Watch my kids grow up in a supercut of my Vine videos

I never got around to blogging about Vine, Twitter’s service for making and sharing 6-second videos that loop endlessly. I meant to recommend it to parents as a way to capture moments with their kids, sort of like the moving photographs in Harry Potter.

Parents have plenty of other options now, like Instagram video, Apple Live Photos and the new Vine Camera for Twitter, but the old Vine is going away. For posterity, I downloaded all my old Vines and smashed them together in a big supercut on YouTube. I added some titles to help with context.

What I got was a vaguely arty 27-minute film about the last four years of my life. The best part, of course, is watching my kids grow up.

Continue reading Watch my kids grow up in a supercut of my Vine videos

An ironic iPhone Christmas miracle

The young woman at the Genius Bar said there was nothing more she could do. My daughter, 3, was sleeping awkwardly on my shoulder while my son, 5, fidgeted and looked around the Apple Store. It was his phone, a hand-me-down from me.

For $270-something, I could get a refurbished iPhone 5S to replace it. I also considered something fancier, like a new iPad Mini ($400), but that decision could wait. Dejected, we wandered around the open-air mall in a far-flung corner of town. I bought some Yankee Candles, and the kids spent their Halloween money on plushies at Hallmark.

The phone had died when it ran out of battery during an update. I had docked it on a clock radio that, it turns out, wasn’t charging. I tried to restore it using my home computer but kept getting an error. The Apple Store didn’t have any special tricks.

So I spent the month of November kicking around ideas to replace my son’s phone. He used to spend his screen time watching toy videos on YouTube. More recently, he has developed an interest in games like Batman Doodle Jump. He also has an eye for photography, and you can see some examples on my Instagram.

Kitt took this photo of me and Thor napping yesterday. Naturally I applied the Slumber filter.

A photo posted by Tim Agne (@timagne) on

The answer came on Black Friday: An Amazon Fire 7 tablet for $33. The add-on microSD card cost $15 but came with a $20 Shutterfly credit, so really it saved me five bucks I would have spent printing Christmas cards. I had to pull the trigger — how could we expect to survive holiday travel if one kid is device-less?

All this arrived in a Champ’s stocking on St. Nicholas Day, sort of a mini-Christmas that my family has always celebrated on December 6. Growing up, St. Nicholas Day usually meant a bunch of candy, a new toothbrush and, later, a new videogame to get us through to Christmas.

Nowadays, St. Nicholas usually brings movies, small toys, candy and new Christmas ornaments. I always wear my Krampus shirt the day before. I don’t expect tablets to be a regular thing.

The Amazon Fire 7 is a fine little screen for watching movies, TV shows and videos. Its interface is chained to the Amazon retail environment, and the only things you can share in the kid-friendly view are apps and digital media that you’ve purchased from Amazon, along with a dubious paid suite of entertainments called Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (I skipped this).

If my son logs into my grown-up account, he can watch and download Amazon Prime videos. I’m talking every episode of Batman: The Animated Series, which is still the best adaptation of Batman on any screen. I also found an easy workaround to download Google Play apps on the Fire tablet, but those only work in the grown-up view.

We haven’t played many games on the Fire 7 yet, but I don’t expect it to perform as well as the 3-year-old iPhone 5S. I doubt we’ll use its camera much. And I can’t bring myself to spend $20+ on a case for it (never mind what we spent on my wife’s iPad Smart Cover).

No sooner than we get this tablet, before I have time to sell my magnificent beard hair in order to buy my wife a watch chain, Apple rolls out a software update for iPhones. Just for the heck of it, I try to restore the old brick of an iPhone 5S that the Geniuses had declared dead.

I get the Apple logo. The white progress bar starts. I expect it to sputter, to throw an error code on my computer screen, but slowly it fills up. I flash back to the eve of my son’s second birthday, when I spent the night camped in a different outdoor mall to get that phone the moment it launched. My old, reliable 5S is back and ready for more Doodle Jump.

It’s a Christmas miracle. Or maybe a Krampus miracle.

I don’t know if the Amazon Fire 7 will replace the iPhone 5S as my son’s go-to device. These days, he seems to prefer our biggest TV, the Xbox One and LEGO Dimensions (a game I should write a whole post about).

And as much as I feel I should learn some kind of lesson here, it’s hard to regret spending only $28-ish on a tablet. Now it’s time to wrap up the Christmas shopping. Hey Siri, remind me to remove the fancy beard comb from my Amazon Wish List.

How the Xbox One saved Game of Thrones

Things aren’t going well in season 5 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. With the exception of Qyburn, the weirdo with the ever-expanding collection of twitching corpses and severed dwarf heads, all the characters are having a rough time.

