GeekMom http://geekmom.com Smart. Savvy. Social. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Star Trek Boldly Goes On Tour http://geekmom.com/2014/04/star-trek-in-concert/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/star-trek-in-concert/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:00:21 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144292 J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films are the latest sci-fi franchise to get the live orchestra treatment.

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Star Trek Live

CBS Studios Inc. © 2013 Paramount Pictures Corporation

When J.J. Abrams relaunched the Star Trek franchise, composer Michael Giacchino added his musical talents to the mix with his scores for 2009′s Star Trek and 2013′s Star Trek Into Darkness.

Starting in May, these films will be presented in high definition, with live orchestra accompaniment as part of the Star Trek: Live in Concert experience. The tour kicks off May 24 at KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland, home to the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The group presents around 45 concerts of symphonic music worldwide each year.

Some of the tour’s highlight performances include three nights with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at London’s Royal Albert Hall from May 29 to May 31, and with the San Diego Symphony in July at Embarcadero Marina Park, coinciding with Comic-Con International.  The show will also be presented in conjunction with official 2014 Star Trek Convention events in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and Cherry Hill, N.J.

Star Trek: Live in Concert is the latest of live music performances to put the “pop culture” into “pops concerts,” bringing the world of classical music to more generations.

This is a concept that appeals to me as well, as I learned when I took my then 3-year-old daughter to a young people’s concert comparing Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5″ to John Williams’ Darth Vader “Imperial March.” She politely, albeit impatiently, sat through the former piece, but when the orchestra started in on that familiar “Dum, dum, dum, dum dum, dum, dum dum dum,” she was hooked. I then realized the key to opening young minds to the orchestra: Sith Lords.

live tours

Science-fiction and fantasy-themed live music events have included Star Wars: In Concert, Video Games Live and the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular.

Since then, I have always been on the hunt to find similar ways to introduce my own kids and their friends to the beauty of orchestral music, especially when played live.

One of the more recent live orchestra performances with a science fiction or fantasy edge was Star Wars: In Concert. Hosted by Anthony Daniels, this show toured world wide for more than two years and included an extensive prop and costume exhibit at many venues. The live tours stopped in 2012, but fans can still catch clips of the show on YouTube and the event’s official website. A similar, Lord of the Rings In Concert event (not affiliated with Star Wars: In Concert) also toured around the same time.

In 2013, Doctor Who fans celebrated the series’ 50th anniversary with a one-time concert, Doctor Who Prom (short for promenade concert). Held at Royal Albert Hall in London, the show included the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the London Philharmonic performing the music of Murray Gold, who composed the score for the series since its 2005 return. The London event included special guests Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, among others, and was so well-received that the follow-up Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular concerts were held in January and February this year in Australia and New Zealand, complete with plenty of visuals, aliens, and monsters. There are no additional tours scheduled at this time, but fans can still enjoy highlights online.

Still touring is Video Games Live, which has been selling out venues worldwide since 2005 and is still making its way around the United States and beyond. This too is an immersive production with full orchestra, choir, and big screen visuals, as well as audience participation. This covers everything from the “old school” classics like Space Invaders and Tetris to today’s big sellers like Halo, Portal, BioShock, Medal of Honor, Zelda, Warcraft, and tons more. Find upcoming dates on via their official site, or find out about their latest studio album from our recent GeekMom post.

Star Trek: Live in Concert will host concerts in the United States and Europe this year, with a Canadian tour beginning in 2015. Tickets and tour schedule information can be found at StarTrekConcerts.com.

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GeekMom: Comic Book Corner — Batman: Eternal, Avatar: The Search, The X-Files, and More! http://geekmom.com/2014/04/comic-book-corner-04-16-2014/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/comic-book-corner-04-16-2014/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:00:09 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144244 This week, we look at Runaways, Avatar, Batman: Eternal, Tomb Raider, The X-Files, and Moon Knight.

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batman eternal

From the cover of Batman: Eternal #2, copyright DC Comics

Happy Comic Release Day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. This week, I read about six kids who learn their parents are literally evil. Corrina journeys through Avatar, Batman: Eternal, and Tomb Raider, while Lisa takes us into the world of Moon Knight, and Sophie vents some of her frustration with The X-Files Annual issue.

Dakster Sullivan — Runaways Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona

Runaways Vol. 1 \ Image: Marvel

Runaways Vol. 1 \ Image: Marvel

The Pride is an evil super-villain group made up of six couples, who get together once a year to talk “business.” Their children are unaware of their illegal activities until they stumble on their meeting by accident. Understandably spooked, the kids take off in the middle of the night on a quest to bring their parents to justice. Along the way, each one of them learns something special about themselves that brings new meaning to “teenage troubles.”

After picking this title up on a whim when Amazon and ComiXology had it on sale for $1.99, I’m hooked! Brian K. Vaughan does a wonderful job making this kids relatable (with the exception of having evil parents) and makes you feel for what they are going through. The art by Adrian Alphona is very young at heart and colorful, even in the darker moments of the series.

I’ve read some spoilers about the volumes that follow, and for now, I’m not happy with what is to come. I’m sure that mindset will change once I actually read what happens in the series though.

Runaways is recommended for ages 12 and up and is available digitally and in trade on ComiXology and Amazon.

Curious to know what I’m pulling this week? Check out my pull list on Comixology.

Corrina — Avatar: The Last Airbender: The SearchCreators: Bryan KonietzkoMichael Dante DiMartinoGene Luen Yang, and Gurihiru (Artist)

avatar the search

cover copyright Dark Horse Comics

Before I have anything to say about the contents, I have to gush about how gorgeous this book is. It’s a coffee table-sized hardcover with pages that are heavy and crisp in your hands. And the contents definitely match up to the wrappings. For Avatar: The Last Airbender fans, this is the story of Zuko’s search for the truth about his mother, who mysteriously disappeared the night that his grandfather was killed. He’s accompanied on that search by his friends, including Ang the Avatar, and by his enemy, his mad sister Azula.  Azula somewhat steals the shows, at turns threatening, heartbreaking, and sometimes just plain insane. The results of the search are satisfying to all.

The bonus of this oversize edition are the comments from the creators on the margins of each page. The book can be read twice, first for the story, then for the background behind the story. Not only is this fun information for readers but for writers looking to create comics, this is incredible information on how to craft a story.

Absolutely worth the full price of $39.99.

Batman: Eternal #1 and #2 art by Jason Fabok, written by Tim SeeleyRay FawkesJohn Layman,James T Tynion IV, and Scott Snyder

I was going to say I planned to skip this event, as my reaction to issue #1 was a shrug. But then I read issue #2.

Eternal is a new multi-issue event in the Gotham-verse. Primarily, I was interested in the story for the return of fan-favorite Stephanie Brown. This first issue shows how Gotham begins to fall apart as Commissioner Gordon is obviously the victim of a set-up in which it appears he caused the deaths of a trainload of people. Getting Gordon out of the way and off the force is generally the first step in any master plan to take over Gotham, as an honest police force is a serious impediment to a hostile takeover. I loved the spotlight on Gordon, I’m glad Stephanie Brown is coming back, and I was happy to see Jason Bard return, Bat-geek that I am.

But despite all this, I wasn’t feeling this story at all. I suspect the problem is that I’ve read “Gotham falls apart” several times already. Gotham is falling apart in “Year Zero” that’s running in the current Bat-books. Gotham is falling apart as part of the big Forever Evil crossover. Gotham fell apart during No Man’s Land some years back. At this point, it’s a more dangerous place than Paradise Island, which is periodically getting destroyed, blown up or turned evil. Maybe I just need to give up on the Bat-books for a while, I thought.

The second issue, however, showed me something new. The plot moved past whether Gordon was at fault or not and right into who set him up. And that question is answered, at least partially, at the end of the story.  But something else is going on than just a mob scheme to takeover Gotham, something supernatural, and that’s clear from the appearance of a supernatural character associated with Gotham.

And now I’m hooked by the story.

Tomb Raider #3, written by Gail Simone, art by Nicolás Daniel Selma and Juan Gedeon

I’m reminded of what Gail Simone did with a younger Barbara Gordon in Batgirl in this comic featuring a young and inexperienced Lara Croft. Babs fought past a horrific trauma to become a hero again. Younger Lara is fighting past survivor’s guilt without the skills she’ll have later in life. This Lara isn’t a powerhouse but she’s learning and she’s getting better every issue, and I’m enjoying her story of survival more every issue.

Sophie Brown — The X-Files Annual 2014 

The X-Files Annual 2014 \ Image: IDW Publishing

The X-Files Annual 2014 \ Image: IDW Publishing

You wouldn’t believe the excitement that began rippling through the X-Files fandom several months ago when The X-Files Annual 2014 was first mentioned. “Frank Spotnitz!” people cried, “Uncle Frank is coming back!” Frank is one of the X-Files old guard. He was one of the show’s most prolific writers and spent four years as executive producer so news of him writing for the franchise again in any way was welcome news. That’s why I was so excited to finally get my hands on the annual, a standalone book containing two stories.

The first is penned by Frank, Gabe Rotter (production and writer’s assistant on the show), and Shannon Denton (X-Files comics editor and creator of Community’s recent G.I. Joe episode) and the second by Cerebus creator Dave Sim. It’s probably also why I was so disappointed by what I finally read.

The first story is actually OK. My problem with it is that it simply didn’t feel all that new. A man is killed in a hit and run whilst on the phone to his pregnant wife. Somehow the phone line remains open and he is able to call her from the afterlife as he runs around trying to stop some nasty types coming after her and their unborn child. It’s all a bit Ghost and a bit The Crow and not really that inspiring. I’d simply expected so much more from this and that’s before we even get to the artwork. As someone whose pull list is 95% adaptations of TV shows I’m very used to my favorite characters looking a bit wrong.

Depicting a real person as a two-dimensional comic book character is hard and comic artists are generally rushing to meet their deadlines like the rest of us; they simply don’t have time to spend days on each panel to make sure every expression is a perfect match to the actors they’re trying to imitate. It’s totally normal and totally forgivable. However there’s bad and there’s bad, and this is the latter. When I can barely concentrate on the story because I’m too busy being horrified by the images in front of me, you know it needed a rework.

Moving onto the second story in the book and we do something of an about turn. The artwork here is beautiful, if a little hard to place. The stories are set during the show’s TV run and the locations and general situation bears that out, however Scully looks older and much more I Want to Believe era which is a little odd.

There are a few more poor choices here too (such as her choice of nightwear). That might not seem like a big deal but Dana Scully’s collection of all-covering silk pajamas in a range of hues is legendary within the fandom; depicting her in a skimpy little vest and shorts is just wrong—painfully so. However these niggles are nothing compared to the plotline. Described in the previews as “a nightmarish tale starring a sleeping Dana Scully” I was so excited at the possibilities. Scully-in-peril is my X-Files guilty pleasure and this seemed an ample opportunity for some seriously freaky goings on.

Instead I found myself reading eleven pages of Scully having a semi-dream sequence heart-to-heart with her high school sweetheart Adam who, by the way, is appearing to her as a disembodied floating mutant hand (NB Scully’s high school sweetheart was mentioned by name on the show and was called Marcus, but I’ll let that slide in light of bigger issues).

Why is he coming to visit her in the middle of the night in such a guise? Because she made him that way in her head so she didn’t have to accept that deep down, she’s still in love with him, of course. Right… Adam the disembodied, floating, mutant hand even shows her an image of the daughter they will have together when she wakes up, quits the FBI, and comes running back to him. A beautiful little girl that looks eerily like Renesmee from the Twilight saga.

The whole thing is so bafflingly insane that you spend the entire story gaping open-mouthed and wondering what you missed. I didn’t even notice the first few times around that in one panel Adam the disembodied, floating, mutant hand actually has hearts in his eyes when he looks at Scully. Everything is going to be perfect and they’re going to live happily ever after. Unless they don’t, in which case he’ll meet someone else in twelve hours time and go on to live another wonderfully happy life with her instead. It’s Scully’s last chance to realize that she really loves him, you see? It’s also my last chance to sob over bad characterization and wonder how on Earth this ever made it to publication.

Lisa Tate — Moon Knight #1 and #2 by Warren Ellis, art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

Moon-Knight #1 \ Image: Marvel

Moon-Knight #1 \ Image: Marvel

It seems to be a prerequisite for all Marvel mercenaries to be both insane and bitingly witty. Meet Marc Spector (aka Moon Knight), whose latest solo comic delves into this fringe character’s deeper personal demons, and there are plenty. Suffering from DID (dissociative identity disorder), not to mention having been recently resurrected by an ancient Egyptian deity, Spector is back in New York helping police run down a killer murdering victims for spare body parts.

If I were to oversimplify Spector, Moon Knight is what happens when you take a Bruce Wayne type, give him Sherlock Holmes’ personality and deductive skills, and Deadpool’s skills and sense of compassion, with a couple of extra personalities as baggage. However, there is so much more to this man. He is mentally unstable, but he isn’t “insane.” He’s effective and helpful with crime fighting, but he isn’t the textbook definition of a hero.

