Summer Science Fun: The Moon

Orange Moon Phases –

The moon, it is always there in the sky watching us. It’s no wonder that stories have been weaved through our history that tell of the mystical powers of the moon. One of the oldest depictions of the of the moon is located in Knowth County, Meath, Ireland. The central chamber of the burial mound located there holds a nearly 5,000-year-old map of the moon’s surface. The ancient maps pits and mountains represent the craters and mountains we can see on the moon with the naked eye. The rest of the burial mound is decorated with circular and spiral patterns, all believed to be various depictions of the moon.

The truth is, however, that the moon is no more mystical then any rock in the forest. The moon isn’t like all of the twinkling stars in the sky, it doesn’t shine bright, in fact it doesn’t shine at all. I’m not trying to say that the moon isn’t important to our everyday lives, it is responsible for the ocean tides, changing day lengths, and the magnificent eclipses that make us stop in our tracks.

You might wonder how the moon was created, of course no one knows for sure. There are theories that it was created at the same time as the Earth as just extra material that was spun out of Earth’s gravitational field. However, the most widely accepted theory is that there was a massive impact from an object the size of Mars while the Earth was still forming. This impact threw debris into space, and as the Earth reformed the remaining material collected into what we know as the moon.

Did you know that we always see the same side of the moon? The moon’s rotational period, or lunar day, is exactly the same as the lunar orbital period, or the time it takes to go around the Earth once. The Moon is in a geosynchronous orbit meaning it is locked in the same orientation with the Earth.

The moon is the brightest object in the sky, second only to the sun, however if it weren’t for the sun we wouldn’t be able to see it at all. The surface of the moon is actually very dark and it doesn’t produce any of its own light. The dust on the moon’s surface is very similar in color to coal. However, even this dark dust can reflect a small amount of light, the amount that is reflected back is called albedo. The moon reflects most of its light directly back towards the sun. This reflection towards the sun is what causes phases of the moon. As the moon orbits around the Earth, the angle of the sun to the moon to the Earth changes. In the diagram below you can see all the phases of the moon.

By Orion 8 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
There are two types of eclipses: solar and lunar. Lunar eclipses happen when the Earth’s shadow blocks the light from the sun during its full moon phase. Since the shadow of the Earth is larger than the viewing disk of the moon, the whole moon goes dark. A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes into the path of the suns light to the Earth during the new moon phase. The moon’s shadow is much smaller then light coming from the sun, so thats why a solar eclipse has a specific viewing area across the Earth’s surface.

The last lunar eclipse was on April 15, 2014 and the next is expected on October 8, 2014, so there is always time to plan a lunar eclipse viewing party.

Want to create your own eclipse?


tennis ball, ping pong ball, flashlight, and a table


  1. Place the tennis ball about two feet away from the flashlight, and the ping pong ball in-between at about the one-foot point. 
  2. Make the room dark.
  3. Turn the flashlight on  and make sure it’s pointed at the tennis ball.
  4. Move the ping pong ball around and observe where the shadow falls.
  5. The tennis ball represents Earth, the ping pong ball represents the moon, and the flashlight is the Sun.
  6. What happens when you place the moon on the other side of the Earth?
  7. If you would like to observe the phases of the moon for yourself, slowly move the ping pong ball in a circle around the tennis ball and observe how the light from the flashlight looks on it.
Tom Ruen, May 2004 from Wikimedia Commons


Post adapted from Lady Astrid’s Laboratory.

Star Wars Workbooks – “Much to learn you still have.”


It’s summer: a time when kids play, vacation, experience new things, visit friends and family, and tend to forget what they learned during school the year before. Some kids spend the summer reviewing their academic skills and preparing for their next grade level, while others spend more time learning through play and experience. Both forms of learning are equally important in creating a diverse student. The start of school is right around the corner for most kids, so now is the time to review a few academic skills and warm your child up for their upcoming school environment. The Star Wars Workbooks are the perfect geeky educational workbook solution to making academics fun enough to do during the summer!

Earlier this summer, I was searching for some workbooks for my to-be Kindergartner to do while we were on a family road trip. He loved school last year, so I wanted to make sure I encouraged him to practice his skills all summer long. Since my 5-year-old son is a massive Star Wars fan, we already had a collection of Star Wars educational books including: Star Wars: 1, 2, 3, Star Wars ABC, Star Wars: Colors and the entire Star Wars: Phonics Boxed Set.

In June, I discovered a set of newly released Star Wars Workbooks, by Workman Publishing, that aligned with the common core standards.  As a new-to-public-school parent and an educator, I was particularly interested in finding a workbook that aligned with the common core learning goals. I wanted to see if the Common Core Standards were as scary and difficult for students as they have been made out to be in the media. These workbooks didn’t use any odd methods of teaching, everything was presented in a way that my 5 year old was able to do a lot of the work on his own without help. Workman Publishing has created an entire site where parents and teachers can find the Common Core Standards mapped directly to activities in each workbook. If you are a homeschooling parent, or a teacher looking for additional engaging teaching materials, these are the perfect workbooks to consider. At less than $9 per workbook, these are affordable, too!

Twelve workbooks have been released from pre-school through second grade, three books per grade level, every page in every book is filled with adorable original Star Wars cartoons and characters. The phonics books incorporate everyday objects with recognizable Star Wars creatures. The math books contain color by numbers, mazes, and other fun activities, all surrounding the Star Wars movie characters. The writing workbooks encourage writing by teaching how to write favorite character names, such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader.

I’m incredibly impressed with how much my son loved these workbooks. He has voluntarily chosen to work on these almost daily, improving his academic skills without ever feeling like he was doing schoolwork. I plan to supplement his schoolwork with these workbooks throughout the entire school year, and cannot wait until he is ready for the next level. Workman Publishing has done an impressive job making a wonderfully Star Wars themed academic workbook.

Star Wars Workbooks: Kindergarten Math Skills Sample Activity from Workman Publishing
Star Wars Workbooks:Preschool ABC Fun – Sample Activity from Workman Publishing


I was not paid, nor was I provided review copies from Workman Publishing, in return for this review.

Explore Space With LittleBits

Image from

This week littleBits announced the results of their partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center when they announced the latest in their line of product kits. The littleBits Space Kit for Earth and space science explorers contains powerful electronic modules, coupled with projects and activities designed by NASA scientists and engineers.

“With the days old discovery of earth-like planet Kepler-186f, SpaceX’s successful docking at the International Space Station, recent evidence of the Big Bang, and the introduction of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos documentary, space is more than ever at the center of the cultural conversation,” said Ayah Bdeir, littleBits founder and CEO. “Yet our relationship to space remains distant. With the littleBits Space Kit, we aim to bring space closer to home by putting the building blocks to invent, learn and explore directly into the hands of educators, students, NASA enthusiasts and builders of all ages.”

Founded in 2011, Ayah Bdeir created littleBits with one sole mission, to turn everyone into an inventor by putting the power of electronics in the hands of everyone. LittleBits breaks down complicated electronics into powerful modules to make it easier to “play” with the electronic components without worrying about soldering or wiring. The Space Kit added an additional three modules to the littleBits product line, an IR LED, number counter, and a remote trigger.

I’ll admit when I opened the box I was surprised that these 12 tiny pieces could create the advertised rovers, satellites, and radar dishes that were described in the five lesson plans and ten hands on projects.  Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

Having studied electronics in college, I am very familiar with the amount of work that goes into planning a circuit and time that it takes to create a working project.  However, within minutes of opening the box I was able to light LEDs, play MP3s, and play with waveforms.  The Space Kit lessons are specifically designed to teach scientific principles such as electromagnetic, kinetic, & potential energy. As a STEM educator, I thought the ease of use was unparalleled. Each module is completely contained and modules connect via metal magnets that act as connectors between circuits. I had a friend’s ten-year-old daughter come over and she was able to follow the carefully designed lesson plans and blissfully play with the set as you can see in the video below, playing with sound wave forms.  She loved it!

As impressed as I am with this kit, learning that it retails for $189 really surprised me. The only thing that stopped me from buying this, and every other littleBits kit, is that high price point. For less than the price of a single littleBits Space Kit you can buy a massive educational kit from a comparable modular circuits company with more than 80 pieces and close to 175 written lessons.

Image by Helene McLaughlin

For more information and to purchase the littleBits Space Kit visit:

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Ornaments with Meaning

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

As a child, Christmas was my favorite holiday. It was always filled with family, friends, tinsel, gifts, and laughter. Traditions changed throughout the years, as all five of us kids grew up. However, my favorite tradition was always decorating the Christmas tree. Decorating the Christmas tree each year was a trip down memory lane; every ornament hung had a story attached to it.

The first Christmas after I was married, my husband and I discussed our favorite Christmas traditions in an effort to join our favorites into our new home. My husband was intent on celebrating from the day after Thanksgiving through Epiphany (in early January). I asked that we only decorate our tree with ornaments that meant something. I wanted every one of our ornaments to have a story that we could tell our kids as they grew up. Each year since then, we have added at least one ornament that represented the events of the year.

First Christmas Ornament by Baldwin. Image by Helene McLaughlin.

