At Home with Tech

Don’t let your gadgets kill your Zen. Byte back with your inner geek!

How Do You Fit the Whole Family into a Selfie?

I’ve listed a few tricks below to help jam everyone into a group picture, but it also doesn’t hurt to extend the arm’s reach of your camera.

I’ve listed a few tricks below to help jam everyone into a group picture, but it also doesn’t hurt to extend the arm’s reach of your camera.

One of the hardest pictures to snap is a simple group shot of your family.
Whether using your smartphone or pocket camera, it’s not that easy to stick your arm out, reverse the camera and blindly click a decent family selfie.

As a result, I’ve shot countless pictures of my son and wife over the past few years, but there are only a few dozen successful Team Lester portraits.

Sure, you could hand over your camera to a stranger, but that assumes there’s someone close by.
And somebody who can take a decent shot.
(The basics of ‘point and shoot’ inevitably take on new complexities when someone else is fumbling with your gear.)

And if you happen to be enjoying a little family hike, you’re probably out of luck, unless you want to train a nearby bear in the art of photography.

The Right Way
Of course you can create a more formal photo setup using a tripod and your camera’s countdown timer.
You can even pull out a little GuerrillaPod or Tiltpod from your pocket to steady the shot.

But that still requires you to run around like a mad hatter.
Then your little snapshot quickly devolves into a lengthy ‘production’ for everyone.

The Easy Way
It’s painless and zippy if you can just stick out your arm and magically get the shot, right?

So given the choice, you’re probably going to go for the selfie.

And if you’ve chosen that path, here are a few suggestions to help you get the entire family unit over the photo finish line with you.

5 Tips to Better Family Selfies

1.  Use a Wider Angle Lens
It helps a whole lot if you have a camera with a wider-angle lens.
That makes it easier for your camera to ‘see’ everyone from the short distance your arm provides.
(unless you’re the more flexible Mister Fantastic)

I know you can’t do anything about your lens specs when you’re trying snap a group selfie in the middle of Times Square.
But you should always keep your lens in mind when you’re shopping for your next camera.

Case in point:
The zoomed-out lens of a Canon PowerShot Elph 150 with its 24 mm focal length (35 mm film equivalent) will see a lot more up close using your outstretched arm than the field of view provided by the more expensive
Canon PowerShot G16 with its 28 mm focal length lens.

2.  Keep the Light in Front of You
Just because you feel all hip and cool shooting a ‘selfie’ doesn’t mean you should forget about the basic rules of good photography.
Make sure you’re facing the sun or your main light source.

You want everyone to look their best, right?

3.  Ignore Personal Space
Lens specs aside, everybody still really needs to scrunch in.
No matter what.
And I’m talking close!

I’ve crammed in up to 6-7 people and still got them all in the selfie.
And if done right, these can become your best pics of the day!

4.  Use a Real Button to Click
If you’re using your iPhone, it doesn’t help to have to guess where the red icon is on your screen when you’ve got it facing away from you. Plus if you don’t have the digital dexterity of Houdini, you have a pretty good chance of dropping your smartphone before you even get the shot.

The good news is the side volume button doubles as the camera’s trigger.
Use it!
(It’s really that much easier…)

5.  Extend Your Arm’s Reach with a Selfie Stick
If you arm just isn’t long enough to get the job done, it’s time to stretch your ability by using a little telescoping pole with a camera mount on the end.

This can be especially useful if you’re using your smartphone.
Its fixed lens likely offers a tighter field of view than your digital camera.

There are a lot of these mini poles on the market and some extend out more than others. I suggest buying only the length you need, simply because you don’t want to lug around extra weight.

A few choices out there include:

The QuikPod Pro
I finally decided on the $24.99 Digipower TP-QPPRO QuikPod Pro.
($21.48 on Amazon)
It seemed a little sturdier than the competition, and it extends 20 inches.
But that’s plenty for my basic selfie requirements.

You might have been wondering how useful this kind of contraption is if you can’t see the framing of your shot.
Well, you can.
(kind of)
It’s got a tiny mirror, which reflects your image back at you.
But you still have to make sure the camera tilt is appropriate and facing you.

More importantly, the QuikPod can mount digital cameras, the GoPro camera as well as your smartphone!

CLICK.

One caveat:
Using the QuikPod (or any other monopod assistance) does require you to use the timer on your camera or download a countdown app for your iPhone.
(I downloaded ProCam 2 from iTunes for 99 cents.)

Second caveat:
Extending the QuikPod out straight at a level angle will ensure the pole gets in the shot.
You’ve got to position the pole at a 45-degree angle to hide it from view.

Otherwise, you’re good to go…
Just don’t drop the camera when you’re unscrewing it from the QuikPod’s base, like I did!
(seriously)

Fortunately my stunned Canon Elph still had a heart beat.
(It just fell on my rug.)
And I didn’t have to rush to reread my own post,
“I Dropped my Camera. Now What?”

The Family Selfie is in the Palm of Your Hand
So now equipped with the power of a longer arm and these tips to follow, you’ve got a fighting chance to capture that group selfie you’ve been looking for!

And when you say you’ll go to any length to get your shot, I’ll know you’re not kidding!

Three iPad Apps that Teach Spelling and Math

Our son is hard at work training to become the 2022 National Spelling Bee Champion.  (He doesn’t know that yet.)  But I figured at least 2014 would be a great year to turn our iPad into more of an educational machine for his noggin.

Our son is hard at work training to become the 2022 National Spelling Bee Champion. (He doesn’t know that yet.) But I figured at least 2014 would be a great year to turn our iPad into more of an educational machine for his noggin.

Our little boy will soon be turning four!
And as his birthday approaches, I figure it’s a good time to review how he’s ‘using’ our iPad.

Way back when he was only two, he effortlessly learned the touch screen user interface on my old iPhone.
Finger swiping was as intuitive for him as drinking out of his favorite blue sippy cup.

We loaded up a few age-appropriate game apps and let him explore his newly digital terrain.
His favorite game was a fun puzzle app called ‘Tozzle.’

The challenge, of course, was setting limits as to how long he could play with the magic screen. The longer he spent with my iPhone, the more ‘engaged’ he became.

So eventually, the iPhone was banished to ‘the repair shop,’ and we refocused our boy towards more analog-based learning toys.

A year later, we brought out our iPad and experimented with the Disney app to stream some age-appropriate cartoons.
(His first pick was often “The Octonauts,” although he’s now started to go through a pirate phase and really enjoys “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”)

But we soon ran into the same ‘disagreements’ surrounding how many shows he should consume in one sitting.

And so the iPad had to take its own extended trip to the virtual repair shop.

A few months ago, it reemerged as a weekend-only device and only available as a privilege if the previous day had not seen any unsupported behaviors.
(meltdowns)
The year of the terrible threes really did have some ‘special’ moments.

I would say we’ve finally developed a reasonable balance of limited multimedia time in our son’s life.

But he’s going to be four soon.
He’s almost a man!
I know there’s so much more to the iPad for preschoolers than streaming Disney Junior!

It’s time to dial up the learning quotient!

Teaching Words and Math on the iPad
The other day, a friend of ours pointed us to three math and vocabulary/spelling apps she really likes for her five-year-old son. I think she even included the word, ‘phenomenal’ in her email to us.

These apps are a little pricey, costing a few bucks each, but a recommendation from a friend who’s also a teacher goes a long way towards making this kind of decision.
So I downloaded the apps from iTunes and set them up on our iPad for my son to try out…

Montessori 1st Operations
$3.99
He played with this adding/subtracting game for about fifteen minutes and was fully engaged.
But it was relatively difficult for him… my boy adds by counting actual objects.
(as opposed to memorizing sequences of addition)
So it’s really just above his learning level.
But I expect it will gain more traction through the year ahead.

‘1st Operations’ also offers multiplying and division… should your little Einstein be ready for all that.

Endless Alphabet
$6.99
This one was the clear winner.
He really loved this spelling and vocabulary game.
It allows him to match letters and listen to their sounds as part of a word while he builds words and listens to their definitions.

That said, he spent a lot of time working with ‘yucky.’
(I don’t know if that’s one of the next fifty words I’d prefer he learn…)

Maths with Springbird
$5.99 (schools edition)
This one is the coolest-looking of the bunch.
For you deal seekers out there, there’s also a free version you can download that contains the usual in-app purchase options for additional content.
I chose to spare my son from all the marketing static and went for the full boat upfront.
(Hey, his birthday is coming up!)

Unfortunately, it was way too advanced for his nearly four-year-old brain…
‘1st Generations’ was a much better fit, and that one was still a stretch for him.

On the up side, the graphics were really engaging.
I’ll dust off ‘Maths with Springbird’ again next year…

1+1 = 3
I’d like to give a special shout out to our friend who pointed me to these three apps.
Though they weren’t all exact fits in the Lester Learning Lab, I’m happy we’re exploring more educationally focused apps for our son.

Our friend also asked if we had any recommendations of our own.
In an attempt to harness the wondrous power of crowdsourcing, I thought I’d put the question out there to the greater parental consciousness.

So if you have any favorite learning apps for your four or five year old,
please share…!

Fighting the Hunting/Gathering Instinct with a Peapod Click

Is Peapod’s $10 delivery fee worth the convenience of preventing Empty Cupboard Syndrome? It is, if you can get over your DNA-induced guilt trip to go out there and hunt down the five food groups yourself!

Is Peapod’s $10 delivery fee worth the convenience of preventing Empty Cupboard Syndrome? It is, if you can get over your DNA-induced guilt trip to go out there and hunt down the five food groups yourself!

Let’s face it.
We’re hardwired to be hunters and gatherers.
Without it, our species wouldn’t have survived in the early years.

And even today, you’ve got to put something on the dinner table most nights.
Otherwise, you’ll probably have a hard time continuing the family lineage.

Combine that with our commercialized culture of acquiring ‘stuff,’ and you’ve created a pretty powerful universal impulse in our society to go out there and get it!

Slowly but surely, technology has been chipping away at the need to physically do all that.
Once upon a time, a few simple phone calls to The Home Shopping Network could fill up your house.
Now the purchasing power of the click is well known.
Who really needs to leave the comfort of home anymore to buy what you need?

All this said, it’s still difficult to entirely rewire your shopping habits in the space of a few short years.

The Serengeti in Aisle 6
One holdout for me has been visiting the grocery store.
At a primordial level, it just feels right to venture out to get your food yourself.
Plus, there is some definite skill required to get exactly what you need in the perishables department.

Case in point: Here’s a clip from the hidden microphone on me last week in the supermarket:

“No, not that piece of sad-looking salmon!
The other piece next to it that looks fresher.
To the left…
No, down…
Up…
Yes, that one!”

Plus, I like my oranges to sport a skin that’s not too thin and not too thick.
I’m looking for that perfect ‘peel.’
Because as much as I love my oranges, trying to eat the wrong one can result in a juicy mess with more of the fruit on the floor than in your mouth.

So sure, there are some foods you need to go out there and get yourself. But I think the reality is most of what you need to keep your kitchen going can be acquired with a click.

I’ve already crossed that line with non-food supplies like paper towels and
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Soap (98% naturally derived).

But my wife and I have really been having a hard time clicking for our food.

Peapod Redux
I got an email the other day from Peapod, Stop & Shop’s online shopping interface
inviting us back.
I had given the website a try when our son was first born, because…well…
you know, things get a little crazy right after the stork arrives.
(To date, Peapod has delivered 23 million orders across 24 U.S. markets.
So we’re clearly not alone.)

And honestly, Peapod was just fine.
Our food was delivered to our front door, and the Lester family thrived.
The introductory offer gave us free shipping. So there was really no down side.

