Raising Tech Kids: Kindle Fire and FreeTime

Kindle Fire with FreeTimeBoth the girls received Kindle Fire’s for Christmas. They had not asked for them but I was looking to make an active move towards purchasing gifts that I felt hold more value and would be used more often than random toys and bling encrusted junk that just gets left around for Mama to pick up.

I had stumbled across a promotional price (less than a DS and way less than a ipod)  the week of Black Friday and snapped two up. It was total surprise and ended up being their favorite gift.

In early December Amazon announced the release of FreeTime – a kid zone type app that would (with my prime membership) allow a number of pre-approved kid friendly items to be at their disposal without me having to pay a la cart for them.


And it is, although it’s very clear that it’s a first generation product at this point.

In spirit –  the FreeTime app rocks. Here is what I love about it.

  • It’s a flat monthly rate (about the cost of 1 book), no begging me for every game or video or book
  • Once they are in it, they are locked in it. They cannot access content outside of it without me unlocking the machine
  • I can choose to add content from outside FreeTime into their FreeTime profile, so if you let your kid on Facebook for example, or maybe download a Judy Moody Book,  that can be added and they are still locked in.
  • You can set up multiple profiles for different kids with different additional content – my oldest is allowed some things that my youngest is not. (i.e. certain Judy Blume books)

But like I said, it’s clearly the first pass at the idea. I think there is a great deal of improvements that can be made and I look forward to seeing the products get better and better.

(Amazon – want to hire me to be a consultant on some of this? Here I’ll give you the first ideas for free )

  • We should be able to segment the content by age level. It’s all in one big pile right now and it’s hard to browse through the entire haystack.
  • Amazon suffers from what most internet app designers do when approaching “Kid friendly apps” – they are totally caught up with Pre-Schoolers and forget there are older kids out there. The majority of the book and video content is focused on the 5 and under crowd and not so much the 6-12 age group. Hint to the content curators – no kid who’s started Kindergarten wants that much Dora… Pull back on the Dora! Nothing against Dora but OMG there is so much of it! You need a Dora filter or something.
    • Especially books, you need more books that aren’t beginning reader books. It’s very heavy on the early reader crowd.Hard to find things for say 4th-6th graders.
  • Make it easier for me to admin. It wasn’t that easy to set up and seriously if I’m tweaking the settings I have to put in my parent password every three steps.
  • Love idea of being able to limit the game time, video time, and book time separately – that was smart. But how much smarter would it have been to give even finer controls, like time periods. i.e. no games during designated times for example my kids do their homework from 4-6pm.
  • Better yet –give us the option to gamify it. Let them earn more game or video time by reading … let me set the parameters maybe every 25 pages or 25 minutes of active reading = they earn the  same amount of game or video time.
  • Allow limited internet access to approved sites. My kids get web based homework assignments from school on sites like IXL.com and www.spellingcity.com and they love doing them on their Kindle’s but I have to let them out of FreeTime to do it. Let me approve websites, like I can approve purchased content.  (also these site have apple apps but not android apps? Why is that?)

So here is my favorite story of Kids with Kindle’s so far… One night little FancyPants was sitting beside me in bed watching videos or playing games or whatever, and I was reading or watching videos or whatever on mine (yes I have one too – older gen 1 Fire). I had on headphones. She taps me on the arm and I pull off the headphones and she asks me this question, “What’s up with the guy in the videos that takes his clothes on an off all the time?”

I tried to hide my panic while I desperately tried to remember if I somehow forgot to put her back in the FreeTime app last time I was doing something and thinking she somehow got into something on the Prime Instant Video stuff I have access to. Very calmly I ask.. “What man, honey?”

“You know,” she says “He’s always doing this (mimes removing a jacket) when he comes and goes.  And his shoes, he always taking his shoes off”

At that point a light bulb went off.. “Do you mean Mr. Rogers?” (Oh thank gawd!)

“Yes!” she says. “What’s up with that!?!”  And then I realized that my kids being daycare and pre-k type kids – they never see Mr. Rogers. PBS puts on a little Sesame Street on Sprout at night but never Mr. Rogers. He’s a day time fellow. The Free Time app has what looks like several season of his show in the video area.

“OMG!” I told her – “Do you love the Neighborhood of Make Believe or what? Henrietta Pussycat was my absolute favorite!” – at which point her eyes got wide and she enthusiastically nodded and we spent the next 2 hours watching Mr. Rogers episodes together – totally fast forwarding to the part where Trolly comes in.

* Note, the products discussed in this blog post were/are paid for in full by myself. I was not paid to write this in anyway.


Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do

I’m considering making that my new tag line.

This week we reached a terrible milestone for the Terrible Thing That Happened. It was inevitable and it has been coming for sometime now. But that didn’t make it any less awful.

It didn’t change my day to day life in any particular way other than to solidify what has been in the works so I was surprised at it’s depressive effects. I guess it’s just one of those things that no matter how intellectually ready you are, emotionally you never can be.

