At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Category: family

Feeling Comfortable Yet?

Our cat has no problem relaxing, and even occasionally expresses her feline Zen for my camera. I find her disposition a helpful reminder to take a deep breath every now and again.

These are, no doubt, strange times. Complete with plenty of stress and uncertainty. So, it’s probably a good idea to take a few cues from our companion animals and chill out whenever possible. After all, it is summer.

So whether you’re hanging out in the country side…

Or beginning to get out again in the big city…

I hope you’re finding some time to relax and recharge. My family and I just returned from a little excursion to the Berkshires.

Find your sunshine.

Be Careful what You Say Around your Tech

When your voice-activated tech misbehaves, the problem may be caused by something you said. Here’s a fix to consider.

I’ve just put my old GoPro to work as a webcam, tethered to my PC laptop that I’m using for my job. Wearing my MacGyver hat, I easily connected the GoPro to my computer with an Elgato Cam Link 4K video converter. This adapter can transform many cameras with a HDMI output into a simple USB webcam.

I prefer my GoPro’s shot to my laptop’s built-in webcam, because the GoPro offers a wider-angle view. That framing gives me more room to use my body language when I talk to colleagues on Zoom. And I’ve found that can help me better connect with people I’ve never met in person.

But there was a problem.

Who’s Controlling your GoPro?
A couple days into its new mission as a webcam, my GoPro inexplicably began glitching out. One day it magically kicked into video mode and began recording my conversation. The next morning, it snapped a burst of pictures during a Zoom meeting. Its little blinking red light was the dead giveaway that there was a gremlin in the system.

Or was there?

I put on my diagnostic lab coat to see if there might be a GoPro setting that was causing the problem. I first upgraded the GoPro’s operating system and then poked around the menu. I eventually came to the voice control option. It was set to ‘on.’

Hmmm….

Is your GoPro Simply Following Orders?
“GoPro, take a photo!”

That’s the fun phrase my eleven-year-old son and I love to blurt out when taking GoPro selfie shots during weekend hikes with friends.

Yes… my GoPro can be voice activated. And it has been reliably obedient for selfie shots during our weekend hiking adventures.

So why wouldn’t its audio parlor trick also be in play during its weekday duties? Of course my GoPro was listening to me during my Zoom meetings! I must have said something that resembled, “GoPro start recording,” or “GoPro shoot burst.”

After my big ‘aha,’ I simply deactivated my GoPro’s voice-control mode, and thankfully, my GoPro started behaving again.

Problem solved.

But my reestablished tech Zen was short lived.

What Did You Say?
Uncovering my mistake brought up a larger question. How much of my tech is always listening to me, and how often is it misinterpreting my words and reacting in ways that it shouldn’t?

My Alexa-enabled Sonos speaker in my home office occasionally interrupts me when I’m on the phone or doing a Zoom meeting, because it thinks it heard me summon it. I usually shrug it off and shake my head, both slightly amused and a tad irritated.

Even Siri on my Apple Watch has awkwardly tried to jump into my conversations.

User Error
I’m not exactly sure what to make of all this, except to accept that voice-activated tech can sometimes react in ways we don’t want. Its skills may be imperfect. But then again, so are humans. That combination can easily lead to unexpected and imperfect results.

As more components of our smart homes begin to possess voice control, it will become increasingly important not to forget what we’ve set up to listen to our lives. (And I’m not talking about the whole privacy question. We’ll leave that topic for another day.)

Sure, it’s cool to control your surroundings with your voice. That said, I hope you talk clearly and remember the right command phrases. It would be a shame if your future tech misinterprets your intent and ruins your day… or worse.

But don’t worry. It’s probably just ‘user error.’

Time for an upgrade?

TV Shows to Stream with your Kids this Summer

Finding the right programming for your tweens to watch can be a difficult exercise. Here’s a list of shows that have worked for my family.

Without the rigors of school and related activities, summertime can often be a time for children to ask for more screen time. So, it’s important for parents to stay one step ahead and have some solid choices up their sleeves. Searching for family-friendly programming at the last minute can be really stressful.

I’ve certainly tried to be ready whenever I hear the question from our eleven-year-old son, “So, what are we watching tonight?”

If you’re looking for a TV series to stream with your kids in their tween years, here’s what my family has been watching:

“Loki” on Disney+
This show, based on the Loki character from the MCU, is the best of the Marvel series on Disney+ to date.

It’s smart, character-driven and benefits from Loki’s well-established storyline from the Marvel movies. Yes, there’s a little bad language, but the violence factor isn’t as intense as what some of the other Marvel properties serve up.

The plot to protect the ‘sacred timeline’ is delightfully unexpected, and “Loki” demonstrates the true potential of a Marvel series the same way “The Mandalorian” did for a Star Wars series.

It’s so good.

“The Mysterious Benedict’s Society” on Disney+
Based on the popular books, this series follows the adventures of four gifted orphans on a mission to save the world from ‘the Emergency.’

It has the same quirky feel and cinematic flair of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix. But this show is not as dark.

After watching the premiere, my son complained that the show’s characters had been significantly altered, compared to how he envisioned them from the books. That said, he was eager to watch episode 2.

So, we’re in for more.

“His Dark Materials” on HBO Max
This series, based on the books by Philip Pullman, contains complex themes. But if your kids like this type of storytelling challenge, this show is a must watch. There’s no bad language here, but we’ve got some violence (though not at the same level of a Marvel movie).

The emotional intensity surrounding two children in parallel universes is high. Be ready for pain and loss.

It’s big, bold and cinematic. My son and I loved it.

Season 3 comes out next year.

“Lost in Space” on Netflix
This reimagined take on the classic ‘60s sci-fi series is a pure roller coaster ride. There’s nothing campy about this version. And every episode has a major cliffhanger.

There are only a couple of ‘language moments,’ and while there’s some violence, it’s not really part of the show’s fabric.

Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) is really creepy, but the series stays true to offering pure family adventure. “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Season 3 is being released later this year.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix
It’s been a few years since the last of the three seasons came out, but if you haven’t checked out this fabulous show yet, you should. My son couldn’t “look away.”

Even though its plot is entirely depressing, it still manages to be a whole lot of fun for the entire family.

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is especially great.

“WandaVision” on Disney+
I expect to get to “WandaVision” with my son later this summer. I prescreened it myself earlier this year after getting burned by “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney+. (That show proved to be not for my tween. It was too violent and dark. Even he didn’t want to watch more than the first episode.)

It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the early “WandaVision” episodes, which are total throwbacks to early television sitcoms, which he’s never been exposed to.

Fun? Boring? We’ll find out…

In Search of the Next Series
Yes, there’s a fair amount of great content available for tweens. The only problem with the above series is they don’t contain that many episodes. So I’m always in search of new shows to stream with our son.

Would you have any recommendations to share? I’d appreciate it.

Thanks!

%d bloggers like this: