Be Selfish … Shop Local!

Do you know how to shop your local businesses online?

We’re close to Christmas, in the middle of the pandemic, & it’s Black Friday shopping season. I had already bought all I could think of buying at my local stores so now, it’s time for a little online shopping. Woohoo!

I can’t deny it, I’m a fan of the big e-commerce sites. And I’m sure I’ll do some shopping with them too. However, do you see newly shuttered shops & “For Lease” signs in the local malls these days? Some lights are out & might not be coming back on. Those are our neighbours.

We can shop local for totally selfish reasons too. We’ll all want more choices in the post-pandemic world. If we don’t keep them in business, those choices disappear. Small business people are paying taxes too. And they buy other products that eventually circle back around to keeping those of us still in a job, in a job! So go ahead … be selfish & shop local! 😜

These days, many small business owners are trying to build an online presence. I’ve seen some interviewed on TV & most were able to get up & running, pretty quickly, with Shopify’s platform. That helps them get cheap shipping rates too. All necessary in the modern competitive landscape.

I assumed part of the benefit of using the Shopify platform is the sheer scale & size of that company. As a consumer, I figured it would be an easy online search to find all the local shops who were using Shopify.
Not so. I couldn’t find Shopify businesses & I couldn’t even find out how to find local Shopify sites to buy from. I was mystified. Small business owners need the benefits of Shopify’s size & power of aggregation. But where was that advantage? Surely there was a way to find which local businesses were offering their products through Shopify?

I went directly to Shopify’s site looking for the answer, but it wasn’t jumping off the page there either. I clicked on a support chat button. I’m not sure it was a support button for this kind of question but I got help from a great support person. (Thanks, Alycia!)

Of course, privacy rights prevent them from sharing who is using their platform (duh!) but, as it turns out, there’s an app for that! 🤪😁
I’m not kidding, there is an app called “Shop”, by Shopify, that does connect us to local businesses, & more. I downloaded it & had a quick look to see if it could hone in on local businesses & yes, it can.
You can even … wait for it … SHOP with it! 😂

I haven’t done any shopping yet, so this isn’t a review of the functionality of the app. I’m just sharing it, in case you might want to try it out, & support your local businesses too.
Or does everyone already know about this? And it’s just me that was in the dark!?!

I’m not in any way connected with Shopify, by the way, just sharing what I found out.

And did you know there are selfish reasons to add food to the food bank boxes at the supermarket exits too? I put a couple of bucks worth of non-perishable food in there & I felt like a million bucks. Where else can you get that kind of return!?! 😜

Take care out there all.

Shopify & Shop are registered Trade Marks of Shopify Inc.

Working From Home

My Work from Home Colleague!

I think I’m getting the hang of this working from home thing at last. It was a little chaotic at the start. I found myself getting caught in unplanned online video conferences with yesterday’s t-shirt on. Or with a three-day beard. Sometimes, I discovered that I’d forgotten to comb my hair, but only when my headshot popped up on screen. Now I have a much better routine. But I also keep a hairbrush in my desk, just in case!

I’ve always done some work at home, so my office is well set up from a technology standpoint. Nothing special, I’ve got a desk, dual monitors, fast internet, great cellular signal, & all the basic stuff you might need. My office is big enough not to be claustrophobic, with a nice view out the window, overlooking a forested strip with a babbling brook running though it. The most practical addition I’ve made is to squeeze in an armchair & ottoman. My back suffers after a few hours at the desk, regardless of where I’m working from, & this proved a Godsend. A few minutes stretched out on this comfy old chair is a wonderful cure. Can’t believe that I didn’t think to do this in my real office. Years ago.

I must admit, my home office is a little untidy. With my desktop covered, I’ve taken to using the floor as a sorting surface. I really need to work on that. And my office is pretty boring too. Functional, but really plain & blah! I’ve taken to studying the backgrounds of home offices on TV these days. I’m trying to watch less CNN & Fox News (a story for another day!) & my entertainment tends to come from BNN Bloomberg now. I’m fortunate to still have a job & I figure BNN offers the best insight into my future job security. I time my lunch break to catch my favourite show on BNN. Not only is the stock market very entertaining during these crazy times but, with different guests being interviewed every day, this show is a great source of home office inspiration.

You can tell these people have already done what I’m planning to do. Their home offices have improved, week by week. Some of them look so good now that it’s as though they’ve been professionally staged. Strategically positioned highbrow books, nice artwork appearing on the once-bare walls. Accent furniture pieces. Fresh flowers. And some people introduce their doggies to viewers. Very cute, almost makes me want to rush out & rescue a puppy!

