Categories
Daily Life Productivity Booster

2021

This is the week where it’s quieter and I look back on what happened this year and start to think about what 2022 might be about. There’s the things I have to work on, the things I want to work on, financial goals, family things, and some recreation so I still feel like I have a life in spite of pandemics, coup attempts, etc.

On the family front it was a good year, managing everyone’s heath issues is not a lot of fun as part of the sandwich generation but we’re doing ok. We did not get to go to Michigan this year thanks to the pandemic so hopefully that will happen in 2022.

Financially it was mostly good, which I rate as absolutely fantastic as everything else was bonkers. Of course the kids’ college fund could always be better funded so that’s a goal not completed. The only big work thing was that I wanted to start writing my next book on a concept I’ve been kicking around but I never made time for that. Like many people my cooking game has leveled up on a number of fronts and I’m not sure if I’d trade that for having a manuscript done. This past year has clearly demonstrated that time around the table with family is never guaranteed so I’m going to think hard over the next few days about what’s next for writing but maybe that could be shelved to post pandemic. On the other hand, the idea of doing some kind of MoC Conference (live unless the pandemic requires virtual, and I’m starting to think it’s going to be virtual) does have me excited so I’ve got to think about that too.

Personally it was a good year for preventative medicine, I caught up on all the doctor appointments that had been override by toddlers, then pandemic. I was about 75% as active as I wanted to be, I did get plenty of excercise but the Falmouth Road Race was not in the cards and I really need to find a Yoga class, I’ve reached the point where I can no longer stand the videos I’ve used for years so that needs to change in 2022 before I’m so stiff and inflexible that I break a hip or something.

Overall this year was a B+ and then factoring in all the turmoil, pandemic, and struggles I’ve seen my neighbors go through, it reminds me how fortunate I am and hopefully we can continue to succeed on our own fronts and help others do the same in the new year.

Categories
Geek Stuff Productivity Booster

Answering Nerd Gift Questions

It’s the most wonderful time of year! My friends and relatives ask me questions about HDMI cables and memory cards, stuff they want nothing to do with for the other 11 months of the year.

Here’s the most common questions I’ve been getting so that I can just email this link around.

What video game system do I get?

The PS5 is still in short supply, but for hardcore fans of the platform they may not consider anything else. If your gamer is into playing Halo then Xbox may be an option, I would not assume so unless they say so.

I’m suggesting the Nintendo Switch for most people. It’s not as powerful as the previous two but the killer feature is that it is both a console (looks great hooked up to a TV) and can be used as a handheld game (fully portable for creating silence in the car. You’re welcome.)

There are multiple versions of the Switch so it can be confusing. The newest version has an OLED Screen and it’s the one I recommend. The original version is $50 less most places I’ve seen it and that’s not much of a discount for what’s basically 4 years old. The Switch Lite is smaller and cheaper but does not output to a TV which is a dealbreaker for me.

What Do I Need To Buy With A Nintendo Switch?

Games of course. An important point here is you can now choose between buying games from the store in memory cards or just downloading them.

I prefer download because they never get lost. They cards are only the size of a postage stamp and that’s just asking for disaster in my house. If your gamer is a neat and tidy person there is the upside of being able to resell games on memory cards when they are done with them if they like to trade up. For downloaded games that’s the end of the line, you have no access to the used market.

You can buy Nintendo eStore cards all over the place, good games that are new tend to run around $60. Target is currently running a buy one, get 15% off the second on a bunch of video game platform gift cards.

A tip here – our local library network does lend Nintendo Switch games. It’s always great to try them before buying, some games just suck, others can be completed before it has to go back to the library. This can save a huge pile of cash.

Nintendo Switch also has a gaming network, this allows you to play with other gamers online and gives access to a library of a bunch of games from previous Nintendo systems (current Wii games are not in there though.) This is $20 a year for an individual or $35 for the family. This is a cheap way to have a ton of games right from day 1 without breaking the bank.

Nintendo Switch Controllers

The small controllers are the weak point on the platform. They work but they can’t handle the long term abuse that controllers normally get. If your gamer is tough on controllers (like ragequit throwing) a Pro Controller is a required upgrade. It’s very much in the platform gamer standard, strong enough to easily break a TV when tossed and will survive.

I have tried a few upgraded controllers that attach like the stock ones. This Kinvoca Joypad has worked well and not broken as fast as the original.

If you have the original controllers and they are not working, most commonly by “drifting” where things move without you touching the stick, or if you can’t move in certain directions, they can be repaired if you are a little bit handy and not afraid to void your warranty. I have used more than one of these joystick replacement kits that come with all the tools and parts you need.

Get A Memory Card and Screen Protectors

If you are going the downloaded games route you’ll want to add more storage. This is a good memory card.

My kids manage to crack the screen protector every 3 months or so, making screen protectors the best purchase I’ve made with the system, these come in a three pack so we’re never without one.

Smart Light Bulbs and Smart Home

There are a lot of Smart Home Options, we use Alexa for everything since it works with Smart Outlets (Alexa, turn off Christmas tree is a big win.)

Phillips Hue Light Bulbs are expensive compared to the competition but they have a good app and integrate with Alexa. Note that there are bulbs that do different shades of white and brightness and then more expensive ones that can do the full color spectrum. Phillips has a starter kit on sale for the holidays, and my local warehouse club has them.

I have a Google Nest Smart Thermostat, it is only ok. It’s limited if you want to use sensors to adjust the temp by room (at night I want the heat to go on based on the bedroom temp, not the temp downstairs.) If you have one you like please mention it!

TV and Home Theater

This space is crazy, everything has become so cheap. I like buying TVs from the warehouse club (or Best Buy if you still have one close to you) so you can see them to pick, compare, and make sure it fits in your house (also confirm it will fit in your car/truck to go home before you pay.)

TV’s are cheap but the LED revolution has made projectors affordable too. Adding a projector to our living room has changed the game, I don’t like watching the TV anymore and because of the scale it’s better than going to the movies. I’ve already done a post about that if you want to see how I got it together for a screen over 100 inches for less than the price of a 47 inch TV.

Phones

Everyone here is getting upgraded because we are in a rural area and some carriers shutting down 3G is going to be a problem so everybody is getting a 5G upgrade. The real fun here is that I won’t know if this will make life better or worse until we try. It astounds me every day that I live in a town with a top rated liberal arts college and have crappy cell/internet, but here we are.

Headphones, Earphones, Earbuds

There’s a lot going on in this space but the short version is that the Jabra Active Elite 75T are ranked #1 by many review sites and I can agree. Better sound quality than AirPods, great microphones for calls. But, remember there’s no one size fits all, there’s a bunch of reasons why you might want to use something else (number one being not wanting to force something into your ear canal.)

Unfortunately the Active Elite 75T is being phased out and I have not tried any of the new line to know what the best successor is. Right now I would suggest the 85T until the new stuff has been reviewed.

Always happy to talk this topic or…

Trusted Review Sites

I’m a paying member of Consumer Reports for appliances and cars. The Wirecutter is fantastic for trying hundreds of products and recommending the best (Lauren Dragan on headphones!)

Categories
Geek Stuff Productivity Buster

Building a Home Theater for Around The Price of a Good TV

A little more than a month ago a neighbor of mine said “Here, have this projector.” I was astounded at the generosity because having worked virtually for more than 10 years now, the last time I had to get a projector for the office it was around $2,000 to get something that looked decent.

What I missed is that while I’ve been all about LEDs for home and my toolbox, I didn’t realize that they’ve completely changed the projector market too. My brain melted a little bit when I looked this projector up on Amazon and saw it was $90. When it started acting a little weird the company told my neighbor “We’ll send you another one, don’t even bother shipping the wonky one back.” Regardless of the price I was thrilled to get to mess around with a new toy.

The projector was good enough to be impressive in a dark room but our TV was sharper and didn’t require a darkened room, so the trade off of size vs. picture was about even. After a couple of weeks I started to have the same problem with it, not powering up or shutting off randomly so I recycled it but the damage had been done. I had a taste of a huge screen in the house having my own little movie theater was just too cool.

So, here’s where I went from there and links for you if you want to check it out. For the projector I went with this Yaber Y30 ProjectorYaber Y30. It’s 1080p so it’s not going to compare to a 4k image (4k projectors currently starting at $1,200) but it currently retails around $200 and it went on sale with a coupon for $150 and then I had some Amazon credit so I got it for $100.

What really got me and Carin was that we had an open wall large enough to hit a sweet spot. It was like having a 110 inch TV and it was a magic point. At that size, in many movie scenes the characters were “Actual Size.” It wasn’t like TV where you focus on the actors and that’s really where your brain is, or that it was a movie screen where everything was huge. It was like looking into the next room. It hit us in a restaurant scene where were we listening to the actors but it felt like we were in the same restaurant.

I have a few speaker sets around and I was trying to see what I could make work but realized that with a Soundbar that supports Bluetooth, Apple TV could connect and then I’d only have to plug it in, I wouldn’t have to run any wires across the room (or drill into the floor which is the only safe thing to do.) Bose TV SpeakerBose had their TV Speaker as a refurb for only $150 (sorry, looks like it’s gone up a bit) and it’s good enough for the small room. The wall mount was separate but this Amazon one is a better deal than the official Bose.

For the wall we are projecting on silver is the color you want (I naively thought it would be white, but that ends up being too bright.) Home Depot sells it and I got it online but it took about 10 days, I don’t know if they can mix it on site. A gallon was $60 and that was a huge mistake. We will do the whole room with it but if you are only doing one wall I did two coats and some touch up and I barely made a dent in the bucket.

The only thing I went full retail on was the Apple TV. Years ago I gave up on the whole media server thing and just went all in on Apple. Movies, music, TV shows, phone apps, it’s all in their cloud. I’m trapped there and it’s not cheap, but I don’t have to do any work to maintain anything. I throw the hockey puck in the bag with an HDMI cable and we can go anywhere with our media library.Apple TV

And you can see the three remotes, which is a pain, but the good news is that the Logitech Harmony programmable remote runs the TV and stereo in the same room, and I had enough open devices (limit 8) that I was able to add it all. So I hit the movie screen button and the projector, speaker, and Apple TV all fire up. The Harmony is fantastic but it can be a pain to program, I suggest using the PC/Mac App to program it, the phone apps seem to crash when under heavy load. Here’s a link and it should be $149 but it seems that perhaps too many people have gotten into smart remotes during Covid so they are out of stock and folks are tacking on an extra $100 if they have them.Harmony Remote

Since the projector is blocking the top of a window I went with cable runs, which are plastic tracks you can wall mount and snap on the cover so the cables are out of sight. With a white run on the window molding it’s difficult to even spot. Cable Run on Window

Here’s the image, and this is in the middle of the afternoon with the room half darkened:Screen

One thing I learned more about than I wanted to was ceiling mounting and image keystoning. Many projectors have keystone correction, the ability to correct the image if the projector is too high or low, or even not straight on. My first thought was to mount the projector up on the ceiling so it was totally out of the way of the window. After I set it up and went through the keystone correction (you just hit a couple buttons until the image is straight on all sides again) it was obvious that you pay a price in image sharpness by doing it. It was still watchable but out of focus in the areas where the light was traveling the farthest to hit the wall. I’ve learned that this is one of the things that make the $10,000 commercial projectors what they are, for big bucks you can keystone correct and still look great. For my budget… not so much.

So, much to Carin’s chagrin (drilling another 4 holes in the ceiling) I ordered another mount, this one with an extension arm, so that the projector was shooting straight at the wall at the right height. This was kind of a pain, but she did admit it was worth it when we fired up the next movie.

The good news with this is you can tell people are screwing up the mounting job all the time and so Amazon has no shortage of open box specials. I got the first ceiling mount for $5 down from $20, and the second with the arm for $10, down from $35.

So end of day I’m going off to the movies to see the new Star Wars stuff on Disney+ and with my random coupons and credits I got there for around $470, which is almost exactly what we paid for our TV about 3 years ago. I recommend it to any TV, movie, concert or sports fan!

Categories
Daily Life

Now Hear This

I got a batch of NFC stickers and I’m playing around with that. The first use case is setting it up so somebody can tap my phone with theirs and they’ll download my contact info. After that who knows, but it’s cheap and easy to play with. The other killer app there is Apple supports passing WiFi login via NFC so tapping to get on the network is a whole lot easier than somebody typing nectarinem0nkey5785.

At the recommendation of Tom Webster I started looking at the Jabra line of earbuds when I was looking for full Bluetooth and checking out the latest from Bose and Apple Earpods. The Jabra 75t won, pushed to the head of the pack by great microphones and an Equalizer so I can tweak the audio so it sounds best to my ears. And it works, they’re the most fun I’ve had listening to earbuds.

Earlier this year I had a fantastic discussion with Joshua Cohen of TubeFilter. If you want to know how people are making piles of money on YouTube it’s worth the listen.

I don’t watch much TV, Carin and I usually have a single show we’ll watch a couple nights a week. We’ve never watched a season of anything more than once. That is until we found Ted Lasso back in the spring. It looks like it’s a sports show, but in reality it’s a workplace comedy. The producer of Scrubs brings a mountain of experience to it and the rapid pace is just a touch of Gilmore Girls. If you feel the world has been lacking kindness in the past 5 years, it will calm your mind and heart.

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Marketing IT Dept.

I’m on the Internet!

For the past 4 months or so I’ve been digging through a bunch of server logs to try and figure out why my site was getting hammered 6,000 times a day driving my hosting prices up to $299 a month. I still don’t understand exactly what the problem is beyond that it’s some kind of podcasting client looking for a podcast. I haven’t done an episode of The M Show in what feels like 10 years so this is very bizarre.

Regardless, I finally scuttled themshow.com as a web address which is fine, I still use it for mail but jw5150.com has been the URL I pass around when needed.

So, aside from that incredibly exciting story the big news is that Trust Insights and Marketing Over Coffee have been very busy and ski season is back upon us. I was not overly impressed with the sound quality of my Sony 7506 Ski Helmet but that all changed when I added the EarStudio ES100. It’s a Bluetooth DAC, you can plug in any wired headphones and now they are Bluetooth. Also great for adding any Bluetooth to your car or home stereo. The big win is that you also get a full equalizer app so I was able to boost the sound (surprise, the preset I have to make earbuds sound better makes the helmet sound fantastic!)

One other thing on this setup, Chubby Buttons 2 have been released. The only difference is you can access your Smart Assistant with them now. When they came out I said “I can get by without that” and then after the first day skiing when I got 15 test messages and had to pull out my glasses to read them I went home and ordered it that night. Review to follow.

That’s it for now, just wanted to check in now that I’m finally back on the internet!

Categories
Daily Life

The Great Shutdown

For the past 4 years I’ve been waiting on a recession. I thought it would be just the normal Wall Street shenanigans or something, I never expected this.

I hope you and your family are safe and healthy, that’s our first order of business.

While it’s frightening watching the pandemic spread and not knowing when it will let up or how bad it will be, we will get to the other side of this and I’m hoping that we’ll look at things a bit differently. Maybe our healthcare system could put the health of all and more capacity and distributed supply chain ahead of just in time profits at all costs to “maximize shareholder value.”

I wrote a piece last week on the Trust Insights website about why this could be a defining moment for us, a time when everyone around the world can work together to build a better future. Please check it out, I would love to hear your opinion on it.

With our normal daily routines gone be sure you’re doing things to keep your brain healthy and minimize stress. Here’s a list I swiped from Christopher Penn:

  1. Endorphins – get some exercise
  2. Dopamine – play some games
  3. Serotonin – foods rich in tryptophan
  4. Oxytocin – Barry White time

If you’ve read any great books or seen any good movies feel free to chime in this Friday on the #FriLearning tag on twitter and tell us what you learned. Feel free to tag me in @johnjwall

Categories
Geek Stuff

Sony 7506 Ski Helmet Mod

Updated: Of course 3 minutes after hitting publish I realize the better headline is “Audiophile Ski Helmet.”

