Nintendo Saved Our Halloween


When Nintendo asked if they could send us Halloween in a box, I jumped. That same day, Rocket had said that he couldn't wait until next Halloween because then the construction would be done, and we'd be able to decorate for Halloween. I love decorating for the holidays and try to go all out to make it special for the kids, so his observation, followed up with a question that I cannot answer of whether we'll be able to decorate for Christmas, stung. 

Nintendo saved us, like Mario to our Princess Peach. Too much? 

The excitement was back in our holiday. We handed out Nintendo-themed gummies and other candies to friends and classmates, wore a Boo hat, and later a Luigi costume. Cleverly carved pumpkins with Mario and Boo arrived too, but unfortunately didn't survive. That was the only downer. The kids loved having something extra special on Halloween and I was incredibly thankful to Nintendo. 

Both kids hit their fill of houses last night, but it was oddly quiet out with fewer kids as in past years. Though, even that had an upside: we have enough candy to hand out at school for our upcoming birthdays. Bob-ombs for everyone!

Disclosure: The candy, decor, and costumes were provided by Nintendo for free. All opinions are my own. #NintendoEnthused

Review: Super Scratch Programming Adventure

Super_scratch_programming_adventureMy daughter refused to try Scratch programming, despite my subtle suggestions. It seemed like something she'd enjoy, plus her dad is a software engineer, so I thought it would be a common interest they could share. She refused, so much that she wouldn't even walk near the Scratch booth at the Maker Faire in May. The girl can be stubborn. 

Her position softened a little when she took a week of video game design foundations at Galileo Summer Quest. She loved video game programming. She talked nonstop about details, drafted plans, thought about sound effects, and said she'd definitely be taking the advanced class next summer. I brought up Scratch again, but she said she was comfortable with the video game design program used at camp and would rather work more on that. I said nothing, but I subtly placed Super Scratch Programming Adventure on her dresser. In under an hour, she'd read the entire book and was asking to try Scratch.

The book was fun for her – filled with comics and humor – and she said it made Scratch seem easy to understand. She said it would have been even easier had she already seen the Scratch program, then would have better understood the references. Still, she was excited, and ready to go.

The bigger surprise is what happened next. At bedtime one night, my six year old pulled out Super Scratch Programming Adventure as the storybook he wanted me to read. Sure enough, the kid was having a chapter or two read to him a night. It's difficult to say if he was lured in more by the comics or the fact that his sister enjoyed it so much. 

Scratch is a free program, but I think the barrier for my daughter was that she didn't know where to begin. I like my kids branching into programming because it's another way to think, like another language, with rules, while also being another creative outlet. Scratch removed the frustration of learning programming by minimizes the rules, making development easier. She can make mistakes while she learns, and the only one who will know is her, which is important because despite my insistence that failure is crucial part of learning, she's failure-averse. Super Scratch Programming Adventure removed the learning curve, and showed that the program is simple, while making it seem like a lot of fun. 

Who knows, we may have three programmers in the house soon. 

Disclosure: Our review copy of Super Scratch Programming Adventure was provided for free by No Starch Press. 

Yo Mama Has a Nintendo 3DS

It’s easy to get the high score when you’re the first player. Yes, I got better.

At the beach last year or the year before, some 10 year old kid, wading in two feet of ocean, started screaming like he’d been seriously hurt. Paranoid of jelly fish, I held my kids back from the water, but then the waling kid started verbalizing his problem: “I DROPPED MY DS!” His dad and other relatives jumped up from their towels and started searching the wet sand as waves washed in and out, but it was too late. The DS had washed away. Everyone was sympathetic to the crying kid, but me, who thought, “Who the hell brings a DS to the beach?”

My kids each have a DSi, but we limit usage, and they definitely don’t go to the beach. Once aware of the DS, I started seeing them everywhere. They are easily portable, making them the kid version of the iPhone, but the bigger surprise for me is that I’ve become one of those DS-toting people.

Nintendo made me the happiest girl in the world by sending their Brand Ambassadors (including me!) to Seattle for an unveiling of the coolest new system earlier this month. For the record, even though she stayed home while mom flew to Seattle to play video games, Clover was almost just as excited as I was. She must have known Nintendo goodies would trickle down to her, even if she never mentioned it. She was just happy to hear about it, and her dream for me came true when Nintendo President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime let us all know we’d each be taking home a Nintendo 3DS of our own.

My plan was to hand the Nintendo 3DS over to the kids when I got home, with the proviso that it was actually mine and theirs to borrow only. I picked that idea up from a great piece on Shigeru Miyamoto in the Dec. 20 issue of the New Yorker. Miyamoto – who really “is Nintendo,” as clarified by one of the Nintendo employees – said in the piece that all gaming systems in his home belonged to him and that his kids could borrow them for use. It was his way of regulating their usage.

I love the DS for my kids, but even while heading up to Seattle, I didn’t think a DS was for me. The games on my phone are for my kids and I mostly use the Wii for exercise or Netflix, which means I’m just not a gamer in need of a system.

You can see where this is going, right?

The Nintendo 3DS blew my mind. Blew my mind.

The 3D games are cool. They are very pretty (I know, what a girlie comment to make, but they are colorful and well designed) and draw the user into the game more than a standard 2D version. You are in the castle with Kid Icarus or in a street brawl in Street Fighter. Yet none of the games compared to the most amazing thing I have ever seen in a gaming system: Augmented Reality (although one employee told me it was technically augmentum, based in Latin, or we can go with the easier AR). I have never taken LSD, but I would imagine this has got to be similar. There are videos on YouTube, but they don’t do it justice. Basically, there is a simple card (that comes with the system) on a table, it gets picked up in the camera by the system, and the card comes to life. Archery targets pop up, Kirby comes to life, etc., all depending upon which card you use. This was the first thing I showed my family when I got home from Seattle and in the screen, I could see Rockets hand coming across again and again as he tried to touch the dragon he could see on the screen, but not on the table. His mind was blown too.

Wario, Rocket’s new BFF

That’s as close to the Nintendo 3DS as the kids have gotten. It’s mine. It’s a pedometer, which is awesome, and makes sense, as many of the games involve movement, and it encourages users like me to carry it around. Players don’t hunch over and zone out with this thing. There is twisting and moving positions and angles. It’s pretty active for a handheld system.

It has a fun way to interact with others via Street Pass when in sleep mode, which means if you walk near someone with a DS in street mode, your Miis actually meet to say hello. I checked my DS when I got home from the trip, and I saw a few connections from people I passed in the airports. It’s oddly addictive.

I bought a few games too – Steel Diver (blowing up submarines surrounding your own sub) and Pilotwings Resort. If you have Wii Sports Resort, Pilotwings Resort looks familiar and comfortable. Both games are easy for kids to handle, which is why I bought them. Personally, I liked Street Fighter IV and Kid Icarus Uprising (not yet released). I also bought stuffed characters and character-shaped gummies, but my only regret of the trip is that I did not buy enough in the employee store. The Bowser’s Shell Backpack left behind will forever bother me. Rocket would have rocked kindergarten in the fall with that backpack.

The level of 3D can be adjusted or turned off on the Nintendo 3DS, which is great if you’re worried about your kid’s eyesight or if like me, sometimes you just want to take it down a notch. As for the 3D warnings for children under age six, I read up on the issue prior to my trip and saw that optomitrists agreed that it doesn’t damage vision, yet because Nintendo did not think enough conclusive data is in whether long term use impacted eye growth, it has issued a warning, saying that the system is not for children under age six. As written on Wired, “In short, Nintendo’s warning may be reasonable and cautious, but it doesn’t reflect a known health risk.” Personally, I’m not worried because my kids DS use is limit, as is their entire exposure to 3D images. By the time 3D systems and TVs become commonplace, both kids will be old enough to handle it. Not to mention, the Nintendo 3DS is all mine, anyway.

Since home, I haven’t used much of the 3D functionality, instead gently tip toeing out on the slippery slope by borrowing my kids’ Super Mario Bros. (Clover literally says “Bros,” which drives me nuts.) It is so much fun to open up my super shiny aqua system and play a video game. I totally get it now – it’s awesome – and my kids love that mom is trying something they love too. Rocket told me yesterday that next weekend (electronics are weekend and holidays only), he wants to teach me to play Mario Kart on the DS. “Mom, you’re gonna love it,” he said. “It’s super awesome!” I think he just wants to play each other so he has someone to beat, but I don’t care because it’s fun.

Disclosure: The trip to Seattle and the Nintendo 3DS were paid for by Nintendo. I wasn’t asked to write anything in return and the opinions are mine. With that said, it was one of the best trips ever. Nintendo does things right.

Planting the Seeds to Raise Smart Cyber Citizens

Sometimes it takes having an event occur to finally drive home a lesson.
I've sat in on numerous internet safety talks, all of them were
excellent and full of tips, but I thought internet safety was something
to think about in the future because my kids are so young and have so
little time on the computer. Rocket doesn't have any computer time, so
he's definitely not a worry, and there's not much trouble Clover can get
in during her few trips to

Not long after one of these internet safety talks, Clover asked to use
the computer to visit a website that she heard about from her
classmates. It's the website for these little toys they collect (or
collected, as the phase seems to be dying out), which I had looked at
before and knew to be safe. When Clover uses the computer, it's always a
laptop that I place on our dinner table, purposefully in a central
location, allowing me to keep an eye on the screen. She started
laughing, which was odd because I didn't think there was anything funny
on the site. When I asked what was so funny, she said, "people made
movies" with the little toys. I walked over and noticed she was on
YouTube. My heart stopped.

Luckily the little toy-based videos she saw were completely age
appropriate, but I still freaked out on the inside while casually asking
how she ended up on this site. What I hadn't seen on the company
website was a link to related videos on YouTube. YouTube scares me
because it is so easy to start off watching kid-safe videos, only to end
up at completely inappropriate videos from one suggested video to
another. Another place for concern is the YouTube comments. As pointed out by Marian Merritt, Norton's internet safety advocate, a
comment could say, "If you like this video, then you'll love this," with
a link to porn. She knows because she's seen this happen with a comment
under a clip of an Anne Hathaway movie. While the user may think the link lead to more Anne Hathaway clips, it actually led to gay porn. Like
most kids, Clover is click happy, which concerns me where she could end
up, regardless of how innocent her intentions.

I talked to Clover about how it's not okay with me if she leaves a site
we'd agreed upon and that the site YouTube also contains videos that
aren't okay for children to see, which is why I don't want her there
without me. She nodded and agreed, but I knew what I said was somewhat
over her head, especially the word "site" or how she would know where
one site ends and another begins. Links out look just as
much a part of a website than any other page, so how could she know the

First up is to educate her about the url line. She is already aware of
the line because she told a friend that she figured out that since this
toy's website or the PBS Kids website were basically the name of the
thing dot something, usually dot com, any word could be added to this
line, and once a dot com was added, off you went on a new adventure.
Sometimes critical thinking takes her beyond where we are ready for her
to go.

One way is to explain that the url line, for instance where it says, is where we are at. When that line
changes, think of it as our location changing. Catherine Teitelbaum,
director of child safety from Yahoo! used a great analogy for explaining
this to kids: think of the url as a playground. Clover may start out at
one playground, but when the words in the url line change, the
playground changes. At a real playground, it wouldn't be okay
for Clover to walk off to another playground without checking with me
first. Treat the internet the same way. If the url changes, she needs to check with me.

Of course, her use of the internet and how it's regulated at home will evolve as
she gets older. Continuing to talk about rules, usage and what makes me
uncomfortable will help. As Catherine Teitelbaum noted, everyone in the
family benefits when you're all on the same page. In the meantime,
we'll also install Norton Online Family's Safety Minder on all of our
computers. (It's free!) Not only will it help block our kids from sites
we don't like, but it will also help monitor time. The program can
restrict internet use during certain times, days or set an overall time
limit, say two hours a week. Keeping the computer at the dinner table
helps me monitor things now, but being able to remotely monitor my kids'
use will become more critical in the future, when laptops and mobile
devices make relying solely on over the shoulder monitoring

Just like Yahoo! recommends a family chat, Symantec (which owns Norton)
recommends talking to your kids about monitoring software – why it's
there, what your concerns are, what you are watching for, etc.
Everything should be out in the open. Especially because the Norton
program lets the users know when a site is blocked or when their use
time is up.

As my kids get older, we'll talk more about their digital reputations and
making sure the info they put on the web is something they are comfortable
with everyone knowing because it will be there forever. They won't be
allowed to keep their cell phones in their rooms at night. They don't
need their sleep interrupted more, there are low levels of radiation
emitted, so putting a phone under a pillow is a small, but unncessary
exposure, plus as it was pointed out by Symantec experts, stuff happens
at night. Also, not sharing passwords, being careful what they forward,
ignoring bullies or mean people and telling an adult if they see
anything that scares them or that they think is inappropriate. By that
time, I'll have to hold the same talk with my parents, who as seniors
are just as likely to face problems online. Maybe I can let my kids give
the talk about being safe online to my parents.

Moms Get the iPad

Ipad Now that the jokes about the iPad name are dying down, we can get back
to judging the merits of this thing. Before it was unveiled, I planned
to wait until version 2.0 to buy one, but as I watched Apple's
presentation, delaying my purchase by a year seemed more difficult.
Once the prices were announced, I was ready to place my order.

Here is what the iPad offers that moms understand better than the
average tech reviewer: it's a tool that will help not only keep our
lives organized, but will help to entertain the kids.

My first thought was that the size and functionality of the iPad is the
perfect complement to my current set up. When I drive afternoon
carpool, I sometimes arrive at school pretty early. Sure I can read
email on my iPhone, but it's a pain to make more than a two sentence
reply. My laptop is too cumbersome (and I've got the smallest MacBook
for on the go use). Wireless connectivity is limited at Clover's school
and nonexistent at Rocket's, which means I'd be lugging around a
heavier computer only to use programs not requiring an internet
connection. The iPad is the idea size to slip into my bag, allowing me
to get work done during the occasional down time that would normally
would be lost as I scrolled down on Twitter while waiting for school to
let out.

The ability to work in the car sold me on the iPad, but it wasn't until
talking to a mom friend that I thought of another huge benefit: mobile entertainment for the kids.

Yes, I hate turning over my iPhone for Rocket to play games and leave
sticky fingerprints all over the screen. I'm always afraid the phone is
going to slip out of his hands when I'm not looking and it will be
forever lost. The benefit of the iPhone – and the iTouch, because we
use both – was clear when we flew to Arizona on two flights that were
too brief for us to even get the DVD player set up before we began our
descent and needed to put away electronic devices. I gave one kid the
iPhone and the other the iTouch and let them watch the videos from Here
Comes Science
. They loved it. It was so much easier than the DVD
player, although a larger screen with more video options would have
been ideal…which is where the iPad comes in. I could have a movie
set up for them in seconds that they could both watch off the same

Yes, the name is lame, but still, iWant.