At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Category: family

3 Holiday Gifts to Buy a Tween Boy

Our son is eleven, and It’s unavoidable that technology is at the center of what he’s asked to receive. Here’s how I handled this complicated gifting terrain.

It’s that time of year again, and I must admit it’s been hard to figure out which gifts to get our eleven-year-old boy this holiday season. He’s simply aging out of traditional kids toys. (Time really flies!)

Of course, now he’s on the cusp of wanting major technology like an iPhone. But my wife and I are waiting as long as we can on that one. He does have access to the ‘family’ iPad, which he now dominates. (He loves playing Minecraft.)

But the iPad is not enough. His growing interest in traditional consumer tech is unavoidable. And I know he’s not alone in his age group. For better or worse, it’s today’s perceived path to growing up.

If you have a similar shopping dilemma for your tween, here are three gifting decisions I made for our six grader that might be helpful to hear about.

Casio Watch
Recently, our son has become enamored with my Apple Watch. So much so that he’s hesitantly suggested that it would be really cool to have one. But it’s clear he knows it’s a stretch request.

I like the idea of my son having some kind of smart watch, but an Apple Watch is just too fragile (and expensive) to survive on his wrist for long. And there isn’t another option out there for tweens.

That said, he definitely needs a new watch. The band on his cheapo ticker that I bought him two years ago broke recently. He still loves that watch, but it can barely count off a minute without losing a couple seconds. My boy would often call me over to resync the time on his watch with my Apple Watch.

It was clearly time to move him to an adult-level timepiece.

I grew up wearing Casio watches. I got my first one when I was in high school. Though I haven’t bought one in over a decade, I’m still sweet on the brand. Plus, many models are relatively inexpensive.

I think Casios are a smart choice for any age group, and many models contain interesting features behind the standard alarm, timer and stopwatch (though still nowhere near what a smartwatch can do).

After doing a little research, I identified this Casio which sports a digital thermometer and compass.

  • Casio Men’s SGW-100-2BCF Twin Sensor Digital Display Quartz Black Watch
    $41.99 on Amazon

My boy loves figuring out technology settings, and I expect this watch will be a perfect time keeper for him.


Apple HomePod Mini
Let’s recap which Apple products we’re not getting our son:

  • No iPhone
  • No Apple Watch
  • And no AirPods… He’s still absolutely fine with wired headsets.

But I wanted to find another way to give him his own access to a piece of the Apple ecosystem.

He loves talking to Siri and Alexa on my devices. So I thought about smart speakers and an Apple HomePod Mini ($99)

A voice-operated speaker for his bedroom seemed like a reasonable bite into Apple for our tween. Plus, I can give the HomePod Mini access to my new Apple Music subscription (six months free with my new AirPods 3).


Nintendo Switch OLED
Our sixth grader’s main ask for a holiday gift this year was a Nintendo Switch. (No, he doesn’t have a video game system yet.)

It’s a huge request, and he knew it. (He’s familiar with the Switch, because a close friend has one.)

Actually, he didn’t really know how big an ask he made. He understood that a Nintendo Switch is expensive, but he seemed unconvinced when I told him that they’re mostly out of stock. (I think he may feel that our broken global supply chain is just an excuse I used.)

Plus, there’s the new Nintendo Switch OLED model out there, which is even harder to find and costs $50 more. Our son wasn’t aware of the newer model, and when I brought that detail to his attention, he said he didn’t care which model he might get. He was more focused on the when as opposed to the what.

That said, this daddy is inclined to impose his own technology purchasing strategies on this decision… Newer tech usually lasts longer.

Against all odds, I did spot the Nintendo Switch OLED in stock online at GameStop on Thanksgiving morning at 6am. But there was a catch. The system cost more, because it was packaged with a few items I might not otherwise have bought (including a screen protector and case).

Well, at least I was getting something for the added cost, as opposed to paying over list price for the base system. (Sadly, Walmart has been offering that terrible option.)


At Home with Expensive Tech
There’s no way around the fact that this is an expensive group of gifts. And I need to admit that I drove the forward momentum on these choices, not my wife. Of course, I’ve tried to rationalize these purchases.

  • Every kid needs a decent watch. So, the Casio was an easy decision.
  • Yes, there are less expensive smart speakers out there, but I like taking advantage of my Apple Music subscription.
  • As for the Nintendo Switch OLED, you could say that a video game console is unavoidable for this generation.


Okay… I spent a lot of money. That’s what happened. I acknowledge that I didn’t need to do it. But I did. For now, let’s leave it at that.

Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas.

And a big thank you to the greater universe that my family is safe and healthy, and that we have the means to afford this tech for our ‘not-so-little’ boy.

