Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

I often get calls when it is least convenient. I don’t want to just hang up, because it feels rude. I don’t want to let it ring, because it is annoying.

I could flip my phone to silence the call and let it go to voice mail. But then the caller doesn’t know why I haven’t picked up. And if they do bother leaving a message, I’d have to listen to it. I don’t want that, now do I?

I found a better solution. Most phones let you define your auto-response templates. These are text messages you can quickly send a caller when hanging up. This is the perfect opportunity to explain why you can’t pick up and suggest a better way of reaching you.

My favorite is something along the lines of: “I can’t take a call right now, you can reach me at my.email@gmail.com”. This is because for me emails are easier to manage. I can respond when it works best for me. And if the call is important, the caller has a way of following up. If it isn’t, well… Time saved.

So my advice for you is simple: set up an auto-response template. Tell the caller you are not available right now and how you’d prefer they would follow up. Should they call you after a certain time? Send you a text message?

Whatever you choose, try to avoid promising getting back to them yourself. This would just add to your commitments and worries. Leave it to them to get back to you in a way that works for you.

Making Oscar the Grouch Proud

What bin do you have in your kitchen? Up until a year ago, I had a push bin. When holding something in my hand, I couldn’t easily open it. It sounds like a silly problem to have, I know. But obviously it’s a common one, or we wouldn’t have had paddle bins.

The main problem with paddle bins is the mechanism tends to get stuck. Soon enough, you’re spending more time struggling with getting it working again than you do tossing stuff in it.

Then you have swing bins. These don’t tend to break as often. But boy, do their lids get dirty. Again you find yourself spending half your time maintaining your bin.

No, I couldn’t have it. I had to find a bin that had a working mechanism and required minimal maintenance. And I found it.

The EKO Phantom Sensor Bin is everything I wanted in a bin and more. It has good volume. It has, as the name suggests, a motion sensor. This means moving close to it is enough to open it. It closes automatically after a few seconds. I can keep it open if I want to with the touch of a button. It looks great in the kitchen. But most importantly, it is virtually hassle free. Except for emptying it and changing the batteries every once in a while. Of course, with rechargeable batteries, that’s not a problem.

I bought the EKO Phantom a year ago. So far, it works flawlessly. So, if you’re looking for the perfect bin, I known your pain. I’ve bin there (see what I did there?). Get this one. A smart bin, who’d have thought.

Photo: Sesame Street.
I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

The Enhanced Spelling Bee

Writing doesn’t come easy to me. Writing well is even harder. I do try to hold myself to high standards, though.

Technology has progressed a lot on this front. You used to have to install applications to have your spelling checked. Spell checkers are now built into most browsers and editors.

The next thing is improving our phrasing. Services such as Grammarly and the Hemingway Editor use machine learning to help us write better. Microsoft recently launched its own solution, Microsoft Editor.

Others have covered the differences between these services in detail. My recommendation to you is simple. It doesn’t really matter which of these you use. Use one. It will do wonders for your writing. I use Microsoft Editor when writing emails. I use Hemingway Editor when writing my blog posts. They’re easy to use, and their suggestions make sense. Oh, and they’re free. If only they could do the actual writing for us!

Who’s In Charge?

I remember as a kid we’d have batteries everywhere. Most commonly, they’d be in the fridge, so they’d last longer. When you’d need one, you’d pick up a random one and hope it still has some juice left. More often than not, it didn’t.

It is a bit surprising to me that you could still get disposable batteries. They are horrible for the environment, and over time they cost you much, much more.

After my usual research, I opted for the Energizer Universal Charger. I bought it almost 4 years ago and it still serves me well. It charges AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt batteries. I can charge A LOT of batteries at the same time. It has a cool screen that shows me how much charge is left in each battery. This would be my recommendation. As always, you can explore AliExpress.com for cheaper bargains.

I stopped using disposable batteries altogether. All my batteries are now rechargeable. That means I never have to buy batteries again. I always have charged batteries when I need them. As soon as they run out, I recharge them and swap them for fully charged ones. It’s amazing how easy it is. And I no longer have dying batteries all over the house (or in my fridge).

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Blink Twice if It’s You

Our every login is compromised. This is a fact. I’ve explained this in an earlier post. I also offered a solution. Not using the same password for many accounts reduces the risk. So does opting for complex passwords. Using an app helps. It doesn’t make it go away, though.

In truth, nothing can give us absolute confidence our accounts won’t get hacked. But we can do better than change our passwords and hope for the best.

In recent years, multi-factor authentication has been gaining traction. You know how in films we see the actors scanning their hand and then their retina? Or type in a code and then authenticate with their voice? These are all forms of multi-factor authentication.

Many of the services we use offer multi-factor authentication. There are a few common second forms of authentication. Some services send a text message to our phone. Others send us an email to our email address. Lastly, some request a code from an authentication app. All these make it harder for a hacker to login to our account. Having our password isn’t enough. They now need access to our phone or our email account.

My point is simple. Go through your accounts. Enable multi-factor authentication wherever you can. Keep your accounts safe.

There’s Electricity in the Air

Every time I charge my laptop or my phone I feel like I’m back in the ’90s. I find myself plugging and unplugging them on a regular basis to keep them going.

This is a problem because it wears out their USB-C sockets. Over time, the connections become sensitive and only work some of the time, or at certain angles. That’s really annoying for such expensive devices. If only there was a way to avoid this…

Actually, there is. Apple used to have this cool connection called a MagSafe. It was a magnetic connector for their Macbook chargers. This avoided the friction of plugging and unplugging. It also made connecting easier. It even prevented the accidental cable pull. Those would result in the MacBook crashing down on the floor.

Unfortunately, Apple stopped using the MagSafe connector. Other companies (I’m looking at you, Dell) didn’t adopt the concept.

But I have good news, too. Other companies picked it up where the big guys left off. You can buy a magnetic connector to replace your USB-C connector. It’s actually just a small adapter on the connector. You get all the benefits of the MagSafe again. That’s my laptop saved.

For my phone, I bought a couple of wireless charging stands. Now I get to simply put down my phone to charge it. The angle is convenient and lets me see the screen while the phone charging. More importantly, it doesn’t take a toll on the USB-C socket. And as a bonus, no dangling cable. Win!

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

People All Over the World, Join Paper

Sometimes you want to keep a pile of paper sheets together. And sometimes you can’t help but wonder why stapling a few sheets together is so hard. I still remember the school secretary applying her full body weight to staple our exams.

When it comes to small expenses, I prefer to invest a little more and get something nicer. My stapler is no exception.

When looking for a stapler, I was curious to see what features exist. I found the coolest feature to be ease of stapling large stacks of paper. That’s why I ended up buying the PaperPro Prodigy. It has a spring-free mechanism. That mechanism makes stapling even 25 sheets of paper as easy as pushing with one finger. Wow.

Mind you, I purchased mine back in 2014. Six years later, it still serves me well. There are newer models now, with even nicer features. Check out the PaperPro InPower+. It can staple up to 28 sheets of paper. It has a built in staple remover. It even has a staple storage compartment.

If money is no issue, check out the PaperPro inHANCE+. This beast can staple 100 sheets of paper. This one requires two fingers, which is still quite impressive.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a new kind of stapler. The Plus is a staple-free stapler. That is a pretty neat idea. It can staple up to 10 sheets of paper, which is quite neat, given you never have to buy staples again. You can find cheaper ones on AliExpress. The next time I run out of staples, I’m getting myself one of these.

Who’d have thought staplers could be so much fun! Ok, maybe it’s just me.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Size Matters

Size matters. Especially when we’re talking about software. Quite simply, smaller is better.

In some cases, size comes at a cost. We call this a lossy compression. JPEG is such an example. The smaller your JPEG, the lower its quality. There is no way to recover the original data. It is lost. The loss may be acceptable – it may not even be visible to the naked eye.

In other cases, compression is lossless. PNG and ZIP are such examples. When you compress something to a ZIP file, you expect to be able to recover it in its entirety when you unzip it. A PNG preserves the original details of an image so that the two can be rendered identically. These compressions are usually not as efficient or not as performant. That is, compression or decompression takes a lot of computing resources.

So why does all this matter? It matters because many users have limitations. Their bandwidth may be limited. Their storage space may be limited. It would be a shame to lose these users.

Luckily, there are some great tools out there to help us shed the extra weight. Check out Avocado for lossless Android vector graphics compression. For PNG compression check out Pngcrush.

Other ways to lose those extra kilobytes: for photos, prefer JPEG. For clipart, PNG may be better. Experiment. Try lowering the quality of your JPEGs. Try downsizing them and scaling them back up on screen.

A slim app is more attractive. Size matters.

A Double Espresso, Please

There are very few perfectly engineered machines. I mean, there’s almost always a flaw. A button that’s not responsive, frustrating maintenance routines…

So when I find a machine that just works, I’m impressed. The Nespresso Lattissima Touch is such a machine.

I’ve been using it and its predecessor, which is harder to get now, for almost a decade now. It has never let me down.

It produces consistent results. It froths milk for you. It cleans itself. The capsules are recyclable. Every part has its place, so you’ll never lose any moving parts. Its parts are dishwasher safe. The detachable milk container can be stored in the fridge. Honestly, De’Longhi thought of everything.

One more thing to consider. If the choice is between buying a coffee outside or making one home, consider this. This machine will actually save you money in the long run. At about £0.40 (or $0.75) a capsule, even with milk, you’re still saving easily over £1.00 (or $1.50) per cup compared to, say, Starbucks.

There’s not much to add, really. If, like me, you can’t be bothered with the hassle of manually making coffee, this is the machine for you. Get one – you’ll never look back. Sleep is overrated anyhow.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Being Lazy is Hard Work

Our body is a funny machine. Well, I say funny, but it often makes me sad. Food I really enjoy tends to be the food I should avoid eating. Sugar, fat… All the good stuff – is actually terrible for our body. That’s unfair.

However, there’s a trade to be made. If I’m willing to burn those calories, I can eat more of that tasty (I mean, unhealthy) stuff and still be healthy.

In my quest to be as lazy as I can, I discovered something interesting. Muscle burns calories even at rest. This means if I have enough muscle I don’t have to exercise as much. Ha!

This is my motivation now. Build muscle today, so that I can be lazy tomorrow. This is kind of like a retirement fund. I invest now to enjoy the fruits of my labor later.

Of course, I’ll always have to work to keep myself in shape. I also try, with the help of my wife, to eat healthy most of the time. But I wouldn’t have to work as hard, or eat nothing but healthy food. That’s encouraging.

Also, as a side note: muscle weighs three times more than fat. So I don’t try to lose weight. I try to lost fat and gain muscle. This is something worth keeping in mind.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!