GeekMom Smart. Savvy. Social. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:30:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Phineas and Ferb Creators Talk About Taking on Star Wars Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:30:22 +0000 The force is strong with this Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars crossover special. GeekMom had a chance to speak to the creators about it.

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Image provided by Disney Channel.

Building on the success of last year’s Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel episode, creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh set their sights on a new crossover subject, this time with the Star Wars universe. Those plans have now come to fruition with Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars, a brand new animated special that parallels the events of Episode IV: A New Hope.

GeekMom had an opportunity to talk with the two of them about the special, their inspiration, pleasing fans of both franchises, and the challenges that they faced when coming up with the story.

GeekMom: What was the inspiration for taking on the Star Wars universe? Were you looking to do another crossover episode after the success of the Marvel one?

Povenmire: That emboldened us to ask. We had just finished [the Marvel episode] when the announcement was made. Our post-production supervisor was in a mix with us and she’s always wired in on a BlackBerry and she said, “Oh my gosh, I just got an alert. Lucasfilm bought by Disney.”

Marsh: It took about 30 seconds for Dan to draw a picture of Doofenshmirtz as Darth Vader, take a picture on his phone, and text it to the head of the studio with a note.

Povenmire: “I smell a crossover!” It was literally the very first thing that I did upon hearing that. And the head of the studio texted back immediately and said, “That’s a great idea. We were just talking about that.” So it got fast-tracked rather quickly, and we were glad for that because to us it’s such a culmination of our boyhood dreams of playing in that sandbox.

GeekMom: How closely did you work with with Lucasfilm on the project?

Povenmire: They were very, very easy on us as soon as they heard that our version of it was not going to be making fun of theirs, but having our characters in and around their story and leaving their story and their characters alone. Once they saw the reverence with which we were treating their characters I think they were really happy to let us go on it. And they had very few notes. I think in the grand scheme of things there were many more issues with Marvel because we were using their characters in ways they had not used their characters yet.

Marsh: The Marvel universe is so much more fractured legally and rights-wise.

Povenmire: So compared to all of the rules going on there, this was so much easier.

Marsh: And the Lucasfilm guys got to see what we did with the Marvel episode and I like to think that that gave them a lot of confidence, because they looked at it and realized, “Oh, they’re not going to go out and mock these characters.” And it was clear that we love Star Wars, the whole universe, and the guys in it.


The force is with Povenmire (l) and Marsh (r). Image provided by Disney Channel.

GeekMom: What about them? Were they fans of your universe as well?

Povenmire: The ones that we dealt with were familiar with the show and just such nice people. I did sort of an impromptu pitch with them. I came in just to meet them, just like for a meet and greet, and the head of the studio said, “Can you pitch them the whole story?” And we hadn’t quite worked out the whole story but I was like, “Okay.” And I just started pitching, and as I was pitching I was actually solving story problems. There’s a couple of things I pitched in there, lines that I pitched in that room that were just ad libbed that got a laugh and I kept them in. Like, I think Doof says, “You can lead a dianoga to garbage but you can’t make him drink.” I did that and it got a laugh and I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to remember that.” And I wrote it down and it’s in the episode.

GeekMom: Were there any challenges fitting Phineas and Ferb into the world of Star Wars?

Povenmire: There were some challenges. When we decided to do it the way we’re doing it, with a parallel story, it was a lot of work to get that story working and connecting to Star Wars the way we wanted it to connect. We don’t write scripts, so our first draft is really the first storyboard pitch. And when we did the first storyboard pitch we realized we were really missing a lot of Phineas and Ferb’s characters. We worked this all out so the story worked and it was gratifying to see that, but Phineas and Ferb didn’t feel like Phineas and Ferb, they just felt like two kids. So we had to go back and put in the kind of stuff that they would do and the kind of stuff that Candice would do. We really had to do a whole pass where we brought it back into our world. We’d been so involved in the Star Wars part of it and making sure that the mechanics of the plot actually worked. That was the hard part. We know Phineas and Ferb. It’s easy for us to punch it up in a Phineas and Ferb way. So it was very challenging, but very rewarding.

GeekMom: Are you happy with the results?

Marsh: That would be a radical understatement.

Povenmire: It’s one of my favorite things we’ve done since we started doing the show.

GeekMom: Being fans yourselves, did you put any references or Easter eggs in there for other fans might get?

Povenmire: It’s chock-full of Easter eggs for Star Wars fans. We tried to make it so that it was still funny and it still moved along even if you’ve never seen Star Wars. And we’ve actually shown it to some kids who had never seen Star Wars before and they still liked it. So I think that’s still working. But if you’re a Star Wars fan there’s so much more humor in it for you. There’s so many things that just go by and you realize, “Oh! That’s where Boba-Fett started looking for Han and Chewie. And that’s why the dianoga let go of Luke in the trash compactor. And that’s when the trash compactor started closing. Doofenshmirtz pressed that button. And oh, that’s how the Death Star plans got stolen from the Empire in the first place. It was Perry the Platypus.”

Marsh: That was really the trick, though. And one of the reasons why we spent so much time on it. It had to work on all those levels. It had to be satisfying for Phineas and Ferb fans, even if they didn’t care about Star Wars. It had to be satisfying for Star Wars fans even if they didn’t care about Phineas and Ferb. And it had to be satisfying for both. And we really agonized over which jokes to tell and how to include it all. We knew that not only were the fans were going to be critical but we are those Star Wars geeks and those Phineas and Ferb fans ourselves. So it had to be something we were excited about.


Image provided by Disney Channel.

GeekMom: Is this now going to be considered canon?

Povenmire: At the end of the crawl at the beginning that sets up the story, you know, with the John Williams music behind it? It tells the whole story and there’s one line at the end that says, “And none of this is canon, so just relax.” But we did it so that it could be canon. It doesn’t interfere with any of the canon.

GeekMom: Did you get to use any sound effects or voices from the original film?

Marsh: We were given access both to the sound effects library and much of John Williams music.

Povenmire: We had access to about seven minutes of the John Williams original score, which was great, which we loved being able to use. And almost all the sounds effects are original Star Wars effects. Unfortunately, we were unable to use the actual voices of the original cast members because they’re all shooting Episode VII.

Marsh: And they don’t sound like they did when they were in their 20s.

Povenmire: So we got sound-alikes for the young Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. And some of them are just incredibly talented.

Marsh: Harrison Ford is good enough to fool Harrison Ford’s family.

Povenmire: I think so. I was very impressed.

Marsh: He asks you when you start, “Which age Harrison do you want?” Because he can do them all absolutely perfectly.

GeekMom: What else can fans look forward to?

Povenmire: Swampy and I have a cameo in the show as the tractor beam operators.

Marsh: And we are brilliant. We elevate that script.

Povenmire: It’s not just our voices but it looks like us.

GeekMom: So you basically just did this to get yourselves into Star Wars, right?

Povenmire: We’re just trying to make ourselves laugh, is basically how it works. That what we’re going for.

Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars premieres on Disney Channel on July 26 and on Disney XD on August 4.

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Modular Robotics Makes Building Robots Simple and Fun With MOSS Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:00:52 +0000 MOSS is a system of blocks and spheres that can be connected magnetically to create robots right out of the box, no knowledge of electronics or programming necessary.

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After an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, this month marked the official retail launch of MOSS. This block-based robot building kit produced by Modular Robotics reached its $100,000 goal in 12 hours last winter and ended more than tripling their financial objective, not that they needed the money—Modular Robotics had already received enough to get them started the old fashioned venture financing way. What they needed was exposure, and they sure received it! It was well deserved, with a smart product and American-based manufacturing.

MOSS Zombonitron Kit. Photo credit: Modular Robotics

MOSS Zombonitron Kit. Photo credit: Modular Robotics

MOSS is a system of blocks and spheres that can be connected magnetically to create robots right out of the box, no knowledge of electronics and programming necessary. Note that the magnets are inside of the cubes and the spheres are simply steel—no Bucky Balls here. Different types of blocks do different jobs, such as a light sensor block and a motor block. The faces of the blocks are color coded to represent their function. A green face routes power, brown routes data in, red routes data out, and blue is a neutral “pass-through” which can route data or power, but not both at once.

For example, let’s say you wanted to make a robot that followed a light source. You can connect a red face (data out) of a light sensor block to the brown face (data in) of a motor block, that will send the light sensor block’s data (light present, light absent) to the motor block which will turn in one direction or the other depending on that Boolean value it receives. Both of the blocks will need to have a green face (power) connected to a green face on the battery block. The robot can be made more complicated by adding more sensors and pass-through blocks to create fun behaviors and looks.

I had the chance to ask Eric Schweikardt, CEO of Modular Robotics, about his company and products. I asked Schweikardt how he got into the business of making Cubelets, the company’s first robotics kit.

“Cubelets were my PhD project at Carnegie Mellon, and they were inspired by complex systems like environments or financial markets or social networks. I think people have a really really hard time thinking about complex systems where there are lots of little elements all interacting with each other and creating some sort of emergent behavior like ‘climate change’ or ‘a bad economy.’ Complexity science is crazy and abstract, but I think that for a lot of people who learn well by building things, that building and manipulating little complex systems like a Cubelets robot can be a really effective way to gain intuitions about the natural world, about how patterns emerge, and about how the world is a complex place that often requires thoughtful analysis and not simple good/bad, black/white, red/blue solutions. Oh, and, er, tiny robots are just fun.”

