GeekMom http://geekmom.com Smart. Savvy. Social. Fri, 21 Nov 2014 13:50:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of STEM Toys and More! http://geekmom.com/2014/11/2014-gift-guide-stem-toys/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/2014-gift-guide-stem-toys/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 13:30:22 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=155872 Check out our list of STEM, building, creative, and imagination building tools---a.k.a: TOYS!

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Toys

Image: Cathe Post

I get excited about toys. They are mostly marketed to kids, but as an adult I find myself putting many of the things recommended by other writers on my own wishlist.

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Image: unclegoose.com

Elemental Building Blocks A full periodic table in wooden block form, painted with bright, non-toxic ink. Great for all ages! $36

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Image: Lottie Dolls

Robot Girl Lottie doll  Are you looking for an alternative to Barbie for a special kiddo on your list? Go for the Lottie Dolls. My favorite is Robot Girl Lottie (partially inspired by a former GeekMom writer) and her buddy Busy Lizzie the Robot. These dolls are appropriate for young kids and encourage exploration into science and engineering. $19.95

gears

Image: learningresources.com

Gears! Gears! Gears! Gears! Gears! Gears! Get little engineers building with this 95-piece set. Gears, cranks, connectors, and interlocking base plates provide open-ended construction possibilities. The pieces snap together to create moving action and are compatible with other Learning Resource building sets so you can add on over time. Ages 3 to 7. $23.99

bboptm

Image: hearthsong.com

BBOPTM Ball Kids can bounce, roll, even climb inside HearthSong’s BBOPTM Ball. It fits kids ages 6 and up. Sold separately, get two for double the fun. $39.98

Mezco-Pinkman

Image: Mezco Toyz

Breaking Bad Action Figures Yeah, action figures, bitch! Toys R Us may not like them, but we’re guessing there are a few people on your list that would appreciate having a Breaking Bad action figure displayed prominently. Mezco currently has several incarnations of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, as well as season two’s creepy pink teddy bear. Each one is a limited piece, making it even more coveted than a batch of Blue Sky. $13.95 and up

geoblocks

Image: geotoystore.com

GeoBlocks Effortlessly learn while playing with classic blocks made from sustainable wood. Each of these 20 blocks provides information about different countries. Stack them to make a map! $31

I can't believe how much they're able to fit into a box! One of the philosophies of Einstein in a Box is that parents shouldn't have to run out for 1-2 popsicle sticks or a couple of straws if they aren't on hand. Safety equipment is also included, which is genius. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Image: Patricia Vollmer

Groovy Lab in a Box This is a unique subscription box experience in that it’s providing themed STEM activities to older elementary school students, ages 8-12, or grades 3-5. I am in love with the concept and potential of this program. The program is available through the company’s website. Prices range from $36.95 for a single box (plus shipping) down to $23.95 per box for a 12 month subscription, with >1 month subscriptions including free shipping. $25

landofnodcanopy

Image: landofnod.com

Land of Nod Play Canopy and Cushion Land of Nod has loads of gorgeous play tents, but the ceiling-suspended canopies with giant cushions are a small child’s dream. Windows for peeking out, lovely designs on the canopies themselves, and a safe space to get lost in thoughts make them a great gift for exploring the imagination.  $199

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Image: fisher-price.com

Little People Disney Klip Klop Stable These Little People horses and riders are almost hypnotically fun for toddlers. Hinged back legs let the horses “walk” down the track with the most satisfying clickety clack. Other princesses and their horses are sold separately. Ages 18 months to five years. $45

Littlest Pet Shop Style Set

Image: Hasbro

Littlest Pet Shop Style Set A cute little salon that comes with three exclusive pets: Minka Mark, Kitery Banter, and Sunil Nevla. Kids can decorate the pets and the salon, which comes with a reversible backdrop and customizable wall panels to change the look. Lots of neat little accessories make this a fun set. Ages 6 and up. $39.99

Loopdeloom

Image: Amazon.com

Loopdeloom I love the Loopdeloom because it’s simple and quick to learn how to weave. The instructions are easy to follow and I had my first project done in about an hour. It looks like it’s marketed to children, but adults who want a relaxing and portable craft will enjoy it as well. $29.99

Guardians of the Galaxy Big Blastin'Rocket Raccoon

Image: Hasbro

Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy Big Blastin’ Rocket Raccoon This version of Rocket is nice and tall at 10″, and he comes ready in his battle stance. His blaster spins, lights up, and plays sound effects while he yells, “It’s Rocket time!” Ages 4 and up. $29.99

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Image: Monster Factory

Monster Factory Mythicals Monster Factory’s adorable collectible plush Mythicals line is set to start shipping mid-November (you can pre-order now). Choose from six mythical creatures that stand almost 11″ high. They’re great quality and so much fun. $45

My sons were chomping at the bit to open up our sample Nerf blasters. I had to make them wait until I had a camera available first. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Image: Patricia Vollmer

Nerf Zombie Strike Blasters Fight Zombies with Nerf’s latest offering of blasters! The Crossfire Blaster is visually appealing with a design that was first seen in last year’s Nerf Rebelle Guardian Crossbow. With a range of over 80 feet, it can hold up to four fluorescent green Zombie Strike darts, easily loaded up front, for quick succession firing. The Fusefire is a disc-launcher blaster, and comes with five glow-in-the-dark discs, which can easily be stored in the front of the blaster. You can purchase additional discs separately. $16.06

TMNT Blimp

Image: Amazon.com

Playmates TMNT Blimp In the words of my son, the TMNT blimp is “fragile, but still fun.” It inflates to 30″ long and can carry all four turtles + a pilot. $25.99

Playskool Heroes Marvel Super Hero Adventures Spider-Man Crane Capture Track Set

Image: Hasbro

Playskool Heroes Marvel Spider-Man Crane Capture Track Set Spider-Man defeats Electro in this preschool set featuring a Spider-Man figure on a motorcycle, a flat plastic Electro figure, and a playset with a crane. It works together with other Playskool Heroes Action Figure Racing launchers and vehicles. Ages 3-7. $19.99

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Image: amazon.com

Plush Treehouse with Animals This is an adorable playset. Five beanbag forest animals fit into a plush carrying-case 12″ treehouse. Great imaginative play for ages 3 and up, perfect to take as an on-the-go toy. $24.99

Image: Gamewright

Image: Gamewright

Rory’s Story Cubes MAX If you enjoy regular Rory’s Story Cubes, check out the MAX version. These larger cubes are great for large groups or for those with poor eyesight or coordination. Roll the Cubes and begin your story, working each image into the tale. Or use them for brainstorming, creative writing, problem solving, or foreign language learning. The uses are limitless. $19.99

slackline

Image: hearthsong.com

Slackline Slacklining is a great way for kids to build strength, confidence, and balancing skills while having fun. The two-inch-wide nylon webbing extends up to 50 feet; an extra training line to hold on to makes it ideal for slackliners of varying skill levels. Ratchet tensioning is simple to use and to set up. Includes protective tree pads, instruction manual, and carrying bag. For up to 800 lbs. total weight. $69.98

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Image: sprukits.bandai.com

SpruKits Build your own poseable action figures with SpruKits. There are Sprukits for all ability levels. Some take 15 minutes to build and some take 2-3 hours. Everything necessary is right in the kit. No cutting, gluing, or painting is necessary. Characters available in SpruKits include DC Comics characters, Halo Universe characters, and Nicktoons LBX characters. $9.59-34.99

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Image: Tegu

Tegu Magnetic Wood Blocks Sustainably sourced and made from FSC-certified Honduran hardwoods, these magnetic wooden blocks will delight your teen and your baby alike. With magnets completely encased in the wood, stick these babies together in any combination to make your own delightful sculptures. Ranging from very simple sets to more complex systems, there’s something for every taste and price range. Price Varies

Electricity & Magnetism. Photo credit: Thames & Kosmos

Electricity & Magnetism. Photo credit: Thames & Kosmos

Thames & Kosmos Electricity & Magnetism Electricity & Magnetism is an experiment kit with block-like circuitry bits you can snap together. A booklet provides sample circuits that teaches the basic principles of electricity and magnetism, of course. After that—or before, if you’re not the type of read instructions manuals—you are free to play and create your own circuit designs. $44.99

Robo-Beetle. Photo credit: Thomas & Kosmos.

Robo-Beetle. Photo credit: Thomas & Kosmos

Thames & Kosmos Remote-Control Machines DLX The Remote-Control Machines DLX is a set of building blocks to construct remote-controlled robots. While there is a certain charm to having building sets of only one type—say, Lego—so that all your sets are interchangeable, I was surprised by how much I appreciated the change of scenery. It was a whole new experience thinking in terms of the pegs and holes design of Thames & Kosmos versus the interlocking bricks design of Lego. $113.48

GGSW Ultimate Amazement Park Playset

Image: VTech

VTech Go! Go! Smart Wheels Amazement Park Engage in all kinds of great racing play with this extra large playset from VTech. It has three different course options, sound effects, and lots of different vehicles (sold separately). This is a nice, big playset for any little car lovers. Ages 18 months to five years. $59.99

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Image: VTech

VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch An oversized smartwatch for kids that holds up to 800 photos and 6 minutes of video. The watch comes in several colors and has a voice recorder and some built-in games, but the basic camera is the real draw here. Age 4+, but great for preschool children. $59.99

MiPbyWowWee

Image: WowWee

WowWee Toys MiP Robot MiP is an awesome little robot that uses GestureSense technology for precise control with hand movements. You can also control MiP from your smartphone, and its two-wheel design is so well-balanced and smooth that it’s stunning to watch in action. MiP has several different modes for play. It’s ages eight and up, and this is one adults will love, too. So. Much. Win. $99.99

dino

Image: amazon.com

Zoomer Dino Zoomer Dino is a next generation interactive toy. This creature responds to motion. He can get angry, chomp his jaws, roar, and chase. His eye color changes with his mood. Pull his tail and he’ll rampage! You can tame this touch-sensitive Dino, teach him to perform tricks, follow you, even dance. He balances perfectly. Charges with a USB cable. $105

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Pulp Fiction in Pearl’s Peril http://geekmom.com/2014/11/pulp-fiction-pearls-peril/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/pulp-fiction-pearls-peril/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 13:00:50 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156260 Pearl's Peril features a competent heroine whose engineering prowess often saves the day in this pulp fictional adventure game.

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PearlsPerilOpen

Image: Wooga media

I’ll admit that I’m a casual gamer. Kingdom Rush and Plants vs. Zombies on my phone have gotten considerably more play than any game on my PC, and at the moment I don’t even own a gaming console. However, I’ve never been tempted by the Facebook games that bug your friends to join you and send you things. There’s one game that’s overcome that barrier, however, and I’ll argue that it has succeeded due to its exuberantly pulp fiction plotting. Pearl’s Peril is a Facebook hidden object game (that I play on my iPad) that has held my attention for much longer than any comparable game ever has.

Pearl’s Peril has a straightforward structure: in each scene, you find the hidden objects on the list. The faster you do it, the more points you get. It gets a little complicated with game progression: the more points, the faster you progress. But to unlock new scenes you need to build buildings and decorations on your own personal island. There’s a limit to how fast you can advance, and you can speed that up considerably if you spend money. This is the only game I have sunk more than $5 into in the last several years, and I’ve been playing it for over a year now.

PearlsPerilIsland

Image: Karen Burnham

For one thing, decorating your island is actually fun in and of itself. You unlock new buildings and decorations as you progress, and they often offer seasonal decorations for limited times. I took advantage of a Halloween special to build a mausoleum with a fiery fountain of doom in front. I’ve also got a research quad (with an observatory, aviary, library, and greenhouse) and a forest going.

But really, the thing that keeps me playing is Pearl, the heroine, and her adventures. Pearl Wallace is the daughter of privilege. In 1929 she is living in America, flying her own plane, when she gets news that her estranged father has died. They say he committed suicide after the stock market crash, but while they weren’t on good terms she’s pretty sure he was murdered. She and her journalist friend Iris fly home to her family’s island (the one you’re decorating) to investigate. Thus begin her adventures that take her all over the world and from the depths of the seas to the peaks of the Himalayas.

There’s a lot to love here: for one, Pearl is fully competent and always clothed. That seems like it shouldn’t need stating, but a while ago I was jonesing for a new hidden object game, so I downloaded a highly rated one for the iPad. In the first scene you’ve just survived a plane crash on a creepy deserted island, so of course the first thing you see is a barely clad buxom flight attendant throwing vampy looks your way. Delete. Pearl always wears her flight jacket and is ready for adventures. One scene is from her private room in the zeppelin, and even her intimate space isn’t titillating: it’s got her dressing gown, but also her diary, college graduation picture, pictures of exotic locales she’s visited—no lingerie for her! And while she does have the occasional romantic interest, they never distract her from the plot.

And what a crazy, pulp adventure plot it is! In each scene you start with some dialog between a few characters to advance the plot. Then you can find three clues. After five scenes each chapter ends with an adventure scene where Pearl has to solve some puzzle, enabling the dramatic climax that leads to the next chapter. In over a year of playing she’s been to New York, Paris, Africa, Atlantis, Russia, the Himalayas, Oklahoma, been on a submarine, cruise ships, and a zeppelin, attacked by a kraken, forged an aegis, found a pirate cove, etc, etc. Just like the old pulp serials, it can go on forever! Some clues immediately pan out and others wait in the background to resurface many chapters down the road. And amazingly, it stays true to history: every time I’ve googled some plot element that they mention, it’s turned out to be historically accurate: from the Graf Zeppelin’s record breaking flights in 1929 to the mystery of Kolchak’s gold in Russia after the Soviet Revolution.

And through it all, Pearl is a focused, competent heroine. Usually the dramatic chapter-concluding puzzles involve her doing some engineering to get something to work: smelting gold, fixing the sabotaged control system of a zeppelin, disabling some guards to steal a submarine, that sort of thing. Very MacGyver-y. Although violence happens around her, she rarely resorts to it herself. It’s amazing how much plot you can get through using just the few lines of dialog and notes on the clues she finds. And just like the pulps, each character has a very limited range of facial expressions/emotional states: I think Pearl herself only has four expressions: cheerfully competent, winsomely affectionate, frustrated/disgusted, and surprised. But you can go a long way with that in an adventure story; this is the casual gaming equivalent of a magazine serial page-turner.

There is a social aspect to the game, although I don’t really take advantage of it. The game often urges you to send energy to your friends on Facebook, even those who don’t play. These prompts are pretty easy to ignore. There’s also a “Captain’s Challenge” section where you do a timed scene and compete against friends to get a high score. I enjoy these, competing against my husband who just picked up the game recently. Everyone plays the same scene during the challenge period, so it’s fun to compare. And you can send each other resources, increasing the amount you can play. So if anyone wants to start playing, send me something in the game and I’ll happily reciprocate!

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A Weekend With the Penguins of Madagascar http://geekmom.com/2014/11/penguins-of-madagascar/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/penguins-of-madagascar/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:30:48 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156262 GeekMom Jackie got to enjoy a NYC mini vacation to celebrate The Penguins of Madagascar, arriving in theatres November 26th.

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penguins of madagascar photo op

Photo courtesy of Big Honcho Media, used with permission.

Earlier this month, my family and I were invited to attend an event in New York City to celebrate the release of The Penguins of Madagascar. DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox hosted several bloggers from the area for a great day at the Bronx Zoo followed by a screening of the film, which opens on November 26th.

The weather was a little grim, but my daughter, husband, and I still had so much fun. This was the day after Halloween, so we got to see some of the Boo at the Zoo set up. And my daughter Hannah, who is two-and-a-half, wore her costume. She was a cow; She loves animals and got to see lots of them during the visit.

She also loves the Madagascar movies, especially the third one (“Afro circus, Afro circus, Afro polka dot polka dot polka dot circus!”). This was a huge treat for all of us.

We met up with the group at the Residence Inn Central Park, where we were invited to stay overnight. We were bused up to the zoo (along with Corrina and her kids, who were there for GeekDad—it was great to see them!), and the bus ride was possibly the biggest highlight of Hannah’s day. We had a base camp outside of the Dancing Crane Cafe, and the food was pretty delicious. A hot breakfast and a nice lunch were hugely appreciated on the dreary day. And the Penguins even made an appearance!

It took Hannah a chunk of the day to warm up to the penguins, but eventually she did. In fact, by the end of the day she was up there dancing with the penguins.

Dancing with penguins

That’s my little cow! Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Despite the chilly rain, we spent the morning seeing the giraffes, the bears, the monkey, the gorillas, and the sea lions. And Hannah got to ride the carousel, which was definitely another highlight. The kid adores carousels.

Then we got a private tour of the penguin paddock, got to see a feeding, and hear some great information about the zoo’s penguins.

feeding the penguins

Photo courtesy of Big Honcho Media, used with permission.

We all got matching penguin hats (my husband would not be photographed in one for this post):

penguin hats

Photo by Jackie Reeve.

After lunch all of the bloggers and their families were bused over to the Bronxville Theatre for a special screening of Penguins of Madagascar. I have to say, this was such a fun crowd to see a movie with. All families, the kids were having a great time, and it was just such a nice afternoon. I’m not sure who laughed harder during the movie, the kids or the adults.

We loved the movie. It picks up where Madagascar 3 leaves off, with the penguins (Rico, Kowalski, Skipper, and Private) leaving the circus behind and heading off for more adventure. We get some background on how they become a super covert spy team. They team up with a very slick group of actual professional spies called The North Wind (led by Agent Classified, voiced by the god of the internet Benedict Cumberbatch). John Malkovich voices the bad guy, Dr. Octavius Brine, who has a history with the penguins.

I feel like the Madagascar franchise gets better with each movie, and this solo flight (ha!) with the penguins continues to support my theory. It’s goofy and enjoyable for kids, but it’s also funny for adults. This is everything you’d expect an entire movie dedicated to the penguins to be, it does not disappoint.

After the movie we were bused back to the hotel for the night. The hotel has two halves, the Residence Inn and the Courtyard by Marriott. We were in the Courtyard side. The rooms were cozy, and Hannah settled herself in immediately.

Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Photo by Jackie Reeve.

We grabbed some dinner from Steak ‘n Shake around the corner and got even more comfortable. Sometimes the best thing about a night in a hotel is doing things you’d never get away with at home.

Dinner in bed. Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Dinner in bed. Photo by Jackie Reeve.

It was a great weekend with the family, and the movie is absolutely worth seeing. Take everyone to see it this Thanksgiving!

GeekMom received complimentary access to the event for review purposes.

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The Perfect Gift for Any Pathfinder Fiend http://geekmom.com/2014/11/perfect-gift-pathfinder-fiend/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/perfect-gift-pathfinder-fiend/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:45:51 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156251 The Pathfinder Monster Codex is a great addition to any Pathfinder library, providing unique and useful content on twenty popular races of monster.

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So my family and I love Pathfinder. We try to play every Friday night, and we’ve built up a collection of Pathfinder books along the way. The newest edition to our collection and the Pathfinder rule set is the Monster Codex, and I have to say I am impressed. The Codex is a must have addition to every Pathfinder library and a great Christmas gift for every game master.

For me, one of the most frustrating parts of the game mastering Pathfinder is creating NPC monsters. It’s tiresome to outfit monsters and give them reasonable equipment. Often I end up skipping the process and using the bland versions in the bestiary. Of course, one can find a slew of ready made monsters online, but they can often lack finesse and cohesion when you try to work with them as a group. The monster codex is designed to solve that problem.

The Codex takes an in-depth look at twenty different races of monsters, adding pages on their culture, new racial traits, favored classes, feats, spells and magic items. Most importantly, the Codex lays out several different types of NPC for each race and then combines them to create encounters with a variety of CRs for each monster. For me, that alone makes the whole book worthwhile. Nothing frustrates me more than trying to create a CR 8 adventure with orcs. Uggh… Now the chore is as simple as opening the book to the right monster and, if necessary, tweaking a party just a little to fit your needs.

Some of the customizations can be quite entertaining as well.

Read the rest of the post at GeekDad…

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Exclusive Clip: Mark Hamill Sends Chills Through Jake and the Never Land Pirates http://geekmom.com/2014/11/exclusive-clip-mark-hamill-jake-neverland-pirates/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/exclusive-clip-mark-hamill-jake-neverland-pirates/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156222 The Star Wars actor uses the force---of his voice---for Friday's very special episode.

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Jake-ShiverJack

Mark Hamill voices the title character in the “ShiverJack” episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Photo: Disney Junior.

Avast, me Star Wars fans!

Mark Hamill, who will always be best known as Luke Skywalker, will be guest starring in a very special episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates on Friday. Well, at least his voice will be guest starring.

He’s voicing the scurvy pirate ShiverJack, who wants to turn Never Land into his own personal icy domain. Arrrgggh, is right! Not to worry, though. Jake and his crew have Captain Frost on hand to provide a little backup.

This is Hamill’s first appearance on the Disney hit, but he’s certainly is no stranger to animation. He’s done a lot of voice work since his days on Tatooine, but is probably best known as The Joker, since he’s voiced Batman’s arch nemesis in films, TV shows, and video games.

The “ShiverJack” episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates will air Friday, November 21, at 9:30 a.m. (ET/PT) on the Disney Channel. For a sneak peek at his creepy, chilly role and the episode, check out GeekMom’s exclusive clip below!

 

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Creating Your Steampunk Persona http://geekmom.com/2014/11/steampunk-persona/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/steampunk-persona/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:30:52 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156180 Some of Sun City Steam Fest's cosplayers share tips on building a better steampunk alter-ego.

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Some of the steampunk characters from Sun City Steam Fest include (clockwise from top left): Nikki Bolt, Captain Arcko Bancroft, Oeil De’Blanc, Priestess Lilith, Gerll Sutcliff and Rev. Henry The Eighth, and Baron Günter Von Nethen. All images by Rick Tate.

This week, my family and I attended our area’s first steampunk event, Sun City Steam Fest, held November 14-15 in El Paso, Texas.

We got suited up for the event (we even created our own steampunk gypsy headpieces), grabbed our modified Nerf gun weaponry, and headed off ready to make a splash among the performers, vendors, and reenactment troupes. When we arrived among the celebration, I came to the embarrassing revelation that my steampunk costuming efforts were incomplete. I had the look, sure enough, but as others introduced themselves and asked who I was, they weren’t looking for my “everyday” title; they wanted to know the story of my steampunk alter ego.

I didn’t have one.

The steampunk culture, as I’ve come to learn over time, is more than just cosplay. It is strongly embedded in history, classic literature, art, science fiction, and fantasy. Steampunk cosplayers don’t just dress to impress; they become completely emerged in their alter egos. While other forms of cosplay draw primarily from pre-established characters, these steampunk personae not only incorporate an original look, they often come with their own monikers and one-of-a-kind back stories.

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Bonnie Black Donnie O’Irish, Viola Penelope O’Donnell, Doctor Robert Hatter, and Sonya Tyburn the Dragonslayer.

The festival itself was held in the city’s historic downtown area, which has its own share of Old West history, creating an ideal setting for the event. The first evening’s kick-off tea was at the local paranormal society headquarters, Ghosts 915. It’s housed in a historic saloon and brothel, which is said to still be haunted by its former patrons. Saturday’s events were at a chic nightclub called Tricky Falls, a restored circa-1914 Henry C. Trost-designed theater, which is currently on the National Register of Historic Buildings. These hosting venues were joined by area steampunk and cosplay groups, The Clockwork Rebellion and Coyote’s Fortune, in creating the festival. This provided a lot of material with which the area steampunk community could utilize.

I took advantage of this rich pool of characters to get some advice on finding and developing my own steampunk persona.

Vendor “Dr. Robert Hatter,” purveyor of custom steampunk guns, said to “look into military names or other titles.” Also, try to move yourself up in rank or status. If you’re a Mr. or Ms., go by Doctor or Professor.

Clockwork Rebellion member “Oeil De’Blanc” made use of a second language to give his persona a more exotic edge. His name, French for “white eye,” refers to a prominent facial feature he sports. He said it helps to “read up” on the genre. Dig into some steampunk books and stories and see what’s out there. He said it’s also fine for steampunk cosplayers to work on more than one alter ego, and added his wife has more than one. For the day I attended, she was “Nikki Bolt,” top mechanic for an airship originally built by her father.

I learned that the difference between just a pretty costume and a well-developed character is what you don’t see. Some seasoned characters will give you a story worth hearing.

Another Clockwork Rebellion member, who went by “Bonnie Black Donnie O’Irish,” said he’s a history buff, and that his character is the product of an incredibly-detailed alternate history created for El Paso. Part of this history (if I have it all correct) dealt with the city not taking part in World War I, due to it being invaded by Mexico in 1916. The name “O’Irish,” he said, is a phrase for someone who puts on fake Irish airs or uses a false accent. Donnie’s companion for the day was “The Priestess Lilith,”  who said she blended several mystic elements, including voodoo, to bring her character to life.

geekmomlisa

GeekMom Lisa’s character….still a work in progress.

Members of Coyote’s Fortune, who present workshops on character development and prop-making at cons around the region, explained a good character is like a real-life person; always changing and developing. “Sonya Tyburn the Dragonslayer,” for example, started out as a simple mercenary, while “Captain Arcko Bancroft” is s crypto zoologist who continues to develop bigger and better means of capturing and studying mythical beasts.

Finally, whether or not the steampunk culture is part of a person’s everyday passions, they can still build a simple and believable character by drawing from their real-life experiences. A few I met included:

Viola Penelope O’Donnell. A character whose name was inspired by the family of her real-life alter ego. Both her grandmothers were “Viola” (one’s first name and the other’s middle name), and her cousin was Penelope.

Rev. Henry The Eighth. Henry is an ordained reverend in real life, who runs haunted history tours with Ghost 915. This worked well for his daughter’s persona, Gerll Sutcliff, a ghost hunter.

Baron Günter Von Nethen. The Baron’s character was a German airship captain who, after losing his troops in battle, was “banished” to the badlands of the borderland, where he is currently stationed. This was an easy choice, as the Baron’s real-world counterpart is an actual member of the German Air Force.

I do feel sufficiently armed with enough data to successfully put together a worthy steampunk persona. Alas, for my own alter ego, I’m currently following the path mentioned by the Dragonslayer…it’s a work in progress.

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Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone http://geekmom.com/2014/11/unbored-games/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/unbored-games/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:00:12 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156221 Whether you work with kids, have kids, or are a kid yourself, I recommend Unbored Games!

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Photo on 11-19-14 at 9.39 PM

Image By Rebecca Angel

My 8-year-old niece and I were sitting for a few minutes waiting for her sister to finish up. Before she could sigh in frustration, I handed her Unbored Games and told her to open it to a random page. Now this was taking a huge chance. The book is chock full of instructions, illustrations, and easy to follow guides to over 70 games, but they aren’t all indoors, under ten minutes, and for two people to play. Luckily, she opened up to a page detailing a few hand-clapping games. Perfect! We learned some silly rhymes, and tried to keep a rhythm together with snaps and claps. By the time her sister was ready, we were both laughing.

Unbored Games by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen begins with a rundown of why games are important. That’s right! Games aren’t just something to fill the time, or only do at parties. All their reasons are legit, but I like these three the best:

“Gaming encourages you to develop skills and expertise, by practicing something over and over. More importantly, gaming challenges you to teach yourself how to do something.”

“Gaming teaches you that your environment is modifiable. You realize that everyday life is a puzzle to be solved: the more difficult the obstacles, the more fun you’ll have figuring out how to beat them.”

“Jumping in and making mistakes is the fastest way to learn how to play a game. Not worrying about being perfect, and just trying your best, is known as ‘fun failure.'”

The book is divided into four chapters:

PWNAGE: This is what most people think of as games, like board games, back-of-the-classroom fun, and dice and card rules. But there are also “secret rules” games, app recommendations, and more.

