I’ve been working from home for nearly 20 years, but being locked up at home due to the pandemic still drove me a little nuts. Several technology products have been particularly helpful while sheltering in place, making this semi-forced timeout feel less like a punishment and more like something I could endure.
I’ll close with my product of the week: a new HP Chromebook, the 11a, that provides a ton of value for US$219.
Let’s get to it.
Atmoph Window 2
I bought the Atmoph Window 2 because I have been a fan of virtual windows for some time, but finding one has proven difficult. The Atmoph Windows 2 looks like a picture on your wall, but inside the frame is a connected 27-inch 4K display that is tied to remote cameras providing real-time video feeds of remote locations.
It can be set to change the image automatically, so it may show Paris at times and then switch to China or Italy, for example. At night I’ve walked by as it displayed fireworks, a live satellite feed of the galaxy, or a shot of an underwater reef.
I’ve found myself just staring at it, losing myself in the image, feeling a little like I’d traveled to that remote location. My only complaints are that sometimes it stops updating automatically, so I have to mess with it. Also, I’d like a more significant window, as 27 inches isn’t big enough for many of the views.
However, they’ve worked the software in this product, so the image adjusts when you move around the picture, so it feels like you are looking out a window.
I’ve found that when I’m going stir crazy, just sitting for a bit and looking out that virtual window seems to de-stress me, and I no longer feel locked up. I bought the thing on a lark, but it’s become something I look forward to looking out of every day.
I can imagine a future when larger versions of this adorn a wall in a small room, allowing you to step in and, for a time, be any place you’d want to be — even imaginary places on other planets.
For now, though, just being able to pretend I’ve gone someplace else has been an enormous help.
I was a fan of the ChiliPad when it came out, and the Ooler replaced it. The Ooler is a liquid bed heater/cooler, and it does wonders for my sleep.
I have trouble sleeping during the winter because it is dark a lot of the time. Although I typically don’t go out much, I still would go out more than I have lately. During the pandemic lockdown, I didn’t leave the house much at all, and the near-constant lack of sunlight did horrid things to the quality of my sleep.
Besides, I tend to like it cold at night, and my wife typically likes it warmer, so one of us was often too cold or hot.
The Ooler allows you to adjust the temperature of the bed regardless of the room temperature, so once you find your range, you won’t wake up too hot or too cold — the temperature will be just right. It adjusts automatically depending on time, so you can go to bed nice and cool and wake up toasty warm.
Like a lot of folks, if I don’t get my sleep, I get irritable, and I’m not too much fun to be around.
Chili’s Ooler has helped my marriage survive this stay-at-home stint, which has challenged many others.
Like a lot of you, I’m living on streamed content, but I also want to watch the local news and that isn’t streamed reliably yet. The TiVo Edge remains the only device in the market that blends time-shifted broadcast and streamed content near seamlessly.
If you missed an already-aired episode because of a power outage or other problem (like you forgot to record it), TiVo will point you to the streaming service and guide you to the missed episode.
It automatically skips commercials (well, except for the one that it puts at the front of every program that you have to skip manually), and it organizes the content so you can better find what you want to watch.
Much like a streaming service, if you are binge-watching, it will begin the next episode automatically.
You can move the programming around your house with TiVo Minis, but they don’t support WiFi yet. That makes them a bit of a PITA to set up if you haven’t pulled Ethernet cable throughout your home. (That should have been sorted by now.)
Still, if you want to blend over-the-air and streaming content into a single solution, TiVo does that best.
Dell 49-Inch Monster Monitor
I spend most every day looking at this monster, from around 8 a.m. to about 5 p.m., with a short break for lunch. I don’t know what I’d do without this huge 49-inch monitor from Dell.
I can be working on a column like this one on one side, have my email running in the middle, and have a news feed on the other side, all at the same time. Even though it is large horizontally, it isn’t too tall, so my video camera isn’t looking at the top of my head during a Zoom call.
It has a built-in USB hub that reduces a bit the massive number of wires I have routed around my desk, and the thing has performed like a champion.
I don’t know how I’m ever going to go back to a laptop screen once I start traveling again.
Jaguar I-Pace Electric Car
Everything I’m doing during this pandemic is short hops, and my Jaguar I-Pace electric car is always full and ready to go as a result of the ChargePoint charger I have in my garage (which also has worked flawlessly).
During this lockdown, I didn’t want to go anyplace where infected people could be touching stuff, and the gas pump was one of my concerns. Gas station folks can get chatty where I live, which usually is kind of nice, but right now I don’t want to be around people who are chatting with lots of other people.
Other than one recall and software patch I had to deal with, this car has been very reliable. It is always there, always ready to go, and a blast to drive, particularly for short hops. In a world where you want to minimize contact and can’t go on trips, and don’t want to drive long distances, an electric may be the perfect car.
AMD Threadripper PC
I’ve rediscovered video games. I played them before for hours, but gaming has helped keep me sane by allowing me to work off my frustrations safely by blowing stuff up or using my drive simulator to race on virtual racetracks.
Like a lot of you, I watch the news and get upset, but I find I can work through the anger just by sitting in front of that monster 49-inch monitor and going to a virtual war.
Not being around people all day, day after day, is lonely. Still, gaming takes my mind off current events, it’s relatively safe, and I don’t have to worry about things like social media or what new insane thing a politician is likely to say or do.
The AMD Threadripper system I have has performed like a champ, handling every game I’ve thrown at it, including virtual reality. I’m impressed with the build quality Falcon put into the system, as it has been trouble-free. (This is my first Falcon PC rig.)
It is just nice to be able to get violent without getting violent, and being able to have a gaming rig that not only is my primary work PC but also allows me to travel to new worlds and blow up virtual stuff is, right now, a godsend.
Bartesian Robotic Bar Tender
I don’t drink that much, so you’d think not being able to go out for a drink wouldn’t be a problem for me. It turns out it was — it just was another reminder that I couldn’t do stuff I wanted to do, and it soured my mood.
Well, my wife bought me the Bartesian robotic bartender, and I got hooked on Rum Breezes. I fill a glass with crushed ice, and put in a drink pod, and push a button, and in a few seconds, I have a correctly mixed drink.
This thing is AWESOME, and the more I use it, the better I like it — well, until I can no longer stand up.
No worries about drinking and driving because I’m home, and I can set this thing for just the right amount of alcohol.
It puts a smile on my face every time I use it, and I can sit in front of that virtual window with a view of Paris and pretend I’m there getting a drink at a French bar. It just adds that little something unique to the end of a long day, and I don’t have to learn another skill.
Being locked up at home sucks, but some things have made it almost pleasant. From my Atmoph Window that allows me to travel virtually to the Dell monitor and Falcon Threadripper PC that allows me to visit new worlds and blow stuff up, to the TiVo that makes it easy to binge-watch almost anything, to the always-ready Jaguar I-Pace. The Bartesian nightcap and the Ooler for comfortable sleep add to the products that have kept me from going insane while locked up at home.
It has been a tough few months. These devices have helped a lot to get me through them.
When kids suddenly found themselves at home, Chromebooks were the go-to solution to bring school to them remotely. Schools and parents didn’t have a ton of money either, particularly given the shutdowns, so what was needed was a very low-cost adequate solution, and HP stepped up with its Chromebook 11a.
This product isn’t a performance champion, but at $219, it is one of the best Chromebooks you can buy in its price range. Just under 3 pounds — and with an 11-inch screen and around 13 hours of battery life — this Intel Celeron-powered device provides adequate performance for most at a very affordable price.
People who are worried about their employment and income can’t afford the typical notebook, so finding something that the kids can use that won’t break the bank is critical.
The HP Chromebook 11a provides a lot of bang for a tiny bit of money, and for kids needing to work from home, this is not only a godsend but my product of the week.