Unlike many “darker” vigilantes, Spector’s glowingly white fashion sense allows his targets to see him coming, because, as he says, “That’s the part I like.”

Ellis (“Planetary,” “The Authority”) is a great match for Moon Knight, as he deals well with the gritty, ugly side of the superhero world. Moon Knight is certainly gritty and graphic, but it’s also a clever, sleek, and noirish crime comic.

After the first two issues, it’s hard to say in which weird direction Ellis will take the character — and the reader — next, but like Spector said, “That’s the part I like.”

Looking for something else, readers? Check out this week’s listed books:

DC-Comics-Old.jpg marvel-logo1.jpg

Adventures Of Superman Vol. 1 TP
American Vampire Second Cycle #2
Batman #30
Batman And Wonder Woman #30
Batman Eternal #2
Batwoman #30
Birds Of Prey #30
Daytripper Deluxe Edition HC
Final Crisis TP (New Edition)
Green Lantern New Guardians #30
Harley Quinn #5
Joker Death Of The Family TP
Justice League #29
Justice League Of America Omnibus Vol. 1 HC
Red Hood And The Outlaws #30
Sinestro #1
Smallville Season 11 Lantern #1 (Of 4)
Supergirl #30
Trinity Of Sin Pandora #10
Unwritten Vol. 2 Apocalypse #4
Wonder Woman #30
Amazing X-Men #6
Daredevil By Mark Waid Vol. 7 HC
Deadpool Vs Carnage #2 (Of 4)
Hulk #1
Ms. Marvel #3
Nova #16
Spider-Man Newspaper Strips Vol. 1 TP
Superior Spider-Man #31
Superior Spider-Man Vol. 5 The Superior Venom TP
Thor Epic Collection Vol. 11 A Kingdom Lost TP
Thor God Of Thunder #21
Ultimate FF #1
Uncanny X-Men #20
Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2 HC
Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2 HC
What If Age Of Ultron #3 (Of 5)
Winter Soldier The Bitter March #3 (Of 5)
Wolverine #4
Wolverine And The X-Men #3
X-Force #3
X-Men #13
idw-logo.jpg Dark-Horse-Logo-2.jpg

24 Omnibus TP
Crow Pestilence #2 (Of 4)
Frankenstein Alive Alive #3
Frankenstein Alive Alive Reanimated Edition
Ghostbusters Vol. 7 Happy Horror Days TP
Godzilla History’s Greatest Monster TP
Godzilla Rulers Of Earth Vol. 2 TP
Haunted Horror #10
Powerpuff Girls Vol. 1 TP Kid Friendly
Star Mage #1 (Of 6)
Star Slammers Re-Mastered #2
Superman The Silver Age Newspaper Dailies Vol. 2 1961-1963 HC
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7
Transformers Dark Cybertron Vol. 1 TP
Transformers Windblade #1 (Of 4)
X-Files Annual 2014
B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth #118
B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth Vol. 8 Lake Of Fire TP
Brain Boy Vol. 1 Psy Vs Psy TP
Chronicles Of Conan Vol. 26 Legion Of The Dead And Other Stories TP
Crime Does Not Pay Archives Vol. 7 HC
Dark Horse Presents #35
Game Of Thrones Weirwood Snow Globe
Ghost #3
Ghost Omnibus Vol. 5 TP
Itty Bitty Hellboy TP
Skyman #4 (Of 4)
Star Wars #7 (Of 8)(Lucas Draft)
Star Wars Darth Vader And The Cry Of Shadows #5 (Of 5)
Star Wars Vol. 2 From The Ruins Of Alderaan TP
Trekker The Train To Avalon Bay TP
White Suits #3 (Of 4)

Acronym Key: VC = Variant Cover / HC = Hard Cover / TP = Trade Paperback / GM = GeekMom Recommended Reading

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Pixar Easter Eggs Revealed! http://geekmom.com/2014/04/pixar-easter-eggs-revealed/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/pixar-easter-eggs-revealed/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:00:27 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144331 The hunt is on! How many of these Easter eggs hidden in Pixar's films did you know about?

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The folks at Pixar love hiding in-jokes and references to their impressive body of work in their films. If you’re a fan you might know about some of these Easter eggs already, but others may be a nice surprise.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, merely a taste of the longer feature available in the Discovery section of Disney’s new cloud-based media service Disney Movies Anywhere, which allows you to share your Disney content across an array of platforms and iOS devices.

Do you know about any Pixar Easter eggs? Share them in the comments!

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Win a Free Costume Up To $75 From Costume Super Center! http://geekmom.com/2014/04/costume-giveaway-costume-super-center/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/costume-giveaway-costume-super-center/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:35:48 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144358 Enter to win the costume of your choice valued up to $75 from CostumeSuperCenter just in time for con season, or to be ready early for Halloween!

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Image: CostumeSuperCenter.com

Image: CostumeSuperCenter.com

Con season is upon us, so it’s time to decide what you’re going to wear, cosplayers! Although some of you may spend countless hours crafting just the right costume, for those of us not so creative, the folks at CostumeSuperCenter.com have got you covered.

They’ve even created some fantastic guides, like this Guide to Star Trek Uniforms, and they have something for every Trekkie (or Trekker, your call) no matter which show or movie is your favorite. You can be a redshirt from The Next Generation, or maybe you’d rather be in command with this Star Trek movie gold shirt.

Image: CostumeSuperCenter.com

Image: CostumeSuperCenter.com

The choice is yours, and now you have the chance to win the costume of your choice up to $75 value from CostumeSuperCenter! Simply head on over to my TotalFanGirl to enter. Good luck!

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Lumberjanes #1: Friendship to the Max! http://geekmom.com/2014/04/lumberjanes-1/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/lumberjanes-1/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:00:21 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144267 Lumberjanes: A comic for girls/women/Hardcore Lady Types of all ages!

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Lumberjanes cover

Image by Boom! Studios

Lumberjanes is the new all-ages comic from Boom! Studios, and given that it’s girl/women/Hardcore Lady Types centric, it makes for a spectacular good time for everyone from kids to adults.

Created for Boom! Box by Grace Ellis and Boom! Senior Editor Shannon Watters, the series is written by Noelle Stevenson and Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen, with fabulous exclusive covers available at various comic cons. Boom! bills it as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls,” and you don’t have to tell me twice, that combination sounds amazing. I’ve already seen a ton of cosplay online, pretty good for a book that’s just been released!

The comic centers around five scout pals, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley. If you can’t see yourself in one of the characters, there’s a good chance you’ll see yourself in all of them. The girls are at a summer camp like no other, with freaky crazed creatures and, of course, kittens.

Lumberjanes is more than just entertaining adventures and fighting mysterious creatures. Those two things together are already satisfying, but there’s a great underlying story of friendship, or “Friendship to the Max!” as they say in the book. That friendship is going to get them through all the weirdness that is sure to come their way in future issues.

Name dropping great female historical and pop culture role models like Bessie Coleman and Joan Jett should tell you this comic is all about female empowerment mixed in with a whole lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what other adventures and terrors the girls come across in the future. For now let’s all commit the Lumberjanes pledge to memory, and go find some plaid shirts.

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Microsoft: OneDrive, OneNote, Snazzy New Hardware, and More http://geekmom.com/2014/04/microsoft-onedrive-onenote-hardware/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/microsoft-onedrive-onenote-hardware/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:00:12 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144275 Microsoft has made a couple of changes in recent months. Read about some of the changes and some new Windows hardware.

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Image: Microsoft

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has made a couple of changes in recent months. One, they’ve changed the name of SkyDrive to OneDrive. Not a big deal, and the new name makes about as much sense as the last one. Two—and this one is very exciting to me—they’ve made OneNote free. Entirely free. Not just the app for your phone, but the stand-alone, desktop application. And it’s available for Mac, too.

OneNote

I’ve been an Evernote lover for many years, but I always ended up using it as a disorganized receptacle for information. Finding what I needed took longer than just re-searching Google. I always wanted to try OneNote, but often had such outdated Office applications that I was worried I would trap my information in an obsolete application.

I’m very pleased that this is no longer a concern, and I’ve started making myself at home in OneNote. I’m organizing homeschooling for next year (and beyond—my daughter starts high school grades in another year!), our wedding plans, household concerns, writing projects, and more. I find that the way OneNote is organized fits really well with the way I think. The layout and the colors make organizing a breeze. For the type of people who love to browse the aisles of their local office supply store, OneNote is a fun tool.

Image: Dell

Image: Dell

Dell XPS 15

On to some really great new-ish Windows 8.1 hardware. I’ve gotten to evaluate a Dell XPS 15, which is the first true laptop on which I’ve ever gotten a chance to make myself at home. I’ve had netbooks and a light duty notebook, but mostly I’m a desktop computer kind of gal. The XPS has a lovely rubbery matte texture to the typing surface, and there is just enough key travel for typing comfort. The typeface on the keys is a bit unusual and took some getting used to. It reminds me of vintage space age stuff—not quite OMNI Magazine, but close. The machine is a large size, but not too heavy. The Corning glass screen is crystal clear.

