in the order in which I uploaded them.

I quickly decided that this wasn’t going to work as I build out these albums over time.
(For the record, Apple does provide a solution if you decide to sync your entire Photos library to iCloud. But that would immediately eat up my 5GB of free iCloud storage.)

So, I set out to explore other cloud photo-album solutions with the ability sort the photos by date…

Photo Archiving for Free
There are lots of choices out there, and some have certain limits or costs. So, I decided to first see if I could get the job done without adding a new monthly fee to my digital life.

And in fact, I could!

Three top choices quickly immediately emerged…

Google Photos

  • Free and unlimited storage as long as you’re willing to let Google compress your photos to a max size of 16MB. (Unless you’re processing huge RAW photos, that shouldn’t be a problem…)


  • Free, but only up to 1,000 photos.
  • This limit is a little tight for any long-term plan, although if you’re really talking about the most impactful pictures to represent an entire life, who’s really going to want to look at more than 1,000 pics?

Amazon Photos

  • Free and unlimited storage. Period.
  • The big catch is you’ve got to be an Amazon Prime member.
  • And I suppose that means you’re intending to be an Amazon Prime member… for the rest of your life. (Well, you could migrate your photos somewhere else when a better option comes along.)
  • Amazon offers a solid app for smartphone use.

Primed to Use Prime
I gave Amazon Photos a try a few weeks back, mostly because I already live in the Prime ecosystem. Also, the ‘limitless,’ and ‘no-compression’ structure was appealing.

And though, I am, in fact, paying for Amazon Photos, it’s money I’m already spending on Amazon Prime. And that’s, of course, just another way to make Amazon Prime more than just ‘free shipping.’

I found it really easy and quick to create my cloud albums and upload my photos to them, and the Amazon Photos app works great on my iPhone.

So far… I’m really happy with Amazon Photos.

I’m sure the other options would get the job done as well. The critical element is simply putting a cloud-based solution in place where you can best archive and easily sort through your photos that tell your ongoing life’s story.

Leave the Stream Behind
Ensuring your pictures show up in the right order is essential to the plan. And using the linear nature of time as your organizing principal needs to remain in place.

Cloud-based photo streams simply don’t provide that basic level of functionality.

Don’t Call Me

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how amazing the newest smartphone is. What’s important is can it actually connect you with the person you’re trying to reach? And that answer can unfortunately push you down a path of unnecessary simplicity.

Imagine this: It’s last night… 7:34pm. You’re holding onto your smartphone. You look down and see only one bar. But you go for it anyway…


“It’s Barrett.”


“Your husband!”

“I can barely hear you.”

“We just landed.”


“Jus w ntd you kno tha I can’t m do mak ak fo bap rit.
…I’ll tell you more later.”




Deep down, we all know the wonders of technology are only as good as the weakest link.

Welcome to the World of Words
Still, smartphones connect us in ways unimaginable only a few years back.
That you can talk with and sometimes see your loved ones from almost anywhere is two parsecs shy of science fiction. And now, with the prospect of augmented reality becoming a regular part of the user experience… that’s mind blowing.

So, it’s ironic that email and especially texting continue to maintain their dominant roles during smartphone use. As a result, the near lost art of writing has experienced an amazing renaissance.

In fact, it’s absolutely the new normal.
I know that so many of you would regularly pass on the rigors of a phone call when you can ‘more easily’ text someone.

It’s generational.
I don’t mean to generalize, but younger folks don’t dig talking on the phone so much.

Ring, Ring
That’s so weird.
Aren’t we genetically wired to communicated via voice?

Of course, I love the art of the phone call. It provides plenty of emotional context, which is absent throughout the act of texting.
(Though using emojis does help.)

And think of all that incessant back and forth of an email chain, often over the course of hours or days. A 30-second phone call would get the same results.

And remember, your highly-evolved smartphone is not as limited as your grandfather’s Ma Bell indestructible monster. With mobile video enabled technologies like Skype and Apple’s FaceTime, you can enjoy the purity of non-verbal communication cues to help you stay totally in sync with your phone buddy. It’s almost like being in the same room.

Why wouldn’t you want to reach out and touch someone?

Well, there’s one problem…

What Did You Just Say?
If you don’t have access to a strong connection, the value proposition of a phone call falls apart pretty quickly…

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how frustrating it is having a conversation with someone on a spotty cell connection.
Understanding one out of every three words just doesn’t cut it.
And adding video into the equation is immediately hopeless.
You get the first video frame or two, and that’s about it.
Then the call crashes.

Conversely, getting a simple text out into the ether over a mediocre connection feels downright glorious.

