Happy with Old iPhone

Stacy Mizrahi with iPhones

Since 2008, I’ve had an iPhone 3gs, 4s, 5C, 5S, SE and 7. Many people would consider this to be “light” for an 11 year period. As I typed that list out, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Damn fool” went through my mind a couple of times. Think about the amount of money dropped on this!

The iPhone gs hit the market at $599 , The 4s at $649, the 5c and 5s at $649, 6s at $649 and 7 at $649. There is a little caveat, however. I only paid full price on the 7, 4s and 3gs. Back in 2017 I ended up losing my 7. I decided to dig my wide’s 5c out of the junk drawer and charge it up. Surprisingly, it worked fine – and held it’s battery charge pretty well. So I continued using it until the touch screen started failing. At that point I started reflecting on how to proceed. Should I go buy a new phone? I was using this used phone at a purchase price of free, and I had no objections to it’s use. I also REALLY liked the small form factor. The 7 felt bulky in my pocket, but the 5c wasn’t an issue and even felt “natural” in my hand, not occupying a lot of space. At that point in my life, I didn’t do phone gaming and I had shrugged off most social media platforms, so I did not have any high end applications to worry about.

Curious, I headed out to ebay and saw a 5s for $60 ( back in 2018). The 5s was a significant jump in the 5 lineup and had a higher end processor. I took a chance and and purchased it. I didn’t know it at the time, but Apple was still continuing to support the 5s and was pushing out the new OS versions. Up till a few months ago, I had received every OS update until Apple finally pulled the plug. That phone was my workhorse, it never let me down and had an amazing battery life. My only complaint was that I had purchased the 16gb version, and really needed more storage as I actively used my camera.

So, last week I was searching ebay again and found a floor model SE for sale for $70. The SE essentially has a better camera, better processor, 64 GB and still on the latest operating system. I jumped out on YouTube and could see that the tech community stress tested the SE under the new OS, and it performed quite well. At this point I wondered if I really needed the SE, but for just $70 that seemed like such a low price that the academic debate seemed pointless. The phone arrived in 4 days and it was flawless, no scratches and in the original box.

I started reflecting on my days of going to AT&T when I was eyeballing my contract days in anticipation of upgrading. What a damn fool I was! Caught in this marketing ecosystem, I was trying to keep pace with the cutting edge when in reality, I didn’t need any of that. This SE was released in 2016 and it’s the perfect phone for my needs. It’s small, it has a camera and it is quick to navigate. I don’t need 3 cameras, face ID or a 2nd mortgage to pay the phone bill. Old phone tech works just great! I hold this philosophy with other tech ( I used older laptops and SLRs), but for some reason this phone ecosystem keeps you locked in to upgrading devices, and I think its sometimes worth asking if the device upgrades really warrant a purchase. I think I’m actually enjoying my SE more that the 6s and 7 I had years back. I get just as much use out of it, the pictures are great and I paid 1/7th the price of a new phone I got 3 years ago. Perhaps as technology evolves, we’ll find that that the leaps get shorter and the cost to benefits ratio starts to narrow. I think that’s where I am at, wanting to keep costs down and acknowledging that leaps in the past ( Siri, voice-to-text, processing power, camera) are still good enough for me, and that the new leaps don’t warrant my money. Almost feels like a Financial Independence blog post!

Elementor Best Practice: Use Templates

The last two projects I’ve been working with a WordPress product called Elementor. It is a plugin that works like a page designer, allowing you to access a library of elements and create some pretty diverse pages. It’s got a lot of features that I like, including the capability of making your own page,header and footer templates. Despite it’s intuitive design and features, I’ll warn you now that is has a learning curve. There are SO many features and its difficult to implement without gaining a little mastery. My last project felt like a horrible time suck as I found myself re-doing pages over and over again. Thankfully, there are a lot of Elementor YouTube videos to help couch you through the basics. Unfortunately, you usually have to comb through hours of content to sometimes find the answer you are looking for. So, if you stumbled upon this post searching for “elementor”, I’m going list some best practices that I wish I had prior to working with it.

