Mute buttons
Photo: Joshua Eckstein/Unsplash

Mute buttons, Musk trackers and meeting hacks

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Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from the rise of the mute button to the saga of Elon Musk’s flight tracker and the future of NFTs.

The hackiest home office hacks

Three words: Hardware. Mute. Button.

Like so many people over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money outfitting my home office. Too much of both, my wife would argue. But given how much time we’re all spending at our desks/dining room tables/makeshift garage spaces, it’s worth the investment.

Outside of the exceedingly obvious stuff (a comfy chair, a decent set of headphones) the single best thing I did was set the Back button on my mouse to mute and unmute my microphone in Zoom. Now I don’t have to fumble for the microphone logo or remember to press and hold the space bar; I just click to talk, and click when I’m done.

There are lots of ways to accomplish the same goal: You can rig your own with a Raspberry Pi, buy a colorful button on Amazon or buy a dedicated speakerphone device. But for the true mute-button-aficionados there’s only one most powerful option: the $150 Elgato Stream Deck.

The Stream Deck was originally intended as a tool for livestreamers, who might want to quickly tweet a notification that they’re going live or switch between camera angles without having to look away from the game. But really it’s just 15 buttons with tiny blank LCDs that you can map and design just about any way you want. (There’s also a model with six keys, for the less-needy user, and another with 32 keys if you love chaos.)

This week, Elgato also launched an official Discord integration, which adds a handful of premade buttons that you can use to mute yourself on Discord, jump in and out of voice channels or go to your favorite chat room from wherever you are in the app. For anyone bouncing between a dozen DAOs and a hundred NFT communities, it’s a lifesaver.

But the point of the Stream Deck is its extensibility. Elgato’s Key Creator lets you build hundreds of your own shortcuts, and there are plug-ins on GitHub for lots of other features. If you’re a Mac user, you can connect the Stream Deck to Keyboard Maestro to turn virtually any keyboard shortcut into a button press. It can run Apple Shortcuts, too. Oh, and you can use the handy $4 Button Creator app to make the keys look nice. As the tech community has started to embrace the Stream Deck, it’s also started to extend it.

If this sounds totally superfluous, well, fair. But as more of our lives turn into software, it feels way too often like everything is 30 or 40 clicks away and requires remembering a complicated code just to get anything done. I’ve talked to folks in tech who use it for simple stuff — turning lights on and off, firing up their go-to morning playlist, turning the awkward two-step process of leaving a Zoom call into one press of a button — and those who use it for vastly complicated macros that control their entire smart homes and podcasting setup. The Stream Deck is the all-in-one command center the MacBook’s Touch Bar never was, and just makes navigating technology feel a bit easier.

After months of seeing people on Twitter talk about their Stream Deck hacks, I bought one of my own. Now I have a button to start a call on every video app I could think of, a button that automatically sends the webpage I’m looking at to my bookmarks, a bunch for the things I do most often while editing podcasts and much more. I also have a mute button, though Elgato also just launched a Stream Deck Pedal, which is almost certainly going to replace it. Stomp-to-talk is the way of the future.

A MESSAGE FROM ENVOY

The concept of flex work isn’t new, but its widespread adoption is. Flex work helps all of us find some semblance of control in the middle of an uncontrollable pandemic. Giving options makes people happier and less stressed. This leads to a greater desire to participate, which helps us build our communities and culture.

Learn more

You tell us

We asked you for your favorite non-obvious, unique home office hack, and you responded! A lot of you are in favor of office pets (I’m typing this with my dog in my lap, so I definitely agree), along with plenty of tips and tricks for making sure you take regular breaks and get work done without working too hard. Here are a few of our favorite responses:

“Turn off notifications and do a face mask in the middle of the day! It only takes 15-20mins which is the perfect amount of time and you’ll be glowing for the rest of your video calls for the day.” — Vivyan Tran (also known as Protocol’s head of digital)

“1. Hang a speed bag beside the desk and do a minute of rolling punches to get psyched before a big call. 2. Have 5 candles, one for each weekday. Different scents. Within 2 weeks ‘that Friday candle smell’ becomes a vibe.” – Darren Murph

“I have a 32-oz glass pitcher that I fill up at the beginning of every workday, and a favorite Mexican bubble glass cleaned & ready to go already as one of my 'must do first thing' home office habits. Why? It makes hydration easy & enjoyable!” — Betsy Clayton

“Get a theme for your workspace. My favorite example of early remote leaders are naval captains (I grew up sailing on Lake Michigan). Now my home office has photographs of sailboats, regattas, little lighthouse knick knacks, sailing books, an ancient pulley, etc. I love it.” — Tyler Sellhorn

“Calendar everything you need to do, reserve literal spots in your cal for stuff like writing or working out. I also make 25/45 minute meetings, which means that there's always 5 minutes for bathroom breaks. I also allot time for procrastinating. It helps me decompress.” — Ed Zitron

The best of Protocol

A 19-year-old built a flight-tracking Twitter bot. Elon Musk tried to pay him to stop, by Veronica Irwin

  • The moral of the story: When Elon Musk offers you five grand, ask for 50. Or a Tesla. Maybe both.

Scared to talk about mental health at work? Here's how to make it easier, by Michelle Ma

  • Slowly but surely, mental health issues are becoming more discussed and less stigmatized. But it can still be tough to talk about, especially at work, so we asked experts from around the industry for their tips on how to do it well.

Intel’s $100B Ohio dilemma: Why it must spend a lot now to avoid spending more later, by Max Cherney

  • Intel’s plan to spend big on its Ohio operations won’t solve the current chip shortage or supply chain crisis. But can it help make the U.S. more competitive in the semiconductor industry, which could ultimately have even bigger ramifications? And can it bring Intel back to the top of that industry? We won’t know for a while. But that’s what Intel is betting on.

Asana’s productivity expert wants you to ditch the 30-minute meeting, by Lizzy Lawrence

  • The fact that the default calendar event length is either 30 or 60 minutes is a scourge on all our productivity. Instead, Asana’s Joshua Zerkel argues, go all-in on the 10-minute invite, the five-minute check-in, the three-minute whiparound. Meetings take the time they’re allotted — so take that time back.

OpenAI’s new language AI improves on GPT-3, but still lies and stereotypes, by Kate Kaye

  • There’s no denying the promise of GPT-3 and other similar AI-powered text generators, but they’re a long way from being finished. They can be toxic, they’re often wrong, and sometimes they just make things up. But OpenAI and others are making progress, one interaction at a time.

Ripple’s CEO won’t apologize for taking on the SEC, by Ben Pimentel

  • The whole crypto industry is in for a regulatory reckoning this year, but Brad Garlinghouse and Ripple are ahead of the curve. And Garlinghouse said he’s not backing down, and that Ripple is ready for the fight to come.

The best of everything else

How Trump coins became an internet sensation — The New York Times

  • No, this isn’t a story about cryptocurrency. (Although it briefly kind of becomes one?) It’s a story about a physical coin, a little novelty trinket that went viral and became a useful way to understand how information moves around the internet in unexpected ways and at blistering speeds.

Searching for Susy Thunder — The Verge

  • On the trail of one of the great early hackers, who could apparently get anyone to tell her anything on the phone. It’s alternately fun and sad, but ultimately about learning to see the world as a series of systems, and the people who learn to game them all.

Suicide hotline shares data with for-profit spinoff, raising ethical questions — POLITICO

  • The Crisis Text Line’s AI chat service talks to people dealing with trauma. And then shares that data with a partner, which uses it to make better customer service software. It’s all right there in the terms and conditions, but is that good enough?

Google is forcing me to dump a perfectly good phone — Vice

  • The gadgets we use are mostly really good, and mostly not getting better that fast. The lifespan of your phone is, for most people, “I’ll replace it when it dies.” So what responsibility do companies like Google and Apple have for supporting those devices that long? It’s not an easy question, but it matters.

‘Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs’ — Folding Ideas

  • We didn’t link to this last week because, well, it’s more than two hours long and I hadn’t finished it yet. But it’s worth the watch: It’s one of the most clear-headed critiques you’ll find of NFTs, and the broader crypto moment we’re in. And for the crypto-optimists among us, it provides a big list of problems worth solving.

Can science fiction wake us up to our climate reality? — The New Yorker

  • Like we talked about last week, the movies, shows and books about tech have a huge effect on how tech actually works — and even what it works on. Kim Stanley Robinson is trying to write fiction that makes the real world a little better, which turns out to be harder than it sounds.
  • Related reading: “The writing on the wall: Sci-fi’s empty techno-optimism,” a piece with a much less optimistic take on what sci-fi does for tech.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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