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About Paul Banas

Paul Banas is happy married dad of two great kids living in San Francisco. He writes now about kids, new technology and how the two interact for GreatDad.com and for Pregnancy Magazine (pregnancymagazine.com) where he is also the publisher.

Here are my most recent posts

Review: Galaxy Zega

The nice folks at Galaxy sent me a set to play with my son. We had previously reviewed the Anki Drive racing game which is a perfect point of comparison for the Zega.

In several respects, they are more than a bit similar:

  • Cool high-tech racing cars with special powers including missile-launching (AKA “tanks”)
  • Real-life play but controlled using tablet or phone interface
  • Increasing car power, speed, and agility (player-based) tracked by experience/time played

The Galaxy Zega is very different however because it un-tethers the cars from a track (Anki cars drive on tracks with embedded dots so they are always situationally aware and learning).  With Galaxy, you could potentially play throughout the house up to the Bluetooth 4.o range of 200 feet. You aren’t restrained by any sort of track and with strong wheels can even climb over some obstacles. This means you have to steer your car far more but you have to be far more accurate in your shooting.  NOTE: Anki a year ago introduced modular track so that players can set up new courses. However, cars must still stay on this track.

In the Galaxy Zega  starter kit, you get two cars, 10 walls, a rotating wall, and a dozen floorboards. In it’s simplest setup, you can play wholly within a walled rectangle about 29″ x 39.” Like in many video games, you move your car back and forth hoping to find a position to take pot-shots at your enemy. If you played “Tank” on Atari, in the arcade or even the more recent Wii version, you know exactly how this works. Galaxy Zega is the video game brought to life when played in this setting. Like an RC toy, your commands are forward/backward, right/left, and shoot missiles.The revolving wall adds a fun dimension; give it a push and you might suddenly have a clear shot.  You can take down these walls and can race outside of the confines of the small space, hiding behind chairs and furniture.  The real fun, however, is when you add “Base” squares.

The X-base squares,  also Bluetooth,  are easily added from your tablet game interface. Using one X-base, competitors can roll over it to add new powers, or if using two, they can be “capture-the-flag” style targets for gamers to find and attack while opponents are out finding their own. Imagine if you have to go to living room searching for your opponent’s base while he is frantically searching in the kitchen for yours. This is entirely possible using the Galaxy Zega. Nothing like this would work in Anki.

On the other hand, the Zega Galaxy does not have AI. While the cars (based on player ID) gain more powers, they don’t get smarter, nor can you re-run a race based on what the cars “remember.” This, as you may know, is most amazing part of the Anki Drive experience, though obviously not quintessential to game play. While the Galaxy Zega is different, we did not yearn for more AI in our game play.

One thing that disappoints me in these types of games is that players are adding features all the time based on the amount of game play they are doing. Just because my son plays the game more than I do, should he play against me with a “level 5” car versus my level 3? I wish there were a way to equalize the cars so we both start at zero, or perhaps even have a golf-like par setting so that he is actually handicapped to make our competitions more competitive.

For more info or to order, go to GalaxyZega.com. The set without the x-Base is $149.  The x-bases are sold separately for $29.99 and are especially recommended to get the most out of the game. Additional pieces including ramps, extra walls and added swinging gates are available at: galaxyzega.com/battlefield/. Finally, you can make the Zega a 4-person game by adding two more cars for $99.



“Dad Support Group” ad from Progressive

Progressive has done a far better job on their new campaign for dads than their weird and insulting attempt last year w In last year’s “Momeostasis,” men became a feminized mom version of themselves as a sign of maturity. In”Dadeostasis” versions, the mom became more masculine like her father.  Both were painful to watch since they seemed to go beyond maturity to imply a changing sexuality after kids appeaar. In this season’s ads however, you may find yourself nodding in agreement as both men and women make common statements like “Are we trying to heat the outdoors here?” or “It works perfectly fine.Why should I replace it?”

In this season’s ads however, you may find yourself nodding in agreement as both men and women make common statements like “Are we trying to heat the outdoors here?” or “It works perfectly fine.Why should I replace it?”

It’s not exactly enobling but it does feel more real and whole lot less insulting.

Powerful video story on daddy-daughter love

The New York Times ran this “OP-DOC” video today. It’s the story of a young woman who leaves her father behind to escape the concentration camps. It doesn’t dwell on her guilt but the impossible situation she found herself in, and the message her father gets to her years later.

Oddly, this didn’t make me cry, but it’s a beautiful piece that manages to communicate all it needs to be without being overly-sentimental about a daugther and dad bond.

Review: Jack Reacher “Never Go Back” for dads and kids?

Okay, so Rotten Tomatoes is giving the new Jack Reacher movie, now out for digital rental, 37%. Should you skip “Never Go Back” with those ratings? Or is “Never Go Back” for dads and kids?

If you’re looking for a Friday evening diversion and like this sort of thing, this movie might surprise you. Not because it’s a great film, but because for what it is, it’s not as bad as “37%” would indicate.