Start Building Templates

I created a lot of problems for myself by trying to build unique pages. In the review phase, I had a lot of back and forth about styling on fonts and element alignment that bit me in the ass. I spent nearly 70% of my time fixing things so that their was consistency across pages. In the process of making pages look pretty, I tend to lose my eye for uniformity – but my customer did not! So to resolve this issue, its best to first develop some styling rules and start the project my making templates. In Elementor, this is easy to do, they even provide you with your own Templates menu to manage them

Elementor Templates

A good start to any project would be to simply create a header, footer and page template. When you create the templates, you can specify the condition for which the template will be used. And this brings me to a really important thing about these templates:

WORK ON MOBILE DESIGN RIGHT AWAY

Immediately get a test page up with your new templates before you do any work. I burned hours trying to fix things after discovering my headers looked like crap in mobile. So save yourself that frustration and tweak your templates now for mobile and tablet views. Elementor provides a handy tool for viewing your page in mobile and tablet format.

Elementor Views are Desktop, Tablet and Mobile
Page View in Mobile

From a design platform point of view, Elementor allows you to control many of the elements by setting mobile and tablet attributes separately. This a a great feature and, when done correctly, can reduce frustrations in testing. For example, I can change my font size in mobile for my header so that is more aesthetically pleasing.

Element attributes can modified at a device level to accommodate for mobility.

Be warned, however, that the Elementor mobile preview doesn’t cover all aspect ratios. I discovered that some pages rendered differently on some devices , thankfully I discovered this prior to discovery. In my situation, a column appeared to be perfectly centered in Elemetor mobile preview but was off on an Iphone 8 ( despite rendering fine on an Iphone SE). Don’t rely 100% on the Elementor preview. Use a 3rd party testing tool to review your templates.

Moving Away from Office

Since 2017, I’ve been doing something radical in my own workfow. I essentially cut my ties with Microsoft Office. In the past, this wasn’t an easy thing to do as I was always working with other entities that used office products, including the U.S. Government. Once I started working in the contract world, I no longer needed to work off of other peoples tools. I could finally cut the cord properly and see how she flies.

This post isn’t going to be a “how to”, rather I’m going to discuss my challenges and triumphs. First, I decided to go with the open source Office Libre, which can be freely downloaded from the internet. That’s right, free. Outside of that great price tag, it has a huge user community and and has had a lot of time to season. Downloading Libre Office is a journey into a well developed product with no expense other than your time. I’ve used Libre before, primarily when I had used Linux on a few older laptops. It wasn’t, however, something I used regularly. I liked the novelty of having an Office alternative on Linux, but I was so immersed in Microsoft workflows that I didn’t want to give up the convenience of working within that product. Specifically, I didn’t want to have to work with file conversion hassles. But now that I dependent on no one else, I made the fearless leap and have been office-less for 2 + years now.

There are two primary programs I use, Libre Writer ( which is the Word equivalent) and Libre Calc (the excel equivalent). First and foremost, I have to say that for nearly 80% of the stuff I did in Office, I had no difficulty doing the same in Libre Office. The product is very intuitive, and you won’t have to do any “heavy lifting” to get a report done or throw together a spreadsheet. One of the things I missed about Microsoft was the ease of using the ribbons. I initially hated ribbons when they were deployed, but I’ve gotten so use to them that it created some discomfort not having them around. Libre Office used the conventional icon approach to controlling features, so its not that difficult a transition.

In Libre Writer, I’ve had few issues with document creation. It’s pretty straight forward and the features mirror everything the average office user would use. The only struggle was just “remapping” my mind about where I need to click to make bullets or set margins. But as I mentioned earlier, the icons are intuitive so we aren’t talking about some steep learning curve. Writer also makes PDF conversions a snap by putting a 1 click icon in the tool bar. In addition, writer provides many templates similar to Microsoft and many more can also be downloaded from their website.

I thought Calc might be the bigger learning curve as I expected the the formula transition to require the greatest effort. But, surprisingly, it was pretty straight forward. Calc even provides the same epsilon and pre-defined functions you can access without having to memorize them. And the best part might be the videos on Youtube that will show you how to do the more complex functions in case you don’ t want to experiment. Calc also has pivot tables, which I found no less difficult than Excel. Like Writer, Calc using icons on their toolbar so you really don;t have to go searchign for anything.

