Friday, 23 December 2011

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Buried Treasure II - The Revenge!

As noted in my Buried Treasure post, this is the action-packed big budget sequel to the original Duplo classic Buried Treasure. Enjoy...


Buried Treasure - a Duplo photo story

Thought I'd share this, a just for kicks photo story my son and I made with some of his Duplo a while ago. I'll also put up the much longer, more ambitious and more violent sequel...


Saturday, 23 July 2011

Perfect summation of the joy of sleeplessness

Amy Winehouse

This is not the kind of thing I expected to be posting about here, but I find myself enormously saddened today by the news of Amy Winehouse's death. On hearing of it I immediately recalled an article about her talent and troubles written by a Clive James in 2008. On reading it again today it features a very fitting epitaph provided by Philip Larkin.
"On me your voice falls as they say love should, like an enormous yes."


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Wednesday, Wednesday - or why Flexible Working rocks my world

Wow I love Wednesdays. You know why? No work!
I'm fortunate enough to work for an employer who encourages flexible working and its been an absolute godsend. Since my wife got pregnant I've worked 10 hours a day Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and friday and had every Wednesday off. What this means is that she can work on a Wednesday without us having to find the money for childcare, which is good for her and even better for me as Bass and I get "Boys' Day".
"You know what day it is tomorrow?" I say to him every Tuesday night when I put him to bed. "Is it Boys' Day, daddy?" he replies.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love the weekends when the 3 of us are together as a family, but there's something very special about Boy's Day.
It takes many shapes  - if he's at playschool it'll involve a ride on the bike - me pedalling, him in his trailer (which he LOVES), if the weather's good we'll probably go to the park or spend some time exploring the normally unexplored corners of the garden. We usually do some colouring, and make some stuff and cuddle on the soda watching a bit of TV. But most importantly we do all this together, father and son.
Now, I'm not going to lie, I have to get up at 5:20 am on the days I do work in order to make this happen, and that isn't always easy (especially as there's a 4 mile walk between me and the office) but every Wednesday I get a million reminders while I do it.

So why am I telling you this? Well, loads of companies offer their employees the ability to work flexibly but they're often rubbish at publicising the fact. In many countries (including the UK), unless there is a good reason why the shouldn't, they're obliged to offer it as an option to employees with children.
UK parents can read more about their rights here.

My family and I totally recommend it. Especially on a Wednesday. :)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

3 easy steps to make video gaming an enjoyable, beneficial activity for your kids

My son has very recently discovered the Wii. Its been sitting there behind the TV all along (I bought one when they first came out long before he was born), but he didn't pay any attention to it before being exposed to the joys of Mario Kart at a neighbours. A couple of weeks ago he found the 2 controllers on the drawer under the TV and brought them over to me asking "can we play Mario Car daddy?"
Now I am sure there are people who would suggest that 3 and a half is too young for gaming, but as an avid gamer myself in the past (although not so much since Bass was born) I'm firmly of the opinion that it's a perfectly acceptable part of a balanced entertainment diet.
As this excellent article at The Online Mom points out video games can not only teach kids skills such as strategic thinking and how to work as a team, they are also a great, fun social activity that families can participate in together.

This latter is something that my wife and I have experienced, having now had a few very enjoyable Mario Kart and Wii Music sessions.
For me there are 3 critical things any parent should do to ensure gaming is a beneficial rather than detrimental activity for their kids.

1) Choose the right games
There are literally thousands of video games on the market aimed at players of all ages. Many of them will be completely unsuitable for kids because of their content or difficulty level. Many that are suitable for your child will be utter rubbish, made only to cash in on the success of the latest family movie or kids TV show. The important thing here is to do your research and maintain an awareness of what is out there.
Most countries have a voluntary rating system for games (like that used for movies) which will help you to assess the suitability of the game for your child. You wouldn't let a 5 year old watch a horror movie so don't let them play a game which is just as unsuitable.
Equally don't buy games just because they feature a character your child likes. Use sites like (think of it as imdb for games) to find out which are the best games for the system you have.
One other point to remember is that games often drop dramatically in price a few months after release. Don't get sucked into buying the very latest releases, look at the back catalogue and browse eBay or the second hand section in your local video game shop to find some bargains.

2)  Ration play time and balance it against other activities
Set expectations by stating the numbers of races, songs, etc that your child can play for or set an alarm.  You might also want to set strict rules about when they can play games (e.g. only after supper, only on a Saturday, etc).
Video games are absorbing and cases of children and adults with symptoms bordering on addiction are well documented. Plan what you're going to do after the gaming session so that you can be sure you've got an alternative activity lined up to engage your child with.
Make sure you stick to your guns and keep the controllers somewhere your child can't get to them so that you have full control of access to the game console.

