This Geeky House: Hobbit Style

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photo by A. Porter

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Happy Hobbit Day!

In case you didn’t know, Hobbit Day is an international holiday to celebrate the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, both born on the 22nd of September (although in different years). This year I am honoring those small yet brave Hobbits with a Geeky House: Hobbit Style! Continue reading This Geeky House: Hobbit Style

This Geeky House: Enchanted Forest Inspired Home and Garden

Summer is waning, and I am trying to hold on to the last bits of warm before the fall sets in and the colors change. The magic of summertime inspired me to find some modern treasures that put a little magic into your home. Here are seven (a magical number) that will enchant your rooms and gardens and make you feel like you live within a fairy ring:

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Image courtesy of Dellamorteco

Dryad Statue

This gorgeous statue from art studio Dellamorteco is made out of handpainted resin will have you wondering which of your trees are also inhabited by nymphs. He also makes a beautiful Dryad Winestopper and a spirited Titania (The Fairy Queen) statue!

 

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Image courtesy of Bodner Chandeliers

Firefly Branch Chandelier

While this one was my favorite, Bodner makes a whole line of woodland chandeliers that are quite pretty. If you don’t want to buy the lighting, this is also a very easy item to make. There are a thousand and one examples online.

 

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Image courtesy of Shawn Lovell Metalworks

Tree Bed

Yes, the price tag on this bed is steep, but LOOK AT IT. Stunning. Anthropologie makes a similar bed for much less, and if you are on a budget, creating your own could be as simple as attaching some natural or spray painted branches to a cheaper canopy bed, or hanging them like a canopy from the ceiling.

 

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Image courtesy of Trustworth Wallpaper

Trustworth “The Fairyland” Wallpaper

There are actually several Trustworth wallpapers that would fit in an Enchanted Forest home, but this one was my favorite and the most appropriate in my opinion. Can you imagine a wall of this? It’s magical enough to evoke the spirit of the forest but abstract enough to be very modern.

 

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Image courtesy of Terrain

Victorian Fernery Bench

I can already see myself sipping tea in the garden on this incredible fern bench, surrounded by the trees and plants that provide shelter to the fairies and the woodland creatures. I also love this little set.

 

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Image courtesy of Karma Kiss

Toadstool Table

Can you imagine your little fairies and gnomes playing and snacking at this adorable table? Inside or outside, this would make everyone feel happy and magical! There’s another version at Hearthsong as well.

 

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Image courtesy of FairyBehindTheDoor

Fairy Doors and Accessories

I’m going to tell you a little secret, there is nothing more powerful than a fairy door. If you hide it in your garden, it gives your family and friends great delight. If you put it somewhere passersby can discover it, their delight will be your joy. You can build a full village or just one little door, but it immediately enchants its surroundings. The one above came from Etsy Shop Fairy Behind The Door, who carries all sorts of styles and options. There are also many others on Etsy. I even saw a section for fairy accessories in the garden section of Target the other day! Last but not least, make your own! Using natural and recycled materials you can DIY some awesome fairy shelter and playgrounds!

Home Sweet Geeky Home!

Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

This special edition of Fund This features what very well may be the most epic geek campaign ever. A group of architects has launched Realise Minas Tirith, a crowdfunding venture to raise the equivalent of almost $3 billion to build a functional, livable Minas Tirith in the south of England.

Minas Tirith, of course, was the capital city of Gondor. It was also called “The White City” as its courtyard held The White Tree. The city was featured heavily in The Lord of the Rings trilogy film The Return of the King for the final battle against the forces of Mordor and the coronation of Aragorn.

The campaign’s leader, Jonathan Wilson, states on the campaign page:

“We are a team of Tolkien fans who are passionate about creating a beautiful, inspirational and fully-functioning replica of Peter Jackson’s depiction of Minas Tirith, as seen in his Lord of the Rings films. We all share a love of Tolkien’s work, and a desire to challenge the common perception of community and architecture. We believe that, in realising Minas Tirith, we could create not only the most remarkable tourist attraction on the planet, but also a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

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Image courtesy of lotr.wikia.

They had me at Tolkien. Continue reading Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

Fund This! Launching Your Own Campaign!

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Image used with permission from Rocio Lara under CC BY-SA 2.0

Since I’ve been covering GeekMom’s Fund This! article for a while, I frequently get questions on crowdfunding and how to approach using community-based fundraising to launch a product or project. Having run my own successful Kickstarter, and perusing hundreds of other campaigns, I definitely have a few insights on what works and what doesn’t.

Campaigns usually fall into two categories. The first come from companies, organizations, or people with an established following who are using this platform to expand their offering. Great examples of this are The Oatmeal’s Exploding Kittens Game (which my family has been playing for about a week straight. Every night. Because it’s awesome.), NASA’s Reboot the Suit (in which the public proved that they valued something that needed funding outside of the regular budget), or Amanda Palmer on Patreon (in which one of my favorite artists took control of her ability to produce and connect with her fan base).

The second category is entrepreneurs. People who have an idea and are going for it. It’s this second category that needs the most support and the most thought before launching. But a well-planned campaign can make your project dreams come true and possibly launch a whole new business. There are also two other categories: the campaigns in which you are buying a product and the ones in which you are investing in a cause you believe in.

Probably the most common way that homegrown projects fund their startup costs these days is through crowdfunding. Websites such as Kickstarter, IndieGogo, GoFundMe, and Patreon allow your community to invest in your project. Some, such as Kickstarter, only fund you if you meet your goal. If you use this model, make sure you set an attainable goal amount. Other platforms allow you to keep whatever you raise. You should know that while all these companies take a percentage of what you raise (which should be calculated into your asking amount), some take a higher percentage if you do not make your goal. You are not charged an extra percentage for exceeding your goal on any platform. There are many choices online, but some of the popular platforms include:

Kickstarter: Probably the most well-known platform, great for launching new products. Advantages include popularity and sense of urgency, disadvantage is the funding is all or nothing.

IndieGogo: Another well-known site, but this one has the option of keeping what you raise, although the percentage they take is higher if you do not reach your goal.

GoFundMe: Personal fundraising website. Good for things like raising money to receive training or gain a new skill that relates to your goals or business.

Tilt: Formerly know as Crowdtilt, this platform is a great way to collect and track money for a project or cause, particularly from an established group.

Patreon: Platform to support artists of all kinds on an ongoing basis.

Choosing your platform is directly related to your end goal and who you think is going to fund your idea. When approaching a crowdfunding campaign, consider the following:

  • Who is your audience?
  • How big of a community will your space serve?
  • Is there any component to your project that would serve others outside your community?
  • How will you connect your mission to your audience?
  • Who will write your campaign and film your video?
  • What perks can you offer and who will fulfill them?
  • Who will do the daily marketing required for your campaign?
  • If you fail to meet your goal, what is your back-up plan?

The good news is that statistically, your crowdfunding campaign will either never make it out of the gate or you are almost guaranteed to fund, and that gives you some control. Preparing for a campaign by gathering and motivating your community, lining up local media coverage, and making smart choices around perks can set you up for success before you have even started. You don’t necessarily need a finished product, but you do need enough of a prototype or a plan to demonstrate feasibility and success.

If you are doing a crowdfunding campaign, my advice is to keep it simple and doable. I wish someone had told me before we launched ours the amount of daily work it would take to market and push our project in every direction we possibly could. I still would have done it, but I would have delegated more.

I also wish someone would have warned me about how much time and energy fulfilling our perks would cost. If your project is a product, the reward is fairly straightforward. For campaigns that are causes, physical perks such as t-shirts are costly and time consuming to mail, and honestly people generally do not want more “stuff.” Perks like “A Month of Making: 30 Days of Projects” sent by email, which was a reward of the Austin Tinkering School Kickstarter, offer an experience and information that you can provide easily with very little overhead and deepen your connection and value to your backers. Every person I have talked to that has run a crowdfunding campaign has stressed that while all the small reward backers add up, offering really dynamic rewards at the higher levels can make all the difference. Those backing at a higher level will have different expectations and you should plan accordingly.

Finally, my last piece of advice is you may not need any crowdfunding website. If you are running a local campaign or have backers waiting with money in hand, you could bypass using an external site completely and post your project on your website with a link to Paypal or another money collecting system. You would decrease the cost to your backers and keep more of the funding by appealing directly to your community.

So, what do I personally look for when I am choosing campaigns to feature on Fund This? First, was I able to make it through the whole video or explanation? Second, does it really offer something new and unique? Third, does it spark joy, do I want it? And finally, has the campaign demonstrated to me that they can accomplish what they have promised? I tend to focus on campaigns that appeal to our geeky audience, but since that is who I am, the research can be very personal as well. Therefore, campaigns that show personal investment and enthusiasm always catch my eye.

My (last) last piece of advice is to make sure you show yourself and connect with your audience. Passion is infectious, and can make all the difference.

Happy Funding!

Fund This! Crafteeo, iBesties, Maxwell’s Soaps, and ReBoot the Suit!

I don’t know about yours, but my summer is going faster than New Horizons past Pluto. Speaking of space things, don’t you want to see Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit conserved and displayed? How about girls as CEOs and tech leaders? Maybe you feel deeply about helping out the homeless, even in one small way? Or are you feeling feisty and need your own hackable suit of armor? Whatever your passion—you can fund it!

Happy Funding!

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Photo credit: S. Cook

Crafteeo Pulsar Armor and Helmet

The photo above is the new product from Crafteeo, a full armor set with programmable lighting. I received the armor fully assembled, so I did not get to build the kit. However, I did get to play with the programming. Creating different lighting options was very easy, since it uses the Arduino platform, which our family is very familiar with. If your family is not, it is a fairly quick learning curve. Also, Arduino is open source, which makes this project highly hackable. My 10-year-old son was very excited and immediately put it on, but wished there was a sword to go with it. Fortunately, Crafteeo had also sent me a broadsword kit (available on their website), so we could get a sense of how hard these were to build.

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Photo credit S. Cook

Generally, the kits are well put together and the pieces are easily identifiable. Crafteeo has directions on their website, as well as video tutorials. These worked great for me as a visual learner, but my son wished they were also narrating the steps. It definitely took both of us to make the sword. My son is a great builder, but some of the sections required my help and there were some lengthy drying times that had me helping him stay focused and patient. The benefit to this was family engagement. It was something we did together, learned together. It was also a product that he and his sister enjoyed using. My son decided to personalize his sword with the crest of the knight he was named after, which is another way you can hack the kits. I also ended up adding a couple layers of shellac to everything because I was concerned that our family’s energetic use of the armor and sword would quickly deteriorate them. Ultimately, I would love to see Crafteeo make custom kits where kids can choose their own combination of parts for even more control over their design. But for now, you can support this growing company with their new Kickstarter!

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Completed broadsword and scabbard. Photo credit S. Cook.

GeekMom received Crafteeo’s Pulsar Armor Kit and Broadsword Kit for review purposes.

iBesties
Photo courtesy of iBesties.

iBesties

Another campaign targeted towards girls, but this time it focuses on entrepreneurship and tech leadership. At the center of this product line is a book about six friends who start a friendship blog that goes viral. Each of them has a special skill that they must hone for their collaboration and success. Once again, the product is clever and I like the fresh point of view. Very modern and stylish, but not inappropriate for their targeted audience of 6-11 year olds. My daughter went nuts over these. She immediately identified which role she would play and which friends she thinks would fill the other roles. And now she knows what a mogul is. The campaign is ending in 2 days! Hurry!

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Photo courtesy of Maxwell’s Soaps.

Maxwell’s Soaps

This campaign doesn’t need me to sell it. A combat veteran turned entrepreneur who makes healthy natural soaps wants to raise money to supply a mobile homeless hygiene bus with enough soap for six months. Because natural soap is good for people, good for the environment, good for dignity and self worth.

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From the Reboot the Suit campaign: Profile of astronaut Alan Shepard in his silver pressure suit with the helmet visor closed as he prepares for his upcoming Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) launch. Photo credit: NASA.

