At Home with Tech

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How to Brighten Up the Holidays For an Octogenarian

All flashlights are not created equal.  Especially, if you want to feel cool using one of them.  And particularly if you’re my father.  Move over MagLite, I’ve got some holiday shopping to do…

All flashlights are not created equal. Especially, if you want to feel cool using one of them. And particularly if you’re my father. Move over MagLite, I’ve got some holiday shopping to do…

For years, my father owned a cool flashlight like the ones you see on any number of detective shows on TV. You know… the compact, but amazingly powerful torch you grip over your left shoulder while you extend your weapon in your right hand as you inch towards the hidden bad guy.

He had this CSI-like black flashlight (smaller) and loved walking around at home assuming the ‘shoulder pose’ with his police-grade tool.

It was harmless fun, except for what I thought were sky-high maintenance costs. It needed an expensive battery (CR123a) that is stumpier than a standard AA. And two of these little power cells can cost more than many flashlights out there.

Plus, the whole unit only operated at full blast for about an hour.
No wonder it’s so hard fighting crime in the dark these days…
All a thug needs to do to slip away is wait for a few flashlight batteries to drain down.
(I expect real law enforcement uses higher-end gear.)

Every time my father used his impressive but short-lived beacon, I felt a sense of ‘tech queasiness,’ because even though he was proud of his cool tech, I knew there had to be any number of more efficient choices out there.

But he was happy. So I didn’t say anything.

The Light that Failed
And then one day about a year ago, his flashlight wouldn’t power up.
And the problem wasn’t the battery or the bulb.
(No tech lasts forever.)

I wasn’t there when it happened, but I’m sure there was a significant disturbance in the Force my father follows.
(It didn’t hit me.)

But I noticed it when I came by for dinner one Thursday night and I saw another flashlight sitting on the kitchen counter.
It was nothing special, but it was perfectly fine. Except that I knew it wasn’t.

“What’s this?” I asked with a concern that surprised me.
He pretended to be unaffected by the loss and his entirely unimpressive replacement.

But I knew a cool flashlight held the same significance for him as one of my own geeky tech gadgets… my Logitech UE Mobile Boombox or
my Renny Bluetooth Home Ringer.

Time for Action
I’ve been thinking about this story for months.
I’m not really sure why.
Maybe it’s because my father is 81 years old…

He’s doing okay… but still.
The light is fading a bit.

My father sometimes talks about getting older, and how it’s the little things in life that make more of a difference to him.

So I decided it was time to brighten up his holidays.

Exploring a New World of Flashlights
I took a look online to see what modern technology has done to today’s flashlights.

First off, LED tech dominates. And then I realized there’s an entire line of ‘high performance’ or ‘tactical’ flashlights that people who are really serious about their light buy. And the price tags are serious too. I’m talking over $100.
Sometimes way into the hundreds.

I’m serious, but not that serious.
(My father doesn’t need to light up an entire cornfield during a new moon.)

I just want something better than a $6 Eveready Economy flashlight from Staples and a little slicker than the standard mini MagLite.

Remember, half of the equation here is finding a piece of gear that is somewhat over the top but not ludicrous.

How Many ‘Lumens’ Do You Need?
One big question is how much light does the flashlight need to throw if the flashlight isn’t normally leaving the house. One variable in the equation is the number of lumens it generates. Some ‘experts’ say under 100 lumens is fine. Others say you need two-three hundred lumens or more.

REI has a good write up on other issues to consider when choosing a flashlight.

And yes, if you’re wondering, there are seemingly hundreds of choices out there…

The Research Begins
I centered my attention on a few manufacturers and decided to focus my spend to around fifty bucks.

Here’s what I found:

These flashlights all have multiple brightness settings, which allow you to regulate your lighting needs, but the Klarus RD16 really tickled my fancy, because it’s so easy to recharge.


Yes I broke through my price point a bit with the Klarus, but hey… this completely solves the problem of having to fiddle with batteries!

Klarus Makes the Holidays Look Bright
I don’t know if there’s another Octogenarian out there who would care to get a silly flashlight for the holidays, but I know my Dad is going to love this one.

I think we can all agree… the Klarus will be an illuminating gift!