On the back wall, I think I’m going to go with some artwork. And some enigmatic bric-à-brac on a console table. That should all make for good idle chat. While we wait for the late-comers to sign into those online meetings. Though I might have to refinish the table so it matches the decor a little better. Another thing for the to-do list!

I’m going to put my own artwork on the wall. I once painted, & even sold some paintings along the way. If there had been cellphones back then, I’d probably have some pics of those works to show you how brilliant I was! 🤪

Sadly, I abandoned the hobby when I got engaged with an early version of Adobe’s Photoshop software. I’ve long been a photography aficionado, so superimposing digital art manipulation on my photography hobby was a perfect fit. It was fast & efficient. And it made a few of my mediocre photographs look better. I’m thinking of doing a gallery of artsy pics of my real office for my home-office wall! 😂

The weirdest thing about working from home is the lack of social contact. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I had come round to hating airports, but I’d kill to be back flying again. On the other hand, I don’t want to die, so that probably won’t be happening any time soon. I really, really miss the office & customer interactions. You can’t spend a career in sales without enjoying time with people. Regardless of career, I think we all need this social interaction. Many of my friends come from the ranks of my colleagues & customers. Even though some of the bastards buy competitive products on occasion, they’re still my friends! 😜

Our colleagues, customers & suppliers are all very much an important part of, not only our work, but of our social circles too. I find it difficult to imagine, despite the potential cost savings, that too many companies will go to a 100% work-from-home, office-less model. It’s just not a social solution & that aspect of working life may prove too important a contributor to the bottom line. Thankfully!

I can do this & I’m getting better at it with each passing month. But I really hope we get a successful vaccine soon. How are you doing with this whole work from home thing? Let me know. And I wouldn’t mind if you sent me your ideas for home office decor either!

Just in case I’ve got to walk around during one of those online meetings I’m off to hunt online for a pair of dressy flip-flops now! 😁

Stay safe out there. 😷😜

A Useful Tool for our COVID-19 Toolbox

Oxygen Saturation Measurement from the Samsung Health App.

So far, I still haven’t smoked during the month of April. No doubt, for me, fear of COVID-19 was a contributing motivation to quit. I’m not delusional enough to think that a few weeks of being smoke-free is going to counteract a lifetime of abusing my lungs but hey, quitting can’t hurt & every little helps, right? And if I find myself without income during these turbulent times, it will certainly help if I’m not financing a smoking addiction too. That said, I know I’ll always be a smoker. Long term abstention is the best I can hope for. Even right now, writing about it, I’d kill for a smoke with my cup of coffee! 😁

A COVID-19 article in yesterday’s New York Times (article link) really caught my attention. SpO2? A pulse oximeter? What’s that & who’s got one of them?

I do! Or at least I had … until an update took it away!

I’m a big Samsung phone fan & I also love the Samsung Health app. Doesn’t every obese smoker want to know how screwed up he is!?! Along with monitoring heart rate, steps, & my lack of exercise (😜), my Samsung Note devices have a built-in pulse oximeter. That sensor used to measure my oxygen saturation & that is what the New York Times article is talking about. Unfortunately, some time back, the function vanished. I don’t know why but a new version of the Samsung Health app overwrote the old & the ability to measure oxygen saturation was gone.

Yesterday, after reading that article, I knew I needed it back. And at the risk of giving my phone a dose of a digital virus, I downloaded an older version of the Samsung Health app from a 3rd party website & I’m now measuring my SpO2 levels on my Samsung Note again. Woohoo!

The pic above shows my current O2 level & that number looks pretty good, well into the green zone. After only 3 weeks of not smoking, my heart rate is down & my oxygen saturation is better than my old “normal”. I’m a lifelong data gatherer. I’m not all that scientific with most of it, I just like to know where things are at, typically, & as a baseline. That way I can see when things are running adrift. If Dr. Levitan is right, this simple little tool on my phone might help me to decide when to call that emergency COVID-19 number to schedule a test. I sometimes worry whether I should, or should not, call to see if I need to get tested. Normally, I try to stay away for the doctor’s office & I run the risk of doing that for too long. Now, if my SpO2 numbers go lower than I’ve historically seen them, even when smoking, I think I’ll be motivated to make the call. I will be keeping my eyes open for further insights on what constitutes a low oxygen saturation number with respect to COVID-19.

Of course, this isn’t the only symptom we need to pay attention to. But monitoring oxygen saturation levels might be one more factor behind getting some of those more stubborn individuals in your life to see their doctor in a timely manner. And it might be useful data to share with your physician. It is just one more tool in our COVID-19 Toolbox.

I don’t want anyone to ruin their phone by going back to an old version of the Samsung Health app from a 3rd party website so please be careful & do your research before you decide to take that route. As an alternative, you can also buy the little finger pulse oximeter gadgets online & at your local drugstores & healthcare outlets. They are relatively inexpensive & they may help you establish a baseline for everyone in your household. No sharing outside the home would be recommended, I’m guessing! Should those baseline numbers change, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing when you call the doctor’s office. Or when you make the call on behalf of that stubborn member of your household!

Just to finish off on a dietary note … how’s that whole weight-loss thing going anyway? Especially now that I’m not smoking since the beginning of the month?

In a word … brutal! LOL

Needless to say, not having the opportunity to stuff a cigarette into my face twenty or more times a day, I’m stuffing all sorts of other things into my mouth instead. I’m like an eating machine & the scale is giving out a loud shriek every morning when I crush it! And to make matters worse, I read a few reports on obesity being a big contributing factor to some folk not fending off the bug well.

Oh well, one thing at a time. And we’ll see what the official weight damage is on the first of May!

Stay safe, all!

PS … if any of you learn anything more about the oxygen saturation thing, as it relates to COVID-19, please let me know.

Buying a Bluetooth® Speaker

Anker Soundcore Motion+

Here’s another vaguely-tech review for the more trusting among you! I love my gadgets but I think it just an excuse to go shopping. I like to get new things. Then I play with them a few times. And then they gather dust on the shelf.
That’s why I like to buy good stuff … but it must be cheap!
This review has a value bias.

I love the evaluation process almost as much as the shopping. Very often it’s the more expensive, well-known brand names that float to the top. The top choices in my mind were all the leading brand names that we all know & love. But I had one dark horse in the race too … the Soundcore Flare+™, from Anker, a company that’s trying to provide a quality product at a lower price point. A good strategy in my book & for my pocketbook.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a Flare+ at the store to listen to, so I went home to read more about it. To see if I could justify buying it without giving it a listen first. Then I stumbled across a brand new Anker speaker, the Soundcore Motion+™. It had just been released. Despite it not being available anywhere in Canada (& that just made me want it more!), the specs looked so good that I felt this must be the one. I bought it off, & who cares about the extra shipping & cross-border charges, it was still a lot cheaper than the brand name contenders I’d been considering.

The Motion+™ is a fairly plain, black brick, measuring a little over 3 x 3 x 10 inches, and weighing in at a few ounces over 2 pounds. A little chunkier & heavier than a couple of 1 pound butter bricks, placed end to end. It’s simple, but I like the look. It’s a little too heavy & chunky for on-board luggage travel, but getting decent sound is difficult with anything much smaller than this. The sound quality was more important than portability for me. It has a couple of tweeters, two neodymium woofers, & passive radiators that push out 30W. Comparing products by spec, we’re somewhat stuck with the Wattage as the comparison. It might be better if we knew the relationship between decibles & watts for each speaker, but nobody does that for these little things so we tend to rely on, & compare, wattage. I had a 12W & a 15W speaker already & they weren’t doing it for me anymore. The 30W sounded like a big improvement. And it is.

Key Specs
The grill protecting the speakers is metal, the rest of the body is a grippy rubber that can attract oil from our fingers, along with the dust & dirt that sticks to that. But the thing is IPX7 waterproofed so it’s easy to wash clean. It will survive being left out in the rain & even being dropped into the low end of the pool. The brick is more wedge shaped, giving a 15° angle of tilt towards the listener. Not a bad thing, I guess, & it does look a little cooler because of it.

The frequency range is billed as 50Hz to 40kHz. That sounds great but even a young person with great hearing probably maxes out, at the top end, in the 18 to 20kHz range. My hearing drops off somwhere between 9 & 10kHz. Though you can still drive your dogs & cats crazy going higher!
But … there’s nothing wrong with having a “better” spec than the competition.

From a tech standpoint, & this is great for a lower cost brand, this thing comes with all the latest stuff. Charging is via USB-C, so it matches all the latest phone chargers. You get a charging cord in the box, but not the power brick. It comes with a Hi-Res Audio sticker, & sports Bluetooth 5, with Qualcomm’s aptX™, for better quality & higher bandwidth streaming. But what does that mean?

If you’re playing your own MP3 files, not much. Similarly, most streaming service music won’t be anywhere near the kind of quality that will challenge these specs & capabilities. In addition to supporting a fuller bandwidth, the other advantage of aptX™ is latency. That happens when we watch a movie on our phone, & listen to the soundtrack through the speaker. Latency is the lag between the voice & the lips, or when the sound is out of sync with the action on screen. Watching video, I couldn’t detect any lip-syncing lag.

No NFC on this speaker, but that’s not a requirement for me. The Bluetooth connection was fast & easy. I haven’t checked to see if the battery life matches the 12 hour spec but it’s hanging in there & doing its thing, day after day, without me having to run to the charger.

Should You Worry About All These Specs?
That depends!
If you play highly compressed music files, or if you stream music at the “normal” or even at the “high” quality levels of most streaming services, probably not. I tested a high quality WAV file & I couldn’t tell the difference between the Bluetooth & the AUX cable (a lossless analog transfer). In fact, I wasn’t sure that I could tell the difference between the WAV file & a more compressed version of the same track, so I used a 3rd party for a “blind” sound test. She could reliably tell the difference between the WAV track & the compressed version, with 100% success over 10 iterations. And though she confidently claimed that she could tell the difference between Bluetooth & the AUX connection … she was wrong more often than right!
Though, since there’s no light going on to tell me, I can only hope the aptX™ stuff on my phone was working for all those tests too! 🙂

Now … what does all this mean in the real world?

For those with better hearing, playing a higher quality audio file may matter. But probably not if you don’t listen to them both being flipped back & forth in quick succession.
It looks like aptX™ is doing the job too, since it’s more difficult to tell the difference between using Bluetooth and the analog AUX cable.
And since my test subject could tell the difference between the quality of audio files, it looks like this little sub-one hundred dollar speaker is doing the job too.
The bottom line with specs, however, is that it rarely hurts to have gadgets with the latest & best specs.

Despite differences in what each individual can hear, the sound is really nice, all the way from low volume, right up to the max. The max being pretty uncomfortable on the ear if you’re sitting too close, so I guess that 30W is plenty for a deck or poolside speaker. Anything above 50% has the neighbours casting wry glances my way! For my own entertainment, I’m comfortable with it around the 20% mark. And the fullness, the richness, the roundness of the sound the Motion+ produces is good throughout the volume range. Things don’t fall apart when it goes loud, & it’s a very pleasant listen at lower volumes too. All in all, I was happy I pulled the trigger, sight unseen, on this little thing. It is a lot of speaker for the money.

You can add a 2nd Motion+ to the mix if you want a broader stereo platform. And that doubles the volume so make sure you invite the neighbours to the party ahead of time.

The AUX input is located right next to the USB-C charging port. This area is the only weakness from a waterproofing standpoint, hence the heavy rubber plug which must be pried open when you want to charge the speaker. Or for when you want to connect your phone or music player by wire.

Soundcore App
The app isn’t bad & it handles all the basics pretty well. First thing it did when I fired it up was a 7 minute firmware upgrade. All went well. Next, you must flip through the entire product range ’til you get to the Motion+ so you can select it. I’d prefer a list for this, rather than all that swiping. After that, you can choose a sound profile or create a custom profile. There is a BassUp™ button on the speaker that has a corresponding sound profile in the app, either one gives you the same result. I wasn’t impressed with any of the standard presets, so I created the one you see in the top left of the pic. There’s not much logic here, it’s just what I liked. The speaker has two passive radiators, one front & back, but it doesn’t have a secret, hidden sub-woofer & that’s probably why I tend to boost the bass. My higher frequency hearing is shot, so I’m likely doing a placebo compensation thing at the higher end of the scale. I still can’t hear anything beyond 10 kHz but it makes me feel better! 🙂
You will need to play with this to find what suits your ear. The end result of playing with the EQ sliders was far more pleasing to me than any of the included standard presets.

The 2nd image in the above pic is the profile that matches Soundcore’s BassUp™ technology. This, apparently, adjusts the bass in real time but I felt the loss of the mid-range & upper reaches so I kept going back to my custom profile. The profile at the bottom of the pic is Voice. I use this one for listening to podcasts. Here again, I can get a result that is more pleasing to me by adjusting the custom profile. Unfortunately, you can only save one custom profile, so I left that adjusted to my preferred settings for music. Once you save it, & if it’s the last profile used, it comes back by default next time you power up the speaker.

I listen to a pretty full range of music … Latin, Irish, folk, pop, rock, country & so on … but I’ll occasionally dip into my classical & opera “hits” playlists. My custom profile needed some tweaks for opera & classical music, I was lowering the bass & raising the higher frequencies. Ideally, I would like to be able to adjust the existing standard profiles, or I would like to have maybe 3 custom profiles that I could name & save. That would give me one each for Music, Classical & Podcasts. Otherwise though, the app is simple, straightforward & does what is should do.

I bought the Motion+™ without hearing it & I got lucky! It’s a good solid speaker, with great specs, & it comes with a basic, but decent, app. Where it really delivers is in giving some great sound, along with great value.

