At Home with Tech

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

Tag: social distancing

Tales from a Suburban Commute: Business as Usual?

Are you also nervous about returning to your commute into the city? If you live in the suburbs, you may not be experiencing how life is returning to normal. Here’s my own story getting back into New York City, and what I witnessed.

Last week, I reactivated my old commute from Connecticut into Manhattan on a Metro North train. No, my work schedule hasn’t entirely shifted back, but it’s the beginning of a new normal for me. I don’t think I could have imagined this just a few short months back, but I’ve jumped back into the flow of the physical world, way beyond my limited and carefully curated social engagements during the pandemic.

I’m vaccinated, and I believe it’s finally time to take this step of reintegration. (Hopefully, the Delta variant doesn’t reverse this general trend in my area.)

My Return to New York City
This isn’t my first time back since the pandemic began. I’ve also been in Manhattan on weekends to visit my father, and I’ve recently traveled to the city on another occasion with my wife. We drove in for an event at a restaurant.

All of these trips felt both jarring and entirely normal, but my workday commute was especially surreal.

For those new and former road warriors from the suburbs who are on the cusp of the same return-to-the-office journey, here are my travel notes from my New York expeditions.

Train Parking
I was delighted that my station’s small parking lot was barely half filled. Not having to stress over whether I could find a spot on a workday was a joy. I think all of those empty parking spaces were due to summer vacations and remote work still in effect for many commuters.

New Haven Line Trains
My Metro North trains weren’t packed, but they weren’t entirely empty either. Everyone wore masks. Thankfully, the center seats remained unoccupied, as there was enough room for people to spread out.

I must admit I used to be a fan of taking the center seat, as opposed to having to stand for my entire train ride. No more.

And I think there’s a new, unspoken social-distancing norm not to sit shoulder-to-shoulder. We’ll see how that holds up as trains fill up in the fall.

Off-Peak Tickets
Metro North is not currently operating a full schedule. That means all trains are off peak. So DON’T buy a peak ticket from the ticket machine on the platform like I did. That’s a rookie mistake and a waste of money.

To add insult to injury, I had purchased a 10-pass ticket, because they’re less expensive per ride. (Peak ride, that is.) Thankfully, the train conductor kindly explained to me that you can fill out a form for a refund at the ticket counter in Grand Central Terminal. (If you do it within 24 hours, you can immediately exchange a peak ticket for off-peak rides.)

New York Subways
I couldn’t imagine myself in a subway during the pandemic, but here I was again… just like old times. Almost everybody was wearing a mask, although it’s supposed to be everyone.

The subway trains I took weren’t packed, but there wasn’t really enough space for true social distancing.

New York City Restaurants
My biggest shock as a suburban creature was to see so many New Yorkers happily packed into restaurants, and nobody wearing masks (with the exception of restaurant employees).

Sure, if you’re eating, you can’t wear a mask, but it wasn’t like people were re-masking between courses. There were no masks, and that was it.

The Power of Group Psychology
I’ve got to admit how quickly I was influenced by the group norms I passed through.

Remember that New York City restaurant my wife and I went to? We walked in wearing our masks. I was surrounded by what seemed like a sea of people happily chatting away, and there wasn’t a mask in the house. I immediately felt like some kind of leper. By the second, it became increasingly uncomfortable for me to keep my mask on, and it was off within moments.

The CDC currently says that’s okay for those who are vaccinated. But was everyone in the restaurant vaccinated? It’s impossible to know.

I’m not so sure what this all means about my resolve. Am I a lemming following an irresponsible course? Perhaps, I’m simply acting normal and following the science. To be fair, the guidance on safe pandemic practices is always changing.

Still, the intense power of group psychology is undeniable.

Back to the Future
Taking my first steps in my return to New York City were the hardest. It got easier from there. Much easier.

Do I feel safe? Well, I’m vaccinated. And I’m watching the headlines. For now, I’m okay with my choice.

At some point, you’ve got to go live your life. You can’t stay home forever.

If you want to dip your toe in the water and try a trip into the city, I’d say that now is a decent time for that. It’s not crowded.

Good luck, don’t forget your mask, and be prepared to feel the massive pull from the psychology of the masses.

Avoid these Tech Glitches Before your Next Backyard Movie Night

The cold weather could be the least of your concerns if your outdoor projector doesn’t function properly at your backyard event. Here are a few problems to look out for and how to fix them.

My family and I have returned from a little adventure across town. It was at a friend’s outdoor birthday party in his backyard for his eleven-year-old son.

My friend asked me if I could bring along my portable projector to help him create an outdoor screening of “Black Panther” via his Disney+ app on his iPad. I was more than happy to oblige. His wife put up a white sheet on the back side of their house overlooking their patio, and we were ready to provide the post-meal entertainment.

How to Set Up your Backyard Movie Night Gear
Over the summer, my new Nebula Mars II Pro projector made by Anker was the backbone of my own backyard movie night series. My iPhone served up movies through the iTunes Store and Disney+.

I connected my iPhone to my Lightning Digital AV Adapter (from Apple) and then used an HDMI cable to tether my iPhone to the Mars II Pro. Though you can connect via Bluetooth, a direct connection avoids certain content transfer restrictions.

Though my portable projection system worked great, there were two technical glitches that I needed to work through:

How to Fix Audio Sync Problems with an External Speaker
The Mars II Pro’s two onboard speakers are relatively powerful, but the outdoors can be a noisy place, especially with crickets at dusk. When I tried augmenting the audio oomph with my portable AOMAIS Go Bluetooth speaker I discovered an annoying quirk using Bluetooth.

When streaming content via the Mars II Pro’s onboard apps, the video synced up just fine to the external Bluetooth speaker. The Mars II Pro works perfectly in its own operating universe.

But once I tried extending that equation and connecting the Mars II Pro via HDMI to my iPhone, that was a step too far! It created a small but infuriating audio delay from my AOMAIS Go speaker.

The fix is to avoid the Bluetooth connection altogether and hard wire the external speaker using an audio cable with 3.5mm mini connectors. After that, my external speaker’s audio synced to the Mars II Pro’s video perfectly.

Don’t Miss this Setting when Downloading Movies from the Apple TV App
File compatibility can be a problem when using a digital AV adapter.

I found that when downloading movies onto my iPhone from the iTunes Store, the flicks wouldn’t play when I used my Lightning Digital AV Adapter. Instead, I received this message.


When I opened my iOS 14’s settings and navigated to the Apple TV app, I spotted this critical setting under Digital AV Adapter Options:

  • Downloads for AV Adapter

And here’s the fix:

  • Slide Downloads for AV Adapter to – Green

This setting allows “Apple TV app to download titles specially-formatted to play through an AV adapter…”

Wow. Yes, it was that simple.

The Fall Challenge
Armed with my summer outdoor movie night learnings, I felt emboldened to confront any technical problem that fall outdoor movie night might throw at me. I brought my gear over to my friend’s house, eager to boot it all up.

My friend had already download the movie on his iPad’s Disney+ app to avoid the occasional but maddening video artifacts that can pop up when streaming gets bumpy. (smart)

I unpacked my Lightning digital AV Adapter and HDMI cable combo and connected his iPad to my Mars II Pro.

Docking was complete, and we were ready to go.

Great Scott!
My friend tapped the play icon, and the movie began.

Suddenly, I felt an uncontrollable impulse. I screamed, “It worked!” And I proceeded to take a victory lap around the patio. Everyone stared at me with confusion. They must have wondered if I was channeling my inner Doc Brown from “Back to the Future.” (I was.)

That’s because over the summer, I tried to project downloaded Disney+ movies using this same set up using my iPhone XS Max… and failed.

I’ve always receive this message:

So, I’ve been forced to stream my Disney+ content instead. And yes, that worked. But the Disney+ download method has continued to elude me.

Living Happily with Cold and Mystery
Of course I’ve tried to figure out why my friend’s iPad succeeded where my iPhone has stumbled. Let me simply say that the investigation… continues.

For now, the fact that my Nebula Mars II Pro was able to contribute to another successful outdoor movie night during this chilly time of year is plenty to celebrate.

Sure, it was cold out, but these are extraordinary times. If there’s a way to avoid cancelling yet another event while also being able to social distance outdoors, I think it’s worth considering.

So, break out the long underwear. Wear layers. Stir up some hot chocolate for the kids. And maintaining some glow in a fire pit doesn’t hurt either.

With that in place, it’s worth it!

44 Seconds from my Surreal Summer of 2020

Have you begun to see life differently too? Here’s my view from the beach…

I’m not complaining. As I write this, our state is currently not a hot spot. My family and I are healthy and safe. But of course, this summer of COVID-19 is anything but normal.

Even a walk on our local beach early in the morning feels… surreal.

Avoiding the crowds yet also craving more human interaction. Enjoying the uninterrupted patterns of nature and flow of water, though unable to avoid the constant awareness of instability and global disruption.

It sometimes seems like I’m living in someone else’s painting.

This short video I shot with my DJI Osmo Pocket provides a sense of this experience that I imagine you may also be feeling…


Again, I’m not complaining. Not really. It’s just so weird. And if I’m actually inhabiting a virtual painting in some alternate reality, I’m happy it can be at a beach on a sunny Saturday morning.


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