Failing at 12 Is Better Than Failing at 42

"We need to become velvet bricks," Elmore says, "soft on the outside and hard on the inside and allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults."

via www.huffingtonpost.com

Despite the sensational headline ("Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?") this is a good article and as parents it's something to be mindful of. I try to praise hard work over "smarts," but letting my kids fail on their own (especially in school) is proving to be more difficult than I thought.

Kids aren't the only ones who have to keep trying hard.

CES 2012: iCade iOS Video Game Controllers

CES_2012_iON_iCade_Product_Line

I wrote yesterday over at The Gentlemen of Gaming about how underwhelmed I was towards video game stuff at CES this year. In fact, the only stand-out thing I saw was the iPod, iPhone and iPad game controllers from iON Audio. The standard iCade has been out for a year now. (You may have seen it at your local Best Buy - it's the miniature video game cabinet that turns your iPad into a little old-school arcade system.) This year they've got three more, the best of which is the iCade Mobile (shown below).

The iCade Mobile is a Bluetooth controller for an iPhone or an iPod Touch. You just put your device in the center, pair it with the controller and you can play any compatible game. Currently there are 100 games that are compatible, but there is a public SDK out there for developers to use so they are expecting more games available by launch. It felt substantial and seemed like a pretty cool thing, especially if you've got a son or daughter who are big iOS gamers. At an MSRP of $79.99 it's not cheap, but it's a lot cheaper than a PSP or a Nintendo DS, especially if your kid already has an iPod Touch.

iCade Mobile, available for $79.99 in May from iON Audio.

(Oh, and for you parents of girls like me, Toys R Us is going to have an exclusive pink version so look out for that too.)

CES 2012: GoPro Wi-Fi BacPac + Remote

CES_2012_GoPr0_Wi-Fi_BacPac

I am really, really enjoying my GoPro video camera. For $200 to $300 you can get a great 1080p video camera that you can put almost anywhere. It will also take time lapse images which [I've been really enjoying lately][youtu]. At CES this year GoPro announced a really sweet accessory for their cameras.

The Wi-Fi BacPac + Wi-Fi Remote connects your GoPro camera to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch through a Wi-Fi network it creates. Once connected, you can see the live video output of the camera as well as control what it's doing.

It will also connect up to 50 GoPros at a time, giving you the ability to put these small cameras all over a shooting area and control them remotely.

Controlling 50 cameras might not be the use-case of the average person, but putting the camera in a hard to reach place and then controlling it with your iPhone opens up all kinds of possibilities creatively. Imagine putting the camera on your kid's skateboard helmet and then watching what he's doing live from his point of view. Or imagine attaching the camera to the hood of your car and turning it on periodically during long road trips. There is huge potential for cool things to do with it.

The WiFi BacPac will be available March of 2012 for around $100. It will work with the new HD Hero 2 cameras, as well as the HD Hero with limited capabilities (you can control the camera but you won't get live video streaming with the HD Hero).

Check it out at GoPro.com

CES_2012_GoPro_Wi-Fi_BacPac_Poster

Gee Mr. President, Thanks for the Christmas Card (Finally).

Obama_christmas_card_2011

I don't usually get political here on Modern Day Dad, but this isn't really a post about politics. Rather, it's a post more about politeness than politics.

In 2008 I was a big supporter of President Obama's campaign. For the first time in my life not only had I contributed money towards a campaign, but I had also volunteered. Even though it was a small amount of time (knocking on doors on election day), I enjoyed the victory because I felt like I had contributed something more than just my vote. That night I received the thank you email like everyone else, and I was happy.

That Christmas however I did expect a holiday card from the President, but not because of anything he did.

A few years previously my wife and I had moved into a new house, and that Christmas we received a card with a signed picture of (then) president George W. Bush. We hadn't ever given money and were both registered Democrats but somehow we got on some list. And even though he was barking up the wrong tree (politically speaking), I had to admit it was nice getting something in the mail from the President of the United States.

But in 2008 a card didn't come from the President. The country was in rough shape and I figured that they probably had more important things to spend money on than cards to political supporters.

Then in 2010 I volunteered for the Harry Reid reelection campaign here in Nevada. This time I spent many, many more hours and was fortunate to use some of my own skills for the benefit of the campaign. It was a great experience, and while I remain grateful to the campaign for the opportunity I never received any sort of formal thank you from the Senator or the campaign. A simple form letter would have been a nice thing to get, but by now my expectations had kind of been set by the Obama campaign so I wasn't really that surprised.

