At Home with Tech

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Tag: Amazon

Summer Activity Ideas for Kids: How to Read Library Books on a Kindle

If you find that the FreeTime Unlimited reading app on your child’s Kindle isn’t quite as robust as you’d like, here’s how to transfer library e-books from OverDrive.

How many of you have received more screen-time requests from your kids this summer? Yes… we have as well. With most everything out of whack, there’s obviously a lot more time for our ten year old to fill during COVID-19.

To help relieve some of the pressure to grant more screen time, my wife and I decided to redirect the reading piece of the equation. Our son really enjoys spending time with his books, and due to the circumstances, more of that has been happening lately via our iPad.

Obviously, since we’re no longer taking our weekly trips to the library, we’ve been backfilling that gap with library e-book lending apps like Libby and Hoopla. Sure there are still physical books around our house to read, but the reading apps have replicated our boy’s treasure-hunt experience to uncover new library books every week.

Time to Put the iPad Down
And while that has generally been a successful solution to feeding our boy with new titles to read, it’s also increasingly positioned our ‘family’ iPad as the dominant object he stares at.

And this same screen houses his Minecraft app as well as any number of video apps to watch, including his favorite “Captain Underpants” series on Netflix.

These other apps are just an inch away on the screen and so easy to tap! No matter ‘the rules,’ the mere presence of a glowing iPad as an active reading device has invariably opened up more screen-time opportunities for the other non-reading apps.

Does an E-Book Reader = Screen Time?
I thought about how we might separate his ‘reading’ from his screen time. And of course, an e-book reading device seemed to be an easy solution. Why not just get him a Kindle?

Now, I know there are any number of debates about whether using an e-book reader is also screen time. That said, after some conversation, my wife and I decided it would still be better to move his ‘reading’ onto a different device. That choice would then allow us to leave our iPad out of the picture more often.

It’s Time for a Kindle
Amazon offers the Kindle Kids Edition. It’s a 10th generation Kindle, bundled with a case and a one year subscription to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited app, which houses thousands of kid-friendly books for our son to read. (The Kindle also comes with a 2-year repair warrantee.)

It’s all packaged as a ‘worry-free’ reading solution for the kids.
(Fingers crossed.)
$109.99 on Amazon

Click.

Testing the Limits of FreeTime Unlimited
Our son was absolutely delighted when I walked up to him this past weekend and revealed the box from behind my back. I had already set up the Kindle and tethered it to my existing Amazon Prime account (easy to do).

He opened up the magnetic cover and smiled. His first gleeful words were, “It’s like a little iPad.”

I wanted to reply that it was actually his ‘anti-iPad,’ but I allowed him his tech glow.

Then, he began looking up some of his favorite books. FreeTime Unlimited may offer thousands of titles, but some of his usual suspects weren’t there.

He suddenly got quiet. I could sense an enthusiasm leak. So I said, “I can add in additional e-books from other sources.”

He responded, “Oh…. phew!”
And then his general state of excitement resumed.

My boy found a cherished book from his physical library days. He immediately downloaded it and began reading.

Success? I think so! Except…

The Road to Kindle from OverDrive
Downloading books onto a Kindle from other sources isn’t actually a snap. But it’s not impossible either.

The first place I needed access to was the same e-book collection from our local library that the ‘Libby’ app had been feeding our iPad. (Otherwise, our iPad would still remain as his legacy book-reading platform.)

The good news is Libby is owned by the OverDrive website, which is an alternate access point to your local library’s e-book collection. They are just separate ways to access the same content.

Admittedly, Libby is a one-stop book-borrowing experience for the iPad. OverDrive takes a little more work behind the scenes before new titles can magically appear on your child’s Kindle.

But if you need to do it, here are the steps to borrow an e-book from OverDrive and then transfer it over to your Kindle:

  • Log into your OverDrive account
  • Find your e-book
  • Click “Read now with Kindle”
    (That takes you to an Amazon page listing your e-book. There’s a yellow box on the top right that says, “Get Library Book.” Under that box, there’s a white drop-down box that says, “Deliver to: (your Name’s) Kindle.”)
  • Then, click on the yellow box

Finally, go to your Amazon Parent Dashboard (parents.amazon.com) to load the e-book into your Kindle’s FreeTime Unlimited app.

  • Click on (Name) Settings on the bottom
  • Click on ‘Add Content’
  • Click on ‘Books’
  • Click on the button on the right side of the book’s name
    (The sliding button then turns orange.)

Now, your new e-book will pop up to read in FreeTime Unlimited.
(Finally!)

