The nice thing about the new COVID world is that the contracts are rolling in! For the online business man, these are glory days!
Ebay strikes again with some good tech bargains. I got 2 apple watches. The first was a series 2, which I scored for $80. I honestly didn’t think I’ get it at that low a price, but the Ebay Gods were good this day. The best part about this win was that this person misposted the watch size, it was actually the 42mm, not the 38mm. Getting more than I paid for was icing on the cake.
As I was waiting for that bid to come in, I saw another series 1 watch so I bid on that one. To my shock, I landed it! I gave the series 2 to my wife and kept the series one as I liked the stylish leather strap. I looked up the strap online and it costs more than I paid for the phone!
Neither of these watches had physical wear to them. I’ve been wearing mine every day without issue. It took about 5 minutes to set it up. You can answer calls through it and track your heart beat and health, as well as access your calendar and various apps like my bank. But the coolest part is the mickey mouse face, which talks to you when you tap on it. I always wanted a mickey mouse watch when I was a kid, so I feel like I’m finally living my 10 year old dream.
So I’m hiking with my brother-in-law and, while navigating a steep slope, I slip and land on my hands. The impact didn’t feel that terrible, I’ve honestly had harder falls in my own front yard. But I just so happen to have my treasured Iphone SE in my hand. And the damn thing shattered. I was upset, my perfectly functioning $70 ebay find was now badly cracked. I can’t tell you how much I loved that phone, its tiny profile fit perfectly into the palm of my hand and was ideal for jogging. Unfortunately, that ideal hand size also meant I was more prone to palming it everywhere rather than putting it in my damn pocket!
I ordered a replacement screen for it. I had done this sort of repair before, once on a 5c and another time on a 3s. But, alas, the process broke me. The screws are so damn small and the my patience is only so strong. I was 45 minutes into fumbling around with the parts when I finally gave up – recognizing that my labor hours had far exceeded the value of the phone. My mind had also started to ponder if I could get a better value on ebay again. It was this exploration that was unique, for the timing of my phones demise paralleled the release of the SE2020. Oddly enough, the quantity of SE 1st gen phones had gone down since my purchase on ebay. Getting a 64gb in that same price range was difficult. I could have gotten a 32 gb for $30, but decided going down in memory was the wrong direction. After a week of stalking SEs, I finally resigned myself to looking elsewhere.
Then, the thought hit me. My brother-in-law, who’s hike invoked my phone’s demise, was a notorious iphone user. I remember that he had just upgraded to the 11, which meant his old phone was likely sitting around in a junk drawer. I called him up and asked him if he would sell it – he said yes! He had a 6s 128gb, which I was a bit reluctant to buy at first. But when he took $50, I couldn’t really find fault in the decision. At that price, its hard to critique a phone purchase. The phone was case kept and was like new. The battery health was at 78%. I had no issues using it, and it ran find under IOS 13.
I reflected on this in terms of market consumption. Had I gone out and gotten the new 2020 SE, I’d be set back a modest $350. Sure, that phone has a better camera and processor. But this phone is the same size, with the same OS, and performs fantastic with all the stuff I use it for. This cost me $50, I saved a great phone from a future land fill journey, and I am utilizing it to my fullest potential. I sound like a broken record at times, but I cant find any fault in using 3-4 year old tech. Why break the bank on a new phone – which will likely include an insurance plan, when you can swoop up other people’s discards and capitalize on THEIR wanton consumption. I don’t need a $69 Apple insurance plan. When my old iphone breaks, I can go get another for the same (or lower) price. That’s not just good sense, it’s good cents!
I have an graduate certificate in instructional design and have been around a great deal of Learning Management Systems (LMS) systems. I’ve seen good deployments, and I’ve seen poor deployments. But never have I seen the cluster f*$% that our county is working with during this COVID 19 crisis. The LMS (Canvas) had been online long before Covid, but hadn’t been widely used until the the crisis started. I’m sure the county was panicking when they were forced to use it, or at least that’s what this mess resembles. Some teachers use the calendar function, some don’t. Some use modules , some don’t. Some use tasks, some don’t. The end result is that this dad praying for death every time he has to interact with the system – and I work with these damn things for a living! My daughter has the fun of watching be click a thousand different areas to try to find out where her assignments are at. And then when she’s complete, we have to hunt down a one answer quiz asking if the task was complete so that she can get credit.