Reboot the Suit

Honestly, it never occurred to me that Neil Armstrong’s space suit—the one he walked on the Moon in—was not conserved and appropriately documented. I mean, funding, I get it. But how cool and necessary it is to make sure that this historically important artifact gets the preservation it deserves, and if it does, we get to enjoy it with our very own eyes. This campaign provoked a stirring of many GeekMom hearts, let me tell you. We are all behind Rebooting the Suit!

8 Reasons I’m Watching SyFy’s New Show ‘Killjoys’

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Image courtesy of SyFy.

I almost hesitate to say I like a show, for fear it will be immediately cancelled. Whether this says more about the industry or my taste is not worth debating. The reality is that the ability to make a show set in space, with a solid cast and a decent plot, is apparently hard to do. Or not hard to do (hello Firefly), but it does seem difficult for TV executives to have a little patience while we build our complex relationships with shows we take seriously. You see, these kinds of shows aren’t just entertainment; they are mirrors. They are the age-old battles of good and evil in the future that we can relate to. And deal with. Which brings me to SyFy’s new show Killjoys. I mean, look at that poster. Space opera gold.

Here are eight reasons I love this show:

1. Dutch. Hannah John-Kamen kills it as the lady in charge. She is smart, sexy without being ridiculous, and clearly knows what she is doing. I also like that, no matter where the storyline goes in the future, there isn’t excess sexual tension as she works with two hot guys. Two hot brother guys.

2. The two hot brothers: John and D’avin. One is alpha male, ex-military, sarcastic, and is dealing with some major PTSD. The other is adorable, loyal, genius, and a bit of a MacGyver. They obviously need to work out some history, but generally they love each other like brothers should/would/could. I appreciate that the show doesn’t make those issues interfere with the rhythm of the episodes, nor are they panting over Dutch the whole time. I mean, I wouldn’t blame them if they did. She is gorgeous and has mad skills. But keeping the focus on the job, the loyalty of the team, and the individual journeys makes the whole thing relatable.

3. This summary“Killjoys follows a fun-loving, hard-living trio of interplanetary bounty hunters sworn to remain impartial as they chase deadly warrants throughout the Quad, a distant system on the brink of a bloody, multiplanetary class war.”

Oh hell yeah.

4. This dress:

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Image courtesy of SyFy.

5.  The back of that dress. Also, that necklace is made of explosive spider beads, which she can toss at annoying guards who get in her way.

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Image courtesy of SyFy.

6. The R.A.C. Or the “Recovery and Apprehension Coalition,” which is the organization that licenses, governs, and disciplines Killjoys, the professionals who pursue warrants throughout the galaxy. Independent from the governance of other worlds, there is something intriguing and mysterious about an organization that has to be well-informed and positioned, but also impartial. The Killjoys live by one rule: The warrant is all. There is something very space cowboy about all of this. Living separate from everyone, having a rigid internal code of honor. I suspect, however, that because of human nature being what it is, there will be conflicts within the R.A.C. in later episodes that will test our motley crew. Outside challenges always make for good TV, but it is the inside ones that are the most complex.

7. The plot (so far). I really like that each episode of Killjoys stands pretty much on its own. There are threads of storyline that tie them together (D’avin’s PTSD, the red boxes), but each show can be enjoyed without feeling completely frustrated and LOST. Pun intended. Also, each episode has been building in complexity and witty banter. I like clever dialogue, don’t you? Which begs me to mention the sassy ship AI. “Lucy” is clearly evolved, plays favorites, and is everything a ship AI should be.

8. The Red Box. Secret assassin cults? Dutch has one week to follow a kill order that shows up inside a Red Box when one appears? What is going on with that? Who is the creepy guy? Clearly Dutch realizes that her childhood was not an ordinary one, nor does she want anything to do with her master now. The setup is that she is now asking questions about why the targets she is given are chosen; the implication is that before she did as she blindly was told. I have a feeling that I should probably not make any assumptions because they will be wrong—which makes this subplot all the more exciting as it unfolds.

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Image courtesy of SyFy.

One of the benefits of watching a show that is building a new world is that you get to know an entire new civilization as the story is written. You visit new cities and observe new ways humans adapt and become resourceful. Because the future holds few boundaries, we get to embrace a myriad of possibilities. Killjoys so far is doing this really well, and I look forward to seeing more.

Fund This! Jewelbots, ABC Disgusting, Twistocity, and StemBox!

There are a lot of great campaigns launching right now! This week I am featuring a bracelet for tweens and teens that is interactive, social, and programmable, an ABC book that caters to those who like their stories a little gross, a tongue-twisting game, and a science subscription box.

Happy Funding!

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Image courtesy of Jewelbots

Jewelbots: Friendship Bracelets That Teach Girls to Code

One day in and Jewelbots has already fully funded, but it’s another option in the world of enticing girls to programming through jewelry. If you remember, I covered the successful fundraising campaign for Linkitz back in May, but Jewelbots seems to be targeting a slightly older audience (tweens and teens) and a more complex platform. Instead of using components to control the function and then changing them through a Scratch-based app like Linkitz, Jewelbots uses an app for immediate use and then, because they are open source, girls can use the Arduino IDE to code the bracelets to do whatever they want. This results in a high hackability factor, which makes me a fan.

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Image courtesy of Greg Pak

ABC Disgusting

Maybe it’s because I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy, but this new book by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa (Code Monkey Save World, The Princess who Saved Herself) is ridiculously awesome. Boy tries to gross out sister, but there is a surprise twist at the end. The art alone is to die for, although I would expect nothing less from this team. Now, my kids would love it no matter what. They all are prolific readers and they started out obsessed with books like The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit. But I could see many kids being pulled into the hilarity of this story, even if reading isn’t their thing right now. And if you are really lucky, they will maintain that comedic proclivity their whole lives.

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Image courtesy of Twistocity

Twistocity

This is the kind of game I can see pulling out when I have a bunch of families over for a barbeque, we have had a bit of wine, and it’s not appropriate to pull out Cards Against Humanity. Are you with me? Quick learning curve, a bit of strategy, and I guarantee at least one friend will take it to a new level.

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Image courtesy of StemBox

StemBox: Subscription Science Kits for Girls

I know, I know. Another subscription box. Another subscription box to get girls interested in science. Even so, I like this one. It’s decidedly low tech and to the point about creating a relationship between girls and the hard sciences. Don’t get me wrong, I love tinkering and tech, but that is not the only STEM path option. These kits are designed by a female scientist who is taking all that she loves about her discipline and trying to create an emotional connection for girls. Honestly, these kits could be used by both boys and girls without any issue since there aren’t any gendered items that I can see in the box.

I am a girl who was intentionally driven away from science by old school male teachers, and while I don’t know if I would have ended up in a STEM profession, it took me a long time to find my love of it again. This box seems like one approachable, accessible way to build confidence and help prevent that from happening to our girls today.

Bringing Science Home Again: ‘The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory’

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Image courtesy of Make Publishing.

Back in the 1960s, Raymond Barrett wrote a book on how to build a complete science lab to explore biology, chemistry, and physics. With tools and ingredients in hand, you could embrace the unknown of experiments and chemicals! Some of the formulas and instructions may no longer be practical, but what makes his book so compelling is the spirit behind it. The bold citizen scientist who could harness his or her interests, learn empirically, and take risks without everyone freaking out.

No one was more delighted than me to have Windell Oskay put into my hands a new, annotated copy of this book, re-written for modern technology, safety standards, and learning styles. This is exactly what was needed. So much of home-based experimentation right now is focused on technology and making. While there is nothing wrong with that, traditional sciences are just as important. Labs are important. The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory brings the magic of science home again.

My husband and I were waxing nostalgic on how these kinds of books were still totally available in libraries during the 1980s and how they simultaneously inspired us and disappointed us because while we were motivated and fearless, not all of the ingredients were available anymore. We couldn’t just saunter down to the pharmacy and pick up some mercury, sulfur, and salt peter. Three things make this kind of book work now: First, the DIY movement has charged people up again about owning and creating the skill building and education they desire. Second, a new annotated version helps guide you when you don’t know what you are doing, but offers modern advice and alternatives, improving accessibility to science. Finally, the problem we had in the 80s around getting our hands on the dicier ingredients has been solved by internet commerce and a little click of agreement on a liability waiver.

There are so many different options in this book, that there is something worthwhile for everyone. It will not matter if you don’t know what you want to study, you will find something that sparks—literally and figuratively.

I started off in the Geology section because it reminded me of my days in Paleontology and then later Archaeology, but was quickly distracted by the options on building generators. I also love that the book poses lots of questions without answering them for you, allowing you to find your own answers, and most likely more questions. The book places responsibility and trust on the user in a very tangible way, which is the best way to invest in a relationship. In this case, the relationship is between the authors and you who, instead of warning you to proceed with unnecessary caution, are encouraging you to try, to do, to make, to fail, and to do again.

But the most special reason I liked this book was an acknowledgment from Windell Oskay at the very end of the Forward. He says, “This is the book that taught me how to make things.” Oskay founded Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories with his awesome wife Lenore, and the work they do is creative and joyful. You can tell that they enjoy the products they make. So if this book helped Oskay get from a 10-year-old aspiring scientist to a maker and entrepreneur with a PhD in Physics, it’s definitely staying on my bookshelf. Not just for me, but for the other little scientists running around my house and my hackerspace who may find that it is the catalyst they were looking for too.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Fund This! My Magical Adventure, HidrateMe, and Avakai!

Welcome to this week’s Fund This! Check out a customizable story book, a smart water bottle to keep you hydrated, and gorgeous wooden tech toys for a magical sensory experience!

Happy Funding!

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Photo courtesy of Crayon Crunch

My Magical Adventure: Personalized Children’s Book

There’s nothing kids love more than to see themselves in a fantastic adventure, which is the premise behind Crayon Crunch’s new project. The story itself seeks to encourage imagination and the idea of believing in yourself with beautiful illustrations and personalized text. The real magic is in the book’s adaptability for any child. To be inclusive of a diverse array of ethnicity and disability, the lead character is highly customizable. I also checked with the company about being gender expansive, and their response was this:

While we do categorize the clothing under boy/girl, parents have the option to choose any clothing items, hairstyles etc. We already have two cases, in which parents want a book, in which the boy wears a skirt. Picking boy/girl primarily helps us choose the correct wording. For example, “said the little boy” or “said the little girl”. Alternatively, if parents don’t want the gender specific wording, they can leave us a comment and we exchange “he/she said” with “the child said.”

I’m really glad they thought about this, because for a book to be truly inclusive and customizable, it must respect the diversity of its audience. Choices around appearance and pronouns seem like a little thing, but they are not. Seeing themselves accurately reflected in a book can be powerful for a child. And maybe spark their next great adventure!

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Photo courtesy of Hidrate

HidrateMe: Smart Water Bottle

This campaign is timely for me. I am trying so hard to increase my water intake! Like many, I know I am not drinking enough. I tried the rubber band method, but I keep forgetting to take off the rubber bands when I finish drinking the cup and go for a refill, and I also tried pre-measuring a pitcher for the day but I was inconsistent and my kids kept drinking out of it anyway, which threw off my count. This smart water bottle syncs to your smart phone and/or Fitbit (or similar device) and glows to remind you to drink up. If this can’t help me out, nothing can.

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Photo courtesy of Avakai

Avakai: The Magical Play Companion

I may not personally agree with Waldorf’s views on technology and screen time, but the one thing they do absolutely get right is the importance of sensory experience—particularly in regard to toys. That’s what these remind me of: beautiful wood toys that feel good in the hands and are gorgeous to look at. Add in a tech component that is teaching through open-ended, multi-sensory experience instead of a guided screen experience and I was hooked. These are a little pricey, but worth looking at as an example of the direction I think tech toys could go in.

This Geeky House: Designer Spotlight

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photo courtesy of Jennifer Brouwer Design

It’s been over a month since I started clearing the way using the KonMari method, and while it has taken longer than I anticipated, the results are unfolding in a spectacular way. I am becoming less attached to sentimental objects, or saving things in case I need them. I took back a dress the other day because when I truly looked at it in the space of my own home, it did not spark joy. It was not unexpected to me that once my house was cleared of the things I no longer needed or wanted, I would turn my head towards what makes good design, what would make my home feel beautiful to me.

Many people I know either think they can’t afford a professional interior designer or don’t think they need one. This past year I have learned that this is not necessarily true. My first experience with interior design was actually a consult with Bay Area designer Kim McGowan while replacing a foundation wall. Because this project would require ripping out most of my kitchen, which was tiny and angular, I decided to test the waters and see if she could optimize the space in a way I hadn’t thought of yet.

Admittedly, I was skeptical, mostly because I had already designed a kitchen once before and it turned out fantastic. But that was a big rectangle and IKEA cabinetry. This was a much more complicated endeavor. Turns out, she was an absolute gift. Not only did she make the space feel bigger in her designs, but she made every inch functional while maintaining the aesthetic I wanted (I was her first request for a Middle Earth-inspired modern kitchen). While she was here, she took a look at our gutted basement and advised us where to add space and where to save our money. She helped us come up with a plan before it was even finished so we could be efficient and economical. Not only was I grateful, but I was also enlightened to new possibilities! While the kitchen was ultimately saved by some tricky engineering and a large steel beam, and that project is now on hold so we can address the collapsing fence outside, that genius design is what is guiding our decisions moving forward and saving us a lot of time, energy, and money in the end.

Last month I spoke at a conference of entrepreneurs and during a break I had a lovely chat about how our traditional education system can have a complex effect on the way in which we make decisions and move through the world as adults. That is a whole different article, but I mention the topic because the woman I was speaking to really resonated with what I was saying. After the conference, I had a chance to meet with her via Skype and benefit from her wisdom around creating a workspace that was productive and inspiring. It really is all connected. I talk about centering education around a learner’s passions, she talks about centering your environment around the same passions so that you feel comfortable and empowered. So, in the end, we are all talking about living a more authentic and joyful life. The space we live in and work in has a profound effect on us.

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photo courtesy of Jennifer Brouwer Design

I contacted the designer I met last month, Jennifer Brouwer of Jennifer Brouwer Design, who lives just north of Toronto on a farm with her husband and three kids. I asked her if she would answer a few questions that GeekMom had about interior design and she graciously agreed to give us a few tips!

GeekMom: What drew you to become a designer?
Brouwer: I really feel like design found me. I was always creative, and artistic. However growing up Polish, my European parents didn’t want me to become a starving artist, so my pleas for art school were quickly denied. Twenty-five years ago, girls definitely were more limited in options, and I was encouraged to go in specific directions based on my love of science and good marks in the health sciences. I love people and connection, and always felt great when working as part of team. Nursing seemed logical, and I was able to help people. I could secure a steady government job with a great income at 20 years old. Who could ask for anything more? Or so I thought. I graduated three years later and walked into an industry that simply did not agree with me. I loved the job—HATED the environment. It was a horrific time, many nurses were being laid off, health care was hit hardest, and the atmosphere was bleak. One thing I learned about myself quite early on—I need to be around positive people and ideally needed to create a life that encouraged growth and self-development, through the use of creativity. I started taking classes as soon as I graduated from nursing school—and FELL IN LOVE!! I was a natural, as I could always see and draw in three dimension. If you can see it you can build it. First more classes and then more, then working for friends, then for family. Within two years, I not only let my job go, I replaced my scrubs for full-time design work. Within a year, I gave up my nursing license. Best thing I have ever done. NO regrets!!
GeekMom: Does being a parent influence your work?
Brouwer: You have to live it to understand it and integrate it into your work in a real way. I have three kids and live on a farm, so I always say if it works in our house it will work in a zoo! Of course I love beautiful things, but if its impractical it won’t work and in turn doesn’t stay beautiful for long either. It needs to function well, and embrace the experiences of your life and the life of your family. Your home needs to align with who you all are, and how you live your life.
This reminds me of my very brief moment as a labour and delivery nurse, when I was 20 and childless. I had many a mom in the heart of labour, pushing for hours—many of whom I am sure were feeling the desire to knock my head off. At the time, I didn’t quite get it. They felt I couldn’t relate to their pain. Now I get it.
GeekMom: What is your favorite room to design? Why?
Brouwer: Kitchens and Master suites! Kitchens because they are the hub of the home and the return on investment is strong, so people tend to invest more and allow me the opportunity to be more creative on an individual custom design that suits the dynamic of the family. Master suites because no one pays enough attention to the space we spend half of our lives in. Master bedrooms and Ensuites are most often a mother’s only refuge from the chaos.  I like to create a spa-like environment within the home, so you can shut the door, power down, unwind, and enjoy. We deserve to be immersed in all things luxurious, beautiful, and most importantly motivational.
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photo courtesy of Jennifer Brouwer Design
GeekMom: What are the the most important things to know about designing a room?
Brouwer: What’s your super power? Self-awareness is key. So many people design for someone else. I design for you—actually more for your intentions and goals—the woman you will become ten years from now. I incorporate all sorts of fun into my schemes, to help motivate and keep you on a path to personal success. If you think about it, we dress for success yet so many of us forget ourselves and be become unaligned with that philosophy at home. If you go home to a builder-beige box and endless unfinished projects—psychologically it has an impact on you. Goals and desires are important. I work on “vision based design,” not a vision board. Ask yourself: What rocks your world when you think of it? What’s your best day look like and why? What’s your favorite scent? What’s your favorite vacation destination? What reminds you that you have a specific goal to reach? This is how my clients “inspire the design.” They provide the navigational pieces and I map out the journey to the end destination with them.
GeekMom: What’s the most unusual/unique/weird theme/item someone has asked for in their home?
Brouwer: Oh goodness—One lady had a taxidermist stuff her cat. I nearly died. No judgment, though it was a little creepy. Obviously good old kitty made her very happy dead or alive. So what ever floats your boat! I always thought that was an American thing, but apparently not. Canucks (Canadians) do it as well!
GeekMom: Can you speak for a moment about under-designing… Results that look natural, like the owner did it, effortless, not overly coordinated or integrated, or perhaps incomplete from a designer’s point of view?
Brouwer: Listen, I am the biggest DIY advocate! There are amazing ways to improve, embellish, rock your own world, and do what ever it is that brings you joy at home. Sure there are rules. I break them every day! Bottom line: a “designer LOOK” needs to align with a “designer person.” Many people are not, and that’s the beauty of self-awareness. If some people lived in a home that was 110% complete, down to every finite detail, they would not feel natural nor comfortable in their own home. Incomplete is fine as long as it doesn’t gnaw at you—sending negative chatter.
I say have a plan, map it out, design like you dress. The best starting point is you. Most people don’t dress opposite of who they are, so use that as a beginning to define your style. Do you dress preppy khaki, beachy casual, or understated? Then an under-designed look with not many bells and whistles and loose concepts may work well. Your home should reflect you—with integrity. It should honor you and propel you to do and seek better for yourself.
GeekMom: What do you geek out on?
Brouwer: Concepts in general, but specifically fabrics and wallpapers! I’m very tactile so I can sit and touch, feel and draw out patterns all day, every day and it never gets old!
GeekMom: What advice do you have for geeks like me who want to integrate their passions and fandoms into their living space? How would you approach designing around a theme, like Star Wars for example?
Brouwer: If I had a dollar for every collection I have had to create a solution for! Do it! What could possibly be wrong with integrating your passion? My only word of advice would be have a family design plan, so everyone who uses the space has a say and is as excited to flourish from the new surroundings.
For example, I was once called in to consult on a basement. The husband was an electrical engineer, specializing in concerts and events, and he had been working on this project for months. Oh my goodness, the basement was lit up like a firecracker on the fourth of July. The ceiling was all micro fiber pin dot lighting, the walls had commercial wall pots, the flooring was raised and had rope lighting integrated around the seating. The TV area was up on a stage and had a rectangle of wall lighting as a perimeter. Unfortunately, his wife was in tears at what she perceived as a ruined basement.
They both wanted a space they could use and be proud of, but they did not communicate on vision or a design plan ahead of time and neither would budge on their point of view, so in the end it resulted in a difficult, expensive, larger conflict which challenged their relationship. Again, what fuels one person may be like kryptonite to another and its important to integrate family values and alignment at home.
So, define your vision: What is it? Why is it important? How does displaying your collection make you feel? What happens when you don’t get to be inspired by it? What does your best day look like? Does this fit in somehow or does it need a separate area? Or is the whole room just going to be a “because I can” space?
Then have fun! Keep it simple. Design that is over complicated is never fun, easy, or attractive. Open storage and well styled collections are the best and least expensive method to showcase anything from stuffed cats, to figurines, to tea cups you name it—if curated well, it can look brilliant! The best piece of advice I have is: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you love something, and are not generally a creative visionary, this is the perfect place to hire a consultant to seek a solution and a plan so you can consider the big picture. My point is we plan everything else in our lives, so give some thought to your next design endeavor. It impacts you and your family, and it’s important!
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photo courtesy of Jennifer Brouwer Design
So, in the end, what I got most out of my session with Jennifer Brouwer was permission to design. With the foundation done, I have been moving into the basement and using it as my office and art studio. I have been using whatever furniture was left over, because I felt guilty at the idea of spending any money on a space that was meant for me. Of course I did, because this is what I see mothers doing all the time. I’m sure fathers do this too. With this new empowerment, I am going to implement the ideas she gave me to create a space that I enjoy working in, that reflects my changing and evolving professional path.
Brouwer also provided some great advice around being budget conscious. For example, I could replace all the mismatched bookcases with matching ones lined up across the wall, or I could install an eye beam track and hang curtains to hide the entire wall for far less expense. The curtains should open at various points for easy access, and if I get simple cheap ones, I can add a panel of more interesting fabric to make them custom. She saw my new office without any of the overwhelmed exhaustion or indecision that had been holding me up. She saw it with the eyes of someone who wanted me to succeed, someone who knew I was capable of great things, and the space I create in should reflect that.
So this GeekMom is now a firm believer in design vision, and a well-timed, well-matched designer to provide clarity and a compass when I needed one. My understanding around working with designers is also more expansive; I now feel I could call one for a quick idea consult, hire them to help me build a plan, or even have them execute the entire process if that is what works best for me, whereas before I was completely convinced that was something I would never need.  I hope this serves to help you illuminate and refine a design vision for your own Geeky House!

Hey You Guys! ‘Goonies’ Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary!

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Photo courtesy of Goonies Day, Astoria.

I don’t know about you, but Goonies played an essential role in my own coming-of-age story in the 80s. My friends and I spent countless hours in the orchard near our house, making treasure maps, booby traps, and finding our first romances. Adventure, independence, resourcefulness, persistence, friendship, humor—this movie had it all. I still, to this day, quote Goonies on a regular basis.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the cult classic, and the celebration begins in just a few days. From June 4-7 in Astoria, OR (where the movie was filmed), there will be a Goonies party of epic proportion! You can join other fans in touring iconic Goonies locations, attending quote-along film screenings and a geocaching scavenger hunt, sailing in a tall ship, checking out a complete Lego diorama display of important scenes from the film, sitting in on special appearances, and more!

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Movie poster courtesy of Warner Brothers.

If you are a Goonie near Astoria, this is an event you don’t want to miss! If you are not, have your own celebration! While I can’t make the event in Astoria, I plan on holding a “Goonies Hack” with many of the ideas below. I advise to do as many of these as possible with your closest friends, because that is the true power of the Goonies:

  • Screen the film at home and serve Italian food, rocky road ice cream, and Baby Ruth candy bars.
  • Make your own authentic, aged pirate treasure map. There’s a good tutorial here and here.
  • Build a Rube Goldberg machine à la Mikey’s front gate.
  • Have a Truffle Shuffle dance-off.
  • Hack one of Data’s awesome gadgets.
  • Make Chunk’s fake vomit.
  • Go geocaching or design a scavenger hunt.
  • Get your own adorable Chunk and Sloth plushies (featured in the photo above) and contribute to the Kickstarter campaign to add Data and One-Eyed Willy!
  • Find and sail on a tall ship.
  • Learn to sing a famous Fratelli opera song:
    • “Una furtiva lagrima” (One tear that falls so furtively) from L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) (In the basement while feeding Sloth)
    • “Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia” (Child with your eyes full of enchantment) from Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) (In the ORV, as he finds Chunk on the road)
  • Visit or construct a wishing well and make a wish.