I agree, tiny robots are just fun!

The MOSS comes in two packaged kits, the Zombonitron 1600 and the Exofabulotronixx 5200. The former contains 16 blocks, include light sensor block and a proximity sensor block for input, two motor blocks, and a hodgepodge of other less exciting but still useful blocks. The latter contains, you guessed it, 52 blocks, including two light sensor blocks, two proximity sensor blocks, a microphone sensor block, two motor blocks, two pivot blocks, two flashlight blocks,  and again completed with the miscellaneous array of blocks that play a supporting role. If you’re going to want to write your own programs, you’ll want the Exofabulotronixx because that’s the package with the ever-so-important “brain block.” That’s the block containing the Bluetooth connector that can be used to link your robot to your computer for programming (using MOSS Scratch or MOSS C, to your preference) or to your mobile device for remote robot control and monitoring.

I had the chance to play with the Zombonitron kit. The experience was mostly positive. Because our kids are still way too small for this toy, my husband and I waited until they were in bed to break into the box. Getting started was incredibly easy. You don’t even need instructions to figure out how the blocks can connect together using the metallic spheres, and can get going snapping blocks and spheres together right out of the box. You might want to read the manual though, if you want to be able to make a robot that behave as you were expecting! The short manual explains how the blocks work and gives the steps for constructing three different robots. A quick read through and we were good to start building. It’s possible that our two postgraduate degrees in Computer Science have somewhat skewed our opinion of the ease with which one can plan in terms of input and output and data transfer through blocks. Nevertheless, the beauty of this system is that even someone who experiences difficulty thinking in these terms can learn do to so through simple trial-and-error. After all, that’s the goal! You can’t possibly fail. Just keep playing with it until you get more comfortable with how the pieces work individually and together.

My only negative criticism is that I did experience some frustration with the blocks falling apart during construction. Here’s the full picture: I connected my blocks together and everything was sticking together well. I turned on my robot to test it and realized I put one of the motors in backwards, so I needed to remove the motor block and put it back the other way. That’s when, with a little bit of pressure, not only my erroneously-placed motor block but all the blocks break apart and little steel balls go rolling off in all directions. It’s an unfortunate reality of the design. It sticks together well if you’re building up, it sticks together well while the robots is moving around, but it’s a little harder to modify a robot. It’s definitively a trade-off because, while this aspect may be frustrating, it doesn’t render the toy unusable and you gain the capability of hinges in return.

I asked Schweikardt about this issue, to which he replied, “I’d like for the magnet strength to be a little greater, though, since it can be frustrating. Unfortunately, we’re using the highest strength neodymium magnets available, but we’re playing with a few other approaches. Soon we’ll be launching a much larger variety of BRACE pieces that can reinforce a wider variety of constructions. We’re also exploring using hollow steel spheres instead of solid. These work great, and since the spheres make up most of the weight of a MOSS construction, super-light spheres allow you to extend cantilevers much longer and create robots that are more robust during construction.”

I suppose there is one more negative point: the cost. The Zombonitron 1600 retails at $149.95 and the Exofabulotronixx 5200 at $479.95. I was sticker-shocked at first, but then again, electronics kits rarely come cheap. Compare MOSS to, say, the littleBits kits that start around $100 for a handful of modules, and MOSS isn’t out of left field. On the plus side, Modular Robotics’ kits are manufactured in the US.

After a trip to China in early 2013 to inspect the manufactories where the Modular Robotics parts were made, Schweikardt made a big decision. “On the long flight home, I convinced myself that we could build our own factory, right here in Boulder, to make our tiny robots. I convinced myself that on a certain level, it’s pretty much insane to build products all of the way around the world just because the people there are poorer. I convinced myself that it would be fun, interesting, and a generally good thing to do for the world. I convinced myself to make a really unlikely decision.” Schweikardt’s kooky idea was received with some skepticism, but in the end it was one his team and board of directors were proud to support. And one I personally find refreshing.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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Building the Future with Lego Space Tue, 29 Jul 2014 11:30:11 +0000 Is there a better way to learn about space than through Lego?

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LEGO Space: Builiding the Future \ Image: No Starch Press

Lego Space: Building the Future. Image: No Starch Press.

All kids go through learning phases where they just can’t get enough of a particular topic. For my son right now, that topic is space and what better way to learn about it than through Lego? That’s where Lego Space: Building the Future by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard comes in.