It’s so funny that I have a post today, almost exactly one year from my last one! Of course the last one was that I had finished the book project so that’s a pretty decent excuse to stop writing but that’s not the case, it’s just that the blogging I’ve done has been over at my work site – Trust Insights. For martech folks check out this series on lead scoring, attribution, and machine learning for attribution!

Longtime readers know that I’m a huge fan of the Sony 7506 headphones, and I mod them for podcasting and webinars with a removable mic – the ubergeek special Johnny Headphones.

This winter I decided that I wanted to upgrade from my Bose Sport Headphones and started looking into other options. Taking sport headphones in and out is a hassle and I wanted to see if I could get both better sound and less isolation (being able to hear what was going on around me better) as I’m chaperoning my kids and a couple others after lesson time is over and I need to know who is yelling, and more importantly why.

I was new to helmets when I came back to skiing 4 years ago after only going out a handful of times over the past 15 years. At first I thought I would hate them as it’s a lot like motorcycle riding, although it’s moronic in terms of risk management there’s nothing like the wind coming at you high speed to feel like you’re truly free.

What I was not expecting is that the helmet is the perfect combination of super warm, and yet still with enough ventilation to stay comfortable. I was not expecting a helmet to be warmer and more comfortable than any ski hat I’ve ever had. I’ve had a ton of hats and the very best, I would charitably rate as half comfortable. And projecting my skull from impact is a wonderful side benefit.

After a bit of researching I learned that many ski helmets, like the Boeri I got a great deal on at the local ski sale, are made with velcro pockets over each ear so that you can drop in a speaker solution like these Alta Wireless Bluetooth Helmet Drop in Speaker Chips:

As you can see it’s pretty simple, just drop them in and go.

But, in the process of learning how to mod the 7506 I had a bunch of parts lying around and decided to build my own. There were three benefits to this: first I prefer wired, while bluetooth no wires is a wonderful thing, the freedom is offset by even one day of arriving at the mountain and realizing I forgot to charge my helmet. Second I was pretty sure I could do better sound wise than anything else out there, and so far I haven’t tried anything better (although there is a helmet that has a perfect cutaway so that it includes a real full set of over ears with headband, but I wasn’t about to go that route because of reason three – I already had the parts so this was “free.” It as pretty straightforward:

  • Take apart the 7506s with Phillips head screwdriver
  • Cut all wires, leaving enough for me to see which color goes where (note that the left side that has the jack has 3 points to solder to while the right only has two)
  • Use the Dremel cutter to cut around the plastic plate that holds the driver, and then the Dremel grinder to take off all the rough edges
  • I had an old patch cord that I soldered to both to connect the left to the right driver. The cord fits between the styrofoam and the outer plastic shell of the headphone so it’s completely out of sight running around the back of my head.
  • Plastic twist ties are perfect for securing the cables to the plastic driver plates after soldering, cut the plate leaving pairs of holes that you can run the plastic twist ties through to bind down the cables so they don’t move (cable 1 connecting left to right, cable 2 long enough to run down to my jacket pocket and terminating with a 3.5mm tip which plugs into my iPhone 6 (until next week when my iPhone X arrives!!!)
  • Note that many ski jackets have a loop along side the zipper for cord management and may also have a button hole so you can run the cord into the pocket from the inside. I have both so even though I went all fancy with a Neon Lime cord, you can’t see it at all if I have my jacket zipped all the way up so that it covers the bottom of the helmet ear pads.
  • This bullet and the next two are critical for sound quality – I used another twist tie to connect the driver plate to the ear cushion that attaches to the ear flap. I tried just having it float in the pocket but sound quality can vary dramatically if it moves too high, anchoring it with the twist tie solves this (and be sure the driver is facing into your ear, not out, that was a moronic mistake I made once.
  • Because the 7506 are closed back headphones I found out that by adding a Beyerdynamic driver cover (a piece of foam with velour on one side that normally covers the driver to protect it from your greasy ears) not over the driver but behind it to reduce the amount that bleeds outside the ear flap dramatically increased the sound quality. At this point in the testing I started smiling as the sound quality was fantastic.
  • The third improvement was learned by testing – having the chin strap connected and tight is critical, the better the seal on the ear flaps the better the bass, so much so that if it’s snug the whole helmet will bounce a bit when you his some big bass.