In my living room, however, things are going great. I can hear every whispered line of dialogue without worrying that a loud sword clang or dragon screech or sex moan will wake the kids. What’s my secret? An Xbox One.

The most annoying character in every dramatic series used to be our TV’s volume bar. It would wiggle through every scene of Walking Dead or Gotham as my wife clenched the remote, twitchy thumb on the volume rocker, struggling to keep the voices audible while suppressing every gunshot, explosion or loud commercial. With unwavering vigilance, she persevered.

For me, it was a minor annoyance in what was otherwise the most relaxing part of my day. For her, though, it was work. She’s definitely the kind of working-mom lawyer who DOES NOT NEED MORE WORK. Continue reading How the Xbox One saved Game of Thrones

Destroy all technology and your parents will love you again

We babies of the ’80s didn’t have much competition for our parents’ undivided attention. Soap operas. Phil Donahue. Sometimes we had to cry a little louder so adults could hear us over their shoulder pads and through their perms. No problemo, as we used to say.

If my 11-month-old daughter could talk in sentences, she’d tell you kids today have it worse. Parents pull shiny toys out of their pockets and can spend an unlimited amount of time staring and tapping at the glowy part. The big TV plays whatever they tell it to. Sometimes it’s Umizoomi, which is great, but a lot of the time it’s grownups droning on in muted-trombone sounds. Like, gag me with a spoon.

So baby has a plan to win the attention war. She’s methodically testing our tech for weaknesses she can exploit. And she’s finding them.

Clever girl.
Clever girl.

Continue reading Destroy all technology and your parents will love you again

The parenting perils of Instagram

Lazy afternoon sunlight trickles through the dining-room windows and shines steely blue off the stainless appliances. Champ sits there in the kitchen, twisting the head of Big Batman, a “Dark Knight Rises” action figure aimed at adult collectors and probably unsafe for a toddler. I stealth-unlock my iPhone and crawl up next to him for a low-angle photo. This is going to make a great Instagram.

The final product of some dangerous Instagramming.

You should know about Instagram by now. It’s the service all the cool kids are using to square-off, stylize and share their best cameraphone photos.

I taught a journalism class last fall and devoted a large chunk of lecture to Instagram’s role in documenting Superstorm Sandy. Friends of mine interrupted a recent dinner party to make everyone watch an Instagram-themed Nickelback parody. Seriously, it’s everywhere.

Instagram is a big deal to me as a stay-at-home dad. I believe that if I can make my adorbz baby photos look hip enough, my childless friends won’t get sick of them and block me on Facebook. I rely on those friends for updates on things like limited-release beer and new movies, but my head would rainbow sparkle puppy explode if I kept all Champy’s cuteness to myself. Continue reading The parenting perils of Instagram

What new parents want in the iPhone 5

Apple is set to unveil the new iPhone today, and smartphone geeks are champing at the bit to hear more about what many are calling the “iPhone 5.” Rumors of a larger screen, 4G/LTE connectivity and redesigned earbuds may stoke the fanboys, but being full-time dad to a one-year-old has given me some different concerns.

First baby photo taken with iPhone 3GS camera.
This iPhone 3GS shot is the first photo anyone ever took of Champ with his eyes open. It would have looked much better on the iPhone 4S.

When our son was born, my wife and I had iPhone 3GSes we got on launch day more than two years earlier. I had to take his first pictures with that phone’s aging camera because Apple wouldn’t release the 4S for another 24 days.

We had packed a new DSLR camera that we bought just for photographing the baby, but nothing tops a smartphone camera for quickness and convenience. The fact is, the iPhone has become an indispensable tool for documenting and sharing the story of this new person’s life.

Here’s how to make it better. Continue reading What new parents want in the iPhone 5

Words with spouses

I drop a bomb. NUKE for 28 points.

It’s after 11 p.m. I’m playing Words With Friends against my wife. She’s already in bed. She’s on her iPad, continuing a game we started days earlier when we first downloaded the app. She might be nursing the baby.

I’m in the dining room, checking my iPhone while hunched over my laptop, joking about Mass Effect with my buddy and writing a complaint to Monster Energy. Costco stopped carrying my flavor. Bastards.

Continue reading Words with spouses

There will be blood

Lately, the Champ seems interested in everything I drink. If I take a sip of water, he’ll lock his eyes on my Imo’s Pizza mug from the counter to my mouth. He does this while I’m carrying him in his BabyBjörn, which requires some impressive neck-craning.

This morning, he reached for my Monster Energy can. Without hesitation, my expertly honed journalist brain recognized an opportunity to take one of the Great Types of Baby Photos: Baby Pretending To Do Something Dad Does.

So I let him have the can. And look!

Baby holding Monster Energy drink can Continue reading There will be blood