The Dell doesn’t have an optical drive, but it does everything else that one would need in a computer. I’ve put it through its paces, and it handles everything beautifully, except when I try to play Guild Wars 2 on it for more than a half hour. That kind of use taxes the processor a bit too much, and the cooling system can’t quite keep up. Otherwise I heartily recommend the Dell XPS 15 as a great Windows 8.1 machine. If you don’t need a built-in optical drive or a gaming-capable processor, it could even be your only machine. Here are a few basic specs of the machine I have:

  • Touch screen with Corning Gorilla Glass NBT
  • Machined aluminum and carbon fiber
  • 15.6″ full HD display (1920×1080)
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Starts at 4.44 lbs
  • Intel Core i5 processor

For the different specification options for the Dell XPS 15, I recommend you visit the Dell website.

Image: Microsoft

Image: Microsoft

Windows 8.1

From my personal experience with Windows operating systems over the last 24 years (since Windows 3.0), it’s had its ups (e.g., XP) and its downs (e.g., Vista, which I was fortunate enough to avoid). But I’ve been extremely happy overall with Windows 8 and 8.1. I still don’t like how it handles searching—it’s always extremely hard to find what I’m looking for—but everything else works like a dream.

Windows 8+ has also had one notable effect on me: I now treat every screen like a touch screen. My tablets (see my earlier GeekMom post about the Windows 8.1 tablet) and Windows 8.1 laptop have touch screens, so when I’m helping my daughter with something on her old Mac, I keep reaching for her screen to scroll. Obviously, that doesn’t work.

I’m sure society is going in the direction of mostly touch screens because they are so darn useful. Touch screens aren’t quite as useful with a desktop machine, but when multiple people are crowding around something, or if there is no keyboard (like on a tablet), it just makes sense.

Note: As part of the Windows Champions program, I have been loaned Windows 8.1 devices for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these reviews are my honest opinions about the hardware and software involved.

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A Refreshing Walk Around Austin, TX at SXSW http://geekmom.com/2014/04/refreshing-walk-around-austin-tx-sxsw/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/refreshing-walk-around-austin-tx-sxsw/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:20:10 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144226 It's possible that I'm getting older. But after two days of the craziness of SXSW, I decided that I was going to walk. And walk. And walk. Being something of a country mouse, I've always been fascinated by cities--especially newer cities. So on my last day in Austin as a Cottonelle corespondent, I did three things: I put on my favorite dress, got my hair done, and I put on my walking boots (this is Texas, after all).

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This post is sponsored by Cottonelle.

It's really... really huge.

It’s really… really huge.

It’s possible that I’m getting older. But after two days of the craziness of SXSW, I decided that I was going to walk. And walk. And walk. Being something of a country mouse, I’ve always been fascinated by cities–especially newer cities. So on my last day in Austin as a Cottonelle corespondent, I did three things: I put on my favorite dress, got my hair done, and I put on my walking boots (this is Texas, after all).

My hair was done courtesy of the Cottonelle Refresh Lounge. Which really was, as a concept, one of the coolest ideas I saw at the con when it comes to brand efforts. And I’m not just saying that because they brought me out there. Walking around the conference I saw lots of attempts from lots of brands to “stand out” from the crowd. But there were no other places that really offered a sense of, well, refreshment and relaxation like the Cottonelle Refresh Lounge. Not to mention awesome hair. And a place to recharge my phone.

The crowd was pretty impressive, and I was tired. So instead of muscling my way in, I took myself and my fabulous hair and I walked. I’m quite a fan of the Old West, and the buildings around Austin certainly didn’t fail to impress. As I meandered through the crowds and out I thought it might be interesting to share the one thing that most SWSXers weren’t sharing: the beautiful city that hosts such an amazing conference.

If you weren’t following me on Twitter or Instagram, you might have missed it. So I’m sharing the gallery below. It was, in a word, refreshing. When I returned for a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live and got ready to return to North Carolina, I was so glad I had a chance to experience Austin a little. Crazy cab rides with pugs in the passenger seat (which really happened) and adventures and all. I’ve got to say I was refreshed in more ways than I imagined, and I’ll always remember my trip to Austin, TX.

The capital. It's really... really huge. Lovely tress everywhere. Patriots, Texas style. Just loved this tree. Apropos in every way. The bridge across the river. Jimmy Kimmel Live. Of course this gal took a pic. I'm a Gibson gal, through and through. Architecture whoa. Can't get enough of the pretty buildings. Big hair!

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A Surprise Gadget Love: The Sensor Velocity V200 Iron http://geekmom.com/2014/04/sensor-velocity/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/sensor-velocity/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:07 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144169 GeekMom Sarah is surprised by a gadget she never saw coming: The humble iron, not so humble anymore.

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V200

Image: Reliable Corporation

Sometimes new technology comes along and surprises me, it blows my mind and takes me years to get over. I was one of the first in my class to get a portable CD player, one of the first to leave the cassette tape Walkman behind. I thought I was so cool, even though the sound quality was inferior to my old Walkman. I got one of the first iPods when they came out, its design and function was unlike anything I had thrown haphazardly into my purse before. It took me a good year of using the iPod to put away my old devices, to relegate them to the attic of my mind, and to the Goodwill box.

Sometimes new technology comes along and doesn’t surprise me in the least. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so the dawn of the tablet era came not as a shock, but as an “about time” moment.

My latest “gadget” shocks me back to the stone ages. It’s not a tablet, or a smartphone, or a pair of glasses, it’s an iron. And I am having a hard time even believing these words are coming from me. I grew up with gadgets, and I also grew up with ironing. My dad was a television repairman and audio geek, my mom was a chef with a penchant for experimentation. I know gadgets, I know fads, I know gizmos. I inherited this from them. What I didn’t inherit was their obsession with ironing. For my entire young life there were two baskets of laundry in our house. One dirty, and one waiting to be ironed. I would watch both of my parents spend hours, often in front of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ironing. Shirts, pants, underwear, handkerchiefs, nothing was exempt from the hot steam of the iron.

Iron

Image: Sarah Pinault Circa 2010 and the $6 iron

When I got married, I bought many things, a TV, a digital camera, and a $6 iron from Walmart. It was purchased after the wedding gift version gave up hope, and it was mostly for my mom to use when she visited. I saw no reason to spend any more money on it than Walmart made possible. I used it maybe a dozen times in six years. Then I had my son, and he wore teeny tiny clothes, and I had a brief fling with my ironing board. It didn’t last. In the fall of 2013 I was sent, of all things to test out for GeekMom, an iron, the Sensor Velocity V200. It bemused me, it provided quite the humorous anecdote at  seasonal gatherings, and then I had to go and use the darn thing.

Now I spend at least two hours a week ironing. Netflix streaming on my laptop, laundry piled around me, ironing the crumpled shirts of my husband, shirts that have been crumpled for ten years. Because this thing is so easy to use, so good at what it does, that it does not bore me to tears to iron anymore. In fact I actually look forward to it.

You see the thing they never tell you in Life101 is that a $6 appliance from Walmart is the bicycle you dig out of the stream, and that using the BMW straight from the dealer, is a whole different experience. And yes, this rule applies to ironing. And no, I cannot believe that after ten crumpled years, I am actually saying this out loud.

The Sensor Velocity V200 does four things for me, that my $6 iron and even my mom’s iron never did:

1. It flattens my clothing.  I will admit that much of my disdain for this particular activity of Donna Reed comes from the fact that I could never get anything flat. My fabric was always uncooperative, my iron was never hot enough, the steam never came out in the right direction. I won’t blame the machines, it was me, I was an ironing dunce. With the V200, it doesn’t matter if you are a dunce. I believe this device could flatten clothes from ten feet away, just by hissing, which it won’t do without your touch, which brings me to point number 2.

2. It steams my clothing. Now I have only ever used a steam iron, I’m told there was a day when squirt bottles went hand in hand with this chore, but thankfully it wasn’t on one of my shifts. The V200 has two settings, and eco-intelligent sensor technology that only emits steam when you are handling the iron. The steam is distributed evenly, instead of attacking your clothing from a single point, as per the $6 special.

V200 Icon

Image: Reliable Corporation

3. It gets hot, really hot. I didn’t realize that irons promoted such innovation, but the V200 actually contains patented technology. There are two heating elements. The internal heating chamber pre-heats the water before it reaches the heated soleplate, thus ensuring continuous steam even at low temperatures. Though I rarely use the low temperatures.

