The 2016 Geek Dad Holiday Buying Guide

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Here it is, the 2016 geek dad buying guide. This will be continually updated as I come across more cool stuff that will ensure your kids have fun and learn something at the same time!

Computers

  1. Piper – Build your own computer and use Minecraft to craft virtual and physical gadgets.
  2. Raspberry Pi 3 – Want to build your own media center PC? Run a Minecraft server? Learn how to program and prototype electronics? Learn Linux? The Raspberry Pi 3 is the way to go.
  3. Tynker – Teach your kids how to code by making Minecraft mods and more.

Electronics / Engineering

  1. Littlebits – Build electronics and circuits without all the wires, breadboards and soldering. Just snap them together and turn them on!
  2. Snap Circuits – Build and learn about electronic circuits by snapping pieces together.
  3. Lego Mindstorms – Legos + Robotics  + Programming = Amazeballs!
  4. Arduino Uno – Want to teach your kids how to program and create electronic circuits, control motors, manipulate servos and more? This is the kit for you!

Space

  1. The Solar System for Preschoolers – It’s never too early to teach your kids about the planets and reminisce about the good old days when Pluto was one of them.
  2. The Motorized Solar System – Watch the planets rotate and orbit in style!

Toys

  1. Lego Bucket Wheel Excavator – Possibly the most amazing Lego Technics set ever. It will require mom or dad to work with the kids to get it done but it will be well worth it.
  2. Periodic Table Building Blocks – Build the elements up and tear them back down.

Makers

  1. A 3D Printer – Sure they aren’t cheap but if you want to create things and make your own toys, etc. a 3D printer will be an awesome addition to your gadget collection.

Baby Toys

  1. The Calculator Teething Toy – Now your infant can learn their numbers and get their teeth in at the same time!

Books

  1. The New Way Things Work – Possibly the most amazing book about how all of the things around you work everyday. This is one of my favorites and I still have a copy even as an adult.

Games

  1. Qwirkle – A great family game that requires strategy and a little luck. It is a staple around our house during the holidays when family is visiting.

Odds and Ends

  1. The Tardis Nightlight – Don’t leave your little time traveler in the dark, equip them with a Tardis nightlight instead.
  2. Moon in Your Room – What is better than the moon for a nightlight?

Parents – secure your smart home

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So you want to have an Internet connected thermostat, baby cam, security system, etc. and you think you should just go home and plug it in? Wrong. You need to take steps to protect your family first from hackers, creeps and people who randomly might stumble upon your insecure home network. You also don’t want your devices becoming part of the increasingly prolific army of compromised internet of things and turning your internet connection into a DDoS spewing fire hose. Here are some good ways for you to secure your network as a parent and/or a concerned netizen.

Routers

Before I go any further, you must have a router. Almost every major ISP provides one of these with their service these days so I would be surprised if you don’t have one already. However, if you don’t, you definitely need one. It is your first line of defense when it comes to protecting your home network from malicious people on the internet. As of the date this post was written, you can find a selection of the best routers out there for home use over at CNET. Any of these will work for your basic home network and even for gamers most of the very high-end routers are overkill.

I personally take paranoia to the next level and connect the router supplied by my ISP to a router of my own. I don’t like the idea of my ISP potentially having access to my home network if I need them to troubleshoot something for me. I doubt most people will feel the need to go this far but it lets me sleep better at night.

From here on you need to do a few other things to get your router setup and secured the way it should be:

1 – Change the default user name and passwords

First and foremost, change the default user name and password for the administration website for your router. You should be able to follow the instructions that came with your router to do this. In many cases all you will need to do is connect to the router via WiFi or via a network cable and type in an address like http://192.168.1.1 in your web browser to do this. Many routers come with user names and passwords that are both admin or admin and password. This makes it very easy for someone to attack your router and compromise it if you do not change these settings immediately.

2 – Change the default wireless settings

Many newer routers come with randomized WiFi passwords that make them much more secure than the older model routers that usually came setup with no WiFi security out of the box. If your wireless connection does not have a password set, make sure you do that very soon after installing the router. Make this password something that only you know and different from other passwords that you use. Don’t hand this out to just anyone either. Even if your router comes with a nice randomly generated password for the WiFi, I would recommend you changing it to something that you choose.

Second, you need to make sure the wireless network settings are as secure as possible. In this day and age there is no reason to have your router’s WiFi to use anything less than WPA2 AES encryption. This is the most secure setting that you normally can use and any modern WiFi connected device will support it. Using anything other than WPA2 AES encryption will make it very easy for someone to beak into your network even if you are using strong passwords.

Third, change the SSID for your WiFi network to something unique. Don’t name this with your address or any other personal information. Use something that is meaningless to anyone else yet different from any other wireless networks that are in your area. Leaving your SSID set to the same as it came out of the box screams to any would-be hacker that your network has not been secured or properly vetted and makes you a target.

3 – Disable that guest network

So you want to provide your friends with a way to connect to your network and that cool guest network feature of your router sounds great for that right? Wrong. Enabling this feature will leave your router open for anyone to connect to and while the guest network won’t allow people to connect to your internal home devices, it will allow a hacker to connect to your router. This makes it that much easier for them to compromise your network since they are already connected to it.

4 – Update your router firmware

In the administration screens for your router that you previously protected with a new user name and password, you should also be able to find a place to update your router’s firmware. Doing so makes sure that your router is always up-to-date with the latest software and security patches which makes it that much harder to hack. You should do this periodically as vendors release updates all the time.

Your Internet of Things

Arguably your router is the most important item to secure on your home network. Once that is done you have already given the bad guys enough pause to go off and find an easier target. However, here are the other basic security precautions you should take when doing anything with a device that connects to the internet to automate or monitor your home:

  1. Always change the default user names and passwords for any logins on these devices. The majority of them are hacked because they are never changed.
  2. Only expose them to the internet if you have to.
  3. Don’t use any connected devices that try and make your home security more convenient. They are not ready yet. Bluetooth deadbolts on your door are still to buggy to want to trust your family’s safety to.
  4. Only use WiFi enabled switches for things that, if they were hacked, could not put your or your family in danger. It is one thing to turn on and off a light, it is another to allow someone to overheat your crockpot and burn down your house.
  5. Don’t connect web cams to the internet that monitor your kids while they sleep. Don’t leave your children’s safety to chance when faced with potential online threats.

Conclusion

Ultimately this all comes down to using your head. If you can think of a bad situation coming from connecting something to the internet, it is likely going to be tried or happen to someone. Only connect what you need to and for those devices, make sure you secure them to make yourself less of a target. Hackers are lazy, they are going to take the path of least resistance. If you are the tougher nut to crack, they will move on to an easier one.

Halloween – Tips for Parents

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It’s time, tomorrow is Halloween and we as parents need to make sure our kids all stay safe while they are out trick-or-treating. Let’s go over some general safety tips that everyone should be following this year:

Safety

  1. Always accompany your kids during trick-or-treating, especially if they are 12 years old or younger.
  2. Make sure you practice crossing all roads safely. Look both ways and keep an eye out for any traffic as you cross.
  3. Don’t walk looking at cell phones, games, etc. Distracted walking can be just as dangerous as distracted driving.
  4. Keep to sidewalks and lighted paths whenever possible.
  5. Make sure your children’s costumes are safe. They should have reflective elements on their costumes to ensure cars can see them.
  6. Children and/or parents should carry flashlights or glow sticks with them to increase their visibility.
  7. For younger children, go out early to avoid larger crowds of older children.
  8. Only go to houses that have their lights on and are obviously participating in trick-or-treating.

The Treats

  1. Make sure you look over all of the candy or food that your children receive prior to your kids eating it.
  2. Don’t take or eat anything that is not pre-packaged or homemade.
  3. Make sure all packaging is not damaged or opened.
  4. Get your treats examined via x-ray if any of the medical providers in your area offer it to avoid ingesting foreign objects.

More Resources

  1. FDA – Halloween Food Safety Tips for Parents
  2. CDC – Halloween Health and Safety Tips
  3. Kids.gov – Five Tips to Make Your Halloween Safe
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics – Halloween Safety Tips 2016
  5. Parents.com – Halloween Safety Tips Every Parent Should Know
  6. Safekids.org – Halloween Safety Tips

Stay safe out there everyone and have fun!

The Politics of Parenting

presidential-1311753_960_720As we get closer to one of the nastiest and worst elections that I have lived through, I think it is important that parents consider what the candidates mean for you and your kids. I am not going to take a side on this one but I want to provide all of you with some news resources to learn more about where the candidates all stand on matters that concern us.