The first few years, our tree was filled with memories of vacations, new homes, and a few that had been passed on to us by our families. Once we had our boys, we added two “First Christmas” ornaments to the tree for each of them. We wanted to have an ornament that we would pass on to them when they had their own families. Recently, we’ve added mostly geeky ornaments, each with their own meaning and each representing the obsession of the year.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

Being an avid Whovian, this year we eagerly anticipated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. We also added the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Glass Ornament and will be adding another new home ornament to celebrate having moved again this year.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

After attending a local sci-fi convention, we added a small Firefly Jayne’s hat ornament that we had found at Quirky Crochet.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

My husband’s avid electronics hobby inspired our set of recycled circuit board ornaments.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

The memory of my late grandfather and grandmother have always lived at the top of our tree: Armed Forces for him and Nutcrackers for her.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

We have a tiny porcelain angel on our tree to remember the miscarriage that we had before either of our boys. We wanted to honor that memory with a happy tradition rather than with something that made us sad each time we saw it.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

The year we introduced our favorite Christmas movies to our kids, we added a leg lamp ornament from A Christmas Story and an ornament featuring the Griswold family tree from Christmas Vacation. Also, we always place a bell somewhere in the tree for It’s a Wonderful Life.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

When my boys fell in love with Lego bricks, we added a set of three Lego Christmas Santa ornaments to our collection. When they became obsessed with Disney’s Cars, Phineas and Ferb, and Harry Potter, we added a few iconic ornaments to the tree.

Image by Helene McLaughlin.

When I sit in my living room with a beautiful fire burning and our family stockings hung above the mantle with care, I look at my gorgeous tree and don’t just see pretty little baubles. I see a tree built of memories. Peace, joy, and happy holidays to all.

Merry Christmas 2013. Image by Helene McLaughlin.

Government Shutdown: Frozen Scientific Research

Near McMurdo Station Antarctica 2013 (Image: Brian McLaughlin)
Near McMurdo Station Antarctica 2013 (Image: Brian McLaughlin)

We here at GeekMom pride ourselves in staying politically neutral, however we also pride ourselves in the quality scientific education that we provide to our readers.

The United States government is on day 16 of the federal shutdown. While this means that 800,000 government workers have been sent home without pay, it has meant significantly more to research scientists that receive government funding. Careers’ worth of science are on the brink of complete collapse, simply because the U.S. government has shut its doors. [Editor’s note: As of last report, it appears Congress is finally ready to make a deal that will re-open the government. Assuming the vote progresses as expected, the scientific fallout from the shutdown will become more clear in the next few days/weeks.]

You might be surprised to learn about some of the government funded research programs that are in peril.

Antarctic Scientific Research

Antarctica, one of the most remote locations on the planet, will also be one of the most thoroughly effected by the United States government shutdown. You might not know that there is no indigenous people that live anywhere on the continent of Antarctica. Instead, the massive continent is populated by only a couple thousand international scientists. Most are only in Antarctica during its summer field season, which only lasts from October to February.

The vast majority of Americans who are lucky enough to visit the bottom of the Earth have received research grants through the National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation receives its funding from the federal government, and has announced that it has run out of money and cannot afford to open three of its Antarctic bases for the 2013-2014 summer field season. The NSF has already sent support staff home from the ice and turned scientists around that had been starring to arrive for the season. Some were turned around just as they reached the ice for the first time.

This government shutdown isn’t just a freeze on research; it could lead to a complete loss of many research programs. Field research in Antarctica usually entails some combination of harsh conditions, very short working time windows, the possibility of lost equipment due to weather, and inaccessibility for the majority of the year. Programs that placed equipment last year (or any previous year) cannot collect the past years data, cannot proceed with scheduled maintenance, and will possibly lose their equipment under extreme snowfall or icy conditions.

This week I interviewed Heather Buelow, a friend and antarctic field researcher. She explained what the shut down means to her and her doctorate dissertation, as well a the work of her collaborators.

I’m a second year doctoral student. I specifically applied to my advisor’s lab because studying microbial life in Antarctica was a dream of mine. Last year (2011-2012 field season) was my first season on the ice, and it was absolutely a dream come true.

While I was in Antarctica doing field work for my advisor’s projects, I would also spend time writing research proposals, seeking funding to begin my own research projects the following season. I was awarded a fellowship by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NASA EPSCoR) to begin a project that seeks to characterize Antarctic microbial activity, and also ties in with another love of mine: astrobiology. (Antarctic environments are often cited as excellent terrestrial analogues to other planets.) I hope that my research will contribute to both microbial ecology and astrobiology.

However, the shutdown has thrown a kink in the deployment schedule, and we won’t know how bad it is until the government reopens. Many people who maintain the research stations have already been sent home from the ice, and they would need to be brought back to accommodate scientific crews. I was supposed to deploy on October 21, but that seems impossible now. My lab group continues to hope that there will only be a delay of deployments, and not a complete field season cancellation.

This season, I was supposed to do field work for 4 projects: my own, my advisor’s, and 2 different collaborators’. All of these projects will factor into my doctoral dissertation, and each project allows me to gain experience with different sampling techniques in extreme environments.

If the field season is delayed, our research window will likely be cut short. (I’ve already had to start thinking about the minimum amount of field time I’ll need to accomplish different projects.) However, if the field season is too delayed—or worse, cancelled—it will change everything. My dissertation focus will change significantly if I’m unable to work on the projects I’ve already spent months preparing for. The fellowship I was awarded is good for one year, meaning I’m supposed to carry out my research within that time frame. A field season cancellation, or even too much of a delay, would make that impossible.

That being said, I know that NSF is eager to ramp up operations as soon as possible, and is fully aware of the ramifications that a cancellation would have on students and research in general. I believe they will try to restore our planned activities and schedule as much as possible.

NIH Clinical Research Studies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are known for their breaking edge research on a myriad of healthcare topics. Since the government shutdown, the NIH has been forced to send most of its workforce home to wait till there is funding to pay them. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with live animals or extremely ill patients, time isn’t on your side. NPR reported earlier this week that thousands of mice used in diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s research will likely have to be euthanized due to the government shutdown. Some of the mice will be killed simply due to overcrowding, but more heartbreaking are the mice that will be euthanized because it is impossible to maintain certain lines of genetically altered mice without constant monitoring by scientists. Also, most federal scientists have been banned from their own labs since October 1st—even the few that have attempted to return to their research have found their security key cards completely inactivated.

Every week, about 200 new patients—including sick children—begin NIH clinical trials. Due to the government shutdown, the NIH has been forced to stop accepting all new patients into its clinical research programs. For example, Michelle Langbehn was expecting to start an aggressive clinical trial as a last attempt to fight her battle with sarcoma as she had exhausted her body’s ability to withstand any additional chemotherapy. Instead of fighting for her life, Michelle has been spending her precious time left with her young daughter and advocating for the government to reopen so that all of the clinical trials can get back on track before time runs out. NIH has made exceptions to allow only 12 patients with immediately life-threatening illnesses, mostly cancer, into research studies since the beginning of the shutdown.

Smithsonian National Observatory

The massive radio telescope array, Smithsonian National Observatory, is used on a nearly constant basis to map stars within the Milky Way galaxy. Scientists like Mark Reid combine three or four seasons of data to triangulate stellar positions to an incredibly high accuracy. Even with a relatively short government shutdown (in comparison to stellar life cycles) every star that has been observed the last two or three seasons that were scheduled to be observed has to start fresh, and years of data are meaningless unless they are collected in ways that reduce as many variables as possible.

NASA Astronomy

Over 97% of the NASA workforce has remained furloughed without work or pay since the beginning of the shutdown.  While the Hubble Space Telescope has remained in in data collection mode thus far, its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, has been forced to suspend all testing that was planned. This is particularly unfortunate since the main instrument module and three instruments had just started a thermal vacuum testing campaign which finished its initial month of chamber cooling down to 40K.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which is a 747 airplane with a huge infrared telescope onboard, has been grounded since October 1st. There are a number of programs that the grounding has affected, but none greater then the new research involving Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

If you are looking for educational information from the NASA website, you are redirected to the following notice, “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience.” Since there are so many NASA employees who have been furloughed, reliable information has been hard to come by since there are  no public relations officers working to confirm or deny rumors of ongoing changes in the current status of programs that were allowed to continue on a skeleton crew. Many non-PR employees who might have the latest information were asked specifically not to speak to the press in any official capacity while on furlough.

The programs that I have pointed out above are just a small number of affected scientific programs by the U.S. government shutdown. Without getting politics involved, I can only hope a resolution is found by Congress as soon as possible, so science research can be salvaged. If you are interested in doing something to help, call your local Congresspeople and let them know how important all science is to our nation. Science needs funding and our government needs to reopen.

Hangout with Astronauts Today

International Space Station Expedition 34 Crew. Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (right), commander; and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, flight engineer. Pictured on the back row (from the left) are NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko, all flight engineers. Image: NASA.
International Space Station Expedition 34 Crew. Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (right), commander; and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, flight engineer. Pictured on the back row (from the left) are NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko, all flight engineers. Photo: NASA/Public Domain

Today, May 23rd, from 3-4 PM EDT, you can join a NASA hosted Google+ hangout with three of the former International Space Station (ISS) astronauts. NASA astronauts Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn and Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency are back home in Houston, Texas, and undergoing physical rehabilitation after their recent return from their extended time in the nearly weightless environment.