Why Movies are Ignoring Old Boundaries of Storytelling

Upcoming films are betting that the legacy of iconic characters will successfully transport to new stories and even into the next chapter of a different movie franchise.

I stumbled upon the teaser trailer of Pixar’s upcoming “Lightyear” quite by accident last week. I didn’t know the 2022 animated flick was in production. So when I watched the spot on YouTube, my experience was similar to how we viewed movie trailers in the old days.

And I was delighted.

I especially enjoyed the opening sequence of the spaceship launch. It was visceral. Pixar’s animators keep upping their game.

But my immediate interest in the movie was based on more than a great trailer. That’s because “Lightyear” is connected to an existing franchise. (This flick is apparently the origin story of Buzz Lightyear who the “Toy Story” character is based on.)

But this hero is someone else. So this movie is really a blank slate as storytelling goes.


A Prequel or Sequel?
Yes, you’ve got immediate brand recognition. But as a ‘prequel’ of sorts, the writers are not limited by the audience’s knowledge of a character’s future (something like what J.J. Abrams did by creating “Star Trek’s” Kelvin timeline).

But whether a movie is a prequel or sequel, there should always be a good reason to excite the audience beyond familiarity.

And a good movie trailer is usually the way to do that.

The Matrix Resurrections
I enjoyed “The Matrix” trilogy, but you can’t really say the last one ended on an especially happy note. Not that movies must always have a happy ending, but I usually appreciate it when they do. And if you’re committing your time to multiple sequels, I feel it really stinks if the ending is a bummer.

Almost 18 years have passed, and now they’re making a fourth and seemingly rewriting history.

I did know that “The Matrix Resurrections” is due in December, and I was eager to catch the first trailer. It did not disappoint, though it didn’t offer anything dramatically new.

I think the key draw is bringing Neo and Trinity back together. The trailer teases the opportunity to rewrite their tragic story. Or perhaps, tell it again, but differently.

How to Bend the Past to Fit with the Present
The idea of rewriting history in established movie storylines is definitely in vogue now. Both the MCU and DC’s “The Flash” are exploring the ‘multiverse.’ As a storytelling device, you can redo a story infinitely in different, but parallel universes, as the Disney+ series “What If?” demonstrates.

Or we can use the multiverse as a unifying theme to incorporate every iteration of a movie franchise ever made with different actors. Then you can cement it all into one accepted multiverse movie canon.


Upcoming examples are Michael Keaton’s Batman from 1989 and 1992 showing up in next year’s “The Flash” and Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions of Spider-Man reportedly coexisting with Tom Holland in the upcoming “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Really clever.

Plus, it taps into our sense of nostalgia for these earlier movie franchises. I think “Lightyear” and “The Matrix Resurrections” also appeal to the same feeling.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and I think it’s plenty enough to get you into a movie theater (or in front of your TV and pay channel).

Back to the Future
If this all this sounds like Hollywood is focused on reaching way back to help jump start its future, it sure seems that way.

  • “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in a few weeks
  • “Top Gun: Maverick” in 2022
  • The next Indiana Jones movie in 2023

And if the writers also want to stretch reality and break a few laws of this universe to bring a few iconic movie heroes back into the fold, I’m game.

First give me a good trailer with characters I want to root for. Then surprise me with a new multiverse twist.

That’s a recipe for success.

How to Give your Photos a More Personal Touch in Post

If you want your fall photos to have more pop, consider taking these steps after you snap your pics.

I admit it. I often like to add in a bit more color and contrast to the photos I snap. A little more brightness too. The process is easy to do in any number of ways. You can do it directly using your smartphone’s photo app or in a photo-editing program like Adobe Lightroom.

Add your Own Ingredients
Enhancing the look of your pictures is like adding your own personal filter, and this practice should give your pics more pop without making them look too manipulated.

Even if the colors start to look a little too good to be true, if the effect pleases you, I say why not?! (By now, haven’t we all become photographic artists at some level?)

And with fall colors all around us, now’s a perfect time to take some shots and squeeze a little more oomph out of your images.

Here are a few of my own shots from my iPhone and Panasonic Lumix LX-10 during my family’s recent apple-picking adventure. I’ve positioned the original photos on the left next to my ‘Barrett-boosted-versions.’ (And if you need to look closely to spot some of the subtle differences, then I’ve done a good job.)
Take More than One Step Forward
Sure, you can always slap on one of your photo app’s premade filters to give your pics more zing, but contributing your own special visual ingredients in post can maintain your sense of ownership.

Tweak the settings for:

  • Brightness
  • Shadows
  • Contrast
  • Color saturation

Yes, it takes more time that simply clicking ‘enhance,’ but one click or tap is rarely a total solution to feeding your creative self.

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