My three unfair advantages in the COVID-19 era

A lot of people have had to make a lot of adjustments to life in the pandemic era, from work to home life to eating and shopping.

I’ve had three serious advantages–some might even say unfair advantages–that made my transition smoother than most. Probably the most disruptive element of the shelter-in-place and travel restrictions for me would be the extra people in the house all day, and that’s still a bit unsettling at times.

But let’s take a look at the advantages, and see if they might help you as well.

1. I’ve worked from home for the past six and a half years.

This one is hard to do retroactively, of course, but in terms of remote access, working without coworkers face-to-face, and making my own coffee every morning (several times, most days), I was training for the pandemic since I started working for Cisco in 2014.

Before the pandemic, I did have opportunities to get out and see my colleagues in person, whether for our sales kickoff in Las Vegas or conferences or team gatherings at company headquarters. Those have mostly dried up, although I did see a partner engineer briefly a couple of months ago when dropping off a couple of pieces of hardware for him.

I have had to adjust the home environment for the new “coworkers,” including a high school student and a non profit program director who were doing their daily grind in the house, the latter in front of my “daily grind” machine farm… never quite got around to setting up a coffeemaker in my home office, but I did get a second beverage fridge set up.

I have to admit that I hadn’t really prepared for the letdown of virtual conferences, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. On the upside, almost all of the content from the half dozen conferences I’ve “attended” has been made available more promptly afterward, so I can go back and review a lot of it rather easily.

2. I’ve spent weeks in Las Vegas over the past decade

You might be surprised by this advantage, but it definitely prepared me for some of the personal hygiene issues that we’ve been asked to address to slow the spread and reduce risk of contracting the virus.

After the first time or two that I got sick after a trip to Las Vegas, I learned to wash my hands frequently and to never, ever touch my eyes or face unless I had just washed my hands or had a wipe to use.

As a melting pot of bacteria and viruses and just ordinary grime from all over the world, Las Vegas is an easy place to pick up something you didn’t want, whether from handrails, escalators, elevator buttons, door handles, and the like. Browsing through electronics and thrift stores could sometimes leave “weird stuff” on my fingers, but nothing like the handrails at Planet Hollywood or elevator buttons at Mandalay Bay.

So getting in the habit of washing my hands regularly (not just after going to the bathroom, although that’s one a lot of dotcom workers never quite figured out), and keeping my hands away from my eyes (one of the two easiest places to get things introduced to your bloodstream), helped reduce the risk of getting something in Vegas, or in conference facilities elsewhere, or partner offices, or just around town.

I’ve overused subscription services for several years

Note: This section contains affilliate and referral links. You can obviously search for the sites yourself if you don’t want to toss me a few bucks here or there, but I appreciate those of you who do.

There are usually cases of toilet paper and/or paper towels, and plenty of antibacterial wipes and sprays, on a shelf in the garage or in the front closet, thanks to the Amazon Subscribe and Save program. Some brands and products have disappeared from the program over the past few months, and others have popped up (including the “pick 8 scrabble tiles to name your brand” sort of companies), but between these offerings and the occasional sale at Target, we were pretty well positioned on paper and cleaning products from the start. Yes, there was one $1/roll toilet paper purchase, but

I also have to admit to keeping my breakfast/snack drawer under my desk stocked through this program as well (Clif nut butter filled bars, Kind bars, Belvita breakfast biscuits).

This program does mean that at the beginning of every month, I have to review what I’ve used as usual, and what I don’t need for another month or two. And I would recommend comparing the pricing and varieties to what you can get locally, as sometimes you’ll find a better deal at a grocery store or big box store. But as a backup in case you forgot to buy napkins or paper towels or car fluids or even underwear, it’s worth looking into the option.

Check your credit cards for Amazon promotions, or look into one of the Amazon branded credit cards. For example, Discover Card has 5% back on Amazon purchases for the fourth quarter of 2020, for example, and Chase Freedom has them sometimes as well. (These are refer-a-friend links, and I will likely get a modest reward if you sign up for a new card through them.)

And if you’re more inclined toward boutique cleaning and hygiene supplies, you may want to look into Grove Collaborative. They had toilet paper when other online sellers were running low, and they carry Mrs Meyer’s method, Seventh Generation, and their own house brands of various products for bath, kitchen, and general household cleaning.

They can be pricey compared to mass market stores and brands, but if you’re looking for uncommon products and environmental friendliness in your purchases, it’s worth a look. We’ve bought two large boxes of their supplies, and will probably look at restocking for the holidays, but we still mix these products with the more common brands.

Where do we go from here?

I’m hoping that things continue to stabilize, and I’m already looking forward to a careful visit to Las Vegas this winter, and a car club weekend run in the late spring. I’ve added disposable masks and hand sanitizer gel to my car club trunk bag, but we’ll see what else becomes relevant as normal comes back closer to normal.

What have you learned from the pandemic adjustments? Share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Quick Take: Anker PowerLine II USB-C to Lightning charging cable for iPhone and iPad Pro

A week or two ago, I wrote about Apple opening the USB-C-to-Lightning cable market up to third parties after a couple of years of lock-in. Today I’m back with a quick update on one of the two cables I’ve seen, in case you’re looking to rapid-charge an iPhone 8 or later, or an iPad Pro, with Lightning.

Anyway, I got the Anker USB-C to Lightning charging cable in last week. It’s now available on Amazon for $15.99 in white or $17.99 in black, although they are rolling in and out of stock.

First look at the PowerLine II cable

The cable is in Anker’s PowerLine II highly durable cable line, rated for 12,000 bends.

Here you see the Anker cable coiled with the Apple cable, alongside three of the USB-PD chargers I tried it out with. The cable is thicker and looks and feels sturdier than the Apple cable. It comes with a Velcro tie to coil the cable safely, which is a nice touch.

Charging sources tested:

Also fully expected to work (but not tested or pictured):

One upside to the Apple chargers is that you can find Apple stores (and other retailers like Best  Buy and Fry’s who sell Apple products) all over the place. In an emergency, you can pick up a charger without waiting for shipping. I had to do this with an 87W charger to keep my Dell XPS 15 9550 running during a trip to Las Vegas a couple of years ago.

Trying out the cable with iPad Pro 12.9″ (2015)

2019-02-21 13.56.58The testing was pretty simple. This time, I used the new Klein Tools ET920 tester (chosen because it has a captive USB-C cable rather than the dongle-style connection of the Plugable and Satechi testers). The tester does not cross the streams, so to speak, so to test USB-C output you have to use the USB-C input (same goes for USB-A).

I plugged the tester’s USB-C input into each of the chargers shown above, connected the Anker Powerline II cable to the output and to the 12.9″ iPad Pro 12.9″ (2015 model), and watched for the voltage bounce.

As you see in the photos, charging started at about 5V/2A, and about 8 seconds later, the voltage jumped to nearly 15V as expected. This was the same behavior as with the Apple cables.

This is not a surprising review or result; Anker does cables well, and the chip that makes the USB-C to Lightning rapid charging possible is licensed from Apple. However, I’d have been hesitant to recommend it without trying it out myself.

Based on my use of the Anker PowerLine II charging cable, I’m comfortable recommending it, and with a number of Lightning devices in the house, I can always use another charging cable.

The Cascade Cables version discussed in the earlier post is expected in April. While they did not yet respond to my inquiry about testing with 28W rapid-charge devices like the iPhone 8 and later, and iPad Pro models with Lightning, it seems likely that they will work. Watch for an update in two months on that.

Have you upgraded your Lightning charging options from the ones that came in the box? Any thoughts or questions on charging options? Share in the comments, and I’ll answer if I can.

 

 

Good news on the USB-C to Lightning front… maybe…

There are a few power units I’ve been using, testing, and documenting over the last many months. It’s easy to get 5V 2.4A charging, and Qualcomm Quick Charge standards (or Anker’s analogue to them) are pretty easy too. But there’s a somewhat new charging consideration that’s lighting up even more this year, with a possible catch.

When Apple released the iPad Pro (12.9″ 1st generation) in 2015, it was an amazing media consumption and even creation device. Support for the new Apple Pencil for creative types, a huge beautiful screen, and a huge 10Ah 38Whr battery… what’s not to like?

How about charging that huge battery?

Aye, there’s the rub. The iPad Pro came with a 12 watt USB-A charger like iPhones did, and a USB-A to Lightning cable like iPhones did. It’s what Apple had available, and it would probably recharge your iPad Pro in 4-6 hours. (As you can see on the right, mine hasn’t left the box in about 3 years.)

Soon, though, Apple released a USB-C to Lightning cable, which would allow you to charge at about 28 watts (that’s 2.3x as fast on a good day). This cable also opened the door to directly connecting to the new USB-C Macbooks, and with the 30W or better Apple chargers, you could get that 28 watt charge going. Most USB Power Delivery chargers and battery packs at 29 watts or higher can also rapid charge your iPad Pro.

When the iPhone 8 generation came out, Apple started supporting a rapid charge at 18 watts for those devices, and newer iPad non-Pro models (in the last year) have also taken on the faster charge rates.

The catch was, Apple did not sell or license their USB-C rapid charge chips for third party manufacturers. So while some overseas companies made USB-C to Lightning cables, they couldn’t charge faster than the standard USB-A cable, and wouldn’t be MFI-certified. So $19-35 went to Apple for each of those cables, and you got your rapid charging.

You also got typical Apple cable sturdiness (such as it is), which left many people replacing cables and grumbling.

But then, it all changed

Anker USB-C to Lightning Cable

Now that Apple is moving to USB-C for charging their devices, they’re also allowing third party USB-C to Lightning cables by licensing the C89 and similar connectors/chips.

Anker announced one last month at CES, pre-orderable now on their website and shipping later this month, and a crowdfunding project from a company called Cascade Cables is also promising such a cable coming in April.

These new cables are sturdier, potentially more aesthetically pleasing, and the Anker cable is priced lower than the Apple version by a couple of bucks. Now the question is whether these cables will support the full range of charging rates that those of us with larger devices will need.

Cascade USB-C to Lightning Cable

Anker responded to an inquiry on Facebook about the iPad Pro charge rate by telling me that my iPad had USB-C and I could use USB-C to USB-C cabling. Alas, the 2015 iPad Pro doesn’t have USB-C, and they didn’t follow up on the question. However, their pre-order page says it uses USB Power Delivery, which has me feeling optimistic.

I’ve inquired with Cascade Cables as to whether they’ve tested with 28W devices. I’ll update this post if I hear back from them.

It takes more than a cable

With the higher power cabling, whether from Apple or a third party, you’ll need a USB-C Power Delivery charger to negotiate the higher power level.

The easy option is to pick up an Apple USB-C Macbook charger.

If you already have one for your Macbook, you can use it to rapid-charge your iOS devices as well. And note that if you have another USB-C charged laptop (like a Dell XPS 13 or XPS 15, a newer Lenovo, and so forth), you can use the Apple chargers as long as they feed enough wattage to charge your device.

For the third party side, I’ve had very good experiences with Anker, so it’s worth considering a charger from them that provides at least 29 watts on USB-C, like the Powerport II ($30) or Powerport Speed+ Duo ($26). The Powerport II offers up to 19.5 watts on USB-A, which is good for quick-charge devices or iPhone 8 or later; the Speed+ Duo is limited to 12 watts on USB-A.

If you’re patient, Anker has also announced their entry into the GaN (gallium nitride) charging field, the Powerport Atom PD1 charger which gives 30 watts of juice in a tiny form factor. It’s listed on their website for pre-order on Amazon, but Amazon is currently offering email alerts for when it’s available to order. I’ll update when that comes out of unobtanium as well. I have the RavPower 45W GaN charger in house, and will be writing that up soon too.

And if you want to see what power profile your charger is negotiating, regardless of which charger or cable you use, I’ve used the Plugable ($20) and Satechi ($30, right) USB-C power meters with good results. You don’t need a power meter to just charge your devices, but it can be useful to troubleshoot slow charging, flaky cables, or power profile mismatches (like the ones we’ve experienced with the Dell XPS 13 9370).

Where do we go from here?

As the newer cables come out, I’ll be acquiring and testing them. Same goes for the new PD1 charger from Anker. With an iPhone 8 Plus, a 2017 iPad Pro 10.5, and a 2015 iPad Pro 12.9 in the house, rapid charging is an important topic.

I’ll also have some updated coverage on battery packs to rapid charge your iOS devices, and even charge your USB-C Power Delivery laptops. The new HyperJuice “World’s Most Powerful USB-C Battery Pack” and Omni Ultimate battery packs are in house and ready to test, when work lets up a bit.

What are your charging concerns, and what interesting solutions have you found to keep your devices up and running? Share in the comments, or ask any questions you may have.

As always, if you buy through our links above, we get a small commission, which then goes back into buying more stuff to review here and on rsts11travel. We appreciate your support.

 

 

Happy 8th Birthday to rsts11

rsts11 turns 8 today. Not the operating system, which is older than your host, of course.

Eight years ago today, inspired in part by Stephen Foskett and the Tech Field Day crew, I started what was probably my third attempt at blogging. Two weeks later I wrote a post loosely based on Tech Field Day 5 (which I attended a small part of–mostly the party), and a happy post about getting a 48 port 3COM switch and going back to Windows XP to upgrade its firmware.

Today I’m back to attending the TFD parties only; after 5 stints as a full delegate and 7 of what’s now called TFD Extra, I went over to the dark side in 2014, working for a vendor, and my delegate page progress is on hold for now.

As you may know, I branched out into the royal plural on the travel blog just over two years ago; rsts11travel still hasn’t found a better name, and I haven’t gone Sinclair on rsts11 itself either.

I have a modest backlog of posts for rsts11 this year, as well as a couple of recent eBay acquisitions to write about (including a whole new home network infrastructure), so despite working for a Fortune 50 company that makes a lot of the hardware I would have written about in the past, there’s still a lot to cover.

Stay tuned in 2019 for more coverage of tech new and old, continuation of the POHO (Psycho Overkill Home Office) theme that’s driven the blog for eight years now, and some more quick takes and soft topics to push us along into what may be the Year of VDI, the Year of the Linux Desktop, or the Year that Marketing Listens To Tech.

Quick Take: Setting up a blogroll on WordPress-hosted blogs

I seem to have volunteered to share this documentation… if I run out of other things to do, I might do a video or animation of the process. But in short, here’s how I would go about setting up and managing a blogroll (list of blogs to share) on a wordpress.com-hosted WP blog.

Note that you have to have administrative privileges to the account (as far as I know) to make this sort of changes. Also note that I’m not responsible for any damage you do to your blog, your home, your horse, or your hometown while following these steps.

First: Create a link category

Log into your admin portal for WordPress. It’s either going to be <yourblog>.wordpress.com/wp-admin or <yourblogdomain>/wp-admin

If you’re already in the <yourblogdomain>/admin interface, look on the bottom left of the screen for “WP Admin” which will take you to the same place.

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