3) Be part of it!
Don't let your children play alone, get involved. Gaming is an activity that you can enjoy together. Just don't get too competitive!

Because sometimes all you need is a cardboard box....

As long as you've already spent a fortune on Pixar merchandise :(

Monday, 18 July 2011

The joy of Max! Potty training aid review

Don't expect a long review.

Max is a very buoyant small plastic ball with a face. He sits in your toilet bowl and provides a tempting and amusing target for male potty trainees.

There's  obviously some sort of weight inside as well as he always ends face side up ready for another soaking.
It's really as simple as that, seems to be working well with my son but your mileage may vary.
There's one more important thing to note though, it's fun. Really fun. And I mean for me not my boy.

I'm almost tempted to post a video so you can see the little fella spinning around but in the interest of good taste I'll resist.

Website link

App review - Songify (iOS)

The joy of the AppStore model of e-commerce that Apple has pioneered on their iOS devices is that discovering and trying apps that you didn't even know you wanted is so easy. Songify is just such an app. I had no idea I needed something that allowed me to create cheesy songs from brief audio samples but now I have it I can't imagine life without it.

Like many iOS apps, Songify does one thing simply and well. Launch the app and tap the screen once to start recording (I've found short samples work best) and then again to stop. The app then works it's magic and spits out a song, complete with vocal effects and a backing track.
Songify is free and comes with a couple of backing tracks but many many more are available for purchase within the app and I suspect the developer will keep adding more.  

Once you've recorded your song it's easy to share via email or post to your Facebook or Twitter account.

Now of course I wouldn't be posting this here if it didn't have some element of kid-friendliness and it does, in spades. Songify might not have been designed for kids but of my son is anything to go by they love it! The simplicity of the interface and entertainment value of the results means both of us (and my wife!) keep coming back for more.

But don't take my word for it, here are some tracks my son laid down. Enjoy! :)
Spoony (Woony)

Songify (iOS, currently £free)
Dad rating: 5/5
Kid rating: 5/5
iTunes Link

Geek Dad's 21 things to do in the summer holidays

Some really nice ideas for a range of ages over at Wired

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The dangers of over praising your kids

"Life after the death of my children" - unimagineably horrible but very interesting article

Expert: good parenting more important than banning violent video games


Seems pretty common sense to me. :-!

The CBeebies red button and how to switch it off!

If your house is anything like mine there's a fair amount of CBeebies action (probably more than there should be!).  I don't mind it too much  as most of the programmed seem reasonably well thought out and educational (although I have serious doubts about Kerwhizz and Everythings Rosey). The lack of adverts also gives it a big advantage over other channels.
There is one problem though, the bloody red button logo. The main CBeebies logo is nicely semi-transparent but the red button one seems to be as garish and bold as they could possibly have made it, which is bad news for plasma screen TVs. The good news though is that there's a very easy but badly publicised way to turn it off - the green button! One press when you first tune into the channel and away it goes, leaving your TV screen unblemished.
My Panasonic and I wish we'd discovered this trick a little sooner...

Top 10 tips for new dads

1) Never presume that you know more about your child than their mother. Nobody knows more about your child than their mother. A lot of the time you'll agree on the right thing to do but some times you'll disagree. Very occasionally (maybe 50% of the time) it'll turn out that you were right. Don't get cocky though, it was just a fluke.
2) Get used to not having any sleep. Think of the tiredest you've ever been...that was nothing.
3) About the tiredness thing, don't worry, somehow you'll get used to it.
4) You'll end up buying a lot of baby stuff you question the utility of and need for. Don't question every purchase, save your challenges for the really ridiculous ones (see item 1 above).
5) Remember free time? You don't have that any more.
6) Your baby will feel incredibly small and fragile at first. Don't worry, they're actually pretty resilient.  People have been looking after them without too much trouble for thousands of years and many of them were a lot less careful than you are.
7) Get used to worrying all the time.
8) Read to your child every day even when you don't really feel like it.
9) Make sure you and your lady make time for each other not matter how tired you are. Even half an hour cuddling in front of the TV is better than nothing, but if you can take the time to sit down at the table and eat together.
10) You don't need me to tell you this one because you won't be able to help yourself. Love them forever.   

Greetings and salutations

What's the purpose of this blog? Well, as a father for over 3 years now I've been struck by the lack of Dad focussed stuff out there in internet land. The are lots of parenting blogs and forums but most of them are decidely female in nature. Nothing wrong with that but they miss so much of the stuff I want to know; and where there is Dad content its often from the wrong side of the Atlantic.
My mission, then, is to comment on the experience of being a Dad and review some of the best toys, games, apps and other cool stuff out there that I've enjoyed with my son.
With any luck I'll provide something that at least a few people out there find interesting and helpful.