The technology struggle is real!

I’ve relaunched the blog! It’s now on a different, self-hosted platform, which means I’m having to learn a few new tricks and do things slightly differently. There’s nothing quite like getting to know a system really well, then throwing it out the window and starting again with something that looks similar but is, in fact, a souped-up, all-singing, all-dancing version that turns my brain to putty.

I like it when the technology I use stays the same. Maybe I’m easily confused, but it irked me recently when my Outlook mail account started sorting my inbox for me into ‘Focused’ messages and ‘Others’. I mean: How does it KNOW which emails I need to read and which ones I can ignore? All that happens is I think I’m caught up, and then I find a whole pile of messages sitting smugly and silently in the ‘Others’ folder. Can I next expect an algorithm humanoid to show up at my office to rearrange the files in my filing cabinet? Needless to say, I’m still trying to figure out how to turn this new Outlook feature off.

I’m also one of those people who see those little icons and pop-up messages on my computer, iPad and iPhone, indicating there is a new software update available, and inwardly groan. The thought of having to download and install whatever it is they’ve come up with now fills me with distrust. I find it disruptive. And then I ignore it, thinking ‘I don’t need it anyway’, ‘My computer’s working just fine’ or ‘This update’s not for me!’

old TV
Turning the telly on was much easier in days gone by

Okay, while I’m at it, it also annoys me that turning on a TV these days requires three remotes with 60 buttons. I quote Bridget Jones: “Suspect designed by 13-year-old technogeeks, competing with each other from sordid bedrooms, leaving everyone else thinking they’re the only person in the world who doesn’t understand what the buttons are for, thus wreaking psychological damage on a massive, global scale.”

And I’m not even going to tell you what happened last week when I attempted to operate our tumble dryer for the first time (in my defence, we rarely use it – the climate ensures clothes become bone-dry super fast when hung outside). Okay, briefly: It was nearly midnight. The dog had peed on the clean duvet that my mother-in-law, arriving very late, was to use. The buttons had only strange hieroglyphic swirls on them. There seemed to be about 40 different drying combinations, none of which actually dried the duvet in time. I felt like a man.

Am I the only person who thinks it’s all getting a bit ridiculous?

Getting water from the fridge has even become a complicated task. There’s a type of fridge – a Kenmore Elite I believe – that offers you temperature options, manual, automatic. You have to choose how many ounces of water you want (who knows how many ounces a glass takes?!?!), what type of ice, and more.

Anyway, rant over. I’m working on my trust issues. In the interest of keeping up with my older son, who has become so fluent in technology it’s downright intimidating, I’ve decided to try to tackle all these technical things head on. I’m going to stop being scared of software updates, turning the TV on, operating the dryer, and hope this makes life run more smoothly.

Welcome to the new-look blog – and forgive me if it takes me a while to figure out what all the damn bells and whistles do.


School reports – what the hell happened?

It’s lunchtime at work. On the day our magazine goes to press so it’s all hands to the pump meeting our deadline. I munch on my sandwich, and click on an email from school – the interim reports are out.

Well, actually they’re not ‘out’ at all; they’re hidden away on the school’s password-protected portal. I should look, I think to myself, just a quick look while I eat lunch. Two minutes later, I’m ruing the day I set up my account and didn’t commit my username to memory.

Wait, what’s this? The reports are available on an app. All I have to do is download the iParent app, put in a password, and Bob’s your uncle: Son2’s report will appear on my phone.

So, because I’ve really got nothing better to do today, other than meeting all our work deadlines, I attempt to download the app. I say ‘attempt’ – it’s yet another parent fail for me. My phone screen turns as white as a sheet, and I feel the heat rising in my cheeks as this happens three times: Damn app. Why can’t they just give me a paper copy of the report, or is that just really last-century now?

By now, I’ve become determined that this won’t defeat me, and so I trawl my in-box looking for portal log-on details. Woohoo, I find them, and I’m into Fort Knox – I can download the report. That was 25 minutes of my day I won’t get back (and my whole lunch ‘hour’), but never mind – I’m super curious to see how Son2 is doing.

Give us a ‘B’! No chance – those people at the Standards & Testing Agency have lost their minds

Let’s just say, this is the moment I’m reminded how infuriating school reports have become. While this one isn’t a full-length report, with pages of tables, targets and almost impenetrable numbers and letters, it still leaves me utterly baffled. Even after I read the two-page e-mail (longer than the report) explaining the UK’s new marking system.

“Can you make any sense of this?”  I ask DH when I get home. “It needs decoding.”

He reads it, scratching his head. “Hmmm. Well, ‘secure +’ in reading sounds good, doesn’t it? But what’s the number 2?” He shrugs.

“No idea,” I say, and re-read the blurb about attainment being presented in a series of steps within age-related year bands. Wtf? It’s a linguistic minefield: ‘working within’; ‘ideally pupils will make six steps progress’; ‘a standardised assessment’; and on consulting Google, ‘a scaled score based on their raw score’.

DH and I are thinking exactly the same thing: Why can’t they just tell us if he’s an A, B, C or D? We could understand that. And even talk to him about it.

 I peer again at the bar chart, but my eyes are tired. Son2, meanwhile, is lounging on the sofa, getting away with all this completely scot-free as his parents try to puzzle it out.

“Well, I’m taking ‘secure +’ to be good,” says DH.

“But the number 2?” I say.

“What about it?

“Well if that’s the year band, it doesn’t make sense or he’s really behind … he’s year 3.”

Oh how I miss the days of teachers writing a few scrawled, occasionally acerbic lines about their pupils.


A technically challenged Christmas

Twas Christmas morning, when all though the house, there was the most almighty din.

As the morning mayhem ensued, I braced myself for what I knew was coming next: “Dad, can we set up the Xbox? Now, now, NOW – pleeeeeeease!”

Expecting Son 1 to just look at the box was a far-fetched notion, so we started in earnest. I mean, how hard could it be? Surely easier than flat-packed Ikea furniture. Once the Xbox was done, we could move on to setting up the wii, then head out to eat and relax later while the children played each other (Santa had wisely brought two Xbox consoles to avert WW3).

DH plugs it in, disappearing in a puff of dust as he moves things around behind the TV. The Xbox springs to life, and immediately tells us:

Updates required.

What? It’s brand new. How can it possibly be out of date already? (damn you, Microsoft) So, we wait patiently, watching the bar nudge its way across the screen as the first lot of updates are installed. And then the second lot.

seasonal-celebrations-xbox-christmas-yuletide-father_christmas-grotto-ksmn1526l.jpgLongest wait ever for two small children on Christmas morning.

The machine seems happy now it’s been fed with the latest software, but I suspect couldn’t care less about us getting Christmas dinner. It starts calibrating.

Then it needs to run some tests. On the background noise in our house. Now, remember, we have two boys – both of whom are loud at the best of times, let alone after a visit from Santa.

It soon becomes apparent that we’ve failed the test. “Your house is too noisy,” it states, or words to that effect. And I could hardly argue otherwise.

We’re given a second chance (it’s Christmas, after all). “Shhhh,” I tell the overexcited boys. “Don’t make a sound.” And, miraculously, you could have heard a pin drop in our house.

Finally, it looks like we’re getting somewhere – escape out of the house, to a Christmas brunch, is shining like a light at the end of the tunnel. We shove a disc in and hope for the best.

“The system does not support PAL50,” it flashes back at us. “Go to settings… [And, while you’re at it, forget about getting dressed up – why not go in your PJs, no make-up, messy hair.]”

“OK, OK,” we muster, scrolling through various menus, somehow pressing the right combination of buttons and unleashing a game, which (small mercy) the boys already knew how to play.

A few minutes later, DH and I are lying on the bed upstairs, snatching a few minutes of respite – as the unassembled wii machine winks at us from the corner (Round two, ding ding).

“It was much easier in 1996,” says DH. “When all you had to do was put a cartridge in.”

“I know,” I nod, wearily. “It’s all so kids can have uncommunicative playtime with gamers all round the world, hiding behind avatars. Maybe they can hook up with their cousins,” I add brightly. And then we head out, taking my new Sat Nav with us and plugging it into the car.

It defaults to Arabic – and can we change it? No, of course not. Fifteen minutes of fiddling with it proves fruitless. “You know what DH,” I sigh. “I think we might have to read the instructions.”

Happy days!


Technology infiltrates prayer time

Have you ever watched a three-year-old play with an iPad? It’s actually quite shocking. The way those chubby fingers fly round the screen, leaving smeery fingerprints as they go, and the way the machine is handed back to you with 2% battery power.

While nobody was looking, something has happened to today’s tots. They’ve become ‘screen-agers’, who intuitively know that an iPad isn’t a toy, it’s a toy chest of apps and games.

Here at Circles, I’m continually nagged, harassed and cajoled until I give in and pass the iPad over to the children. LB can find and play a whole raft of kids’ apps (check for some great ideas) and his six-year-old brother is just a click away from downloading hundreds more from the Apple Store.

“Books….nah! Mummy’s iPad is much more fun AND it can teach me to read”
And, I’m the first to admit, it’s the most wonderful electronic babysitter – especially during those times when you need to get things done, like make dinner, or drive.

I’d go so far as to suggest that iPads might even have been designed with young children in mind. They’re small and compact, with no power cords to trip on or chew, and they’re instantly on, cutting down on whinge time. What’s more, they’re made to be touched, with no keys to get jammed up with juice or bashed.

I worked out today that by the time my children reach middle school, they’ll have been using an iPad almost every day for eight years.

But just as noteworthy is the way modern technology has crept into every part of our children’s lives. Kids can learn to read and count on iPads, they can colour in virtual colouring books, bake electronic pies and video the ceiling. They can watch cartoons and movies on iPads and play games galore. And that’s not all: modern technology can even infiltrate prayer time.

My good friend and mother of BB’s girlfriend told me yesterday that after saying a prayer for her five-year-old daughter that evening, she was asked: “Mommy, say ‘send’.

So cute, it was worth a whole blog post!