Never say die!

Fund This! Microduino mCookie, Liteseeds, Bloxels, and Linkitz!

This week in Fund This! we highlight a few of the ways we can celebrate and use technology with the Arduino based mCookie to take Lego to another very cool level, LED stickers to light up just about anything, a building block based video game, and a programmable friendship bracelets.

Happy Funding!

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photo courtesy of Microduino Studio

Microduino mCookie

I really liked the design and adaptability of this latest product from Microduino Studio. Magnetic for a good connection, LEGO compatible, easy to program, and open source. I can also tell they thought about the user and made these particularly sturdy. Finally, with my older kids I am always looking for ideas to extend and enhance the play of the vast LEGO collection we already have!

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photo courtesy of Liteseeds

Liteseeds: LED stickers

I happen to be really into conductive ink at the moment, and these little stickers are exactly what I want to level my creations up. I can think of a dozen projects to use them on right now, and the price point is fair—though I expect if this campaign is successful the price could even go down. My holiday cards this year are going to rock.

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photo courtesy of Bloxels

Bloxels

From the Bloxel Kickstarter campaign page, Mateo (age 9) says “If Legos, Skylanders, and Minecraft had a baby, it would be this.” I feel you, Mateo, because that is exactly what I was thinking when I saw Bloxels. I love the way they have connected tangible, spatial building with an immediate and direct impact on the game they are playing. It looks like fun, it connects different methods of learning and playing, and my son (who isn’t delighted by much these days) asked me to back this campaign. Wait, what? Holy mother-of-adolescents! Backed!

linkitz
Photo courtesy of Linkitz

Linkitz

This was the only campaign that I initially hesitated on. Why? The aesthetics made me pause. I wasn’t sure if I liked the look of the product or not, though I was entirely sold on the idea. But when in doubt, ask a kid. Especially when the product is for a kid. My daughter and her friend went completely bonkers for these friendship bracelets. Neither girl is a stranger to technology, but they loved the idea of sending secret code and syncing their tech. Plus they can use them as walkie talkies? I stand corrected by two discerning young ladies who want their Linkitz and they want them now.

Screen-Free Week: 5 Reasons to Say No

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Photo courtesy of S. Cook.

Every year, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hosts a Screen-Free Week, and every year I roll my eyes. This year, it’s May 4-10. This is not the first time a GeekMom has spoken up about this “event,” and I suspect it will not be the last.

The website says that “children and families will rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen. Unplug from digital entertainment and spend your free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, and connecting with family and  friends.” The idea that these values and using media are mutually exclusive, as well as the clear judgement about what is more valuable, is misguided and counter-productive. Here are five reasons to say no:

1. It’s easier to make a habit than break one, and even then it takes longer than a week.

Most of the emphasis of Screen-Free Week is on breaking what parents perceive as bad screen habits. But science has shown that it takes an average of 66 days to integrate a new behavior. If parents really want to build better media habits, they would be better off looking at it as a process rather than an event. In addition, looking at forming a new habit around screen time in a positive way such as making room for and participating in other activities, rather than a rejection of using technology as valuable way to spend time, is more likely to create long-term balance.

2. Screen-Free Week projects a value judgement that can be polarizing.

I don’t know who came up with the idea that by giving up screens for a week kids will rediscover the joys of “playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, and connecting with family and friends,” but clearly it is someone who is either technologically illiterate or in the business of fear. Our house has plenty of screens and my children do all of these things, sometimes with the use of screens and sometimes without. In any given week, they have played with Legos, read a comic book, created a new piece of art, explored a new hiking trail near our house, and connected with their friends at the park. They have also used screen time playing video games, read reviews and articles on their favorite sites, created an entire city in Minecraft, explored the latest research on finding sunken ships in the ocean, and connected with their auntie living in Shanghai on Skype. All of these things have value and all of these interests feed each other. When you reject what they love, they may see it as a rejection of them, and then it becomes a battleground. Spending a week focused on breaking what you may see as limiting but your kids see as limitless may shut down the conversation before it even starts.

 3. Screen time should be part of a holistic lifestyle.

Technology is integrated into almost every facet of life. Approaching it as a tool, creating the understanding that we control technology instead of the other way around, and fostering a healthy relationship with screens is a far better use of our time than demonizing screen time. The earlier children can learn to create their own balance around technology, the more we parent them into a consistent and long-term view of a holistic lifestyle that embraces technology. We should be setting up a dynamic between screen time and kids that models self-regulation, healthy nutrition, exercise and sleep practice, and personal knowledge. Ripping the screens away for one week will do nothing towards this goal, nor will kids even consider the lesson attempted by adults who can’t even model and maintain a holistic lifestyle themselves.

4. For some kids, screen time is essential.

My friend has a son who is gifted and delightful and has a learning style that relies on screen time. In her own words:

“We have learned that my son’s very high IQ was hiding severe sensory processing issues. In uncovering those, his OT has helped us to see that tech in general and the computer specifically is his one ‘safe place.’ As she said, the world is unpredictable and feels like a sensory assault on him every day, all day. Being in public is hard. Being one of three noisy kids in a tiny house is hard. When he has stretched himself in that way, he needs to unwind, to decompress, and to be able to feel like there is a place where he understands the rules and can trust that they won’t be broken or bent (except by him, of course). His number one self-soothing method is creating mods in Minecraft. He is literally making a world of his own design. When he has ample self-directed time, he is ready for the challenge of engaging with the world. In the middle or end of it, he would ‘pop out’ and was so incredibly engaged, enthusiastic, kind, warm, thoughtful, and deeply connected. Pretty much the opposite of how he was ‘supposed’ to be. Screens don’t automatically create disconnection, but a disconnected kid would way rather engage with a screen than continue to feel disconnected from their parent.

He has also come to love and appreciate the natural world through technology. He actually told me as a toddler that he did not like animals or nature (guess what my priorities were/what I pushed?). He refused to go to the zoo or on hikes. For two parents who met working at REI, this was painful. But TV shows and video games brought him a new understanding and appreciation of the world, and he is now passionate about marine biology and animal rescue, and is the first one in the car to ask us all to stop and look at the beautiful scenery around us.

Technology, specifically screen media, is an absolutely vital resource for my son, who needs to learn and create and hack all day, every day. My single biggest regret as a parent is not looking deeper into my own fears sooner and opening my heart to my son’s innate passion and gift.”

Can you imagine what a Screen-Free Week would do to a child like this, especially one imposed by parents who have the power to overrule or parents who have not made this connection yet?

GeekMom Jackie uses a variety of apps for her daughter’s speech therapy. GeekMom Sophie uses games right now to support her son’s desire for better spelling. My son is watching a lot of anime right now to support learning Japanese, which is doing more for him than any language program. Does this screen time also get banned or not because they are considered “worthy” or “educational?” The judgement on what is “good” screen time and “bad” screen time is arbitrary and senseless. Which brings me to…

5. We need to stop using screens as a value judgement on others.

You know, kids are people, too. Whole little beings with values and interests of their own. We now live in a period dominated by technology and that is not going to go away. Neither are the tech passions and interests of our kids. The thing about kids is, they are more likely to do what we do, not what we say. Instead of imposing our judgements on what would be a valuable use of our children’s time, we should be modeling what we would like to see. We should be listening to them about what they love instead of shaming them into giving it up for a week. Instead of banning screen time, we should be helping them to recognize how their minds, bodies, and hearts feel during all their activities, including when they are using media. Think about something you are very passionate about and then imagine someone you love implying there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed based on that passion. That is how kids hear it.

Is programming a robot with an iPad more valuable than playing a video game? Many would say it is, except I could give you a different take. One of my sons loves Assassin’s Creed. Intrigued, I started playing it with him and saw him using superb logic and strategy to navigate the game. The different versions sparked an interest in history, which we began to explore online and through documentaries and museum visits. He also started to be interested in cosplay, learning to sew and make weaponry based on the characters. Finally, before this awesome video even came out, he initiated learning parkour. All of that from one game. Is a plumber more or less valuable than someone who designs websites? Both work, certainly, but we don’t judge the value of one person who works with their hands over the other who works with a computer. So why do we insist on judging play so harshly? Play is the work of the child, to quote Maria Montessori.

I don’t have to share every interest that my kids have, but if I have any expectation of them respecting my passions and those of others, I have to give them the same. This notion of “better” needs to go and be replaced with a healthy understanding of what is good for the person and the family. More or less screen time may be the answer, but that decision should be made out of knowledge, insight, and respect, not fear and pressure.

I suggest that instead of a Screen-Free Week, we hold a Screen-In Week. Let the kids choose all the media for the week and let the parents participate in whatever they choose. Talk about their choices, learn why they are passionate, connect those values to other activities to create balance, and model it yourself. And when the week is over, keep doing it because that is how we stay connected and one week is not enough. Not even close to enough.

May the Fourth Be With You! 3 Activities to Hack Star Wars Day!

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Photo courtesy of S. Cook

It is no secret around here that I am a Star Wars fan. All the kids that come to our hackerspace in Oakland know that every year I plan in anticipation for the Star Wars celebration. Over the past few years, we have tried out many ways of making, in the spirit of our favorite films. Here are three of my favorite projects that are affordable, have the ability to hack and/or make personal, and are accessible to different skill levels:

jedilucy
Photo courtesy of S. Cook
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Photo courtesy of S. Cook

Lightsabers

Of course. Easily made, definitely satisfying. Choose a side, a character, or hack your own. An essential project for any Star Wars fan. We have outlined the cheapest way to make a lightsaber here, without sacrificing on aesthetics.

 

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Photo and design by S. Cook

Wookiee Cushion

I had this project in my head for a long time, but it finally came together! Cute and furry, Wookiee Cushions can be made with or without a sewing machine. Add a sound chip for real Chewie sounds! Pro-tip for sound: You can record the Wookiee voice of your choice straight from a Chewbacca Soundboard. Unless you are really good at Wookiee, in which case, go for it. One of my mentors took my specs and uploaded the full directions here.

 

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Tatooine. Photo courtesy of S. Cook
Endor
Endor. Photo courtesy of S. Cook

Star Wars Terrariums

I originally found this idea in the awesome book World of Geekcraft. You can also find a full tutorial here. I ended up buying miniature Star Wars characters, like these online, to save money and have enough for the large number of kids we serve. I found the cheapest price on mason jars from here and the wonderful Flower Power Nation provided me with the awesome air plants that look awesomely alien for the Tatooine terrariums, while the moss and ferns for Endor came from a garden nursery.

May the Fourth Be With You!

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Photo courtesy of S. Cook

Fund This! Rain of the Ghosts, Urban Death Project, In their Own Worlds, and Schoolism!

Spring is blossoming around the country and so are new funding campaigns! This week, let’s explore a new audiocast, a new way to look at death, putting authors in their own world, and accessible art education!

Happy Funding!

