At Home with Tech

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

Tag: holiday shopping

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.

Click.

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).

Click.

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.)

Click.

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.

No?

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.

6 Tech Gifts for the Geek in Your Life

Yes, it’s that time of year again…when you need some serious inspiration to brainstorm great gift ideas. If you’re trying to figure out what tech to get, check out the gear on my own wish list…

What do you get for the geek who has everything? Well, the good news is your special geek in fact… does not have everything. He or she is actually coveting any number of gadgets at this very moment.

What…?
You don’t know which ones?
And you haven’t brushed up on your Vulcan mind-meld technique?

Well, here’s some gear to consider from this particular geek’s holiday wish list…

More Powerful Portable Power for Your Next Camping Trip:
Goal Zero Yeti 150
Over the summer, my family and I went camping at the Grey Fox Music Festival with another family. Though I prepared sufficiently for the Lester’s power needs to fuel our personal tech in the wild, I coveted this
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station the other dad brought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure, I packed my own lineup of tiny rechargeable Anker batteries. I even had a smaller Goal Zero power unit, but it did not compare to this compact beast’s capabilities.

The Yeti 150 quickly became the power hub for all four of the adults.
And when hooked up to a couple of Goal Zero Nomad solar panels, this 150Wh device offered almost unlimited juice.
(As long as the sun stayed out.)

The only downside is its weight… 12 lbs.
Not something you’d want to throw into a knapsack you’re carrying on your back.
But we were car camping. So, that wasn’t an issue.

It’s nice to have a little extra power when you’re sleeping under the stars.
Believe me…

A Telescope to View the Next Unmissable Celestial Event:
Meade Infinity 90mm
Last time, I reviewed several telescope choices for kids.
But what if you’re shopping for someone a little older?
(At least, chronologically)

One of the Meade telescopes I looked at didn’t make my cut, because it was a little too big and heavy for youngsters.
But it’s perfect for adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think it would be a great starter telescope.

Portable Drive for Your Computer:
G-Technology 1 TB G Drive Mobile USB-C
If your geek is into photography or videography, then more file storage is always an ongoing need. This portable drive from G-Technology can travel anywhere in a knapsack and is crazy cheap.

 

 

 

 

 

Wait… One terabyte for just fifty bucks?!
Soon, these things are going to be stocking stuffers…

Give Some Stability to Your Smartphone:
JOBY GorillaPod Mobile Mini
Speaking of stocking stuffers…
Sometimes you don’t always want to hold your smartphone for extended periods when snapping a photo or shooting a video, because you need more stability in the shot. That’s what tripods are for!

And JOBY makes this GorillaPod Mobile Mini that can handle the job!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy.

Wireless Headphones for Your TV:
Sennheiser RS 185 or Sennheiser RS 160
My once and future man-cave is currently performing its duties as our family room. But at night, after our seven-year-old son has gone to sleep… I sometimes power up our little home theater which otherwise serves up Pixar and LEGO movies. And then, I do some on-demand viewing of my own. Often, it’s loud science fiction content.
(With both “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Orville,” I’ve suddenly got a lot of sci-fi television to keep up with.)

But these days, it’s not about how loud. It’s about how quiet.
(My sleeping ninja warrior needs his rest!)

So, I want a pair of comfortable wireless headphones to completely immerse myself at full volume in the next Starship Discovery battle scene.
(“Star Trek: Discovery” is getting really good. And all those fan conspiracy theories about Captain Lorca being from the mirror universe are fueling my anticipation for the show’s return. This “Trek’s” substance, style and energy are taking the franchise where no one has gone before.)

I’ve decided I might prefer getting a pair of ‘open-back’ headphones, which let in some ambient noise, because if there are ‘unauthorized’ non-sleeping sounds coming from our son’s bedroom upstairs… I want to hear them!
‘Closed-back’ headphones block out outside noise better…. should that be your desire.

One excellent option is this-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These RF wireless headphones get great reviews, but for some reason, the discounts on Sennheiser headphones are smaller compared to a year ago when I first started doing my research.

Hmmm…
Three hundred smackers…
That’s pretty expensive for occasional use.

Then, I remembered it’s often a good idea to look for yesterday’s ‘pick’ at a discount.
And in fact, there is one…
It’s the older Sennheiser RS 160.
(Now discontinued, but still available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only downside is these are closed-back headphones.
(Which for many folks is just fine.)

Still… this is quite the deal!
Instead of using an open-back design, I suppose I’d just have to rely on my parental ‘spidey sense’ instead!

Depending on your budget, I’m sure your geek would appreciate either the airy Sennheiser RS 185 or yesterday’s champ, the RS 160.

