Pre-flight Checklist – Stream Deck Plugin

What started as a checklist on paper morphed into a digital format.

After I saw the benefit in using the Stream Deck Mini that I won back in 2019,within a year I had decided to upgrade from that to the standard 16 key version. It was well worth it as having more actions per page is great for having more options readily available without having to go between page more often.

One of the things that I was rubbish at doing before stream was, well Everything, I would invariably forget to do something, either forgetting completely or remembering a few hours into stream, such as eating food, checking my peripherals or updating my title and game. I used to have a physical list of things to complete, but invariably I would lose it.

So I decided to build a plug-in for the Stream Deck to digitise this pre-stream checklist, aiming to achieve exactly the same thing, but less likely to misplace it between streams.
Once I had the working prototype working it dawned on me that I could theme it in the style of togglable switches like you might find in a cockpit.

It can however be used for anything that required a checkable list of tasks, so the name change to pre-flight rather than pre-stream allowed it to be no prescriptive but also a familiar enough concept for people to understand.

I haven’t really devoted too much time to getting the plugin into a releasable state but it’s something I’d like to do so other folks can set up their own lists and hopefully get the same benefit I get from it.

Duck Duck Go Mobile App

So I’ve been running the Duck Duck Go app on my phone for about a year now. I felt that the the trade off between using Chrome (where everything is always logged in but tracked ) and DuckDuckGo, boils down to convenience, yes I may need type my credentials more frequently but for the amount of benefits it gives me it’s feels  worth it.

Browsing

90% of my browsing is just looking stuff up, random stuff, IMDB, Just watch, I’m not even logged into a site to see most stuff.
However we all know that even the most basic searches using a big Search engine is likely to be tied to your account, tracked via cookies ad profile ID, then you will be seeing adverts for things related to that search hours and days later.

By default DuckDuckGo will use it’s enhanced privacy protection to block many trackers, However there are other baked in features that can be set to automatically wipe your tabs and/or browsing data, either on a timer or when you exit the app.

If this isn’t a feature you want to occur all the time you can list a site as fireproof, so it avoids this fate

But not only does DuckDuckGo give you a browser it also offers two additional tools that you can sign up to be part of (at the time of writing this 

Duck Email

Big business means Big data, your data to be exact, our inboxes are swamped with marketing emails of one kind or another. Each of them is a tiny self-contained bundle of ways companies can track you.

They will track

  • is your email address still valid
  • did the email reach it
  • did you open the email
  • did you scroll or interact with the email in anyway
  • did you click a link/image in the email

One of the features they have started rolling out is a email forwarder that sends emails to an email address of your choosing but it removes tracking data from emails (the 3 elements in the list above).

Also at anytime you can generate a random email address that will do the same, only it’s not giving out your duck address but still linked to it.
Lastly you can response to emails and they will go back via DuckDuckGo not giving away your actual email still.

App Tracking Protection

So the latest feature that is being trailed is Tracking Protection from your installed Apps. I love how simple the idea here is, DuckDuckGo setups up a local VPN, the checks happens on your phone, the data never sent out to anyone else. Then the app and you can control what apps use it or don’t make use of it. Some apps that have this tracking nastiness baked into them break completely so you have to toggle those apps off.

Think all those tracking cookies are rough?
Then when you see the quantity of data that can be captured and supplied via app tracking about you and your device, it’s frankly scary.

Android Apps 2022 Edition

The apps I use most frequently.

I have not shared a list of my Android apps for a while and it’s very weird a number them haven’t really changed much in the last 5 years or so. Take this as my “Frequently used” list of Apps for my Pixel 3a, which I’d had for a year or so now and other than the lack of SD card slot has been a rather decent phone.

Fenix (2) – Twitter App

I have tried a number of Twitter apps over the years, going back to my Nokia N95 (Twibble) there were apps that tried to offer a half decent experience outside of the website. As Applications and phones evolved there were more dedicated apps like those on the Blackberrys.

For me Fenix (original) made some great strides towards offering the functionality  that I was looking for in a twitter app, the second version of the application built on that even further.
To be perfectly frank I haven’t bothered to shop around in recent years as I don’t feel I’m lacking in any functionality currently.