HOMEGAMES: Whether for a simple family night or a big party, there is entertainment in these pages. There are even games for the car. I especially enjoyed the section on croquet. My family plays croquet often (really!), and the variations mentioned look intriguing.

GAME CHANGERS: These aren’t your typical ones. Online activities to fight climate change, “guerrilla kindness” in your neighborhood, and a list of cooperative board games to mention a few. I really liked the outdoor, big group game “Survive! Predator and Prey.”

ADVENTURE GAMES: The final section has plenty of ideas to create your own fun indoors or out. There are photographic instructions on how to build a rocket, for example. And a whole section on LARP (Live Action Role Playing).

Within each chapter of the book are short histories of gaming, and suggestions on how to modify, vary, or hack any and all the games presented. The illustrations are in a likable, quirky style, and all the instructions are clear.

Regardless of age, there are games in the book that will interest anyone. Whether you work with kids, have kids, or are a kid yourself, I recommend Unbored Games!

Geekmom received a copy for review purposes.

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Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer…Psyke http://geekmom.com/2014/11/barbie-can-computer-engineer-psyke/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/barbie-can-computer-engineer-psyke/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:42:58 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=156199 Offended in more ways than one, GeekMom Samantha Cook takes a look at the "Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer" problem.

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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.

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Is Frenetic Family Fighting Fun http://geekmom.com/2014/11/super-smash-bros/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/super-smash-bros/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 17:00:55 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=155946 Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is chaotic, frenetic, button mashing, super smashing fun.

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Super Smash Bros.

All images courtesy © Nintendo

Fan of Nintendo since childhood? Expert button masher when it comes to fighting games? Stop reading now and go get Super Smash Bros. for Wii U! But if you’re not a lifelong Nintendo fan or fighting game aficionado, keep reading to learn all about the frenzied fun in the latest installment in the Smash Bros. franchise.

Characters

Super Smash Bros.Super Smash Bros. pits over 40 of Nintendo’s famous (and some not-quite-famous) characters against each other in one epic fighting game. Mario, Luigi, Link, Pikachu, and even Sonic the Hedgehog join Little Mac (Punch Out!), Shulk (Xenoblade Chronicles), Captain Falcon (F-Zero), and more. Chances are if you have a beloved Nintendo character from years gone by, they’re in Super Smash Bros.

There are also characters to unlock, and you can even use your Mii to create a custom character with your preferred fighting style.

Controllers

Up to 8 players can join in the fun thanks to the variety of compatible game controllers available. Not only do the standard GamePad and your old Wiimotes work, you can even drag your vintage GameCube controllers out of the closet and hook them up with the new GameCube Controller Adapter for Wii U.  You can even use your Nintendo 3DS if you have Super Smash Bros. for that system.

We have been using a mix of our vintage GameCube controllers and the new Super Smash Bros. Edition GameCube controllers along with the GamePad and Pro Controller. No single controller has the advantage, but the GameCube controllers do make it easier to remember which buttons are the attack and Smash buttons.

Start Smashing!

I haven’t cracked an instruction book open in years, but after trying to jump in to a three-player melee with no clue of how to play for the first time, we ended up flipping through it for the basic character moves. (The official web site also offers a robust How to Play section.) Once you get the hang of the controls, the fun really begins. Use your character’s unique moves to jump, punch, kick, and yes, smash your opponents off the stage to win.

supersmashbros2

You can also grab special items for big damage or to summon even more allies to join in the fray.

The game also includes a variety of challenges and mini-games to keep the fun going even if you don’t have anyone to play against. But if it’s a worthy opponent you’re looking for, you can always take on a new foe (or friend): the amiibo!

amiibo

amiibo

At launch, you can use 12 amiibo figures to fight with you or against you in Super Smash Bros. Once you tap the amiibo on the GamePad, the figure appears in game. Amiibo characters level up the more they battle and can be customized to your preferred fighting style.

Bottom Line

So what’s the verdict? “Intensely amazing!” declares my 10-year-old neighbor. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is chaotic, frenetic, button mashing, super smashing fun. There’s something for any level of fighting game mastery, from just button mashing to get through a round with friends to fighting for trophies, completing challenges, creating your own stages and Mii characters, and going online to battle.

That’s a lot to pack into one game. It’s so much that Nintendo released a thirty-minute video telling you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is available November 21, 2014, for a suggested retail price of $59.99. Various amiibo figures are also available for a suggested retail price of $12.99 each.

GeekMom received a promotional copy of the game, a Mario amiibo, GameCube controllers, and the adapter for review purposes.

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GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Geeky Gadgets http://geekmom.com/2014/11/geekmoms-2014-gift-guide-geeky-gadgets/ http://geekmom.com/2014/11/geekmoms-2014-gift-guide-geeky-gadgets/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 13:30:20 +0000 http://geekmom.com/?p=155880 Is there a tech-savvy or gadget-happy individual on your gift list this year? Look no further than our recommendations for geeky gadgets!

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Gadgets

Collage: Cathe Post

Is there a tech-savvy or gadget-happy individual on your gift list this year? Look no further than our recommendations for geeky gadgets!

Image: ASUS

Image: ASUS

ASUS Transformer Book You want the versatility of a tablet but the typing ability and full desktop use of a laptop, but can only afford one or the other? This product is a good choice. Price Varies

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Image: Amazon

Color Cables Color Cables are vibrant 3- or 6-foot cables with a glow-in-the-dark coating. Available in iOS 30-pin, iOS Lightning, and MicroUSB, you’ll find that the price is right, as well. We experienced quick charge times and durable connections. You’ll feel good supporting a small company with this gift idea, too. $15-25

CricutExploreScreenshot

Image: Cricut.com

Cricut Explore The latest Cricut model is a high-end workhorse for any crafter. Cut vinyl, fabric, felt, paper, t-shirt transfers, and more. With the web-based Cricut Design software, you can make your own designs to cut. There are so many possibilities for this great machine. $299.99

Photo: GoPro

Photo: GoPro

GoPro Basic Camera For years we’ve had fun with GoPro cameras here at GeekMom, and now there is a streamlined version that’s a perfect fit for families. All of the quality and exceptional footage that you get from a pricier GoPro, but just the basic features. The new family-friendly price makes this a great pick for kids and adults alike. Paired with the free (easy to use) online movie-making program, this will easily be at the top of the favorite gifts list.  $129.99

The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch. Image: Lenovo

The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch. Image: Lenovo

Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch Windows Tablet If a smaller tablet is on your list (and you haven’t invested in one of the giant gadgets that pass for cell phones these days), check out this Lenovo. The tablet runs Windows 8 like a dream and is perfect for watching TV in bed or stashing in your purse for errands. $300

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Image: Logitech

Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard Logitech’s keyboards are always great, but this wireless one can transition from your computer to your tablet to your smartphone. Just turn the dial to switch between three bluetooth devices—and it’s nice and portable. $49.99

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Image: Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S If you are looking for a fast, bright tablet that can do several things at once, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S could be for you or a certain person on your gift list. It has a great camera, great sound, and expandable storage. How could you go wrong? $480

littlescholar

Image: Little Scholar

School Zone’s Little Scholar 8-inch Kids’ Tablet A super quick, durable kids’ tablet with a great quality screen that’s bigger than other kids’ tablets on the market. It runs Android 4.4 and comes loaded with 200 games. It has a straightforward, kid-friendly startup menu that’s easy to configure for your child’s needs and most-used apps. It’s not supported by Google Play, but you can easily get most apps you need from the Amazon app store. It has an SD card slot and an HDMI port. It’s a little big for small hands, but the screen looks great; the larger size is awesome for watching movies and TV shows. $200

See heat in the dark with the Seek thermal camera for smartphones. Image credit: Seek Thermal.

Image: Seek Thermal

Seek Thermal Camera for iPhone and Android Smartphones  For the gadget-loving geek, here is a new “toy” that’s sure to impress. The Seek is a small thermal camera that you can connect to your smartphone to detect infrared light. Find the source of air drafts in your house, find your pets outside in the dark, scan a dark parking lot (or house, or backyard) for hidden attackers, play midnight tag—there are so many applications for this gadget. $199

TechShop-Logo

Image: TechShop

TechShop Membership and Gifts If your tech geek lives in or near San Carlos, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Jose, CA; Allen Park, MI; Round Rock, TX; Pittsburgh, PA; Chandler, AZ; or Arlington, VA, they can use the gift of a TechShop membership. A membership would gain your techy access to a wide range of equipment and classes at the TechShop locations. Classes can also be gifted. $125/month

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Image: Vivitar

Vivitar XO 7-inch Kids’ Tablet If you’re looking for a small, kid-sized tablet that’s durable and fits nicely in a preschooler’s hand, this is a nice option (and it doesn’t require cartridges). You can have separate accounts for multiple kids, and there’s also a parent mode that’s a full Android tablet linked to Google Play. It has an SD card slot to add additional storage, and it uses a USB charger so you don’t have to carry around a specialized cable. Two models are available, one with all content in English and Spanish and one with everything in English and French. It comes preloaded with more than 100 games and books. The XO is part of the One Laptop Per Child program.  $149

Image: Zagg

Image: Zagg

Zagg InvisibleShield Glass Screen Protector This extremely protective and smooth-as-glass (um, because it is glass) screen protector works very well and is a great choice for anyone who prefers the feel of glass to the feel of plastic. Price Varies

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