Then this year at Christmas I got, for the first time ever, a Christmas card from the first family (pictured above). Coincidentally, the 2012 reelection campaign is starting up and they're looking for more campaign donations. I don't mind the transparent marketing, but getting a Christmas card from someone only when they want something (and not when they don't) is insulting. Do they honestly think a holiday card this year is going to get me to contribute more money? Because believe me, it's had the opposite effect.


As a post script, I also happen to know it wasn't always this way in Democratic politics. In 1966 my mother (then a young college student) went out to the airport in St. Louis to see off Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Some photographers from Life Magazine were there, and my mother signed a photo release form. The pictures were never used, but few weeks later the Senator's office sent her a form letter thanking her, and underneath the signature Senator Kennedy himself wrote "Many thanks."

That's what I call good politics.

Talking "God" with Your Kids

Nytimes_child-cross_teetertotter

Discussions of God and the beliefs that different people have has been a topic of conversation with my kids this holiday season. Not at my instigation mind you, but at the prompting of a table-mate my kindergartner has at school. And while I was unprepared for these conversations at the outset, I'm fairly happy with how they've turned out.

Today a friend of mine pointed me towards a great article in the NY Times in October 2010, the crux of which is that kids can handle the messy truth and contradictions of life. Which is shaping up to be my experience too.

For a Child, God's Back Story by Bruce Feiler | NYTimes.com [via Room 421]

Thank you Steve Jobs.

It's hard not to dip into hyperbole about a man who's life is so extraordinary it essentially defies hyperbole. But I really can't think of a contemporary person (whom I've never met) that has had more of an effect on my daily life than Steve Jobs. His death is a great loss and, selfishly I suppose, I hope that his legacy survives long enough for us to transition into a world void of his unrelenting drive to make things better for everyone.

I think the best way to remember him is to go back and watch his 2005 Stanford commencement address.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Making a Baby the New Way

There is a really outstanding piece I found yesterday about one man's experiences with IVF, fertility clinics and what it means for the guy who has to go through it. Intensely personal and incredibly well written, it's very much worth a read for any father or father-on-deck. Actually, it's worth a read for anyone.

The Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Paul Ford [TheMorningNews.com via Daring Fireball]

(And once you've read the article, don't miss the cherry on top.)

The Kind of Hypocrite You Can Live With

I was listening to Internet superstar Merlin Mann's podcast Back to Work on the treadmill this morning and he said something that really, really resonated with me. He was talking about dealing with the unreasonable demands that people (and the world around us) place on us every day, and he said this:

I think in some ways becoming an adult is (or really in particular a parent) learning to become an adult means becoming the kind of hypocrite you can live with.

While this isn't exclusive to parents, it wasn't until I had kids that I really had to deal with the conflicts and compromises that I had been quietly been ignoring in my life. Basically, it wasn't until then that I started to realize it was OK to become the kind of hypocrite I could live with.

The Hypocrite You Can Live With, Episode #33 of Back to Work on the 5 by 5 Network (quote is 35:15 in).

A Dad vs. Zombies in the Dead Island Trailer

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZqrG1bdGtg]

 

I'm a sucker for zombie stuff (is that weird to say?) and I'm also a fan of video games. But as a father, the trailer for the upcoming Dead Island (releasing on September 6) kind of got to me. Even though it's kind of a cliché (even in the world of zombies), and even though it uses some tried-and-true techniques to draw the viewer in (reverse time, slow motion) it's still the best trailer I've ever seen for a video game. And I say that because it's the only trailer I thought about the next day completely unprompted.

I don't know if that's because I'm a Dad or not, but it's worth watching I think. Just don't watch it with your kids. Now I'm wondering if the game can possibly be as good as the trailer. Which is what they want I guess.

(And if you haven't figured out what's going on after two times through, you can check out a re-edit in chronological order here.)

Dead Island on XBOX 360, $59.99 at Amazon.com

Hello Kitty Clock Radio and CD Player - My Daughter’s Review

Hello_kitty_clock_radio_cd_player

My seven year-old daughter was needing an alarm clock for her bedside - not because she needs to set an alarm yet, but mostly so she could play CDs and listen to the radio on something that wasn’t a hand-me-down. The Hello Kitty clock radio had all the things we wanted (alarm, CD player and radio) so we decided to try it out and review it for Modern Day Dad.

This is what she thought of it:

The clock radio looks really cool in my bedroom because it’s pink and has Hello Kitty on it. I like that it has a radio and a CD player. The best thing about this alarm clock is that they put all of those things together. The clock is very easy to read (because it’s digital) and sometimes in the middle of the night I think to myself “What time is it?” so I look at the clock. It has an alarm too, but I don’t use it.

I do not like how you change the radio stations. It only has a little dial on the side and it’s hard to use. The CD player is easy to use - you just open it and then press the power button. The sound of the clock radio is good.

I think the people who should buy this are girls who don’t have a radio or an alarm clock and like Hello Kitty.

When given the choice between something that will function reliably and something branded with a cartoon character, most kids will usually pick the thing with the cartoon character on it. (And my kids are certainly no exception.) While the Hello Kitty “am/fm stereo dual alarm clock radio with top loading cd player” is certainly something you buy because it has Hello Kitty on it; for a kid’s clock radio it seems well built and more than reliable.

Hello Kitty Stereo CD Alarm Clock Radio, $69.99 at Sanrio.com (this version isn't up on Amazon.com yet)

The Smurfs Dance Party for Wii - My Kid's Review

Smurfs_dance_party

 

Currently my children have Smurf fever. In the early part of the summer they went through a mild obsession with the Smurfs iPad game and spent weeks trying to farm enough fruit and flowers to earn Sumurfette. The iPad game also did a pretty good job of introducing them to all the characters as well as hyping the movie (which releases today - 7/29). They even used their Build-A-Bear gift cards from their birthdays to get the “exclusive” Smurfette and Clumsy Smurf. Trust me, I’m pretty Smurfed-out these days.

Their favorite video game on the Wii however is “Just Dance 2”  - a dancing game where you dance along to pop songs (either by yourself or with friends) and the Wii manages to give you points based on how well you are following along. It’s a great game -  fun to play and probably funnier to watch someone else playing. And the fact that they are up ad moving around kind of assuages the parent’s guilt that they are letting their kids play a video game when they could be outside doing something. Kind of.

So when I got the opportunity to review the new Smurf video game for the Wii - “The Smurfs Dance Party” it seemed like a perfect fit.

The game is basically a Smurf version of the “Just Dance” video games. There is a Smurf on the screen (all characters from the movie of course - including Gargamel) and you follow along and dance with them to songs from the movie. There are a couple of other modes - a story mode that basically tells the whole story of the movie (apparently my kids have no problem with spoilers) and a mode where you can dance to all the songs in one giant loop.

My girls (ages 5 and 7) have been playing it for a few days now and they are far more qualified to review the game than I. Here’s what they had to say about it.

My 7 year old:

This video game is almost like Just Dance 2. It has different Smurfs that dance, and there are also lyrics that you can read along with the music. The music is cool because it has songs that people know, but with Smurf words in it. Also, each Smurf has their own special song.

The only thing I didn’t like about the game was in some of the songs Gargamel dances instead of the Smurfs, and I thought that Gargamel looked kind of creepy. I’m not going to blame the actor though.
I liked the game a lot, and I think it’s just as good as Just Dance 2.

My 5 year old:

I liked the game because it was fun. There was a lot of dancing in it, and it was kind of like exercise - kind of like a Zumba thing. There aren’t many songs with Smurfette by herself, and I wish there were more. I also didn’t like Gargamel because he was kind of creepy. I liked the songs because if you’re doing one player, the person who is waiting can sing along to the songs with the person who is dancing.

This game would be good for people who like Smurfs and Wii. But if you don’t like to dance you should not get this game.

So there you have it. I sure didn’t think they would like it as much as Just Dance 2, mostly because the songs are (to me at least) way more annoying. There are only a few songs that people would recognize and a lot of filler - songs that seem written for the game. But my Smurf-crazy kids didn’t seem to mind at all. And when I had them load in the Alvin and the Chipmunks game for a comparison, it’s obvious that a lot more effort went into The Smurfs Dance Party.

Now I can only hope the movie is also better than the Squeakquel.

The Smurfs Dance Party, $33.24 (and almost sold out??) from Amazon.com

The Big Book of How - Facts and Experiments for Summer Vacation

Bigbookofhow

[This review is the first post co-written with my six (almost seven) year-old daughter. This summer we're doing all sorts of new things, not the least of which is helping Dad with some blogging...]

