At Home with Tech

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

Tag: Netflix

How to Find the Perfect Date Night Movie to Stream

If you want to ensure the next movie night at home with your significant other is a success, here are four steps to proposing the right film after the kids have gone to sleep…

Parenthood… You fear you will never get out of the house to watch a movie again. Sure you can plan for a date night and schedule a babysitter. But if you’re having a bite to eat after the flick, you’ve usually got to pay attention to your watch to relieve the sitter by a certain time.
(And how relaxing is that?)

Date Night at Home
Catching a movie on your dormant TV monitor after the kids have drifted off is logistically so much easier. That said, my wife and I also don’t always find the time to do that either. Our boy goes to bed close to 8pm. Then, it’s time for our family schedule coordination, taking out the garbage, email catch up, and then sleep. I know this is not unusual, but I honestly don’t know where the ‘average’ family finds the time to consume hours of TV a day. The math just doesn’t add up.

My truth is… there’s usually just one opportunity a week for my wife and me to sit down on the couch for two hours and watch a film.

Saturday night.

And I want to be ready to offer a few movie choices if she doesn’t bring any ideas.

Mars and Venus at the Movies
I should admit that my wife and I fall into gender stereotyping when it comes to our movie preferences. Yes, I can sometimes cross over to watch a sad film that’s also winning all of the awards, but she usually isn’t into explosions and mayhem.
(There are, of course, numerous exceptions… We both recently enjoyed “Aquaman” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” together.)

When it’s time to talk about watching a film at home, I focus on selecting my options with both of our interests in mind.
(Good comedies are always a solid choice.)

If you’re finding yourself in the same situation, here is my strategy to quickly identify the right flicks. It boils down to reviewing several movie streaming options and one process rule.

Here are the four steps I take…

Step 1 – YouTube TV
The odds of finding the perfect ‘live’ movie on cable just as you’re turning on your TV will never be in your favor. Your only real chance is to prerecord a film (I use YouTube TV’s cloud DVR) and offer it up as an option. But that takes some planning, just like we did in the old days of VCRs.

Step 2 – Netflix
Even though there are lots of great movies on Netflix, they are often difficult to find among all of the horrible options. Unless you’re good with the top 10-20 flicks that populate the main screen, you’re in trouble.

I’ve never successfully identified a movie spontaneously via Netflix for the two of us. And after trying that maneuver a few times with another pair of eyes growing weary, I’ve vowed not to fall into that Netflix trap again.

The only solution is to do your Netflix research in advance and put your movie choices in your ‘List.’
(Hearing a theme here?)

Step 3 – Amazon Video
I pay for Amazon Prime. So, it’s always worth checking Amazon Video to see what Prime movies are available for free. And of course, you can always pay for other movie options that don’t fall into the free bucket.

Again, as with Netflix, you should take a peek in advance before it’s movie time.

Step 4 – iTunes Movies App on Apple TV
If all else fails, I usually turn to the iTunes Store to access the pay-per-view model. Recent movies are all there, and I’ve got to admit that I’m usually more partial to catching up on must-see flicks we just missed in theatrical release. If you’re committed to this path, you’ve got a pretty good chance of finding ‘your’ movie in the moment.

Not every movie is available for rental, and you may not want to double down by actually buying the flick.

But here’s a thought…

If you’ve exhausted every other option, and you’re staring at the perfect movie option, should you spend the extra ten or fifteen bucks to buy a movie you may never watch again? It can make the difference between a great movie night or just turning off the TV in defeat.

There’s no right answer, and I’m the first to flinch at paying more for a movie when we’re already paying monthly for YouTube TV and Netflix. But you’ve also got to consider the value of preserving your movie night experience…

Instant Access Doesn’t Always Provide Obvious Choice
It’s ironic that the magic ingredient to finding the right choice for both you and your spouse is still doing your homework ahead of time. It’s not that much different an equation compared to the old Netflix model of DVDs in red envelopes, which forced you to do the same thing.

The evolution into instant access streaming seemed magical with almost every movie you could possibly want at your fingertips. But the reality became too much choice with the gems buried in a sea of digital mediocrity.

It just takes too much time to review this endless supply of possibility to find your front runners… Time that you don’t have when your movie-watching window opens up.

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Goal
Remember, you’re working with two brains. Different brains. You both sit down to dinner on the couch with remote in hand.

If it’s fifteen minutes later, and you haven’t agreed on a flick yet, and most of your meal is already gone… the odds of actually starting a movie go down exponentially.

The good news is you’ve always got your backup plan of throwing a little money at the problem. If you’re willing to pay for it, you can usually quickly find and watch a particular movie as long as it’s available.

WARNING: Don’t fall for the worse-case scenario of paying for a flick that’s also available on Netflix. (Guilty)

And the secret ingredient is almost always doing your research in advance.

Any other best practices out there?

Good luck.

Should Kids Watch Netflix’s New ‘Lost in Space’ Series?

I still have my toy ‘Robot’ from the original “Lost in Space.” So, you can imagine how excited I feel about Netflix reimagining the series. The big question I’ve tried to figure out is whether my second grader is old enough to watch it with me. If you’re a parent with similar concerns, here’s my take…

I’ve been searching for a family-friendly TV series to watch with my second grader. So when Netflix’s new “Lost in Space” series premiered, I rushed to check it out. Not only because I’m a sci-fi geek who wanted to see how the creators had reimagined this version, but because I was hoping that this could be the new show for me and my boy.

I quickly streamed the full 10-episode season on my own, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to binge watching.
(Each episode’s cliffhanger certainly contributed.)

Here’s one parent’s point of view…

The New Robinson Family
For those who know the original “Lost in Space” (1965-1968), the basics of the story are mostly the same… The Robinsons are trying to get to Alpha Centauri on their trusty spaceship, the Jupiter 2. They want to start a new life on an off-world colony, because the Earth is becoming uninhabitable. And they run into a whole universe of trouble on their trip… beginning with crash landing on an alien planet.





The major characters have all been brought back with two evolutionary updates…

The mom – Maureen Robinson, played by Molly Parker is essentially the family leader, because the dad – John Robinson, played by Toby Stephens has been out of the picture for a while (more on this in a moment).

Dr. Smith is now a woman, played by Parker Posey. And her dishonest, delusional and rather creepy character is played much closer to how Jonathan Harris did it in the first few episodes of the original series.

Which is to say, Dr. Smith is not at all silly.

This is Not Your Father’s Silly “Lost In Space”
In fact, there’s nothing silly about this “Lost in Space.” Nothing at all like the campy style of the original. This one is quite serious as the journey unfolds.

It’s not as dramatic a reimagining as “Battlestar Gallactica,” but this show certainly reflects some of those influences. The good news is this “Lost in Space” has an optimistic view on its universe, however flawed it has been set up to be…

The better news is at its core… “Lost in Space” is good,-old-fashioned ‘wholesome’ adventure. It has lots of thrills and great special effects with a seemingly limitless number of challenges that this family Robinson must figure out to survive.
(It even retains the original’s upbeat music by John Williams.)

“Lost in Space” has Grown Up
As with any action-packed sci-fi series, these episodes are a little ‘intense.’ Is this PG-TV rated show too aggressive for your younger crowd? I think that depends on how comfortable they are with what they’ve already been exposed to…

My son has seen the original “Star Wars” movies, but not the more violent crop of recent Jedi flicks.

He’s happily watched the first three episodes of “Lost in Space” with me, and he’s eager for more. That said, he woke up recently in the middle of the night with a bad dream after consuming the scarier moments from episode 3.
(Spoiler alert: Icky alien eels invade the fuel tanks and the ship.)

The biggest problem I’ve found is the writers saw fit to throw some salty language into a few of the episodes. Language I would prefer my boy not repeat. The worst offending moment comes about 14 minutes into episode 9 inside a cave, where Penny, played by Mina Sundwall uses the ‘S’ word to punctuate a major plot point. It’s actually pretty funny and entirely in line with her character’s comic timing. But that’s not really family-friendly script writing.
(At least it wasn’t as gratuitous as when the writers of “Star Trek: Discovery” decided to drop the F-Bomb for no good reason.)

Danger, Will Robinson!
Fortunately, there’s not a lot of violence in this “Lost in Space,” though there is an ongoing threat of violence and a whole lot of peril. Each of the Robinson characters face huge gauntlets where they need to step up.

The one brief exception on the violence issue surrounds the ‘Robot,’ played by Brian Steele under all of that metal. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say this character has different origins than the original Robot. And just by looking at its menacing exoskeleton, you’ll get a sense of the ‘danger’ it may pose.

Let’s just say that the Robot struggles with its core programming. Its journey to ‘do the right thing’ is an easily digestible morality lesson for kids. And the original series’ character connection between Will Robinson, played by Maxwell Jenkins and the Robot is completely maintained here.





What 8 year old wouldn’t be interested in a story about an 11-year-old boy and his own robot?

Of course, my son was immediately drawn to the character of the Robot.

Your Contribution Towards Family-Friendly TV
The story arc of the Robot is in many ways the simplest for kids to handle. Much of the rest of the series deals with more complex ‘human’ issues that you may need to deconstruct and talk through with your kids.

First off, this Robinson family barely starts out as a functioning unit. John Robinson had been away for three years on assignment in the military and that separation had lead John and Maureen to the point of official separation. So they’ve got some marital difficulties to work through.

Be prepared to talk about Dr. Smith and why she’s entirely untrustworthy, even pathologic… though she sometimes puts on a good face.

All of the actors do a nice job making the Robinsons a likable family. You absolutely root for them… even Don West, played by Ignacio Serricchio who eventually becomes a permanent house guest. He pretends to be a selfish rogue, but of course he has a heart of gold.

But just so you know, there are other human characters roaming about who fall into much grayer categories (another opportunity to talk it through with your kids).

The writing uses a number of flashback scenes, (à la “Lost”). So you may need to call out that storytelling device a few times.

The Women on the Jupiter 2
I should also mention that this series is not just for ‘boys.’ In fact, In many ways, this show is more about the female characters. And they’re written with more complexity…

Maureen Robinson is the main hero, but she’s had to make some questionable decisions along the way. Dr. Smith is the villain, but everything she does isn’t entirely premeditated or self-serving… Or is it? The rivalry between Maureen and Dr. Smith is a compelling, ongoing plot element.

And Judy Robinson, played by Taylor Russell is the clever MacGyver of the family.

Simply said, the women of this Jupiter 2 can easily take care of themselves.

Do Your Homework
Do you need to watch the episodes first to make sure you know what your kids are in for?
I did. And it was a good choice for my family.

I recommend you check out the first 2 episodes on your own. You can make a good decision for your family from there.
(Just be on the lookout in episode 9 for that word so you can fast forward past it, as I’m planning on doing.)

This Geeky Dad and his Boy are Enjoying the Journey to Alpha Centauri
I think the best reason kids should watch this series is it demonstrates how nothing is impossible. Over and over again, the Robinsons figure it out and get it done. As a plot device, that can get a little tedious for some adults (not me), but it’s perfect for kids.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really like this new and gritty “Lost in Space.” And I predict my boy will continue to enjoy it.

There’s danger at every turn, but once your kids get the sense that the Robinsons are going to make it through, they’ll probably be able to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Of course, the last word uttered at the end of the final episode of season one is…
(I’m not giving anything away.)


Ultimately, for me… the new “Lost in Space” hits the sweet spot for uplifting
sci-fi family TV watching.

How to Annoy 100 Train Commuters with Your iPhone

If you think you’re always in your own private bubble while streaming TV shows on the morning train, you might be in for a rude awakening when you invoke a commuter uprising… against you.

If you think you’re always in your own private bubble while streaming TV shows on the morning train, you might be in for a rude awakening when you invoke a commuter uprising… against you.

Warning: Never stream “The Blacklist” on Netflix while riding the train during your morning commute… Not without first checking in with Apple.

Let me explain my cautionary tale…

A few weeks back, I was doing exactly that on my Metro North train ride to New York City. Remember, I’m a Road Warrior, at least I pretend to be while riding the train.

So I had my trusty iPhone 6 Plus tuned into season 2 of “The Blacklist.”
My Apple EarPods were firmly in place…

If you’re a fan of the James Spader TV spy series, you know it’s a pretty noisy show. Lots of loud explosions as our heroes try to capture the bad guy…

Major Audio Malfunction
In the middle of watching a tussle with the evil Luther Braxton, played by the great Ron Perlman, my seatmate tapped me on my shoulder. I paused the stream, extracted my left Apple EarPod, and turned to face this stranger.

“I can hear your show.”


“Your TV show is playing too loud.”

I looked down at my iPhone.

“How is that possible? I’m wearing earphones.”

“I can still hear it.” It’s really loud.”

I paused in ongoing disbelief.

Then, the commuter on the other side of my offended seatmate leaned forward and joined the conversation.

“Yes, I think the entire car can hear it. It’s blaring! Everyone can hear it. Really!!”

She nodded.

He nodded.

I began to nod… in disbelief.
I had become ‘that guy.’ How embarrassing…

So of course I apologized and promised to lower the audio level, which I did. But several times during the rest of my commute, I pulled out one or both of the EarPods to listen for any escaping audio.

I heard nothing. My earphones weren’t projecting anything, contrary to crowd consensus.

Confused as to where the leak was coming from, I cranked the level back to ‘eleven.’


Hmmm… Then I realized for the sound level to be that offensive, the EarPods couldn’t possibly have been the culprit. Somehow, the iPhone’s onboard speaker must have been activated.

Then, it hit me… ‘Lint-gate!’

Pocket Lint is Evil
A few weeks back, I realized the exposed holes in the bottom my iPhone were slowly being filled up by pocket lint through normal wear and tear.

The tell was I couldn’t get a secure lightning connection to charge my iPhone anymore. That’s when I realized I had the lint problem. So I took matters into my own hands, grabbed a pin and started scooping out pocket lint from both the lightning port and the earphone jack.

Problem solved…. Or so I thought.

I assume you know the phrase, “Don’t try this at home.”

Clearly, I hadn’t extracted enough of the lint from the audio jack and the 3.5mm plug was being blocked from making a secure fit. And as a result, the iPhone’s speaker took over… even though my earphones were still operating.

While that scenario suggested the possibility of a technical glitch I couldn’t confirm, I figured where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

Then I remembered a friend had mentioned after reading my original pocket lint post that the same problem had happened to him. His solution was to take his iPhone to the Apple Store. The Genius he spoke with used a tiny ‘vacuum-cleaner-like’ tool to do the fix.


iPhone to Surgery… Stat!
So when my train arrived at Grand Central Terminal, I hoofed it to the Apple Store, which was conveniently located only a few steps away from Track 18.

I checked in… told my sad tale of how “The Blacklist” had disrupted an entire train car filled with annoyed commuters… and I was quickly scheduled to see an Apple Genius.

When my Genius arrived, I repeated my story, handed over my iPhone, and then she rushed it away to the back room.

Five minutes later, she reappeared and confirmed that my iPhone had still been clogged with plenty of pocket lint.

But no more.

She handed back my iPhone with a big smile.
(No charge)

I asked if there was a better way to take care of this nuisance at home. She suggested using a paper clip instead of a pin, because the larger circumference of the point could grab more lint.

But really… I knew my solution moving forward.

Cleared for Duty
Can you think of any personal tech you regularly rely on more than your smartphone?


I say everyone should schedule an annual ‘De-linting’ iPhone Check Up with the Apple Store.

Your fellow train commuters will thank you, and you won’t end up on anyone’s Blacklist!

%d bloggers like this: