When Batteries Die… Keeping Your Data Safe

Posted by TechyDad on February 3, 2016 under Smartphone/Tablet Apps, Smartphones/Tablets, Technology

TabletRecently, NHL suffered a technological tragedy. His beloved Galaxy Tab 2 tablet died. NHL plays many games on his tablet and, over time, had accumulated quite a bit of progress. The idea that all of this could be lost was quite upsetting to him. After much troubleshooting, including contacting the company and exploring sending it in for repairs, we got it working again.

Though we found a solution, let’s be honest. No device is going to last forever. At some point, something will happen that will mean the device can no longer be used. With that in mind, how can you protect your child’s data/game progress?

Let’s deal with the data first, since that’s the easy one. Some tablets and phones support microSD cards. If your tablet does, you can host photos, videos, and other important data there.

If your device doesn’t have a microSD card slot, or if you want to protect against a failure (like theft) that includes the microSD card, there is the cloud storage option. You can back files up to Google Drive, Dropbox, or other online services. There are also apps you can use to automate this process.  (I’ve tried a few but haven’t found one I really like just yet.  They exist, though, and when I find a really nice one, I’ll post about it at length.)

What about the games, though? If your device dies and you get a new one, you’ll reinstall your apps only to find yourself staying from square one. What we need is a way to back up the app’s data to be restored on a new device.

Unfortunately, there is no single solution to this problem. Each app is different. Some connect to your Facebook account (or another online account). For these, you merely need to log in on your new device and your game progress will transfer to the new device. Of course, this does present problems if the game to be backed up us for a child. Facebook limits accounts to people 13 and older. Even if they allowed younger people to join, I’d hesitate to put my young children in social media without any preparation merely to save a game.

For other games, there might be a support code in the app. Write this down somewhere safe and should you need to restore the game to the new device, you’d just send them this code in a support request. Of course, this process’ effectiveness will vary depending on the game company’s responsiveness and how old the game is. Some will respond quickly while others might not reply at all.

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Parking Lot Road Rage and Adult Bullies

Posted by TechyDad on January 26, 2016 under Bullies, Life

comic-red-angry-car-300pxThis isn’t the post I wanted to write this week, but after the weekend’s events this is the post I needed to write.

Saturday started off like such a normal day.  We had NHL with us (JSL was with B’s parents) and we were doing some shopping for needed supplies.  As we pulled into a parking lot of a local shopping center, someone pulled out of an aisle without stopping and looking and almost hit into us.  We both stopped, we honked, and some choice words may have been said.

We urged him to go on (he was already halfway into the intersection), but he signaled for us to go.  Eventually, we went on our way.

Now, if the story ended here, it wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.  Encounters like this happen all the time.  Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.

As we drove on, the guy pulled behind us. At first, we didn’t think much of it, but then he started pulling up close to our car.  B pulled down an aisle to get away from him, but the guy followed us.  Down the aisle, he got close and attempted to get around us. He couldn’t get to our side due to the aisle width, but he made his intentions to not let us go quite clear.

As we neared the end of the aisle, we began to panic.  B told me to call 911, but I held out hope that we would lose him by going down another aisle.  We rounded a big snow pile and went down another aisle.  Our pursuer followed.

This was it for even me.  I pulled out my phone and called 911.  As I spoke with the operator and gave her our location, we reached the end of an aisle.  A car stopped to let us go and then pulled behind us.  We’re not sure if they knew what was going on or not but this seemed to be key.  As we passed the store we had wanted to go to B rolled down her window in case we needed to yell for help from random shoppers.  We pulled down a few more aisles (while I was still on with 911) and it looked like we lost him.  We pulled into a parking spot and waited for the police to arrive.

The officer was great and took our information.  Unfortunately, in our panicked states, we didn’t think about getting the guy’s license plate number. Our minds were totally devoted to "get away from this crazy guy" and not on "collect evidence to give the police.". The officer noted all the security cameras around the parking lot and said he could check those.

The officer told us that we did the right thing by not stopping and confronting the guy.  In fact, the only thing he recommended that we should have done differently would have been to leave the shopping center and get on a main road.  We explained that we lost him soon after getting on with 911.  Besides, the guy had been trying to cut us off.  This was tricky in a parking lot, but would have been easy on the main road.