The Big Book of HOW from Time Magazine's series "Time for Kids" is not only about how things work, but also about how to do things yourself. Imagine a book full of questions that a young adult might ask, like "How were the pyramids built?" or "How do you prepare for an earthquake?" Except in addition to the answers, there are experiments (or "crafts" as my daughter called them) to illustrate how the things work in real-life. Here's what she had to say:

This book would be good for kids six to twelve years old. Adults can read the book with them also, and they can do experiments with their children. The book is very colorful, with all different kinds of pictures. It is also big with 181 pages and lots of facts. My favorite part of the book is all the crafts and experiments that look like fun. One of the things I learned from the book is to make sure you have plenty of food and water when a hurricane is about to strike. I do not live near the ocean, so I don't have to worry about hurricanes!

I have to say, I don't have anything bad to say about this book. I think this book would be fun in school and on summer vacation because it has lots of fun things to do. If you're curious about how things work in the world, you might like to buy this book. It might not be a good library book however, because once you start reading it you might not want to give it back.

Time for Kids Big Book of HOW, $12.21 from Amazon.com

Two Girls Are Best

My last post for Man of the House is about a study that said the family configuration that results in the "happiest" family was two girls. As this happens to be the configuration of my own happy family, I had some thoughts of my own.

My editor changed what I originally wrote a bit, replacing my final paragraph with another. I still like mine better, so I thought I'd include it here:

I can't say what it's like to have more than two kids and I definitely don't know what it's like to be the father of a boy, but having two girls is pretty great. Before we had our second daughter I used to say to people that we had the first child for us, and the second child for our first. And while there is some truth to that, the older they get I'm realizing that it's the dynamic between the two that makes everything in our family more fun. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Are Two Daughters the Key to a Happy Family?  [manofthehouse.com]

Tuck in Your Shirt and Put on a Belt

via manofthehouse.com

My latest post on Man of the House is kind of a rebuttal to a post from a few months ago telling guys NOT to tuck-in their shirts. I really don't agree.

But perhaps more importantly, I also used it as an opportunity to complain about the one thing that bothers me the most about how some men dress. If your pants have belt loops and you're a guy, then you should ALWAYS wear a belt.

Always.

Tuck In Your Shirt and Put On A Belt  [Man of the House.com]

Barbie's Dream Car Is Really Dad's Dream Car

Barbie_dream_car

Six-Year-Old Daughter: Dad, you know that Barbie convertible that Santa brought me last Christmas?

Me: Yeah. Sure.

Six-Year-Old Daughter: There's a problem with it. None of the boy dolls fit in it. Not Ken or any of the princes.

Four-Year-Old Daughter: Yeah! Them legs don't fit!!

Six-Year-Old Daughter: It's kind of a problem.

Me: Remind me to get you one when you're sixteen.

Barbie Glam Convertible, $24.75 at Amazon.com

The 5 Best iPhone Camera Apps (So Far)

Iphone_photo_apps_May2011

Next to email, web browsing and text messaging, the best thing about the iPhone 4 is the camera. (I'd even put it above the iPod and voice calling functions.) It really has invigorated my "real" photography and has me thinking all the time about making something creative with photos in ways I never have before.

My latest posts on Man of the House detail what I think are the five best camera and/or photography apps on the iPhone right now. A few months ago the list would have been different, and I'm sure in a month or two it will be different again.

Camera+
Camera + is the best picture taking application on the iPhone (that isn't made by Apple). It's got lots of features but doesn't get in the way of getting to taking pictures quickly. A steal at $0.99.

TiltShift Generator
Since I've written this piece, other apps have incorporated "tilt shift" functionality (namely Instagram), but this one is still one of my favorites. Blurring the focus on elements of an image can make your iPhone's camera look like you've got a thousand dollar lens on it.

Plastic Bullet Camera
The best app for making your iPhone's camera look like a crappy camera is Plastic Bullet. Like the the crappy plastic cameras it's very random, and often very awesome. And i's made by people who make insanely expensive professional video cameras, and it shows.

ToonPaint
ToonPaint turns your photo into an illustration. Even though I wrote about this app on Modern Day Dad already I had to include it in the top five. It's still lots of fun to use.

Instagram
I look at Instagram every day, and it's getting to the point where if I take a cool picture, I'm more likely to post it to Instagram than Facebook. I couldn't have imagined that would be true six months ago. It's got a great community, fun filters to put on your photos and lots of inspiring images to look at. And if you're on Instagram too look me up. I'm "thechrisford" in Instagram.

How to Raise Boys That Read? Maybe Start By Parenting.

[Note: This is a post I originally wrote a month ago for another website. They changed their minds about it, so I'm posting it here.]

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

via online.wsj.com

Twice in my Facebook feed this morning people have posted links praising this opinion piece in the WSJ about the problem of getting boys to read books. Written by Thomas Spence (a book publisher in Dallas) it tries to explain the reasons for the apparent disparity in reading proficiency between boys and girls since 1992 (as stated in a study he mentions but doesn't link to). In the piece Mr. Spence points to what he believes are the two main culprits, books that pander to boys through "[their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor" and, wait for it, video games.

As for the gross-out humor, his argument is that by allowing boys to read books that they think are funny (apparently Mr. Spence has never laughed at a fart in his life) the education system isn't teaching them "manners and taste." He even uses a pretty rich quote from the venerable C.S. Lewis, who talks about how the "little human animal" must "be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful." (As an aside, I haven't read something so utterly condescending in a long while.)

Are fart books really turning our boys into idiot zombies?

Am I really expected to believe that in C.S. Lewis' time there was nothing of dubious literary merit for people to read and enjoy? There has always been things written poorly for cheap laughs or thrills, and somehow "literature" continued to thrive and societies maintained social norms. 

Having never personally read any of this newest class of books that "pander to boys' untutored tastes" I can't comment on their merits or lack thereof. But take a second and look at the roster of books Mr. Spence has published. While most all seem to be politically conservative treatises about "the Tyrrany of Judges", How to Beat the Democrats, and The Left Illusion, none of them are books for young readers. So is he an expert worthy of a WSJ opinion piece, or is there some other social agenda going on?

And then there's the old "let's blame video games for everything" argument. To back his conclusions up, the author cites one study from a Psychology professor at Dennison University that purports a causal relationship between video games and academic performance. One study is all is needed apparently, because "Science has spoken" (capitalization is all his too by the way). And the magic solution to fix boys, the education system and America? Take away the video games.

While I have to assume Mr. Spence's heart is in the right place, I think he's got it all wrong. The way to get boys' reading proficiency back up, or make them have better manners, or appreciate some of the truly amazing things humanity has created is to act like a parent. And this doesn't go just for boys by the way, it's also true for girls. I see no problem with allowing children to read so called "gross-out" books if they want, but you have to encourage them to read other stuff too. In my own life, my oldest daughter picks books she'd like to read, but I also choose books for her as well, typically the books I remember reading and loving when I was young. And I haven't had a complaint yet.

The same goes for video games. Act like a responsible parent and limit the amount of television, video games, sports, reading or anything that might be putting your children's lives out of balance. If your son isn't reading books and playing video games for three hours a day, then cold-turkey might be the way to go. But to say it's the fault of the video games is absurd.

And be an example for your kids as well - maybe your son isn't reading because you don't read. When is the last time you took your kids to the library or talked to them about a book you read? There are all kinds of reasons why boys might not read as much or as well as girls, but "I submit" the root of it isn't the video games or the subject matter of the books, it's the parents.

How to Raise Boys Who Read [WSJ.com]


New Canvas Summertime Shoes from Lugz

Sparks_lugz

 

A few weeks ago I was sent a pair of these new canvas shoes from Lugz for review. I've never reviewed clothing before, let alone footwear, but they looked pretty cool so I decided to try them out.

The pair I got were in the "Sparks" style, which basically is a casual canvas sneaker. Lugz calls it a "Moc toe design"  but to me they look like a low-cut summertime version of Clarks' Desert Boots. You can get them in eight different color combinations, but I got dark tan/white which looks good with jeans (and I'm hoping shorts when the weather gets better).

After wearing them for a while, the only issue I had with them really is that they are about a half-size too big. It wasn't that big of a deal for me, but there was a little more room in the toe than I normally would have wanted. (Actually, the Lugz website now suggests ordering a 1/2 size smaller than normal, so I guess my pair wasn't an aberration). Being decidedly casual, there isn't a lot of support in the insole so I probably wouldn't wear them if I was planning on walking any long distances or being on my feet for a long time. But for shoes to kick around during the summertime in, they seem great.

Sparks by Lugz, $39.99 from Lugz.com. Or check out all of their new canvas shoes.