I was really excited to check this book out because: 1. My son is really into space and I knew he would love it; and 2. it puts the topic in a way that will not only teach my son, but also inspire him to get creative with his own Lego bricks.

The book doesn’t so much tell the real history of space as much as it tells it’s own story. The first 10 pages are filled with some history, but after that, the book goes its own way and takes some creative licensing. Throughout the story, the authors take some time to stop and show you how to build what you are seeing. I thought this was a neat aspect of the book, because my son already wanted to build what he saw, so this gave him a head start.

LEGO Space: Builiding the Future Sample Page \ Image: No Starch Press

Lego Space: Building the Future sample page. Image: No Starch Press.

The only downside to this book that I can tell is the price. I showed it off at my son’s science fair night and the first thing the librarian and his teacher did was note how expensive it must be. Considering the quality of the photos inside and the fact that’s a pretty hefty size, it doesn’t surprise me that it costs $24.95 retail.

Lego Space: Building the Future has inspired my son to put down the video games and instead got him to focus on his much-neglected Lego bricks. I’m not kidding when I tell you that he spent hours building space stations and looking over the book for ideas. A few times, I would hear him get really excited about a particular fact and he would read it out loud with enthusiasm that I’ve only seen when he’s in a theme park.

If your child is into Lego, space, or both, I highly recommend Lego Space: Building the Future. It might be a bit more expensive than other books, but in my opinion, it’s well worth it if it gets my son reading.

Lego Space: Building the Future is available on Amazon for $19 (hardback) and $12 (kindle).

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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Superhero Summer with Tue, 29 Jul 2014 11:00:13 +0000 GeekMom Dakster puts together some super family summer outfits with a little help from

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Superhero family Summer! \ Images:

Superhero family summer! Images:

Living in Florida, you can bet that my summer (and the rest of the year) involves hanging out by the pool or lounging on the beach. I’m never at a loss of what to wear while soaking up the rays, because has me and my family covered (literally). This year, I decided to pair each member of my family up with a geeky swimsuit, as well as recommended reading material.

As the saying goes, ladies first. For the ladies, I picked out a Supergirl Wrap Halter Bikini ($43) that will make the boys go crazy. The only downside to this bikini (or upside for the guys) is the top alone ties in three different places and the bottom ties in two places. This is great for personalizing your coverage, but it can be a little difficult to do without a second set of hands (that’s where the guys come in handy). The Supergirl Women’s Costume Tank Dress ($27) goes great with this bikini and doubles as a cover-up when you want to walk the shops. For those who like to have a little music at the beach, check out the Superman symbol speaker wallet ($29). My reading material of choice for this outfit includes Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl, Supergirl Vol. 1: Power, and Supergirl Vol. 2: Candor. You can store it all in a matching Superman backpack ($55) and Supergirl Makeup Bag ($13). Supergirl Summer Fun

Next, we have a few things for the guys. In my “It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s…” collection, Superman shines with a comfy pair of board shorts ($32), the Superman Front & Back Image T-Shirt ($22), an embroidered hat ($20), a towel ($15), a rubber bracelet ($6), and a sweet collection of Superman titles including: Infinite Crisis, Superman: Birthright, and Superman/Batman Vol.3 : Absolute Power. Everything can be thrown into a matching Superman backpack ($59).

Superman Summer Fun

For the younger variety, I have designed two outfits—one for the girls and one for the boys.

The girls’ outfit was inspired by Wonder Woman! It includes a modest two-piece bathing suit ($25), an action-packed shirt to cover up between swims ($15), a Wonder Woman action figure ($19) to battle with the boys, and a journal ($15) to write down all their superhero thoughts. The reading selection includes age-appropriate Wonder Woman titles including Wonder Woman: Trial of the Amazons, Wonder Woman vs. Circe, and Wonder Woman: Creature of Chaos. Then, you can pack it all up in a Wonder Woman Backpack ($49).

Wonder Woman Summer

While the girls are pretending to be Amazons, the boys can have fun climbing the walls with a Spider-Man-inspired collection.

The boys collection includes ultimate Spider-Man board shorts ($17), the Spidey mask t-shirt ($16), the Spider-Man Symbol 39Thirty baseball hat ($22), a Spider-Man plushy ($14), a lunchbox ($16), and the kid-friendly Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man ($9) series. Pack it all up in a webcrawler-approved backpack ($23). Make sure you remember to throw some sunscreen in both of the kids’ bags before you hit the water.

SpiderMan Summer

When it comes to quality, it’s hard to beat I’ve had some of my shirts for five years, all without any issues when washing them. I recommend you get any items that are 100-percent cotton a size up, just in case they shrink the first time you wash them. And ladies, if you like the bathing suits and are well endowed like me, you will want to look over the bathing suit sizing very carefully. Bathing suits are not returnable, so if you mess up your size, you are out of luck.

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

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Dear Legendary Pictures: Do Not Screw Up Skull Island Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:11:42 +0000 You've got giant, Kong-sized shoes to fill with this one.

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Photo courtesy of Legendary Pictures.

By now, most of us have heard the news out of SDCC that Legendary Pictures will be taking on King Kong with the 2016 release of Skull Island. Speculation is already out there that the studio, who also brought us this summer’s Godzilla reboot (which I actually really liked), will eventually match the two beasts together in their own take on the iconic and pulpy 1960′s battle.

Please do not ruin this one, LP.

The thing is, Godzilla was ripe for a redo after the so-bad-it-was-never-good Matthew Broderick version. Things could only go up from there, and they did. I was happy that the new Godzilla had sort of a noble purpose, and that he was mostly the same scale throughout. It was intensely satisfying.

But King Kong is another matter because Peter Jackson’s 2005 version was superb, and it has already made up for an awful remake (the 1976 version). Sure, it was three hours long. But it fleshed out the heart of Kong’s story in a way that I will go on record here as saying exceeded the original. Kong isn’t the villain; he is the tragedy. The human reaction to something intensely “other,” the need to possess it, package it, sell it—that’s the villainy. The original film makes the point, but only Jackson’s film explores the creature himself.

I’ve got a thing about gorillas. I have since I was a little kid. And what always bothered me about the original King Kong was that despite making the point that stealing Kong and putting him on display led to disaster, Kong is still basically a monster. And a creepy, sexualized monster at that. There is still a wrongness about him that isn’t really addressed and has led to all kinds of misconceptions about gorillas ever since.

What Jackson’s version did was change the dynamic with Ann from lustful to playful. She was no longer a sensual object to a raging alpha, but a favorite toy to a lonely (and, okay, somewhat psychotic) outsider. The issue of possession is still there, but it’s no longer about her possession as a female. Andy Serkis’ King Kong is unstable because he is isolated; it’s hard to be the only one of his kind. So when a blonde, dancing little pixie comes along and delights him, he wants to own “it.” He is childlike. And Ann, trying to save her own life, sees how troubled he is. She tries to connect. The relationship is now completely changed, and it is completely humanizing. It’s a deeper bond, a platonic love, that puts everything that happens next in a different perspective.

And doesn’t it change the impact of that famous last line? Beauty did kill the beast, but not because he lustfully went after her in an uncontrollable rage. It’s because he wanted to protect his only friend from this dangerous new world he was in, and it was her world. Tragic.

It was also epic. He fought a T-Rex and everything, proving that it’s possible to fight a giant lizard and still have some character development.

So announcing that we’ll all be going back to Skull Island in a couple of years for some epic action carries with it serious responsibilities. Don’t go backwards. Don’t turn Kong into a mindless anger machine, a roar with no substance. Godzilla might be all about the scale of property damage inflicted, but Kong is about the struggle with otherness. Don’t forget that and make him a monster for the sake of it.

And for heaven’s sake, if you decide to pit them against each other, come up with a decent plot. Don’t just pit them against each other because they’re big and it’s cool and hope we won’t notice that you forgot to explain that part. Don’t be that movie studio.

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Marvel’s Star Wars Comics: A Not-So-New Hope Sun, 27 Jul 2014 16:17:53 +0000 Marvel Comics announced three new Star Wars comic books series at San Diego Comic Con.

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Princess Leia #1 by Terry Dodson

Princess Leia #1 by Terry and Rachel Dodson © Marvel Comics

A new Star Wars ongoing comic book series, coming in January, that covers the period of time between Episodes IV and V. Princess Leia grabbing a Rebel pilot helmet and taking center stage. Does all of this sound familiar? It’s because the same thing was announced in 2013.

Star Wars #1

Star Wars #1, Art by John Cassady © Marvel Comics

This weekend at San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Comics announced three new Star Wars comic book series coming in 2015. All three titles boast impressive creative talent. Star Wars: Darth Vader, an ongoing series, comes from writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca in February. A mini-series, Star Wars: Princess Leia, by writer Mark Waid and artist Terry Dodson, hits comic book store shelves in March. And Jason Aaron and John Cassaday are taking the helm of Star Wars, an ongoing series with a story that begins shortly after the Battle of Yavin as the Rebels begin to plan their next move.

This premise is the same as the Star Wars series from Dark Horse Comics that wraps up next month. In the Dark Horse series, writer Brian Wood has taken us from action-packed space battles to Leia-centric storylines that do the character justice through the twenty issue series, and combined with the brilliant artwork from Carlos D’Anda, each issue has maintained a “this feels like Star Wars!” quality.

