Baby Hacks

Lesser known technology hacks pertaining to life with a baby or toddler:

OhLife

OhLife is an online journal for your inbox. How it works is simplicity itself. Every day OhLife sends you an email. You reply to that email with your thoughts for the day. That’s it. The site keeps a record of everything you write and you can go back at any time and read past entries. All of this makes OhLife perfectly suited to functioning as a low-maintenance baby journal.

I have OhLife configured to email me each night around the time my daughter has gone to bed. I make it a ritual to spend five minutes typing quick notes about what activities she did that day, new words she’s learned, and anything else I want to remind my future self about. Even if I’m tired and I just write one sentence, I do it. I don’t bother polishing the grammar or style because that doesn’t matter in a private setting. As with photo sharing, low friction is the key.

Every parent wants to capture in-the-moment thoughts about the adventure of raising a child, but the time to sit down and handwrite witty observations about one’s baby often never presents itself. The bar is too high. OhLife makes it do-able. Just remember not to break the chain.

Picasa Dropbox

If you’re a new parent, forget about putting together snazzy vacation Flickr albums (you won’t be taking any vacations for a while) or posting artistic photos of your beer with Instagram (you’ll be too focused on the drinking). Your highest purpose is now keeping your family and friends supplied with a continuous and never-ending stream of baby pictures.

Over time I’ve learned how to make this super easy:

  • I keep one monolithic “dropbox” album of baby photos on Google Picasa Web Albums.
  • I’m always snapping pictures of my daughter with my cell phone, an Android Nexus One. On average I probably capture two or three photos every day (sort of like DailyBooth, except I think the results are more interesting when the subject is someone other than one’s self).
  • Good photos are uploaded straight into the dropbox album. The Nexus One has a built-in uploader for Picasaweb, so this happens right away with no cables involved.
  • I never waste time composing clever captions or color-correcting the photos. People generally only care about one thing: the baby in the picture. Everything else is overlooked. If a photo isn’t any good, I delete it and take another.
  • The URL of the dropbox album is shared with my entire family. Then they just check it on their own schedule, whenever they want a fix. (Privacy note: Picasa can have URLs that are shareable but not visible by the public.)

The beauty of this setup is that it’s low-friction. Snap a photo on my cell phone; click Share; click Upload; done. Fast. Easy. Everyone’s happy. I no longer have to email out photos, hunt down JPEG files to attach, and so on. On the receiving end, friends and family don’t have to bug us to post new pictures. The entire problem is changed from push to pull.

I’ve also found that simplifying the sharing process encourages taking more photos, especially in normal day-to-day situations, which is really fun when kids are the subject.

By the way, this setup has nothing to do with Dropbox the file syncing company. “Dropbox” is simply the default album name chosen by my cell phone, and using the default choice means one fewer step in the process.

If your cell phone doesn’t have a built-in uploader for Google Picasa (like the Android Nexus One does) then unfortunately you might need to add extra steps to the process.

YouTube Playlists

For toddlers (probably not so much for infants) there always comes a time when you need to bust out a video or two to keep the kid occupied and inert while you handle some other critical task. In such situations, YouTube is indispensable.

Of course, YouTube itself is no revelation when it comes to kids; it’s about as secret as Skype and iPad games. Playlists, however, seem to be a little-known feature of YouTube. Most people use YouTube in surf mode—click on one video, and once it’s finished, click on the next—but a playlist allows you to queue up multiple videos and play them all automatically in sequence. Best of all, playlists are saved to your account, so you can rerun the same ones over and over again. Toddlers don’t mind this. In fact, experience shows that they love it.

Bottom line, YouTube Playlists are clutch like Robert Horry. They keep a toddler’s attention riveted and their hands off the keyboard. This is simply huge when you’re desparate for an extra 30 minutes of hands-free time during a busy day.

Check out the complete guide to YouTube Playlists.

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