Personal Update 202210 | 2 Oct 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo above is the view looking southwest from Trumpet Blossom Cafe on 24 Sep 2022. It’s nice to see flowers and pollinators in urban areas.

This month’s update is longer than others from recent months. I hope you enjoy it.

Photography

I’ve created a page to share my photography. At present there is a photo that was published in a book about Lake Tahoe. I hope to add more links and materials to the page in the coming months. [View Page]

Tech Tips for Protecting Vision and Hearing

I wrote an article today with some tips on tech devices and settings for protecting vision and hearing. [View]

It’s a topic I’ve written on in the past, but I wanted a refreshed version of the information.

Tea Time

I’ve been drinking more tea lately, and keep several varieties brewed and chilled for drinking throughout the day. Having a variety helps make drinking tea interesting and flavorful. So, I’m less likely to get bored and lose interest.

I have a simplistic way of visually categorizing the teas based on their appearance when brewed. There are a few different common colors that tea might have once brewed.

I like to have a fruity tea on hand. These are not made from tea leaves so they are called a tisane. This is usually red it appearance because of the color from hibiscus and berries which are common ingredients. The chai spiced tisane blends can have an orange or brown color when brewed. I like to have traditional green teas and black teas either hot or cold. Some of the teas have a light green color. Others have a dark traditional tea color.

So, through the day, I can keep drinking a variety of teas, benefiting from their unique properties, and enjoying the variety of flavors.

In recent years, purchasing tea in 1-pound bags as resulted in a surplus of tea. I want to use up the tea that has accumulated and then start trying some new teas.

Spiced Coffee

A tea-adjacent beverage I enjoy is fresh ground local roasted coffee mixed with chai spices like ginger, cinnamon, green cardamom, black pepper, clove, and allspice. Mixed with milk, this results in a delicious spiced coffee similar to Lebanese coffee.

Low Cost Low Power Tech

It’s part of our human nature to want to share experiences.

As a tech enthusiast, I’m interested in devices that can be used by as many people around the world as possible. This is why I’m most excited about devices that are priced economically and have low power requirements to operate.

In my own daily life, relying more on solar power, I’m becoming more interested in low power tech devices. Installing more solar panels really isn’t “the answer” for most homes. A few solar panels are easily purchased and setup, but many people don’t have the space or view of the sky for an array of 5, 10, 20, or more panels. Small-scale solar is more practical, affordable, and possible for people.

Present-day household appliances and electronic devices have very high power demands. The ideal combination would be small-scale solar paired with low power devices. In this month’s update I share about some interesting low-cost low-power devices.

The computer for Everybody

I was able to purchase the Raspberry Pi model 400 computer in March of this year when it was available for $100. It is a keyboard that contains a computer and comes with a mouse. [Learn More]

The Raspberry Pi Foundation states on their products website: “… we make computing accessible and affordable for everybody.”

One of the challenges with making a computer for everybody is that everybody wants one. As a result, they are now in high demand for their practical value, and also as a novelty item. This is driving prices up. They are being sold on Amazon now for about $190. [View]

One of the greatest benefits of the Raspberry Pi computer is that the operating system can be installed and a computer setup in about 3 minutes or less of hands-on time. The setup includes an open-source office suite of software with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation software, an email client, and an Internet browser. The operating system is a version of Linux, so it is compatible with the millions of Linux computers around the world. The interface is similar to Windows, making it easy for most people to use.

The computer uses about 5 watts of power, so it’s a great choice for people using solar power.

Before you ditch your current computer and order a Raspberry Pi, you should know that it’s suited for basic tasks, but most intensive computer users would still need a typical desktop system for their typical workload.

Amazon Kindle Scribe

On 29 Sep 2022, Amazon announced various updated versions of their products and a few new devices. In my opinion, one of the most interesting products announced is a new 10.2-inch Kindle reader with digital ink note taking capabilities. It’s called the Kindle Scribe. It is priced at about $330 to to $420 depending on the configuration. [View]

These devices promise 12 weeks of use between charges based on 30 minutes of reading a day (or 42 hours), or about 3 weeks of writing 30 minutes a day (or 10.5 hours). It’s clear that the battery life estimates in weeks, as provided by Amazon, are based on casual periodic reading and not all-day use of the device.

The battery life for reading is longer due to the special static display technology of Kindle Paper White displays. Writing requires an active display with higher refresh rate, and this uses more power, so the expected runtime on a single charge is less.

The battery life estimates are based on a backlight level setting of 13, but since the Paper White technology generally doesn’t rely on any backlighting, I’m very curious to see what the battery life would be in a real-world daily use scenario without the backlight on.

You’ve heard of people tailoring their driving habits to optimize fuel efficiency, particularly with hybrid vehicles. This is known as Hypermiling. That’s what I want to do with this new Kindle Scribe system to find out if it can be used as an ultra low power alternative to computers — at least for reading and writing, which are two of the most predominant tasks we use computers for.

Depending on the power demands of the Kindle Scribe, it may be an excellent tech device to run entirely from solar power.

All versions of the Scribe include either a basic stylus or an enhanced stylus. This new stylus technology does not use batteries, and does not need charging. By including the stylus for free, Amazon is clearly wanting to entice customers and stand out from Apple — given that an Apple Pencil (stylus) is a separate $130 purchase. [View]

I’ve pre-ordered a lower price Amazon Scribe model with the enhanced stylus for review. I want to do some testing of the device to creatively explore the range of tasks can it perform, and also discover the real-world battery life. The devices will be shipping and available in stores on November 30.

If you mostly use your computer for reading and writing, a Kindle Scribe may be a helpful and simple tool for much of your work.

The Kindle Scribe seems like a good tech device for places in the world with limited electricity and Internet access since it can hold thousands of books and easily run on solar power. As we increasingly see power outages in the United States and elsewhere, having an energy efficient device can be a good device to have available.

For reading without note taking, Amazon is releasing a new Kindle in ten days that will cost $99 and have many tech benefits beyond what a computer can provide. [Learn More]

One Million Views

I was happy to learn that my photos posted to Google Maps have had over one million views. These are mostly posted with my written reviews of businesses, but also include photos of parks and other destinations.

Google Maps gives me access to a much larger audience than my own website or social media services like Facebook that functions as a broker between me and my contacts, requiring that I pay to share posts more thoroughly and effectively with my family and friends.

The photos posted to Google Maps are adequate, but not as sharp as the originals. So, it’s not a way to showcase photos with great clarity and precision, but they are good snapshot quality sufficient for people wanting to get a general idea of visuals. The quality is reduced by Google so the photos require less bandwidth to display and less storage space.

You can view my Google profile page to see the reviews and photos. [View]

The $29 Smart TV

Today I received the new Google Chromecast system. It’s a small $29 device that provides smart TV streaming with HD (High Definition) resolution output of 1920×1080 pixels. [Product Page]

It’s a lower resolution video compared to 4K, but it’s the standard that we’ve come to accept for high definition video over the past 20+ years. A higher resolution 4K version is available for $40 on sale, normally $50. [View]

The 4K resolution system would produce a resolution of commonly 3840×2160, but that’s not needed for lower resolution televisions, and it requires a faster processor, faster internet, and more storage capacity. So, it’s an example of where the lower tech vintage standard may serve just as well as the newer standard.

My interest in this device is prompted by fiber internet service being installed in Iowa City by a Cedar Rapids company called ImOn. [Website]

This has resulted in many people having video streaming tech questions for me. I’m familiar with Roku, Apple TV, and some other streaming options, but I wanted to be familiar with this cheaper $29 option as possibly a better streaming options for people to use.

With a low-power portable flat panel HDMI display, and this smart TV device, it would be possible to have a tiny television that could run on battery power for many days. This interests me because it’s a good device to power with the off-grid solar system I’ve been using.

SOLAR POWER

Last month I switched to solar power for most of my tech devices. A small panel and two battery packs allow me to have unlimited solar-sourced power through overcast days and at night. I’m using solar power for my smartphones and wireless accessories like mice, keyboards, trackpads, headphones, watch, and rechargeable AA batteries.

The power packs have an LCD display to show power input from the solar panel and power output. This makes me more aware of how much wattage is received from the sun, and used with devices.

Because printing and scanning are relatively low power, and used briefly, I am able to do all of my printing and scanning using 100% solar power. I found some paper available at Best Buy that is made from sawmill scraps and produced using wind and solar energy. [View]

I hope to expand on these small measures of progress, starting with an easily attainable foundation of sustainability and growing from there.

This helps meet a goal of using and promoting more sustainable technology choices for the Iowa City Tech initiative. Having portable solar power lets me continue using solar power even when I’m at a remote job site. With multiple consecutive sunny days, I bring computers online and can complete customer service requests with solar power. People are encouraged when I can tell them that all the work on their computer was done using 100% solar power.

Year Month Day Date CODE

With filenames, documents, and even some online posts, I will use a date format that includes the year, month, and day to create a unique serial number for a document that makes it easier to find in my computer or on the web. For this document, since it is a monthly update, I only include the year and month (202210) in the title.

On my computer, I am able to quickly search for items created in October 2022 by searching for 202210. Even when adding contacts to my address book, I will include that date code in the notes so I can easily see a list of new people. This comes up in busy months when I might try to recall the name of a new customer from a few months ago. I can just search on 202207 to find all new customers from July.

IOWA CITY FREE

Last month, I wrote about the Iowa City Free project. [View Site] The website has a resources page that lists free services in the Iowa City area. [View]

I’ve been trying to give away items for free, but haven’t had much luck with that. For some reason, selling items is an easier way to downsize.

I may begin using eBay as a method for listing items at low prices with a broader audience so it doesn’t take as long to get items to people who need them. People in the Iowa City area can get items for no shipping cost. I may figure out a way to keep the items free for people who request that.

Giving items away is an eco friendly way to downsize because recipients of items do not need to generate the income required to purchase those items new. Generating income typically has a negative impact on the environment (such as traveling to work and using supplies or energy while working).

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 22 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith/philosophy), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Photo: Below is a photo I took on 16 Sep 2022 at Pikes Peak State Park. [Learn More]

Personal Update 202209 | 1 Sep 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo above is from my morning walk today.

SOLAR POWER

This month I will be switching to solar power for most of my tech devices and work-related energy needs. This helps meet a goal of using and promoting more sustainable technology choices for the Iowa City Tech initiative. Having portable solar power lets me continue using solar power even when I’m at a remote job site.

I’m using some products from Jackery. [View] Using a 100W solar power panel, in 3.5 hours the 293Wh Jackery Explorer 300 system can be charged to about 80 percent (234 watts). [View] Presumably the difference between the 350 watts (3.5 hours at 100W) of charging energy and the 234 watts of resulting stored energy reflects the efficiency of the charging process.

The Jackery Explorer 300 is fairly small and light weight, so it can be carried in a backpack or on a bicycle. It allows access to solar generated power in any location at any time of day.

Having two Jackery Explorer 300 systems would allow for one to be in use and another to be charging on alternate days.

I may at some point purchase more of the folding portable 100W solar panels from Jackery (or build my own) which would allow simultaneous charging of multiple battery power storage units, of faster charging of larger ones.

I have access to a very large solar array of panels that produce thousands of watts of power most days. That normally gets pushed back into the grid, but any power captured and retained is more economical than what the power company pays. Using the solar array, it would be possible to use dual charging for the Jackery Explorer 300 and get an 80% charge in about 2 hours.

If you know someone with a solar array who is pushing power back into the grid, they would probably be more than happy to have you pay them the equivalent of 10 cents per kWh rather than getting paid a fraction of that from the power company. If you have an electric car or electric bicycle, this is a way to give yourself the electricity at full value rather than getting paid very little for the power pushed into the grid.

When you pay the power company 10 cents per kWh for electricity, but are only offered 5 cents per kWh for the power you give them, it seems unfair. The pricing is based on the fact that power companies pay wholesale for energy they buy or produce, and they resell it at retail prices. They can’t afford to pay retail prices for energy and resell it at the same price for zero profit. With zero profit they would not be able to pay their employees and maintain the national power grid.

Let’s say you make apple sauce. You can sell it to a grocery store for $3 per pint, and they will sell it for $5 per pint to their customers. Or you can sell that apple sauce directly to people you know for $5 per pint. However, you can’t sell that apple sauce to the grocery store for $5 per pint and have them sell it to other people for $5 per pint. They wouldn’t be able to pay their employees or bills.

Energy from the grid at 10 cents per kWh is fairly inexpensive. A $600 expense for a solar energy source is fairly high. For some people that could be equal to a year of electric bills. It would take some years to bring your solar sourced power cost down to 10 cents per kWh. An advantage of this type of solar powered battery backup system is that it can offer sustained power in an outage, it offers power in locations where no other sources exist, and it offers (hopefully) cleaner power.

DROUGHTS and Floods

Over the past week I was studying recent news of water scarcity and global flooding. I created posts for these topics with video news coverage from recent months. [ Water Scarcity News | Global Flooding News ]

I don’t spend an excessive amount of time going too deep into the details of these and other global crisis news stories, but I do want to be informed about what the rest of the world is going through and consider what can be done to help those who are impacted.

Some of us live in cities and communities not impacted by droughts, floods, fires, war, and other challenges. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to serve people who are struggling around the world.

Iowa City Free

The Little Free Library initiative promotes the installation of small library boxes in local neighborhoods. The “Free” aspect of that project is only a small part of the benefit provided. Of more value than the savings is the convenience of having books to read that are a short walk or bike ride distance for many people. This also helps build community.

Partly inspired by the Little Free Library project, I setup a website this past month called Iowa City Free. [View Site] It has a resources page that lists free services in the Iowa City area. [View] However, the primary goal of the site is to provide a list of free items available. It would be nice for there to be a “Little Free General Store” in neighborhoods across the city. For now, I’m just using the website for distributing items. I’m often given usable electronics and see this as a way to get these items to people who can make use of them.

Giving items away is an eco friendly way to downsize because recipients of items do not need to generate the income required to purchase those items new. Generating income typically has a negative impact on the environment (such as traveling to work and using supplies or energy while working).

Free used items compete well with new items. This reduces consumerism and the manufacturing of new items.

When downsizing, there are a few options depending on the items:

  1. DONATE — Donate to stores like Crowded Closet, Goodwill, or the Habitat ReStore.
  2. GIVE — Give away items that are too big and heavy to ship using eBay and inconvenient to sell.
  3. ORGANIZE — Any items to be kept should be organized so they can be easily found, used, or distributed later.
  4. SELL — Sell items on consignment through stores. [View List] Or, use eBay to sell unique items not likely to be in demand by any buyers in a 100 mile radius. An online service like eBay connects you with millions of potential buyers more likely needing whatever it is that you’re selling.
  5. RECYCLE — Recycle cardboard, plastic, paper, glass, metal, and other items that aren’t usable.

Simplifying and minimalist living is a goal that many people have. The option of giving items away is an important part of downsizing.

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 22 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith/philosophy), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Personal Update 202208 | 1 Aug 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo above is from about two years ago, on a nature walk 30 Jun 2020. 

Monthly Summary

The month of July was ver busy with tech work and website work, so I don’t have much new to report.

Google Pixel

This year, on 7 March 2022, security updates for my 2017-model Moto X4 phone were no longer available due to the outdated Android 9 operating system. I was hesitant to continue using a non-secure device given the many security breaches in the news recently.

My plan was to get another Motorola phone, either a Moto G series or Moto X series. I ended up having a need to buy a loaner phone for my tech library, so I purchased a Moto G Power 2022 for about $200 and that went out on loan right away. It lacks NFC for tap-to-pay purchases, but otherwise is a very nice smartphone with 3-day battery. I’ve seen it occasionally go on sale at about $160 on Amazon. I’ll get a chance to review that later upon its return to the tech library later this year.

I ended up getting a Google Pixel 6a as a replacement for my Moto X4. I’ve written a longer article on the topic if you’re interested. I originally included an early draft of the article in this month’s newsletter, but subsequently created a separate post on the topic. [Read Now]

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 22 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith/philosophy), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Personal Update 202207 | 1 Jul 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo above is from my morning walk on 26 June 2022.

Daily Walks

I’ve been going on daily walks each morning, and it’s been a really helpful practice to start each day off in nature with a clear head.

Earlier this year, pressured by an excessive workload, I had been starting my days early with desk work. Tech work is mostly sedentary whether sitting at my desk or someone else’s desk. So, the walks are a way to ensure some exercise and activity during the day.

The walks are also an opportunity to take some photos.

Adjusting Service Focus

I continue to provide tech support to people in the Iowa City area, and some from other locations who either moved or have been referred.

As the need for tech services has increased, and the time involved in resolving issues has increased, I’ve had to make adjustments to help as many people as possible.

I’ve been gradually reducing tech support for business customers and shifting my focus to mostly seniors and people serving in public interest work.

Breaking News

It seems like every day there is a major breaking news story. Usually these mark a continuation of an existing crisis or threat like climate change, natural disasters, or the war in Ukraine. Sometimes there is a new development that requires an adjustment in thinking or awareness.

On 24 June 2022, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Dobbs case which overturned about 50 years of legal precedents. I’ve written a brief commentary about the ruling. [View]

I spent the past year developing a fiction short story about what might happen if the United States became the Divided States. I decided to stop developing the story because it was too dark and implausible. The ruling one week ago by the Supreme Court has started in motion the unfolding of events that I was concerned about. This is explained in my commentary. [View]

It can sometimes be difficult to stay focused on day to day work when such significant developments and changes are happening around us. A person wants to stay informed and responsibly involved in civic obligations. So, I’m trying to keep a balance between staying focused on my work, but socially informed and involved.

Understanding and Kindness

Among the people I know — family, friends, and those I offer tech help to — there are many social and political views.

Because of my role in serving the community, I feel it is particularly important that I be understanding and kind to everyone regardless of their views.

For this reason, I try to be reserved and thoughtful in presenting any observations and views about social issues.

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 22 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith/philosophy), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Personal Update 202206 | 1 Jun 2022

Greetings!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. After more than two years of staying close to home during the pandemic, in May we decided to make a trip to Saint Louis and spent a couple days there. The photo above is from the Missouri Botanical Garden on 6 May 2022.

Time Tracking

I began developing a time tracking system back in April. It’s a grid system with each square of the grid representing a minute of time. This allows for easy visual tracking and review of time spent on projects. I’ve revised the system slightly since I first developed it.

This paper-based system can track time, exercise, finances, sleep, nutrition, and handle other entries throughout the day.

I use a 3-hole punch for the pages which have a gutter margin for the binding. Staples has inexpensive brass binding fasteners to hold the pack of pages.

Paper is available made from sawmill waste, produced using wind energy and hydropower. [Learn More]

Included as part of this paper-based time tracking system, are half-sized sheets of paper used for notes and daily task goals. The reason for the 1/2 sheet is to save paper, and be able to reuse existing scrap paper.

Spending more time with pen and paper results in less time on my smartphone, and less time spent on social media, YouTube, and other distractions. Less screen time, and more time with pen and paper, seems to result in a more calm and grounded day.

US Postal Service

In pursuing my goal of reducing daily screen time, I’ve started using postal mail as an alternative to email. This is particularly helpful for communicating with people who have trouble with technology. Something as seemingly simple as email actually requires many systems to be functioning properly.

If I have something that I want someone to print out, it’s easier for me to print it and mail it to them. This avoids having them encounter problems like being low on ink, out of paper, having Internet problems, computer issues, etc.

Using postal mail is a low-stress simple solution for communicating. It reinforces low-tech alternatives. I want to be supporting the postal service. It’s really valuable to have a national network that makes it possible to send a letter or package thousands of miles for pennies. Sending a physical letter, card, or gift is a more personal way to connect with people.

Artist Promotion

In the past I would occasionally send out prints of my own photography. Lately with my return to using postal mail more frequently, I’m sending out thank you note cards featuring local Iowa City artists. One artist I am supporting is Mara Cole, who has some nice water color paintings of flowers. [Example]

I’ve created a “self-print program” for supporting artists and promoting their work. I use 5×7-inch photo paper for the prints, and the artist gets paid for each print to help support their work. On the back of the print I put a sticker with the artist name, the name of the work, and contact details for the artist. This is a fun way to print-on-demand and choose art that seems to fit the recipient of a thank you note.

I don’t write on the printed card. That way the recipient can use it as a note card for someone else if they want. I have some 6×9-inch envelopes that work perfectly for sending 5×7-inch prints along with a separate note. [View Envelopes]

Only a single first class stamp is needed for postage to send a 6×9-inch envelope. An extra ounce stamp can be used if needed for sending several prints.

Staples and Best Buy

In recent years, I had become a regular Amazon customer. I like the selection, crowd-sourced product reviews, low cost, and fast shipping options. We now have an Amazon warehouse in our city. Yet, I feel that Amazon is still not quite as ‘local’ as stores like Staples and Best Buy. With these local stores, I can still purchase online and get fast free home delivery.

For items I purchase online, returns are much easier with local stores like Staples and Best Buy. For some products, I like the ability to go into a local store and visually examine and compare items before purchasing. For these reasons, I like the combined convenience of online shopping from local stores.

You Can’t Grow a Computer

The pandemic resulted in millions of people working from home. Those people all wanted printers and laptop computers. This created a global shortage of equipment.

More recently, supply chain issues and limited chip availability have caused further shortages of technology. This year, the war between Russia and Ukraine has abruptly disrupted the supply of neon which is essential for computer manufacturing.

Computers and chip-based devices require mining of rare minerals and other non-renewable resources.

I like relying on a paper-based system because I know it is more renewable and sustainable than a computer-based system. Paper can be made from sugar cane production waste, bamboo, or other materials. Computers can’t be grown. They can only be mined and produced at great expense.

The other benefit of a paper-based system is that it requires no electricity. It’s more reliable. It’s easier to use and improve.

I’ll still use computers and tech devices, but with less reliance and dependence on them.

A system that you can grow from the ground is much more advanced than one made with diminishing scarce non-renewable materials.

MY LONG-TERM AND SHORT-TERM PLAN

Last month I mentioned that I created a page for my long-term and short-term plans. It’s something I’ve been developing and thinking about for many years but want to get it written down and expanded on. [View Page]

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 22 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith/philosophy), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Personal Update 202205 | 1 May 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photos featured above are explained below and are part of the “Lives of Service” message in this month’s update.

Lives of Service

The University of Iowa celebrated its 175th anniversary this year. [Learn More] The photo at the top of this page is of the Old Capitol (15 May 2021) and a quotation from the Iowa Memorial Union (2 Dec 2017). The quotation is one of my favorites about higher education, and reflects the mindset of those who instructed me while I was at Iowa.

“And if this magnificent structure is to fulfill the dreams out of which it has arisen, it can only do so by stirring the impulses of the young men and women of Iowa to lives of service to mankind.” ~ James Weaver, 1926

I manage a curated news feed on Facebook and Twitter that focuses on public interest related news about the University of Iowa. Subscribers include University departments, faculty, and area journalists as well as students and others interested in the University. [View on Facebook]

Resources for Life

About 25 years ago, I established Resource For Life as an outreach initiative focused on self-funded public interest work. Consistent with that theme, an early name for my tech support consulting business was Public Interest Computer Consulting (PICC). The tech consulting and public interest work continues today.

About a year ago, I took the main RFL website offline and replaced it using a simpler HTML version with just a few pages. I took a year to reflect on the direction of the project. This month, I’ve brought back the full dot COM website under a new simple WordPress design. Some of the older outdated content has been removed. [View dot COM Version]

The dot ORG version of the site is designed using pure HTML pages. It is intended to have a singular focus on public interest and reference resources, without the additional superfluous content on the dot COM site. Being developed with pure HTML pages, the content loads extremely quickly, regardless of the device being used, even for people in areas of the world with slow and limited Internet service. [View the dot ORG Version]

Just a few days after the redesign launch, Google was gracious enough to reindex the site and put the content on the first page of search results on many terms — allowing me to retain the position and rank of a website with 20+ years of history. So, site visitors began streaming in from all over the world, including visitors from Moscow and Kyiv. It’s encouraging to see such an interest in the project.

Going forward, I’ll be making a greater effort to have content on the site less likely to become outdated. Also, instead of having monthly newsletters, I’ll be focusing on four announcements per year to coincide with quarterly seasonal news. The purposeful streamlining and simplification of the site will help me spend more time on other projects.

Giving it Your Best

We’re all familiar with the term “giving it your best” which conveys the idea of doing your best or working your hardest on a project.

In my life, I have developed the habit of spending the early morning hours on writing. These are the most focused, efficient, and productive hours of the day. Much of my writing would be technical reference guides or social commentary writings for the Resources For Life website.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been using those best hours of the day to work on a very worthwhile project involving a public interest research website. [View Site]

I’ll plan to share more about the project in the months ahead. It’s very aligned with my own interests, so a good fit.

Time Tracking

My daytime hours can be very chaotic with multiple requests coming in simultaneously by phone, text message, and email. I triage those requests, and refer most people to other service providers, or provide free phone support for those with simple questions.

Sometimes I get to the end of a day, having responded to numerous request, and I feel exhausted from having helped so many people. Yet, it’s hard to charge people for brief text exchanges, email replies, and short phone calls. So, I’ll work 12 to 16 hours with little time for a break and have no income.

These numerous daily disruptions interrupt my income-producing work and make it difficult to track billable time. So, I don’t get paid for the numerous short support requests, and am unable track how much cumulative time I’ve spent on substantive work requests.

A project that might normally take an hour, could take 3 to 4 hours with numerous interruptions.

This past month I’ve been developing a paper-based task management and time tracking system. It’s extremely simple, efficient, customizable, easy to setup, and easy to use. The system facilitates greater focus and documents how every minute of the day is spent.

I’ve used computer software and smartphone apps for time tracking, but those have a big learning curve and require some fumbling to use. They are a distraction and use up time to track time.

The paper-based system I’ve developed works much better for my purposes.

My Long-Term and Short-Term Plan

I’ve created a page for my long-term and short-term plans. It’s something I’ve been developing and thinking about for many years. [View Page]

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THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Personal Update 202204 | 10 Apr 2022 

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo featured above was taken yesterday while on a morning walk.

Workload Increasing

My workload has been steadily increasing. Whether for tech support or web support, outages are more common and security threats are an ongoing concern. As people get taken in by scams, there is an increased need for helping them recover. Delays in response time from support staff, and delays in needed products, are disruptive and result in greater effort to accomplish tasks.

These stresses and disruptions are disorienting and can result in cognitive strain for some people. This means that providing tech support may require that instructions be provided more slowly for it to be learned.

The various strains on our society such as wars, pandemics, supply chain disruptions, hackers, climate disasters, global inflation, and other concerns tend to preoccupy people’s minds. So, I tend to offer less information since people aren’t absorbing and remembering details as well.

Prepping to Help Others

The survivalist movement mostly consists of “preppers” who are people anticipating upheaval and various societal disruptions. Realtors have a category of home listings for underground bunkers and fallout shelters, typically in the rural plains west of the Missouri River.

I’ve given some thought to disaster preparedness after living through the pandemic, seeing empty grocery shelves, and being among the 300,000 people in our area without power following the Derecho storm of August 2020. Economic instability and supply chain problems are other motivations for preparing ahead.

My approach to preparedness involves assembling resources that will help me continue providing tech support to people during difficult times. Examples would be having battery backup systems for power during outages, and having a small inventory of commonly needed tech parts and supplies.

Being prepared for one’s own basic survival is fairly easy. There are food packs that promise to provide months of food with a shelf-life of many years. However, being prepared to help others takes a bit more planning and each person’s vocation or profession will have unique planning and preparation needs. This requires thinking through the current support needs people have, and how needs may change in a crisis.

Last year I began writing installments on the topic of simpler tech solutions that cost less money and use less power. I’m continuing to study what solutions may work well during disasters or other disruptions.

agile Preparedness

Most of us have been through power outages. In Iowa City, we’ve had 500-year floods that resulted in closed bridges. We’ve had tornados go through the city destroying homes and flipping cars upside down. The Derecho storm of August 2020 caused significant damage. These experiences help guide a preparedness plan.

One also follows news stories of disruptions elsewhere such as wars, droughts, and rising ocean waters that can all result in displacing millions of people who need to find a caring and welcoming community where they can live.

So, another kind of preparedness is that which allows us to be welcoming of others and supporting the needs of those who are new in our communities.

Minimizing Profits

We’re all familiar with the practice of maximizing profits. It’s a business strategy of spending as little as possible on products and services, reducing labor costs, cutting corners, and offering as little as possible of value to customers while charging as much as possible.

In business, I have always focused on minimizing profits. This means I’m fair with those who provide products and services to me. I seek out high quality products and services for the work I do, rather than inexpensive cheap ones. I acquire software, tools, equipment, systems, and resources that will benefit my customers. These things increase my regular expenses and cut into my net earnings. What’s rewarding is that I’m able to offer a lot of really great services to people at very economical prices.

There are regular monthly and annual fees and subscriptions I pay for software and services I use to do my tech work and website work. There are also purchases of equipment that build the business. These investments in the business over time help the business grow. I could cut back on these expenses, and provide less to the people I support. That would increase my profits. However, I think the practice of putting profits over people is selfish, short sighted, and ultimately not a very good business strategy.

The ideal balance is to invest in a business so it can grow, serve people well, and provide a good livelihood to the business owner.

Despite widespread inflation and rising costs of tech devices in short supply, I’ve been able to continue charging about the same hourly rate that I did over 20 years ago. This is possible through continuous improvement and efficiencies that allow me to provide more services and better support on less money.

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THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Personal Update 202203 | 12 Mar 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo featured above was taken today and shows my latest desktop computing devices. Note that the screen image used on the Moto X phone (on right) is a stock image for that model of phone, so the date shown on that screen isn’t accurate. I downloaded it to the phone and zoomed in on it, since the home screen on that phone no longer looks like the original.

Simple Tech Devices

Last year I wrote about the importance of embracing simpler tech devices in 2022. [View Advisory] I’ve been promoting this message with everyone who comes to me for tech support. Reducing our dependency on devices, and choosing simpler devices can reduce the time, expense, and stress of technology.

This month’s update is being written using the iPad you see pictured above. It is an iPad mini and the first iPad I’ve had that has a USB-C port. Not shown in the picture is the 42-inch (diagonal) 4K Samsung display with 777-square-inches of display surface area. The iPad mini has 31.5-square inches of display surface area for the 8.3-inch diagonal screen.

Common sizes for big screen TVs would be 52-inches up to about 72-inches. So, the 42-inch display is considered to be on the lower end. I purchased it years ago as a primary desktop display. The reason I chose the smaller less expensive display is because for close-up work, the 4K resolution (2266 x 1488 pixels) looks much sharper when condensed onto a small screen.

The iPad mini functions well on its own without any other accessories, but having a keyboard, external display, mouse, and trackpad help create a desktop computing experience from the small iPad that’s about 5.3-inches by 7.7-inches in size and 1/4-inch thick. With a USB-C hub, the iPad mini can have just about every device imaginable connected. [View Example] For daily portability, I carry the iPad and keyboard which function like a small laptop computer. At home, I switch between portable use and desktop use.

I maintain a resource page for the Raspberry Pi computer. [View] It is the system on a chip (SOC) used for a DIY assembled home computer. A few years ago, the Pi computer could be purchased for about $35, making it one of the least expensive computers in the world. With advances in the features, and now being in high demand globally, the cost is up to about $200 just for the circuit board. A display, keyboard, mouse, and USB-C power adapter would also be needed.

The latest entry-level 10.2-inch iPad is about $330 [Learn More] and only needs a Bluetooth keyboard for about $40. [View All | View My Favorite] If you don’t mind using the iPad’s on-screen touch keyboard, then you can skip the cost of buying an external one. The basic $330 iPad can handle the tasks that most people need to accomplish — word processing, email, watching videos, reading books, reading news, printing, and more.

In addition to being relatively inexpensive to purchase, and inexpensive to maintain (fewer bills for tech support), the iPad is a low power device that works well during power outages from its built-in battery or a large reserve power pack. [View Examples]

I’m exploring these low-tech devices so I can give people the best advice on simple low-cost tech choices.

TECH WORK

My tech support workload continues to be quite busy, but I’m happy to report that today I was able to take a day off. I had some computers dropped off yesterday, which I would normally dive right into working on, but the people weren’t in a hurry for them, so I’ll start on that work tomorrow.

WEB WORK

My web projects for clients continue at a steady pace. I’ve put my own personal web interests on hold for now to make room in my schedule for helping others with their websites.

Because websites take ongoing upkeep, and regular development, I’ve been scheduling time daily in the morning for web work. The quiet focused morning hours are good for the detailed work that requires uninterrupted attention.

Groundhog Day

The movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray depicts what might happen if a person lived the same day over and over. The pandemic that started two years ago has resulted in many people permanently living and working from home. Having the same daily routine for work, meals, exercise, and regular tasks, reduces the variability of life. We have opportunities to see patterns and routines that can be improved.

Everything in life seems more efficient and effective. There’s less time wasted on driving and errands with more time for work, exercise, and sleep. Something I’m trying to do with the additional time is to have deeper connections with fewer people, rather than superficial connections with many people.

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You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 22 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith/philosophy), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Personal Update 202202 | 28 Feb 2022

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo featured above was taken on 9 Feb 2022 and shows the circuitboard from a 1991 Apple Macintosh Classic computer that I’ve been working with recently. You can see the individual transistors, capacitors, resistors, and other components. Today’s lowest priced entry-level Apple computers use an M1 chip with 16 billion transistors and the ability to complete 11 trillion operations per second. [More]

Tech Work

Since my last newsletter at the start of January, I’ve worked about 60 days straight of mostly 12 to 14 hour days. That’s why this newsletter is 28 days late. The reason for this extra work is because there has been a flood of tech support requests.

These aren’t the typical requests such as, “Hey, sometime I’d like you to show me how to make my mouse pointer larger and easier to see.” By now, most people find answers to those kinds of questions with a Google search.

The needs are complicated and time consuming. The computer circuitboard pictured above is from a refurbished and restored working Macintosh Classic computer that I purchased on eBay for a project I’m working on. I’m trying to assemble multiple computers that span 30 years for the purpose of getting some data from a very old computer, in approximately 10-year jumps, copying the data to successively newer computers and drives, eventually to a modern computer. Once setup, this process should work for a variety of applications.

Most of the support requests I am getting require a somewhat immediate response, and the solution is very time consuming. I’ve had multiple urgent requests related to critical computers that have crashed, some that multiple people rely on.

Supply chain problems and the aftermath of a depleted workforce from the pandemic makes it harder to solve problems when support staff and resources are limited.

Incidents of fraud and scams are on the rise, so I’m helping people protect the safety and privacy of their digital lives in all the ways I can — before trouble strikes.

I’m hopeful in March I can get a chance to get caught up on some of the basic administrative tasks and paperwork I need to do.

TECH ADVISORY — SIMPLIFY IN 2022

In November, I issued a tech advisory, encouraging people to simplify their use of technology for the coming year. [Read]

I shared some additional tech-related news in December that you’ll want to read if you’ve not done so already. [Read]

It’s clear that the need for simpler tech will increase in the months ahead as systems are failing and support resources are in limited supply.

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 21 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]

Personal Update 202201 | 1 Jan 2022 | Saturday

GREETINGS!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this month’s update. The photo featured above is from a December 11 visit to Willow & Stock on Linn Street near Market Street in Iowa City. There are quite a few nice shops and restaurants in that area which makes it a nice place to visit.

New work Practices

In 2021, my tech consulting involved more requests for remote support as pandemic-era practices have not only continued but increased. Every day, I receive tech questions by phone, text message, and email which are replacing longer sit-down tech sessions. Often a quick screen-sharing session can solve problems.

In the past my work would involve sit-down visits for an hour or two, and then I would receive a payment for my work. But now support is more impromptu and projects can be spread over weeks or months.

My billing process has adapted to this new work environment. Invoices now include emails, text messages, phone logs, and typed notes from work done. It can take several hours to assemble the fragments of many micro-support sessions spread over a month or more, but I want to make sure I’m not over-billing anyone, or getting underpaid for my time and work.

I create a unified timeline of events for the billing period, which can help provide a picture of what was accomplished. The timeline shows what might begin as a text message exchange, then continues as an email exchange, then results in a phone call, and possibly an in-person meeting, all represented chronologically. This gives me and those I serve a sense of satisfaction, and also provides some reference.

For more involved tech problems, people continue to drop-off computers for me to work on which fits well with the remote support sessions by giving me more work that can be done from home.

TECH ADVISORY — SIMPLIFY IN 2022

In November, I issued a tech advisory, encouraging people to simplify their use of technology for the coming year. [Read]

I shared some additional tech-related news in December that you’ll want to read if you’ve not done so already. [Read]

Subscribe

You can subscribe to be notified of these monthly newsletters [Subscribe] or scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address where indicated to be notified of every post to this site.

THANKS!

Many thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide support for the work I do.

Origins. For those of you who are new to these monthly personal updates, they began about 21 years ago out of a desire to share from my personal life about topics of lifeways (faith), health, career, finances, relationships, effective living, and public interest efforts. This is based on the Life Map presented on the Resources For Life website. [View]