Friday, March 27, 2015

First World Kid Problems

With all of the things happening around the world and even nearby, it amazes me at some of the things I’ve been hearing all this week:
  • 4YO ran out of space on his iPad.
  • 9YO dropped and cracked her iPhone screen (again.)
  • No new movies on the iPad to watch while on a Road Trip. "Road Trip" meaning 20 minutes in the car. 
  • Pad Apps (while on "Road Trip”) that require an internet connection.
  • Nobody answers the landline home phone or checks the messages. “Wait...who was going to visit (last) Christmas?"
  • Kids think using a MacBook Pro is archaic, but love vinyl records and think rotary phones are really cool - "let’s get one!"
  • The DVR cut off Teen Titans Go - “why aren’t these on Netflix streaming?!"
  • 2 kids streaming Netflix at the same time on different devices, watching the same show. Estimated time: 3 hours to download work PowerPoint. 
  • 9YO’s friends also follow me on Instagram and I posted her doctor’s note: 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Apps, Social, and Cell Phone Contracts for Kids

My wife and I recently let our 9YO acquire a (hand-me-down) phone after hearing so much about how her other friends have “had them forever!” to which I used the standard parental handbook page 93 answer of, “well if all of your friends had hungry pet tigers, should we get you one too?”
Her getting one didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t come without hurdles. After a few discussions, making her write out a list on why she’s responsible enough to own one and presenting it, then I agreed.

It does still seem strange to me that kids have cell phones (or “mobiles” as they call them in Europe) so young as I got my first cell phone at 27!
When I was her age I wasn’t even allowed to have a Walkman! And kids that had their own phone (land-line) well, they were pretty much living the high-life.

We made arrangements to make her pay for the phone (discounted) out of her allowance and pay a portion of the monthly fee from her allowance as well. For being 9, I’m quite proud of her budgeting skills – she makes me proud at that for sure!
Then I wrote out a contract with her listing out things like expectations, her responsibility, payments, behavior, Apps, social things like texting, Instagram, and general phone etiquette. While writing it out I realized that having the phone is actually a pretty good teaching mechanism.
When I spoke to other friends with kids around her age, I was a bit taken back at how they thought the idea of having their kid sign a contract was strange. After some chatting then they realized that maybe they should have one as well.  

Here it is for anybody to use or modify to fit their own needs:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monopoly: Destroying Family’s Since 1933

My 9YO daughter asked me a few days ago, “Have you ever played Monopoly?”

“Uh, yeah…of course I have! Like, millions and millions of times.”

When I grew up we didn’t have the Internet. After the sun went down my family only had a few options for entertainment: 7 channels of TV with virtually nothing to watch (we didn’t have cable as that was for the “rich".) Read. Draw. Or played games with the family such as cards, usually poker, Uno, Parcheesi, Life, Battleship, and Monopoly.

Then I realized how crazy it was to be 9 and to have never played Monopoly. What kind of parent am I? Teaching her how to #hashtag, code, draw, tear apart and modify toys when every kid should have played Monopoly at least once by now. It’s almost like growing up without candy, birthday parties, or any (delicious) gluten. I immediately pulled out my iPhone and ordered it off Amazon.

Amazon Prime is so awesome and dangerous. Every time I use it I feel like that Coyote in those old Roadrunner cartoons ordering from ACME. I really wish Amazon Prime would deliver in wood crates; that would be awesome…

When we got our package we began to play almost immediately. Then my childhood memories came back to me in a quick flash. I realized that Monopoly could be played 1 of 2 ways:

1. You let the kid win. 

2. You play as you would any other human.
Nearly 2 hours into the game, I had hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, owned about half the board, and was trying to teach her how to negotiate with me before her mother was going to go bankrupt with everything she had earned in the last 2 hours. And just then, her big eyes welled up, she got up and said softly, “you’re a bad daddy” and walked away.

After I collected the rent she owed me from her stack of money, my wife nearly wrote out a divorce contract on a nearby used paper towel (which happened to be mine as well…)

As I lay in bed that night, thinking, I realized that my family ways might have been a bit too harsh. We had to play until the end no matter how rough life (on the board) was or how many hours had gone by. You couldn’t walk away. You weren’t allowed to give up. You played and learned how to negotiate into eventually winning (and destroying the other players) and when you finally won - it felt great - because you knew how long it took to get there. It meant something real. My family doesn’t fight about politics or religion; no, they fight over who won in the last game of Monopoly!

Game can’t all be like Candyland where the point is just to make it to the end without crying.  There aren’t even dice in that game, only colored cards and the only conflict is staying out of the molasses  “Oh look, I got stuck in molasses swamp… I’ve learned a valuable life lesson.” That doesn’t mean anything. Nobody learns anything from that other than just stay away from something called molasses that nobody ever uses anymore!
Now Monopoly on the other hand - Monopoly is life.

Word to your mother (and her paper towel.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Real Review of LittleBits (that wasn't paid for, given free products, or from a press release)

My nearly 10YO daughter and her friends are what the marketers these days call “Makers.” 

She likes to make and create her own games using a really inovative App called Hopscotch that teaches programming and allows her to share the creation with other kids. Minecraft has become a staple with her now. She makes iPhone videos with friends and posts them. Usually my wife and I find weird contraptions around the house, “inventions” as she calls them. Wants to make her own “(insert anything).” It’s actually quite refreshing for us and we encourage it all the time as good parents should.
To our benefit new “Maker” products are popping up everywhere and are specifically geared for kids (and some curious grown-ups…) that encourage this which has my overwhelming approval. What’s great about these projects is that they come with instructions, tutorials that inspire ideas, and a community of users that teach others how to use them. To me they're extensions of what Lego started generations ago. 