We questioned whether it was safe for us to go into the store as we were afraid that he was still lurking in the parking lot and would "take his revenge" on our car.  The officer assured us that we’d likely never see or hear from the guy again.  He said that the guy was probably upset that he didn’t get the last word in and decided to give us a scare.  Mission accomplished, idiot!

Not only were we panicked, but NHL was really on edge.  He wanted to leave and was nervous all through the store.  Thankfully, our car was untouched when we got back to it.

The next day, i had a fight with my father.  I had recounted the take to him the previous night and he called me to update me on their big snowfall.  He also criticized my calling the police, saying that this "escalated" the situation and that he surely has our license plate number and can track us down.  He told me that we don’t know this guy or what he’s capable of.  I replied that the escalation was taken when this guy moved from "nasty words shouted through closed windows" to "chasing through a parking lot."  As for not knowing what the guy is capable of, that’s exactly WHY we called 911.  We were being pursued by some guy we didn’t know.  If he had managed to force us to stop, would he have shouted obscenities at us and left?  Would he have pulled a bat out to smash our car?  Would he have taken a gun out to shoot us?  I needed to be sure that the police were on their way BEFORE we found out what his plans were if we were stopped.  I wound up hanging up on my father as he kept insisting that we should have kept the police out of it.

Yesterday, at work, I told a few coworkers about our weekend parking lot pursuit.  As I told the tale, I could feel a familiar panic rising inside me.  Here I was two days after the incident and the pursuer was out of our lives, but my anxiety over the situation was threatening to overwhelm me.  I distracted myself with work until I felt the anxiety subside.

While we were in the store, post- incident, NHL asked me why someone would do what this guy did.  I answered that we had just encountered the adult version of a schoolyard bully.  I told NHL that he makes himself feel better by getting good grades or doing well in a video game.  In other words, NHL is a normal person who feels pride in accomplishing something important to himself.  This was not the case for the guy who chased us, though.  That guy felt like the only way he could good about himself was to make others feel bad.  He didn’t know any other way to improve his self image than by squashing as many people as possible under him.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with bullies growing up.  Bullies thrive on setting the rules – placing themselves above their victims – and ensuring that their victims fear the bully.  This bully wanted to make sure that we knew that he was above us and that we feared him.  Calling the authorities wasn’t an escalation.  I’m sure the bully would have wanted us to view it as that, though.  Bullies don’t like when their victims get assistance.  However, this wasn’t some schoolyard bully taking a kid’s lunch money.  This was a grown man driving in a reckless manner and possibly threatening violence against me, my wife, and my child.  Contacting the authorities was exactly the right method to stop the bully and to protect us from his pursuit.

The bully did succeed in making us afraid of him, but this fear will be short-lived.  Whether or not he faces legal repercussions for his actions, I refuse to change my behavior (e.g. not going to that shopping center anymore) or live in fear of any bully.  As the anger over being put through this fades, what will remain is pity for an individual who can only find meaning in his life by pushing down and scaring others.

NOTE: The "Comic Red Angry Car" image above is by roland81 and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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Girls Toys, Boys Toys, and Missing Rey

Posted by TechyDad on January 11, 2016 under Toys

Imaginext Piles Men and WomenWhen B was pregnant with JSL, we decided to buy NHL a doll. We figured he could use it to get a sense of what it would be like to have a baby brother to take care of. There was just one problem: Try as we might, all we could find were baby girl dolls. We walked down every pink aisle in every store looking for a single baby boy doll.

The aisles were pink because pink is a girl’s color, only girl’s play with dolls, and the store didn’t want any boys wandering into the girl’s area. Of course, none of this is true. Boys can like pink as much as girls do. (There’s some evidence that, a century ago, pink was regarded as a boy’s color and not for girls.)

We eventually did find a single boy doll for NHL, but had the same problem years later when JSL wanted his own baby doll. After much searching (and many teary-eyed moments for JSL leaving stores empty handed), we finally found a doll dressed in neutral colors.

More recently, JSL has developed a love of Imaginext and Playskool. These small plastic action figures are perfect for small hands. He has many toys representing DC superheroes, Star Wars, and generic characters from Imaginext’s non-licensed line. Of these, he has three female DC superheroes (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy), no female Star Wars characters, and 1 female generic character (a witch). This is out of 51 DC superheroes, 23 Star Wars figures, and 25 generic characters.

His mostly male lineup isn’t due to his picks of which toys to get, though. The only non-generic female figure he doesn’t have is Harley Quinn. There is no Supergirl, Zatanna, Batgirl, Killer Frost, Hawkgirl, Livewire, or Huntress (to name a few female heroes he’s seen on Justice League). On the Star Wars side, Leia is noticeably absent – appearing only in a Jabba’s palace set and then only in her "bounty hunter" disguise. In other words, Leia was only included in a form that hides that she’s not another male.

As an aside: While JSL helped me count his male vs. female generic toys, he had a very insightful question: "How do you know that this is a man and not a woman?"  He’s right.  There were some toys that could easily have been women.  Aliens, barely humanoid monsters, and some supernatural creatures could easily be meant to be women.  However, these creatures tend to resemble the male characters more than the female ones.  Besides, if the only way toy manufacturers can include women is by making them unrecognizable as women, then what’s the point of including them at all?

With Star Wars The Force Awakens out, Star Wars fans of any gender have a new strong female character. Without getting to spoilery, Rey shows time and again that she’s not some damsel in distress for the boys to rescue. She’s not some pretty little thing who sits on the sidelines while the "big, strong men" fight over her. She’s definitely not a prize that the hero wins by defeating the bad guy. She’s a full fledged person and more than capable of rescuing herself.

However, when kids leave the movie theaters and head to the toy stores, they’ll find a lack of merchandise representing Rey. Some toy companies claimed it was an effort to avoid spoilers. While that it a commendable pursuit (imagine a Darth Vader figure released for Empire Strikes Back that declared that he’s Luke’s father), staying spoiler-free didn’t need to mean staying Rey-free. All they needed to do was describe her at the beginning of the movie with, perhaps, a hint to her grander future. They managed to do this with the other characters, why not Rey?

Rey grew up a scavenger on the harsh desert world of Jakku. She’s a strong fighter, quick-thinking and great with machines. What grand destiny awaits her beyond the sands of Jakku?

There. A mostly non-spoilery description of Rey. Was that so hard?

Here’s hoping that toy manufacturers start waking up to the fact that boys don’t mind playing with toys representing women and girls like playing with toys representing men.  In addition, boys can play with toys deemed by the manufacturers to be "girl toys" just like girls can play with toys that have been declared to be "boy toys."  There is no reason to exclude one gender from using a toy.  Doing this only hurts boys and girls as well as, to be quite frank, toy manufacturers who are cutting out half of their potential sales.  The sooner the toy manufacturers get past their mistaken notions of toy-gender assignments, the sooner everyone wins.

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Not Enough Time

Posted by TechyDad on January 7, 2016 under Life

sanglass-300pxA couple of nights ago, as I was getting the boys into bed, JSL began crying uncontrollably. At first, we were worried that he wasn’t feeling well.  When we confirmed that he was feeling fine physically, we asked him why he was crying.  He didn’t quite know at first, but after I asked a bit, I began to get a good sense of his problem: He was sad because there were a lot of things he wanted to do and not nearly enough time to do them.

Boy, can I sympathize.

While JSL is torn between crafting, watching TV, playing video games, and playing with his Imaginext toys, I find myself trying to find time for different pursuits.  During the time that I’m not in my day job, I have freelance work to complete. I also have to make dinner, help clean up, share my favorite geeky TV shows/movies with my boys, watch new shows/movies, craft, write blog posts, spend quality time with my wife, and read. Then there are new activities that I’d love to start like working on a novel (I’ve had a story idea for almost two decades), attending cons, learning how to solder, and traveling.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day to fit everything in. I’d need at least a dozen of me to get everything done. Eleven more TechyDads would get everything done, though our house would be too crowded.

All I can do is do my best. I can focus on what I want to do the most, cut out time wasting activities that I don’t really need to do, and do my best. When JSL was in tears, I told him just this. It helped him to know that he wasn’t alone – that other people (even his father) suffered from this and could help him figure out how to get as much done as possible.

How do you juggle your list of things you’d like to do? What do you do when you find there’s not enough time for all of them?

NOTE: The image above is "sandglass" by jarda and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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Saying Goodbye To 2015

Posted by TechyDad on December 31, 2015 under Blogging, Holidays

goodbye-2015This past year has been an eventful one.  For better or for worse, it is coming to an end.  Our New Year’s Eve tradition is to have a "Junk Food Dinner" (mostly hors d’oeuvres) and stay up until the ball drops.  My tradition on this blog is to look back at some of my favorite posts of the year.

January

Unfortunately, I rang in the New Year with a resurgence of my post-surgery anxiety attacks.  I realized that Anxiety Is A Bully.  It tries to dictate the rules of engagement to you so that they vastly favor the anxiety and not you.  It’s important to fight back, realize what anxiety is doing, and refuse to play by its rules.

On a more serious front, the Charlie Hebdo attack led me to wonder about the Freedom To Offend and the Freedom To Be Offended.  While it might seem tempting to silence people from saying offensive things, we’ve got to protect their right to offend.  If we don’t, then someone else might take offense to something we think is important and silence us.  At the same time, people have a right to be offended and to call for there to be consequences.  If a politician says something extremely offensive to me, then it’s my right to protest and demand he be removed from office.  This doesn’t mean silencing him.  It just means balancing two different, yet related rights.  It can be tricky to navigate these waters without going too far in either direction, but it’s important that we don’t let ourselves sway too far against the offensive or against those who are offended.

Did you know I have a Zazzle store?  I didn’t.  I posted a parody of "Soft Kitty" from Big Bang Theory and then inspiration struck and I turned it into a T-Shirt.  I’m not sure if any have actually sold, but I love coming up with things like this.

February

I began February with an Extreme Geekery.  I looked into the Archimedes quote "Give me a lever long enough and I shall move the world."  Spoiler alert:  This would work, but the lever’s going to be really, really, REALLY long!  (I also had fun adding draws to my post.  I don’t do that enough.)

With a measles epidemic raging, I dove into the subject of vaccines and consequences.  My takeaway: Vaccines work.  Those who claim they cause autism or contain toxins or are worse than the diseases they prevent are ignorant at best or trying to sell you bunk at worst.  Unless you have a medical condition that precludes vaccination (e.g. some allergies or an immune system disorder), everyone should be vaccinated.  It’s a simple procedure that will save the lives of not just the vaccinated but of the people who can’t be due to age or medical issues.

We spent much of last year playing Minecraft.  I’ll admit that I haven’t picked it up much recently, but there have been many updates that my boys have shown me and I might just need to try them out myself.

March

March began with a monumental event.  We cancelled cable.  Without cable, we joined the ever growing ranks of cord cutters and got our video entertainment from a mixture of Internet-based video services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu), renting DVDs from our local library, and an OTA antenna.  I also have some new equipment that I need to set up which will let me record shows and stream videos to our TV.  We’ve been saving money every month and haven’t looked back.

We had a touching moment in a local museum.  They had an electronic drum set and NHL – who plays percussion in his band – was rocking out to it.  A set of headphones he wore kept the sound to himself.  A little girl came up to watch him play and NHL offered her his headphones.  The little girl was instantly mesmerized by the sounds NHL was producing.  Her eyes glazed over as her full attention was given to what her ears were hearing.  Then NHL gave her the drumsticks and helped show her how to make the sounds.  He willingly gave up a spot at one of his favorite exhibits so that a little girl he didn’t know could discover the wonders of drumming.  It’s a little gesture, but I was so proud of him at that moment.

April

During April, we got into some tabletop gaming with Pandemic.  We were introduced to it by a family member during Passover and had to get it ourselves.  What I love about Pandemic is that everyone works together.  There is no one winner or loser.  Either everyone wins by curing the diseases or everyone loses as the diseases ravage the world.

There was also a big WordPress vulnerability found and as people rushed to update I explained just what the vulnerability meant and how web developers usually tackle this sort of thing.

May

May was a very geeky month.  Along with Free Comic Book Day, and palindrome week, Star Wars Day meant we could play some lightsaber games.  May also saw JSL turning 8.  To wrap up the geekery, California instituting "toilet to tap" led me to wonder just how much water was in the world to drink.  It turns out that it’s a lot, but it isn’t an infinite resource.

I also wrote about Asperger’s Syndrome and how it affects neurotypical siblings.  JSL can be very patient with his brother at times, but he does have his limits and will often crave non-NHL times.

June

In June, I took some lessons from a rose bush – don’t listen to others telling you that you can’t succeed, just do your best and keep at it.

I also wrecked havoc with society by inventing instant transportation.  Ok, I just wrote about what would happen to society if someone invented it.  Given how I think it would turn out,  be thankful it’s not here.

Unfortunately, we had a crazy week when B’s mother had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital.  She’s feeling better now, but it was scary (especially for the boys who were right there when it happened).  To add insult to injury, it happened on her birthday which also happened to be the day she retired.  Everyone should know the real life symptoms of heart attacks.  (That last link isn’t one of my blog posts, but it’s important enough to bring up as often as possible.)

Thanks to then-newly-running candidate Donald Trump, I explored the true cost of web development.  Unfortunately for Trump, you can’t develop a large, complex web application that will be used nation-wide and only pay $3.  It simply cannot be done.

July

In July, New Horizons’ impending rendezvous with Pluto made me geek out about how quickly we’d be able to travel around the Earth if we could move at the speeds New Horizons was travelling at.

A tweet from The Bloggess inspired me to gather a series of 18 things that I’d tell 18 year old me.

Finally, it’s amazing how much you can get attached to a piece of furniture.  We finally got rid of our old couch.  It was hard to do, but it also was time.  The boys got to sit on it one last time as it lay on the curb awaiting pickup.  I even let them jump on it – something we never let them do when it was in our living room.

August

In August, I turned 40 years old.  Or, as I like to think of it, the 11th anniversary of my 29th birthday.  In addition, NHL turned 12.  Why won’t he stop growing up?  Why?!!!

We also began a cruising adventure to celebrate my 40th birthday.

September

In September, I shared a washy washy, happy happy, smiley smiley cruise greeting and described our incredible beach day at Norwegian’s private island.

This was also the month of me speed reading.  NHL was reading the Percy Jackson series so I decided to read them as well.  (I’ve always been a fan of Greek mythology.)  I not only tore through the first book, but the entire series (passing where NHL was).  Since then, I’ve finished Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, his Cain trilogy, and the first book in his Asgard series.  I’ve only stopped because I’ve run out of books by him.  (Come on, Rick, get book 2 written quickly!)  I’ve also read The Bloggess’ Furiously Happy and laughed the whole way through.

October

In October, I wrote a rebuttal to someone who claimed that kids with Autism are better off when they’re bullied.  The author actually used the word "perks" to describe the results of bullying.  I’d use words like tormenting, paranoia, isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness instead to describe what happens when someone is bullied.  If you want to call those "perks" then you have a really warped definition of the word perks.

On the video gaming front, I fulfilled a lifelong desire to make Mario video games thanks to Super Mario Maker.

After picking 44.5 pounds of apples, I baked apple dishes until we were sick of apples.

Finally, I wrote up a guide to help people who wanted to explore cutting cable.

November

In November, I went through some scary Halloween decorations and an even scarier Christmas one.

I also gave a peek at what goes on in my head when I try to communicate verbally.  It’s battle on many fronts and not one I win every time.

December

December saw our Star Wars excitement build to critical mass.  Spoiler free review:  The Force Awakens was incredible.  I can’t wait to see it again.

We also celebrated B’s birthday and I had a mini-mid life crisis thanks to my Imposter Syndrome.

Finally, we had some fun with Google Cardboard.

 

It’s been a wonderful year.  Here’s hoping that 2016 will be exciting in all the right ways.

NOTE: The "Goodbye 2015" image above is based on "Fireworks Remix" by keriann3 which is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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