Those are just a few links to get you started. If that gets you interested then just start googling and you will find many more resources for you to make sure you are informed before voting.

Baby Names, Just Pick Something Traditional

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This one is going to be controversial but I have a firm belief that the name you choose for your child can be a predictor of future success and happiness. There have been studies that show that this is the case but I am going based more on personal experience than anything else.

Let’s start by looking at the top baby names of 2016 from the site Mom365.com. The top 10 list is pretty safe. Names like Noah, Liam, Olivia and Sophia are good, traditional names and indicate a certain amount of traditional adherence to their parents’ upbringing. It’s when you start getting into the rank of 20 and below that we start seeing some trouble popup. Number 23 is Jayden, not particularly traditional, not particularly associated with families with a strong socio-economic status. Of course there are counter examples but again, I am going based on observation of what I see around me.

Next up on the list, Jaxon, with that spelling in particular. Non traditional spellings of names are a big red flag. If you can’t be bothered to spell it correctly then you probably are not thinking your choice through all that well and that might say something about you and your frame of reference. Then as we continue to push down into the list we find Skylar, Layla, Brooklyn, Brayden, and Savannah. While Skylar could be Ok, the others are not looking so hot. These are trendy names that indicate the parent is more interested in the hot name of the moment rather than sticking with something tried and true. If you base your names off what you see on TV and in the gossip pages, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that maybe that wasn’t the best choice and maybe you may not be as classy as you think.

Now that I have surely ticked some of you off, let us end with some links out to sites more reputable than mine who have confirmed what I am saying above. There is a great article in the New Yorker about why names matter and I would encourage you all to read it.

A second article, from the BBC has one of the better quotes in it that I have found:

But for the main part, he says, the effect of a name on its bearer rarely amounts to more than the effect of being raised by parents who would choose such a name.

This about sums it up for me. It is not the name that causes the issue itself but the parents that chose the to name their child in a manner that would openly expose them to teasing, ridicule or some other form of harassment. And from the same article, the socio-economic point that I make above is reiterated:

However, there is no evidence that it’s the names causing such a marked discrepancy, rather than other factors they represent, Clark says. Different names are popular among different social classes, and these groups have different opportunities and goals.

I think this point is the most important one. People in different socio-economic classes tend to name their children different. In turn, this establishes a group identity within that class. While the name does not prevent the child from moving beyond that group, it certainly makes it harder as it helps to cement their identity within a particular class of people.

So the moral of the story? Don’t name your kids based on the latest trends, don’t name them something because that is what all your friends are doing, name them based on where you want to see them go. While it can’t predict their success, it certainly can’t hurt and it will only improve their odds.

 

Night Terrors, They Suck.

halloween-pumpkin-carving-face-largeNight terrors are probably the worst thing that I have to deal with on a regular basis at bedtime. The generally occur about 2 hours after I put my oldest daughter to bed and they last about 10 minutes. The most common time they occur is when she has a cold or is too hot for some reason. Thank fully this is only about once every couple of months, not once per night like some kids.

The worst part about them is that there is literally nothing you can do about it other than try and keep them confortable until the episode passes. In some cases the child can thrash about so much that they can hurt themselves so I routinely try and keep her from moving too much while not restricting movement completely as that can actually make things worse.

As a father you have to come to terms with these and it takes time because you will hear your child scream your name because they have an overwhelming sense of pure fear yet you cannot stop it. It is terrible to stand by your child and know that they are experiencing this feeling without any way to help them other than wait it out. For me, it took about four of these episodes until I finally came to terms with it. What helped me get to that point is when I would ask my daughter after the episode and she truthfully had no recollection of what had just happened. Once I knew she didn’t remember whatever that paralyzing fear was she experienced it made me feel a little better.

The last time this happened my daughter screamed for my wife instead and that was the first time she had experienced this so personally. She has not really come to terms of how to deal with it yet but I suspect it will come in time.

I would be curious to know how others deal with this type of issue when raising children. It is important that we share information about this ugly part of childhood that some kids need to go through.

Gah, the Site Was Hacked

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Who would hack Dad Is Tired? Seriously, don’t you think I have lost enough sleep as it is? Apparently not. Rather than some nice fatherly content my site was replaced with some key code crasking site. So I decided to pack my bags and move my site to something that is a little more secure and now that is done. More posts to come in the coming days now that I have a new home.