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Photo courtesy of ROTG/Greg Weisman

Rain of the Ghosts Full Cast Audioplay

Greg Weisman, creator of Gargoyles, and writer for numerous animated shows (including Star Wars Rebels) was tired of corporations determining the destiny of beloved characters so he started writing his own books. The first of his new series of novels, Rain of the Ghosts, begins the story of Rain Cacique, a young girl who lives on an island near the Bermuda Triangle and has a very special gift. Now Weisman is bringing his enthralling novel to life with a full cast and fully scored audio presentation. He assembled an all-star cast—including Ed Asner, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner—and has spent $30K of his own money to record a full audio play of his first book, Rain of the Ghosts. He needs another $43K to finalize the project, which he has achieved, but backing this would get you first access to what is going to be an incredible experience of storytelling.
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Photo courtesy of the Urban Death Project

The Urban Death Project: Laying Our Loved Ones to Rest

Look, it’s hard to think about what happens to us when we die. I get it. My eyes were first opened to this world after death by reading Mary Roach’s spectacular book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory.  I was also fascinated by the Bios Urn which turns human or pet ashes into a tree. What makes the Urban Death Project different is its approach. By composting whole bodies, we eliminate the impact both burial and cremation have on the environment. In fact, it contributes to a healthier environment. It also eliminates the problem some have with being cremated, especially those with religious restrictions around how they are laid to rest. I love the sensitivity of this project, the imagery of my loved ones carting me up to the top of the core like an ancient Egyptian Queen, ready to take my place in the afterlife, nourishing a lemon tree or some roses. It also brings the concept of death back into our communities as a significant rite of passage. I can only imagine that if death were once again part of community ritual, how our society could transform in thought and action.

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Photo courtesy of JR Blackwell

In Their Own Worlds

I came across this campaign on the page of a friend, who is actually one of the authors in the stretch goals. I was immediately intrigued. Amazing photographer JR Blackwell is setting up photo shoots of authors in scenes of their creations. Full makeup, full costume, epic scenery—she is really going for it. The results will be printed as rewards and there will be an accompanying gallery show. While I love this idea in its most basic visual premise, the authors’ interacting with the environments and characters they created excites me. What will these photos reveal about the stories? The way the author perceives them? This has the potential to be simultaneously deep and delightful!

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Photo courtesy of Bobby Chiu

Schoolism

Founded by artist/illustrator Bobby Chiu and Imaginism Studios (which, by the way, has an amazing website that you won’t regret taking a look at), Schoolism provides an online art education. Kind of like what YogaGlo is for yoga. For a low subscription rate, you have access to all kinds of art classes, from classic to digital. As any artist knows, you never stop learning and deepening your craft, and I can see this being a very convenient and useful tool towards that end.

This Geeky House: Clearing the Way

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Sentimental items are the hardest to tidy. Photo courtesy of S. Cook

Like for many, the accumulation of stuff snuck up on me. I would have thought that every time we moved, the most recent being one year ago, that we would shed a little more of the collection of two adults, three kids, and two dogs. Yet, here we are. Some of our boxes haven’t even been opened, and while I know the general advice is to not open them—just donate them—I can’t bring myself to do it.

There are a million websites and books offering organizational wisdom on getting rid of things and genius storage solutions. I have pretty much tried them all. My main issue is that they all have loopholes and compromises, and I am very good at finding them. Then I found my match.

I happened upon Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing online. Kondo is a Japanese professional organizing consultant with a wait list for her services, centered around a practice she calls the KonMari Method. Fascinated and slightly obsessed from the age of 5, the art of decluttering has been her life-long passion. She is a Tidying Geek!

 

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Photo courtesy of M. Kondo

While I was dubious about trying another system, much less spending any money on a book that tells me what I already know, it turned out this was the first method that has ever worked for me and this is why:

1. Do it all at once.

Inevitably, work and family schedules and kids pulling things out of boxes would thwart me when I tried to do a room at a time. By scheduling to focus on my purge all at once, I accomplish more and get the boxes out quickly.

2. Focus on the easier things first and sort by category.

In the past, I have always started with things like books, which are actually the hardest for me to get rid of. Kondo suggest tackling full categories and starting with the easiest (like clothing) and working your way up to the harder things (like books and keepsakes). When I piled every article of clothing I own onto the bed, like Kondo told me to, I was horrified at the volume. Apparently, this reaction is common. I don’t wear half of it, either because it doesn’t work with my lifestyle anymore or it was hidden in a closet or a drawer. Getting rid of much of it was liberating.

3. Storage solutions hinder rather than help us.

Something Kondo says in her book really connected with me. The idea that we need clever storage solutions is an obstacle to our goals. They often take up more room and allow us to hold on to more things than we need. She goes on to state that she has never been in a house that didn’t have enough storage for what the family truly needed. When it came to my art studio, this idea killed me. Art supplies are like air to me. Looking at it with new eyes, however, what I began to see was that anything that I was not using could easily be replaced if I ever needed it again. It wasn’t worth the burden of storing it. This was really my turning point.

4. Get rid of that which you do not use.

If you haven’t used it by now, it can be replaced. If you haven’t read it by now, the information you needed from it is no longer relevant. Kondo is fairly blunt, ruthless actually in her demands that her clients (and you as the reader) eliminate everything that does not contribute to:

5. Keep that which sparks joy.

I thought it was a bit much to expect me to hold every item I own in my hand and ask myself if it is useful. Does it spark joy? But the more I did it, the more I began to understand. Kondo speaks about our things and our living spaces as if they are living, organic things. The more I began to see my environment in this way, the more I desired a sanctuary that reflected the kind of life I wanted, the kind of energy I wanted to feel when I walk into my house. It became easier to let go of things and to delight in those things that do spark joy.

 

While I have given a decent summary of the pearls I extracted from this book, it doesn’t do the narrative justice. Her description of her methods, experiences, and goals for you as her reader is a complete journey. Kondo is not particularly warm and endearing in her book, but I didn’t need her to be. In fact, it very much felt like she had a job to do, and I appreciated the candor and detail that allowed me to finally feel like I had done my decluttering process justice, not just in a practical way but in an artful way.

I plan to extend this method into my purchasing as well. Before I buy, I will ask myself these same questions. For the record, the Dancing Baby Groot I ordered absolutely sparks joy.

Have you tried this method? How does clearing the way feel in your geeky house?

Fund This! Fleming and John, Single-Use Monocles, and mDrawbot!

This week, Fund This brings you a new long-anticipated album, ocular protection for the refined gentleman or lady, and the all-in-one drawbot! Happy Funding!

flemingjohn
Photo courtesy of Fleming & John Kickstarter.

Fleming & John: New Album 2015
The first campaign I am telling you about almost got it’s own Fund This article, but I took my fangirl excitement down a notch and simply put it first. Fleming & John is a killer musical duo out of Nashville. You can hear the Tennessee influence, but their musical sweet spot—if I had to describe them—is indie/alternative rock and the albums they produced in 90s were incredible. My favorite song “Comfortable” has got to be the most romantic, real love song for couples who have been together a while. Fleming & John have a knack for choosing words and while their music is infectious, their lyrics are insightful. Since then, they have been having kids, making music, running camps for girls, and generally kicking ass in any way they could in the throes of parenting young children (can I get an amen to that?). My excitement was indescribable when I heard they were ready to release another album. I have no doubt that they have grown as artists, both separately and together, and will discover new ways of writing and connecting with their audience. If I had the money, I would pledge so I could write a song with them. In some ways though, their albums have been so joyful, I feel like I already have.

monocle
Photo courtesy of Zachary Weiner.

The Gentleman’s Single-Use Monocle
I would think this is self-explanatory, but just in case: This is a disposable monocle for ocular protection. Use it for your Victorian or steampunk adventures, or just to show off. Whatever you do with it, fund it and protect yourself. Because it’s genius. I probably watched the video half a dozen times.

mDrawbot
Photo courtesy of mDrawbot.

mDrawbot
You know how your mother or the Food Network always tells you not to buy single-use kitchen appliances, no matter how much you want that mini donut maker? A KitchenAid Mixer, on the other hand, can mix, juice lemons, make pasta, freeze ice cream, and more. This is kind of like that, except it’s a drawing robot. With a modifiable structure, it can draw on a flat surface, a wall, spheres, and on the floor. It has attachments that can turn it into a laser engraver and more. Between my husband and I, we have built and/or used individual drawbots that do every one of these functions. It’s a great concept to put them together, and the price point is on target for this market.

Fund This! Hackaball, ‘Forgotten Colors,’ ‘Chainmail Bikini,’ Dungeon Blocks, and Pancakebot!

This week I have an exciting line up! Hackaball is a creative, programmable ball that kids can play with and personalize their own games, Dungeon Blocks for your little geek (although who are we kidding) while the beauty of the Forgotten Colors artwork is for a more contemplative, relaxed time of day. I also found a wicked anthology of comics about female gamers, which I plan to read while PancakeBot makes my breakfast for me. In the shape of a chainmail bikini, please.

Happy Funding!

hackaball
Photo courtesy of Hackaball

Hackaball: A programmable ball for active and creative play

The premise is quite simple: It’s a ball kids can program with an app to design their own games and more, integrating technology with physical movement and play. My son wants one to play with at the kid raves he hosts, and I can see how fun the possibilities look to him. He doesn’t like a lot of tech toys in general, so his interest is saying something!

 

forgottencolors
Photo courtesy of Forgotten Colors

Forgotten Colors: A limited edition art book for all ages

I love picture books. I even collect them. This project caught my eye primarily with its gorgeous illustrations, but diving deeper I was warmed by the exceptional and humorous focus on storytelling.

This book is about channeling your convictions to change the future, accepting differences, questioning received knowledge, and respecting others… and doing it with a smile! The aim? To build a fairer, more compassionate and braver world.

I can’t think of anything better to put out into the world at the moment.

 

chainmailbikini
Photo courtesy of Chainmail Bikini

Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers

An anthology of comics by and about female gamers? Hell yeah. As the reigning Halo champion in our family, I would like to point out that there are very few tangible examples or accurate portrayals of women’s experience in gaming. In fact, it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine that people have often assumed that I am a reluctant gamer, participating only due to my children’s passion. Um, nope. While it’s true that my kids have exposed me to new games, my gaming interest and experience are my own and unique. Bravo to Chainmail Bikini for visually representing the diversity and complexity of women gamers!

 

dungeonblocks
Photo courtesy of zheng3

Dungeon Blocks

3D-printable ABC blocks representing fandom and geekery. Sure, it’s for the kids. Also, he wants to incorporate trap doors, stairs, passageways, and more. Open source, completely hackable, and I get a coloring book too. I’m in, not just because this is cool, but also because Jim Rodda has done awesome things for the 3D printing community!

 

pancakebot
Photo courtesy of PancakeBot

PancakeBot

Because why the heck not.

A quick survey of my family on what they would print first: the Hydra symbol, Cthulhu, The Millenium Falcon, Ballet Slippers, and a pancake selfie.

This Geeky House: An Introduction

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photo courtesy of Samantha Cook

About three years ago, GeekMom Ariane wrote an article detailing how she was able to integrate her geeky passions into her new home. I suspect this topic is very much of interest to our readers, it certainly is to me! Whether you are attempting to make a home more inspired by your favorite fandom, or you have a house that is already inspired by its own architecture (like mine, which I will show you later in this column), our homes are our sanctuaries and should reflect who we are and what we love.

I was so excited by this concept, and by my own project, that I have committed to visiting it regularly. While there are many props, art, and more that very literally exhibit our most beloved parts of geek culture, I am also very interested in how these passions can be integrated into a home in a more subtle way. Every month, I’ll visit the homes of other geeks, or share some of the great pieces I find to make your home more geeky! This month, we’ll start with my own project.

new house
photo courtesy of Samantha Cook

When my husband and I saw this house, we fell in love. Architecturally, it is a combination of Tudor, Normandy, and Storybook elements. It is on a hill, surrounded by trees and gardens. It was our dream home, our forever home. It was with a lot of gumption, however, that we took on what will be a long restoration project. This house needs a lot of work, that will take us years to complete, but as my son put it, “it feels like we live in Middle Earth!”

This is the sort of house that already feels geeky. My goal will be to play into that and be playful without it feeling like an amusement park. When we first moved in, my daughter thought the turret in front looked like Rapunzel’s tower and thought we should put a braid out the window. A trip to the craft store, a little help with the braiding, and she put together a beautiful homage to the lady with the long hair. Our geeky love of fairytales ended up connecting us to our neighbors, who loved what we had done, and it connected us with strangers whose delightful gasps when they would spot the braid gave us such pleasure. In fact, one family left us a note expressing their joy and gratitude upon spying it on one of their walks and that note resulted in a new friendship for both adults and kids! We geeks find each other!

rapunzel
photo courtesy of Samantha Cook

We are currently tackling foundation and roofing, the sort of projects that are less sparkle but essential. Years of deferred maintenance have us starting with the basics. Because those larger projects require expertise, I personally started with learning how to restore the beautiful hardware. I am also learning to repair plaster by the traditional method! My kids are very interested in researching the appropriate landscapes, and have started designing their own medieval knot garden, that centers around a fountain they found that looks suspiciously like the Goblet of Fire. To our dismay, all the lighting was stripped from the house before it was sold, so we have had to meticulously research and find pieces that are appropriate. Fortunately, most of the architectural details were left intact, and I am looking forward to getting to the creative projects! Our goal is to maintain it’s historical integrity while adding our own geeky touch.

trio
photo courtesy of Samantha Cook

Our family feels like this house has magic. The family who grew up in this house over the course of almost 50 years clearly loved it from the correspondence we have had with them. Then, a cool thing happened recently—a lady in her 80s named Molly showed up on our doorstep and asked to visit our house. Her family lived here during WWII and she told me all about living in this area during that time, what was different about the house (not much!), and promised to send us any pictures she can find. It was so special to hear her stories and see the affection she still carried for this home! I am thinking about gathering all these stories and historical notes into a scrap book of sorts that can live with the house for as long as it stands.

No matter your fandom, no matter your style of house, our homes are the spaces that should reflect us, that should make us happy. I am really looking forward to exploring the myriad of ways we can create our dream geek spaces. Feel free to send us pictures of how you have made your home more geeky!

Home Sweet Geeky Home!

Fund This! Piper: A Minecraft Toolbox for Budding Engineers

piper
Photo courtesy of Piper.

Last night, Piper launched a Kickstarter to fund their new product: A Minecraft Toolbox for Budding Engineers. Now, I am a big fan of Minecraft, and so are my kids. We even went to the first MineCon in Las Vegas with handmade red creeper capes and a 6-foot-tall robotic creeper. In fact, I wrote a poem a few years ago to express my gratitude:

Oh Minecraft ! Thou art magnificent in your design!
You thrust your pick-axe into the depths of my children’s minds
And collect the fragments of literacy and mathematics buried in their genetic code
With your own code of multidimensional strategy and awesomeness!
Through chat window they build their empires,
Through mining they stretch and exercise their mathematical prowess,
They are cubic kings!
Destined to conquer and lead all mankind towards
Self-reliance and cooked pork!

Poet laureate I am not, but you get my drift. So when I saw this new project, I was cautiously excited. I loved the idea of combining Minecraft with physical electronics, but I am also adverse to buying anything we could make ourselves or that delivers far less than what it promises. A recent article on GeekMom illustrates my feelings perfectly on this subject.

Recently, I got the chance to actually play with Piper at one of the programs I run, as well as observe groups of kids exploring the Toolbox. I have to say, this may just be the next new thing in gaming. Basically, Piper has created a Minecraft Mod with five levels (and more to come), based on a story. There are astronauts stuck on a planet and a robot is sent on a rescue mission, but it gets damaged and in each level, there are repairs to be made. Every time a crafting table is found, there is a challenge that requires a physical build on the components provided, including motion detectors, a proximity sensor with an LED strip, switches to control bridges and hidden doors, and more.

Kits come unassembled, so kids can build the entire toolbox and personalize them. Within the game, they can build whatever they want, design and upload their own mods, and go at their own pace. Since the Toolbox uses Raspberry Pi, they will also release design and code as open source for community collaboration and experimentation. I found the Toolbox to be extremely flexible and open-ended, while providing enough challenges for the kids who want them. I also had the pleasure of meeting two of the founders today as well, and found them to be thoughtful, enthusiastic, and determined to make this an amazing product.

The Kickstarter just launched, but there is a limited number of Toolboxes available for an early-bird price, which is why I am not waiting to include this one in my next Fund This round-up of campaigns. Check it out if your family hails from the Minecraft Guild!

piperch
Photo courtesy of Curiosity Hacked.

Fund This! ARTtv, Qduino, Adventure Scents, and Studio Cosplay!

It feels like spring here on the west coast, time to emerge for more gatherings and collaborative projects! This week, I found funding campaigns that channel this collective creativity: An art show for kids and their families, a tiny Arduino compatible that can level up a project, a line of fragrances that make any RPG experience more authentic, and a new makerspace devoted to cosplay!

Happy funding!

ARTtv
Photo courtesy of ARTtv.

ARTtv: A Creative Art Show for Kids
I don’t have enough room in this post to wax on about how important the arts are. Experience and exposure to the arts is a foundation in critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and more. As a constructivist teacher, I actually start drawing lessons before I even begin math and letters. It is essential. This project is, frankly, fun. It is intelligent and attractive. It feels like my favorite parts of Yo Gabba Gabba without the awkward (to me) puppets combined with an art class to make a community that exudes support and acceptance for whatever kind of art excites each kid watching. This is the kind of screen time programming we need more of.

Qduino
Photo courtesy of qtechknow.

Qduino Mini
This little gem was designed by a 14-year-old maker named Quinn, who continues to impress me, not just because of his skills (though boy does he have them!), but because of his innovative spirit and perseverance. I like that he knows what he loves and he goes for it. Now, this little device is a tiny Arduino compatible that has a battery connector and charger built in, as well as a fuel gauge that can tell you when to charge the battery! It is also inexpensive, available with a minimum pledge of $25. Since he is teaming up with SparkFun for manufacturing, I am going to bet that, should this be successful, you will be able to buy more on their website. I can think of five projects right now I would use this on, and I bet the kids I mentor could take it even further!

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Photo courtesy of Adventure Scents.

Adventure Scents
This might be one of the more unusual campaigns I have covered, but hear me out. So much of our human experience is connected to our sense of smell. Now, why wouldn’t we want to gamify this?! Adventure Scents is a line of 20 fragrances to match 20 common fantasy adventure locations, from Healing Sanctuary to Smoky Campfire to Rowdy Tavern to Moldy Crypt. Beyond their use in RPGs, you could totally set up a scene or enhance accessories or a costume with these. Since I am working on a Sky Captain cosplay, I might need to get my hands on the Flying Airship scent.

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Photo courtesy of Studio Cosplay.

 

Studio Cosplay
I tend to be careful about posting funding campaigns that are local to a region, but this one really got me excited. The talent and genius of what costumers are capable of when they have the resources and community to pull off their vision blows me away. I loved the idea of tailoring a makerspace to this end. To take it even further, I have seen both children and adults be drawn into making and hacking through the catalyst of projects inspired by their favorite fandom. I love that Studio Cosplay included rewards for those of us who share their passion, but are not local to the Washington, DC area, and I am glad they plan on creating a sustainable model that can be replicated. Cosplay is a specific kind of making and needs a specific kind of space. By building it and creating community around it, I can’t wait to see the next level of cosplay emerge.

Homeschooling the Geeks into the Future of Education

chess
LOTR Chess, photo courtesy of S. Cook

Last week, Wired published an article addressing the increasing rate of homeschooling in the tech community. Among others, our family was featured as an example of the growing dissatisfaction with the public school system and the desire to cultivate an education that focused on individuality and child centered learning. This was not the first article, nor will it be the last, that seeks to understand why parents would forego the traditional education model for what is typically seen as the unknown.

The inherent issue is that all of these articles can hardly begin to touch the scope of why homeschooling is increasing, and not just in the tech or geek culture. But since I am a geek and our family is a part of the tech culture, that is the point of view I can speak from.

The common definition of a geek is: Someone who is or becomes extremely excited or enthusiastic about a subject, typically one of specialist or minority interest. I happen to be enthusiastic about many things, but especially about education. The reality is that removing one’s family from the public education system is not the unknown. It is not new. It is how children have learned through most of human history. Systemized public education is the experiment. The diversity of why families homeschool, the economics of how they make it work, and how that manifests in each home is so profound in it’s individuality, it is often very hard to understand outside the experience.

Case in point:

The morning the reporter spent with us was a Thursday. Beyond the description he gave, our morning actually started much earlier. After breakfast, my boys went outside to measure our yard because we are historically renovating a house and they feel a medieval knot garden is appropriate to the architecture. We also had a discussion on why goat glue is used to fix plaster.

Then, they came in and began mapping out the next 6 weeks of what they wanted to study. It is essential to me that my children remain the captains of their educational ships, and as such they play a central role in deciding what that looks like. I serve as a guide, a mentor, an expert when they need one (or find them someone who is), constant and reliable, adding new things and old into their path to help expand their worldview. My boys happen to like structure and routine, and created their schedule for 4 days a week of study. They love math and history, which are always included, and one of them will continue Japanese language and culture while the other chose to move on from Mod Design to App Development.

They had also decided to continue studying entrepreneurship by building their own businesses and wanted my help getting started after finishing their goals for math that day and watching CNN student news. One of my boys decided on a restaurant, the other on genetically modified creatures. The first eventually came up with a budget and created a set menu, which later he invited several families to attend an opening. The other started researching private and public funds that would support his research, as well as other organizations he could partner with in order to conserve resources.

We also covered history that day. We have just reached the Age of Enlightenment and I suggested it would be fun to try to create a modern marketing or social media scheme for some of the big ideas coming out of this time period. They both loved the idea, disappeared for a while, and came back. One had used Gimp to hack a Gravity (movie) poster, replacing the floating astronaut with Sir Isaac Newton, adding floating apples, and changing the text at the bottom to include information essential to the understanding of gravity. The other kid used iMovie to create a call-to-action film called “Free Galileo,” describing Galileo’s findings, his imprisonment by the church, and the need to protest against the injustice. I decided to create a few Gosling “Hey Girl” memes.

After we all stopped laughing, the boys went upstairs to participate in an online Skype gaming tournament with their friends and I went to pick up their sister. (My youngest wanted to try school this year, and attends an amazing constructivist school, for as long as she wants to go.) When I got home, I worked for a couple hours and then got ready to take the boys to Judo, where they are on a tournament team. During Judo, my daughter and I worked on a collaborative drawing. At night, we watched an episode of Firefly and then read until we all eventually went to bed.

I also solicited descriptions from other homeschooling GeekMoms (some of us do, some of us don’t) about their day:

On that same Thursday, GeekMom Jenny’s family got up to be ready to work on schoolwork by 9am at the latest. They focus on math first thing, because it takes a fresh mind. Next she had each of her two kids working on their other subjects, some independently, some with her as a guide, some with her as teacher. Things like writing, health (for her daughter), logic, history, Spanish, and art often end up on Thursdays. Mid afternoon, she took her son to his social skills class at a local middle school (even though he’s in 5th). Soon thereafter, she took her son to one of his book clubs at the library, rushed over to the YMCA for her daughter’s gymnastics class, rushed back to pick up her son, and then back to pick up her daughter. Family time in the evening included dinner together, games, family discussion time, and other things, including work.

At GeekMom Rebecca’s house, that Thursday was spent with her sixteen year old son, since her daughter is now 19 and in college. She drove her son to a homeschooling group where he takes Spanish, and Art in the morning. While he was there she gave music lessons to a family nearby. Then she picked him up and went home to watch a Star Trek: Voyager episode over lunch. After that they did a chapter in his physics book together. (She gave him an assignment to write up the difference between a regular oven and a convection oven, and he started it off with a comic about the convection oven being powered by the energy of “fan girls” screaming.)

For the rest of the afternoon she had music students, so he did random stuff on his own: math, philosophy, literature, exercise, his eBay pewter business. He has a written schedule that they work out together and tweak every month. Then, she took him to Aikido; his dad picked him up after work and they all ate dinner together. In the evening, he played video games with friends online, then his dad and he went over some of his math. Finally, he read the latest Harry Dresden novel until bedtime. Rebecca notes that Thursday is probably their busiest day. If I had asked her about Wednesday it would have been: went to a museum, went out for lunch discussing the museum exhibits, came home and did maybe an hour of work, played video games, in the evening he went to play Magic at a local gaming store. Every day is different!