It baffles me, as an LMS guy, that this was even allowed. I get that this was rushed, but the end product is the most unintuitive mesh of links one can possible think of. The landing page has links to 3rd party apps that children as expected to use without any guidance. The home room landing pages lack any consistency in design for easy navigation. The process for completing assignments differs between courses. The calendar is only used to indicate live meetings but the coursework deadlines can only be discovered either though the assignments or modules on the respective course. And this county is filthy rich! Like, one of the most wealthy counties in the nation , rich! They likely could have spent money on a few consultants to get this right, but they didn’t.
I think this quarantine situation is likely going to lead to a new era in distance learning, but first all the educators out there are going to have to get a crash course in learning how to use this tech. Everyone got-by when e-learning was the novelty model for online colleges. Now, every school is going to be forced to assess their own ability to support remote learners. Each student can be a potential e-learner if the next Corona comes around. And with this canary in the coalmine situation, I would expect then next renditions of our county’s LMS to follow one basic premise: KEEP IT SIMPLE!
The notebook Left is a Macbook A1534 circa 2015. A friend gave it to me because keys were stuck. I had to buy special tools to crack it open because Apple doesn’t believe in standard anything. It worked for a short time but then stopped booting. According to eBay, I can still sell this thing for parts at around $200. For a 5 year old laptop!
The notebook on the right is a Dell Latitude 3350, also circa 2015. I bought this online for $26 used a few months back. It was missing a key, other than that it was fully functional and was in great shape. I replaced the missing key for $4. This laptop has handled tasks such as video production that I hadn’t really planned on using it for, and has been surprisingly rugged. Oh, and I didn’t need any special tools to access the the case.
So tell me, why exactly is the Mac valued more over the Dell? Does the Mac do anything better than the Dell? Is the build quality really that much better? The Mac broke down first! Is the Dell some kind of under-performing mechbeast? Despite it having half the memory of the Mac, it actually boots faster! Grant it, I have Ubuntu installed on the Dell, but it flies!
I love Apple products, but when in comes to Macs, I just do not understand the value position. I’m going to sell that thing for scrap and make a pile of coin, and could buy three perfectly working used Dells for the price of the Mac parts. This isn’t my first time down this road, but when you have two models from the same year side-by-side and have the eBay receipts to value-compare, you have to wonder what type of cult Mac fans are. They certainly aren’t value-conscious consumers. Oddly enough, the Macs are the only apple devices that hold up this insane retail value. I’ve posted earlier that I’m always able to get great value deals on old Apple tech. It’s the Macbooks that make no freaking economic sense to me.
I occasionally like to scope out deals on eBay, especially for 2+ year old tech that people are selling. A few years ago I had an iPad 4, and I loved that thing. One day I accidentally left it on the roof of my car when moving a child’s seat. I think that iPad is now in tiny pieces on the side of I-70. So when I saw and iPad 2 on Ebay for $10, I couldn’t resist. I was surprised to be the winning bid. Yeah, I know:2011 Tech Stacy, big freaking deal. But I’ll tell ya, that model was rock solid. It went all the way up to iOS 9.3.5.
I think a lot of people are bailing on the older iPads as fewer and fewer apps are available for them. The jump to the newer 64 bit architecture is creating a forced obsolescence of sorts as old 32 bit apps get retired. As I originally only wanted the iPad as an internet reader, I started poking around and found many apps still work. Yeah, the popular ones like YouTube have moved on, but there are all sorts of apps still kicking around. I can deal with the inconvenience of retired apps if the price is right, the battery on this model was rock solid and I can still do most of the stuff – like sketching or playing chess online. I’d never spring on an iPad Pro for my reading but a $10 iPad2 s a no brainer.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.