Libre Office also includes Draw (Vector based graphics) , Impress (Powerpoint clone), Base (the Access DB clone) and Math. Because of my shift in work, I no longer use PowerPoint like I use to. I can’t really talk to the strengths of Impress, I can however state that I was an advanced PowerPoint user when i did use it, so I’m expecting there to be strong functional gaps. Draw was a bit disappointing, I would honestly rather be using Corel Draw. I felt like Libre Draw has a long way to go in terms of it’s advanced features. The UI feels clunky when compared to similar products. I tried making a few logos in Draw and eventually moved over to Fireworks when I wanted to get some more control over gradient shading. Draw might be good for getting initial shapes together but I would find another program to get your higher level art done. As of this publication date, I haven’t used math so I can’t comment on its functionality.

As an open source product, I think Libre Office is a fantastic option for students or small business looking to find productivity on a budget. I haven’t had any productivity issues to speak of in my 2 years using Libre Office. I produce how-to manuals, contracts, project plans, spreadsheets and letters without issue. Every document goes to my printers without translation problems. With regard to document sharing, I save everything in PDF when I need to share with customers ( something I also did in Microsoft, and you should too). Try it out yourself, you literally have nothing to lose.

Hiking the Stess Out

One nice thing about my avid hiking habit is that the experience has the added novelty of being reusable, meaning that I can reflect on how great it was and mitigate whatever crap is going on in my current state. A few years back I traveled to Yosemite and it was one of those experiences that stays with you forever.

Stacy Mizrahi holding a Sequoia cone

Look at the size of that freaking Sequoia cone! It’s really like being on a different planet, nothing about that place seems ordinary. Even in California, home to “unique” people and places, Yosemite is one of those areas that just stands apart from the rest.

Time Tool for the Focused Challenged

If you aren’t familiar with the Pomodoro technique, it is a timetracking “hack” developed for folks who have trouble staying on task. It is a simple concept, you work for 25 minutes then take a break. Then repeat. Pretty simple, right?

For those of us with ADHD or maybe just dealing with a distracting environment, using this tool is a way of educing a little bit of disciple so that you can squeeze out productivity. The technique was introduced to me when I had been diagnosed with ADHD, and it’s been a great tool in helping me getting through long to-do lists. There are lots of apps you can get for the Pomodoro technique, but I wanted to pass along this free web tool

http://www.tomato.es/

If you are like me, you work on a laptop. When you are ready to be productive, just open up a new tab and go to the link above. You click on “start” and get to work, when the 25 minutes is up, a notification sounds. Then you just keep repeating the process, taking breaks when prompted. I find the pacing great because I need those frequent breaks. It also helps me stay at a manageable “pace” without getting burned out.

A Peak Into My Task Management

Just finished an article about my internal task management. I did this so I could share with my nephew how I go about my day, keeping my tasks in order. Task management is a big deal when you are independent, there is no project manager or middle manager there to keep you honest. Good task management is both a system and a habit, it is something that requires study and discipline in order to become mastered. Prior to my adoption of a good system, things were more chaotic in my life. Tasks would magically appear and I felt under-the-gun almost all the time.

PHP Addendum: Operators

Regarding my previous post, I discovered a problem with my operators and thought it might help others to share the resolution. Long story short: I need to be careful when switching from SQL to PHP as the nature of the same operator can change. The = in SQL is just that, the = in PHP can be used to change a value. The == in PHP is how you check to see if the value in question is set i.e. is $variable ==3? In SQL I would say Select blah blah where variable = 3. In PHP, if I want to see if the variable is 3, I type … if ($variable == ‘3’)….

I’m sure lots of programmers out there are mystified how I could make such a basic error, but it all stems from years of working in SQL support and not doing any backend coding. My mind is built to work around writing scripts and teasing out data in SQL, not using another set of operators in another language. And because I am now using both side-by-side, I have to be SUPER careful and remember where my operator is being used.