I’ve enjoyed the series so much that I find it hard to be excited for the new ongoing from Marvel. Of course I’ll pick it up—these comic books, unlike the Expanded Universe, are actually going to be in Star Wars canon. That makes them practically required reading for any Star Wars fan. I’d just be more excited if this wasn’t the same ground that Dark Horse’s series hadn’t already covered well.

I am, however, happily intrigued by Mark Waid writing the five-issue Princess Leia mini-series beginning next March. I’m a fan. But why couldn’t it be an ongoing series? With the other two Star Wars series as both ongoing, this is a noticeable move by Marvel Comics, which has made some otherwise fantastic strides in the number of ongoing female-led books recently. Like the other Star Wars titles, I’ll gladly pick up my five issues of Star Wars: Princess Leia, but… I want the whole cake.

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Drift: A Unique Summer Read Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:30:42 +0000 The new YA novel makes you paint an entirely new universe in your mind; one that has battles, magic, and love, all on the back of a giant turtle.

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Drift FC

Image by Tu Books.

I’ve been reading fantasy novels since I was a kid. Most of them had a new take on a similar world based on European folk tales, a la Tolkien. I have no problem with it and still enjoy reading stories like that. But when someone writes a fantasy novel in a new setting, with practically nothing I find familiar, I’m fascinated. That’s what happened when I read Drift.

Drift, a new Tu Books YA novel by M.K. Hutchins, has some references to ancient cultures the world over, specifically the Maya, but those are only inspiration.  It’s a unique world that you have to paint in your mind, instead of just filling in new characters on old fantasy landscapes.

The main character, Tenjat, lives on an island on the back of a giant turtle that swims the oceans of Hell, while it feeds, keeping the soil good for farming, and a giant tree alive. But nagas (nasty mer-creatures) gnaw at the roots of the tree below water and want to kill the people on the island. The Handlers and Tenders are the high-ranking groups that defend the tree and turtle. The farmers and artisans are low-ranking, with those who have many children being the despicable members of society.

But that’s just what you learn in the beginning. It’s more than that (but I won’t spoil it for you). And the true story is not the world, but the young people we follow: Determined Tenjat, wise Eflet, fierce Avi, mischievous Daef, and more.

Tenjat and his sister Eflet are trying to live independently on this turtle island. They fled their own turtle when a family secret put them all in danger. Their father and younger brother were left behind; their mother sacrificed herself on the way. They lied to be taken in by this new community, and are struggling. Tenjat believes the only way to help himself and his sister survive is to become a Handler, but that requires a test. This test is shrouded in secrecy, but those that fail come back with scars, both physical and emotional. Eflet, who knows more than anyone should, tries to convince Tenjat there is another way, but Tenjat can’t see beyond what he has been taught of what life is about…yet.

This is a story of breaking out of the set ways of a culture, of (literally) realizing your world is upside down. But it’s also a story of the importance of family and friendships. There are battles, magic, and love. I recommend Drift for ages 12 and up.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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Be the Artist: Joan Miró Sat, 26 Jul 2014 11:00:23 +0000 Can Miró's free-flowing style bring a rigid machine to life? Of course!

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Artist Joan Miro’s work was like his own poetry or music. Try using the Miro method to create a machine and its story. Shown is “Adventures of a Computer Bug Zapper.” Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Joan Miró Joan Miró was a Spanish sculptor, ceramist, and painter, who created his style of Surrealism partly out of his dislike for what he called “bourgeois” conventional painting. He experimented with complex, busy arrangements of objects and figures. His influence came from many places and styles, including surrealistic methods from Fauvism to Cubism to Dadaism. He was also one of the first artists to work with automatic drawing, a surrealist technique where the hand works freely, leading the subconscious mind in creating the painting. This led to the evolution of his signature style, in which he created a type of “pictorial language.” In this style, he used intricate lines and isolated simple figures to tell the story.

joan miro

Miro’s signature style was found everywhere in his art. Images from Public Domain and WikiCommons.