That same Thursday for GeekMom Cristen started at 8:00 am. The kids played and had breakfast. Formal lessons on this day were light, because they had a friend arriving for the day at 10:30 am. So, her eight year old son did two Word Ladders, worked on his story about two dragons fighting over the same castle, then did some math with Beast Academy. Her kindergartner read a BOB Book out loud, and did some sculpting with clay while she helped her son.

Once their friend arrived, the kids played while Cristen packed some water and snacks. They then headed to the local roller rink for a mid morning session. In the car they listened to Joy Hakim’s The History of US. After skating the kids were  hungry, so they went and had a quick lunch. When they got home, a friend and her four-year-old daughter stopped by. Her two older girls were at co-op classes up the road, and the little one wanted to play. Eventually, her friend went to pick up her older two girls, while her youngest stayed and played. When she came back, all the kids played for a few hours. Folks left there at about 5pm, then Cristen put a movie on for the kids and made dinner. She notes that her typical Thursday isn’t quite as active, but this is truly how it all went down.

Finally, for GeekMom Melanie, the day started around 7am. Her son is 12, and for the past year or so he’s been getting started without her. He doesn’t think of what he is doing as school, though. He gets up, goes downstairs, and gets a cup of dry cereal. Then he reads while he eats it. That day, it was a book about dinosaurs, since that is one of his latest passions. He also has the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual next to him, and seems to be referring to it once in a while. At around 8am, he went upstairs to get his computer. He writes programs in both Scratch and Python, usually for making some sort of games, but lately he’s been approaching things more methodically. He has Help Your Kid With Computer Programming and a DK workbook about coding next to him.

After some breakfast and morning routine, it was time to do math. Her son wanted to go back and review some of the basics, so they have been working on various topics. She figured she would let him do easy stuff until he got bored and wanted a new challenge, and that Thursday seemed to be the day. He tells her that doing the problems is hard. When she suggested perhaps it was more that he was bored and found the work tedious, he agreed. The next day they will work on something a bit more advanced.

After math, they talk a bit about explorers, and read part of a book together about Christopher Columbus. After lunch, Melanie’s son announces it’s time for him to “work.” This is part of his daily routine. This particular day, work consists of working on a Snap Circuits project. He’s making something with a siren and flashing lights. Every now and then he’ll need help, so he will ask her a question, and she leads him on the path to the answer. She thinks he got a little frustrated with it though, because he asked if he can leave it set up on the table. Then he went back to his dinosaur book. He started asking a lot of questions about what Cretaceous Earth looked like, so they spent some time researching. She finds out he is writing a story about kobalds and dinosaurs, and he was trying to make his setting geologically sound.

He got hungry around 3pm, and had a snack while he read from Hiro’s Journal, a book about the character from Big Hero 6. He’s been very inspired by that movie and that character lately, and says he wants to go to Nerd School. They discussed what this means, and how he can get there for a while. Then… it was dinner time and time to wind down for bed! Before bed they always read aloud from a novel. They were towards the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Lights were out around 8pm.

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Squishy Circuits, photo courtesy of Curiosity Hacked

As you can see, just taking one day out of one year for a homeschooling family shows the uniqueness of the experience. Families tend to do what works best for their families, ebbing and flowing through passions, some more structured and some more fluid. Common misconceptions aside, there is no disconnect from the real world and community.

“Most revolutions begin in the margins. We can see this in many famous people for whom school never worked. Everybody from Einstein to George Lucas to Jack Horner, the paleontologist, are people for whom school was too narrow. They were marginalized. Students in the margins, as in any revolution, are pointing at the way towards the future.”
~David Rose, Founder and Chief Education Officer, Harvard School of Education

Something I have found as an educator outside the public system, whether I am in a museum or a non-profit or a hackerspace, is that people dedicated to public education often react to alternatives like homeschooling by becoming defensive. This is unnecessary and impedes progress. Alternative education is not symbolic nor is it competitive, it is participating in a movement that has to start somewhere, often in the margins. There is a palpable desire to integrate how we see children learning best into the public system. We can, in fact, change public education to be learner centered, creative, and innovative. But none of us is under an ethical or civic obligation to participate in a system we believe to be broken and all of us have the right to revolutionize education from a place free of standardization and test scores. It is without these restraints that we will be able to see how to rebuild public education.

Homeschooling is one choice, out of many, that is trying to use the knowledge we have had for decades to create learning environments that are based on child development, autonomy, and relationships. From the homeschooling movement, co-ops, clubs and programs have blossomed. Even my own work creating hackerspaces and programs for kids and their families has been heavily influenced by our experience as a homeschooling family—every child I work with is treated and respected as unique and every program we run holds the same vision. I work with public and private schools to integrate these ideas wherever we can, whether as an elective or a special event. Even if their time with me is the only time during the week that a kid isn’t told what to do, but in fact controls their own learning, it was worth it. I see parents every weekend who want to support their kids in this way and I try to help them figure out how. I am sure many educators feel they are trying to treat every child as individuals, but the reality of the system tells a story of limitation and frustration regardless of how hard teachers are working or how creative they get within the confines and expectations of performance. Some are more successful, many are not. It’s no wonder the alternative education movement is growing. I can see the shift happening.

Some believe that the tech community, especially here in Silicon Valley, should be able to produce a better public education system. Shouldn’t an industry that can make my phone learn how to identify all the gluten free restaurants near me without me even asking or a computer program that intuitively adjusts to my preferences be able to guide us to the future of individualized education? Perhaps, but only if they are willing to let go of concepts like scalability. Homeschooling was never meant to be scalable, please stop writing about how it’s not. What it does show us is a range of outcomes from average to outstanding, and rejecting this wealth of information is counter-productive. It is revealing evidence that the latest classroom trends are just that- trends- because they do not sustainably support how children learn. Perhaps then, with the values of innovation inspiring us, it is the education community (particularly alternative education), the people who study and work with children, and not the tech community should be the ones we look to, the ones we support and give credit to. Scalability is for network systems, not kids.

What we really are asking for is a reproducible and flexible public system that can be modified to meet the needs of its community while sharing values, information, and resources. The world is absolutely changing and, especially in the tech industry, work is becoming more creative, mindful, resourceful, self-directed, open source, and collaborative. Curious, passionate, life-long learners are made through these same values. If we invest in this, we will see the results we are looking for. Every child has a right to and deserves to learn in this way, but until we change our mindset about assessment and replace the old system, we will continue to see what is missing from our children’s education.

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Plein Air Painting at the beach, photo courtesy of S. Cook

Fund This! Exploding Kittens, Princess Awesome, and Game of Quests

Hello and welcome to another Fund This! The holidays are behind us but this year is off to a great start with these fabulous campaigns: Exploding Kittens, Princess Awesome Clothing, and Game of Quests!

Happy Funding!

explodingkittens

Exploding Kittens

Only 10 days left, and over 56,000% funded, it is likely you have already heard of Exploding Kittens. If you haven’t, you’re welcome. There isn’t anything I don’t like about this game: kittens, explosions, goats, enchiladas. Totally kid friendly, though their stretch goal included a NSFW deck. Go fund this now to get your own!

 

princessawesome

Princess Awesome

This funding campaign by a couple of awesome moms seeks to develop a clothing line for girls that caters to our young ladies who prefer science themes. Their current offering include Pi, Dinosaur, and Pirate themed play dresses, all super cute, wearable, and girly, but not overdone. My daughter, self-proclaimed fashionista, says she would totally wear these. Go on over and grab a dress for your little geek girl!

 

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Game of Quests

This gamified activity tracking app is awesome. Although still in Beta testing (available in Google Play), I can totally see where this is going. It feels like LARP and Fitbit and D&D all wrapped up into culture, fitness, and ecological awareness. I would totally do burpees to earn a broadsword. I am intrigued to see how this develops, it could be amazing!

Misty, The Proud Cloud: Interview with Illustrator Nidhi Chanani

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The recent trend in children’s picture books seems to be focused on how one is special or unique, or building confidence that anything can be achieved with dedication and persistence. It’s not that those messages aren’t important, but it was refreshing to review a book that celebrated just being who you are, as you are. Misty, The Proud Cloud is the latest book from popular author Hugh Howey, who teamed up with Illustrator Nidhi Chanani to create a sweet, comforting book about the joy we bring to others just by being ourselves.

I actually first came across this project because of my familiarity with Nidhi Chanani’s illustration work.  My daughter has a large framed print of her Waterdance mermaids in her room and it is her favorite. In all her work, Chanani has a delightful way of capturing the emotions of everyday life, expressing exactly how a moment feels. Her work on Misty is no exception. True to form, Misty is immediately recognizable and likable. Glowing illustrations on every page carry the story, and the artist’s talent at including diversity in a natural, seamless way is evident.

I had a chance to ask Nidhi Chanani some questions about Misty:

How did you get involved in this project?

 My agent contacted me with a potential project at the end of 2013. Hugh Howey was looking for an illustrator and liked my work, after I saw the manuscript I jumped on board.
 
Was the book already written or was there collaboration between you and Hugh Howey on the direction the story took?
 
The book was written. I signed on after receiving a complete manuscript that was tweaked very slightly with an editor. My contribution was to bring the character and world to life through illustration.
I know you are working on a graphic novel to be published next year. How was this process different? What was your greatest challenge and your favorite part of working on a children’s book?
 
Working on Pashmina, my graphic novel, is similar and different. I am writing and drawing the entire book so that is a core difference. However the similarities are there – communication through words and pictures. Of course children’s book is different because the focus is on the pictures – which is why they’re categorized as a picture books. Graphic novels tell a more complex story through sequential art.
My greatest challenge was creating a likable main character in the form of a puff of clouds! I went through many rounds of sketching on my own before settling on a character that I felt was cute, welcoming and also allowed for nuance. My favorite part of working on the book was the challenge. Carrying a character from page to page, making each spread dynamic and interesting and truly pushing myself to create simple but visually rich spreads.
 
All art has purpose, illustration helps the reader visualize the story. What was most important to you as you were connecting Hugh’s words to image?
 
The most important thing for me was not simply to illustrate what he had written but give it more. Make the book lively and fun but also keep true to the simplicity of the story and message.
 
How would you describe the story of Misty to a kid?
 
It’s about a cloud that wants to fit in!
 
Do you relate to Misty at all?
 
Yes! Hugh wrote a very relatable character and the point is to be yourself. I definitely relate to that!

We received our copy of Misty in the mail the other day and that night I read it to my daughter. When asked what she thought, my daughter replied “Misty is cute. I liked that she could just be herself.” Anything else? “Yeah, flowers come from the tears of clouds. I like this book.” I’m so glad.

As of this writing, you can still get some author signed copies of Misty, The Proud Cloud on Amazon.

Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer…Psyke

Yesterday the Internet went (rightfully) crazy because Barbie released a book (and we are just noticing now?) called Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. Unfortunately, there isn’t one thing about it that could possibly go over well with the female tech community, or the entire tech community, really.

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image courtesy of Mattel

In the book, Barbie is creating a game. Some have taken umbrage with the fact that it is the stereotypical sort of game with cute fluffy animals that typifies what society thinks girls are into. This didn’t bother me so much. While I may be the Halo master in my house, my daughter certainly likes the cute fluffy animal games, so whatever. People also nitpicked about the heart shaped flash drive but I have something similar, so stop judging.

It was the part of the book where Barbie giggles and explains that she is only designing the game and she needs the boys to come in and actually do the work. I could go on about the stupidity of the information presented, or the offensive idea that girls only care about design, music collections, and pillow fights, but plenty of others have dissected this book online.

The real issue is that Barbie had an opportunity here. Mattel has extraordinary resources, both financial and collaborative, and could have partnered with a myriad of women in tech who know what they are talking about to produce a book that would have sold out. It would have been a best seller. It could have made a huge impact. It could have been as socially responsible and empowering as Barbie says they are. It was the perfect chance to create  a catalyst between computer engineering and Barbie fans, showing that technology and femininity are not mutually exclusive. And they failed. They failed at something that should have been obvious and achievable.