Then I read all of these amazing reviews off Inc.Fortune, CNN, of something called LittleBits. Which are marketed as “Kits” that allow you to pretty much create anything. They’re adpatable, resuable, encourage tinkering and learning by creating. They’re simple electronics with magnets so you can’t burn (or kill) yourself. You can invent anything, play with it, connect it to the internet and HACK it.  Hack it? What can be more exciting!? And more importantly it’s ages 8 and up, and has received lots of awards by educators, brain toys, and TED. TED?! Yes, TED so you know this is the best right? TED even let CEO Ayah Bdeir do a talk - which they only allow for big life changing products or ideas.

I enthusiastically ordered what an article and others recommended “LittleBitsCloudBit Starter Kit” which allows you to “snap” the internet to pretty much anything your heart desires. It says in the product description, "Perfect for hackers, designers, makers, and tinkers of all levels - without the programming, soldering and wiring normally required" Here! Take my $109.75 with tax!! Please take it now!

Oh marketing, it’s such a stretch from reality…

When we got it, it came with NO instructions whatsoever. Only a card to go online for basic “cloud” setup process that we quickly found out wouldn’t work on 2 iPads (1 newer iPad Air), my daughter's iPhone 4S, my iPhone 6 - even though marketing material off the website shows it being controlled by an iPhone, oddly enough there’s no App available.  After 45 minutes of searching through LittleBits website help, FAQ, forums, and in desperation Google, I found out it ONLY works through the desktop browser Chrome; iPhones/iPad use Safari.
An hour later,  we were finally up! But then, they drop you on a very techie hub with a button to basically remotely turns the electronic bit’s LED light on and off. No projects, no tutorials. Nothing. The help there isn’t really help, but just basic tool tips. After searching for over 2 hours off their “MakerHub” website, Google again, and YouTube videos, I realize that what’s included in the kit doesn’t have any projects associated with it. If you want to do something that’s advertised, you have to buy even more LittleBits (advertised up-sells are everywhere on their website) OR you just have to have a PhD in electronics, be a programmer, or have prior experience with electronics. They immediate try to pass you off to another site called which is even more fustrating because there are even less instructions there. Just recipes that somehow connect back to the Littlebits, but no instructions on exactly how to do that.
Try and go to get help in their forums (LittleBits or IFTTT) and you're met with hard-core techies; try and check out how others made projects off LittleBits Makerhub and you get these type of instructions:

Easy! Make a space shuttle! Step 1: Buy Kits. Step 2 Put stuff together. Step 3: Go to Space! It’s TOTALLY EASY. A 5YO can do it!!

When I contacted LittleBits, they apologized for the miscommunication of their website acknowledging that the product messaging is incorrect and the advertised products don't work. They referred me to a few user-made projects that do require soldering (SMS doorbell?) and have vague, just horribly written instructions like the one above. But they did offer me a $20 coupon code buy more LittleBits. 


I’ve encountered lot’s of challenges in my lifetime, but nothing comes close to this experience. For something that’s been out for awhile you’d think they would have worked out the bugs. Instead they have a brilliant marketing department that produced a slick website and an expensive product that does nothing.

What really bothers me even more are the awards and recommendations by so-called objective tech journalists. But when thinking about it, they get some PR release written by the company’s (brilliant) marketer and tell the story on the idea, what it can do (excluding that you need a PhD in astrophysics) not actual reality by a normal kid, or human, that it's being marketed to. I’ve been getting these PR releases for years and I fell for it myself. I’ve been hacked to think this stuff actually does something. I fell for the marketing message with no real-world validator. The shame…!

Like my grandma use to say, if you’re hearing it from the company, it’s more than likely too good to be true!

In this case, at least I can return to Amazon and try some other Maker products recommended by ACTUAL parents of kids that use the products. Lego has a Robot Kit EV3 and Snap Circuits has a pretty good system, both are used in STEM programs in lot's of schools. They even come with step-by-step illustrations AND instruction booklets - imagine that! That's something LittleBits doesn't seem to get. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Why Do DJ’s Hate Father’s So Much? Depressing Songs At The Daddy-Daughter Dance

Maybe they don’t have daughters? Maybe they don’t have father’s themselves? Maybe they wake up each day and say to themselves, “today’s the day…the day I want to make father’s CRY!” and then laugh all the way to Trader Joe’s.

Like unicorns, I’ve only heard stories of these Daddy-Daughter dances by a few friends with daughters. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter came home from school with an invite to one.
First of all whoever came up with the idea of this dance I’d like to personally thank. The idea of an event like this with your daughter is just great.  

My only issue was the DJ’s selections of songs – we walked into the ballroom and the DJ had this song playing:

Butterfly Kisses by Bob Carlisle

Seriously? If there’s one thing a father doesn’t want to think about AT ALL, it’s GIVING his daughter away to be married when she’s little. Or DATING. Or BOYS.

Then followed by a few of these...

Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman

 The PROM? She came home with a RING on her hand? She’ll be GONE? Honestly, DJ man. Honestly.

My Little Girl by Tim McGraw
I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing more depressing than a country song about a daughter.

Later when we got home - me emotionally exhausted and my daughter physically exhausted, my wife asked me how it was. I told her about my newfound knowledge of DJ’s and reinterated my disdain for country music calling it “the devil’s music” and some other choice words.  She went on to tell me that the Mother-Son event was being held at a place that has lazer tag, games, pizza, and go-kart racing.

Mother’s have it so much easier…