No, these steps do not exactly replicate a streamlined e-book borrowing experience, but it does work. And I think it’s a big deal to be able to feed our Kindle with other library content when FreeTime Unlimited shows it’s inevitable limitations.

Unlimited Summer Reading
Of course, you can buy any book you want on a Kindle, but in the beginning of this technical relationship, I’m interested in simply replicated the same ‘borrowing’ experience we had in the days when libraries were physically open.

There are so many limitations to this summer due to COVID-19. Thankfully, with the help of our new Kindle, our son’s access to books will not be impacted. He can continue to read to his heart’s content.

As for how much summer screen time he should have… well, that’s now a separate conversation. And separate from the Kindle.

Let all summer reading continue!

Which Bulb Should You Buy for a Porch Light?

If you’re not sure which light bulb you should be using in your outside porch light, you’re not alone. Here’s the story of my journey to a solution…

My house has an porch-light fixture above my front door. The long, cylindrical fixture’s bottom is technically open to the outside elements, but the bulb is protected.

You can spot the bulb if you look deep into the fixture after you ring my doorbell. If I take my time getting to the door, and if you’re a tech geek like me, you might wonder what kind of light bulb I use. Funny you should ask…

Every six months or so for the past ten years, the bulb has burnt out, and I have to replace it. Each time, I’ve found myself faced with the dread of not exactly knowing which one I should be using. And that has usually led me to a moment of self-reflection and uncertainty about my place in the universe.

Because I’ve come this far in life, and I can’t quite figure out what it takes to screw in the proper light bulb. It blew out again last week. So I decided it was finally time to figure this out…

How Many Words Does it Take to Screw In a Light Bulb?
First off, it’s not like I’ve been entirely oblivious in my past attempts to choose the correct bulb. Previously, I’ve used GE outdoor incandescent postlights with bent tips. I’ve assumed that because they’ve carried the name ‘postlight’ they’re designed to weather the outside elements as long as they’re protected from rain. They’ve operated just fine, even though they must get a little damp now and again.
(I hope I’ve not been tempting fate.)

Unfortunately, I can’t find these GE bulbs anymore on Amazon. Plus, they’ve always been difficult to unscrew, because my fixture is so long and I can barely get my fingers in far enough to get a grip on the bulb. So, I’ve always wanted to find a bulb that’s a little taller.

And did I really mention the word ‘incandescent” earlier? What an embarrassment.
Yes, you’re right… I should have found an LED replacement by now.

Amazon Stumbles
So I went back to Amazon and began searching for ‘LED Postlight’ and ‘Porch Light’ bulbs.

Strangely, nothing popped up that talked about outside use or all weather construction.

Frustrated with my inability to use Amazon for immediate gratification on a Saturday morning, I invited my fourth grader to go with me on a light-bulb adventure to our local The Home Depot. And we drove off…

The Value of One-to-One Human Interaction
You can easily find hundreds of conflicting product opinions online for just about anything you’re looking for. Call me old-fashioned, but I still value the opportunity to walk into The Home Depot, find someone wearing an orange smock and ask my question. Over the years, I’ve usually received great advice at The Home Depot. And this time was no different…

I found my expert hovering in the lighting section and told him my story. I held up my burnt-out incandescent bulb and waited for his response.

He stared into space for just a moment and then directed me to a ‘Philips F15 Postlight dimmable LED’ that costs $4.47.

Illuminating
The packaging displayed a picture of a glowing outside lamp post. The fine print said “Do not use where directly exposed to water. Only install in operating environments between -4 degrees and +113 degrees Fahrenheit.”

I figured I was covered…

So, I bought the 7-watt LED, and my son and I drove home. When I installed it, the bulb was much easier to grip, and it powered up just fine. So, what more is there to talk about…?

Well, I wondered why I couldn’t find this Philips LED on Amazon. So jumped back online and typed in “Philips F15 Postlight.”

And there it was…
Philips LED Dimmable F15 Soft White Light Bulb

But the description didn’t promote it as a ’Postlight.’
And the technical details listed “Indoor use only.”

Still, there was that same photo on the packaging with the outdoor light post.

And in the user reviews, several talked about successfully using this bulb as their porch light.

The Fine Print
So what should we make of all of this?

I’m detecting a certain industry ‘hedge’ when it comes to screwing in light bulbs outdoors. No, my Philips LED doesn’t have a “use at your own risk outside” warning label. In fact, on the base of the bulb, the fine print said, “suitable for damp locations.”

So what’s the problem?

Well, Philips still seemingly prefers that you use its ‘postlight’ indoors.

But lamp posts live outside. And so does my porch light.