4. It doesn’t attack me. The company’s mantra, “No Spitting! No Leaking! No Kidding!” is honest. In four months of continuous use, I haven’t been spit upon or leaked upon once.

The ultimate test, my mom loves this iron. I think my mom would marry this iron, and may possibly be working on legislation to make that legal. My mom’s attachment to an iron is normal, but I remain a little shocked that I am as attached to this particular device as I am. I feel like I should be shunning ironing, in favor of more 21st century pursuits. Yet there is something calming about a pile of perfectly ironed clothing, that I can’t escape.

At $169, it is not for the iron shy. But for cosplayers working with a variety of fabric, and a volume of fabric, for moms looking to make chores easier and less time consuming, for professionals looking to cut back on the carbon footprint of the laundromat, I think it’s a sound investment.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes. 

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Seattle’s Innovators Assemble for LEGO’s Build for Good http://geekmom.com/2014/04/build-for-good/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/build-for-good/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 12:00:33 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144168 LEGO, inspired by a 7th grader who combined his love of LEGO with the genuine desire to do something good for people, issued the Build for Good Challenge to seven companies in Seattle.

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LEGO Build for Good Competitors. All Photos: Kelly Knox

It’s amazing the number of ways our kids inspire us. From the little things like just saying a kind word to someone who needs it, to the incredible creations that are born from curiosity, kids can do marvelous things. Twelve-year-old Shubham Banjeree is one such kid.

After spotting a flyer at his house asking for donations for the visually impaired, Shubham wondered, “How do blind people read?” His search through Google to find the answer led him along a path where he was astonished to learn that Braille printers cost thousands of dollars. Inspired, Shubham turned to his LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit (along with a few pieces from Home Depot), and in just four weeks created a cost-effective Braille printer he dubbed Braigo.

Shubham Banerjee

LEGO, moved by the 7th grader who combined his love of LEGO with the genuine desire to do something good for people, issued the Build for Good Challenge to seven companies in Seattle. Each company was chosen as one of the most innovative Seattle has to offer: Amazon, Egencia, Expedia, HTC, Microsoft, Nordstrom, and Zulily. The teams were sent EV3 kits and asked to create a robot that “solves a human interest problem.” On Thursday, April 10, at the EMP Museum in the heart of Seattle, the teams gathered to show off their inventions.

Contestants responded with robots that picked up small toys, sorted luggage by color, worked on a model urban farm, and turned on the lights and watered plants in a miniature home. Teams from HTC and Microsoft considered the challenges facing mobility impaired young people, and invented a selfie-taking robot and 3-D version of Zoo Tycoon respectively.

Zoo Tycoon Robot

The Microsoft/XboxOne team gathered the most onlookers at the event, with a large team and fantastic, colorful setup that included three different robots and a custom Windows Phone app to play the game and control them. Team Xbox was motivated by the desire to help kids who are unable to hold or manipulate a game controller. Their entire project took 150 hours over three weeks of work with the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kits.

NORD1

It was underdog Team Nordstrom that won the grand prize, however. NORD1, the team’s brainchild, was built with kids in mind to add a little bit of fun when it’s time to take their medication. Parents simply direct the robot to deliver the pill, and it finds their child and dispenses the medicine automatically. Once delivery is complete, the robot enters “party dance mode” set to the tune of El DeBarge’s “It’s Johnny.” This Short Circuit flashback was enough to win over everyone the audience over the age of 30, but when NORD1 belted out a good ol’ “EXTERMINATE,” I suddenly had a clear favorite.

Team Nordstrom was awarded five LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kits to donate to the children’s charity of their choice. Among the judges were Shubham Banjeree, who still stole the show with Braigo, even among so many incredible inventors and their creations.

“We continue to be amazed by inventors of all ages who utilize the Mindstorms platform to express their creativity, building everything from robotic pets to robots that solve real life needs, like Shubham’s inventive Braille printer,” said Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for LEGO Systems. “In the spirit of these LEGO Mindstorms inventors and inspired by today’s competitors from Seattle’s elite companies, we encourage children around the world to put their ingenuity to work through play to creatively build a better world.”

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Scholarly Freebies at Oxford University Press During National Library Week http://geekmom.com/2014/04/free-access-oup/ http://geekmom.com/2014/04/free-access-oup/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 11:00:47 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=144210 A massive treasure trove of scholarly gems, normally locked up tight behind fully operational internet security, will be available April 13-19 in honor of National Library Week.

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Resources available from OUP for National Library Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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