The three are prepared to answer questions about their daily life on the orbiting outpost. As part of their normal onboard operations, the three were involved in scientific experiments, spacewalks, and normal maintenance.

Google+ Hangouts allow as many as 10 people or groups to chat face-to-face, while thousands more can watch the conversation live on Google+ or YouTube. The hangout also will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

If you have a specific question that you would like to ask, submit it on twitter to the NASA social media team! Simply include #askAstro as part of your tweet, and it will be added to the pool of questions that will be answered. Just before the hangout begins, NASA will also be opening a discussion on its Facebook page for questions to be asked. Remember the more original and unique the question the more likely it is to be chosen.

NASA’s Google+ page:
NASA’s TV Streaming video:

Anakin Skywalker’s New Shoes

Image: Helene McLaughlin
Image: Helene McLaughlin

When Anakin was a young boy, he must have been outfitted with shoes from the Stride Rite on Tatooine. These children’s shoes are the latest in the Star Wars collection offered by Stride Rite. This latest collection was designed especially for the youngling that isn’t sure wether they are destined to be a Jedi or a Sith. The shoes are designed with color morphing lightsabers! Younglings can explore both sides of the force equally before they must choose.

The Stride Rite brand’s famous quality is incomparable to other brands of kids shoes, and their newest collection is no exception. The designers have taken exceptional care to create shoes that can withstand the rigorous activities of my wild and crazy kids. My son is very hard on his shoes and being a very quickly growing four year old, you can imagine how many shoes we go through as a family. Stride Rite shoes are the only brand of shoes that have lasted long enough to be passed down to his younger brother and beyond, this is why I’m always willing to spend $45-56 on a pair of Stride Rite shoes because I know that they will last.

There are three new designs in the Star Wars collection, the Star Wars Morphing sneaker, the Star Wars Jedi to Sith sneakers and the Star Wars Clone Wars Captain Rex 2.0 sneaker. Each sneaker features a new enhanced light system.

Star Wars™ by Stride Rite Morphing Lightsaber Image: Stride Rite
Star Wars™ by Stride Rite Morphing Lightsaber Image: Stride Rite

The Morphing sneaker has a lightsaber that lights up either green or red each time you step, the new side of this being that your child can choose which color light they prefer. I’m thinking of having my 4 year old set his shoes each morning to let me know if he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed or not.

Star Wars™ by Stride Rite Jedi to Sith  Image: Stride Rite
Star Wars™ by Stride Rite Jedi to Sith
Image: Stride Rite


The Jedi to Sith sneaker features Stride Rite exclusive light and dark sensor technology. Anakin’s lightsaber blinks bright blue with each step, however when you enter the shadows or night falls, the lights glow red. These shoes foreshadow Anakin’s turn to the dark side.

Star Wars™ by Stride Rite Captain Rex™ 2.0  Image: Stride Rite
Star Wars™ by Stride Rite Captain Rex™ 2.0
Image: Stride Rite


The Captain Rex 2.0, is an updated version of the popular Clone Wars character shoe. Now with every step the black of Captain Rex’s helmet lights up showing his very own silhouette.



When I asked my son to pick his favorite shoe he carefully looked at each of them, examining all of the buttons and lights and settled on the Morphing sneaker as his favorite. He is now sporting green lightsabers everywhere he goes, although more often then not I’ll find that he has changed them to red by the end of the day. I wonder if I have the next Anakin Skywalker living under my roof.

Stride Rite provided samples of the shoes for review. 

Finally, a Smaller, More Affordable Cricut Product: A Cricut Mini Review

Cricut Mini Image from

I’ve been in the market for a personal vinyl cutter for sometime now. I started looking at them years ago when I was doing a lot more scrapbooking and buying individual die cutters was cost prohibitive for me. In the last 10 years personal cutting systems have been on the market, and while the idea of having one for all of my crafty endeavors appealed to me, the cost was always prohibitive due to the nature of the cartridge systems that were required and not being able to customize the images that I wanted.

Cricut Craft Room Screenshot Image by Helene McLaughlin

Last year I intensified my search for a cutting system after seeing the Provo Cricut Mini in action at Maker Fair NYC. The Cricut Mini is a slimmed down version of the original Cricut machines, and at $99 on Amazon it’s a great kit for those looking for an inexpensive cutting system. Straight out of the box it’s easy to see that this machine is different than its predecessors in the Cricut product line. The Cricut Mini has no handle, no digital display, no keyboard and is much lighter then either of the Expression models. The Cricut Mini can either accept any of the Cricut cartridges on the market or it can be controlled by the Cricut Craft Room software. The Cricut Craft Room gives you access to about 400 images for free before having to purchase additional cartridges or images. I had hoped that the software would be the ticket to making my own designs; however, it isn’t. It’s a great program for maximizing your paper usage and designing your layouts, but there are no design capabilities incorporated.

The Cricut Mini comes with a starter pack of paper, one mat with cover and a starter project. Follow the enclosed step-by-step directions, and wait patiently while the machine cuts very quietly. The Cricut Mini cutting mat comes with a removable adhesive surface to reduce the movement of the paper on its surface. The first few projects I completed were hard to peel from this surface without ripping. However, over time the stickiness reduced and paper came off more easily. I was surprised at the amount of wear that showed up on the mat and I wonder how often the mat will need to be changed in the future.

Paper Party Decor Image from

I will admit, however, that despite the extensive array of cartridges/images available, the Cricut Mini just didn’t meet my needs. I had been looking for a machine that I could be creative with and create my own designs. While the Cricut Mini system is incredibly new-user friendly, it is incredibly non-hacker friendly. All of the patterns are in a proprietary format that isn’t publicly available. You cannot draw and cut just any design you wish from the internet or that you design yourself. All images must come from one of their cartridges or from their online content. This feature was important to me as I am a massive Doctor Who fan and had several projects that I would like to have printed designs, vinyl stickers or fabric cut-outs. This is pretty much impossible since there is no Doctor Who cartridge and no way of creating custom designs.

The Cricut Mini is a great cutting unit for those of you who are curious about precision die cutters, but aren’t sure about paying for a more expensive system. It would be a great tool for anyone who needs to make bulletin boards on a regular basis, i.e., teachers, residence advisers, and even social organizations. It’s also wonderful for folks who really just want to pick and choose pre-made designs for their projects. However, the Cricut brand is unlikely to be the right fit for anyone looking for a die cutting machine that allows true creative freedom.

A sample product was provided for this review. 

Dining with The Doctor: A Cookbook for Whovians

Image used with permission from Chris-Rachael Oseland

This year promises all sorts of Doctor Who goodness, what with the anticipation of the 50th anniversary episode in November. And about a month ago I started thinking about throwing a Doctor Who party for friends and family in an effort to celebrate all things, well, Whovian. In pondering food options, all I could think of were banana daiquiris, fish fingers and custard. Unfortunately, those three items don’t really make a dinner party particularly interesting. When searching, however, I came across Chris-Rachael Oseland’s recently published Dining With The Doctor: The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook.It sounded like just the thing.

Chris-Rachael Oseland Image from

Chris-Rachael Oseland is a geek and tech writer by day for The Austin Post, and a geek culinary blogger by night. Oseland, author at Kitchen Overlord, was reintroduced to Doctor Who during the David Tennant years by her best friend, Anne, who insisted that she go back and watch from the beginning of the reboot. Being a freelance writer, and having independently published a book of steampunk cocktails SteamDrunks, she used Amazon’s CreateSpace to publish this second fan-focused cookbook. Independent publishing seemed to be the best route for this particular cookbook, as it allowed the book to be published within a year–in time for the 50th anniversary celebration instead of multiple years of back and forth with a publishing company. Oseland’s books are printed on demand, she receives a higher percentage per book from CreateSpace, there is less worry of running out of stock or being able to afford a first run. She recommends it as a great service for independent authors.

Dining with The Doctor: The Unofficial Whovian Cookbook might be one of the most entertaining cookbooks a Whovian could imagine. The book is set up as a recipe per episode, recapping important plot points and relating the dish to each episode either by featured food, featured alien, or some other obvious method. Let me warn you that unless you are at least remotely interested in Doctor Who, this isn’t the cookbook for you. There are no earth-shattering recipes in search of a James Beard award, the photography is all done in-home, and while I might tweak some ingredients in the recipes(Q-tips as food garnish?) the book is so much fun that I rarely noticed the downsides. Oseland has taken a lot of time to minimize the number of major allergens (peanuts and shellfish) in her recipes while still providing a large variety of choices for vegetarian, vegan and low carb diets.

A preview of Wood for Sheep: The Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook Image from with permission

The cookbook retails for $20 in paperback on Amazonor $5.99 for the electronic Kindle version. While I was provided a review copy of this book, I would have easily bought this for myself without prompting.

Oseland has a busy year ahead with two new cookbooks planned for release. In May, before the gaming season erupts at GenCon, she is releasing Wood for Sheep: The Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook, featuring tasty menus designed to resemble the famous game board and sure to please any Catan fan. This fall she plans to release the unofficial cookbook to the Walking Dead series, promising deliciously gory treats for the die hard fan.

Her blog Kitchen Overlord, also features an illustrated series of geeky recipes called Edible Art. Working closely with artist Tom Gordon, she takes favorite fan foods and inspires visually delicious versions of the original recipes. She has so far featured dishes from Firefly, Once Upon a Time, Lost, and other massively popular sci-fi shows.

Oseland promises to continue her Doctor Who recipes, and expects to publish a second episode based cookbook for the reboots 10th anniversary in 2015.


The Sky is Falling! Asteroids and Meteors on the Same Day!

Orbital trajectories and relative sizes of 2012 DA14 and the meteor that streaked across the Russian skies on Friday.
Image compiled by Helene McLaughlin using images from

So maybe the sky isn’t falling, but it’s quite the coincidence that an asteroid and a meteor both descended upon our little plot of the universe within about 15 hours of one another. While many skywatchers have been anxiously awaiting the close approach of Asteroid 2012 DA14, they were completely taken by surprise when a 500-ton meteor streaked across the Russian Ural sky earlier the same day. The meteor — caught on video by many sources — easily rivaled the sun in brightness and struck a frozen lake outside of Chelyabinsk, Russia. The massive damage was caused by the sonic boom resulting from the speed with which the object ripped through the atmosphere, not by debris from the meteor itself.

For some reference for the uninitiated, there is a difference between an asteroid, a meteor and a meteorite. Asteroids are small rocky objects that orbit the sun and range from 600 miles across to tiny dust particles. A meteor is any object that enters the earth’s atmosphere, where friction with the air causes it to super-heat and cause a bright streak across the sky. Meteors are more commonly referred to as shooting stars. A meteorite is a meteor that survives the journey through the atmosphere and strikes the ground. Most meteorites are rock containing some combination of iron and nickel, which help them resist more heat than the average rock.

Asteroid 2012 DA14

Click to see the astroid near the center of the image in motion.
Image credit: LCOGT/E. Gomez/Faulkes South/Remanzacco Observatory

The asteroid we’re talking about, discovered last year, is 45 meters long and successfully missed the earth’s surface when it passed into the Earth-satellite orbiting system at 2:24 pm ET. Stargazers in Australia, Asia, and Eastern Europe were able to watch the asteroid cross their skies with the aid of a telescope or binoculars. The gif above depicts asteroid 2012 DA14 as it was seen on Feb. 14, 2013, at a distance of 465,000 miles (748,000 kilometers). The animation was created by astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy using observations obtained remotely from the Faulkes Telescope South in Siding Springs, Australia. The asteroid is the large bright spot moving near the middle of the field of view. The other dots are stars in the background. A line that appears in one of the frames comes from a satellite that passed through the field of view.

Considering how hyped-up as this asteroid was in the news, let me be clear that there was never a fear that this would have ever been “doomsday” event. On its closest approach to Earth, it was predicted the asteroid would be traveling at 7.8 kilometers per second, roughly eight times the speed of a bullet from a high-speed rifle. If the asteroid had hit the earth, it would have hit the earth’s surface with a force of a 2.4 megatons of TNT. This force is comparable to the event in Tunguska, Russia, in 1908. That asteroid entered the atmosphere and exploded, leveling trees over an area of 820 square miles, about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. Like that rock, 2012 DA14 would likely not have left a crater.

Since its discovery last year, Asteroid 2012 DA14’s orbital trajectories have been studied enough to determine that the object poses no danger to earth for at least the next 100 years.

Friday’s Russian Meteor

Meteor trace about taken one minute after the event.
Image: Alex Alishevskikh/Cyberborean Chronicles – CC BY SA 3.0

As a complete coincidence, the meteor that streaked across the Russian Ural skies happened to arrive on the same day as the much-anticipated asteroid. The meteor, about a third the size of the asteroid arriving later that day, impacted with a force of 500 kilotons. By comparison, the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 released an estimated 15 kilotons of energy. Five regions of Russia, one of them Chelyabinsk, are thought to have been affected, as well as neighboring Kazakhstan.

The resulting sonic boom shock wave that arrived after the massive meteor streaked across the sky broke windows and injured nearly 1,000 people, mostly due to falling glass. The event was caught as it happened on many dash cameras, and the resulting sonic boom was recorded by even more cell phones as on lookers took pictures of the amazing fireball. The frozen lake where the meteorite landed has been quarantined by the Russian government until the remaining meteorite can be studied and retrieved if possible.

It’s completely natural to think that the meteor and the asteroid that nearly missed us would be celestially related, but they aren’t! How do I (or any astronomer) know? Well, their orbital trajectories were completely different, meaning that they couldn’t have originated from the same object in space. If you think about how the Earth spinning, the meteor streaked around 3:25GMT. The asteroid, also viewable from the region wasn’t at its closest approach till 19:24 GMT. In those intervening hours, Russia’s location with respect to the night sky significantly changed with the earth’s rotation.

The meteor was the largest reported since the 1908 Tunguska event, which also took place in remote Siberia.

As a note, since the image at the top of the article was created on Friday, NASA revised its estimate of the meteor’s size upward late Friday from 49 feet (15 meters) to 55 feet (17 meters), and its estimated mass from 7,000 to 10,000 tons.

So why did we know about the asteroid and not the meteor?

The short answer? Astronomers were extremely lucky to have discovered asteroid 2012 DA14 ahead of time. They just happened to be looking at the right place at the right time when they found it. Most asteroids are never discovered until they enter our atmosphere as meteors. Luckily nearly all of these objects are small and simply burn up in our atmosphere.

Scientists call such space debris near-Earth objects (NEOs) and have observed nearly 10,000 of them since NASA started using telescope tracking in 1995, according to NASA’s NEO program website.This program spends all of its time scanning the skies for possible threats to earth and its orbit; unfortunately this amount of time still only covers about 5% of the sky. This is why certain objects are found ahead of time and others completely surprise us, sometimes in the same day! Once discovered, NASA generally tracks NEOs that range in size from one to approximately two kilometers in diameter and continually orbit the Earth, some closer than others.

You might wonder why NASA doesn’t just monitor more of the sky. Simple, they don’t have the resources. Only about 0.05% of NASA’s budget is allocated to the NEO program and NASA’s current budget is only 0.4% percent of the entire United States’ budget. This means that one fiftieth of one percent of the entire US budget is allocated to finding these potential “doomsday” threats to our planet. Expanding this search program is just one of the many reasons that NASA funding needs to be significantly increased.

The Birth of Doctor Who for A New Generation

William Hartnell, The First Doctor Image: BBC

Yesterday BBC America announced details of a Doctor Who made-for-tv movie that it is filming this year in celebration of the famous shows 50th anniversary. As was commissioned in August of 2012An Adventure in Time and Space will detail the earliest years of the Doctor Who empire from its creation through its initial filming with William Hartnell. The movie is a co-production by BBC America and BBC Cymru Wales. The script was written by Mark Gatiss, co-creator of hit BBC show Sherlock.

David Bradley Image: BBC

The iconic first Doctor will be played by Harry Potter actor David Bradley. I’m sure I’m not the first to be surprised by the casting choice, only time will tell if the crotchety Argus Filtch can play the charismatic Doctor that we all know. When asked about his upcoming role Bradley said, “I’m absolutely thrilled.  I first heard about this role from Mark while watching the Diamond Jubilee flotilla from the roof of the National Theatre.  When he asked if I would be interested, I almost bit his hand off!  Mark has written such a wonderful script not only about the birth of a cultural phenomenon, but a moment in television’s history.  William Hartnell was one of the finest character actors of our time and as a fan I want to make sure that I do him justice.  I’m so looking forward to getting started.”

Also announced as part of the cast is Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy) to star as the BBC drama head Sydney Newman, who is credited with the creation of the show. Jessica Raine (Call The Midwife), who will play producer Verity Lambert; and Sacha Dhawan (After Earth) as Waris Hussein, director of the first ever episode ‘An Unearthly Child.’

Shooting is scheduled to start early next month for air later this year. If I were to make an educated guess, it will air sometime around the 50th anniversary of the first Doctor Who episode, November 23, 1963.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Script Has ALL Eleven Doctors

Image from BBC

Every decade since the inception of Doctor Who there has been some sort of anniversary special that pays homage to the previous Doctors.

It’s no secret this year there is a big 50th anniversary special in the works. There has been a lot of speculation about what this special will include, but everyone has hoped that it would feature all the living actors that have ever played the Doctor. While many of the actors are all too willing to play the Doctor again, Christopher Eccelston has been a lone hold out, claiming that he had no plans to return to the role.

As of today Steven Moffat has confirmed that he is completing a script that will feature the current Doctor, Matt Smith, facing a foe so great that he will need assistance from all ten of the previous TARDIS inhabitants. That’s right, rumors say Eccleston is in!!! The producers have gotten agreements from all living actors who have ever played the Doctor;  Tom BakerPeter DavisonColin BakerSylvester McCoyPaul McGannChristopher EcclestonDavid Tennant, and Matt Smith. With some studio special effects they have even resurrected William HartnellPatrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee.

Everyone’s lips are sealed of course but we do know that there is no plans to feature former companions; Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), Rose Tyler(Billie Piper), Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Martha Jones(Freema Agyeman) and Donna Noble(Catherine Tate). There is still some speculation as to whether the Doctor’s wife, River Song (Alex Kingston), will be the one who brings all of the Doctor’s together against the eleventh Doctor’s wishes. This anniversary special is going to be epic! I’m already planning my Doctor Who themed party for it!

