At Home with Tech

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

Tag: train commuting

Why Face Masks and AirPods can Make a Dangerous Pair

If you’ve returned to your commute, you may need to consider how to properly arrange what you wear on your face and ears. Here’s why.

I’ve been enjoying my new AirPods 3 on my Metro North commute to Grand Central Terminal.

Not only am I a new AirPods user, but I’m also a new subscriber to Apple Music. (I took advantage of the six-month free trial membership offer I received as part of my AirPods purchase.)

So as you might imagine, my commute has become a more immersive experience of motion with music.

Walking with AirPods
That said, I’ve been a real baby about walking through the streets of New York City while wearing my AirPods. Why? I’m worried that one of my wireless wonders will drop out as I weave my way to work.

I know that’s silly, especially as I pass hundreds of people every day happily sporting their own AirPods.

If you’re wondering, I deliberately did not buy the more securely-fitting AirPods Pro, because I didn’t like the way they felt when I tried on a test pair at the Apple Store a couple years back.

But I’ve been studying the faces I pass, and plenty are not wearing the Pro model.

And I don’t believe there’s an epidemic of people dropping their AirPods on New York sidewalks and lunging about to rescue them.

So, after a couple of weeks on training wheels, I decided it was finally time to do a proper test drive.

Losing my Left AirPod
Of course walking with them in my ears was fine. Until it wasn’t. That’s because there’s one variable that AirPods were not designed to handle.

Face masks.

When I arrived to work and walked out of the elevator, I simultaneously reached up to remove my mask. It’s become something of an automatic gesture that I don’t think about anymore. Plus, I was rushing.

And that’s a mistake.

An AirPod didn’t just drop out. I did better than that. I literally launched one out of my left ear.

My mask’s cord caught the AirPod and transformed into a rubber band catapult.

My AirPod became a little projectile and ricocheted like a pinball onto the marble floor of the elevator hallway. The sound was excruciating.

I lunged after my AirPod as another elevator door was about to open… possibly releasing a crowd of crushing feet. (I had a flashback to that “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” scene where the little antidote bottle was kicked about the dance floor.)

I finally caught up with my AirPod and jammed it back in my ear. (No, I didn’t consider the hygienic consequences.)

I stood up and looked around. The elevator hallway was still vacant.

Nothing to see here.

And then I walked away.

Damaging my AirPod
Of course I tested my naughty AirPod when I arrived at my desk. Thankfully, it worked fine.

But the next morning on my commute, it was completely silent. Yes, it had juice. Was it dead?

In a bit of panic, I researched the problem on my iPhone, and Apple suggested I reconnect my AirPods and charging case to my iPhone. So, I quickly did that Bluetooth reset.

…and my left AirPod came back to life.


So did I damage my left AirPod? It can’t be a coincidence that it needed to be reconnected the very next day following the ‘incident.’

Well, it’s been working fine for the past couple of weeks. Perhaps it’s out of the woods.

AppleCare to the Rescue
If you sometimes wonder if you need to buy the extended warrantee on your tech, my advice is to always get it when it comes to Apple products. That’s because they’re mostly moving about with you. And life happens.

Yes, of course I bought AppleCare for my new AirPods. I may be clumsy, but I’m not oblivious.

Learning to Adapt
And that’s my cautionary tale. File it under ‘the art of wearing your face mask.’

Sure, it’s a no brainer being more careful when removing a mask while wearing AirPods. Clearly, I just have to master that little maneuver.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the need to wear face masks is going away any time soon.

Five Ways to Enjoy Your Metro North Commute to New York City

If this is a snapshot of your world every weekday morning, you may need a few tips to help you on your commute. Good news…

How hard is the commute into New York City on Metro North? Well, the train experience is not exactly a walk in the park. But there are ways to ‘smooth out’ the trip. If you’re a novice suburban commuter trying to make it to Grand Central Terminal every day, I’ve got five tips that should improve your trek.

Never Buy Your Ticket on the Train
This is rookie-mistake stuff. The conductors charge a significant surcharge to make on-board ticketing especially painful. So plan ahead and keep more money in your pocket! And now with the MTA eTix app for smartphones, you can always buy yourself an e-ticket before the conductor shows up.

Get Used to the Center Seat
If you’re traveling during rush hour, usually only a few seats will be left when you show up. And I guarantee they will be center seats. There is absolutely nothing wrong with politely asking the person sitting in the aisle seat to let you in. Otherwise, you’ll be standing for the entire trip, and how fun is that? I know some may say their personal-space requirements prevent them from squeezing into the center seat. If you’re going to be a regular rush-hour commuter, I’d recommend you try reducing the size of your personal-space bubble. After a while, you’ll find it isn’t as uncomfortable as you’d think.

Expect Weak Cellular Spots Along the Way
Once upon a time, you’d see an ocean of open newspapers during the morning commute. No more. Now, everyone is on a digital device, many of them streaming movies and TV shows. If you don’t have work to do, streaming your favorite content is a great way to spend your time on Metro North. The only challenge you’ll face is the reality that the cellular signal is not evenly strong along the way. (There are multiple 1-bar pockets.) So, you’ll need to rely on buffering to keep your show playing smoothly. That means you shouldn’t randomly jump in and out of watching your content. Once you begin, keep going! If you happen to receive a non-critical text while streaming the last episode of “Stranger Things” on Netflix, I highly recommend that you wait to respond until after that end-credits scene is over.

