To paraphrase The Flintstones, we are a modern phone-age family.
But not just phones. Tablets, phablets, laptops, set-tops, cameras, consoles, you name it– if it’s a tech gizmo, you’ll find it in our house.
And while that may sound like geek nirvana, it often leads to problems.
For example, my 17-year-old would happily spend each waking moment glued to FunnyOrDie on his tablet if we let him – and that’s only because we took his Xbox away. Given a choice, my 14-year-old would fill her days obsessively counting her Tumblr followers on her laptop while watching marathons of Supernatural on the Roku.
My lovely wife, a tech columnist for a well-known women’s magazine, now spends more time talking to her Samsung Galaxy S4 (“Hello Google”) than she does to her husband. And me? If I am separated from my iPad for more than three minutes I start to get the shakes.
As technology journalists, we have an excuse for spending most of our waking hours in front of screens. As the offspring of two tech journos, our children are spoiled by all the tech in ourhouse. So every so often we have to pry them away from pixels and bring them back into the physical realm.
In the past that usually involved changing the WiFi password. When they were smaller my wife changed it to things like “do your homework” or “clean your room.” The kids would ask for the new password, then reluctantly trudge off to do chores or tackle their math.
We thoroughly enjoyed this game. The kids, not so much.
One thing we did not enjoy: Every time we changed the password on the router, we also had to change it on every other device that connects to it. As the number of connected devices in our household swelled, that became unmanageable.
We desperately needed a better solution. Then, like a winged rescue canine descending from the heavens, the Skydog Smart Router arrived. As the kids say: OMG.
We control the horizontal
This dingus does everything – access control, content blocking, bandwidth throttling, the works. Chinese technocrats who manage the Great Firewall only wish they had something this powerful. For the first time ever, total Internet domination is within my grasp.
A product shot of the Skydog router, which costs $149 with a three-year subscription to the Skydog Cloud Service.
Better yet: It’s so brain-dead simple even I can manage it. I just entered the information from my old router onto a Web form and registered my unit with Skydog’s cloud service. From there, I just had to click the “Make it happen!” button to let Skydog pick a name and password for my network, or choose my own. To make life easier I used the settings from our old network, so I wouldn’t have to change it on 27 different gadgets.
The router then puts on a light show for about 10 minutes while it updates its firmware and searches for every device on the network.
Once the Skydog is ready for action, it’s a matter of adding users and assigning devices to each of them. I created an account for each member of my family, plus groups for all our connected entertainment devices (Roku, Sonos, TiVo, Chromecast) and other miscellaneous gizmos (Vivant home security, Nest Thermostat, Withings Scale, Wemote light switch).
See the original Kickstarter pitch video for the Skydog Smart Router here.
Once you’ve corralled all your devices into groups the fun really starts. If I don’t want the kids surfing all night, I can set up a schedule that cuts them off at midnight and restores access after breakfast. If the boy is spending more time on videos than homework, I can choke his bandwidth down to a trickle. If the girl is binge-watching on Roku, I can shut off just that device or all entertainment devices. Skydog offers five filtering schemes for blocking content from basic to extreme, or you can create your own.
I created a custom scheme where the only things I allow are sites devoted to macramé and spelunking. I told the kids: Do not mess with me, for I am mighty. Mwahahaha.
Idiot proof? Not this idiot
I set the router up on a gorgeous sunny Saturday afternoon. Hoping to nudge the kids out of the house, I told Skydog to block Internet access until dark, then went off on a long bike ride. Hours later I returned home to find my daughter camped on the couch in front of Gossip Girl and my son horizontal on his bed watching YouTube.
The acronym WTF? came immediately to mind. Did Skydog fail? Did I screw up? No, and yes. Being an idiot, I had left the old router on the shelf next to the new one. My son (not an idiot) simply swapped them out. Because I hadn’t changed the network settings, everything worked just as it did before. Had I checked my phone or email during my ride, I would have been alerted to this breach of security by Skydog. But I didn’t.
Five minutes and a not-inconsiderable amount of swearing later, tyranny had been restored. The old router was safely locked away, and the new regime was back in place. Mind you, even when WiFi is blocked the kids can still access the Net via their smart phones, so Skydog is not a total solution. But it’s pretty damned close.
The Skydog Smart Router can send a text message notification to a member of your household when he or she hits a usage limit you set.
Since then I have tried to exercise my newfound powers with restraint. Some day I will be old and feeble, and these are the people who will be choosing which home to abandon me in. I have also resisted the temptation to mess with my wife’s Internet’s access in any way.
I may be an idiot, but I’m not insane. Even tyrants have limits.
Skydog Smart Router
$149 with a three-year Skydog Cloud Service Subscription
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