The 50th anniversary special will not be the first time that the Doctors have joined forces. The 10th anniversary, in 1973 was celebrated with “The Three Doctors“. The 20th anniversary, in 1983, featured “The Five Doctors“. Even thought the 30th anniversary occured after the show had been cancelled, McCoy, Pertwee, Tom Baker, Davison and Colin Baker starred in a charity crossover episode of EastEnders. The 40th anniversary was marked with an audio adventure, Zagreus, starring McGann, Colin Baker, McCoy and Davison with additional archive recordings of Pertwee.

Fiftieth anniversary writer Moffatt says: “You can’t please everybody but you don’t want anybody to feel let down by a big anniversary episode.

If any of Moffat’s previous writing has anything to say about his dedication to Doctor Who, this episode is guaranteed to impress!

Update: It seems the original sources for writing this were more rumor then confirmed fact and I’ve edited the article to reflect that. However, as a gift I found out that according to the BBC banner at the 2013 London Toy Fair new details about the 2013 season have been released.

The 2013 line-up:

  • Series 7 Part 2 (8 Episodes / Spring 2013)
  • 50th Anniversary Special (1 x 60 minutes / Autumn 2013)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time (1 x 90 minutes / Autumn 2013)
  • Doctor Who Revisited (11 x 25 minutes / throughout year)


Geeking Out My Photography Business

Image by Helene McLaughlin © Rassilon Photography

When I decided to pick up my camera to earn a few extra bucks to pay bills while I stayed at home with my boys, I always wanted to focus on geeks. I wanted to set-up photo booths at geek conventions for folks to get pics of their costuming at conventions. I wanted to get pictures of little kids geeking out over a comic book or their favorite superhero. I wanted to find a pregnant geek who wanted to paint Chuthlu (or pie charts) on their belly. I wanted to be a geeky photographer for geeks. Well, in an effort to bring in even a single client a month, I didn’t turn away any potential client. I was, however, always on the lookout for that amazing geeky shoot.

Last week, I finally got a chance to do exactly what I wanted in a Doctor Who themed shoot and I was ecstatic!

Very good friends of mine asked me to take their daughter’s annual birthday pictures, normally they go to a chain studio and get a very generic picture. This year, they knew that I was doing a bit of photography, so they asked if I’d be interested. Of course I agreed! I like to make each shoot a little different, give each one a bit of personality. When I thought about this 9-year-old girl’s shoot, there was no question as to the theme, she had to have a Doctor Who themed shoot.

Together we pulled together some of the fandom items laying around our respective houses and headed out for a shoot that was easily my favorite family shoot.

The resulting images are just some of the amazing images that I captured of this young geek and her awesome parents.

Continue reading Geeking Out My Photography Business

AppCrayon: Fine Motor Skills Technology

Image from DanoToys

The AppCrayon by DanoToys is the first stylus I’ve ever seen with a triangular shaft designed by teachers and therapists for use by kindergarteners still working on their pencil writing grips. The stylus is plastic, slightly over sized and has a bit larger tip then most styluses making it perfect for kids. This stylus feels very much like a triangular crayon, but looks different enough that a child should confuse a real crayon for the stylus on the screen. Its designed with a small loop on the back to attach to a lanyard or hook if there are worries about misplacing it. The stylus is completely universal so even though it was designed in conjunction with an Apple app, the stylus can be used with over 300,000 apps and is compatible with nearly every touchscreen device. The AppCrayon was designed by educators for educators. DanoToys offers a special discounted classroom pack for teachers interested in using them in their curriculum.

My son has problems with his fine motor control, he can only fist-grip writing utensils. We’ve worked with him in therapy, but with crayons and pencils he gets easily frustrated when using a tripod grip, because he doesn’t have enough wrist and finger strength to create marks on a writing page. My son also adores his iPad time. When I found this stylus in my pre-holiday shopping adventures, I thought it might be worth a try for him. In conjunction with the AppCrayon the DanoToys team has developed a free app for Apple devices to practice letter writing, AppCrayon. A second Apple app, Little Sky Writers, runs at $1.99 on the Apple App store, but with three levels of difficulty, three airplanes to personalize, and voiced by by comedian and star of Nickelodeon’sTM Big Time RushTM Stephen Kramer Glickman, it’s well worth the cost. There is a $.99 Little Sky Writers if you plan to use the app on only on an iPhone. Once your child has mastered the game, they’ll receive a certificate of completion and the option of posting it to your Facebook page.

When I sat my son down with the stylus and app for the first time, he was completely enthralled as I had expected. New things are exciting! I was impressed how he really had to think about how to hold the stylus and while I did have to remind him a few times how to hold it properly, he managed to keep a tripod grip for nearly an hour. I was highly encouraged! After buying a second stylus, the first one having been destroyed by one of my boys biting the rubber tip off because they thought it was food, I carefully watched my son use the stylus. With each use he would revert to the fist grip but would correct himself as if the stylus war more comfortable in the tripod position. I’m overjoyed at the sight of seeing him writing correctly. Of course this isn’t a true fix to his grip issues, but it is a great way to reinforce the proper grip anytime he plays on his iPad.

I’d highly recommend the AppCrayon for any child with a touchscreen device, especially for young ones still practicing a proper pencil grip.

Through a Geek Lens: Not Your Typical Christmas Tree!

Xmas 2009 by Tesla Down Under

When thinking about Christmas, most of us think of lovely evergreens filled with ornaments collected throughout the years. However, sometimes some of the most beautiful “trees” aren’t trees at all.

Fungal Christmas Tree, JCVI Weblog

Fungus and bacteria are beautiful, even if they are a little gross. The “tree” topper is Talaromyces stipitatus, the “tree” is Aspergillus nidulans, the ornaments are Penicillium marneffei and the “tree” trunk is Aspergillus terreus. From the artful science minds at the JCVI Weblog.

Xmas 2007 by Tesla from Down Under

Amateur scientist Peter Terren, above, creates spectacular light shows in his western Australia backyard for fun as part of his creation, Tesla From Down Under. Using tesla coils, 500,000 volts of power, a 90+ second camera exposure, a few color filters and a massive amount of planning, Terren is able to create the two electrifying Christmas trees seen above. Continue reading Through a Geek Lens: Not Your Typical Christmas Tree!

Holding Our Children Closer Tonight

Image: Helene McLaughlin

When you send your kids to school you trust that they will be safe and loved. Days like today are what rock the core of every parent, challenging that feeling of trust. Today, at least 28 people died as the result of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Most of the shootings happened in one area of the building with reports confirming 18 children died, and rumors suggest that they were likely some of the youngest students at the K-4 grade school.

I put my 4 year old on a his normal school bus at noon, came home and found out about the shooting. My heart dropped. It was everything I could do not to run out and hug him. Instead, I waited, stayed home, prayed for all of those affected in Connecticut, and asked myself the unanswerable question. Why? Why do kids keep dying?

My babies are fine, but there are so many who are not. Given that there are no perfect answers to any of these hard questions, all I can do is hold my boys a bit closer tonight. Tonight, I will tell them I love them. Tonight I’ll continue working to inspire change in the world… starting with them.

Today our world was rocked. Tonight we must start the repairs.

I speak for everyone at GeekMom when I say our thoughts are with those effected in Connecticut and all over the world.

Have you registered for the 19th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race?

Racers from the Huntsville Center for Technology ready for the 2011 Great Moonbuggy Race.
CREDIT: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham

Dreaming of being an astronaut is a phase just about everyone goes through at one point in their lives.

It’s a much smaller amount of people who decide to peruse that dream when they grow-up. While not everyone might go into space, everyone has the opportunity to race on the moon…. well almost. For the last 19 years, NASA has given high school and college teams from across the globe a chance to compete against each other for the title of “Greatest Moonbuggy of the Year”.

The rules of the “Great Moonbuggy Race” are simple. Teams of six to seven students are challenged to engineer a two passenger, light-weight, quickly assembled and human powered vehicle that can withstand the rigors of an all-terrain race. The fastest buggy through the course, taking penalties into account, wins. The idea is to have students re-engineer a moon buggy with the same engineering constraints as those faced by the Apollo-era lunar rover developers in the 1960’s.

Only eight college teams competed in the first Moonbuggy race in 1994. Since then high school teams have joined the fun and the competition has dramatically increased. Last year during the 18th annual race, 70 teams from around the world entered buggies into the race. Officially sponsored by the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and corporately sponsored by many of the biggest space technology companies, monetary awards are provided for the top buggy in each category (college and high school) and high schoolers receive an additional paid trip to Advanced Space Academy provided by ATK. Other prizes are awarded for everything from “lightest vehicle” to “Best race day repair” to “Best Rookie team”.

The 19th annual Great Moonbuggy Race is currently scheduled for April 13-14 at Marshall Space Flight center. There is still time to create a team of your own and enter. Registration closes for international teams on January  7th and for US teams February 4, 2013 at 3PM CST. Check out the event page and lets see those moon buggys!

Plastic Found on Mars… And Five Other Famous Hoaxes

Image: Xavier Jenks from

Have you heard, Mardi Gras has made it to Mars!!!

Yesterday there were rumors flying about the internet about a massive discovery of plastic found on Mars. With only a quick glance it seemed to be a legit press release from Jet Propulsion Lab in California. However, for anyone that looked at the article for more then 30 seconds, it was obvious that this was a nicely executed hoax.

Phil Plait from Bad Astronomer wrote a great post last night listing all of the ways that this hoax outed itself. The prankster obviously wanted to take advantage of the “earthshaking” announcement from last week that something was found on Mars. It was later determined that even that previous press release was an over-exaggeration by a reporter after an interview with a Curiosity team member.

Massive scientific hoaxes have been around for ages. Sometimes they are a lot harder to spot than this one, and cause a lot more confusion than this little prank. One of the greatest achievements of the scientific method is the ability for correction over time.

No matter how elaborate the hoax, science will be able to eventually prove or disprove a skeptic. There are times that hoaxes almost get by without detection, and as a reminder to stay ever vigilant to the proof here are five of the greatest scientific hoaxes of all time.

Piltdown Man skull Image: Wikimedia

1) “Piltdown Man” – Many of you are likely too young to remember the big discovery of the “missing link” in human evolution.

In 1912, Charles Dawson publicly claimed that bone fragments in his personal collection that had been dug from a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex, England, were in fact proof of the connection between neanderthals and modern humans.

While scientists at the time were skeptical, they couldn’t prove that the skull was a fake. In November 1953, Time published evidence gathered variously by Kenneth Page OakleySir Wilfrid Edward Le Gros Clark and Joseph Weiner proving that the Piltdown Man was a forgery. The team had proven that the skull was a composite of the lower jaw bone of an orangutan deliberately fitted to the fully formed upper skull of a modern human.

While this was a long standing elaborate hoax it was important to real scientific discovery. The international scientific community had to make massive strides in the study of human evolution in order to prove that this discovery was in fact a hoax. It also brought to light the importance of corroboration of massive scientific finds.

A crop circle in the form of a double (six-sided) Triskelion composed of Circles. Image: Wikimedia

2) Modern Crop Circles – Everyone has heard of the mysterious crop circles that started showing up in English wheat fields in the 1970’s.

Paranormal believers have long attributed the circles to aliens or other natural phenomenon. The crop circle craze received international attention in the late 1980’s when news sites started covering the circles that would just appear overnight. While some local farmers were outraged by the damage to their crops, the overwhelming tourism that the circles brought to the area tended to keep the crop circles as mysteries for years.

In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley made headlines claiming that they were the start of the crop circle phenomenon. In their public reveal, he pair showed how they had used simple tools and intricate plans to create elaborate designs in wheat fields in and around Avebury, England. Shortly after Bower and Chorley came out with the truth, crop circles started showing up all over the world, most remain “unexplained”, but others have been made into works of art and even competitions.

A diagram of Redheffer’s first machine      Image: Wikimedia

3) “Redheffer’s machine” – When Charles Redheffer showed up in Philadelphia claiming he had designed a perpetual motion machine, the public was enthralled, but the scientific community was skeptical.

Perpetual motion machines had popped up throughout history, all claimed to violate the laws of thermodynamics by generating enough energy to run forever on its own movements. There is a reason why the laws of thermodynamics are called laws, they cannot be broken, so when someone claims that they have broken them, its not usually too difficult to debunk.

In Redheffer’s case, he was found out when he used a prototype of his device to apply for government funds to build a larger version of the machine. Redheffer had explained to the inspectors that his perpetual motion machine was providing the energy to power another, separate machine through a set of interlocking gears. However, the inspector noticed that the gears of the perpetual motion machine were worn in the wrong direction if it was really powering the other device. Instead, it was clear that power was being routed to the perpetual motion machine from the other machine. Instead of publicly debunking Redheffer, inspectors commissioned a local engineer, Isaiah Lukens, to build a machine that worked on the same principles as Redheffer’s machine. After a public demonstration of the new machine, where there were thousands of dollars had been bet and lost by investors, Redheffer quickly left town.

He moved his scam to New York City (remember news travelled slow) and set up a paid exhibit that attracted a lot of popularity with the public. When mechanical engineer Robert Fulton visited the exhibit Redheffer was challenged again. Fulton made a deal with Redheffer that he could prove that there was a second power source, and if he couldn’t he would personally pay for any damage caused to the machine. Redheffer agreed and when Fulton removed a few wooden panels from a wall near the machine, he found that the machine was being driven by a string of catgut that was connected to a hand crank in a separate room. Hoax discovered, an angry mob destroyed the machine and Redheffer fled town yet again.

The original Isaiah Lukens machine is still on display in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

Clever Hans miraculously performs Image: Wikimedia

4) “Clever Hans” – This clever Orlov Trotter horse captivated audiences for years with his ability to perform arithmetic, spelling and other intellectual tasks.

Hans was a horse owned by Wilhelm von Osten, who was a gymnasium mathematics teacher, an amateur horse trainer, phrenologist, and something of a mystic. While on display, Clever Hans displayed his knowledge of many basic intellectual skills, and even a basic knowledge of the german language. Questions could be asked in oral or written form and the horse would always tap his foot correctly. Von Osten never charged admission for the displays of Hans’s gifts. So much speculation fell upon this horse that a 13-person commission was formed to determined how the hoax was performed. Their findings came back inconclusive, there was no indication of a fraud performed by von Osten.

It wasn’t until a detailed psycological examination was performed in 1907 by  Oskar Pfungst, that it was determined that the horse was not actually performing these mental tasks, but was watching the reaction of his human observers. Pfungst was able to determine that Hans was only able to answer questions correctly if von Osten happened to also know the answer to the question as well. Von Osten was notorious for becoming very angry when Hans did occasionally get an answer wrong that the horses reaction was an artifact of the training methods. Hans was able to read the reactions of his trainer and an audience to determine when he had achieved the correct number of hoof taps. While not as miraculous as a horse that could do math, the fact that the horse was able to read human reactions is in itself pretty remarkable.

Turk reconstruction Image: Wikimedia

5) “The Turk” – This machine was constructed in 1770 and exhibited by its owners as an automated chess machine.

Originally constructed by Wolfgang von Kempelen to impress the Empress Maria Theresa, the mechanism appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against any human opponent. Kempelen had been inspired by a palace illusion performed by François Pelletier. An exchange following the performance resulted in Kempelen promising to return to the Palace with a real invention that would top the illusions. When Kempelen returned he brought his machine, allowed the public to inspect all of its drawers and mechanics before having it start playing opponents. The machine was extremely complicated internally in an effort to confuse the inspectors. The machine was able to normally beat opponents in less then thirty minutes.

Kempelen never intended “The Turk” to become as famous as it did. He actually dismantled the machine shortly after that first exhibition, but was ordered to put it back together so that the  Emperor Joseph II to reconstruct the Turk and deliver it to Vienna for a state visit from Grand Duke Paul of Russia and his wife. The Turk underwent a massive world tour that included players such as Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. The machine passed hands several times and many threatened to reveal the secret of the hoax, even though they had no proof.

While many articles were published over the years attempting to explain how the elaborate machine worked, it wasn’t until the 1850’s when Dr. Silas Mitchell wrote a series of articles for The Chess Monthly that the secret was fully revealed. Mitchell was the son of the final owner of The Turk. When a fire destroyed the museum that The Turk was being stored at, Mitchell decided that there was no reason to keep the Turk’s secret from the amateur chess enthusiasts any longer. Mitchell showed the world that the secret of The Turk was actually a human playing the game inside of the machine. While the machine was indeed ingenious for the time, using levers, pulleys and magnets to maneuver pieces about the board, the fact of the matter was that the brains of the machine was simply a very talented and concealed chess player.

The Turk was an inspiration for a vast number of inventors throughout the years, from those trying to recreate the spectacle to others who used the idea of it to inspire other artificial intelligence machines.

Photography Snapshot: Exposure Triangle

Carl Zeiss Sunlens Creative Focus design by Chen Shih Kang,Taiwan

In the last couple months my Photography Snapshot series has focused on the theory of light and how it behaves as it created images in an optical system. I’m planning to shift my focus now from the theoretical side of photography to the practical components of taking magnificent photos.

This snapshot will focus on creating the perfectly exposed image and the three most important elements in determining exposure. So pick up your camera, its time to play.

In photography, exposure is the amount of light allowed to fall on each area unit of a photographic medium (photographic film or image sensor) during the process of taking a photograph. (Wikipedia) Its pretty simple, the more light that hits the image plane, the brighter the image created will be. This term might seem familiar if you have ever looked at the metering bar on your camera. Brightness of different objects varies massively between different objects in nature. If you consider that brightness follows the inverse square law of physics, you can understand why an object lit by the sun at noon looks  6000 times brighter then the same object lit by a sunset.

Canon meter scale From whipartist Flickr Photostream

Brightness is measured in a unit of exposure values(EV). An EV of 0 is defined as an image exposed for 1 second at an f-stop of 1. This unit might seem familiar if you have ever looked at the metering bar on your camera.  An exposure meter is a scale with “zero” at the middle and usually located on viewfinder, top and/or rear LCD panel. “Zero” means correct exposure. Below “zero” or “minus” means underexposure and above “zero” or “plus” means overexposure. So an EV of 1 is twice as bright, EV 3 is eight times as bright, and EV -2 is one quarter as bright. A step up in EV doubles the brightness of the image, while a step down in EV will half the apparent brightness of the image.

Photographers often talk about light and exposure in terms of stops. Stops can refer to adjustments in any three areas of of the “exposure triangle“, aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The balance of these three fundamental concepts make up the soul of any photograph. Its when the balance of aperture, shutter speed and ISO is met that the most optimally exposed image can be captured. It’s being able to walk into any lighting situation and have a pretty good feel for the settings required to expose properly, that makes photography such a difficult art to master. Continue reading Photography Snapshot: Exposure Triangle

Mattel Goes to Mars With Its 2012 Collection

Mars Curiosity model Image:

This weekend when I was out at the stores stocking my shelves, preparing for Hurricane Sandy, my boys and I happened through the toy aisles where I spotted this amazing little gem, just sitting on a shelf. Mattel has cast a die model of the awe-inspiring NASA Mars Curiosity rover. The model is a 1:64 scale of the original rover, the same scale that all Hot Wheels are sized at, and is one of 50 new Hot Wheel vehicles that encompass the 2012 collection. These little rovers are likely going to be extremely collectible and won’t be in stores long.

Mattel’s work on the NASA Mars Curiosity rover isn’t without precedent. In 1997, Hot Wheel’s created the JPL Sojourner Mars Rover Action Pack Set. The Sojourner was such a hit that Hot Wheels created toys based on the Jupiter-orbiting Galileo probe and a set about the Apollo moon landings. Mattel understandably stopped creating similar NASA models after creating toys for three failed spacecrafts in 1999: NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter, Deep Space 2 Microprobe, and Mars Polar Lander.

I normally stop in awe whenever I see anything with the NASA logo on it, I get giddy when it shows up in the toy aisle, and I generally throw money at pretty much anything that is an accurate model made by a big toy company. If you have a child that is interested in the latest findings from Mars or simply has a general interest in space, this is a perfect holiday stocking stuffer.

While the rover is part of the 2012 collection and sells for less then $2 at any toy store that normally sells Hot Wheels, collectors are already snatching them off the shelves as quickly as possible and putting them on eBay and other sites at $12 and up.  This is usually a sign that the vehicle is going to be extremely popular and a very special addition to any collection.

Truncated Icosahedron: Maker Faire NYC Most Memorable for Kids

Rob Marshall and his wife at Maker Faire NYC 2012 Image by Helene McLaughlin
Truncated Icosahedron Graphic courtesy Wikimedia

While attending World Maker Faire in New York earlier this month, I was surrounded by hundreds of DIY projects that had been dreamt up by hackers and makers around the world. The projects were magnificent! From the moment I walked through the gates for set-up on Friday till we had to leave to drive home on Sunday, there was one display that I was magnetized to. From afar it imply looked like a large wooden sculpture of an soccer ball. I had to know more. I immediately went up and started taking pictures, it was massive and very impressive. The structure was a truncated icosahedron, and I hadn’t even seen the best part of the sculpture at that point. Rob Marshall, owner of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Hamlet Construction, had turned this ancient design into what he calls the “Happy Fun Ball.”

Kids climbing inside.
Image courtesy Hamlet Construction, inc.

A truncated icosahedron is an Archimedean solid, one of thirteen convex isogonal nonprismatic solids whose faces are two or more types of regular polygons. It has 12 regular pentagonal faces, 20 regular hexagonal faces, 60 vertices and 90 edges. Rob told me that his inspiration was straight from Archimedes and the design begged to be conquered by him. The final product really was truly awe inspiring. Standing seven feet six inches, the spinning truncated icosahedron gave kids and adults a spinning ride worth remembering.

Spinning! Image: Helene McLaughlin


As I was taking my ride inside this wooden soccer ball, I played around with the physics of the spin and realized that the spin could be manipulated via the law of angular momentum conservation. The closer you are to the center point of the ride, the faster it will go, and the further you are from the center point the more it will slow down. Picking your sitting or standing point is also one of the most important ways to avoid dizziness while onboard. If you get a great position the ride is spectacular!

If that was all this gem could do, it would be enough, however Rob explained that he designed the entire structure to be safe for kids to climb in. This feature is particularly useful when, after spinning the sphere for hours to give everyone a ride, Rob is in need of a break. I personally saw 12 kids inside the dome at one point.

I was so impressed by this ride, and the fact that it was built by a single enthusiastic maker, that I even offered to make them a promotional video.

If you would be interested in making your own paper replica of a truncated icosahedron, the folks over at Gijs Korthals Altes have designed a printable pattern.

Other places to find a truncated icosahedron in “nature” are on soccer balls, radar domes, and the rhinovirus (a common cold!).


A Social Network for Women Facing Breast Cancer

“Nobody’s immune to breast cancer.” Breast Exam Ad for Mozambique Fashion Week via
Advertising Agency: DDB, Maputo, Mozambique Published December 2011

Even though October is usually breast cancer awareness month, breast cancer diagnosis can be given at any time. Women facing the diagnosis of breast cancer have traditionally sought out other survivors near them for personal advice and experiences. In this internet age the reality is that many of us socialize on-line, we meet friends, plan events, host get togethers, share ideas, fall in love and mourn those that have passed. Humans are social creatures, but we are also technological, we have created new ways to meet more and more people just like us.

Starting today, socializing with other women facing breast cancer will never be easier. Continue reading A Social Network for Women Facing Breast Cancer

Photography Snapshot: The Power of Lenses

Camera Lens Colored Abstract brought to you by

This article is the third in a series teaching the basics of photography. We started by learning about the properties of light and how an image is created, and we also learned how a lens bends light to focus individual rays into a single bright image. With this lesson we are going to finish learning the scientific theory of lenses and how to use lenses for magnification in addition to brightness.

Relation between lens diameter and f-stop. (From

In the last lesson we performed an experiment to focus the light of a candle through a lens. We also learned that to determine the focal length of the system, we move the focusing screen forward and backward until the image of the flame is in focus. Let’s consider that candle/lens system for a moment. What do you think would happen if we replaced the lens with one that is twice the diameter with the same focal length? Would the image be twice as bright? Image twice as large? If you guessed the larger lens would make the image brighter, you would be correct. The larger lens has more area to collect light, which actually equates to an image more then twice the brightness at a ratio equal to πr² where r equals the radius of the lens. The image would, however, be no larger since the focal length of the lens is that same. Continue reading Photography Snapshot: The Power of Lenses

My First Designer Handbag and It's for My Camera!

From the Dre Hartmann Facebook page

In a house full of boys, I rarely indulge in items specifically for myself. When I do, they have to be durable and practical. I am a photographer, my camera bag is always stuffed to the gills with camera bodies, lenses, filters, flashes, reflectors, my laptop, and various other things. Up till now I have been happily using a Tamrac Adventure 9 Photo/Computer Backpack. As you might imagine, the backpack had gotten extremely heavy to carry all of my gear when I headed out to a shoot. I was on the look out for a smaller bag that could hold my camera, an extra lens, my phone, and wallet; the bare essentials for a shoot. When I received my Dre Hartmann Cameron Hobo DSLR Camera Bag in the mail, I was impressed but intimidated. It’s white, it’s trendy, and it’s designer. I’ve never been a designer handbag carrier, as a mom I’ve always been terrified of carrying a bag that my kids could ruin by spilling juice on or dragging through the grass. I’m proud to admit that I am a complete convert; seriously I’ll never go back. I absolutely adore this bag.

Continue reading My First Designer Handbag and It's for My Camera!

ioShutter: Control your DSLR with your iPhone

ioShutter: remote control your DSLR (Image: Photojojo)

I sometimes wish that my iPhone was my remote control for everyday life. I want it to do everything for me, or at least make life easier. Ever since I started taking an interest in photography, I’ve wanted to be able to link my iPhone to my DSLR camera to extend my reach and take self portraits. As you can imagine, I was thrilled when I received a review copy of the ioShutter cable to try for myself from Photojojo (a photographers haven of awesomeness)!

The ioShutter is billed as “cord/app combo that lets you control your camera’s shutter with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch’s smarty-pants iOS brains” (from Photojojo). The ioShutter cord will cost you $60 at Photojojo or other retailers, but the “lite” version of the iPhone app is free. While this price is about double the cost of a normal wired shutter release cable, it does give you a more control in terms of the pictures you take. The ioShutter lite app includes a free timer, time lapse controls, programmable bulb, clap sound trigger, and shake activated trigger. The $9.99 Pro version adds an ability to schedule pictures via iCal, run time lapse for days, set a dB level for the sound trigger feature, and program your iPhone’s movement sensors to do different things.

The ioShutter is compatible with iPhone G3 and beyond, iPod Touch g4 onwards, and all iPads. There are three versions of the cable. The E3 version is compatible with Canon, Pentax, Samsung, Hasselblad, and Contax cameras. The N3 version is compatible only with Canon cameras and the Nikon version to be released Fall 2012 (DC2 model). Make sure to check the website and get the cable that is compatible with your camera, they are all dependent on which cable port is built into the camera.

So, what did I think of it? I like the features, but its not what I was hoping for. I was most excited about the clap shutter feature, thinking that it would allow me to take pictures from a further distance away. Unfortunately, the cord is only about three feet long, and I think my iPhone mic only has a one to two foot range. This means you have to have a very short focal length in order to take a clear image of yourself. I suppose that the Pro version might have been better since I could change the decibel level of the snap or clap that the shutter would react to. I will say that when I was close enough to trigger the shutter with sound it did indeed work as expected, even searched for and found the new focus point before taking the shot. This was the same issue I ran into for the shake feature. You had to be very close to the camera in order to hold your phone and control it. I really think the next version of this should be a wireless version with a bluetooth or radio transmitter between the phone and camera.

I was impressed with the responsiveness of the shutter taps, and would likely use this when photographing large groups using a tripod. The ioShutter cable would give me enough mobility to take pictures while getting everyone’s attention (something you know can be difficult when you are behind the camera).

The ioShutter cable is very useful for doing long exposure pictures. As you know I’m an astronomer by trade, so taking star pictures is always something I’m trying to attempt. Long exposure pictures at night are not easy. Any shake ruins your picture, even the tiny shake that comes from touching the on-camera trigger, so using a trigger cable is a must. The programmability of this feature allows the photographer the ability to step away from the camera and not worry about the image being taken at the right time. Again, this would be nice with a wireless feature so that you don’t have to leave your iPhone out with your DSLR on a cold night.

The best part about ioShutter is that modes can be combined to create truly awesome photos. You can start a timer with a snap, shake your phone to start a time lapse exposure, or use a timer to trigger a pre-programmed long exposure.

All in all, I LOVE the ioShutter cable and app combination, I just wish it were wireless. I’ll admit even though the cable didn’t have the self portrait abilities that I was hoping for, I was able to use it to try out a new shoot location on a railroad nearby. It was a nice portable accessory to include in my camera bag.

RIP Neil Armstrong, A Huge Loss for Mankind

Apollo 11 and Apoll0 17 composite portrait of Neil Armstrong saluting the U.S. Flag by Stuart Atkinson. Image from NASA.

Neil Armstrong‘s first step on the moon made him famous, but his “one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind” immortalized him. Today, August 25, 2012, GeekMom, NASA, America, and the entire world, lost a great man. Neil Armstrong passed away today, at the age of 82, of cardio-vascular complications after undergoing heart-bypass surgery. Armstrong lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his wife Carol.

Neil Armstrong was a retired naval aviator when his he was chosen to be part of the second class of astronauts. After so many years as a test pilot, he was an easy choice for such a prestigious position, especially since he would be the first civilian aviator selected. Armstrong’s first command was also his first space flight as part of the Gemini 8 mission. The mission included the first ever docking between two spacecraft, and was successfully completed after only 6.5 hours in orbit. The mission was cut short after a malfunction in the attitude control system that required an emergency re-entry before the panned extravehicular activities could be completed.

Armstrong’s second and final mission to space was as commander of Apollo 11, the first mission to land on the moon. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first of only twelve men to ever walk upon the lunar surface. Shortly after the resounding success of Apollo 11, Armstrong announced that he didn’t plan to ever fly in space again.

After retiring from NASA, Neil Armstrong became a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati where he taught for eight years. After abruptly resigning his position with no explanation, Armstrong retired from all public activities and has remained that way for most of the rest of his life. He was vehemently opposed to the use of his likeness or persona for others personal gain and often took individuals or companies to court in an effort to preserve his privacy and identity.

In the last few years, Armstrong had become a public supporter of a manned Mars mission and sharply criticized the cancellation of the Constellation Moon Program. In an open public letter also signed by Apollo veterans Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, he noted, “For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.”

GeekMom wants to send our condolences to the entire Armstrong family on the loss of such an icon. Just take solace in the fact that while Armstrong may have passed from Earth, his legacy will forever be imprinted on the heavens.

Photography Snapshot: Light Bends and Focuses

From Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

In my previous Photography Snapshot, I discussed the importance of light and how it bounces to create images. We discovered that the most primitive form of photography was the camera obscura, which works by excluding all light rays that don’t create an image. While this method does create an image, that image is usually very dim because so few light rays create the image. In this Snapshot we will discuss the difference between reflection and refraction, how a lens focuses light and how a lens’ focal length will impact an image.

A pencil looks bent, because the light bouncing off the part in the water is moving slower than the part through the air.

Light is a form of energy, and while it can bounce and be conserved, it can also bend by being slowed down. I bet you are thinking to yourself, “But light travels at a constant speed!” Light only travels at a constant speed in the perfect vacuum of space where it doesn’t encounter any opposing forces. You can slow light down by having it pass through materials like air or water. According to Snell’s Law, the degree of refraction depends on the ratio of the two materials’ different refractive indices. Most materials have a refractive index greater than one, which means that as light enters the material from air, the angle of the ray in the material will be more nearly “normal” (perpendicular) to the surface than it was before it entered.

Give it a shot: shine a flashlight through a jar of water. Does the beam look straight? Put a pencil in a dish of water; it looks like it bends where the water and air meet.

Continue reading Photography Snapshot: Light Bends and Focuses

Photography Snapshot: Why is Light Important?

Lego Pinhole Camera from andeecollard flickr photo stream. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In an effort to learn how to take beautiful photos of my family and friends, I’ve spent the last six months learning as much as I can about photography. As you might imagine, the basics weren’t enough for a geekmom, so I dug into the science behind the photography.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a number of lessons dealing with the essentials of photography, some of the science behind the images, and products that are likely to make your pictures easier or better. This first lesson will deal with the basic properties of light and the most basic ways to capture that light. Future lessons will talk about the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Light is everywhere, even in the darkest recesses of space. There are a few basic properties of light that are important for photographers to remember while they are composing scenes. These principles are straightforward and it’s likely that you learned most of them in basic high school level science classes.

  • Light can only be seen if it reflects off of something or if we are looking directly at the original source.
  • Light can be reflected(bounced) or refracted(bent) in very predictable ways.
  • The roughness of a surface determines the amount that light will scatter after it bounces.
  • White light is made up of all of the visible colors combined.
  • Light is measured in by its energy level or wavelengths. Different colors are denoted by their wavelengths.
  • Shadows occur when something falls within the direct path of a light source and ourselves.
  • The human eye is amazingly versatile at adapting to differing brightness levels, far more effective then even the most advanced cameras.

Mars Curiosity Lands Tonight!

Image via NASA

Tonight is the night that years of scientific research and engineering will either pay off, or fail spectacularly. This is one of those moments in scientific discovery that merit staying up all night, or setting an alarm to wake up and watch. Mars Curiosity is scheduled to land tonight at 10:31 p.m. PDT, Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6).

Curiosity will reach the surface in a way that no space craft has ever landed — it will be lowered to the surface on nylon cords by a rocket-controlled hover crane that will return to orbit after the drop. This entire process is automated and expected to take seven minutes. If you aren’t an expert on the mechanics of how this whole process occurs, take five minutes and watch the latest NASA JPL video titled: Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror, below.

When the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, also known as Curiosity) launched November 26, 2011, it started a scientific expedition like no other before it. While the majority of the modules on the MSL won’t start collecting science data until it powers up on the Martian surface, one instrument has already logged 221 days of scientific data:  The Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) has been taking readings of the ambient radiation on the entire voyage to Mars. RAD has recorded five separate solar flares. According to the RAD principle investigator, Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, CO, this data has already been used by scientists planning future manned missions.

Once Curiosity safely lands on the surface of Mars the rest of the science activities begin. Curiosity’s main science objective is to look for areas on the Martian surface that could have sustained microbial life. The Gale crater was chosen as the perfect landing site because it shows many of the properties of formerly aqueous terrain, but its small 12-mile landing zone has always made it too risky to attempt a traditional air bag landing.

Assuming all goes well tonight, the Martian rover — which is as big as a VW Bug — will increase our knowledge base of the Red Planet for years to come. If you would like to catch your own piece of Mars Curiosity fever, head over to the Mars Curiosity Lego CUUSOO site and lend your support to turning it into a retail model.

Not sure where the best place to view the landing might be? Check here: Where to watch the Mars Curiosity Landing Online

Geek Burlesque is Like Nothing You've Seen Before

“Rated R for Violence” Epic Win Burlesque
Image via Ben Trivett Photography

Have you ever been to a burlesque show? There are two different types of burlesque, traditional and neo-burlesque. Traditional burlesque integrates striptease with a bit of Vaudville, comedy sketches, acrobatics, juggling, live vintage music, and singing. This is the burlesque that most people are familiar with. During the mid-1990’s neo-burlesque emerged. While neo-burlesque still focuses on striptease and dance, it integrates popular music, performance art and exploration of gender identity. Both versions of burlesque embrace all body types in a deliberate attempt to debunk the traditional definitions of beauty. Burlesque isn’t about demeaning women, quite the opposite in fact:  it is about empowering them.

If you have never been to a burlesque show, maybe now is the time to go. Still not convinced? How about if it incorporated a Ghostbusters parody, a Star Wars vs. Star Trek battle, steampunk, or maybe a zombie hunt? Burlesque dance troupes around the country have begun catering directly to the geek culture by bringing beloved geek themes and striptease together in a very memorable way. While you may be wary of attending a striptease act, consider for a moment if you would like to attend ComicCon or other cons where cos-play is prevalent. The burlesque costuming is rarely more risqué then some of the more memorable cos-play costumes.

Continue reading Geek Burlesque is Like Nothing You've Seen Before