AUSTIN, Texas -- High-tech gadgetry and newborn babies seem an unnatural fit. Babies are soft and drool. Many of the electronics we surround ourselves with, on the other hand, are sleek and rechargeable. They only drool if you're doing something very, very wrong.
But I've been brought up to believe there are few areas of life that can't be improved with a little digital tinkering. Who says tried-and-true baby-rearing methods aren't one of them?
I set out to try a few products that could help during the sleep-deprived first weeks of parenthood. My wife and I - and our tiny guinea pig/baby, Lilly - found each of them had some utility.
Austin-based Babble Soft LLC's Web-based program Baby Manager (babies can be managed!?) is good for parents who want to track feedings, diaper changes and medicine doses down to the milliliter.
Subscribers to Baby Manager can input the information on the Web site or via a Windows Mobile Smartphone such as some Palm Treo models or the Motorola Q.
Babble Soft recently introduced a second service, Baby Say Cheese, that allows parents to create a photo album they can pair with baby milestones.
Each service starts at $9.95 a month with discounts for buying the two or subscribing for longer periods. A free trial is available for those who want to test Baby Manager before buying.
In our test run, we didn't get a lot of use out of Baby Manager. During the critical first two weeks, in which tracking feedings and diaper changes is most important, my wife didn't go near a computer. She also doesn't own a Smartphone. I kept my online activity to e-mail with friends and relatives. By the time we felt rested enough to look at Baby Manager, we'd already stopped tracking our baby's intake and output.
Babble Soft President Aruni Gunasegaram suggested that parents who aren't wired 24/7 can print forms from the site and transcribe the information onto the Web site later.
For parents who are more organized than we are or who want to keep a record of this data for a doctor, a nanny or for later comparison with future siblings, Baby Manager is easy to use and presents plenty of options for keeping track of a lot of data.
Though there's no shortage of books, Web sites and forums for new moms, information written for and by dads is a bit of a rarity.
Still feeling woefully unprepared a few weeks before the birth, it was a relief to find Dadlabs.com and its DVD, Due Dads: The Man's Guide to Labor and Delivery. The company, Dadlabs Inc., created by three former Austin teachers, puts out hilarious videos on its site giving dads the lowdown on parenthood in a familiar environment: There's a dartboard, beer and plenty of sports metaphors in the Dadlabs Lounge.
My wife and I were pleasantly surprised to find that though the DVD is funny, it contained a lot of useful information presented in a straightforward way. The video broaches every major part of the delivery process, from getting to the hospital to postpartum depression.
The Web site contains product reviews, punditry on parent issues and sensible advice. The DVD and dadlabs.com are highly recommended.
Putting you to sleep
The audio-based sleeping aids offered at Pzizz.com aren't specifically targeted to parents of newborns, but we got enough warnings about sleep deprivation before the birth that Pzizz seemed worth trying out.
Available for PC and Mac, the software creates custom audio files to help you sleep or nap. You could, for instance, create a 25-minute "Energizer" nap that will lull you into relaxation with narration and ocean sounds and then sound an alarm at the end to bring you back to reality.
The audio files can be exported to an iPod, burned to a CD or played directly on the computer. Pzizz's software comes in two varieties: Pzizz Energizer and Pzizz Sleep. Each costs $30 (both are bundled for $50) and a $147 package includes a piece of hardware and the full software package to bring on the Sandman.
In my tests, the Sleep software was relaxing but never got me to fall asleep. The Energizer software worked much better for me. A 10-minute nap midday helped me relax. Free examples of Sleep and Energizer are available at pzizz.com.
I was skeptical of AT&T;'s Remote Monitor Service, which allows you to set up a video camera and security system in your home that can be accessed on the Web or by phone. That was before I saw my baby, in her crib, via live streaming video from work.
The package, available to AT&T; customers for $9.95 a month in addition to $199 for the hardware starter kit, comes with a base station, a small camera that can be mounted on any tripod or on a wall, a door/window sensor and two adapters that can extend a network connection to any power outlet in the house.
You also need a broadband Internet connection and a router.
Setup is surprisingly quick, and once everything is plugged in, the camera can be accessed online. Its moving lens is controllable via the Web. The camera can capture still images when it detects movement, and a privacy button on the camera itself can shut the video feed down instantly, a feature my wife appreciated. The camera doesn't record sound, and it can't zoom in and out, but it does take clear video and still images.
We liked the expandability of the remote monitor: You can add more cameras and other accessories later, such as a temperature sensor or a gadget that allows you to switch on lamps remotely.