His style was so distinct, it was evident in everything he did from the 1920s well into the 1970s. This included monographs, lithographs, tapestries, murals, and mixed media sculpture. He even wrote essays on exploring more radical ways of creating art, such as “four-dimensional paintings” or “gas sculpture,” the art of making sculpture out of gaseous materials like cold-water steam or fog. He influenced several painters in the twentieth century, including Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Retrospective exhibits of his work have been seen in such prestigious locations as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Tate Modern in London, and in his home country of Spain at Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo in Madrid. He was honored with such awards as a Guggenheim International Award in 1958 and the Gold Medal of Fine Arts from King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1980, which was given three years before he died. His works have sold for thousands to millions of dollars, including one record-setting piece, his 1927 painting “Blue Star,”  which went for $37 million during a 2012 art auction in London. To Miró, his work was more than just pictures; they were his literature and music, and he has described his use of color as “words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.” The Project: Miró Mother Boards


Miró used all kinds of lines, from spirals to zig-zags. He also took advantage of overlapping shapes for color opportunities. Images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Miró wanted art to be poetic, alive, and not what people would expect. He also wanted it to be spontaneous. For this project, try combining Miró’s poetic free-flowing style with the rigid, immovable world of machines, to create a type of living machine. To a casual viewer, Miró’s work may look like just a collection of abstract lines and colorful shapes, but look closely and there are faces, figures, artifacts, and natural elements throughout. Computer programmers and machinists feel the same way about their creations. The inside of a laptop or watch isn’t just a random collection of wires and chips or gears and cogs, it’s an intricate language all its own. The process is easy, but telling the story is where this gets tricky. First decide what the machine will do. Does it help people with everyday tasks? It is a time machine? Does it help keep track of information? Is it a mad scientist’s secret weapon? Now, use Miró’s style to tell this machine’s story. Draw different types of lines: curvy, jagged, straight. Then mix in two types of shapes: geometric, which are shapes with a precise edge like squares and triangles; and organic, which are free-form and curvy shapes. The shapes can even represent a specific object, such as a sun, star, or alien. It’s okay if they overlap. Miró took advantage of it when objects in his works did. Fill in the solid shapes with bright colors, and use a different color where two or more shapes may overlap. When done, leave the background white or use a very light coat of watercolor sponged on or colored pencils for the background. As an extra challenge, try out Miró’s automatic style, and let the feel of the drawing and painting process guide the hand. Miró felt even the simplest things could give him ideas, so just start drawing. Who knows what story will appear? “The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words,” Miró said of his work in the early twentieth century. “The meaning comes later.”


If it is hard to think of an idea, ask a friend for a “story prompt.” Then, give them a copy of the finished picture as a gift. Shown is “Octopus-powered Planet-Organizer.” Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

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The Cliffs of Insanity: I Want the Whole Cake Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:00:05 +0000 No more mixed messages, Marvel & DC. I want it all.

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Marvel Promotional Image

© Marvel Comics

“I don’t want crumbs anymore. I want the whole cake and I want the icing too.” —Billie Jean King.

Marvel made national news last week with announcements on The Colbert Report and The View about new diversity in their lineup, including Sam Wilson taking over the Captain America identity and a as-yet unidentified woman becoming Thor.

All good. I could wish that a great character like Sam Wilson would support a title as The Falcon rather than have to adopt another identity but the direct comic market is crowded and his adventures will sell better if he’s dressed in the red, white, and blue. Plus, there’s some nice symbolism in an African-American Captain America, though Sam isn’t the first.

As for the new Thor, she’ll get a chance to headline a title for six months to a year and hopefully, there will be enough interest in her as a character so that when the hammer eventually passes back to its original owner, she’ll stick around.

But I’m not satisfied or particularly thrilled, given how these changes won’t last and there’s no guarantee that Sam or the new Thor will end up as lasting characters. See: Thunderstrike.

I’m even less thrilled by looking at the image above, which is pretty much all of mainstream superhero comics diversity problems in a nutshell. It’s supposed to get readers excited about a revamped Avengers line-up.

Good: I count four women to seven men. Not a 50/50 ratio but it’s decent. Also good: the new Captain American and Deathlok, plus some an interesting mix of characters.

Bad: The art. The dudes need to work on their hip thrusts because their ability to showcase that booty is way behind the women’s ability to let us know that, hey, they have HIPS & BUTTS. Also, the two women at the forefront are the only ones showing skin in this photo as well. Shy about the bionic arm, Bucky? I know legions of people on Tumblr who would be happy to see you fight enemies shirtless. Also, the female Thor’s head seems smaller than her breasts. That’s an unfortunate side effect of possessing Mjolnir.

Even worse: See the redhead on the top left side? That’s Medusa, one of the Inhumans. One of her major abilities is that she has super-powered hair she can use as tentacles. Therefore, the little decoration over her glittery hoo ha (AKA vaginal area) raises my eyebrows instantly. Just what are you trying to imply about that area, which is also prone to hair, Marvel?

And Medusa isn’t the only one currently with a costume that, ah, accentuates that region. When the New 52 began two years ago at DC, Supergirl’s costume sported an attention-drawing shield over her vaginal area. Given that the character is underage, it’s an unfortunate showcase, to say the least.

So I have to ask: What the heck is with the attention to the glittery hoo ha, artists?


Cover copyright DC Comics

The men don’t get equal treatment. In fact, Superman’s outside underwear was eliminated in the New 52 because, I guess, no one like drawing attention to his Johnson or something. What’s the matter Clark? Feeling a little insecure about the Kryptonian package?

Jokes aside, an image widely circulated by Marvel to draw attention to stories that they obviously want to appeal to female readers is full of incredibly mixed messages.

Look, we have women! But, hey guys, they’re still hot and half-naked sometimes. All good, right?

To bring us back to Billie Jean, I feel like Marvel and DC are constantly handing out crumbs.

I want it all.

I want a Wonder Woman movie.

I want a Black Widow movie. It’s just sad that Scarlett Johansson has superpowers in a new movies and she’s not Widow.

I want female costumes designed to make heroines look as powerful as the heroes and I want female poses that match that power, not that say “Hey, fanboy, come up and see me sometime.”

I want more female heroes who can be young and cute, like the new direction for DC’s Batgirl, but also older and experienced and who want to be married, like Batwoman. (And yet, can’t be married because of editorial edict.)

I want comics that are full of women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, not just as the lead characters.

I want women in comics in nearly the same percentage as men, instead of being relegated to the usual pop culture ratios represented these figures: only 11% of family films, 19% of children’s shows, and 22% of prime-time programs feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts. (Cite: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.)

You want to appeal to female audiences, Marvel and DC?

How about writing fascinating female characters doing interesting things while not dressed or posed with a big sign that says “have sex with me.” I know you can do it. I currently see Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel and Batwoman and I still have my Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone runs of Birds of Prey.

I look at my classic Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and I see characters that I love having awesome stories written about them. I see women who are friends with each other. This is the comic that kick-started Marvel’s resurgence in the 1980s. I bet the men won’t run away screaming if you take some lessons from it and apply it to today’s comics.

I’m not satisfied with crumbs anymore.

I want the whole cake and I want the icing too.

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Amazon Makes a Geek Girl the Focus of Annedroids Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:00:57 +0000 The new children's series includes science, robots, and friendship aplenty.

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Annedroids will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime Instant Video starting Friday, July 25, 2014. Photo: Amazon Studios.

In an effort to keep up with the networks and the Netflixes, Amazon Studios has been cranking out a lot of original programming for Prime users. The media company’s latest is the children’s program, Annedroids.

I have to admit: When I first saw the promotional art for Annedroids, I had flashbacks to the late-’80s TV show, Small Wonder—and that isn’t a good thing. However, we should all know not to judge a book (or even a TV show) by its cover.

The pilot for Annedroids, which is now streaming, introduces us to Nick (Jadiel Dowlin), a new kid in town who seems to be clinging (through online gaming) to his old friend Zack. Not to worry, though; he quickly meets Shania (Adrianna Di Liello) and Anne (Addison Hollet from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood), and the three become fast friends.

Although all three get plenty of screen time, the focus is really on Anne, a genius girl who loves to build robots. Sorry, I mean androids, but, well, yes! She’s a genius, she’s a girl, she loves robots, and she’s on a TV show. She describes herself as, “a scientist who likes studying the world.” I describe her as “awesome.”

The opening episode introduces the characters, which includes Hand, Eyes, and PAL, Anne’s three main androids. Additional episodes show the trio building a lawn-mowing robot, experimenting with chemical reactions, discussing the effects of gasses on your voice, and even talking up a lunar eclipse. There are some mishaps, but there’s also a lot of tweaking, testing, and fun.


Anne (Adrianna Di Liello) describes herself as “‘a scientist who likes studying the world” in Amazon’s Annedroids. Photo: Amazon Studios.

I’m going to have to categorize this one under “don’t try this at home.” Some of the science in Annedroids is a bit far-fetched. That said, it’s awesome that Amazon has embraced science and problem-solving with its original children’s programming. (See also: Maker Shack Agency and, to some extent, Creative Galaxy.) Not that I really mind the occasional mindless TV show, but this one is something that any GeekMom could embrace—and encourage. It also helps that it’s from J.J. Johnson, the creator of Dino Dan, which just happens to be a huge favorite in our house. I could see this becoming another. It has the same tone, the same flow, and has the same amount of interesting little factoids sprinkled throughout.

Annedroids also has very similar production values, which is a mixed bag. I’m not going to lie: PAL creeped me out a bit. He/she/it reminded me a little of the robots from I, Robot. It doesn’t really matter though, because I’m not the target audience, and to say that my 8-year-old was riveted is an understatement. At one point, I thought I was going to have to check for breathing. He absolutely loved Annedroids and was asking for more. Thankfully, seven episodes are now available for streaming through Amazon Prime Instant Video.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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