Today, Barbie issued this apology:

The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.

 In my opinion, PR Barbie and Product Design Barbie should be ashamed. 2010 is NOT THAT LONG AGO. While it’s doubtful they will pull the book, the Internet ( as usual) is fixing it or remixing it.

Whether or not Barbie is able to repair the damage they have done to public trust, there are other options for girls to express their interest in programming like through the workbooks from Hello Ruby, playing with Robot Girl Lottie, and participating in The Hour of Code.

There are so many programs, toys, experiences, and mentors available. My hope is that Barbie will take this situation and do what women actually do when they are faced with a challenge. Instead of handing it off to the boys, they will apologize, learn from their mistake, and then rise to evolve and adapt.

Fund This! Easy Macro Lens, Nosferatu, and Diverse Books!

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photo courtesy of Easy Macro Lens

This edition of Fund This features a Macro Lens for your phone, a film ode to the original Dracula, and a campaign to bring more diversity into youth literature!

Happy Funding!

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photo courtesy of Easy Macro Lens

Easy Macro Lens for iPhone, Android, Windows Phones

Another GeekMom sent this campaign to me, since she contributed to funding Version 1 of this lens and she and her daughter were so happy with the product. I have a gorgeous Pentax camera, but I take most of my pictures on my iPhone. It is convenient, fits in my pocket, and is always with me. The zoom feature, however is lacking, evident in the many grainy shots I have attempted.  Campaigning to offer 3 lenses (2x, 4x, and 10x), these portable accessories will be my solution! I like that they work on any phone, even stretching to work on a tablet. My budding entomologist son will be thrilled to use it with his iPod out in the field. Low tech, easy to use and carry with you, great results!

 

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photo courtesy of Nosferatu Kickstarter campaign

Nosferatu: The Feature Film Remix

Shot in 1921, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror was the first vampire movie ever filmed and is widely accepted as the foundation on which all other horror cinema was built. Apparently, the film was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and his widow objected, demanding all copies of the film be destroyed. But of course one copy survived. Of course it did. So we are lucky enough to be able to see the birth of this genre, the beauty of the craft, the gorgeous subtlety (that is completely lacking in most contemporary horror film) which makes the film so completely chilling. This campaign is seeking funds to revive the original tale and update it using modern technology to save the original scenes mixed with new actors, pacing, and more. I have no doubt it will be genius. I prefer my vampires stealthy and dark, hold the sparkle. The original tales stand the test of time and are worthy of our saving them.

 

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photo courtesy of WNDB

We Need Diverse Books

If the title of the campaign doesn’t say it all, the video will tell you everything you need to know. Kids need to not only see themselves in books, but also have a literary window into the lives of those who are different than themselves in order to connect with the human experience in a visceral, holistic way. The reality is that the diversity of books for youth is still abysmal. Support this campaign and be part of making what I believe will be a profound change for many children.

Maleficent is Now Available on Blu-ray and DVD!

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Image courtesy of Disney.

Disney’s Maleficent is now available on Blu-ray and DVD!

This may sound strange to many, but I have an aversion to movie theaters. I do not enjoy the experience nor the crowds, so I tend to wait until movies come out and I can watch them on the absurdly large screen my husband insisted we needed. It turns out, he was right. We still get a theater experience and have saved an impressive amount of money.

Every once in a while, though, a movie tempts to lure me to the big screen either because I want to see it so desperately or because the film deserves the epic  largeness of the screen. It is sometimes both (cough, Hobbit). Maleficent was one of those movies. One of my favorite actresses taking on the role of what is arguably Disney’s most iconic villain in a film that reimagines the story no one ever tells had me very excited. For reasons forgotten at this point, I never made it and so it was with great anticipation that I awaited the Maleficent DVD release.

I have to say, I was not disappointed. There is not a word I could say better about the movie than what was featured in Corrina Lawson’s review of Maleficent. In addition, I got to watch the bonus features right away, which were all wonderful and enhanced our experience. My daughter and I were particularly drawn to the bonus features “Building and Epic Battle” and “Maleficent Revealed,” in which all the special features and effects were described and shown in detail. She even watched the movie again to see those scenes in their final version to compare them. We both were amused by one of the interviews with Angelina Jolie in which she was describing how none of the little children would come near her (in her full makeup and costume) to film the scenes with the very young Aurora, and so in the end it was her own daughter who ended up playing the role!

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Image courtesy of Disney.

I hope you enjoy this film as much as we did. It certainly is a solid addition to our collection, a feminist fairytale, and stunning in every way!

Check out these bonus clips!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Fund This! Cubee, TinyScreen, MotherCoders, Axent Wear Cat Headphones, and Dollhouses!

With fall in full swing, October is full of interesting campaigns to consider for funding. In this installment of Fund This, there were so many good funding campaigns to choose from, I could not decide so I added a few more than usual! Modern acrylic photo cubes, a tiny OLED screen, a program to help women enter the tech industry, cat ear headphones, and gorgeous heirloom dollhouses—there is sure to be something that catches your funding fancy!

Happy Funding!

 

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Image courtesy of Cubee

Cubee: The Illuminating Instagram Photo Cube

I admit that I have a nostalgic thing for photo cubes, which makes me the perfect audience for this campaign. Essentially, it is an acrylic photo cube that illuminates and showcases your photos. You simply connect your Instagram account (or add photos directly from your computer or mobile device) to the Cubee app and they send you perfectly sized copies of your selected photos. The photos are interchangeable and the cube itself is rechargeable. Such a fabulous, modern way to display your favorite images. Admittedly, at first I thought this was completely digital which would have been cool, but then I decided that I would much rather have the physical photos to reframe or reuse in some way when I want to switch them out.

 

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Image courtesy of TinyCircuits

TinyScreen: A color display the size of your thumb!

I work with kids on a daily basis and the one thing I know is that they love tiny things. I also know that adults are not immune to the adorable (and useful) nature of tiny things either. TinyScreen is a teeny color OLED display meant to work with the TinyDuino, which very conveniently stack together like little electronic Lego bricks. I want one. Scratch that, I want 10. Then I will have to order extra for all the kids I work with as well as the mentors who will want them too. As a bonus, they have loaded some default programs onto the TinyScreen so you can play without programming. They have also teamed up with Codebender to simplify projects for beginners. Great new product from a great company.

 

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Image courtesy of MotherCoders

MotherCoders: A giant hack for moms who want in

In the last Fund This, I featured a documentary campaign to address the glaring gender disparity in the tech workforce. It is well documented that, on average, women make up less than 30% of the tech workforce, yet we are not able to fill all the jobs available or that are projected in the next decade. MotherCoders is a fantastic organization that is focusing on preparing and educating women to take the leap, providing onsite childcare while teaching women basic programming, networking, and an orientation to the tech environment. I was one of the founders of Mothership Hackermoms, which provides childcare while parents are able to focus on their passions, and I have seen firsthand what women can accomplish when they have community, support, and their children are included in the process. Motherhood makes us powerful, and it is magic watching women build confidence and direction. This takes that idea one step further in a very practical, useful way. It allows more women to enter the workforce, gives them economic security, and helps drive us towards the much needed balance in the tech industry. It gives mothers a new choice, and offers the tech industry a necessary new voice.

 

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Photo courtesy of Axent Wear

Axent Wear Cat Ear Headphones

This campaign has already doubled its goal, but I could not resist making sure you had the chance to see it. I believe these might be the most adorable headphones in the world. Also, they are headphones and speakers. Purr.

 

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Photo courtesy of Twig Studio

Twig Studio Kids Handcrafted Dollhouses

Finally, I bring you the most gorgeous dollhouses I have ever seen. I can say this with some authority, as my daughter loves dollhouses and has several. We actually own one of these, bought a few years ago when I had the foresight to order early and barely got one before they sold out. I wanted a Waldorf-style dollhouse, but so many of them are so plain and boring. This one is certainly not, and begs for modern family play as much as a setting for fairytale re-enactment. These dollhouses are versatile, easy to put together and take apart yet really sturdy, and they are heirloom quality beautiful. While these houses won’t be deliverable by the holidays this year, they would make the perfect birthday gift next year, or even for the holidays if you want to plan ahead.

Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition Released!

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Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition Blu-ray Combo. Image courtesy of Disney

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition released today, October 7, 2014!

I have always been enchanted by Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I love the music and the medieval art-influenced style of the animation.  It has always felt like the story of an epic quest. In fact, for me it has in some ways been more of a coming of age story for Prince Phillip than a story of the cursed Aurora. My daughter and I were delighted to hear Disney was opening its vault to re-release this classic film.

Disney’s 2-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray Superset (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) contains digitally restored picture and sound, a digital copy of the film, and new bonus features, including “Once Upon A Parade,” in which Modern Family star Sarah Hyland tells us the tale of Walt Disney World’s new Festival of Fantasy Parade; “Art of Evil: Generations of Disney Villains,” a legacy piece spotlighting Disney’s favorite villain animator and Maleficent creator Marc Davis; and “@DisneyAnimation: Artists in Motion,” in which Walt Disney Animation Visual Development artist Brittney Lee goes through the process of creating a three-dimensional sculpture of Maleficent, completely out of paper.

Additional all-new bonus features include never-before-seen deleted scenes “The Fair” (with Deleted Character The Vulture), “The Curse is Fulfilled,” and “Arrival Of Maleficent,” plus the Beauty-Oke sing-along to “Once Upon A Dream.” The Blu-ray Superset also includes classic DVD bonus features and more!

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Make it Pink! Make it Blue! Image courtesy of Disney

I can say with authority that the additional special features are fantastic, and very interesting! They held the attention of all three of my children, who do not usually sit through special features without good reason. The best part of the whole release, however, was the film itself. They have restored the picture so beautifully, it practically glowed with magic on my screen. It is gorgeous.

As a release bonus, Disney has offered a special set of fun crafts to decorate with. You can download them for free here:

Download Fun Crafts

Fund This: CODE, Victorian Chart Puzzles, and Cthulhu Cards!

Fall has arrived and with it will come the last push of funding campaigns before the holidays! In this installment, Fund This finds a documentary on the gender gap in science and technology, puzzles of Fictional Victorian Charts, artisanal cards that will feed (on) your holiday spirit, and a comic with a strong female protagonist. Happy funding!

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Image courtesy of the CODE campaign website.

CODE: DeBugging the Gender Gap

This is one of my top picks this month for funding. The key to changing the gender gap in science and technology is understanding it first. This documentary is trying to do just that. This is a gender, ethnicity, and economic issue that we can’t ignore.

One of the women I work with closely posted this campaign and had this to say (and says it well): “This topic has had a profound effect on my life, but more than that, as a society we can’t afford to lose the contributions of talented scientists and technologists who happen to be minorities. I think most people outside Silicon Valley would be astonished at how unapologetically biased the culture is and how much we all stand to lose because of it.”

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Image courtesy of David Malki.

Wondermark’s Jigsaw Puzzles of Fictional Victorian Charts

Is David Malki in my head? I love Victoriana, I love charts, I love satire, and I love puzzles. This would make an amazing gift, if I were actually willing to part with any of them.

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Image courtesy of Eric Mersmann.

Cthulhu Letter-Press Printed & Foil Stamped Holiday Cards

Well, I just found my holiday cards. Beautifully designed and artfully made, now all I need is our very own eldritch family photo!

This campaign over, but it gets an honorable mention anyway:

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Image courtesy of Alex Ogle.

Infinity Pilot: The Comic Book

Creator Alex Ogle has dreamed up a delicious looking storyline with a strong female lead and interesting action. It features Anna Ki, who is brought back from the dead to pilot the giant infinity robot, Cythor, to save her planet from invasion and annihilation. I like the style, the foreshadowing of a backstory that will prove essential, and the complexity of the subject matter. Looking forward to adding this to my collection! Even though the campaign is over, I thought it was still worth mentioning. Keep an eye out for it!