Admire the Great Work the Conductors Do
I’ve watched a variety of Metro North conductors in action across many years. Without exception, each one has brought professionalism and a friendly attitude with every commuter interaction. That doesn’t mean they’re not sometimes tough when they need to be if a commuter gets a little out of line. It’s clear that the conductors are always in charge. That psychological hierarchy maintains the necessary calm for any public transportation commute.

Buy the Best Muffin at Grand Central Terminal
Once you arrive at Grand Central Terminal, I say it’s time to reward yourself! The best breakfast muffin you’ll find is the ‘apple cranberry walnut muffin’ at Magnolia Bakery on the plaza level. It’s simply amazing.

The bakers seem to only cook up one batch of these muffins on any given morning… so you’ve got to show up early to get one. Any time after 9am is a gamble.

Bonus Tip: Maintain a Flexible Mindset
So, after many years as a ‘train warrior,’ I’m not currently commuting into New York City. (Instead, I brave the unpredictable parking lot known as I-95 to Stamford, CT.)
But as much as everyone I know loves to complain about I-95, it’s not really half bad if you expect the hideous traffic and always have a good podcast to listen to while driving.
(I highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History.”)

I also suggest that you apply the same flexible attitude towards commuting on Metro North to New York City on any given day. Combined with my commuting tips, you could even ‘enjoy’ your train experience!

Good luck!

How to Annoy 100 Train Commuters with Your iPhone

If you think you’re always in your own private bubble while streaming TV shows on the morning train, you might be in for a rude awakening when you invoke a commuter uprising… against you.

If you think you’re always in your own private bubble while streaming TV shows on the morning train, you might be in for a rude awakening when you invoke a commuter uprising… against you.

Warning: Never stream “The Blacklist” on Netflix while riding the train during your morning commute… Not without first checking in with Apple.

Let me explain my cautionary tale…

A few weeks back, I was doing exactly that on my Metro North train ride to New York City. Remember, I’m a Road Warrior, at least I pretend to be while riding the train.

So I had my trusty iPhone 6 Plus tuned into season 2 of “The Blacklist.”
My Apple EarPods were firmly in place…

If you’re a fan of the James Spader TV spy series, you know it’s a pretty noisy show. Lots of loud explosions as our heroes try to capture the bad guy…

Major Audio Malfunction
In the middle of watching a tussle with the evil Luther Braxton, played by the great Ron Perlman, my seatmate tapped me on my shoulder. I paused the stream, extracted my left Apple EarPod, and turned to face this stranger.

“I can hear your show.”


“Your TV show is playing too loud.”

I looked down at my iPhone.

“How is that possible? I’m wearing earphones.”

“I can still hear it.” It’s really loud.”

I paused in ongoing disbelief.

Then, the commuter on the other side of my offended seatmate leaned forward and joined the conversation.

“Yes, I think the entire car can hear it. It’s blaring! Everyone can hear it. Really!!”

She nodded.

He nodded.

I began to nod… in disbelief.
I had become ‘that guy.’ How embarrassing…

So of course I apologized and promised to lower the audio level, which I did. But several times during the rest of my commute, I pulled out one or both of the EarPods to listen for any escaping audio.

I heard nothing. My earphones weren’t projecting anything, contrary to crowd consensus.

Confused as to where the leak was coming from, I cranked the level back to ‘eleven.’


Hmmm… Then I realized for the sound level to be that offensive, the EarPods couldn’t possibly have been the culprit. Somehow, the iPhone’s onboard speaker must have been activated.

Then, it hit me… ‘Lint-gate!’

Pocket Lint is Evil
A few weeks back, I realized the exposed holes in the bottom my iPhone were slowly being filled up by pocket lint through normal wear and tear.

The tell was I couldn’t get a secure lightning connection to charge my iPhone anymore. That’s when I realized I had the lint problem. So I took matters into my own hands, grabbed a pin and started scooping out pocket lint from both the lightning port and the earphone jack.

Problem solved…. Or so I thought.

I assume you know the phrase, “Don’t try this at home.”

Clearly, I hadn’t extracted enough of the lint from the audio jack and the 3.5mm plug was being blocked from making a secure fit. And as a result, the iPhone’s speaker took over… even though my earphones were still operating.

While that scenario suggested the possibility of a technical glitch I couldn’t confirm, I figured where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

Then I remembered a friend had mentioned after reading my original pocket lint post that the same problem had happened to him. His solution was to take his iPhone to the Apple Store. The Genius he spoke with used a tiny ‘vacuum-cleaner-like’ tool to do the fix.


iPhone to Surgery… Stat!
So when my train arrived at Grand Central Terminal, I hoofed it to the Apple Store, which was conveniently located only a few steps away from Track 18.

I checked in… told my sad tale of how “The Blacklist” had disrupted an entire train car filled with annoyed commuters… and I was quickly scheduled to see an Apple Genius.

When my Genius arrived, I repeated my story, handed over my iPhone, and then she rushed it away to the back room.

Five minutes later, she reappeared and confirmed that my iPhone had still been clogged with plenty of pocket lint.

But no more.

She handed back my iPhone with a big smile.
(No charge)

I asked if there was a better way to take care of this nuisance at home. She suggested using a paper clip instead of a pin, because the larger circumference of the point could grab more lint.

But really… I knew my solution moving forward.

Cleared for Duty
Can you think of any personal tech you regularly rely on more than your smartphone?


I say everyone should schedule an annual ‘De-linting’ iPhone Check Up with the Apple Store.

Your fellow train commuters will thank you, and you won’t end up on anyone’s Blacklist!

%d bloggers like this: