Tech+Life

My favorite photography tools

Camera

Fuji X-T2

I recently switched to this mirrorless system and really love it! It has amazing low light capability and incredibly fast shutter speed; both features that really come in handy when photographing children.


Lenses

Fujifilm 23mm f/1.4

My favorite focal distance for families with children. I can be close to the action and help prompt authentic emotions with no lens distortion.

Minolta 50mm f/1.7 (vintage)

Can you believe that I picked this up at a thrift store for $20?! After using this for several months, I often reach for the lens just for that creaminess this vintage lens adds to a scene. It's almost like butter. It also works really well for freelensing and makes some fun oblong bokeh.

Rokinon 12mm f/2

I reeaally love wide angles lenses! Obviously it's great for real estate and interiors photography but it's also a fun novelty lens to use for environmental portraits of children.

Helios 44-2 58mm (vintage)

This is a fun specialty lens that, in the right situations, can produce a swirly bokeh that almost looks like it's spinning behind the subject.

Fujifilm 50-140mm f/2

Not every situation calls for the photographer being all up the clients' faces. This heavy lens helps me build muscle and give my clients breathing room. It also creates that smooth bokeh that makes me melt.


Software

Lightroom and Photoshop

A must for professional photographers. Lightroom is the standard for organizing and editing of photos. Photoshop is for the heaving lifting. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but are as necessary as a camera.

Blogstomp

For resizing images and creating image galleries for blog posts. Saves me tons of time.

Dubsado

Ah, how I love Dubsado! I can organizing contacts, invoices, proposals, contracts, automate forms, and so much more. Dear Dubsado makes me look so very professional. 


Accessories

Joby Pro Sling Strap

This strap has saved my shoulders and back so many times. I can camera my camera and a large lens for hours without any trouble. This strap is an absolute necessity when I photograph newborns and small children. When not photographing, I cinch the camera close to my body and it won't swing forward when I bend down. You definitely don't want a camera bumping a sweet child in the head!

ExpoDisc

For perfect white balance, a photographer must master color systems. This includes knowing the "color values" of trees, skies, skin tones, etc. It also helps to have an ExpoDisc for those really tricky situations like golden hour under a glowing green tree. 

  • Macro filters
  • Lens Pen

Camera Bags

Ona Bowery Canvas messenger

This is the perfect size to hold my mirrorless and 1-2 small lenses or if I have the camera on a sling, it can hold at least 3 lenses. It's durable and strong but not too big.

Jo Totes Allison

The version I have isn't made anymore. I use it to store my small collection of lenses and small camera stuff (like lens pen, extra lens caps, etc.) It still looks great after four years. I don't usually take it out on shoots because it's pretty heavy on my shoulders though.

Can technology and minimalism co-exist?

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I love technology. I love how I can automate so many mundane activities. I love that I can reduce clutter by digitizing documents and DVDs. I don't love the tech clutter. Tech items do have a way of multiplying. I went to buy a new iMac when my old one died. The new one came bundled with a new keyboard and mouse. I don't need a keyboard or mouse. But, my "electronics" drawer now has an extra keyboard and mouse sitting there unused.

Using technology also has a way of overloading our lives. We jump when our phone chirps at us. We make worthy life goals but then spend that valuable time scrolling Facebook, Instragram, etc. I tried researching what productivity experts recommend when someone wants to minimize or de-clutter their life. One of the most-frequent recommendations is to reduce our dependence on technology; to even take a technology hiatus or sabbath.

So, is an interest in minimalism and a love of technology incompatible? My hope is to find ways to nurture my tech interest all while simplifying my home and life.

venndiagram
venndiagram

Can I find the balance of a simple life and one that includes technology?

What will I find in that middle ground?

3 things to do before buying smart home devices

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What follows here is my decision process I use before I buy the smart version of any technology. I want the lights in my 6 year old daughter's bedroom to turn off 30 minutes after bedtime. She may want to read all night, but it's better for her and all of us if she gets her sleep.

I can walk back to her room and turn the lights off myself. But, I'm tired and I often forget. Is there a smart device that can accomplish my needs?

Step One - Identify the facts of the situation

My daughter's room has an overhead light that's wired to the switch on the wall and one desk lamp that uses proprietary led lights and is plugged into a wall socket. We rent and cannot make permanent changes to the house.

FACTS OF THE SITUATION

  1. She usually goes to bed at 7:45pm but sometimes it's as early as 7:30 and other nights it's as late at 8:15.
  2. When she's in bed earlier, she's allowed to read longer.
  3. On weekdays, she needs to go to sleep earlier than weekends.
  4. On days we get home late (after 7:30pm or so), I don't want her reading at all.

STEP TWO - Brainstorm possible solutions

At this stage, just list the possibilities. Do not evaluate them or assess their worth. That's a different step.

THE POSSIBILITIES

  1. Remind myself to walk to her room and turn the lights off at a time we pick.
  2. Leave the lights on until I went to bed (usually around 10:45pm) and then turn them off.
  3. Install an old fashioned timer on the outlet that would turn the desk lamp on/off at a pre-determined schedule.
  4. Install a smart outlet plug and install smart bulbs to turn the lights on/off at a pre-determined schedule and allow me the option to turn them on/off at different times and away from home.
  5. Find a small head lamp (like backpackers use) or book light that has an auto-off timer.

STEP THREE - Evaluate the possibilities

For each of the ideas you created in the previous step, you now need to assess whether that idea is viable. List some variables that will help you evaluate each idea. This can be done with paper+pencil or even with a complex excel chart. You decide how geeky you need to be.

MY CONCERNS

  1. Cost
  2. Non-permanence (we rent and can't open walls)
  3. Return on investment (if the solution costs more, I want a lot more value to me)
  4. Ease of use by myself (I can tolerate tinkering but I have high standards of usability)
  5. Ease of use by my husband, children and other non-techies I have over

MY ASSESSMENT

Idea 1 - Has no cost. Involves no changes to house. It's an easy solution in theory, but I have never remembered to turn off her lights after 20 minutes. So, this idea just continues what I'm already doing.

Idea 2 - This is what I am currently doing. Yes, it's easy and involves no additions to the house. However, I would like my daughter to fall asleep in darkness instead of bright reading lights.

Idea 3 - Installing an old-fashioned timer is definitely easy and low cost. I even have one around. My concern is that if I want to change the on/off schedule, I need to move a bookshelf to reach the plug.

Idea 4 - The cost is definitely higher, between $35 for a bluetooth smart plug to $90 or more for a hub and smart switch. I would have the ability to set different schedules based on day of the week and even override by tapping my smart phone. My husband wouldn't be able to use this system though and it still doesn't tackle the overhead lights unless I also add smart bulbs at $15-40 per bulb.

Idea 5 - Does this exist? Because she'd probably really like it. Cost is minimal but we'd be changing batteries pretty often.

STEP 4 - Decision Time

I prioritized my concerns and it looks like my favorite solution (Idea 4: Smart switches +hub) is not feasible for us. I can have a timer on the desk lamp but it's only a partial solution. I'll have to keep brainstorming and watching the tech world for a possible solution in the future.

Pros and Cons of a Bluetooth Smart Switch

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My six year old daughter is a night owl. As she snuggles into bed each night, she assembles a large pile of books next to read. However, as proud of her as I am for her voracious reading habit, she does need sleep. Each night, as I turn down the lights to just the right level for her reading, I say that I'll be back in 20 minutes to turn them off completely. I have never remembered to turn the lights off. Perhaps technology can help. Would a smart switch help?I want a removable system (We're renters.) with the following options.

  1. Ability to switch off desk lamp after a customizable amount of time (ex. 20 minutes or so).
  2. We need to be able to use the lamp's own switch during the day.
  3. Ability to program a schedule for the desk lamp to normally go off (say at 9 pm on weekdays and 9:30 pm on weekends) and back on in the morning.
  4. Ability to turn off lights when I'm away from the house.

Test 1: Avi-On Plug-In Bluetooth Smart Switch

GE Bluetooth Smart Switch
GE Bluetooth Smart Switch

I got the Avi-On Smart Switch at Lowe's for about $30. Installation is crazy simple. Plug into your outlet. Plug the device (ex. lamp) into the smart switch. Download the Avi-On app. Click the + symbol and the app will discover your device. You can then turn on or off the device and set up schedules that work with your family.

This smart switch works over bluetooth. That means you don't have to deal with wifi passwords. The downside is that you can't remotely control this switch when you're out of bluetooth range about 30-50 feet away.

GE Bluetooth Smart Switch
GE Bluetooth Smart Switch

The switch worked well enough. I quickly set up a schedule for weekdays and weekends for when the outlet would turn off at night and back on in the morning.

The Avi-On App

The app is pretty clear and simple to use. Available from Google Play and iTunes App Store. However, I had 2 main problems.

  1. The app would sometimes not connect or "find" my switches if I was on the other side of the house. I think I might have been too far from the outlets for the bluetooth to connect.
  2. I could not control this at all if I was away from home.

Verdict

This was returned within a couple of days. I didn't like how slow the app was to connect to the switch when I was in range and I really didn't like how small that range was. My search continues.

Can I find the perfect universal remote?

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My husband just wants to watch tv. He doesn't want to use a computer to watch the news. He doesn't want to remember a long series of button presses to watch sports. He just wants to point a remote at the tv and watch what he likes. As much as I like to tinker with technology, I am married to a dear man who does not. He and I are on opposite sides of the bell curve for tolerance level of technology glitches.

Technology according to non-techies

Say that the tv screen does something unexpected, like show a message saying "No signal. Check the external input or select another input using the INPUT button." My husband will turn the tv off and declare that "the TV is broken!"

[pullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]It is never the user's fault.[/pullquote]

He blames himself for whatever strange thing the tv is doing. But he shouldn't. "It's never the user's fault," says tech guru Leo Laporte.

Sure, my husband may have pressed the green button when he was supposed to press the red button and then hold down another button for at least 3 seconds, but the resulting problem is still not my husband's fault.

The fault lies in the design of the thing. Are the buttons well labeled? Are they aligned on the remote in a way that makes sense for people who are not engineers? Is the design intuitive? Does it "just work?"

inteset 4 in 1 remote
inteset 4 in 1 remote

The quest for the perfect universal remote

Back to my husband's desire to just.watch.tv. Even though every remote we've tried so far is awful, does the perfect universal remote exist? One that's easy enough for a thoroughly non-techie person to operate on their own?

A couple of years ago we cancelled cable. We watch evening news with an antenna and use Apple TV and a separate DVD player for all other tv-based entertainment. 3 remotes. I want to simplify to one remote.

TV Remote Test 1: Inteset 4-in-1 Universal Remote

This is a universal remote for people who don't want to pay the price for a "real" universal remote. I got ours for $24.95 from Amazon. As the name implies, this remote can control up to 4 devices.

SETUP

This remote came preprogrammed for four of the most common peripherals (Apple TV, XBox One, Roku and Media Center). Four buttons at the top control each of the devices. Programming the tv and other peripherals still requires searching for setup codes, entering them into the remote, looking for 1 or 2 LED blinks and following other very precise instructions. I still haven't programmed a macro for the DVD player because it is so complicated.

OUR EXPERIENCE

Inteset 4 in 1 remote
Inteset 4 in 1 remote

Using this remote is definitely better than programming it.

The feel of it is great. The back has a velvety feel, the buttons are back-lit, and the volume/channel buttons are well-located. The button presses feel nice and squishy. However, as with every remote on earth, there are waaaaay too many buttons.

Why do I need two rows of buttons with symbols on them (star, circle, triangle, diamond and square)? What do they even do?

What do those symbols on the bottom even mean?

FEATURES

  • Macros
  • Volume Lock
  • Channel Lock
  • Custom label stickers for you to put anywhere
  • The ability to learn button presses from other remotes
  • Almost every button is programmable

PROBLEMS

  • My husband still claims it is not intuitive. "I have to press the red button and then Apple? Why do I need to press the Apple button?"
  • This may be a problem of my programming, but if my husband presses a couple of buttons out of order, the entire TV shuts off.
  • This remote is not good for people with a fear of programming.

VERDICT

Not perfect but better than using multiple remotes.

Follow the Trail: A guide to great kid books

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Can I admit something? I used not like reading books to my kids. I was tired of reading the same mediocre picture books over and over. I wanted to read books with beautiful artwork; books with lyrical, memorable words; books with great inspirational messages. Finding these amazing kids' books became my new job.

An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing. - Charlotte Mason

Childhood is too short to waste time reading fluff. Too often when I'm browsing the library, I see shelves of movie-to-book stories, characters who are poor role models, or silly stories with poor drawings. Where are the amazing kids' books that teach wonderful morals or behaviors or have artwork that can inspire my own children to pull out the paints?

Where do I find great kid books?

  1. Know what kind of book to look for. We started by making a list of authors and illustrators we loved. We then checked out everything by those people. That gave us a good start to identifying the types of books we loved - books with beautiful writing (almost poetic) and realistic, gorgeous hand-drawn illustrations.
  2. Seek recommendations from bloggers you trust. This was when I found blogger Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival. She's a homeschooling mom who runs a very popular podcast where she interviews authors and offers tips to cultivate a culture of reading in your family. Yes, please!

    1. Read aloud revival - Podcast and membership forum
    2. Read aloud resources - Facebook group
    3. Modern Mrs. Darcy - Booklists
  3. Find trusted publishers. I noticed that many books we read were from a couple of publishers. They had great consistency in publishing quality literature. So, we sought out more books they published. I can definitely recommend Beautiful Feet Books.

Organizing your booklists

I highly recommend GoodReads as the best way to organize the books you want to read and those you've already read or own.
I tried keeping paper lists of books, either in a notebook or on scraps of paper in my wallet, but somehow never had them handy when I found myself unexpectedly in a bookstore or library. I ended up adding nearly every book we own into Goodreads and I keep a running list of book I want to read and books I want to read with the kids.
Stay tuned for a future post that goes into much more detail about how I organize Goodreads.