At Home with Tech

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

Tag: parenting tech tips

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.

Why You Need to Open Tech Gifts Before Your Kids Do

If you’re planning on figuring out your kid’s new RC vehicles and drones right after “Thank you, Daddy!” you may be delirious from all of your shopping. Here’s what you should do instead…

Do you know how to use the tech toys you’re giving your children this year? If you think you’re just going to wing it on the big day, I’ve got a report to share from the front lines of parenting…

It doesn’t matter how technically savvy you think you are. I’ve got a third grader, and let me tell you, his tech is already getting complicated for me.

And even if the toys aren’t that complex to operate, misuse could actually get a little dangerous (if you’re to believe the instructions).

Parenting Tech Tip:
So, do yourself a favor and block some personal time to first teach yourself how the toys actually work. Does that mean you’ve got to unbox each item, play with it and then re-box it?

That’s absolutely right.

Let me share a couple of my own experiences…

New RC Vehicle for My 8 Year Old
This year, I bought another radio controlled car for my boy:

I picked it up our local hobby store… Horizon Hobby.
(How quaint, right?)

I unboxed the mini monster and took a peek at its instruction booklet.
(How hard could it be to operate another RC vehicle?)

Well, it may not be difficult to use, but apparently it’s easy to operate incorrectly. Here are some of the warnings that jumped off of the page…

  • Charge for 9 hours
  • Do not charge overnight
  • Do not leave unattended while charging
  • Do not charge battery in the chassis or battery will overheat
  • Do not lick any parts or death may result
  • Do not run the car slowly or else it will overheat.
    (Must operate as speedily as possible?)

Are they serious?
(All of this reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch…
“Happy Fun Ball.”)

I signed off on what seemed like twenty pages of disclaimers and took the Seismic out for a quick spin…
It is fast… much better suited for outdoor operation in our driveway.

And yes, I’ll pay attention to how its battery is charged, although I’m not going to stare at it for nine hours.

More Drone Flying Lessons
This year, it was time to buy another starter drone for my eight year old.

Three years ago, I purchased this starter quadcopter:

The Inductrix is really tiny, and I had hoped it would be simple enough for my boy to learn with. But when I first tried it out myself, I found it difficult to control and couldn’t keep it hovering in one place.
(I should admit I’d never tried flying a drone before.)

As a result, I actually delayed giving the Inductrix to my young Padawan.

When he finally tried it out last year, he immediately demonstrated decent piloting competencies.
(Must be due to all of that flying he does in Minecraft creative mode on our iPad)

Still, the micro drone would inevitably crash into a wall or the ceiling. My boy loved the Inductrix, but it could only take so many impacts in our family room before one of the propellers stopped working…

Yes, I took it in for repair, but when another propeller stalled, I decided to look for a more durable model that was easier to control…

This year, I went with another Horizon Hobby model…

This quadcopter is bigger than the Inductrix, and it also sports an onboard camera. While the photo and video capability is cool, I’m not at all interested in that… yet.
(Remember, I’m just looking to keep the darn thing in the air!)

So, late one night… I quietly unboxed the Vizo and charged up the battery.
(Yes, the instructions contained battery warnings too.)

And guess what…?
This one is much easier to use…

It’s more stable while airborne and also comes with auto take-off and landing modes.

Essentially… you press a button, and the drone takes off and hovers a foot off the ground. You fly it from there. Similarly, when you want to land… you position the drone just above the floor and press the ‘land’ button. The drone descends slowly and the blades stop turning after touch down.
(It’s a real game-changer.)

I’m sure purists would say that this auto feature masks the heavy lifting of really figuring out how a quadcopter operates, but I’m okay with a little ‘help’ at this stage of the learning curve.

My Inner Child
I’m not sure what it says when I’m gifting my son toys that I can’t operate without some training. I’m sure some would say it has nothing to do with me, and that he should simply figure it out for himself.
(It’s the gift of building self-reliance.)

But what fun is that when we’re playing together?
So again, is this really more about him… or me?

That’s a deep question for another time…

Batteries Not Included
Suffice it to say, this daddy needed to secretly take some driving and flying training to ensure that he was ready to help his son enjoy his new tech toys this year.
(I highly recommend the prep.)

Just another way that as a parent… you’ve got to keep up.

And yes, there are, in fact, instruction manuals.

How Parents Can Take Control of Notifications on the Family iPad

If your children are starting to read iMessages on your iPad or iPhone that aren’t meant for them, it’s probably time to change the settings in your device. Here’s how…

So, my almost eight-year-old is playing Minecraft on my iPad in the living room, and he turns to me and says, “Mommy is writing me a message!”


I’m a little alarmed, because even though my wife wasn’t at home, she never uses electronic communications with our son and certainly not using something like Minecraft.
(You can probably guess that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about who he will be interacting with when he eventually engages in multiplayer video games online.)

I jump over to take a look.


It’s a simple text message banner that popped up at the top of the iPad screen from my wife to me about camp plans for our second grader this summer.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the Minecraft platform.

The Early Taste of a Texting Stream
My wife referenced our son’s name in the text, which is why he mistakenly thought it was written to him.

Yes, he can read now, but he got confused by the style of my wife’s texting banter with me.
(Plus, it’s probably one of the first texts that he’s encountered.)

So, this wasn’t really a problem other than an iMessage to my iPhone also showing up on my linked iPad that my son happened to be using.

Ironically that feature is supposed to be a nice iOS bonus provided by Apple.
But it was clearly time to turn the option off on my iPad.

Our son doesn’t need to be privy to the Lester family texting stream…
(Well, at least… not yet!)

How to Turn Off Pop-Up Text Banners
Using iOS 11.3 –

  • Tap the ‘Settings’ gear icon
  • Tap ‘Notifications’
  • Tap ‘Show Previews’
    You’ll probably find that it’s defaulted to ‘Always’
  • Tap and change to ‘Never’

But that’s not all you have to do…

There is No Global ‘Off’ Switch
I decided to visit the Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal to gather a little more advice.

An Apple Genius told me that you also have to individually turn off each app from proactively trying to send you banner notifications on your device.
(He mentioned that detail to me several times. I imagine I’m not the only one who might be confused by the extra step.)

To ‘completely’ halt your iMessage banners…
While in Notifications, go down your list of apps until you find ‘Messages.’

  • Tap ‘Messages’
  • In ‘Allow Notifications,’ slide the little circle to the ‘off’ position

And that will finally get the job done!

Now, you’ve got to repeat this step for your other apps…

There are a few other settings to consider if you want to be a little less draconian about muffling your iPad or iPhone, but I was satisfied with hobbling my iPad to keep my young Padawan away from the constant buzz of the Net. My iPhone was providing that Borg-like public service to me quite sufficiently, thank you very much.
(I know I’m mixing my science fiction metaphors.)

But then I began to think about my own experience with my iPhone’s many chatty apps…

Less is More
After considering the issue for a moment, I decided that I was, in fact, being interrupted by way too many banners from apps wanting to share ‘critical’ news.

Perhaps I should take a few minutes to review all of them and silence the ones I didn’t want to hear from all of the time.

And that’s exactly what I did!

Of course, I kept ‘Messages’ fully activated, but I did turn off ‘Repeat Alerts’ from ‘Once’ to ‘Never.’
(I usually get it the first time.)

You Can’t Hide Your Child from the Connected World Forever
Now, I find that my iPhone is a little less ‘disruptive.’

My iPad shares nothing from the outside world with my son.

And I fully acknowledge that this is only the beginning.
It’s a long journey ahead for me and my boy.
(I know that as a parent, I can’t keep the ‘off switch’ activated forever…)

My son has asked for multiplayer mode in Minecraft for his 8th birthday… so he can play remotely with his friends.

To be continued…

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