How 101 Dalmatians Saved Disney Animation

Image credit Disney Studios.
Image credit Disney Studios.

Editor’s note: This post is written by guest-poster Rebecca Moore, Kathy Kay Moore’s daughter.

I would be lying if I said that growing up saturated in Disney animated VHS video did not influence me to eventually become an animator. Of all our VHS videos, however, 101 Dalmatians was one of my absolute favorites, thanks in part to the sheer density of animals (specifically, puppies) that appeared in it. I even still have the VHS around here somewhere, despite no longer having a way to play it.

Of course, when offered the opportunity to visit the Disney Studio Lot to cover the 50th anniversary Blu-ray release of 101 Dalmatians, I answered the call of the puppies.

I was most excited to meet Floyd Norman, a Disney master animator who worked on the film, but as we settled into the dark viewing room, first we met David Daniels, the producer of the Blu-ray extras (which were described earlier by GeekMom Patricia). A little-known fact shaped the bonus features and dominated the talk at the junket:

101 Dalmatians saved Disney animation.

When the movie went into production, it carried the studio’s hopes; if this movie didn’t make money, the animation department would be axed. Sleeping Beauty, the predecessor to 101 Dalmatians, had taken five years to complete and had been a very expensive production. It also flopped, and word was if the studio did not find a way to make animation cheaper, faster, and… profitable, then no more Disney animated feature films. Dalmatians’ animation crew was cut down by more than half.

Nothing was wasted on this film. In fact, 101 Dalmatians lacked the contributions of an entire department of the Disney studios. Ultimately, animation at  Disney was saved by the invention of a new Xerox copying method. It allowed direct transfer of an animator’s drawings onto cellophane sheets that would be painted and photographed for the film.

Previously, inkers had to painstakingly trace lines onto the cels, adding up to extra time, talent, and money. This new method of transferring lines is what gives them the distinctive “fuzzy” look Disney’s lines had from 1961 onward. Walt supposedly hated the look, but it saved so much time and money that it became a necessity. The entire inking department became extinct.

David Daniels, producer of the Blu-ray extras, and his team delved deep into the archives to find new material for the Blu-ray extras. Because of the extreme economies of the 1961 film, finding any material that hadn’t already been seen in previous DVD extras was difficult. Then Daniels found inspiration from the most vibrant and lively resource from the archives. For the extra, “Lucky Dogs,” the team shot their own short documentary, interviewing living contributors to the original film. Hearing their stories, whether in the extras or at a press event, is a treat. For me, this is where the story and historic role of 101 Dalmatians truly came alive.

Finally we were introduced to our panel speakers: animator Floyd Norman, and voice actresses Lisa Davis and Mimi Gibson. As the panel and roundtable interviews concluded, it became clear what had made 101 Dalmatians so successful. Although the miracle of the Xerox machine is what made it profitable, there’s no doubt about the Disney Magic that made 101 Dalmatians a classic that lasted over fifty years: the passionate people who crafted the picture.

Panel speakers Floyd Norman, Mimi Gilman, and Lisa Davis. (Photo Disney Studios)
Panel speakers (l-r) Floyd Norman, Mimi Gibson, and Lisa Davis. (Photo: Disney Studios)

Floyd Norman only spoke highly of Walt Disney himself:

In my ten years at the studio before we lost him (I started here in 1956; Walt passed away in 1966), I don’t have a bad word to say about him. He was just a great man, great boss. And what I learned from him was to do your best. He was all about quality. He was all about not taking shortcuts, not about being good enough. For Walt it was excellence and quality, top quality.

Lisa described how, at age 25, she was cast as Cruella de Vil, but soft-spoken Anita resonated so strongly with her that she told Walt himself that he had been wrong to cast her as Cruella, and asked for the role of Anita instead. Mimi had never met Walt Disney herself, but adored her time at Disney and described the joy she had as a child getting the chance to voice a puppy. The Disney studio was “the Rolls Royce of film studios,” according to Lisa.

This studio where we are today was producing beautiful, beautiful movies at that time. And the rest of the studios weren’t. They really weren’t because they were in a great decline. But to come here, it was magic. And yes, I remember it well.

Truly, these people loved every moment of what they did, and such passion and creativity can be felt in the movie. Their faith and dedication made it possible to complete such a risky film, but that same passion makes the film heartfelt and brings the Disney “magic” to full force.

Does the magic still hold up? Is it still relevant? I say yes, and the relevance is summed up by what Lisa Davis said about her connection to 101 Dalmatians. Lisa was pregnant when she voiced Anita for the film. She couldn’t imagine that her child would grow up adoring 101 Dalmatians, but her grandchildren, and now, with the new Blu-ray release, her great-grandchildren, will get to fall in love with it as well. As Floyd Norman said:

I look back on this film made in 1959 and I see a lot of kids, a lot of people weren’t even born yet when we started on this film. And yet it lives on today. It’s like a brand-new Disney motion picture for those who haven’t seen it. And for those who did see it as kids, they love to revisit this film because it has so many good memories. So I’m just grateful that I was a part of it and could do my part in adding to the Disney Magic.

Lisa Davis gets into characterplaying with puppies before production. (Photo: Disney Studios)
Lisa Davis got into character playing with puppies before production. (Photo: Disney Studios)

Mimi’s life has been shaped by 101 Dalmatians, and she says (wearing her dalmatian-spotty sweater) that she’s probably spent more money on Dalmatians paraphernalia to this day than she was ever paid to help make it. She points out it was the first Disney movie showing humans and animals interacting together so heavily, and at the time was truly a statement on animal emotion and empathy.

Learning that animals, like people, suffer and worry about their children, is still an important step for any child’s development. Not only is 101 Dalmatians still relevant, but its age is an important factor as it bridges the gap of many generations, a gift passed down and shared within families.

The Diamond Edition combo pack (DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD) has a retail price of $36.99 and a rating of G.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Sequenced Caffeine Genome Reveals Evolutionary Advantages

Green coffee beans. (Photo CC-by-SA2.0, Mike Gifford)
Coffee beans on a coffee plant. (Photo CC-by-SA2.0, Mike Gifford)

Monday was National Coffee Day, but I clearly have been under-caffeinated, because I was late jumping into this 24-hour java immersion. Poking around to learn about Coffee Day, I found this great news: Researchers have sequenced the entire genome for the robusta coffee plant, answering some questions and raising others about our favorite buzz bringer.

One of the fascinating discoveries emphasizes the importance of caffeine throughout the plant kingdom. The fact that caffeine occurs in tea, cacao, and coffee suggests that it offers benefits across a wide spectrum of plant diversity. Now,  analysis of the robusta (Coffea canephora) genome revealed that it evolved via a different route than in tea or cacao. (These two plants may or may not have common evolutionary roots for their caffeine. ) This kind of parallel or duplicated evolutionary path to the same destination is called convergent evolution, and is commonly taken to mean that the convergent trait (caffeine!) is highly beneficial.

Another neat detail is that caffeine has been helping plants for a long time; longer than humans have been baristas. It appears that the leaf litter from caffeine-bearing plants discourages other plants from growing, giving the coffee/cacao/tea plants an advantage. Caffeine also protects the plants from some insects, which have evolved the ability to taste caffeine, a compound they cannot tolerate in high doses.

In another neat twist, the caffeine helps the plants because, in low doses, the caffeinated floral nectar offers pollinators a buzz. The insects are much more likely to remember the scent of the flower where they sipped caffeinated nectar and to return to it, making it more likely that  pollen will be dispersed from a caffeine-bearing plant. More coffee! (And tea.) (And chocolate!)

Co-author of this study Victor A. Albert, an evolutionary biologist at the University at Buffalo, describes their research in the video below.

Read more about the caffeine study at these publications:

— Science Magazine: The coffee genome provides insight into the convergent evolution of caffeine biosynthesis (the research report)

— Evolution News: Another Example of Convergent Biochemical Evolution: Caffeine

— Nature: Coffee got its buzz by a different route than tea

Pirate Day Book Review: Scott Chantler’s Pirates of the Silver Coast

Image courtesy of Scott Chantler.

Abandon yer landlubber ways and set sail with the Cutlass: Read Pirates of the Silver Coast, an all-ages fantasy adventure graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Scott Chantler. It features a feisty, adventurous girl seeking her lost brother in a fantasy medieval setting. In this fifth story in the Three Thieves series, former circus acrobat Dessa is seeking her kidnapped twin brother Jared, along with her two companions, Fisk and Topper.

At the opening of the book, Dessa is waiting for a broken leg to heal and hiding with her two companions. Topper is a small blue being, who is quick-thinking and loves a good risk. Fisk, on the other hand, is a quiet, huge and gentle creature, who has been outcast from his tribe. To proceed with their mission, the three need funds. Raising funds and seeking Dessa’s brother while under pursuit by the evil queen’s guard, using the highly sought-after map to a mysterious island that Dessa acquired in the previous issue, gets this tale off to an in-your-face start.

Image courtesy of Scott Chantler.

Once the trio have purchased safe passage on the Cutlass, they get to mix it up with pirates—several times. Some people are surprisingly piratical, some pirates are surprisingly human, and our friends require bravery, trickery, feats of strength, or leaps of faith to continue the journey without piratical penalties. At the end of the book, I wanted to keep reading to find out the resolution to all of the dangling questions and intriguing situations. I would love to read this book with youngsters in my life.

Since I have not yet read the preceding volumes in the series, I did not have a strong sense of the characters’ history or personalities. Dessa and Topper tell us who they are quickly through their actions, but Fisk is so quiet that his other characteristics are hard to discern. There is a sense in this story of payoff from earlier story investments, as if the series is a big Jenga tower and this episode is the point where we start worrying about each move we make.

Chantler’s art and writing move the story along briskly and convey the plot clearly. I did not have to study panels to figure out what was happening, but sometimes I studied a panel just for the fun of it. The art style is uncluttered and direct with clean lines, a somewhat painterly style, and the pages vary between bright primary colors and more muted, neutral palettes, depending on the atmosphere. My favorite line was, “By the great mermaid’s clamshells!” and my favorite image was of Fisk gliding through the air with his head up and his arms wide. Not because it is particularly artsy or beautiful, but because it looks both fun and serene—and it’s effective, in story terms. Images like this make it easy to hope to see this story as an animated or live-action film.

Image (c) Scott Chantler Image (c) Scott Chantler

Q&A With Scott Chantler

GeekMom: Did you have any particular inspiration or goal in designing your main characters? We love strong female protagonists at GeekMom, but Dessa’s posse is interesting too.

Scott Chantler: Topper and Fisk are characters I’ve been kicking around since university. There’s an old drawing of them in one of my sketchbooks from probably 1993. So those are characters who have been with me a while, just waiting to pop up as sidekicks somewhere.

Dessa herself came much later. My original 2006 concept for Three Thieves had a boy lead. Before actually pitching it, I changed it to a girl. It just felt a little less cliché, and maybe made her seem a little bit more vulnerable out there in that pseudo-Medieval man’s world. You’re seeing a lot more female heroes in comics lately, especially in all-ages books. In fact, a lot of them are using “strong female characters!” as a sort of feminist marketing hook. Which is fine, but Kids Can has never publicized the Three Thieves books that way, which I’m happy about. That Dessa is a girl has never been a big deal (Pirates is the first book in the series to reference to it as a plot point.) Because it shouldn’t be. I certainly wasn’t trying to force some kind of social justice agenda. The themes of the series are more universal than that.

GM: Without serious spoilers, what was your favorite part of creating Pirates of the Silver Coast and/or the Three Thieves series?

SC: The entire series is just a blast to work on. But Book Four (The King’s Dragon) was pretty dark, so I purposefully wanted to make this one light and fun. Of the five books so far, it was the easiest to write. It’s a little shorter than the others, so that helped. But it also ends with a couple of big twists that I’ve been working toward for years now, so I always knew exactly where I was going. Finally arriving at those scenes was really satisfying.

GM: Who did you read as a child and who do you read now?

SC: When I was very young, I was all about superhero comics. When I hit my teens, it was more about fantasy comics and fantasy novels. Conan the Barbarian, DC’s Warlord, Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara, etc., Tolkien of course. A lot of that stuff ended up in forming the Three Thieves books.

As an adult, I’ll read pretty much anything. Fiction, non-fiction, genre stuff or “literary” stuff, comics, or prose… I just like to read. Prose-wise, I’m finishing up Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter’s The Monuments Men. Comics-wise, I’m re-reading the ‘90s Vertigo classic Sandman Mystery Theatre.

GM: Do you prefer writing or art? Do you ever wish you were collaborating on the book creation?

SC: Cartoonists get this question a lot, and it’s always puzzling to us, because in comics the art is the writing. Most of us don’t think of them as two separate things. We’re people who “write” with pictures. That said, the script stage goes faster than the drawing does. But it’s also less satisfying than looking at the giant pile of art boards you’ve got when you’re finished. So it’s a toss-up.

And no, I don’t wish for a collaboration. We can all name some successful writer/artist teams who seem to share a vision, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. I think a true synthesis between word and image is best achieved when those two things are married inside a single creator.

GM: What is the hardest part of the process of creating your comics?

SC: The drawing stage takes a long time—longer than I’m sure most people would imagine. Drawing comics is more fun than digging ditches for sure, but sometimes when you’re several months (or years, in some artists’ cases) into the process, it’s hard to remember that. Many of us also work in isolation, which makes it tough, too. There’s no one around to give you a pep talk when you need one.

GM: Any tips for kids or adults interested in pursuing comics?

SC: Drawing skills are important, of course, but I would stress to them that comics aren’t simply heavily-illustrated books, but a unique storytelling language. And mastering that language involves so much more than drawing. You need to think about what to draw, not just how to draw, and that means studying drama, studying film, studying movement, studying iconography, studying anything that helps get ideas across to readers, visually. Creating comics isn’t about picture-making; it’s about communication. The best cartoonists aren’t the ones who draw the coolest-looking stuff. They’re the ones who can translate their ideas most effectively into simple, clear, dramatic imagery.

(GM: Amen, brother!)

Thanks to Scott for that insight into the life of an artist and writer. You can see the trailer for Pirates of the Silver Coast and buy the book at Scott’s website. Pirates of the Silver Coast is 96 pages from Kids Can Press. It sells for $8.06 and is suggested for ages 8-10.

The World of Cartoons Explored in Stripped; Save 39%

My family loves comics and animation. When we discovered a Kickstarter project to fund development of a documentary about the the past and future of cartooning, a documentary that features our best cartoonists, we started kicking.

Once we pledged to the Kickstarter project for Stripped, the fun jumped off our computer screens, as we got frequent updates about the progress of the documentary. We felt like we had a window looking in on a working studio and production office. This just added to our excitement as the film neared completion and the premiere drew near. In April, my daughter and I drove to Hollywood to join cartoon fanatics in attending the premiere, where several of the cartoonists who were interviewed for the film also appeared in a special post-screening Q&A session with the filmmakers. We were thrilled with the quality and entertaining content of the film. More than 80 cartoonists speak during the film and many segments appear of cartoons being constructed, conceived, or analyzed.

Rebecca and Kay at the Stripped premiere. Photo courtesy Stripped Film.

Since then, Stripped has toured to many film festivals and pop-culture cons. You can see the upcoming appearance dates at the Stripped website or Twitter feed.

Until September 19, you can get the Stripped Deluxe Edition for $39.99, a 39 percent discount. This includes the movie (clean and adult-language versions), the extras reel (30 minutes), directors’ commentary, and 15 full interviews. This totals over 26 hours of additional unmatched content. (There are also other editions available for lower prices.)

Halloween ComicFest Brings Free, Fun Comics to Halloween

Halloween ComicFest offers mini-comic book bundles for Halloween. Image: HCF Facebook page.

What’s better than Free Comic Book Day? Two Free Comic Book Days each year!

Good news for all of our comic book lovers: Another fun day offering free comic books is heading your way: Halloween ComicFest, featuring Halloween-themed comics. While most shops will celebrate on the designated date of Saturday, October 25, some shops are planning to go all out on Halloween or accommodate other dates. Check with your local shop for their date.

Halloween ComicFest is a single-day event when local comic shops offer free comics with a Halloween theme. Many shops also plan fun activities such as costume contests, giveaways, sales, guest appearances by comic artists and celebrities, and more. Starting October 1, some shops will have packs of 20 mini-comics for sale for $4.99, so you can hand them out to trick-or-treaters or use them as party favors. Over 1,500 shops are participating in HCF, so remember to check in with your shop!

The 19 free comics come in two sizes: 12 full-size and 7 mini-comics.

  • Full-size comic examples include Rachel Rising #1, Scooby Doo Team Up #1 Featuring Batman, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Afterlife with Archie, which got tons of positive talk this past season. Additionally, who can resist Hero Cats/Princeless or Fathom: The Adventures of Ernie, featuring an adorable seahorse in a lovely aquatic world on the cover?
  • Mini-comics include Vamplets: The Undead Pet Society, Angry Birds, Betty and Veronica, Plants vs. Zombies: Timepocalypse, and more.

When you get one of the free comics, you are eligible for the “Greatest Halloween Contest Ever.” Just take a picture in costume while holding a HCF2014 comic and submit the photo to HCF at Watch the HCF Facebook page or follow them on Twitter at @halloweencomic to avoid scary developments!

HCF mini comics. Screencap from HCF website.
HCF full-size comics. Screencap from HCF website.

Tiny FoxL Dash7 Bluetooth Stereo Soundbar Delivers Big Sound

Dash7 Stereo Bluetooth speaker might fit in your sunglasses case. (Photo: SoundMatters)

What matters most in your secondary sound systems: sound quality, convenience, completeness, portability, or superhero references? I tested the FoxL Dash 7 Bluetooth stereo soundbar from SoundMatters, a minute speaker that seems destined to be paired with tablets and could never say no to a phone. If you can compromise on the superhero item, we’ve got a complete, elegant portable speaker solution at a full-size price.

The FoxL Dash7 is about the size of a moderately sized TV remote: 7.5″ x 2.1″ x 0.75″. Unlike a remote, its outside is sleek and almost featureless, with only three small buttons plus a status light. It weighs only 7.1 ounces—about the same as four large eggs.

The Dash7 fits in small places. (Photo: SoundMatters)

The buttons serve to increase volume, decrease volume, and on/off/connect Bluetooth.

The Dash7 is a prime example of minimalism. I like its sleek design, easy-carry size, and large, secure rubber feet that helped it stay where I set it. Unlike most small Bluetooth speakers, it comes with a form-fitting case. This wraps and fastens magnetically and also serves as a sort of origami stand (see photo at top). The Dash7 itself is available in four colors, which means that the sides (.75 inches tall) come in those colors, while the back and the speaker mesh on the front are black in all versions.

What’s in the box:

• Charging kit with wall adapters
• Micro USB cable
• 3.5 mm audio cable
• Wraparound case and stand
• User Guide

This makes a useful selection of accessories: I appreciate the case, which protects the speaker during the travels that are inevitable for a speaker this size, and then it also provides support in a slanting position. The case does not serve as a carrying bag: I had to carry cables and chargers in one of my other elegant carrying solutions. Since there are several cables, you can power or charge from the wall (SoundMatters advises that output is much louder with AC power) and still have the other cable for powering on the go with a laptop. There is also an add-on subwoofer available from SoundMatters for an additional cost.

The sound from the Dash7 is good—loud enough to fill our family room, since none of us demanded head-banging volume. The Bluetooth is strong enough to work over significant distances; I tested it across two rooms of my house, where it connected beautifully. The music sounded best when it was not cranked up to full volume, because at that level it started to fuzz up with spots of distortion.

I listened to a variety of music and this was our favorite amplifier when streaming movies from a compact projector. The Dash7 delivered room-filling sound that did not require massive tinkering for the Bluetooth. It did require me to remember (or occasionally, look up in the well-written, concise User Guide) the button and status light patterns. Going forward, I am using a small cheat sheet inside the case to help me remember the most-needed information.  One flap of the case is cleverly taken up with a useful diagram of how to construct the origami stand for the speaker.

The battery is specially designed to aid in delivering bass, and you can further adjust that by laying the Dash7 down flat on a solid surface (bassiest), standing it up straight (clearest), or standing it in its case (moderate). The battery is advertised to provide 12 hours of sound on a charge. I played mine for over 10 hours on a single charge after having already gone through multiple charge-and-play cycles.

It also can be used as a speaker phone enhanced with noise-cancelling technology—either via Bluetooth or using the 3.5 mm audio cable connection. I connected with Bluetooth and experienced some feedback when the phone and speaker were too close to each other, plus I had to speak close to the mic on the Dash7, but it did amplify the person on the other end of the line, making our family call-ins loud and clear.

I mostly used the Dash7 with my iPad. It is a good companion for tablets large and small and is only somewhat larger than most cell phones. The elegant, minimalist design displays well with product design from Apple or similar items. This minimalism leads to one challenge (common to many Bluetooth speakers): remembering the combinations of button presses that control the speaker and what the various flashing lights mean. SoundMatters provides an audio cable to bypass the need for Bluetooth, so that is one possible simplification.

Dash7 with full-size iPad. (Photo: SoundMatters)

The Dash7 mostly performed well, but there are a few drawbacks.


• Great sound
• Long battery life
• Good Bluetooth range
• Very portable
• Combined case and stand
• Useful accessory package of cables and power wall adapters
• User Guide is concise and helpful


• Status lights, buttons seem arcane, like decoding an alien dashboard
• Speaker phone has minimal capabilities
• Expensive

The FoxL Dash7 turned out to be a superhero speaker with a mighty sound from a mighty mite body and with sidekick capabilities that rescue you from irritation and lost time. If you’re looking for great sound in a small package, get heroic sound from the FoxL Dash7. Manufactured by SoundMatters, suggested retail price $199; available from Amazon and major audio retailers.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Book Review: The Secret Language of Color

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. By Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, by Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut, is a color-hoarder’s scrapbook, packaged up in a beautiful high-quality hardbound volume. Reading this book supplies you with tidbits of fascinating color knowledge to share with your friends and impress everyone at your next cocktail party or carpool’s curb occupation.

The book is a large format (10 inch by 10 inch) with diverse layouts filled with rich, brightly colored graphics and (mostly) short explanations and examples on the broad range of topics in its subtitle: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.

The first part of the book goes into the science of light waves, vision, and perception by humans and other animals; this is the most traditionally instructive and challenging material. None of it is too difficult for an educated adult or motivated teen; much of it would be fine for over-achieving youngsters to dip into. But those looking for a quick dip into distraction reading may not find the introduction to be their favorite section. For instance, there is a page that begins, “A review of high school physics may be in order…” and the next two-page spread is devoted to a well-delivered discussion and demonstrations of simultaneous contrast:

Because color is interpreted by our brains, a single color has the ability to shift and change depending on the color adjacent to it. A particular red placed beside a blue will appear quite different when it is set next to an orange. This phenomenon is known as simultaneous contrast.

After that, chapters alternate between focusing on colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, and contexts—universe, earth, plants, animals, and humans. This is the greater part of the book and its use of graphics and short articles tempts readers to dip in anywhere and learn something new and fascinating. Some page spreads have three or four brief items; some have one longer topic. I found I could usually open to any page and find something of interest to read, and usually get dragged along reading many more tidbits.

A few of my favorites:

— The grass is greener because when you look down around you, the angle allows you to see details of soil, bugs, detritus, and other mingled items and colors interrupting the green. When you look away to “the other side,” you gaze at an angle and see the uninterrupted green.

— Soft snow is blindingly white because it reflects nearly all the light that bounces off its fluffy crystals. Hard ice, like glaciers, can look blue or violet because of its rigid structure: Red and other low-energy wavelengths are captured and only the high-energy lights at the green-blue-violet end of the spectrum are reflected out to our eyes.

— In Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Judas’s robes are a different color of blue from those of Jesus. One is painted with the expensive pigment lapis lazuli, and the other with azurite, which is much cheaper. Guess whose robes is in which pigment…

Detail from The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Joann Eckstut is a color consultant and is a member of the panel of consultants that prepares the color forecast used by major industries to track color trends. Arielle Eckstut is a co-founder of girls’ brand Little MissMatched and of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to assisting authors with book publication. Both Joann and Arielle have published several books in addition to The Secret Language of Color.

I enjoy that I can pick up The Secret Language of Color and snack from various pages, reading an entry here or a whole page there—a bite of red, a soupçon of yellow, a blue amuse-bouche. If you or your child have a particular interest in the science and history of color, you could make a feast of the whole book, for both your mind and your eyes.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, 240 pages, is available as a hardcover from major retailers. Published by Black Dog and Leventhal. Suggested retail price $29.95.

GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.

Google Doodle, John Venn Birthday, and Cuteness: Venn Diagram Go!

Image: Google

Google’s doodle is truly celebrational today with logician John Venn’s 180th birthday’s doodle.

Most of us learned about Venn diagrams in school: logical and geometric illustrations of overlaps and differences between class memberships. The colorful and playful doodle that we enjoy today offers a game of selecting two categories to compare. Google combines them and shows the surprise commonality between them, all in adorable cartoon style. Select carefully and you might find a familiar singing astronaut!

The Google Doodle team reports that they wanted to imbue the doodle with the nostalgia of our school days. They also reference circles in the design repeatedly. The look is both nostalgic and charming and the mechanism is fun.

John Venn taught at Cambridge, where he developed Venn diagrams, a system of using the degree to which circles (each representing a class of things or ideas) overlap to indicate how much the classes have in common. If there is nothing in common, the circles have no overlap. The more commonality, the larger the overlapping areas. Venn also did further work on logic and probability, and also invented a machine to bowl balls for cricket practice.

Example of Google’s Venn diagram. (Image: Screen capture of Google doodle by K. Moore)

I imagine John Venn thought his diagrams would never look this cute, much less in a mere 180 years!

Tricky Treat? Get Mini Comics from Halloween ComicFest

Halloween ComicFest logo (Image HCF Facebook)
Halloween ComicFest offers mini-comic book bundles for Halloween. Image HCF Facebook.

This October, be a superhero GeekMom and give out comics to your trick-or-treaters instead of candy! Free Comic Book Day and Halloween ComicFest 2014 are banding together with comic distributors to offer bundles of mini-comic books for handing out on Halloween.

But don’t dawdle: To get the mini-comics, you must order in packs of 20 ($4.99) from your local comic book shop by July 24. Seven custom mini-titles are available for the bundles. Shops will also offer ComicFest visitors a series of full-size comics, along with a costume contest and other events during Halloween ComicFest on October 25.

Get updates on Twitter at @halloweencomic or from the Halloween ComicFest Facebook page, which also has giveaways,  last year’s comics, awesome photos of costumes, and other hijinks.

Knit Nests for Baby Birds in Rehab

I’m no knitter, but birds are easy to love. So, when I read that abandoned baby birds need warm nests to live in at wildlife and conservation centers, I knew GeekMoms had to hear about it.

WildCare is a nonprofit in San Rafael, California, that cares for over 3,000 wild animals annually (including more than 500 baby birds last year). Many of these baby birds had fallen out of, or otherwise become separated from, their nests during the spring season. An important part of their recuperation is a warm, soft, safe nest substitute. The hard plastic bowls that had been used to house them sometimes resulted in bruises… the idea for knitted nests was born.

Local knitters answered the call from WildCare and donated over 500 nests last year.

Knitted nest snuggles baby birds in video from (Screengrab K. Moore)

If you’d like to help, contact your local conservation organizations to discover whether they are using knitted nests, or donate directly to WildCare. They have a web page dedicated to the Nest Knitting project and knitting instructions are available, along with a Ravelry group and FAQ. There is also a crochet option if a hook is your thing.  (via SFGate)

Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness Begins at Kickstarter

Pre-production monster from Mountains of Madness Kickstarter video. Screen capture by K. Moore.

For those of you who enjoy skating on the edge of chaos or even being pulled down into its deepest darkness, race over to Kickstarter and make your financial obeisance to the irresistible film project, Mountains of Madness. If you love reading H.P. Lovecraft stories, if you love dark horror, if monsters and our ancestral id call out to you, even if you just admire wild imagination delivered on film, your tithe is due to this movie project from Lux Digital Pictures.

Quoting from the Mountains of Madness Kickstarter page, Lovecraft’s story tells:

In 1930, a team of researchers traveled to the southern end of the world in an attempt to discover the unknown history of our planet. They found a series of gigantic, alien-looking fossils resting in an ancient cavern. The scientists believed they discovered an unknown species of prehistoric animal. Soon, however, they realized that those creatures were far from extinct and more dangerous than any primeval predator.

When the scientists failed to return, a search party was dispatched. The rescuers pursued a trail deep into the Antarctic tundra where they discovered a titanic mountain range that hid a sophisticated pre-human civilization. In the deepest recesses of the city, they learned the shocking fate of their friends and worse: the horrifying truth about the origins of mankind.

Hunted by supernatural creatures of infinite evil and sinister intelligence the men struggled to escape the bounds of “The Mountains of Madness.”

Lux is seeking funding for pre-production work, which they state is the most elusive financing for a film project. Once they have that step accomplished, they will have the material to show dedication and vision, convincing financiers to back the rest of the process. You can check out their past accomplishments on their website.

They cite Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Mike Mignola, and Stephen King as disciples of Lovecraft. According to the Kickstarter page, At the Mountains of Madness is “considered one of Lovecraft’s greatest and most cherished works.” Lux plans for an animated treatment, which creates the horror, newly imagined monsters, unearthly destinations, and startling effects that will bring Lovecraftian fiction alive for viewers. Pay your homage at Kickstarter and gain unearthly rewards, such as your name in the credits, a Blu-ray, a signed script, an animatic, an animation cel, and other talismans of protection.

And, I have to mention that their shortcut name for the film is MOM. Not sure how they are going to work “GEEK” into that, though…

Be a Citizen Scientist by Hunting Asteroids

If you’d like to balance your video game-playing karma, head on over to the new web app Asteroid Zoo and try your hand as a real-life asteroid hunter.

Last year, GeekMom shared news of Arkyd, a Kickstarter project to both mine asteroids for resources and make space telescopes that are accessible to the public, including schoolchildren. Planetary Resources, the people behind Arkyd, has teamed up with the citizen science workshop Zooniverse to create a game-like opportunity for the public to scan our skies for asteroids. The job reminds me of the recent crowd-sourced search for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

Asteroid Zoo doesn’t offer a very game-like interface, but it still sucked me in. The web app displays a short series of space images collected by the Catalina Sky Survey, so you can mark them for possible asteroid tracks. You get assistance from a tutorial and a Talk forum.

Seeking asteroids by looping through a four-frame sequence. Screen capture by K. Moore.

Planetary Resources can use data from these “sightings” to help pinpoint asteroids for their eventual asteroid mining efforts. NASA is also interested in asteroid detection and will use the data to test future asteroid-detection software. They are partnering with Planetary Resources to offer rewards for the creation of asteroid-finding algorithms.

Result of a sequence with 1 asteroid and 1 artifact identified. Screen capture by K. Moore.

Get a preview of the app in the video above or head on over to Asteroid Zoo and try your luck.

For more on Arkyd, Planetary Resources, and asteroid hunting, check out Fund This: Organic Yarn, Blast into Space and App Camp for Girls and Are You My Asteroid-Busting Hero? …Sign in Friday Morning.

Happy Whose Day?

Photo Credit: aprillynn77 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: aprillynn77 via Compfight cc

For Father’s Day I’d like to give thanks and wish a happy day to my mom, and to all the other moms who were also dads. My mom raised five kids as a single parent after divorce, went to the sports games and concerts, went to all the school conferences, fixed all the broken things, kissed all the scraped knees, paddled the bottoms, tucked us into bed, took care of all our needs, was proud of us, all while working one or two jobs. Mom escorted me down the aisle at my wedding.

Lots of families had a mom and a dad sharing responsibilities, splitting things up, doing their gender roles. Some families had a mom during the week and a remote dad on the weekends or during the summer in a custody-sharing arrangement, but in our family it was pretty much Mom all the time. She had to use her time and her temper and energy wisely; there was no one to relieve her, no one to consult, no one to share. And so on Father’s Day, I say thanks to Mom because she was the one who handled all the responsibilities that dads were taking care of.

When I was a kid, family structure was a little less fluid than today, and probably in another generation it will be even more fluid. Maybe we will start having Parent’s Day instead of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and that might be the appropriate thing to aim for. But since that day has not yet arrived, remember to send love and honor to whoever who acted as a dad, even if it wasn’t your father.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Scholarly Freebies at Oxford University Press During National Library Week

Resources available from OUP for National Library Week
Online resources available for free April 13-19 from Oxford University Press in honor of National Library Week. (image CC-BY-SA K. Moore)

A massive treasure trove of scholarly gems, normally locked up tight behind fully operational internet security and authentication, will be available April 13-19 in honor of National Library Week. These riches—online books and databases—are products of Oxford University Press. A common username/password pair will provide access to any visitor from the U.S. or Canada to the OUP online resources, excluding journals, during National Library Week.

This is pretty exciting for me since, upon hearing mention of  the Oxford English Dictionary, a slight excess of saliva drove me to look up the term “Pavlovian.”

Stephen Selgrade of OUP’s Online Marketing team described this treasure trove as “an unprecedented amount of free content, from over 30 online databases, covering everything from law to medicine, science to humanities, and math to art and music. Whether you are an academic scholar, high school student, librarian, lawyer, doctor, or an individual searching to learn something new, you’ll be able to find high quality scholarship that fits your needs.”

To see the available resources and get the login details, go to the OUP National Library Week page.

The login will only work April 13-19, but there are samples available for browsing before then without logging in, so you can try out different databases and books.

GeekMom’s enthusiasm for libraries has been shared in various posts in the past:

Geek the Library Asks “What Do You Geek?”
The Nerd States of Blissful Library Addiction
Creating Tiny Libraries Everywhere

International Women’s Day: STEM Gender Equity Grab-Bag

Gateway to UNESCO’s Women In Science data exploration tool, which visualizes gender distribution geographically and in other modes for science careers worldwide. (Screenshot K. Moore)”

In honor of International Women’s Day, let’s check in on women’s progress climbing ladders in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). I found a couple interesting reports to share. One piece allows you to interactively check on the level of female employment in science in various countries and fields of research worldwide. Another report shares information on a study that has implications for increasing female participation at scientific meetings. A third report makes similar points about the organization of scientific meetings and the perhaps unintended effects upon practicing researchers.

+ Women In Science from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics: To find out where you might want to move to increase your chances to succeed in a global science career, use this interactive tool. Investigate where different genders predominate in science careers, plus several breakdowns of the gender distribution data. By the way, on average globally women make up 30% of the researcher population. Visit the UNESCO page or click the embedded view below to satisfy your own curiosity.

UNESCO - Women In Science Interactive

+ Let’s Convene This Party: A recent article in the microbiology journal mBio (open access, no subscription required) titled, “The Presence of Female Conveners Correlates with a Higher Proportion of Female Speakers at Scientific Symposia,” by Arturo Casadevall and Jo Handelsman, described a correlation between conference programs with at least one female convener (one of the organizers who invites speakers, among other duties) and increased numbers of female speakers. Since appearing at conferences is an important validating act for advancement and professional development, being invited to speak is important, generally, to scientists of all genders. Many more details are available from the mBio article.

+ Pecking Order In PrimatesPrimatologists: In primatology, studying the effects of gender bias is particularly interesting because women have overcome the “underdog” syndrome common in many other STEM fields. They make up more than half this field and have achieved peer recognition. An article published in PLoS ONE, “Stag Parties Linger: Continued Gender Bias in a Female-Rich Scientific Discipline,” by Lynne A. Isbell and colleagues, compares conference presentations of invitation-only symposia (high-status) compared to self-initiated posters and talks (lower status). Success, status, and advancement tend to be associated with invitation-based appearances. Women give more posters than talks, and men give more talks than posters (but primatology is predominated by women, numerically). Within symposia, there are half as many female primary authors for presentations/papers when the organizer is male compared to when the organizer is female or mixed genders. The figures and captions below are from the article, but are much more informative if you read the numbers and additional context at the PLoS ONE article.

Figure 1. Numbers of presentations in primatology by men and women as first authors at AAPA meetings.
Values come from annual meeting issues of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) from 1992–2012. Values above bars are percentages of presentations by women as first authors. (Reprinted from PLoS ONE 7:11, CCby4.0)
Figure 2. Proportion of women as first authors of posters, talks, and symposia at AAPA meetings.
The average proportion for all presentations with women as first authors over a 21-year period of annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists is indicated by the solid black line. F-Org. Symp.: symposia organized by women only; F/M Org. Symp.: symposia organized jointly by women and men; M-Org. Symp.: symposia organized by men only. (Reprinted from PLoS ONE 7:11, CCby4.0)

+ Sources

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. 2014. Women In Science interactive data exploration.

Casadevall A., Handelsman J. 2014. The presence of female conveners correlates with a higher proportion of female speakers at scientific symposia. mBio 5(1):e00846-13. doi:10.1128/mBio.00846-13

Isbell L.A., Young T.P., Harcourt A.H. 2012. Stag Parties Linger: Continued Gender Bias in a Female-Rich Scientific Discipline. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49682. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049682

Swoop Bag: Organize Your Life and Your Kids’ Lego Collection

I used the Swoop to carry exercise balls, among other things. Swoop carrying a 55 cm ball, using the drawstring cord as a handle. (Photo K. Moore)

If you haven’t seen a Swoop Bag and play mat, I bet you’ll join the rest of us in thinking it is a brilliant idea. It is a large-diameter (44 inches) circular canvas mat with a strong casing around the edge and a drawstring. For oodles of kids, this means they can pile Lego brick onto the mat, play and sort them there, and then just cinch up the drawstring and hang up the bag or pile it into a cubby with all those pesky blocks safely corralled. The global level of nagging is measurably reduced.

Others use it for dolls or Hot Wheels, but clearly Lego storage is the Google query that Swoop was made to answer.

I approached Swoop from a different perspective. Years ago, I thought I could make a dent in the organizational challenges in our home by finding or creating sorting-slash-storage containers. I came up with the idea for little circles of fabric with drawstrings, but mine were more on the scale of a gallon zip-lock bag. We could store crafting, needlework, modeling, art, etc., supplies in the bags and stash them in small spaces. I did research on the materials to use but never followed through on actually making them, but the idea continued to pop up every now and then.

When I saw the Swoop Bag, it instantly resonated with me, and my adventures with my bag have reinforced the fascination with my original idea. My Swoop showed up folded into a small rectangular package and unfolded to a full flat circle of red canvas bordered by a natural-colored casing for the drawstring, which is a sturdy nylon cord. Swoops come in two sizes, 44 or 16 inch diameter, in six bright colors of 100% cotton canvas. The company is owned by Sarah Kirk, whose own mother replaced the original bag, which Sarah’s grandmother made for Sarah’s brother’s Lego collection. Sarah recognized that value and longevity and the company was born.

I don’t have much Lego action at my house anymore, so here are some other challenges I tried with my Swoop:

+ Carting around exercise balls (my favorite): Those giant balls should really come with handles, but since they usually don’t, try carrying one with a Swoop. Set it down on the Swoop and draw up the cord: voila! For a large (65 cm) ball, the drawstring is too short to reach over the ball and act as a handle, as you can see in the photo below, but I just added a bungee cord connecting drawstrings on the two sides of the ball and it was like having a super-sized custom tote bag. With a 55 cm ball, the Swoop was enough.

Swoop carrying a 65 cm ball with help from a bungee cord as an extended handle. (Photo K. Moore)

+ Toting around holiday gifts: I had to transport a collection of oddly shaped presents to an event over the holidays, and the Swoop was my brainstorm for getting them from the house to the car to the destination, without a challenge of playing Tetris to pack them into bags or boxes. The Swoop also worked for collecting wrapping paper and trash to throw away, and then packing up all the gifts and paraphernalia to take home again.

+ Gift wrap: I’ve now realized that with some forethought, the Swoop itself could serve as wrapping for an awkwardly shaped large gift. Bonus points if the gift recipient is named “Swoop” because the gift tag is already applied!

+ Plushie mover: We also used the Swoop to relocate a mountain of variously sized stuffed animals—a perfect use for it. We could pile them in and move a foothill all at once.

Swoop filled with stuffed animals being relocated. (Photo K. Moore)

+ Moving books: We took a heavy load of books to the library for donation. This is awkward with bags; my cloth tote bags are too small, or break after the hard use, or I don’t want them out of commission on the library runs. Disposable/recyclable bags can’t carry many books. The Swoop worked great as long as we exercised a little care about how we loaded the books into it. The drawstrings don’t make good shoulder straps for heavy loads, but we didn’t have to carry it very far. For longer trips, I would recommend some padding between strap and shoulder.

Swoop weighed down with many books headed for our library’s donation program. (Photo K. Moore)

+ Charity donations: We used the Swoop to move clothes and other household donation items around the house and out to the car and into the final destination container. The Swoop’s shape makes it easy to pour or slide contents into another container.

+ The Future: Someday I will teach grandkids to keep their Lego bricks in the Swoop, playing on it when they want to build, and then scooping them all up into the drawstring bag when they’re done. Hopefully this will not clash with my book donation runs…

The Swoop made these tasks much easier and my husband is thrilled that I am not hoarding cardboard boxes to handle such jobs. The success has rekindled my interest in my original idea of personal sized versions of the Swoop (called a Swoop Mini—16 inch diameter).

Now I am scheming toward the day when I have a Swoop Original full of Mini bags filled with crafting, needlework, and hobby supplies. Meta-Swoop!

The Swoop Original ($48) and Mini ($24) are available in six colors in 100% cotton canvas from Swoop.

Other posts on GeekMom that share a similar reuse and crafting view include Lisa’s Repurposed Holiday Crafts for the Obsessive-Compulsive at Christmas and Natania’s 3 Ways Post-it Brand and Evernote Can Simplify Your Work Life.

For the Swoop traditionalists, watch Swoop and Lego on YouTube.

Interview: Floyd Norman, Disney Legend and Jungle Book Veteran

Floyd Norman, we want to be just like you. (Image Floyd Norman)

Recently, I had the extraordinary experience of speaking about animation with someone who worked at the Disney Studios while Mary Poppins was in production in the mid-60s. Floyd Norman, a Disney Legend animator and story artist who also worked at Pixar Animation Studios, started at Walt Disney Studios in 1956 and was the first black animator hired at the studio.

We can thank him for contributions to films from several studios, such as Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Mulan, Dinosaur, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, plus the TV special, “Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Albert.” He’s also the author of several books, including a memoir of his time in animation, titled Animated Life: A lifetime of tips, tricks, techniques and stories from an animated legend, which I summarized Between the Bookends.

Although my family didn’t see many movies when I was small, except for an occasional drive-in, I remember total enchantment when I saw Bambi as a birthday outing, and I have loved Mary Poppins all the decades since I first saw it. I was thrilled to talk to someone who had their fingers in so many entertainment pies from my childhood. Similarly, my own children loved The Jungle Book and we have re-watched it many times since their first viewing—which should really be called a wiggle or a bop or a shimmy, since the music induces so much movement. I couldn’t wait to hear what Floyd had to say.

Floyd at his Disney desk in the 50s. (Photo Floyd Norman)

GeekMom: Floyd, it’s an honor to visit with someone so wise in the ways of animation, with a career spanning more than 50 years. Do you think that a film like The Jungle Book has something special to offer today’s kids that they don’t get from modern animated films?

Floyd Norman: Animation is timeless, that is one of its great characteristics—when modern kids see The Jungle Book for the first time, they don’t know or care that it is from 1967. They think it’s modern. A good story is a good story, a good gag is a good gag. We were helped by the music from the Sherman brothers, which held up for today’s listeners.

GM: Does modern animation and all the media available to kids today put The Jungle Book at a disadvantage with modern viewers?

FN: No! Quite the contrary! More attention is paid to such films, there’s more animation today.

That works out to a win-win situation… when people get interested in any animation, all animation benefits. And animation as a skill and art gets more respect now. Back in the day, it was a metaphorical step-child, sitting at the kids’ table. There is lots more money in animation now, although I wouldn’t say it is more fun than in the hand-drawn days. Back then, an animator could be well-known for his style and work; now, in the days of CGI, it is a commodity and individuals are cogs.

There is nothing now like Disney’s Nine Old Men. It is less personal and more anonymous, even though it still takes a tremendous amount of skill. In the old days, a film like The Jungle Book needed about a dozen animators, and in the modern process, it takes two or three times that number, or more if several companies are involved.

GM: I have vivid imaginings of the scene you describe in your book, Animated Life, of the recording session when the jazz great Louis Prima showed up to record “Just Like You“:

…the Vegas showman couldn’t stand still. He was really into being King Louie. With all that energy being expended, the band couldn’t help but join in. Of course, you’ll never hear this music. Prima’s voice was isolated on a separate track… The final tracks you hear on the movie’s soundtrack have been toned down. And, I mean way, way down. Louis Prima at full tilt was more than Disney moviegoers of the 1960s would have been able to handle.

So, what is your favorite memory or association with The Jungle Book?

FN: Definitely it is being in the same room with Walt Disney. Since he focused his attention on story, he was at every story meeting. On the story team, I got to hear critiques and have opportunities to learn from the Old Master. The Jungle Book was his last film animation before his death. After that, the studio went through a big transition; Walt had made all the big decisions himself and did not name any successors. The studio floundered for several years.

GM: There’s been a lot of hub-bub on the internet about animated films and the portrayal of diversity. What do you have to say about it?

FN: Films generally reflect common culture, whether at Disney or at other studios. There were generally changes in the 70s. Studios started to think about their reputations, both on and off the screen. At Disney they called me in and wondered why there were no [minority or African-American] applicants, and I had to tell them that mostly, none of them even thought to apply at Disney. Still, with so many people saying that Walt Disney was conservative, when it came to offering people opportunities, he was progressive.

GM: At my house we are big Mary Poppins fans, and liked Saving Mr. Banks as well, about the history behind Mary Poppins. Did you see it?

FN: Yes—I was at the premiere, on the Disney lot where Mary Poppins was shot. I talked to some of the same people at that premiere that I talked to during production of Mary Poppins—Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, and Richard Sherman, among others. There was a wonderful sense of being part of it back then and again at the premiere. What a pleasure! What a triumph for Walt Disney!

GM: We showed Mary Poppins to adult visitors from mainland China several years ago, and we couldn’t pull them away. They loved it, especially the dancing penguins. Diplomacy from a palette. 

FN: Yes, Walt really meant it when he told Mrs. Travers [author of Mary Poppins], “Every time a person walks into a movie house, they will rejoice.”

GM: Do you have favorite recent animated films you’d like to recommend?

FN: I got to attend an open house and screening for Frozen, and was impressed by the film, and its director and writer, a talented young woman named Jennifer Lee. Kids are still doing great work, regardless of whether it’s CGI or hand-drawn or something else.

GM: Thank you for talking with GeekMom and for the contributions you’ve made to so many films that my family and so many others have enjoyed.

If you’d like to spend more time with Floyd Norman and his animation and writing accomplishments, here are more opportunities to visit:

 – Between the Bookends: Animated Life

The official, informative and pointless blog of Floyd Norman

Floyd Norman page at Amazon

Floyd Norman Special Feature at

Diamond Edition Jungle Book on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital from


New Research: Laundering Money To Make It Clean

Bills that are laundered can stay in circulation longer. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society.)

We’re big on hand washing in my family, and here’s strong validation for that position: Two scientists report that high-powered laundering of paper money measurably cleans it up. This could keep it in circulation longer, offering economic and ecological benefits. As well as making it cleaner.

The researchers, Nabil M. Lawandy and Andrei Smuk, report that the main soil on banknotes is oxidized sebum, which yellows the notes over the 3-15 years of their life. Sebum is the protective oil secretion that rubs off from human skin onto the money. It is also the material that causes teenagers such dermatological agonies.

When money gets dirty enough, it is diverted to be shredded. About 150,000 tons of dirty or damaged bills go to shredding and disposal worldwide each year. Printing those 150 billion new notes costs $10 billion. Lawandy’s research team investigated whether cleaning could delay retiring bills by removing accumulated sebum.

Their approach used “supercritical” carbon dioxide (SCCO2), which behaves as both a gas and a liquid and is used in other cleaning applications. Tests on banknotes from around the world showed that supercritical carbon dioxide removed common contaminants, including oxidized sebum, motor oil, other oils, and common bacterial colonies, while also leaving anti-counterfeiting measures intact, such as holograms and phosphorescent inks. The SCCO2 cleaning procedure reduced the bulk weight of the banknotes up to 4%, indicating that quite a bit of contaminant was removed. I find that an impressive addition to the hand washing, sanitizer, sneeze etiquette, and 30-second rule.

Research: Supercritical Fluid Cleaning of Banknotes

Haiku Illuminate Climate Change Reports From IPCC

Haiku helps us to think about climate change. (Photo Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute)
Dr. Greg Johnson as painted by his daughter. (Image courtesy Lucy Johnson)

I want to share with you one researcher’s bold innovation in communicating results and predictions about climate conditions coming out of almost uncountable hours of work and thousands of pages of reporting.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the global committee studying the phenomenon, faces an audience of reluctant readers when it comes to its huge reports. IPCC publishes major reports compiled by a membership of hundreds of scientists. The subject is so vast and complicated that the June assessment report from its Working Group I (Physical Science Basis) is more than 2200 pages long. The short version, the “Summary for Policymakers” (called a “brochure”), is 27 pages long, including graphics, observations, and conclusions.

One scientist brought a unique perspective to this challenge. Dr. Greg Johnson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who served as a lead author on the IPCC Working Group I report in June, was moved to create beautiful and brief summaries from the report: He wrote 19 haiku and illustrated each one with a watercolor painting. (He also posts on Facebook in haiku.) The entire set is available as “Climate Change Science 2013: Haiku” at the Sightline Institute, as slides, booklet, or video, for non-profit use with permission.

Some IPCC scientists think smaller, more frequent assessments and reports would work better than the current five-year schedule of giant reports. We will have to wait and see if haiku becomes officially sanctioned for shorter reports.

Note that these poems and illustrations are Johnson’s personal work and are not affiliated with the IPCC report officially. But they came about when Johnson was trying to distill the report’s main issues into succinct points. He already knew that haiku was a valuable exercise for constraining words and refining thoughts, so he devoted one poem to each of his target topics. When his daughter, an artist, saw the poems, she suggested that he also create watercolors to go along with the verses.

For some folks it’s enough to simply know whether the climate is half full or half empty, without worrying about the specific measurements; they can get a good dose of climate overview from Johnson’s creative distillation. For those with a more quantitative and analytical bent, this can be a pleasant entrée to one of the more detailed IPCC reports or news presentations.

All images used by permission from Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute.

If you like this approach of combining science and art, try A + STEM  = STEAM:

STEAM Heroes: 10 Great Minds Who Combine Arts and Sciences

From STEM to STEAM: Science and Art Go Hand-in-Hand

STEAM Ahead: Merging Arts and Science Education

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: Volunteer!

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is searching for volunteers.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a prestigious science competition for students in grades 9-12, is gearing up for the 2014 finals and is recruiting volunteers to help run the Fair or serve as translators in Los Angeles on May 13 and 14.

Opportunities are available for judging, translating, or general service, in a variety of time commitments. The greatest need for interpreters is both conversational and technical/scientific Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin, but many other languages are targeted as well. Volunteering offers an opportunity to help kids entering STEM  (scientific, technical, engineering, and math) fields, to learn more about it yourself, to soak up STEMthusiasm, learn about research projects, or simply to work towards your good deed quota.

You can learn more, get contact details, or print a volunteer information and recruitment flyer at Society for Science or watch a volunteer informational video.

GeekMom has written before about helping out at big events:

Interview: Running a Kid’s Track at a Geek Convention

From The Intel Science Talent Search: Meet Rachel Davis

501st Legion and Me

Review: Is nüüd Safe for Your iPad mini?

nuud case for iPad mini from LifeProof. (photo LifeProof)
nuud case for iPad mini from LifeProof. (photo LifeProof)

I’ve never dropped a cellphone or laptop into the toilet, but I have spilled drinks so close to my beloved gadgets that I stopped breathing.

So while I’m not planning to drop my iPad mini into a body of water, offers to protect my tech from my coffee habit have the irresistible sound of protecting me from myself. The LifeProof nüüd case for the iPad mini (retail price $120) suggests that it will keep my mini safe from a life filled with liquids, dirt, snow, and falls. I used it for several months and tested the watertightness. I was not disappointed in its protective claims. Those of you in the Northeast and Midwest may be particularly interested in the claims of snow protection.

The nüüd case is unique in that it offers protection against water while simultaneously offering direct touch access to the iPad’s actual screen. This is achieved by a tight, waterproof gasket that runs around the screen edge–it truly stopped water leakage in my tests. I much preferred touching the screen rather than transferring touch through some intermediary material.

What’s in the Box

– back cover (clear, so iPad’s design shows through)

– front cover (just a frame holding the waterproof gasket)

– shoulder strap, not adjustable

– screen cleaning cloth

– plastic water testing test unit (substitute for iPad mini)

– owner’s manual

– 1-page quick start

– Limited warranty statement (for nüüd only, not for your mini)

Not in the Box, Available Separately for Additional Cost

– Screen cover/stand

– Warranty for non-LifeProof items (for example, your iPad)

– Extra-rugged bumper and float jacket

Features and Experiences

I like to always have a lightweight, low-profile case on my iPad to protect it from drops and scratches. I used the nüüd case on my iPad mini, 24×7, for several months, and I applied it and removed it several times. It comforted me knowing that any liquid demon had to sneak past the nüüd’s gasket. The protection from drops and dust was also welcome (no snow or ice here).

LifeProof says that watertightness is tested at the factory for nüüd cases. The contents of the nüüd box include a testing unit (a plastic unit the size and shape of a mini) so each of us can test our own case on an iPad-like unit. I applied the case to the test unit, closed the ports for the audio and charging, and submerged the case into the bottom of a bucket, weighted down with a coffee cup for the suggested 30 minutes.

I tested like this twice, removing the case and re-applying it in-between. In each case, there were just tiny beads of water at the edge of the gasket and no visible leakage at the ports. Of course, this doesn’t test what happens at greater depths with greater pressures, more agitation, or bumping and fumbling, like dropping over the side of a boat.

LifeProof’s specs say the case protects to a depth of 6.6 feet for up to 60 minutes, and there are stories online of iPads surviving short immersions or splashes. In spite of the waterproof case, I kept mine as dry as possible.

The case adds slightly to the weight (4.64 ounces) and increases the measurements to 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.63 inches.

No one wants their mini to have a bigger footprint but I especially liked the easier grasp that I got with the nüüd– instead of the smooth, slippery glass at the margin of the iPad, I now had a small plastic lip that ensured a good grip. That raised lip also made touching the screen at the very edge difficult because my finger or stylus would bump against the edge of the case. At the same time, that elevated lip protected the screen when lying face down.

There are rubber flaps that work well for sealing and accessing the ports for the audio and charger. The case meant there was extra depth for the connector for my favorite earbuds, which have a bend where the pin meets the cable. An adapter solved the problem, and most connectors have no bend at all.

Rubber buttons on the nüüd transfer presses for volume control, on/off, and orientation. These are not as responsive as the iPad’s own buttons and my sense of touch did not let me mindlessly work controls with the oddly shaped rubber buttons as I do with the iPad native buttons, but they do work.

The sound was good when the case was on, and the camera is covered by an optical glass lens that preserved high fidelity for my snapshots.

Removing the case is a bit of a struggle, requiring a large coin as a twisting lever and quite a bit of torque, but my case worked after being removed and re-applied. The case actually survived removal even though I feared I was breaking it.

In addition to the water protection, LifeProof offers three other “proofs” in the nüüd case: protection against dust/dirt, drops, and snow/ice. The specifications suggest drops of 4 feet are survivable; I dropped mine a couple times from hand-held height on carpeted and hard floors and the case and the iPad survived unscathed.

The LifeProof nüüd case for iPad mini is available in black or white. A separate cover/stand is available, which I was unable to test, but would recommend on principle since otherwise your screen is exposed to the cruel world and the inside of all my tote bags. You also can purchase a float jacket that pops over the edges of the nüüd, like bumper pads, to help it float or survive harsher drops.


The nüüd iPad mini case passed the watertightness test and protected my mini from falls. It was lightweight and made the mini easier to grasp and protected the screen from face-down contacts. I believe it will also offer protection from snow and dust but I did not test for those conditions. I found the edges of the case somewhat awkward when I was touching, tapping, dragging or pinching at the margins of the screen and could not be comfortable with the unprotected screen. Overall, the case was useful as long as the screen wasn’t threatened and I didn’t need to carry a keyboard.

The nüüd iPad mini case is available from LifeProof and other vendors.

Diversity Panels at Stan Lee’s Comikaze 2013

Prism Comics Guide (Stock image)

Several panels at Comikaze focused on inclusion. I wrote earlier about the “Making Comics Great for Children panel.” Two other panels I made room for in the crowded schedule were “Gender in Pop Culture” and “Anything That Loves,” which explored the experience of readers and creators who fall outside the traditional “fan boy” stereotype or simply the male stereotype.

The “Gender in Pop Culture” panel examined the role of gender, and of women particularly, in comics and other media, as readers, viewers, creators, or characters. The contributors were: Kristin Hackett (Fangasm, co-creator of www.,, Video Hostess at Midtown Comics), Sterling Gates (Supergirl, New Krypton), Bryan Q. Miller (Batgirl, Smallville), Alan Kistler (Spider-Man Trivia Book, Batman Trivia Book, Game of Thrones Cookbook), and Susan Eisenberg (Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Injustice). Observations that are worth sharing because I agreed with them or that were wise and surprising include:

  • Female characters in mainstream media typically occupy “slots” such as the humorless badass, the bombshell who ultimately acquires insight, the sweetheart, etc. Women and girls are cast as fully drawn characters less frequently than men or boys (who are more often the central characters).
  • For commentary worth following on women in media, the panel recommended Feminist Frequency on YouTube (also on Twitter and Tumblr).
  • They had a discussion of the Doctor Who female companions, and especially the early years with Barbara (the second female companion), who was smart and resourceful and strong at a time when secondary female roles tended more toward wallpaper. Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, was the first to insist that the companions had to be special to qualify to travel in the TARDIS.
  • Panelists pointed out that fictional women thrive in well-written female friendships, like Buffy and Willow, Xena and Gabrielle, and even mother-daughter Lorelei and Rory of the Gilmore Girls.
  • Fans will spend money to support good writing and production, so if spending money accomplishes those goals, the fan support and success follow.
  • Supporting your favorite shows or books by posting on message boards is worth your effort; publishers and producers pay attention to comments from fans motivated enough to post in an environment that requires the investment of a registration or subscription.
“Gender in Popular Media” panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze. (Photo K. Moore)

The second panel honed in on the emergence of gay, lesbian, bi, transexual, and queer stories, creators, and readers in comics and pop culture. The panel was made up of contributors to a comic anthology on that theme, “QU33R“: Zan Christensen (Anything That Loves, Northwest Press), Sam Saturday (Why Do You Cry When I’m On Top?), MariNaomi (Kiss and Tell), Nick Leonard (Boy Trouble), and Josh Trujillo (The Reason for Dragons).

This was the last panel of the con for me and I was pretty crispy by this time. The panelists were enjoying talking, with a lot of back and forth, generating conversations rather than simple solo comments. They appreciated the opportunity to work on a book with so many contributors and as diverse as QU33R.

One discussion centered on the theory that some heterosexuals are antagonistic to gays as a subconscious defense against their subliminal gay traits, and that by a parallel analysis, much of the rancor directed toward the bi community may arise from violent resistance to one’s own subliminal bi leanings. To handle this sort of resistance or antagonism, the panelists suggested humor.

One strategy for progress the panelists use is to give real-life antagonists a stand-in character in the story, and address their concerns and positions through the story without abusing, misrepresenting, or obliterating them. Making reasoned arguments through the story can be persuasive in a friendly, nonthreatening voice.

Panelists for “Anything That Loves” at Stan Lee’s Comikaze. (Photo K. Moore)

Besides the panels, I also saw the Northwest Press and Prism Comics booth and picked up the Prism comics guide to LGBT comics (dated from 2009-2010), which has an amusing cover riffing off of the “marriage of Superman” cover from the Superman issue, “The Wedding Album.” The guide offers rundowns of popular series (from 2009-2010), descriptions of various jobs in the comics industry by way of interviews at Prism Comics, and recommendation lists: one from readers, and my favorite, a nicely composed list from a librarian for LGBTQ-friendly comics.

The two panels were informative and fun; it was especially great just to hear such creative types riffing off of each other and enjoying the make-up of the panel. I left the con with hope for accelerating progress for women and other fish swimming upstream in our mutating pop culture.

Comikaze: Making Comics Great for Kids

“Making Comics Great for Kids” panel at Comikaze. (Photo © K.Moore)

When I was at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Con on November 2, one pleasure was circulating without the pressure of people compressing you like toothpaste squeezing out of the tube, which happens at some other cons. I took the opportunity to go to part of the panel on “Making Comics Great for Kids,” including the panelists’ recommendations for all-ages comics.

The panelists included: Tom Pinchuk (Max Steel, Unimaginable), Joe LeFavi (Fraggle Rock, Thrilling Adventure Hour), Mairghread Scott (Transformers Prime, Rescue Bots), Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet, Daisy Kutter) and Yehudi Mercado (Pantalones, TX).

The panelists cautioned that the authors of kids’ media must be clear about why they are putting a message out there, be accountable and take responsibility for their message.

On the other hand, Mairghread Scott objects when people say kids can’t handle danger or sadness or violence… whatever it might be. They have tragedy, sadness, in their lives too and narratives can help them handle it and give them comfort when done well. The fictional world should be scaled to kid size so the kids relate and aren’t overwhelmed or bored.

The panelists also revealed that some publishers of kid-friendly titles limit the presence of specific guns or weapons, cigarettes, or cursing. While starting to write with these constraints is difficult, Kaz commented that as he imagines his own children reading his books, he now prefers not to write with traditional guns in the story. The writers also noted that it is not mature, but immature, to use violence in the story to solve problems and plot difficulties. The most interesting problems are not about violence but politics, human relations, and growth. One recommendation for  high quality writing following these constraints is Unimaginable. They also suggested looking at Neil Gaiman’s dissection of Little Red Riding Hood in Sandman.

Closing out, we heard recommendations for all-ages comics (not in order):

My Little Pony
Reed Gunther (wordless but a great read)
Adventure Time
Stuff of Legend (a mix of Narnia and Toy Story)
Hero Bear and the Kid
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Adventure Time Fans: Help to Birth Bee and PuppyCat Series

GM Kay: Hey there, GeekMom readers, my daughter is an animation fan and she wants to bring a new series production to your attention. As a GeekMom, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to have her write to you directly about this Kickstarter to fund a new YouTube series from Natasha Allegri, whose daytime gig is working on the Adventure Time cartoon series on Cartoon Network. Read on to hear what Rebecca wants to tell you.

Rebecca: Hey there Adventure Time friends, want a cool new project to support on Kickstarter? Well, look no more because there’s a great new cartoon, Bee and PuppyCat, that’s trying to get a series funded! The Cartoon Hangover channel already hosts a popular short episode on Youtube; the Kickstarter would fund expansion to a full series.

Hurry! The Kickstarter project closes November 14 and although they are close to their $600,000 goal to fund 6 episodes, they are still working hard to raise additional funds: all the stretch goals involve even more episodes!

The short is brought to us by Natasha Allegri, who is a storyboarder on Adventure Time, and is the one behind that show’s design for gender-swapped Finn and Jack, Fiona and Cake. As you can probably guess, Bee and PuppyCat has a lot of the strange, off beat, and often understated humor that makes Adventure Time irresistible, but you may wonder what exactly the series will be about?

To quote from the Kickstarter page:

“Bee and PuppyCat” is a very popular original cartoon created by Natasha Allegri. In it, Bee, an out-of-work twenty-something, has a life-changing collision with a mysterious creature she names PuppyCat (“A cat?… or maybe a dog?”). Between space and time, Bee and PuppyCat take on an intergalactic babysitting gig to pay another month’s rent. Now, you can help Bee write a happy ending for PuppyCat’s tale of betrayal, intrigue, and magical sparkle transformations.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But you may be wondering, why you should support this cartoon, specifically, over any other. It is the magical girl compliment to Adventure Time’s­ quirky Dungeons & Dragons adventure satire, but is that all it is? Well maybe, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing! First of all, the short stars a girl, which is a rare thing in kids’ cartoons, especially ones with less-traditional humor and story lines. It’s also coming from a female creator, who is a geek herself even if she isn’t a mom (yet!).

In this interview of Natasha on Channel Frederator, she talks about her work in comics, on Adventure Time, and eventually, some details of what went into the Bee and PuppyCat short, including the fact that PuppyCat’s “voice” is synthesized using the popular Vocaloid program. Plus you’d be supporting an independent creator, and helping an artist’s creative vision come through in a quirky and fun cartoon that looks to be fun for all ages.

Oh! And there’s a wide range of nifty exclusives for the Kickstarter too, including Bee and PuppyCat printed comics, pre-production items, T shirts, and even a squishable plush, plus many others!

GM Kay: …That’s what Rebecca wanted you to know about Bee and PuppyCat. Click over to Kickstarter or YouTube. We think you’ll agree with her judgment that this bright, amusing new series is worth your consideration.

PAX Prime: How to Raise Happy Geeks

Panelist’s-eye view of the audience at the Raising the Next Generation of Geeks panel. (Photo Kay Moore)

At PAX Prime 2013 last weekend in Seattle, GeekMoms and GeekDads joined together to present Raising the Next Generation of Geeks, enhanced by the presence of four geek offspring: the product, proof, and witnesses to our geek parenting practices. They formed a beautiful and gratifying addition to the parental voices offered to our geek audience.

Our panel kept intros to a short statement and saved as much time as possible for Q&A discussion and prizes awarded to participants in our photo scavenger hunt and  in other activities. The panel was composed of:

Jonathan Liu, GeekDad
Erik Weck, GeekDad
Rael Dornfest, GeekDad
Kay Moore, GeekMom
Kelly Knox, GeekMom
Three geek teens, 14, 13, and 11 years old
Rebecca Moore, Geek Offspring, 21 years old

While the PAX audience asked a variety of questions focusing on both the parents’ and the kids’ point of view, here I will summarize just the topics that discuss how to geekify your kids and family without resorting to specific book, game, or app recommendations, which we will offer in later posts.

Q1: Rebellion is almost automatic. How can we prevent anti-geek rebellion in our kids?

A: Rebecca Moore (21). I was introduced to all sorts of geeky things by my parents but they never really pushed me into them. When I was little, we had just one or two sessions of Dungeons & Dragons on a vacation trip and then I took the D&D book and attempted to run a game with my friends at elementary school… which ended disastrously. But D&D is great and I gradually got to play successfully. So don’t try to push them into anything but introduce them to as wide a range of things as you can. My parents aren’t into my chosen career, animation, but I love art and animation. We go to things like comic book exhibits and museums together. Show your children a breadth of things and then when they find what they love, reflect them back into the things that you love too and you can share those things together.

A: Nora (11). It isn’t just a one-way process. Learn what the kids like, don’t just push what you like. If there’s a concert that your daughter wants to go to with music that she likes, you should go too and give it a try. That’s one way to build your relationship.

Q2: How do we blend a geek and non-geek couple into a family?

A: Erik. Let’s look at Simon Pegg’s definition of geek. To paraphrase, it’s “to be proudly passionate about something.” And in that way we may all be geeks. Here at PAX, we are passionate and possibly somewhat obsessive about our pastimes. But this is true about other non–geek lifestyles or hobbies, like Martha Stewart followers. And there are good aspects and bad aspects in either community.

A: Kay. There is a behavioral aspect to the typical geek description, like when you should have stopped playing at 2 or 3 a.m. but you didn’t. Or you should have only played two or three times a week but you played five or six. This might not be video games  or board games but sports or other activities, as it was for me in college with recreational sports. This brings up an addictive or compulsive aspect that is common to many of us in the geek community. So if that’s not the case in a geek/non-geek marriage, then you probably don’t have issues. If it does reach that point, then you have to learn how to modify behaviors. And modifying behaviors is very difficult for many of us geeks.

A: Rael. My wife is non-geek. She’s always seen me geek out over games, but recently I pegged out over baseball, and she realized that I learn everything I can, as fast as I can, about everything that grabs my interest. She began to wish she could be as immersed in new topics and learn as deeply as quickly. Right now, my son does it with video games, and my daughter with bugs and snails.

Q3: How can we bridge the generation gap between parent and child geek?

A: Rael. We cannot predict the future, so just be true to what you enjoy and believe, and to what your kids enjoy and need. Stay engaged with your kids. The gap is not really generational, it is more absence of some kind. Sharing together will mend the gap. Be responsive and flexible.

A: Nora (11). Remember to honor your child’s interests as well as hoping your child will pick up your interests.

Those were our questions covering “geekifying the family,” including wisdom from the geeklings. We have related posts from GeekMoms at PAX and DragonCon, or check the @GeekMomBlog twitter feed.

Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing Sunday and Monday Nights

Sunday and Monday nights (August 11 and 12) we have our annual chance to bask in the Perseid meteor shower. If you’ve never gone out to see such a thing, the Perseid shower is a good, reliable phenomenon. If you go out and follow these tips and are patient, you should see multiple meteors quickly streak across the sky. Just make sure the sky conditions (cloud, fog) and weather are appropriate, and prepare for a lengthy dark outing. It’s best to go after midnight to see the most meteors.

Getting away from all lights, including passing traffic, and having a wide sky view will maximize your chances of seeing “shooting stars.” Reclining on the hood of a car or in lawn chairs with blankets or sleeping bags was our favorite method with the kids. When my husband and I were dating, we skipped the lawn chairs.

Get some good tips and background info from Andrew Fraknoi of Foothill College and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in his blog post about the Perseid meteor shower. You can see what the Perseid meteor show looked like for one viewer in the 2007 time-lapse video above.

Geek the Library Asks “What Do You Geek?”

Question from Geek the Library (photo courtesty

I like paper crafts and posted about the Foldable Me personalized paper figurines a few weeks ago. My own Foldable Me rules over our family room, and was with me when I heard from one of our Foldable Me raffle winners that her little paper doll was featured in a “What Do You Geek?” display at her library. I was curious and followed up to find out more for GeekMom readers.

It turns out this is part of Geek the Library, a national program to get people excited about making connections between their personal passions and libraries and the synergy that brews when enthusiastic geeks and treasure troves of knowledge intersect.

Kim, our contest winner, and library fan and informant, is a Children’s Librarian (aren’t you feeling warm and fuzzy already?) and mom to three geeklings. I got info from her and from the sponsoring group, OCLC, a library cooperative that strives to support libraries by increasing efficiency, innovation, and collaboration. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, OCLC sponsors the Geek the Library program, which helps local libraries to use high-quality marketing and outreach materials to connect with community members to express their enthusiasms in terms of “I geek ____”—with each person filling in the blank with their own individual passion. Once people are talking about their passions, they can explore how the library supports and enriches opportunities to grow in their geeky pleasures. In turn, as we all become friendlier with our libraries, we use them more, educate others about their charms, and defend their honor against library bullies who would cut funding.

The Geek the Library campaign invites everyone to “get your geek on” and “share what you geek,” and complete that phrase “I geek ___” — the answers are shared on the website, along with a story or video describing the delights of our geekery. Anyone can order a preprinted shirt or a customized tee that proclaims the objects of our geeking.

If you are lucky enough to have a library participating nearby, you can join the portrait gallery of geek specimens recorded in a gorgeous palette of black and geek. One library had two photo shoots: the first, the usual suspects of librarians, civic authorities, and similar library denizens. When such eye-catching geek posters were displayed from that episode, people were so enthusiastic that a second shoot was scheduled and the queue stretched across the lobby—you can see photos at the Geek the Library site and at the Waterford Township Library Facebook page.

I asked Kim, a participating librarian, and Linn Edvardsen, who helps coordinate the program at OCLC, to answer some questions about it.

GeekMom: Tell us a little about Geek the Library and how you got involved.

Kim: I’ve been a Children’s Librarian for over 15 years, and am the mom of 3 geeks-in-training. Geek the Library is a movement to raise local awareness of public libraries. OCLC supplies publicity materials nationwide, and then we tailor them to our own libraries.

GM: What do you geek? Has involvement with the organization affected the way you pursue your passions?

Kim: Oh my goodness, so many things: I’m a “classic” geek. I love science fiction and fantasy. I play RPGs, have boxes of comic books in my basement, play with Legos, Skylanders, and have even more boxes of action figures (I’m old enough that my Star Wars figures are originals). I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface.

GM: I understand you set up a display of your own geek passion, Batman, at your local library. Can you describe that for us?

Kim: We’re using one display case to showcase staff geeks—a new one every two weeks. That’s been a lot of fun, seeing what else everyone puts in the case. Batman was the focus of my display, since that’s what’s on my Geek the Library poster, but I wanted to share all my passions. I love the concept of I-Spy books, which make you study the whole page. I’ve done other I-Spy style displays and it seemed like the perfect format to make anyone who glances at the case see everything. I collected a bunch of different stuff from home, then spent three days staring at it, trying to come up with rhymes. The final stanza directed people to go find my poster. It’s full of a sampling of my action figures, dice I use in RPGs, Legos, some Skylanders and Webkinz, and, of course, lots of Batman books and videos. Lots of colorful objects. I even included the Foldable Me I won from one of your contests. The case is in the front lobby, and circulation staff say lots of people stopped to look at it. Mission accomplished!

GM: What has been the most pleasant surprise for you with Geek the Library? What has been the biggest disappointment or let-down? Has anything made you burst out laughing? Which of the “I geek…” slogans on the GtL website is your favorite?

Kim: Biggest surprise? How much fun it’s been. I think this has really engaged our community. I love looking at the different posters decorating our building. Not so much “burst out laughing” as “Interesting—I never would have guessed that based on their looks.” My favorite slogan isn’t on the national site, but I have several here at Waterford—especially those who took the effort to bring in props for their Geek. I think the biggest let-down was when I was at a community event and so many adults still thought “geek” was a bad term.

GM: Do you have any tips for our readers who are interested in libraries, geeking, or Batman?

Kim: Support your local library! If there’s something that interests you, ask the staff—if they don’t know where to find information, most librarians I know would be happy to find out. Don’t be ashamed to be passionate about something—that’s what being a geek is all about. (Just ask the women who run this website. )

Linn Edvardsen, Program Manager for Geek the Library also answered a few questions for us.

GeekMom: What, overall, is the goal of Geek the Library? How does a library become involved? Can just anyone nominate a library to participate? How did the concept develop?

Linn: The overall goal is to get the community talking! Geek the Library takes a light-hearted approach to the very serious subject of library funding. Over the past four years, Geek the Library has helped hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. get attention and start important local conversations about the value of the library and the need for funding. Libraries use the campaign as a springboard to actively engage their communities by making new and personal connections—Geek the Library takes the message out of the library and encourages a community dialogue. It starts with ‘what do you geek’ and builds from there. Talking about what people geek, what they’re passionate about, and how the public library supports it really brings the community together.

The campaign is open to all U.S. public libraries—regardless of size or resources. Printed materials, online templates and other resources, and ongoing support are provided for free. Libraries can get more information about the program at

GM: When did Geek the Library start, and how long will it continue? Is it growing or changing, or does it just do the same activities at all libraries in all places?

LE: OCLC partnered with [communications agency] Leo Burnett in 2009 to create the concept. It was important to develop something that got attention and helped libraries start conversations. “What do you geek?” is an amazing ice breaker and it gets to the heart of the matter: Whatever you are passionate about, the library supports it. We piloted the campaign with libraries in Iowa and Georgia in 2009-2010, during which we confirmed that the campaign gets attention, raises awareness and encourages action.

Since we opened up the campaign to all U.S. public libraries in August 2010, we’ve enrolled over 1,000 library locations. We are very thankful for the continued support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has allowed us to extend program enrollment through June 2014 (with support through June 2015), and provide robust support, including one-on-one assistance.

GM: Do you have a favorite response (story, video, poster) so far? Have any of them made you laugh, cry, shout, or meet a new friend?

LE: There are so many great stories from local campaigns. Most library participants localize their campaigns to include local people, and the result is a wonderful story about their community. One good example is Chelsea District Library in Michigan. This library partnered with a local photographer (who ended up doing the majority of the work for free) and produced hundreds of unique posters highlighting what the community geeks. It’s amazing to see!

GM: What do you geek?

LE: I geek the American Dream!

Check out the photos below and go to to share your passion. Tweet your geek declaration to GeekMomblog or post your geek portrait on our Facebook page. And support your library!

Wil Wheaton, Collaborators Geek About “Stone Farking Wheaton w00tStout”

Wil Wheaton, Greg Koch, and Drew Curtis discuss brewing and geekery © Stone Brewing Company

Wil Wheaton is known for his enthusiasms—for gaming, for science fiction and fantasy, for the community of enthusiasts known as nerds and geeks—but with the unveiling of Stone Brewing Company’s Stone Farking Wheaton w00tStout, we learn of his deep love for crafting beer.

This new bourbon-barrel aged (yum!) Imperial stout is a collaboration between homebrewer Wil Wheaton, internet news entrepreneur Drew Curtis of, and Stone Brewing Company’s CEO, Greg Koch. The video provides a window into their collaborative processes and the facilities afforded for a project like this at Stone Brewing, but the best part is hearing their thoughts on how to truly express passion and what makes a true geek.

Wil says about the spirit of geeks:

I love this thing so much that I want to make it myself, I want to share it with other people, I want to understand more about it, I want to experience it as much as I possibly can… The two fundamental things about being a geek are being passionate about it and being inclusive.

You can hear more from these three brewers about geeking out. Check out the video and let us know—do you agree about their definition of geek? And does that bourbon-barrel aged stout sound as irresistible to you (look at those tasting notes) as it does to me? I am going to give it a tasting today, but only a tasting, at 13% ABV.


OED Recognizes “Geekery” (and 93 Other Words) in June Quarterly Update

Oxford English Dictionary Online Edition has a new entry for "geekery." (Screen grab K. Moore)

Lexical geeks everywhere perked up their auricles when a hoary old venerated tome like the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) announced that its June quarterly update included a word in our domain: geekery.

This is in addition to the existing list of  eleven other words listed in the current online edition with “geek” roots. Sadly for me, my printed copy does not inherit any of the updates in the 30 or so years since it was published.

The OED Online entry for geekery (for British English primarily; American English is described in the Oxford American English Dictionary) is listed as slang whose first definition refers to

…bizarre or grotesque acts performed by a carnival or circus geek (geek n. 2), regarded collectively.

The  second definition is

2. Actions or behaviour typical of a geek or geeks (geek n. 1b, geek n. 1c); spec. obsessive devotion to or knowledge of a particular (specified) subject or pursuit, esp. one regarded as unfashionable or highly technical. Also: the state of being a geek; geekiness.

There are historically derived quotations illustrating usage of the terms at different points in history, which helps to clarify differences between definitions and how each definition evolves over time. This is vastly true of definitions 1 and 2 for “geekery”– the carnival freak vs. the extreme enthusiast.

The  94 words in the June quarterly update focus on words with hand, head, or heart as their bases, plus other high-impact words like fracking, kombucha, red velvet, and tweet.

In addition to “our” word, this quarterly update includes the 93 other new words (main entries), plus new sub-entries and new senses for words already present in the OED. You can find out more about the June update at and a more in-depth discussion of the update’s themes and quirks in an essay by OED Chief Editor John Simpson at . Dip into the OED and join me in my word geekery (definition 2, not 1!).


Athletics, Films, Photos Abound at espnW During Summer of W

espnW is running the Nine for IX film series Tuesdays at 8 p.m., starting July 2. (Photo espnW)

I always hope to interest more geek moms and kids in sports and fitness, and at espnW the focus is on women in sports— both female athletes and amateurs at all levels.

This summer, a daily photo challenge and a film series on trailblazers in women’s sports are both worthy of notice. And the improvements and new programs offered this summer at the redesigned, mobile-friendly espnW website also should be checked out.

Nicely scaled to fit into our summer lives,  the 98 Days to Shine photo challenge started on Memorial Day and runs to Labor Day. Each new day means a new photo theme posted at the challenge web page. Competitors post an appropriately tagged photo illustrating the day’s theme to Instagram or Twitter. EspnW aggregates the photos on their page and declares daily winners. It’s fun to see all the day’s photos gathered in one big bunch to contrast different interpretations of a single theme.

Daily, weekly, and grand prize winners will be determined; if your pulse is now accelerating, be sure to read the rules on the challenge page to get all the details.

On television, EspnW debuts the Nine for IX film series featuring women in sports and created by women filmmakers this summer. The series airs on Tuesday evenings starting July 2 at 8 p.m. on ESPN, with tennis powerhouse Venus Williams in Venus Vs. She leaves her mark not only with her killer strokes but also by leading the charge to win equal prize money for female tennis players. Other documentary subjects include issues faced by female sports reporters, the 1999 U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, and pioneering basketball coach Pat Summitt.

The dates, titles and directors for the entire Nine for IX series are:

• July 2: Venus Vs. (Ava DuVernay)
• July 9: Pat XO (Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters; produced by Robin Roberts)
• July 16: Let Them Wear Towels (Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern)
• July 23: No Limits (Alison Ellwood)
• July 30: Swoopes (Hannah Storm)
• Aug. 6: The Diplomat (Jennifer Arnold and Senain Kheshgi)
• Aug. 13: Runner (Shola Lynch)
• Aug. 20: The ’99ers (Erin Leyden; produced by Julie Foudy)
• Aug. 27: Branded (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady)

Another film, available now at espnW, is Coach. It is about C. Vivian Stringer, a respected and impressive college basketball coach who experienced personal and social challenges. This  short film was executive produced by Whoopi Goldberg and honored as Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. It shows Stringer, her family, and her championship teams handling all that is thrown at them. I bet that you’ll be fired up after you watch Coach and her players.

EspnW is calling this the Summer of W—Enjoy every bit of the alphabet they are bringing our way!