This Philips LED model number is #9290011822.
I’ll let you know how it goes…

Why I Bought an Amazon Echo for My Aging Parent

I’ve introduced my father to Alexa. Now, I realize why a digital voice assistant in a smart speaker is a must-have device for the elderly living independently…

My father just celebrated his 86th birthday. He lives on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Yes, he’s on his own, and he likes it that way… mostly.

To celebrate his birthday I took him out for a big dinner at TAO Uptown.

He loved his meal and especially his molten chocolate cake with birthday candles.

He’s doing okay. But he’s… 86. And he uses a walker. And he a little unsteady on his feet. And yes, I worry about him.

Fortunately, he has some help at home. Plus, I’m able to see him every week or so to check in, have a meal with him and reminisce about my mom.

And it’s really great that he’s relatively adroit using his iPhone. FaceTime calls have also been a useful way to keep in touch. Although lately, he’s fumbling a bit with his iPhone and doesn’t always answer correctly on the first try.

So, I worry about being able to reach him just to make sure he’s doing okay.

Hello, Amazon Echo
I gave my dad an Amazon Echo for his birthday. He’s always fashioned himself a user of new and cool consumer tech. (In the 1970’s, I remember him running around wearing some crazy Seiko TV watch that didn’t work very well.)

When he unwrapped his present, he looked a bit confused… He didn’t really know what a voice-controlled smart speaker was. But when I unboxed the Echo in front of him, powered up Alexa and started our first conversation, my dad was instantly hooked.
(Gifting note: I had previously set up the Echo at my house and figured out all of the interface details using the Amazon Alexa app on my iPhone. Then, all I had to do with my father was update the Echo’s Wi-Fi setting to his home Wi-Fi network.)

More than Music
Originally, I figured getting my dad a digital voice assistant would be a great way for him to stream his favorite tunes from the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. That functionality was mostly all that I was focused on. I also expected that my father would enjoy chatting with Alexa and would find her encyclopedia of knowledge charming. Perhaps her alarms and reminders would also be of use.

But after I bought the Echo and began setting it up, I quickly realized the massive opportunity it offers to help me better keep in touch with my aging father. Here’s how…

Alexa Calling
It’s so easy for him to contact my iPhone by just telling Alexa to call me by name.
(Yes, the Echo can make a phone call.)

That’s certainly a lot simpler for him than trying to find and fumble with his iPhone during a critical moment.

Drop In
Or perhaps more importantly… his Echo gives me two additional ways to reach out and contact him using the Amazon Alexa app on my iPhone.

When I call his Amazon Echo with my Alexa app…
The Echo immediately starts to glow and ring loudly. Then, all he has to do is say “Alexa… Answer.”

He also doesn’t have to get up to answer my call if his iPhone isn’t in his pocket.
(He moves pretty slowly.)

But the second way for me to connect with him is the real game changer…
It’s the “Drop In” feature, which essentially turns my iPhone and his Echo into a walkie talkie system.

A tone on the Echo announces that ‘hailing frequencies are open.’ Then, when I start talking, the Echo projects my voice throughout my dad’s apartment and I can hear his response.
(He doesn’t have to tell Alexa to do anything.)

Of course, for this to work, he needs to be at home and within earshot.

Yes, it may feel intrusive and a bit big brother-like that I can drop in at any given moment. But for an aging parent who is living on his or her own, I don’t think this is such a bad thing… at all.

In fact, it’s great.

New Connections for the Long Term
I’ve already found our new technology-infused interface quite useful, although the Echo doesn’t replace the clarity of a cell-to-cell connection. So, his iPhone isn’t going out of style any time soon.

But the fact that I suddenly have these new methods to remotely reach him is amazing.
(Whether he develops a long-term relationship with Alexa is almost beside the point.)

“Hey Siri” and “OK Google”
So, I know that Alexa isn’t the only game in town. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Siri on the Apple HomePod or Google Assistant using Google Home. I’m sure my father would enjoy using these speakers just as much as Alexa.

Either way, introducing a digital voice assistant via a smart speaker into my father’s apartment has immediately had a positive effect on his life (and mine, as well).

The Conversation Continues
No, Alexa isn’t a real person. And my father still needs to navigate the challenges of living alone at 86 years old. But now, he has something to talk to 24/7 which responds to him using AI in a friendly, human voice.

And Alexa is only getting smarter. What will she be like in only a few more years?
(We’ll be talking with her.)

Futurists have been talking about this for a long time, and my father and I have only just entered the first chapter of the story.

Whoa.
It’s not science fiction… anymore.

If you’ve got an aging parent living alone, you should really consider introducing a new ‘friend,’ like Alexa.

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