A month later though, my latent Neanderthal genes started guilt tripping me.
(grunt…”Must go into wilderness and find food”…grunt)
Plus, I started thinking about the lazy ‘wastefulness’ of future home delivery charges.

So I let the whole thing lapse.

Fast forward to the present…almost four years into parenthood.
And as all you parents know, the ‘schedule’ doesn’t get any easier.
(In fact, I hear it gets worse!)

I ran into the kitchen and took a peek in the cupboard.
It looked like we could hunker down and survive a short apocalypse or zombie attack. (no brains here)
But there were definitely a few ‘ECS’ gaps on the shelves.
(Empty Cupboard Syndrome)

It was time to ask myself the question again.
Is the extra $7 or $10 Peapod delivery charge (depending on how much you spend) plus a $1 fuel surcharge really that onerous a fee to simplify the supermarket experience?

And is there really so much food that can’t be remotely selected without a major sacrifice in quality?

It was time to find out…

Hello, Again
To no surprise, the whole experience was almost easier than buying
my favorite brown rice snaps on Amazon:

  • Boneless chicken breasts… check
  • Green bananas… well at least they won’t be overripe
  • Bread…No worries as long as they’re not buried on the bottom of the packaging
  • Red grapes….on sale… sweet!
  • Onions… how bad could they be?
  • Yukon potatoes….same risk as the onions
  • Yogurt…always good to have a few more on hand
  • Eggs…. Well at least the brand isn’t ‘Humpty Dumpty’
  • Ice Cream…Hey, shouldn’t there be a reward for all this (non) effort?

Faster Than Being in the Express Line
I found myself quickly at the end of my virtual grocery-shopping excursion, and I looked up…
The sun had not yet woken up.
I felt so industrious. I hurried onto the page to schedule my delivery.

But I had done all this on Saturday morning.
I quickly realized I couldn’t schedule a delivery until Monday.
What?!
(I was hoping for next day delivery.)

So being somewhat impatient, (and wanting to reach the finish line so I could complete this post) I decided on a slightly different route.

I scheduled the free ‘pick up’ option for Sunday.
(Free is always good, right?)

It wasn’t really that big a deal.
I had some errands to run near the market in the morning anyway.
(Not to mention my DNA was pleased I still had to venture out into the ‘wilderness.’)

Click.

And after the deal had been completed, a message popped up informing me that Peapod could add to my order all the way up to 4:01pm that afternoon.
(Now, isn’t that convenient?!)

The Hunt Succeeds
The next morning, I eagerly jumped in the car and headed over to Stop & Shop.
(When was the last time you heard yourself thinking that?!)

I drove up to the Peapod pick-up ‘zone’ and found a Stop & Shop greeter.
She said, “Are you the 8-9am pick up?”
It was 9:30.
(gulp)

“I am.”

I was just going to give you a call to make sure you didn’t forget.
(Isn’t that nice?)

So we loaded up my car, and I drove off.

When I got home, everything looked great.
The chicken was fresh.
The bread was in it’s original shape, and yes the eggs were still intact.

Based on my happy experience, I’ve updated my internal preferences database:
The next time when I have to spend an extra sawbuck for Peapod home delivery, the convenience will indeed be worth it…

Today… Peapod. Tomorrow…Barrett-bot!
Now, I know this all isn’t rocket science.
People have been to the moon and back on this one many times.
I bet many of you keep the Peapod link high up in your URL bookmark’s folder, right?

Last year, a friend of mine demonstrated how to use Peapod as a real time saver on the first day of a beach vacation.
(Who wants to stop and shop when you could be soaking up some rays?)

Maybe sometimes it just takes a bit more time to get comfortable with technology taking over yet another life task we grew up thinking we were supposed to handle.

Yes, technically, you’re still doing the shopping with Peapod.
You’re just not bringing home the bacon anymore.

Wait a minute…
If technology could actually pull that trick off for me,
I bet I’d really be one happy camper!

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