Tech Gifts can be Risky
It’s ironic that shopping for geeks can be difficult, because you may not know the exact specs of the gear they want.
(We can be so finicky.)

Here’s an idea…
Just ask!
(We don’t mind.)

Using this list can be a great place to start the conversation…
Good luck!

The Dilemma of Downloading a YouTube Video

There are worse ways to spend 10 minutes than juggling in Google’s Winter Wonderlab. Plus you get your very own YouTube video to share. But what can you do if you want to immortalize the memory?

There are worse ways to spend 10 minutes than juggling in Google’s Winter Wonderlab. Plus you get your very own YouTube video to share. But what can you do if you want to immortalize the memory?

Should you find yourself with a spare hour in New York City over the holidays, you absolutely must pass through Bryant Park on 42nd and 6th Ave.
There’s the ice skating rink going as well as the pop-up shops and dessert kiosks.  Who knew walking through a park could be so much fun?!

This year, Google has a rather large pop-up presence there, sporting a
‘Winter Wonderlab,’ featuring their Nexus 7 tablets and Chromebooks.

Play. Create. Chill.
In the center of their pop-up store is a high-speed photo studio inside a giant snow globe. In it, they shoot a slow motion video of you with a moving camera on a track. The result is a wicked cool 20-second sequence of you having fun in the globe, surrounded by fake falling snow.
(The actual elapsed recorded action is only about 2 seconds.)


Then, they download the file, and you’re invited to customize your mini movie with music and distribute it via one of their Nexus tablets, conveniently waiting for you in the pop-up store.

The whole point is to get you to say, “Mmmmmm….Nexus tablets.”
And then go buy one.

I’ve got to admit, their marketing tactic was rather compelling.

And I’m also not embarrassed to say I kind of liked my corny little video from their Winter Wonderlab.

The Google folks even provided me with my own URL to call up my cinematic moment, which conveniently lives as a YouTube video, housed in a Google Winter Wonderlab wrapper.

But you can also click on the video itself and call up the original YouTube page where the video lives.
(Remember, Google owns YouTube.)


Can You Keep your Snow Globe Joy Alive Forever?

So there I was watching my video, and I said to myself,
“Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I could download my silly video to take a look at whenever I wanted?”

Sure I’ve got a link to forward for anyone to watch.
And the link is always there for me, right?
(I don’t think YouTube is going anywhere.)

That said, I suppose it’s an open question how long Google will keep its
Winter Wonderlab open in the digital space.
(Snow globe videos aren’t so hip in July.)

The Dilemma
The problem is you can’t download YouTube videos.
Google understandably doesn’t offer that functionality.
(since they want you to keep giving them plenty of online clicks to feed their advertising model)

So now what?

At this point in the conversation, it’s important to share some legal realities on this point…

YouTube officially frowns on the downloading of their videos through other technologies. This would break their terms of service.
Plus, you don’t own the copyright on someone else’s content.
YouTube does suggest one exception if you are trying to download your own content.

So in this particular case I wanted to download specific imagery of Barrett juggling Styrofoam snowballs.
But I didn’t create the actual content… Google did.

Hmmmm… How gray is that?
(Next question…)

So I’ll simply say I may have considered the following investigative mission.

Think of this as solely a theoretical exercise…

How to Download a YouTube Video
I quickly realized I wasn’t alone in this intellectual query.

There are a whole lot of players out there offering to help you out…

Keepvid.com
But I was interested in finding a quick, ‘relatively’ mainstream solution that didn’t require additional software downloads…

I asked a few friends, (a Gen X and a few Gen Ys)
and they immediately replied…
“KeepVid!”

Seems I’m a little late to the party…

Keepvid.com has actually been around for years…
And after doing a little research, I saw it’s often mentioned as a major player in this space.

KeepVid’s usability is pretty straightforward.
There’s only one annoying pothole to avoid.
Don’t click on the ‘Download’ or ‘Play Now’ buttons on the top of the page.
Those misdirect you to advertisements.

PCWorld has posted this useful ‘how-to video’ on using KeepVid.

A Decision for Another Day?
So there you have it.
Do proceed conscientiously…

And to repeat, this is all simply an exercise of the mind…
A noggin rumination, if you will.

If the Shoe Fits…
That there are effective ways to force video content off a webpage is not a happy reality for many multimedia-hosting websites.
But it should also give you pause…

  • If you upload your own videos to share on these websites…
  • Then set their permissions as non-downloadable…
  • And believe that they are safely ‘not grabbable’

…think again.

If you upload your own multimedia content into the universe, there are always ways for others to get it.
(yeah)

Now, we’ve come full circle.

Enough said.

All right, enough worrying for one post…
Now, go make your own snow globe video and have some fun!

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