I’ve been talking to the girls a lot lately about “hard” – learning to ride a bike is hard, not talking in class is hard. My answer that came out of nowhere a few weeks ago before I knew I was even saying it was “Hard never stopped me from doing anything ever before, It just means try harder.”

I shocked myself with that one. Then I sat back and realized it’s true. I’ve never been the sort of person who did not rise to the challenge. I never let “hard” deter me from something I really wanted.(even when I was better off not wanting some of those things)

And so this is what I’ve been doing to remind myself that I can get through this. That I can bring my children through it also. Hard never stopped me before.

It just meant try harder.

Do more.


Instagram-ing with my kids….

My Cat On Instragram

The cat is not amused
– instragram photo by FancyPants

I adore Instagram. It’s fun and silly and the only thing I would change is I wish there was some kind of “retweet”ish sort of thing so I could share photos I that really tickle me with other people but whateves  – love it. And here’s the thing –  so do my kids.

They both have their own Instagram accounts (via their ipods) and so do a lot of their friends actually. I follow them all. The pictures they take of each other are sweet and silly and show me that side that we don’t necessarily see when it’s just them and their friends. And also there are a lot of pictures of their pets. Lots and lots of pictures of their pets LOL.

And Instagram is just so simple and spontaneous that somehow I don’t feel creepy for following my kids friends there.  I admit that while I keep an eye on and monitor frequently my daughter’s Facebook account, I don’t “friend” her friends and I really don’t want to. But on Instragram where it’s just pictures and a small comment or two.. it feels fun, and non-invasive, and oddly supportive.

I like that so far it’s been a sort of soft spot launching pad for online etiquette and social media common sense. We talked about what kinds of pictures were acceptable and what weren’t and what to do if you saw something that made you uncomfortable. I like that their security is simple  – it’s all locked up or not at all. So no one “follows” them that we don’t discuss and approve together … “Do you know this person in real life and how?” is what we use to decide.

And their pictures crack me up. And some are surprisingly beautiful. I love seeing the artful and creative side it nurtures.

So what about you? Are your kids instagramming?

We are Never, Ever Getting Back Together….

154035382In the last year our family income has been severely reduced, by severe, I mean by about 2/3rds. Serious belt tightening was in order.

Some of the first things to get cut were the obvious ones. The twice a month housekeeper,  the lawn fertilizer service etc.. Services I really valued and would like to have back one day if at possible. But for now, they just don’t fit my budget.

Here is the thing the lawn fertilizer service made it so hard to quit, I’ll never hire them back. They put high pressure sales people on the call who don’t like taking no for an answer, argued with me about stopping entirely, and in then end I had to hang up on them. And even though I was upfront about why I was stopping – I don’t have money to pay you – they continue to call to try and reactivate the service and send pounds and pounds of direct mail. They remind me weekly of my changed circumstances with their marketing and I will never, ever use them again.

I’m experiencing the digital marketing side of this game as I am working on keeping my New Year’s resolution going. Over the holiday break, when I wasn’t receiving much work based email, my inbox still was full to overflowing with junk mail and I realized just how much I delete in the course of a day without even realizing it or thinking about it. I guess since I’m in marketing I have that same compulsion to allow marketing to reach me that sales people feel to listen when someone is trying to sell them something.

So my New Year’s resolution I decided was to Unsubscribe myself from at least 3 emails a day until I was no longer receiving junk email from companies brands/sources that didn’t potentially help me do my job.

As a marketer I can’t believe how hard some companies make it to get off their lists. I’m glad the software we use doesn’t do that. (Believe me I’ve gone and checked just to make sure). Unsubscribing should be an easy one click transaction.

I shouldn’t have to tell you my email address back (you could be sending any number of brand aliases when you send to me, I have no idea what you use) and I shouldn’t have to tell you what lists I want on or off of. See that email I just clicked on – I want off that list right there. Make it happen.

Making it easy to stop doing business, especially in a time of dramatic change for someone, is an important part of re-winning their business. If are leaving you because they can’t afford you, release them and tell them you look forward to seeing them in better times. If they are going to a competitor, acknowledge whatever you did to let their business ship away and ask for a chance to be considered again when the problem is gone. Appreciate their feedback and make it easy.

If you’re really good at what you do, they will come back.

Proud Geek Mama Moment

Letting kids watch Back to the Future for the first time. When Marty pushes George out the way of the car, Puddin immediately gasps and turns to me to exclaim – “He just messed up time – just like Rose did (on Dr Who)!” and then proceeds to explain to her little sister why altering a fixed point in time threatens Marty’s very existence – correctly I might add.

The British Are Coming! Finally!

large_20130103-downton-306x-1357241170Wonder how many times that lines gets overused on blogs today. But like the rest of everyone everywhere, except right here, I’m over the moon excited that Downton Abby will be starting up in the US this weekend.  I have somehow managed to avoid any spoilers thus far – mostly I think by making it sure it stays out of my Tumblr – so I”ll be watching totally fresh.

I’m so excited to see Shirley MacClain take on the role of Cora’s mother and see if that wakes up Lady Cora a little bit. She is one of my least favorite characters because despite all the strong women on this show she is comes off as sort of an bubblehead mostly just pouting her way through scenes where she’s displeased. How that woman is supposed to have given birth and raised two daughters like Mary and Sybil is incomprehensible.  She’s supposed to be the Wallis Simpson style American Heiress who wanted a title too but Elizabeth McGovern just never takes here there.

I can’t wait to see Shirley MacClain mix it up with  – who’s character Rolling Stone descibed this way ” Lady Violet, a.k.a. the Dowager Countess, is to Downton Abbey what Mike is toBreaking Bad, Omar is to The Wire and Ben Linus is to Lost, and she’s only slightly less dangerous to cross than any of those guys.”

Also I’m hoping that whatever idiot wrote Sybil off to Ireland has been fired and that we’ll see her character coming back even stronger. Out of all the daughters she to me was the most interesting, Mary is fierce but predictable, and Edith is boring, mean and incredibly predictable – but Sybil is/was coming of age in the middle of the suffrage movement and that made her entirely unpredictable. Until some bonehead decided she needed a love interest and married her off to Ireland. Newflash – Sybil didn’t need a man!  If the actress needed time away I would have bought into her running off to Paris with the Lost Generation to watch bullfighting with Hemingway but I totally didn’t buy into her falling in love with the driver and raising babies and hiding in Ireland. She was posed to by Lady Duff not Cinderella.

Here’s hoping the Bates in jail storyline is wrapped quickly also – cause boring.

And here’s hoping for less O’Brien and Thomas – I know some love them and they are supposed to be villians and cause tension but ughhh. I just don’t love to hate them.

I adored the first season but the second season I think held back too much, it was almost as if they were scared of not repeating their success and so they did the typical sophomore let’s play it safe thing. We went from Turkish diplomats dying in the bed with the Earl’s unmarried daughters and having to be hauled out by in the middle of the night  to flower show showdowns. So come on Season 3 give us something juicy again!






Finding Real News: Is it possible on the internet?

As I sit here tagging pictures into the night, somewhere north of here Congress is supposed to be voting on this whole fiscal cliff thing. And as I flip back and forth during my uploading sessions to Facebook I’ve noticed a trend this evening. Only those friends who are the most partisan in their politics (either side) are the ones that are ranting unhappily, always unhappily, tonight.  Remarkably their rants – no matter what side – sound exactly the same, the word spineless is being thrown around a lot. And I’m thinking,  – isn’t that what we want right now, more of do-the-right-thing and less worrying about their spines?

But anyway that’s not really my point. This whole random set of thoughts brought to mind an opt-ed piece I read earlier today that digressed into an anti media rant (love when a media outlet has an anti media rant) but the point  being made was how we now consume only the news we want to hear, the news that agrees with us. And that has me thinking.

I’m certainly guilty of that. I don’t “read the paper” and I certainly don’t watch local news. (in this market it’s a joke). I even stopped watching cable news. I get my news from the internet. But you can’t read the internet cover to cover, so you have to pick and choose. You have to click. And by nature people click on the headlines that appeal to them. Headlines that reinforce what it is that they want to hear. The internet allows us to tune out a well rounded view of the issues.

Now granted you can do that in a newspaper too. No one forces you to read the whole thing. But there is something about being presented with a finite amount of manageable information that inspires most people to read the whole thing. They feel lazy if they don’t. Skipping around a daily paper feels like cheating. Skipping around the internet, that is just survival.

So in the new year I’m going to try and be more mindful about what I read. Try to seek out well rounded points of view that consider both sides of issues at hand.  I suspect the real trick will be to find those. In this world of SEO, it’s hard for the good guy to make it to the top of the list. In fact maybe that’s where I start.. ignore the front page of the internet. Assume anyone there is keyword loaded for one side or the other. Look deeper, farther down and find journalists, not editors, not opinion holders, not celebrities of any kind – but actual journalist who are writing well researched thoughtful pieces.

Do they still exist?



My Yearly Manifesto

I spent some time on New Year’s Day reviewing last year’s manifesto and deciding what to edit/change/work on. Heading into 2013 there is still much change and disruption on the horizon so most of the changes I made were subtle.  Many of these words are talismans for me throughout the year. Words like Brave and Shift, and I will continue to hold onto them in 2013. Others evolved, Forget became Forgive. That will be a challenge.

2013 Manifesto

New Year, New Blog

iStock_000021662203Small2013 will bring lots of changes for us. Some we will see coming, some I’m sure we will not.

One that I’ve planned though is moving this blog off Typepad where it’s been since I don’t know something like 2006 – I think I have archives back to 2008. I deleted the stuff prior in a weird decision that looking back I really don’t completely remember or understand but I think it had something to do with the fact that I felt the generally tone had been too snarky and well that’s just now what I wanted.

This year I’ve decided to be serious about reviving the blog. The first step is moving to WordPress.com – with longer term plans of moving to a hosted WordPress solution eventually.

So bear with me as I figure out what I’m doing around here. I’m not entirely sure how this work but I’m pretty sure I”ve gotten it all transferred over successfully.

So Yeah!

Happy New Year!