Of course, this is predicated on a few things. You have to like Tom Cruise. No great plot is going to overcome the Tom Cruise hatred held by more than a few. I’ve never understood that myself. I’ve enjoyed his charm since “Risky Business,” and while the guy does possess more range (see “Tropic Thunder,” “Magnolia”), here you get basic “Few Good Men” intense Tom Cruise with few opportunities for flashy smiles.

You’ll also have to get over some leaden dialogue. Perhaps because I was expecting this to be bad, my ear was particularly attuned to bad writing and I found it in the first half hour. After that, it was classic adventure/thriller stuff. It’s not Raymond Chandler, but it wasn’t grating to the ears.

The love story between Jack Reacher and Major (Susan) Turner doesn’t go beyond the flirting stage, though there is plenty of couple-style squabbling that will bore younger viewers. Not surprisingly, the 20-year gap in age between Cruise and Cobie Smulders (of Avengers fame) isn’t even an issue. I have to wonder though how Cruise, always in great shape, can keep up with her in all their running and leaping. Older married dads will enjoy this fantasy however.

None of the action involves never-seen-before pyrotechnics though we have classic explosions, shoot-em-ups, and 4-on-1 fight scenes. Hollywood can create this type of comic book violence amazingly well compared to television. And if you like to watch this sort of action, you won’t be disappointed.

As for whether, it’s good for kids, there is little that is very shocking versus what you’ll find all over TV. You know your own child and will have a better sense of whether he or she would be affected by the following scenes:

  • brutal murder of someone by hitting their head with a telephone
  • dead bodies with blood sprayed on wall
  • two soldiers shot at point blank range

While the bad guy does get predictably “dead” by the end, I was happy that it wasn’t via one of those really gruesome crushings or disembowelings.

Given the very brutal ending of the first Jack Reacher movie, “Reacher,” I did not let my 12-year-old watch the new “Reacher” with me. In the end, it might have been fine – he’s seen worse – but I like to err on the conservative side.  Commonsense Media gave “Never Go Back” an age 14+ rating (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/search/jack%20reacher)  and the original Jack Reacher 15+ so that should give you a good guide for your own child.


Why you need to teach your kids skills now

My wife is reading Barbarian Days, the memoirs of a now 60-year-old surfer. While reading it, she stopped dramatically and looked at me to say, “He says that if you really want to be able to surf completely naturally, you have to start by age 14.” She continued, “Wow, by age 14. Can you imagine that?” I have to admit that I wasn’t really listening, immersed as I was in my New York Times crossword puzzle.

It was only later that I started turning the surfing puzzle around in my mind and thought about how solipsistic (the author’s) comment was. In his special surfing world view, surfing was special in that it could only be learned “organically” by age 14. However, when you think about it, most skills are learned best by age 14. We know that language acquisition (first or second) really needs to take place before adolescence for it to really stick. We also know the same for music with all its similarities to language, a fact I know all too well not having seriously started piano until age 48. Ditto: skiing, tennis, and basketball. I’d even venture to say that all rote learning is similar in this regard. While we as older adults have a fantasy that if we only had the time, we could learn make up for all that lost time and learn lots of stuff. But kids have both the luxury of a long time horizon and an ability to mold their brains to new challenges that we as post-adolescents will never have. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t or can’t try, but it does mean that we’re far less likely to develop fluency in subjects we pick up later in life. It takes even more dedication and discipline for older people to learn new skills because training the brain is that much harder.

But for little kids, there are still plenty of chances. As a dad, that presents a special responsibility. If you start when they are up walking, talking and taking directions, you only have about nine years to identify and expose your kids to skills they can acquire for the long haul. As in all things parental, you can decide on what these things are going to be in an alchemy of what interests your child, where they have natural abilities and what you think are important life skills.

In our house for example, music acquisition is important. That means the kids both started piano at age 5 and have continued through to high school with weekly lessons and mostly one hour per day of practice. Even if I took it away today, they would still have music programmed in their brains. We also believe it physical activity. They have had tennis lessons since about age 7 and while they will never be playing at Wimbledon, they have skills in a sport they can hopefully play and enjoy into their ‘70s. Both kids have also played soccer and my son has overcome his disparate size at the onset to have real skills. I’ve failed however, in getting either interested in basketball, a sport I never learned and prevented me from joining in some social outings. Golf has also come late to my kids and at no real disciplined level though they both play it fairly naturally perhaps thanks to the tennis.

if you have little or even growing kids, now would be the time to ponder what life skills you want them to have that can’t be learned at the same level later in life. They can’t learn everything so whatever you choose, it should be a combination of what you think has value, but also what you can support them in. If you fancy fencing, but that would require an hour commute to the fencing studio every evening for the next 15 years, you might want to reconsider. Piano does require a piano. Tennis does mean you have to get them to a court. Chess, however, is cheap and readily available anywhere.

What skills do you wish you had learned? What skills are you teaching your kids? Add them in the comments below.