Zoom audio, online photo galleries, and QR codes

Tech Talk

Q. What is the least expensive way to improve Zoom calls?

A. Adding more light and positioning the camera so you look straight ahead are the easiest things to upgrade. But the improvement that delivers the biggest impact is better sound.

Most people will watch low-quality video for a much longer period of time than they will tolerate noisy or hard to hear audio. As a result my best suggestion for better Zoom calls is to get a better microphone.

Searching the web for a microphone might trigger sticker shock, but hold off clicking that buy button. The multi-hundred dollar microphone does have its place if you are a podcaster who post-processes audio. For video calls, a cheap lavalier mic will still make you sound like a radio announcer.

I bought a “PoP Voice Professional Lavalier Lapel Microphone” from Amazon for less than $20. It came with an adapter, so I can also use it with a phone or tablet.

I doubt the build quality of this mic would allow for real world professional use, but it does make me sound like Dan Rather for a few hours each week.

Q. I used to love sharing photos on Flickr years ago, but the service seems all but forgotten. Is there a suitable replacement?

A. The original Flickr service was a sensation during its early years. It pioneered many of the ideas that later came to define social networking.

I doubt any online service will recreate that level of novelty again. However, there is a new photo service worth getting excited about — Glass (https://glass.photo).

Glass is a young startup, but the founders are nurturing a product that feels like it captures some of the magic of Flickr’s early days. I have had an account for about six months. The service costs $30 a year. There is a free trial and a monthly option as well. The site celebrates photography above all else, with a minimal interface that puts the images in their best light.

It was only for iPhone at first (just like Instagram) but the service is now available on the web.

If you love beautiful photos as much as I do, and if you miss the friendly, small-village feel of the mid-2000s era internet, give glass.photo a look.

Q. Are QR codes safe to use?

A. For readers who may not be familiar, QR codes are printed squares, vaguely similar to UPC barcodes. They are popping up in public spaces in many places, on everything from restaurant menus to parking meters.

QR codes link the real world with the internet. The most common way to use a QR code is with a smartphone camera. If the phone can see the code, it will convert it into a screen button you can immediately tap to be taken to a web page or an app.

Different phones have different interfaces for exactly how the process works, but the basics are the same. Some phones do a better job than others informing you about where the link leads before it’s tapped.

That brings me to your question about safety. Scanning a QR code is safe, the phone is just recognizing the code and converting it to text. Once converted, it is a simple link.

The downside of QR codes is that anyone can print a QR code for a link to anything — including malware — and display it in public.

The safety of QR codes is exactly the same as any link you choose to click on your device. If you do not pay attention, you may be tricked into sharing personal information.

When I use QR codes, I don’t just try any code I see. I know where the code is expected to lead, and I treat it with the same care and respect as any other link.

Wander the Web

Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:


Discord is a massive network of online conversations, not unlike old-style bulletin board systems. Initially very popular with video game enthusiasts, it has recently branched out into a broad range of topics.


Atlas Obscura

The site is mainly a hub that offers unique travel experiences, but browsing this “definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders” for a few hours feels like a trip around the world.


Laughing Squid

This site with a distinct attitude about art and technology was started in the previous century, and it is still going strong today.


Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com.

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