I also covered the solder points with electric tape to reduce the risk of shorting out in case it gets wet, or catching fire against the foam. With that said, if you are going to try this at all let me be clear:

You are violating your warranty, odds are it will light on fire, short out and destroy the headphones and probably kill you. I’m straight up telling you that in no way should you try this, if you are crazy enough to still try remember that I told you it would never work and best case scenario is you dying quickly.

With the disclaimer done here’s some photos:

Driver soldered, cables secured and covered up
Finished project

One last thing, using your phone or the normal buttons on the average headphone cable is mostly impossible. While searching I came across Chubby Buttons – a bluetooth controller for your music (and the watch battery lasts a season, no recharging.) It’s not cheap, around $60 but it is fantastic, I highly recommend:

Chubby Buttons

Ok, start building some playlists!

Update:

After field testing I thought the sound was only ok. Then this year I added the EarStudio ES100. It’s a Bluetooth Adapter, you can plug in any wired headphone and now it’s Bluetooth. The big win here is that it also has a full EQ app. So while the sound used to be pretty thin (unsurprising make a closed back headphone open back) as soon as I switch the EQ to the setting I use to make earbuds sound better it was fantastic. I can now recommend this rig whole heartedly.

Also one other update, Chubby Buttons 2 have been released. Same link, same thing but you can now access smart assistants so no more pulling out the phone to read text messages. I’ll update when it gets here!

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Productivity Booster

The Marketing Over Coffee Playbook!

I’m very happy to announce that the Marketing Over Coffee playbook is now available!

For everyone familiar with the show the book will be no surprise – quick and easy to understand segments on everything going on at the intersection of marketing and technology.

It’s available on Amazon here. Or you can get more details on the landing page.

This is my second book and (hopefully) a lot more mainstream business than B2B Marketing Confessions. I have to thank Editor Carol for all her work on this project, it could not have come together without her.

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Photos

Panoramic Photos

My friend Ron took these last year and I was trying them out on different platforms and VR headsets. The files were originally up on Facebook, which has no interest in you linking to them from the outside web, so I’m posting them here so they’re easier to get to.

These shots are from Bonnie Lea Farm, if you’re ever out in the Berkshires looking to learn horse riding, it’s the place to go.

Categories
Daily Life

Our Community

Jeremiah Owyang had a post asking why tech has not solved homelessness in the bay area. The obvious snark that’s far below me would be “Yeah, that’s shocking, tech people having difficulty handling social situations.” I know, here I am talking about compassionate stuff and opening being a mean jerk. It’s still funny.

It’s cliche (but still true) to say there’s no easy answer, but there are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about (and I try to write up the lessons of the week as #FriLearningGarry encouraged me to do this).

One problem is that homelessness is a bundle of many things. People having economic difficulty are a different problem than those with mental illnesses, substance abuse is another massive issue. AND, these are not mutually exclusive and a cover a wide spectrum from a little trouble to hazardous. Everybody I know that’s spent time on Market Street has a story about somebody doing something crazy and threatening others. I’ve seen law enforcement struggle with maintaining everyone’s safety and rights, doing all they can to negotiate with the irrational. I can’t give them enough credit for dealing with that daily.

Our country was created as a land of opportunity – you have a chance to go out and get it. I used to think that now a small amount of people have most of it. Having done more research, it’s been that way for most of human civilization, this is not new. I used to think that putting more effort into “helping the poor” was the answer. This divides us and it creates a real problem at the dividing line. The democratic party got a rude awakening this election from voters in the middle class that weren’t excited about paying more to make healthcare more affordable for others.

Maybe it’s not about “the poor” but trying to find a way to make food, shelter, medical care and taking responsibility for others part of who we are. And you can help, there’s no reason to wait for an ambitious government official to figure it out.

 

Things that guide my opinions: HandUp is has been trying interesting things. The Guardian on the homeless offered trips out of town. Our local food pantry.

Notes:┬áSearching for “FriLearning” in twitter brings them up in chronological, searching on #FriLearning orders them some other way.