My favourite feature is the ability to favourite users, which acts like it’s own list that you can see in it’s own column and generate notifications for. This is especially useful if you want to keep up with certain users and not miss their content.

Deezer – Music

Tried a handful of times but I never got on with Spotify, previously we used Google Music as it was easily integrated to the family setup but when they decided to merge it into Youtube, we decided to move to something else.
We went for a change and opted for French company Deezer’s service, I knew a few people using it all of whom had good experiences and the interface wasn’t terribly dissimilar to the .

It does the trick has lots of the usual features that i suppose all music services do nowadays, my main requirement was that it allowed me to upload some of my rarer tracks that don’t exist on any streaming platform.
Bonus if I can use it in the car, the TV less important.

I like shortcutting my playlists so that can just set it going without having to open anything up.

Bandcamp

Some of the music I pick up isn’t on many stream sites yet, or may never be. The band camp app is great for playing those tracks as well as browsing for new stuff. Plus if you have favourited an artist you can configure it to notify you on any new releases rather than having to rely on email, or you could get both I’m not your keeper.

Pocket Casts

I have been using pocket casts since I bought it in 2013, it  has seen a lot of changes in appearance and functionality but the underlying functionality that originally drew me to using it  thankfully still remains.
There are some additional features that are locked behind another upgrade but I’ve not had any need to purchase that.

Carrot

Not gonna lie the only reason I have the Carrot Weather App is for the LOLs.

Stupid yes, but gives me a giggle sometimes when I need it. Careful using swear mode at work, especially if you have text to speech on.

Trello

Organise all the things.
I swear I use Trello more for organising my brain than anything else. I love to visually see a task list, sometime I may split them into multiple tasks or add checklists to allow me to focus on the subtasks of something bigger, but yes ultimately I am looking for a simple view of those tasks.

Normally I use it mostly on the PC or laptop, but sometimes I want to add some new ideas that just popped into my head and I know I will not remember then by the time I am home. Other times I just want to see what things, I have listed, that need attention.

Trello uses a simple board configuration to allow you to drag and drop labelled activities, you are able to configure tags and dates and descriptions for tasks.

NovaLaucher

Nova Launcher remains one of the best things about my phone, it has taken away that fear of having rebuild/reconfigure your home screen and settings when you wipe or  upgrade your hardware. This one feature alone is amazing but the vast array of options that you can configure allows you to make your Phones home screens and App trays work in the way best suited for you.

I will always generally have at least one app tab for applications I use on a high-frequency basis, in the past I had a tab just for games. Being able to split the app tray into more logical and meaningful groups works so well for how I use my phone and speeds up finding applications. Plus you can hide any apps that you don’t use or that are baked into the device.

Some of the other features I really enjoy as things like tapping the media folder on bottom bar opens a folder with 4 applications contained inside it. However when you swipe up on that folder I have configured it to open the Deezer application. Another example is that tapping my wife’s avatar opens up our messages, swiping up dials her  mobile directly.

I love small quality of life features that make using the phone easier. As I said settings can be backed up and restored so when you move to a new device you can just import them without having to remember the thousands of steps and changes you made to get it just so.

Lastly

I am still using Pixlr as mentioned on my 2018 post for most of my Photo Editing tasks however they altered how their payment model worked and the option that I bought to remove adverts is now a month or annual subscription where as I paid £1.61 to permanently remove them in 2015, which is still being honoured , but the made reason this isn’t in the top section of the list.

Previously I listed Google Keep, I still use it but for mostly when I want a way to list items and check them off, Keep has that functionality build it for shopping  lists or holiday item packing, plus it’s easier to share Keep list than a Trello board.

I use DuckDuckGo Browser but want to save that for a dedicated post.

That’s all from me.


What apps do you use day in & day out? Or that you would struggle without?

XSplit VCam

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with using my camera on stream, so in the past I have tended to only use it ad-hoc or when doing charity events.
I know it’s fuelled in part by my own self-image, but there was always some unknown factor that I struggled to nail down exactly what it was.