Interestingly, it’s currently unavailable on Amazon. What does this mean!?!? Is it wildly popular already & sold out? Or is there something strange afoot here? Will it become an instant collector’s item?

I don’t know what’s going on, nor do I care … I like it & mine is not going back!

A Marketer’s Dream

Smart Stuff or Clutter?

Google Home vs Amazon Alexa … not quite a review!

I’m a total sucker for a good line of marketing. And, with data collection being what it is these days, I’m like putty in the hands of the big marketers. But I’m happy to be a subject in the marketing wars. It’s like I’m having an out of body experience, watching myself be manipulated.
And that can be fun!

Two of my favorite companies are Google & Amazon. I use their products & services so much that I can hardly remember what life was life before they came to be. I haven’t totally lost it though: sometimes I will drive to the corner store without my GPS app running! And while I certainly make an effort to shop locally, not everything is available locally. So I’m glad to have an online alternative.

I noted, above, that this is not quite a review. It’s not that I can’t do a good review, it’s just that I don’t want to take the time to learn how to use these devices any better than I already do. If it doesn’t all fall into place automatically, I’m not bothered enough to take the time to go learn how to do any more. I got my first Google Home about a year ago. Google’s marketing strategy must have been winning my mind then.

It was great & I expected it to do all those wonderful things without me even thinking about it. But I’m really not doing much with it. It hung out in the living room … where it gave us the time, the weather, & who starred in what movie … but not much else. I started giving the device shopping list items, but then I couldn’t find them on the app. Where were these things hiding? I had the Home app on my phone & I had to do the whole “Hey Google” thing in the middle of the grocery store. I was afraid someone would recognize that I was a total idiot & stopped doing that! Again, no time to play & explore, just forget it for now. The Home device found it’s way to the bathroom, where it provides morning music at shower time. And that’s nice. But I never did get around to hooking up security cams & all the other stuff I dreamed of it doing when I bought it.
One day … soon!

About a month ago, I saw Amazon’s Echo Dot Gen 3 on sale. About half price. Oh well, why not! It started out in the living room, where it gave us the time, weather, & who starred in what movie. And I can add things to the shopping list. But now, I can find the shopping list on the Alexa app on my phone! Woohoo! This one is still in the living room & I subsequently signed up for a free trial of Prime. I’m watching some Amazon programming & it’s pretty good. I’m getting Amazon music, which is also pretty good. Today is the last Amazon Prime Day, by the way. This is like mid-summer Boxing Day sales on Amazon, with special deals for us special Prime members! Being a Prime member in Canada wasn’t a great deal one time. Now it’s got some shows & movies included, along with some music & books. I don’t think it’s the full version of any of those platforms, I’ll learn more when the full trail finishes & I’m back in the cheap seats. But this does add some value to the membership in Canada. The US version is more expensive than the Canadian one, but the US users get a lot more for their buck. Coincidentally (not!), Google offers sales around the same time as Amazon’s Prime Days.

Anyhow, I found myself buying an Amazon 4k TV Fire Stick in the Prime Day sale. Was I manipulated? Again!?!
Who cares … now I’m curious to see how involved I become with the Fire Stick. I already have Roku & Chromecast, so that will be an interesting comparison to make too.

A side-note here: Google & Amazon started playing together about a week ago. So now, we can cast Amazon’s Prime Video through Google’s Chromecast. And YouTube is available on Amazon’s services. Woohoo!
I’m sure it was all very complex but, as an end user & a faithful subject of their marketing plans, I’m just glad they’ve managed to get together on this front. It felt a little like two of my friends were having an unnecessary squabble!

I’m not sure I understand why we can’t change the voices & names on these things. Amazon gives a couple or three options but really, let me call my smart thing whatever I want, you guys. At least then, when I’m in the grocery store, I can pretend I’m having a phone conversation with my buddy, Seamus!

Back to the whole marketing thing … something tells me that Amazon is currently winning the award for control of my brain. And my wallet. The Amazon systems are just making it a little easier for me to be drawn in.
But I am overcome with guilt!
After all, I love Google too. And I really want that Google Home Max. I have nowhere to put it, really. But I want it anyway!

While all this stuff has gotten pretty smart, it’s not like it’s fully interactive AI yet. But maybe that’s a good thing. One day, I’m really going to take the time to learn how to use both products. Properly. And maybe then I’ll do a real review.

Meantime though … I’m enjoying stumbling through this stuff with both Google & Amazon.
What’s your favorite smart assistant?
What are some of your favorite uses for your little digital buddy?
And what’s it doing for you today!?!