Choosing a New iPad Air 2 Case

If you find yourself forced into an iPad upgrade, you’d better protect your investment with a cozy case.  Especially if tiny hands will be using it…

If you find yourself forced into an iPad upgrade, you’d better protect your investment with a cozy case. Especially if tiny hands will be using it…

I’m still trying to come to terms with Gray Thursday destroying Thanksgiving in America. I didn’t really understand what had happened until I tried buying a new iPad Air 2 early on Black Friday.

Target, which I discovered never closed after it opened up on Thanksgiving, had been sold out of the iPad I wanted for twelve hours. I wasn’t even close!
(What ever happened to giving Americans time to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner?!)

I felt lucky with the runner-up deal that was still available at Best Buy. I came home a nearly defeated shopping warrior.
(It wasn’t pretty.)
But then again, I had a new iPad in hand….

Time to Retire iPad 1
If you’re wondering why all the effort… it’s because I’m still using an iPad 1. Yes, the world’s original tablet still has a heartbeat at the Lester house,
(believe it or not) but it was really time for a refresh.

Mostly, I needed to buy the new iPad because even though the old one is still functioning, nothing much living in it can survive anymore. Many of the apps we use have upgraded themselves, requiring newer iOS software, which the iPad wasn’t built to digest.

Things really got bad when our favorite Disney Junior app upgraded itself, and Disney spontaneously killed off the old one residing in our iPad.

My own “Junior” had a really hard time understanding why the app didn’t work anymore.
(I simply said it was broken, but that didn’t stop him from tapping on the icon every so often and sighing wistfully…)

So I took my licking as a tardy Black Friday shopper, but I’ve successfully upgraded the Lester household back into current iPad technology.

Protect Your iPad or Else
An iPad is a significant investment, one that you’ve got to protect. My four-year-old son has been really careful using our first iPad, but you’ve got to plan for a fall or two…

I picked up AppleCare separately, even though Best Buy pushed me hard to go with the Geek Squad protection plan.

Now, it was time to give the new iPad some additional cover…

There’s an entire cottage industry of iPad cases out there to choose between.
Of course, you can go with the premium Apple offering…
Apple’s Smart Case sells for a hefty $79.

Not that I wouldn’t drop another eighty bucks to protect my overall investment. However, when I checked out a Smart Case at an Apple Store, I wasn’t entirely impressed. It was fine… but since I wasn’t convinced it was that much better than the competition, I figured I should look around a bit more.

Believe me, the resulting exercise was yet another rabbit hole into too much choice. The options range from $10 to over $100 for covers that come with their own keyboards.

But I felt I only needed something relatively basic…
I found lots of good reviews for the iPad cases that Devicewear makes.

I checked out the ‘Ridge’ that goes for $45.
(Amazon has it for $27.)

It’s got a nice ‘vegan’ leather exterior and supports the automatic sleep/wake iPad function when you open and close the cover.
I decided this case from Devicewear was a no brainer…


(Any other suggestions out there?)

iPad Air 2 Ready for the Holidays
As I write this with the sun rising on a cold Sunday morning, my boy is still valiantly sticking with the old iPad as it struggles to stream Sesame Street off of its website.

As for me, I’m happily streaming a little holiday spirit knowing that soon, he will be at home with new ‘protected’ tech.

Why a Terrible Camera Can Be the Best Gift for Your Child

Behold the premature end to my son’s first camera.  Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”  In the spirit of the British Bulldog, I decided it was time to get my boy another camera…

Behold the premature end to my son’s first camera. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” In the spirit of the British Bulldog, I decided it was time to get my boy another camera…

My four-year-old boy broke his new Nikon COOLPIX S30 family camera last month after dropping it on our driveway. He was running with great enthusiasm and holding it with one hand to take a picture of the full moon. But he stumbled and his prize possession fell…

Though this ‘tough’ camera is built to handle a reasonable fall and even survive comfortably underwater, its glass lens housing shattered on impact. Yes, the interior lens was still intact, but there were shards of glass everywhere.

As ‘Junior’ and I stood over his fallen tech, I declared it a goner.
(No, I hadn’t bought insurance on the camera, and the cost to repair it would likely be more than buying another one.)

A horrible moan befitting a small Klingon clan permeated our neighborhood, and then he shuffled upstairs.

It was a terrible loss. My son cried himself to sleep that night…

He hadn’t had his Nikon for six months but had quickly become quite a budding junior photographer with it. I bought him this particular camera for his birthday, because even though it was an older model at the time,
(The S32 was already out.)
…The S30 was priced on Amazon to move…$70!

Plus, this Nikon was the real deal.
(not some crummy toy camera)
I figured for twenty bucks more, it was worth getting him a decent piece of adult tech…

The Many Downsides to the Nikon COOLPIX S30
As good a decision as I thought I was making, I’ve got to say that the S30 is quite simply the worst camera I’ve ever purchased:

  • The pictures were barely average.
  • There was a dead pixel in the middle of the sensor.
    (So you always see a little speck in the same location of most of the pictures.)
  • The audio from its recorded videos sounds like an empty Campbell’s Soup can and string was used instead of an onboard microphone.
  • And the camera’s functionality assumed you had the smarts of a four year old.  (It was really clunky.)

But my son figured out how to use it in about 10 minutes.
And he was taking pretty cool pictures up until the unfortunate ‘moon incident.’
(He actually started taking snapshots when he was two years old using my old iPhone…)

You might be asking right about now what I was expecting out of a $70 camera when the other point and shoot cameras I own cost at least twice as much.

The irony is even though it was a terrible camera… it was perfect for my son.
He just loved it.
(And its capabilities were light years ahead of any toy camera out there.)

A Life-Changing Moment
First of all, it wasn’t an obvious decision to simply reload and hand over another adult camera for my son to use. You’ve got to wonder how long a life span any camera will have in an eager child’s little hands…

But I thought back to one of my own childhood stories, when I was a few years older than my son. I desperately wanted an audio cassette recorder, and my parents didn’t think I would remain interested in this adult tech beyond a few days. I pleaded for weeks, and eventually my mother softened.

In hindsight, it was the most important gift I ever received as a child. If, for some reason, you wanted to change the path of my entire life, all you’d have to do is jump into your time machine, go to February 1970, and make sure I never received that Sound Design cassette recorder.

My career would be very different today…
(I might be the dentist my mother always wanted.)

So I decided to get my little guy another camera for the holidays.

Where’s the Choice?
Today’s market for a cheap, durable camera is well… almost non-existent.

In the sub $100 range, I think Nikon still is it with the COOLPIX S32.
(The S30 has fallen out of the ‘new camera’ sales cycle, and the S31 is only ten bucks less on Nikon’s website.)

Panasonic also has its Lumix DMC TS25,
which you can get on Amazon for $125.

Panasonic Lumix DMC TS25Even though it looks to be a better camera than the S32, spec wise, it’s got really small buttons and a different interface, which might not be as child-friendly.

It wasn’t a slam-dunk as the better choice, and it also broke my $100 rule.
So ultimately, I sided with the devil I knew vs. the devil I didn’t.

And the S32 is two generations better than the S30. That should count for something.

But the bottom line is there’s really nothing else I’ve found that’s supposed to take a licking and keep on ticking that breaks the $100 price point…

Grandson of the COOLPIX S30… the S32!
So I bought the Nikon COOLPIX S32 at Target on Black Friday for $99.99.
(on sale from $129.95)

It should work well enough; my son will know how to use the S32, and it’s even the same color as his first one.

He will be exceptionally happy.


The S32 might even prove itself to be a big improvement over its not-so-distant ancestor. The jury is still out for me, though according to, the S32 has clear improvements.

Competition for the future COOLPIX S33?
But even if the S32 performs at a higher level, there shouldn’t be only one sub-$100 camera out there in this market segment for kids and families to use…

Where are the rest of the choices?
What ever happened to good old fashioned capitalistic competition?!
(Maybe the profit margin in this camera category is too small….)

And no, I’m not going to follow the rest of the herd and buy my lad a toy camera.  I don’t think anybody who’s bought one has ever been a happy customer.
(I’ve done the research.)

So if you’re a camera manufacturer in this already over-saturated consumer market, here’s a product pitch for you in this unexplored niche:

Junior will be turning five in half a year. So will 3,999,385 other four year olds. Please come up with a decent, tough camera at the right price that they all can use.

Because I’ll probably be needing to secure another one for my son’s next birthday!
Please hurry it up…


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