Since March when we left the office to work from home, I have had to get used to being on camera for longer periods of time attending virtual meeting often 6+ hours a day, this became the norm and I once more pondered using my webcam on stream. Of course one of the features that many of these video chat software offer is removal or blurring of background, this one feature was key to me feeling more comfortable being on camera a lot more.

Seems that unknown factor was down to having more control over what’s visible on the camera.

Blurry

I don’t have a lot of space for my Streaming setup so my Camera is going to be limited to a monitor mounted one, I get that other focus techniques exist on other equipment, but this isn’t going to be a option for me, at least at the moment.
So I went on the hunt for a webcam blurring software, in part fuelled by the fact I had a community goal in October for a jump scare play-through of an old game that scared the crap out of me in my youth.

After playing around with a demo for bit, I signed up to try Xsplit’s VCam software to give me the background blur effect that I was looking for, it has other options such as removal or replacing the background (just like those conference calls I’ve been in all year) but for me, Background Blur was the main thing that I was seeking.

I signed up for the monthly price with was $5.95 (before tax) which meant I was able to do a good few streams using the software before I had to renew it, there are some other payment options that bring the price down if you are wanting to invest for a longer period.

The software does a fairly decent job considering that I’m always wearing headset, which it sometimes determines is part of my head, and on occasion the gap between my head and the headset will show un-blurred content, not a massive concern for me at this stage as I’m frequently not in full screen and it normally only lasts a fraction of a second before vanishing.

However the Software will blur my mohawk 100% of the time when I wear it up 😆

Masks

After ensuring that VCam delivered the features I wanted, I then turned my focus on picking a camera mask that trimmed the view down to the area I wanted to appear on stream, of course you can alter the dimensions of the video input, but masks just allow you to shape the video input into something more unique and to your liking.

If you would like to try out some masks I suggest that you check out the following blog post from Hey Shady Lady, which contains links to guides on setup and with a download for 30 webcam masks that she has created for free https://littleshadylady.com/blog/webcam-masks-for-your-streams/.

Going all in

I had been using VCam for two months when a discount came up around Thanksgiving for the Lifetime Licence, I had been pleased with how it had been working and could see me using this long term not only for Streaming, so it was an investment that made sense, plus with the discount it would also save me about $12 of the normal cost.

In November another feature of VCam was announced, XSplit Connect : Webcam, which allows you to use your Android or Apple Device as a camera connecting it to VCam over WiFi which is handy if you haven’t got a webcam or you want to show off projects in more detail without having to unplug or re-arrange your camera set-up, but isn’t a feature I see myself using at the moment, but with some future Lego stream, it maybe a option to consider. The software is free and your license for VCam is the key part.

RPG Notetaking

I always like take notes when playing Tabletop Role Playing Games, however moving into the digital world I have found it tricker to do.

If course I can use a pen and paper or one of the numerous erasable notebooks. The paper solution is kind of wasteful, but when the games run on for years it can be difficult to find the right note book/pages or you may have destroyed the notes in that time.

So I’m sold on writing and keeping them digitally, there are a number of solutions that take your notes and digitise them but that again suffers from the difficulty in searching through them.
I have tried to use a note on Roll20 to keep track of them however as I have my windows pop-out of the main window, which when it goes into edit mode, re-attaches itself to the main window, vrenders it frustrating as it’s in the way of the scene.


So for the last month I’ve been testing out CherryTree which as the name suggests makes use of a tree structure to allow you to build a hierarchical structure for your notes.

The application has a huge list of features that I won’t begin to list but I’ll pick the most useful for me and my TTRPG note taking my requirements which are fairly straightforward.

  1. Customisable Colours and Fonts
    I want a dark scheme but not always black or grey, I need to able to read it comfortably.
  2. RichText
    An editor that allows me to highlight words and even cut and paste
  3. Link between Nodes for cross referencing
    To help referencing information between different areas
  4. Ability to search
    Straightforward I know but I want to be able to find data as and when I need to refer back to it.

So far I’m very happy with the application and I can even export nodes into PDF if I want to share anything with other team members.