Keep it simple. Get it done.
The pleasantries can wait till next time…

The Frustration-Free Moment
Our nationwide cellular networks still have their holes, even in metropolitan areas.
And calling from inside thick tall buildings or moving metal cars doesn’t help much.

The truth is…
Smartphones can’t yet mimic the magic of a Starfleet communicator on the prescient ‘Star Trek.’
(You can’t really have a crystal clear conversation from inside a Horta’s cave with your starship in standard orbit above Janus IV.)

There are limits…

Texting is Bulletproof
So maybe millennials are onto something. Maybe this explosion of texting is not about shunning basic human interaction.
(Though I think that’s a part of it.)

It’s about efficiency.
And accuracy.

Transferring simple words in easily-sent data packets.
And if there’s a sliver of a bar of coverage… the text will probably get through.

What’s so bad with that?

Just the Facts, Ma’am!
So, as much as I still love making an old-fashioned phone call, I’ve got to admit that when you’re on the go, texting is the clear leader for straightforward communication.
(As long as you’re not driving!)

When you just care about getting the facts across, it takes all the frustration out of the equation.

Sure… you’ll lose all the personal touches of a phone conversation.
But how hard is it to interpret a smiley face emoji?

The truth is… these days, I text all of the time.

And sometimes… do I prefer sending a text rather than having to spend a few minutes on the phone with someone?


My Mind to Your Mind
There’s no foolproof way to ensure 100% accuracy when communicating with someone from any distance beyond 4-6 feet.
(And even that’s not always perfect)

But it’s ironic that in a world overflowing with communications technologies, we often feel more disconnected than ever.

The power of those little, silent digital words can only accomplish so much.

Until we master the Vulcan Mind Meld, we’ll have to struggle along as best we can.

Why Your Tech May Not Survive Your Next Vacation

‘Fun in the sun’ is not a phrase fit for many of your gadgets. If you’re not careful, the punishing summertime elements can really do a doozy on your tech…

Your gadgets are supposed to work hard while you’re having fun in the sun. There’s no ethical dilemma here. No “Westworld” to concern yourself with.

But you should remind yourself that all of your gear may not be designed to easily handle your next vacation’s itinerary. In fact, your personal tech can be as delicate as your skin without any SPF protection…

Here are five pieces of Kryptonite your gadgets have to contend with…

Direct sunlight can be a real problem for your camera lens…

  • Strong sunlight facing your subject can wash out or over expose your shot.
  • Sun from the rear can make your subject’s face look too dark.

Softer light or shade is usually easier for your camera lens to handle.
(Or just hope for a cloudy day)

The Beach
The sandy beach is an especially dangerous place for your camera…

And I’m not just talking about that large body of water.
(I once saw a friend’s DSLR camera lens accidentally drop into a lake, because it wasn’t securely locked into place on its camera body. Oops!)

It’s that sand.
Those tiny granules can really kill your tech.
Even a single poorly placed speck of sand wedged into a retractable camera lens can immobilize your camera from ever taking another shot.

One simple solution is to use a waterproof camera without an exposed lens…

Another option is to only take photos with your smartphone. No exposed camera parts to worry about.

Don’t overheat your tech… as in… don’t leave it in your car at high noon.
Enough said.

Summer Fun
Just having a good time in the great outdoors can spell doom for your tech.
‘Cause if you’re not paying attention… Whoops… Plop…. Crack.
(That’s the sound of your camera or smartphone shattering on the sidewalk.)

Travel Can Be a Losing Proposition
Let’s face it. It can be hard to keep track of all your stuff when you’re on vacation.
But if you leave a pair of socks behind or a t-shirt, that’s not such a big deal. If any of your tech doesn’t it make it back, that’s obviously a much bigger issue.

My solution: Don’t bring it!
If you don’t absolutely need it, I say you can do without…

And that goes for your car too.
Because when you least expect it, a wild turkey will fly into it!
(Yes, it’s happened to me.)

So you might want to consider becoming a public transportation Weekend Road Warrior.

The Terminator Vs. WALL-E
Look, I know this cautionary musing is mostly common sense.

And in fact, your fancy tech can actually enhance summertime fun… or at least feed you with lots of ‘comfort data.’

Heck, a solar-charging watch actually thrives during the summer months!

But the truth is your tech isn’t built like the Terminator.
If you want it to be back for your next vacation adventure, you’d better start treating it like your personal WALL-E.

Even though your gadgets don’t need to outlast all robotics on the planet, it also wouldn’t hurt to offer your tech a little more love.
(Or at least the protection it needs to survive while you’re having fun!)

%d bloggers like this: