GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #2: Gadgets and Accessories

Gadgets make life easier, and often more fun. And living in the information age as we do, they are practically necessary for survival. We like products to be faster, more connected, and with more bells and whistles. Which gadgets have we GeekMoms deemed to be awesome enough to include in the gift guide? Keep reading! Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #2: Gadgets and Accessories

2015 GeekMom Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. It’s the one time of year when you “legally” have to shower Mom with love—and gifts! Of course, we’re kidding (sort of). While most moms do love the homemade cards, hugs, and brunch offers, a lot of us also love to get a gift that keeps on giving. So instead of giving your mom (or yourself) the same old wilted flowers, consider one of the gifts listed below in our 2015 GeekMom Mother’s Day Gift Guide.

The Sprite Bag by Pixelle is a ThinkGeek exclusive. Photo: ThinkGeek.

Bookworm Shoulder Tote
Haul around your mom gear in this large zippered bag from Blue Q. It’s waterproof, wipes clean, is made from recycled materials, and is crazy strong. It measures 11-by-15-by-6.25 inches. One percent of the sale price supports The Nature Conservatory. And if the bookish design doesn’t do it for you, check out the same tote with a Da Vinci design or a Batista design. [$13.30]

“I Aim to Misbehave” Car Decal
This car decal serves two important purposes: It shows off your mom’s love for Firefly and that she is one spirited lady! [$6]

Multitool Hair Clip. Photo: Yaacov Goldberg/Monkey Business.

Multitool Hair Clip
Made of stainless steel, this creative hair clip for Mom is a secret multitool. It’s a screwdriver, wrench, trolley coin, ruler, and cutting edge, always handy and helpfully keeping her hair out of her eyes. [$9]

Ogio Hudson Pack
GeekMom Dakster is a huge fan of Ogio bags. As a mom on the go, her go-to laptop bag is the Ogio Hudson Pack in Peacoat blue. It fits her laptop, iPad, iPod, writing supplies, and all without feeling bulky on her back. [$64.99]

Pelican Elite Weekender Luggage
Built for the adventurer, this luggage will take any beating the cruise line, airline, or any other transportation service can throw at it. GeekMom Dakster likes having her bag around to protect her costumes when traveling to conventions. [$445]

The Sprite Bag by Pixelle
“Level up your look” with the subtle touches of The Sprite Bag by Pixelle. It’s just the right size for a mom on the go and comes in white or black. [$49.99]

ThinkGeek Star Wars Stainless Steel Pendants
For the Star Wars mom, check out these pendants from ThinkGeek. Choose from Boba Fett, Rebel Alliance, Stormtrooper, or Tie Fighter. [$29.99 to $39.99]

A peek inside Ryder Windham’s Ultimate Star Wars. Photo: © 2015 Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book
Coloring books intricate enough for adults are trendy right now, as if we haven’t been coloring in them all along! You may prefer a different adult coloring book like Steampunk Coloring Book or Unicorns Are Jerks. [$11]

Furry Logic
Furry Logic is a fun book filled with furry animals and cute logic. It’s a quick and easy pick-me-up read for anyone. [$8.99]

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will)
Get Mom prepared for the inevitable attack of the garden gnomes. They may look harmless, but these cute and decorative keepers of gardens are secretly planning to attack you and everyone you love. [$11]

Instant Happy: 10-Second Attitude Makeovers
Everyone needs a pick-me-up every now and then. For the days when Mom is feeling the weight of everything on her shoulders, hand her Instant Happy: 10-Second Attitude Makeovers. It has 128 pages of happy thoughts, with cute drawings and animals to accompany each one. [$11]

Knit Your Own Zombie. Photo: Fiona Goble/Adams Media.

Knit Your Own Zombie: Over 1,000 Combinations to Rip ‘n’ Reassemble for Horrifying Results
Easy-to-knit, hard-to-kill zombies held together with Velcro strips and snaps, so you can create your own mashups. Knitting never looked so easy and yet, so softly terrifying. [$12.04]

Subversive Cross Stitch: 50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side
Stitch some snark with this updated anniversary edition of the now-classic book that upended the ladylike craft of cross stitching. “Eat, Drink, and Be Quiet” may add some charm to your kitchen. If you have no intention of making any of the designs, just leave it out to shock your Great Aunt Rhonda next time she visits. [$11.50]

Ultimate Star Wars
A trained tauntaun of your own would be a fantastic gift. Sadly, Echo Base won’t ship them to Earth. Instead, consider this newly released large-format hardcover book to explore the Star Wars galaxy chronologically. It’s packed with in-depth information about characters and storylines. Yes, it has photos of tauntauns. [$26.49]

Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life
Your Family In Pictures takes mom from the basics of family photography to the more advanced setups. Our recommendation? Pick one of the suggested cameras out for her in the first few pages and wrap it up with this book. Say cheese! [$15.99]

Geeky tees. Photo: Friendly Oak.

Banned Book Socks
Ankle socks with a kick, these Banned Book Socks feature titles on one foot and strike-outs on the other. Wearable all year ’round, not just during Banned Books Week. Made of nylon, polyester, spandex, and cotton; machine wash. [$10]

eShakti Gift Card
eShakti lets Mom customize clothing in sizes from 0-33. With numerous patterns and styles, she can pick out her favorite neckline, hem length, and sleeves style. The online retailer features a wide variety of fabrics. GeekMom Fran likes the cotton dresses very much. Did we mention that most dresses feature actual full-size pockets that you can put things in? Yes. [Varies]

Friendly Oak Geeky Tees
Printed on super soft American Apparel tees, these women’s shirts come in a variety of geeky designs: An octopus in a top hat! Sloths! Hot air balloons! Pirate ships! Bugs! Books! Dinosaurs! Bats! [$18 to $19 each]

High Commander Cardigan
Mom is the ultimate power in the universe, and now she can show her Imperial strength with the High Commander Cardigan from Her Universe. The light sweater is perfect for everyday cosplay, but subtle enough to pass as a simple gray sweater. But true Star Wars fans who catch a glimpse of the insignia on the front will give Mom a knowing smile. [$50]

Hot Topic’s Orphan Black Fit & Flare Dress
Hot Topic’s latest television show-themed clothing line is Orphan Black, and the red DNA-patterned flare dress is a standout. One of the best things about this simple dress is you don’t have to be a fan of this popular sci-fi series to appreciate the cool DNA double-helix design. This could be the perfect gift for science teachers… or just any mom who loves and appreciates the building blocks of life. Keep in mind Hot Topic’s women’s clothes tend to run in juniors’ sizes, so it may be a smart idea to get a size larger than Mom would usually wear. Oh, and FYI: This looks cute with another item in the Orphan Black line, the Lightweight Ombre Open Cardigan. [$29.50]

Solar System Knee Highs. Photo: Sock Dreams.

Marvel Ladies Knee High Socks
Comic book fans of Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Spider-Woman will wear these knee-high socks with pride. Whether she’s padding around the house stealthily in Black Widow socks or channeling her inner Princess Sparklefists in her Captain Marvel knee-highs, Mom will feel like a superhero in these ThinkGeek exclusives. [$14.99]

Octopus Arm Cozies
Above the elbow arm cozies are a stylish way to tell Mom she’s cool and keep her warm at the same time. Sock Dreams has several styles and colors, but everything goes better with cephalopods. Made of 95-percent cotton with spandex; machine washable. [$25]

Solar System Knee High Socks
Mom will be walking on the sun with these Solar System Knee Highs from Sock Dreams. Made of 75-percent cotton with polyester/spandex, they’re machine-washable and keep their shape. For all the times she’s found your socks, or told you she loves you to the moon and back. [$10]

Toothless Tail Fin Skater Skirt by WeLoveFine
Help Mom show her dragon pride with the Toothless Tail Fin Skater Skirt by WeLoveFine. It’s flowy, it’s twirly, and it was designed to look like Toothless’ tail fin—complete with a white Viking skull on the back. [$25]

A peek at the “Relax” setting on the Philips hue lighting system. Photo: Philips.

D-Link WiFi Smart Plug
If you’re anything like GeekMom Rachel, you’re constantly telling someone to turn off the lights. This handy gadget bypasses the people who never seem to learn and allows you to take control. Just plug the Smart Plug into any existing outlet, push the WPS button on your router, and the button on the Smart Plug. Then, you’ll be able to power off (and on) everything that’s plugged in via the mydlink Home mobile app, which is free for iOS and Android devices. [$39.99]

Martian Notifier
The Martian Notifier is GeekMom Dakster’s new favorite phone accessory. It’s a simple smartwatch whose only job is to send notifications from your phone to your wrist. What’s great about it is that there are no fancy bells and whistles; it’s simple, to the point, and the battery lasts over five days on a single charge. It also comes in white, black, and red. [$95.99]

Me-Shot Deluxe 2.0
Give Mom the gift of selfies with the Me-Shot Deluxe selfie stick. It comes with a remote to help her get that perfect group shot and it’s compact enough to fit into her bag. [$49.99]

Martian Notifier. Photo: © Martian Watches.

Parrot Flower Power
For the mom who lacks a green thumb, this little device can be a lifesaver—or at least a plant-saver. It’s basically a little smart sensor that sticks right into the soil. Once it’s embedded, it can measure moisture, fertilizer, ambient temperature, and light intensity, and will send all of that info to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. In case Mom needs a little extra TLC for her plants, Parrot also has a library with info on thousands of plants, flowers, herbs, and more. [$49.95]

Philips hue Connected Light Bulbs
Sure, you could offer to mow the lawn or do the dishes, but the gift of automated lighting is something that Mom can use every single day. And it’s downright addictive! That’s because the hue offers remote control of lights via any smartphone or tablet. Even better, it’s also a nice decorative element, since the hue can be adjusted to make mood lighting in over 16 million colors. [$199 for the Starter Pack]

Sonos Play:1 Wireless Speaker
Just because Mom isn’t partial to extra-large speakers doesn’t mean that she can’t rock out. This small, mighty speaker is the least expensive in the Sonos line, but still packs the power needed to drown out Dad’s singing. It’s important to know that it needs WiFi or the Sonos Bridge ($49), as well as the Sonos app. Once everything is hooked up, it can stream music to anywhere in the house. Also nice to know is that you can always add on to this gift later, since it works well alone, in pairs, and with every other speaker in the Sonos line. [$199 each]

XSories Large Power CapXule
The Large Power CapXule keeps Mom’s GoPro camera safe and charged with the case’s built-in battery. [$79.99]

Sauria Cakestands. Photo: MoMA.

Kitchen Goods
Don’t Talk to Me Yet Mug
For coffee- or tea-loving moms, for sleep-deprived moms, this white ceramic mug lays out when it’s safe to approach with questions about where your socks are, or whether you should be allowed to wear flip-flops in 20-degree weather. [$17]

Evil Genius or Everyday Super Hero Mugs
Is your mom a superhero, or does she get a certain amount of pleasure from being just a little bit bad? Be careful picking the appropriate one for your GeekMom—or buy both and let her decide how she feels in the morning! [$10.50 each]

Kitchen towels. Photo: LoveYouALatteShop.

KitchenAid Mixer Decals
If Mom has a KitchenAid mixer, it most likely lives on the countertop. Why not help her put a little bling into that permanent fixture? There are an endless number of decal options, from flames to flowers to a Flying Tiger Shark Plane. GeekMom Rachel has a set of superhero-themed decals for her KitchenAid and can tell you that they are easy to apply and stick quite nicely, even after a messy, marathon baking session. [Starts at $9.99]

Onion Goggles
GeekMom Rachel says that she loves a good cry—but not when that cry is initiated by cutting onions. Her husband got her a pair of these a little while ago. “They make me feel like a superhero and work like magic,” she says. [$19.95]

“They See Me Rollin’ They Hatin'” Kitchen Towels
These towels are too cool for school. Kick-ass kitchens? That’s another story. In case your mother isn’t down with the lyrics of Chamillionaire, there are plenty of other punny options that she’d be happy to display in her kitchen. [$18]

Triceratops Cake Stand
A 2014 Grassi and Bertoni design for the Museum of Modern Art, these dinosaur cake stands can hold all of Mom’s favorite cakes. Made of porcelain, the triceratops stands approximately 5 inches high, with the brontosaurus being 3.5 inches high. [$130]

Tsuro: The Game of the Path. Photo: © 2015 Calliope Games.

Toys & Games
Cluedo Sherlock Edition
Eagle-eyed fans of the BBC’s Sherlock know even the great sleuth himself enjoys Cluedo (or Clue in the United States), provided he wins. Now, the BBC has come up with an official Sherlock Edition of the classic mystery game. There’s a reason the original version of Clue is still a tabletop favorite, and now this version has made it even more enjoyable to match wits with friends and family around the table. A perfect Mother’s Day gift for those treasured family game nights and those who are still waiting… and waiting for Sherlock Season 4. [$39.49]

Fiesta Sea and Shore Series 36” Giant Octopus
Ignore all descriptions that allege this stuffed creature is a child’s toy. Those staring eyes, curling tentacles, and soft body make for an awesome cephalopod pal for someone your age too. You don’t have eight arms to attend to all your mom-ligations, but at least your giant octopus does. [$69.99]

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. Photo: Nintendo.

A beautiful board game to play with the family. Players compete to see who can stay on the board longest. For two to eight players, ages eight and up. Each game takes about 20 minutes to play. [$24]

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
If Mom has fond memories of playing Final Fantasy or other Japanese RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a no-brainer. It looks fantastic on the New Nintendo 3DS, with phenomenal voiceovers, a sweeping story, classic JRPG elements, and a big world to explore. Hours of epic gameplay just might fill that Dragon Age-shaped hole in any RPG fan’s life. Just FYI: This title is only compatible with the New Nintendo 3DS. [$39.99]

Check Out This Sweet Tool for Electronics Comparison Shopping

Screenshot from
Screenshot from

Want to know which flash drive or SSD gives you the most GB for the dollar? Or trying to find your options for a laptop with a touchscreen, 10 GB of RAM, and a 17″ screen? If you haven’t seen, it does all those things, comparing smartphones, laptops, tablets, flash drives, and solid state drives in a convenient chart form. And as of Thursday, the site lets you compare 3D printers as well.

Germany-based programmer Marek Gibney created the tool. Clearly excited by data, he also created Gnoosic, a tool that helps you find new music you’ll like based on the stuff you already enjoy.

Gift Guide: Ideas For Makers and Hackers

Image source: Ruth Suehle.

There’s not much shopping time left before Christmas, but it’s not too late to fill in the gaps with gifts for the makers and hackers (or would-be makers and hackers) on your list! Here are our recommendations, sorted by skill level.

Young Children

Image source: Amazon.

Snap Circuits (price varies)
You can get basic Snap Circuits sets for as little as $20, and they’re a great introduction to young ones with an interest in how things go together. You get to make lights light up, sounds buzz, and fans whir without soldering, but still with the ability to see what a complete circuit looks like.

Image source: No Starch Press.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! (Covers Version 2): Learn to Program by Making Cool Games ($16)
I always recommend this book to parents who want to get their kids interested in programming. Scratch is very basic; it introduces the principles of programming with puzzle pieces and a clever cat. This book adds a comic book aspect and results in a finished game that the child made herself.


These items are ready for someone who has little to no programming or hardware experience.

Image source:

Makey Makey ($50)
If you’ve ever said to yourself, “Gee, self, wouldn’t it be great if somebody would turn this banana into a game controller?,” then the Makey Makey is just the thing you’re looking for. Basically, it turns anything into a keypress. Like what? The product description suggests ketchup, pencil graphite, your grandma, pets, and rain. Anything that can conduct at all. It’s a super-easy entry point to electronics.

Image source:

LilyTwinkle ($19.95)
This is the anybody-can-do-it path to LEDs in your hoodie. As long as you can hand sew without crossing the threads, you’re good to go. It comes with the board, battery, thread, and even the needles, as well as four white LEDs. Sew a path from the board to each LED, and you’re finished. Tip: The Firefly Jar Kit at Sparkfun is the same board and same price, but with a felt “jar” to give you a starter project. And you can always reuse the pieces later. Those ready for more complicated projects should check out the more advanced LilyPad board in the next section.

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Soldering Iron (price varies)
Any electronics builder is eventually going to need a soldering iron. There are several basic kits out there, including ones from Elenco, the company that makes the fantastic Snap Circuits toys. (Those are a great gift for the much younger future makers on your list.) Elenco also offers a Deluxe Learn To Solder Kit with more practical application practice.

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Electronic Dice Kit ($19.95)
This is a fun kit to build for someone who knows how to solder but not how to program, especially if they also happen to be gamers. About an hour of building, and they’ll have an LED D6 device.

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Metro-Gnome $14.95)
Similarly, the Metro-Gnome is a basic digital metronome for the music-loving maker on your list. It requires basic soldering skills (or serves as a learn-to-solder project).

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myDazzu ($19.95)
This programmable introduction to wearable electronics includes three LEDs and built-in light and temperature sensors. But you don’t have to know how to solder!


These are the gifts for someone a little bit older or a little bit more experienced. They don’t need to be programmers (yet), but these things will help get them there.

Image source: No Starch Press.

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming ($21)
This is the book I recommend for kids who are a bit beyond Scratch, but not quite ready for the usual programming books.

Image source: O’Reilly Media.

Raspberry Pi—and related items ($35 and up)
A Raspberry Pi itself costs $35 from any number of retailers. If you’re looking to spend a bit more, you could buy a few accessories for a project you think might interest the recipient. There are also starter kits like this one from Adafruit, which are useful if you have no idea what to buy. However, in my opinion, they tend to be a bit overpriced for anyone who has any tinkering items at all already. Of course, I also have to mention my own book, Raspberry Pi Hacks: Tips & Tools for Making Things with the Inexpensive Linux Computer, which includes more than 60 tips and projects for users of every experience level. (See notes in the next section about whether you should get a Pi or an Arduino.)

Image source: Sparkfun.

ProtoSnap – LilyPad Development Board Complete ($69.95)
For those who would enjoy the LilyTwinkle mentioned above, but with a few more bells and whistles, the more robust LilyPad Protosnap includes more LEDs as well as a light sensor, temperature sensor, and buzzer.


These gift recipients know what they’re doing and are ready to build. They probably already have some programming experience.

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Bare Conductive Paint ($9.95)
Bare Paint is a water-based paint that lets you draw (well, paint) conductive lines on just about any surface where you can paint. It’s safe and way easier than acid etching, but it’s not waterproof.

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Arduino—and Lego! ($25 and up)
People often ask me whether they should get a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino. It’s an apples and oranges situation—the Pi is a full computer. Plug in an SD card and peripherals, and you can boot right into Linux. The Arduino is only a microcontroller. So for someone who has no idea what to do with it, it can be a lot less satisfying to dive right into after Christmas dinner. That said, if you do have someone in the family with more patience and/or programming experience, I recommend also picking up Arduino and LEGO Projects, a book of projects you can build with Lego bricks and enhance with an Arduino. There’s even a TARDIS project on the cover!

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DIY Gamer Kit ($56.95)
If you want to give a ready-to-build Arduino-based gift, this is a good starting point. It’s a tiny screen (8×8!), but you can upload your own game’s code to an Arduino and play it on this board. Tutorials are available for those who need some inspiration.

Membership to a local hackerspace (price varies)
Of course, anyone can benefit from this gift, but I put it under the advanced listings because they tend to not be inexpensive. If you’re not sure where yours is, check the listings at

Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2014!

Me and my little geek \ Images: Dakster Sullivan
Me and my little geek \ Images: Dakster Sullivan

Mother’s Day is May 11th and to help you get some of your shopping done, we’ve come up with our top picks of items we think your mom will love. From the book worm to the technology lover, we have something for every mom on this list.

Clothing and Accessories

Ogio Hampton’s Laptop Bag ($70)
Next to Oakley, Ogio makes some of my favorite bags. The Hampton’s Tote is big enough for a laptop and mom’s other every day needs and comes in eight different colors.

We Love Fine Princess Luna shoulder bag and matching dress \ Images: We Love Fine
We Love Fine Princess Luna shoulder bag and matching dress \ Images: We Love Fine

We Love Fine Luna bag ($39) and matching Fit and Flare dress ($34)
This year at MegaCon, I discovered the We Love Fine My Little Pony Princess Luna purse (say that six times fast). While on their website looking for the perfect ensemble to go with my new shoulder bag, I found the Fit and Flare dress! Talk about a match made in MLP heaven.

STEM Girl Swag tank ($28.99)
Just a fun, simple tank for the science nerd in all of us. Great for summer.

Frehiwot scarf ($36.00)
Handmade with soft 100% cotton. Each scarf offered by helps to create sustainable women-run businesses in Ethiopia.

PlanetBox \ Image: Amazon
PlanetBox \ Image: Amazon

PlanetBox Stainless Steel Lunchboxes ($39.95-$79.95)
In the past year I have thrown myself into a mid-life romance with home-made lunches. Suddenly, I’m carving out portions of my evenings in order to make tuna-olive tapenade, provencal potato salad with green beans and hard-boiled eggs, and barley salads with chickpeas, mint, and feta. My first question (“where is this coming from???“) has quickly been supplanted by a second, more immediate question: how am I going to get this to work?

Enter: PlanetBox’s stainless-steel, bent0-style, machine-washable lunch systems. The hasped boxes come with covered “dippers” or containers to hold a salad, dressing, or dip, and can be slipped into colorful, coordinating carry bags. The thing that delights me most? This is ridiculous, but I adore the  fairy magnets that I bought separately to fit into the lunchbox top. Sometimes it’s the little things…


ADAPT \ Image: Amazon
ADAPT \ Image: Amazon

Adapt Bluetooth adapter ($39.95)
I’m a headphone junkie, but one thing I’m not a fan of is the wires. By plugging your wired headphones into the adapter and turning bluetooth on your device, Adapt makes your wired headphones, wireless. I love using this with my earHeropro headphones while at work to ease anxiety and be discrete about having headphones in my ears!

HP Envy Touchsmart M6 Laptop ($620)
The HP Envy Touchsmart M6 laptop is great for moms who have a lot on their plate and want a laptop that can handle it all. With 6GB of memory, 750 GB hard drive, Beats audio system, and a dedicated graphics card, this laptop is great for moms who like to surf the internet, listen to music, do a little photoshopping, play graphic-intense games, or anything else they desire. I’ve had mine for a month and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not happy with it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4-Inch Tablet (Black) ($369.99)
Now we’re talking. High-res 8.4 inch display to watch movies, play games, edit documents, take pictures, read, video chat, and more. View and use two apps at once with multi-window feature. Uncomplicated with multi-user mode, letting family members logs in separately to view their own apps, background, and email. Use it as a universal remote control. This one does it all.

iBN26 NFC Bluetooth Stereo System with Speaker Phone ($70)
As a mom, I have my hands full enough without a bunch of wires keeping me down. That’s why I like this stereo system with a built-in speaker phone. It’s small enough that I can move it to my work area and stream my music while I work in my office or the living room. My favorite feature of this unit is the lacking of fancy lights on it, so I can put it beside my bed and not worry about it keeping me up at night. Compatible with Apple and Android devices.

Clarus Premium Dual Driver Earbuds with Mic ($199)
The Clarus Premium Dual Driver Earbuds by Moshi are by far the most comfortable over-the-ear headphones I’ve ever worn. From the moment I opened up the box, I knew I was going to be treating my ears to luxury with the padded case and attractive clear stand. Included in the box is a set of three ear pieces to ensure the perfect fit and a splitter in case mom wants to share her beats with you.

PowerShellController \ Image courtesy of Logitech and used with permission
PowerShellController \ Image courtesy of Logitech and used with permission

Logitech PowerShell Controller + Battery ($99)
For gaming moms on the go, this will charge your iPhone while you use the satisfying controller to play. There’s an extensive list of compatible games, offering something for whatever strikes your fancy. The combo is kind of a lifesaver on flights, in doctor’s offices, and even when commuting on public transportation. If you’re all thumbs when it comes to gaming on your iPhone, this is a great alternative.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad mini ($79.99)
The iPad mini is such a feel-good size for a tablet, but sometimes a keyboard would be amazing. Logitech is now offering their Ultrathin Keyboard for the mini, and it is just great. A powerful magnet turns the keyboard into a sturdy cover, and it transforms the very portable tablet into a great little laptop alternative.

UnuAeroCase \ Image Courtesy of Unu
UnuAeroCase \ Image Courtesy of Unu

uNu Aero iPhone 5S Battery Case and Charging Pad ($99.95)
If you’re looking for a way to charge your phone on the go, this is a great option from uNu. Put your phone in the hard case, place the case on the Charging Pad, and you don’t have to fiddle with docks and wires ever again. Plus, when charged the case itself provides an extra six hours of battery life for your phone just by pressing the button on the back. A clever, easy system to ensure your phone never dies on you again.

Cricut Explore ($299.99)
The new Cricut Explore is an impressive piece of machinery. The die cut system is the latest evolution of the Cricut line of products, and it is fully digitized. No more cartridges necessary, and the software is a true design space where you can create your own images and even upload images to be cut out. A luxurious item for any craft room.


The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart($15.26)
Find horticulture in every sip of alcohol in this fascinating guide to your favorite drink’s biology, chemistry, and history. Fifty drink recipes and gardening tips included.

Tequila Mocking Bird \ Image: Amazon
Tequila Mocking Bird \ Image: Amazon

The Beauty of Different by Karen Walrond ($19.13)
This gorgeous book explores beauty in fresh ways, helping readers see their own beauty in differences that are not shortcomings but distinctions, maybe even superpowers. The author’s work can also be seen on the photoblog Chookooloonks.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle ($11.40)
This is the ultimate gift for the book-obsessed. It features 65 delicious drink recipes, each with a literary twist, such as The Last of the Mojitos, Love in the Time of Kahlúa, A Rum of One’s Own, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita. Each drink is paired with wry commentary on history’s beloved novels. Oh but there’s more, like drinking games, appetizer recipes, and delightfully witty illustrations.

BookBook covers by Twelve South by Twelve South ($34.99 to $69.99)
These covers look like vintage books, but are actually cases for your phone or tablets. The hardback cover and rigid frame protect your device while also disguising it from theft. There are no corner straps or elastic bands, this case has a secure hold on your electronics. It has two zippers, making it easy to unzip just enough to connect to headphone cable or charging cord. It features an a variable-angle display stand and a built-in typing stand. It looks and feels like you’re holding a book, which you are.

Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman ($13)
Sure, if you have kids, Mother’s Day is all about you. But if you happen to be mother who has already lost her own mother, this day can bring up some sad emotions too. Having been a “motherless daughter” myself since my early 20s, I highly recommend the book Motherless Daughters, by Hope Edelman. I’ve re-read it many times, and each time I do it touches me in a new way.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed her follow up book called Letters From Motherless Daughters ($12), that is broken up into chapters according to how long ago you lost your mom. Either one would be a touching gift for someone on your list who might be having trouble celebrating the fact that she is the mother, when she’s missing her own so deeply.

Renewed \ Image: Amazon
Renewed \ Image: Amazon

Renewed by Lucille Zimmerman ($11)
Starting to feel like you’re living your life for everyone except yourself? Need to be reminded why it’s important to listen to your own needs, even when there are little people in the house? The book Renewed by Lucille Zimmerman might be exactly what you need. It’s quick to read and you just might find yourself bookmarking several sections that speak to you the most. Buy one for yourself, and for any other mama in your life who might need a bit of renewal.

Game of Thrones: A Pop-Up Guide to Westerosillustrated by Michael Komarck and designed by prolific pop-up designer Matthew Christian Reinhart.($40)
This item combines so many things I love: maps, books (including interactive books), that steampunk-meets-fantasy intro to HBO’s Game of Thrones, and, of course, the dangerous and wonderful world of Westeros. In addition to the individual pop-up elements, the larger pop-ups combine to form a map of Westeros, complete with Winterfell, King’s Landing, and the ominous Wall. I challenge anyone to look through this without chanting the theme song, as well as any Games of Thrones fan to not want this in their collection.

For the Home

UniFlame WAD820SP 34-Inch Slate & Marble Firepit with Copper Accents ($129.00)
Stylish outdoor firepit made from slate and marble with wrought iron stand. This includes a heavy steel grate, with a 22″ round firebowl that’s easily loaded with wood. Game nights on the patio!

ProjectLife: Clementine design \ Image: ProjectLife
ProjectLife: Clementine design \ Image: ProjectLife

Project Life Memory-Keeping System ($19.99 and up)
Not everyone is a born scrapbooker, and the aisles of stamps, stickers, and decorative papers in craft stores can make some people itch. This was the case for GeekMom Jackie, who began using Becky Higgins’ Project Life when her daughter was born. The entire system consists of gorgeously designed journaling cards and endlessly customizable plastic sheets to hold photos and cards. You can even fit Instagram photos in special sleeves. The system is fool-proof and addictive, offering both print supplies for memory binders or a digital option to make your scrapbooks online. $29.99 for core kits (cards only), $19.99 and up for binders, and $29.99 for big packs of page protectors (all sold separately).

Hängen Wall Planter ($58.00)
Opus Garten offers unique, durable, and sustainable options for anyone who likes growing things, without any fuss. Their products contain no PVC, BPA, phthalates, or paint. GeekMom readers, use the coupon code “wiredmom” until Mother’s Day for a 20% discount on any Opus Garten products including Hängen Wall Planter and Airplant Nests.

Hänge Wall Planter is an elegant planter with sub-irrigation that hangs easy as a picture using a quick-release ball and cord system. Perfect for growing herbs or ornamentals, indoors or out

Airplant Nests  ($16.00)
Airplane Nests are wall-mounted flexible fingers especially designed to hold Tillandsia (air plants). Each pack contains four Airplane Nests for creative wall arrangements.

LED Color Changing Showerhead ($39.95)
Turn regular showers into something far more colorful. The lights are water-powered, infusing the (flow restricted) stream with ever-changing hues.

Disclaimer: Some GeekMoms may have received review samples. 

Explore Space With LittleBits

Image from

This week littleBits announced the results of their partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center when they announced the latest in their line of product kits. The littleBits Space Kit for Earth and space science explorers contains powerful electronic modules, coupled with projects and activities designed by NASA scientists and engineers.

“With the days old discovery of earth-like planet Kepler-186f, SpaceX’s successful docking at the International Space Station, recent evidence of the Big Bang, and the introduction of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos documentary, space is more than ever at the center of the cultural conversation,” said Ayah Bdeir, littleBits founder and CEO. “Yet our relationship to space remains distant. With the littleBits Space Kit, we aim to bring space closer to home by putting the building blocks to invent, learn and explore directly into the hands of educators, students, NASA enthusiasts and builders of all ages.”

Founded in 2011, Ayah Bdeir created littleBits with one sole mission, to turn everyone into an inventor by putting the power of electronics in the hands of everyone. LittleBits breaks down complicated electronics into powerful modules to make it easier to “play” with the electronic components without worrying about soldering or wiring. The Space Kit added an additional three modules to the littleBits product line, an IR LED, number counter, and a remote trigger.

I’ll admit when I opened the box I was surprised that these 12 tiny pieces could create the advertised rovers, satellites, and radar dishes that were described in the five lesson plans and ten hands on projects.  Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

Having studied electronics in college, I am very familiar with the amount of work that goes into planning a circuit and time that it takes to create a working project.  However, within minutes of opening the box I was able to light LEDs, play MP3s, and play with waveforms.  The Space Kit lessons are specifically designed to teach scientific principles such as electromagnetic, kinetic, & potential energy. As a STEM educator, I thought the ease of use was unparalleled. Each module is completely contained and modules connect via metal magnets that act as connectors between circuits. I had a friend’s ten-year-old daughter come over and she was able to follow the carefully designed lesson plans and blissfully play with the set as you can see in the video below, playing with sound wave forms.  She loved it!

As impressed as I am with this kit, learning that it retails for $189 really surprised me. The only thing that stopped me from buying this, and every other littleBits kit, is that high price point. For less than the price of a single littleBits Space Kit you can buy a massive educational kit from a comparable modular circuits company with more than 80 pieces and close to 175 written lessons.

Image by Helene McLaughlin

For more information and to purchase the littleBits Space Kit visit:

Bare Conductive: Electric Paint for Crafts & More

Bare Conductive © Bare Conductive
Bare Conductive © Bare Conductive

I’m always interested in trying something new in the world of crafts, so the idea behind Bare Conductive’s battery-powered cards made with electric paint fascinated me.

Bare Conductive sells kits that contain everything you need to make a selection of flashing cards: batteries, LED bulbs, a tube of electric paint, and cards printed with instructions. The idea is very simple: Punch holes in the card to affix the battery and bulb (making sure to line up the positive and negative sides correctly), then squeeze a line of electric paint along the marked line to create the circuit. Once the paint is dry, the circuit will be complete and the bulb will begin flashing.

A Finished Card © Sophie Brown
A Finished Card © Sophie Brown

There are, sadly, several issue with this. Firstly, if you follow the instructions as suggested, then the bulb will simply blink until the battery gives out—not very useful, if you plan to actually give the card to someone. I solved this issue by leaving a small gap in the paint line that could then be bridged at will by a paper-clip or other small metallic object. You could also put some of the electric paint onto a small piece of paper or a stick to create a flap that could be opened and closed by the recipient.

Secondly, there’s the difficulty of actually getting the card to someone. You have now created a card that has a small glass bulb sticking out of it, so if you plan to send your card through the mail, you’re gonna have to package it very well for the bulb to remain intact. OK, that’s not a huge design flaw, but it is something you need to consider before putting money down on cards that are not cheap to begin with. Personally, I’m not sure I’d risk it, which of course limits me to creating these cards only for people I can hand-deliver to.

Bare Conductive Paint © Sophie Brown
Bare Conductive Paint © Sophie Brown

Finally, I had a lot of issues with the cards themselves. My first card was something of a bust because the LED bulb was so faint, I couldn’t see it blinking. I actually thought I’d done something wrong on the circuit and spent a long time trying to find the problem, until I leaned over the card and spotted the faint blinking when it was in my shadow. I tried again with a second card, which worked much better; however, this one stopped working after a short time. I again hunted down the problem and determined that the electric paint had developed a hairline crack, which had broken the circuit. Cracking after only a short time could be an issue if you use the paint for repair jobs as the manufacturers suggest on their website.

One of the other products on the Bare Conductive website is the Glowing House Set, which contains all you need to build two cardboard houses that can then be lit from the inside with the LEDs and more powerful batteries. A more permanent project such as this, which also allows for easier battery replacement, seems like a better use for the electric paint than the card kits; assuming of course, that the paint doesn’t crack. The paint can also be bought fairly cheaply on its own, so you could create your own projects after a trip to the local electronics store. The possibilities for prop-making are limitless and could allow people with no soldering experience to create their own electronic devices. I have visions of glowing steampunk ray guns dancing in my head already.

I love the concept of electric paint and the ideas it opens up. While I would be nervous about allowing my son to use a soldering iron until he was in high school, this would allow us to start playing with basic electronics and circuitry at home from a much younger age. It’s not a perfect product and there are issues, but if these can be resolved then the possibilities are endless.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes. 

Review: JBL Synchros S700 Headphones Tested with Beastie Boys


Over the past couple months, I’ve had the chance to check out the top of JBL’s newest line of headphones: the Synchros series. With Synchros, JBL is promising a set of high-quality headphones featuring their JBL PureBass sound quality, with the higher-end models featuring JBL’s new patent-pending LiveStage signal processing capability.

I received the JBL Synchros S700 headphones at the end of last year. Family members and I have been using them throughout the house to test its comfort, sound quality, and rechargeability. I was able to compare these headphones with other full-sized over-the-ear headphones, such as the Able Planet Clear Harmony model I had reviewed in 2012, as well as Beats by Dr. Dre Solo headphones. We are very pleased with these headphones, although the price tag (MSRP $349.99) might be off-putting for many. However, if you are a fan of bass in your music, this is the investment for you.

The Synchros S700 sets itself apart from the other Synchros models in that it’s rechargeable. The headphones have a built-in Li-ion battery that will provide the LiveStage signal processing for up to 28 hours of continuous listening. Read on for my impressions of the S700.

What Comes in the Box 

  • Synchros S700 headphones with built-in Li-ion battery
  • Faux-suede clamshell zippered carrying case with velvet interior
  • USB charging cable
  • Universal headphone cable with multi-function controls
  • iOS-specific headphone cable with multi-function controls

The Power Button: What Does it Do?
They’re headphones, so things are pretty straightforward. Put them on and enjoy! Unlike the Beats Solo headphones I used for comparison, you can listen with these headphones without hitting the power switch.

The power button—to turn on the LiveStage signal processing—on these headphones is quietly embedded on the left ear cup. Just depress the round panel with the letters “JBL” until you hear the long solid beep.

The little white light will illuminate when the headphones are powered on. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The little white light will illuminate when the headphones are powered on. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The sound capabilities on these headphones probably won’t make much of a different to a lay-user. But I broke out some of my more serious GeekMom-Headphone-Test music to see what’s so special about this particular pair.

My music of choice for this is Beastie Boys. The album is called The Mix Up. The song of choice is titled “Electric Worm.” It’s full of bass. Without the power on, the low pedal tones are sitting in the background…as if it were an afterthought. But when you depress that “JBL” button, the difference is profound! This is not noise-cancelling going on; this is an explosion of bass that will transform the way you listen to your bass-y music.

I did a side-by-side test with this song on the S700s, the Clear Harmony, and the Beats Solo headphones. While everything else about the sound quality between the three was comparable, the S700s will “pull” the bass out significantly better. In fact, this CNET reviewer claims that the S700’s bass is superior to that of the Beats Pro headphones, that company’s highest-end model.

Save the Battery Life. Really.
Unfortunately, most of what I use headphones for does not involve such bass. Therefore, if you’re using these headphones to watch Downton Abbey on without bothering your husband who’s watching Archer in the same room, the LiveStage capability isn’t really going to make a difference.

Speaking of batteries, I have had these headphones in my possession for 2.5 months and still haven’t had the batteries run out on me. I’m sure I’ve had them on for more than 28 hours (the advertised battery lifetime), but I probably only remembered to turn on the power to the headphones about half the time.

If you do hear the low-battery warning beeps, it’s easy to plug the headphones into your nearest USB port for easy charging. I was able to get charging to occur both on my laptop and with a USB-to-A/C adapter. I can’t speak for how long it takes to reach full charge on the headphones, because I haven’t run out of battery yet to take that measurement.

It's in the details. Easy-to-maneuver hinges, aircraft aluminum trim makes these more professional-level. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
It’s in the details. Easy-to-maneuver hinges and aircraft aluminum trim makes these more professional-level. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

No Skimping on Luxury
The fine details to these headphones set it apart from other over-the-ear headphones with comparable sound quality. The super-soft real leather ear cups have made these headphones a pleasure to wear for long periods of time. The lightweight aluminum headpiece and trim makes for a sleek, modern design that seems classier than Beats plastic molding on each of their models, except the “Pro.”

The aluminum headpiece has a cushion on the underside for comfort. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The aircraft aluminum headpiece has a cushion on the underside for comfort. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Cable Troubles
The S700 comes with two headphone cables: One for iOS devices and the other for “all others.” Both cables worked perfectly well for their purposes. We tested them on the following devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod shuffle, MacBook Pro computer, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and a Dell Zino PC computer. I did the main audio quality testing with my MacBook Pro.

I had numerous concerns with the cable. For starters, it’s shorter than other headphone cables I’ve experienced for higher-priced headphones. At only 50 inches, it’s over a foot shorter than the Able Planet Clear Harmony cable.

Both cables have multi-function buttons on it that allow you to control your music, but on the S700, the controls are rather high-up on the cable, in approximately the same location as on Apple earbuds. Therefore, you can’t see which buttons you’re pressing. You will need to learn by touch which are which.

Finally, as is the case with all high-performance headphones with completely-removable cables, you need to be sure to firmly plug in the cable at both ends. On the S700, this isn’t as obvious as one might think. This caused me some issue last month, when I was excitedly beginning an episode of Sherlock on and didn’t realize one end wasn’t seated all the way. I had the background music, but no dialogue.

Going Soft on the Case
I was very surprised that such expensive, high-quality headphones had a soft-sided case. I do know that comparable models of over-the-ear headphones (Beats Pro, Bose QuietComfort 15) include more rigid cases. I think JBL should rethink this product’s case.

These are very high-end headphones, meant for the true audiophile, sound engineer, and DJ. If you look at the Beats by Dr. Dre “Pro” model, you’ll see similar audio capabilities, design features, and pricing. The sound quality on the Synchros S700 is very good and even with my “layman’s” ears, I could tell the bass qualities are top notch.

However, if you’re like me, listening to music most often when working out or binge watching Doctor Who and Walking Dead episodes in the same room as her sons playing with Lego bricks…well, it probably won’t make a difference.

If you know someone who has discriminating tastes in their audio equipment, the Synchros S700 headphones would make a great gift. If you think you or your loved one doesn’t need such capability, JBL’s full Synchros line includes numerous models of headphones and earbuds to fit every budget and useage choice.

JBL Synchros S700 headphones retail for $349.99 and can be found online at or other electronics retailers, such as Amazon. You can also check out the entire Synchros line here.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Handcrafted Steampunk USB Drives!

Photo: Steamworkshop
Photo: Steamworkshop

Sure, you can pick up a USB drive for $20 or so at any office supply store. But are they this awesome? Etsy seller Derrick Culligan crafts “accurate reproductions of items that never existed” for sale in his Etsy shop, Steamworks. These fab USB drives made with brass, copper, glass, and watch parts, for instance. They run from $100-250 or so, but just think how much you’ll impress the folks at your next con when you whip one of these babies out. (Alas, while the gears look functional, the operation of the flash drive is purely electronic.)

Steampunk USB drive
Photo: Steamworkshop

Motorola Talkabout MT350R Two-Way Radios Are Perfect For Summer Fun

Motorola Talkabout MT350R Two-Way Radios, Image: Motorola
Motorola Talkabout MT350R Two-Way Radios, Image: Motorola

Summertime means outdoor fun, and if you’re worried about your mobile phone surviving the elements, then the Motorola Talkabout MT350R Two-Way Radios are a great alternative. These durable and easy to use walkie-talkies will keep you connected with your family and friends when you’re hiking, at the beach, camping or even at an amusement park.

The feature that’s a stand-out for me is that these are weatherproof. This means you can take them on a hike and not worry if they’re dropped in a mud puddle, or bring them to the waterpark and not panic when your kids manage to sit on them in soaking wet swimsuits.

Continue reading Motorola Talkabout MT350R Two-Way Radios Are Perfect For Summer Fun

Review: Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids

Image courtesy No Starch Press

File this under: how did I not know this existed before? Snip, Burn, Soldier, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids is exactly what it sounds like: a book of projects for you to make with your child. Most of the projects are pretty timeless and range in the level of skill and power equipment involved. There’s the delightful sock Cthulhu monster that involves only socks, stuffing, scissors, and needle and thread. There are also soldering projects, carpentry projects, and everything in between.

If you want to spend 2013 with practical hands-on learning experiences, this is is a treasure trove of ideas. Better yet, they’re all cheap ideas that you can do without buying a gigantic robotics kit or huge machinery, and there’s enough room to build on the ideas for new inspiration. The projects here are also appealing to both genders and a range of skill levels, and they explain why the project works as you build it. That would make it a great tool for teachers and homeschoolers as well as DIY enthusiasts.

The illustrations are black and white and mostly photographic with a few line drawings. The author chose to use more text and fewer illustrations to explain the projects. I actually prefer this to lots of pictures without enough explanation. Snip, Burn, Soldier, Shred avoids the trap of kid project books, in that it doesn’t talk down to the reader. It also doesn’t use a high level of industry terms and jargon, so don’t feel like you have to know everything about electrical engineering if you want to make the homemade electrical guitar.

My daughter is in love with the first project in the book, a lock box made of wood and containing many different types of locks. I think we’ll make it together once the weather is a little better and we can go outside for the sawing stages. Meanwhile, all our mismatched socks are going to turn into squids. I know we’re going to have a lot of fun with this book and a very crafty new year.

Full disclosure: a review copy of the book was provided by No Starch Press.

Add Electronics to Your Halloween and Enter the First SparkFun Costume Contest

See the tutorial link below for how to make these twinkling wings. Image credit: SparkFun

Somewhere among you are the grown-ups traumatized by homemade Halloween costumes. All the other kids on the block had the store-bought Ninja Turtle suits while you were wearing a green sweatsuit. Kids of the 21st century have the opposite problem — who wants a thin piece of printed polyester when next door there’s a mom building a Bumblebee costume that actually transforms?

Of course, cardboard Transformers are so 2009. (If you haven’t seen any, search YouTube for “transformers costume,” and you’ll find a bounty.) Here in the future, we add electronics, and a few new products are making it even easier for those of you don’t know how or don’t want to program an Arduino. Here’s how to make sure your costume is the best on the block — and then how to win a little reward for having done it.

Make it twinkle

SparkFun is carrying two new boards, the LilyTiny and LilyTwinkle (each $6.95). They’re smaller than Arduinos and other breakout boards, and they’re already coded, so you don’t have to do any programming yourself. For the LilyTwinkle, you just sew on four LEDs and connect the battery. The LEDs will automatically twinkle. The LilyTiny gives you a few more options. Each LED acts differently, blinking, flashing like a heartbeat, fading in and out, or randomly fading. They are also both re-programmable. If you’re not ready to code or need something with a small profile, you’re spending a lot less money for these, and they’re a lot simpler. They’re also a good introduction to this type of microcontroller that will have you wanting more.

The next step up is the LilyPad Arduino, which has been available for several years. If you do program, these offer you a wealth of costuming options with conductive thread and a wealth of options.

Dia Campbell of SparkFun recently posted a tutorial using the LilyTiny and extra LilyPad LEDs to make the pair of twinkling fairy wings pictured above. Of course, they could also be dragon wings or any other sort of wings, or you can just use the tutorial as guidelines to put twinkle where you want twinkle! Continue reading Add Electronics to Your Halloween and Enter the First SparkFun Costume Contest

The Open Hardware Summit: The Future of Manufacturing is Sharing

Open Hardware Summit attendees show off their Lego-brick badges, which once said “OHS,” now modified to various video game scenes. All photos CC-BY-SA Ruth Suehle.

The Open Hardware Summit was held for the third time last Thursday in New York in advance of World Maker Faire in nearby Queens. This is the first year that it was held by the relatively new Open Source Hardware Association, which is now accepting members.

Speakers ranged in age from 11-year-old Super-Awesome Sylvia, who is in the third season of her DIY webshow for makers, to 77-year-old Pat Delany, who created a $150 lathe/mill/drill from scrap metal.

Wired’s Chris Anderson keynoted on “Microeconomics for Makers,” though he admitted, “My presentation title looks like I have the answers, but I don’t.” He then offered the true, bottom-line simplicity of the business model: “We sell products for more than they cost.” On having an open hardware company, he said:

When we tell people we’re an open hardware company, they ask how you protect the intellectual property. We don’t. We license it so anyone can use it. They can compete with us. They can undercut us. They say, ;you can’t build a business on that.’ Sure, it’s a challenge, but our model allows us to innovate faster than a closed model. That speed of innovation and our community are the barriers to entry. You can clone us, but you can’t clone our community. You can’t innovate as quickly as our community can. The community beats cloning every time. Continue reading The Open Hardware Summit: The Future of Manufacturing is Sharing

Easily Charge Devices at Home or On the Go With Idapt

The Idapt i4 Universal Charger. Image: Idapt

These days, most of us have several electronic devices that have specialized charging cables. Keeping track of them, and remembering to bring them when we travel, can sometimes be a challenge. One solution to this problem is to use a specialized charger that can charge multiple devices at once.

The Idapt i4 Universal Charger is one good example. It is extremely easy to use and is lightweight. You just plug the necessary adapters into the three spots in which you’ll charge your devices, plug in the i4 unit, and then plug in your devices. The lights for each spot are green when nothing is plugged in, but turn to an orange-y red when their devices are charging. This changes back to green when the devices are fully charged. When you’re not using it, you can turn off the unit, saving electricity.

miniUSB tip. Image: Idapt

The i4 came with six different tips including an iPod/iPad tip (though I’m not sure I’d balance my iPad on the thing), a miniUSB, two microUSBs, a Samsung 4, and a Nokia 2. You can also order additional tips for other devices from their website, for $9.99 and up. There are many to choose from including one the charges AA batteries. Since almost all of our devices plug into the iPod/iPad tip, they were fighting for real estate, having to take turns. But we could order two additional iPod/iPad tips and then charge three iThings at once.

Since everyone has a different set of electronics, you can customize your collection of tips based on your charging needs. It is compatible with over 4,000 devices, which you can look up on their Device Compatibility Check list. Additionally, there is a USB charging port on the side, which allows you to charge a fourth device at the same time.

The Idapt i4 Universal Charger retails for $59.99. It is very easy to bring instead of multiple chargers when you’re going somewhere, or if you want an extra location in your house to charge things, perhaps on your bedside table. It is also good for when you don’t want to deal with multiple cables, or for when your friends come over and forgot their own charger.

Note: I received an Idapt i4 Universal Charger for the purposes of this review.

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tINDIE: Like Etsy For Electronic Tinkerers

tINDIE, etsy for tinkerers,
Angry Bird-playing robot offered on

If you’ve ever dreamed of an Etsy-like site for electronics tinkerers, it’s here.

Two months ago Emile Petrone put up a market research post on Reddit to explore an idea.

I thought of an Arduino/homemade tech marketplace where people could sell the things they build. As an engineer that has been watching Arduino and open source hardware from the sidelines, it seems like there isn’t a place for people to sell what they make (something I think would raise awareness of the platform & support the tinkers on the front lines).

Basically this would be a place to sell your homemade guitar pedal, pet feeder – any thing really. Sure there are sites to share plans, but there are more people (I think) that are interested in the platforms and gadgets but aren’t necessarily builders.

The site, called tINDIE, is now live. Excitement is warranted.

Inventor Mitch Altman, Electronics Jedi

Mitch Altman, Inventor of TV-B-Gone
Mitch Altman, Inventor of TV-B-Gone Image: Joi Ito, Creative Commons License

Long, flowing hair and an air of supreme confidence emanates from Mitch Altman as he enters the “Dark Side” stage at the 2012 Orlando Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, May 27, 2012. You can hear the Star Wars theme trumpeting in the background as R2D2 blinks and beeps — Mitch takes the stage.

Mitch has been self-employed since 2007, promoting his successful invention, TV-B-Gone. TV-B-Gone uses Jedi Force-like prowess to turn any TV off. Simply point the device at a TV and BAM! It goes dark and quiet. In 2004, Mitch reached Jedi status after the Wired article featured his TV-B-Gone invention.

Like Padawan, Mitch’s fans flock to learn his secrets for successfully launching an invention. Mitch’s description of venture capitalists leaves you with the feeling that he’s really describing Sith Lords, telling you what you want to hear and then turning you to the Dark Side. However, there are trustworthy manufacturers in the universe—Mitch found them in China.

Continue reading Inventor Mitch Altman, Electronics Jedi

TEDActive Makers Hack Art, Urbanization, and Kinetic Energy

Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen
Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen Photo by Gina Clifford

TED is an annual, global idea conference. TEDActive is the arm of the TED conference that engages thinkers and doers in projects centered on the TED Prize. What happens when an artist, an engineer, an inventor, and a technology guru at TEDActive put their heads together around the idea of urbanization? Talk turns to making as an impromptu team emerges.

Luis Cillimingras of Ideo was the Urbanization project facilitator at TEDActive. Kiel Johnson is a fine artist with an amazing talent for working with cardboard. Kiel created a miniature city from cardboard for TEDActive. Laurence Kemball-Cook is the CEO of Pavegen systems, a company dedicated to converting human footsteps (kinetic energy) into electricity. Laurence presented at TEDActive, demonstrating how people’s footsteps on a Pavegen tile can be converted to electricity that can be used to power a radio. In his hotel room the evening before his presentation, Laurence hacked the radio (to accept power from a Pavegen tile). Beau Ambur, president and founder of AD&HD, Inc. is a technology guru who, as a child, taught himself electronics, wiring, and device hacking.

Because making things is what these guys love to do, they rapidly brainstormed a way to use a Pavegen tile (people power) to light up Kiel’s cardboard city. Luis purchased all the wiring, LEDs, and resistors required for the project. Beau, the technology guru, worked with Laurence and set about calculating resistor and power requirements. Over the next day and a half, the team wired the city up to the Pavegen tile.

Beau's calculations
Beau’s calculations Photo by Gina Clifford

As the team worked furiously to complete the wiring before the conference ended, people started making cardboard additions to the city. Someone built a yacht, another person created a TED sign. Someone even built an elevated park with resistors for tree branches.

Resistor Trees by Jenna Sampson
Resistor Trees by Jenna Sampson Photo by Gina Clifford

Finally, shortly before the end of the last TED session, the wiring was complete. The miniature city’s red lights glowed brightly as people streamed into the room and lined-up for their chance to jump up and down on the Pavegen tile. Some danced, juggled, and even laughed as they powered the city’s red lights. Literally and figuratively, this miniature city was “people-powered.”  What if real cities embraced diverse maker cultures and tasked them with innovative design and energy projects? If this project is any indication, our cities would be more beautiful, efficient, and fun.

TEDActive Attendees Power Cardboard City with Footsteps

About the Team

Miniature City Project team
Photo by Gina Clifford

Laurence Kemball-Cook is the CEO of Pavegen systems, a company dedicated to converting kinetic energy into electricity. Laurence was inspired to create Pavegen as a graduate student working at a large energy company in the UK where he was tasked with designing solar powered streetlights. Admittedly, Laurence is not a fan of corporate structure and was bored by the uninspired work he was doing. Motivated by his Sustainability and Industrial Design Engineering graduate college courses, he came up with the idea to harness otherwise wasted human kinetic energy to power lights or store the energy in batteries for later use.

Kiel Johnson is a fine artist with an amazing talent for working with cardboard. His miniature cardboard city, augmented with miniature signs, boats, hammocks, and art created by TEDActive attendees throughout the week, celebrates The City 2.0, the 2012 TED Prize.

Beau Ambur, president and founder of AD&HD, Inc. is a technology guru who, as a child, taught himself electronics, wiring, and device hacking.  It was Beau’s idea to light up the miniature cardboard city, and he definitely had the skills to accomplish the task.

Luis Cilimingras works at IDEO and facilitated the Urbanization project at TEDActive. Throughout the week, Luis worked tirelessly to facilitate conversations about improving cities as the world’s population shifts to urban environments.

SparkFun Free Day Returns for Round Three With More Money And Different Rules

Image CC by SparkFunElectronics

This Wednesday, January 11, is SparkFun Electronics’ third annual Free Day. If you’ve never participated before, you’re missing out on a lot of sparks and a lot of fun.

What’s SparkFun? A great site where you can buy nearly 2,000 components and electronics. It’s like the RadioShack of the 21st century, if you think of RadioShack as that place where you could actually get parts to buy stuff. They sell everything from robotics parts to LCDs to wearable electronics parts like my favorite, the LilyPad Arduino. And if you need inspiration, they’ve got plenty of tutorials.

What’s Free Day? Pretty much what it sounds like–SparkFun gives away stuff for free. But not a little stuff. A lot of stuff. To be specific, $100 of free stuff, per person, for a total of $200,000.

In the past, Free Day has been more of a free-for-all madhouse with thousands of people clicking their browsers’ refresh buttons all morning hoping of loading the site, and if they loaded the site, managing to get to the checkout. Instead this year, 2,000 people who visit the website on Free Day will be chosen at random to win a $100 credit to SparkFun.

SparkFun CEO Nate Seidle came up with the idea of Free Day as a way to get the DIY community “sparked” and to stress test the company’s servers while they were at it.

As a bonus this year, SparkFun will be creating a Free Day Documentary about the event. They’re sending crews around the US to video how Free Day goes at hackerspaces, schools, and companies–wherever people have gathered to try to score free goods.

The only requirements for participation are a SparkFun customer account (which can be created at any time, even without a purchase) and to visit the SparkFun website on Free Day, January 11, beginning at 9 a.m. MT and ending when the $200,000 runs out.

Goodnight iPad – A Parody for the Next Generation


I have to admit that I’m still reeling from the news about Steve Jobs passing away. So it seemed a little surreal when I got the mail and it had a copy of Goodnight iPad in it.

Goodnight iPad is another parody of the ever famous Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This one, by David Milgrim under the pseudonym Ann Droyd, showcases a family that is so plugged in and dependent on their electronic devices that the mother of the house throws the devices out of the window. She does this in order to get her family to sleep.

It is filled with wonderful illustrations, so my daughter wanted me to read it to her for her naptime story. She was more interested in the baby bunny than the electronic devices that the story was about. But she is only 2, so I understand that she would identify with the character closest to her in age.

I thought it was a cute story with a great message: that it’s a good idea to unplug every once in a while. Our precious electronic devices will always be there when it is time to plug back in. This is a lesson I need to try and listen to, because I hate not being plugged in.

Goodnight iPad is going to be released on October 27, 2011. It will be available in traditional hardcover as well as eBook on the Kindle platform.

Maker Faire NYC: Easy Stuff for Kids

It’s truly unbelievable to walk through the tents at Maker Faire New York and marvel at what people have pulled from their imaginations put forth into reality. So much time! So much energy! Frankly, I always leave feeling like a serious underachiever. Fortunately, the Makers have me covered. All throughout Maker Faire was cool stuff that I can do with my kids, dispensed in nice easy packages.

A toilet tube terror in the ScrapKins tent

My daughter insists of saving every toilet paper roll, and they’ve built up into a pile that I didn’t quite know what to do with – until now! My favorite craft of Maker Faire was a super easy monster from a ScrapKins design. Their ScrapKins Build-it Book is full of more cute and easy ideas of crafts you can make out of your junk. I’ve already told my kids’ teachers about this one. (FYI: our own GeekMom Kathy is full of great ideas like this, too, which you can find on her awesome blog.)

An adorable, undead Beastie

If you build a zombie diorama, it’s going to catch my eye. I stopped to see this undead little fella and discovered that the pattern to make him comes from a book by Diana Schoenbrun called Beasties: How to Make 22 Mischievous Monsters That Go Bump in the Night. I’m a knitter but not a sewer, yet I think I could pull off the book’s straightforward patterns.

There was a lot of thinkin' and linkin' going on.

When we go to the Staten Island Children’s Museum, my daughter likes to play with the great big wooden building pieces they have, putting together a cabin that she can sit inside. At Maker Faire, we found Thinker Linkers, which is the same idea on a more manageable scale to have at home. The prices are surprisingly affordable, starting at $55.00 for a set of 36 pieces.

DIY Lady Liberty

The Autodesk booth was full of families gluing together cardboard with fabulous results. They sell kits made from 2D laser-cut cardboard from which you can make a wide range of 3D objects, from a gorilla to the Statue of Liberty.

Simple circuit: battery? Check. LED light? Check. Paint? Wait... paint?

I’ve always loved the idea of chalkboard paint, though I admittedly haven’t gotten around to making anything around the house into a chalkboard. Well, Bare Conductive might blow chalkboard paint out of the water with their non-toxic electrically conductive paint. You can make circuits using the paint. Imagine the possibilities! Actually, if you combine chalkboard paint and electrically conductive paint in the same space, that could be quite an activity wall!

Kenn Amdahl Makes Learning Fun

Image: Clearwater Publishing

Educational reference materials don’t have to be dry and boring. There are ways to teach important topics to children (and adults) in ways that are interesting and entertaining, but most textbooks don’t lay out their material this way; we often must turn to supplemental resources for this kind of teaching. One author, Kenn Amdahl, has written a series of books that all tackle their subject matter in interesting ways. The topics are as varied as writing and electronics, but they all approach their topics in nontraditional ways.

Each of these books is at least a few years old. For most, the cover art leaves a bit to be desired, and the page layouts are very basic. But look past this to the content inside. These books aren’t intended to be primary textbooks on their subjects, but they all show another side to the topic that can help you have a more complete understanding.

Joy Writing: Discover and Develop Your Creative Voice (2005)

This book is all about writing. But not how to form paragraphs or what words to use. Amdahl doesn’t claim to be an expert in writing. He just shares his bits of wisdom about the practice of writing. Joy Writing is broken into sections that come in the same order as writing itself does: Before You Write, Beginning to Write, Thinking about Language, The Overall Flow of any Work, and Improving. The book describes writing as being able to create your own world. Reading will take you away on a journey, but so will writing, and with writing you get to control where you go. I’d agree with that. I’ve learned that there are actually more surprises when you’re writing than there are when you’re reading.

Back to the joy of writing, though, Amdahl’s sentence sums it up: “You don’t make yourself write, you let yourself write.” I never understood what could be appealing about writing fiction until I did NaNoWriMo last year. It was such a wonderful experience (despite my lack of sleep) that I hope to do it every year.

This book also discusses the importance of writing rituals. For NaNoWriMo, my only real ritual was having the same time each day that I wrote, and that alone was enough for me. I wrote before everyone else was up, so the small sacrifice of 30 hours of sleep over a month got me to the required 50,000 words.

In Joy Writing, Amdahl gives great advice to the novice writer, with plenty for the experienced ones as well. One of the things I took away from the book is that writing something that someone else will read makes you vulnerable and will let your readers inside you a little bit. This has to be okay, or you’ll never write anything.

The book also includes plenty of valuable excerpts from famous authors’ books, and writings about their own writing. The book is also filled with so many take-away sentences that I would go way beyond fair use if I quoted them all. Reading this book would be a valuable thing for any writer, but especially those new to writing.

The section on the writing act itself doesn’t teach grammar or how to construct a sentence. It talks about how to improve your writing and what words and styles might get you there. Amdahl has filled the book with examples to back up his advice. He helps you use the tricks of the English language to help get your meaning down. And he gives plenty of other advice to keep in mind while you’re writing such as how to differentiate your writing, how to make it yours, and how to make it sound authentic.

Joy Writing: Discover and Develop Your Creative Voice retails for $12.95.

Image: Clearwater Publishing

There Are No Electrons: Electronics For Earthlings (1991)

In an effort to write an engaging book on a dull (to some) subject, Kenn Amdahl brings us There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings. Praised by the likes of Ray Bradbury, Clive Cussler, and Dave Barry, this book aims to teach electricity to those that don’t take to it naturally.

With a really humorous tack, Amdahl teaches aspects of electromagnetism with humor and narrative. This isn’t a book that just systematically teaches you how electricity works. It takes you on a journey, including you as part of a story line. The learning will come easily. This book very much reminds me of the English book Grammarland which we use in our homeschooling. That 100+ year old text for kids teaches grammar in the context of a story. It is much more entertaining than any other way I’ve seen grammar taught, and Amdahl does the same for electronics here.

Filled with examples, stories, a handful of equations and diagrams, plenty of tongue-in-cheek, and even some poetry, There Are No Electrons: Electronics For Earthlings makes a dry subject easier to read. Many concepts are addressed, and specific electronic parts (diodes, capacitors, transistors, semiconductors, oscillators, etc.) are explained.

You may not know or remember all of the equations dealing with electricity, but by the time you’re done reading this book, you’ll understand the basics. And for most of us, that’s enough.

There Are No Electrons: Electronics For Earthlings retails for $12.95.

Image: Clearwater Publishing

If you are the (rare?) kind of geek who isn’t enthralled with math for math’s sake (I assume there are some of you out there), Kenn Amdahl has also written two math books with Jim Loats, Ph.D.

Algebra Unplugged (1995)

Starting off with what equations are and how they work, this book compares Algebra to a game with rules, pieces, moves, and strategies. It really does start with the basics, explaining all the different pieces to the Algebra puzzle. Then the book delves into fractions, polynomials, and graphing. For me, it was a trip down a happy memory lane. But for some of you (or your kids), it might just explain things in a way that you or they finally understand.

This book isn’t so much a story, but it explains Algebra with humor and entertainment and plenty of anecdotes. Amdahl rightly explains that you don’t have to be a “math person” to understand and use math.

Algebra Unplugged retails for $12.95.

Image: Clearwater Publishing

Calculus For Cats (2001)

Later, Amdahl and Loats wrote Calculus For Cats, tackling a topic that some people never get around to learning. I was fortunate to have an excellent Calculus teacher in high school (thank you Dr. Stallings!), but many first visit this topic in college, if at all, where they’ll be unusually lucky to get a small class size that can be helpful for such a potentially tricky topic (more likely they’ll just be one of a hundred or so in a huge lecture hall).

Since I’ve probably forgotten more Calculus than I remember, this book was a great refresher to me. It covers the basics of pre-Calculus, and then covers differential calculus and a bit of integral calculus, leaving that pesky third dimension as an exercise for the reader.

Amdahl uses the context of cats as a way to make Calculus more understandable. Cats are cute and funny, and can (almost) make Calculus a cuddly topic. Inserting cats into any explanation makes it cute and funny. When cats dance the watusi, for example, that means something particular in this book.

Limits, logarithms, derivatives, integrals. Change over time. Area under a curve. They’re fun! Really. They are. Try them! Calculus For Cats retails for $14.95.

To see more of Kenn Amdahl’s books, or to see sample pages for these four, visit

Note: I received copies of these four books for review purposes.

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Electronics-Free Friday, Or How I Got My Kids to Play With Their Toys

My daughter's spontaneous artwork. Photo: Jenny Williams

How do you get your kids to unplug? Simple. Require it.

If your kids are like most these days, they spend a great deal of time plugged in, either on the computer, texting, playing video games, or watching television. Perhaps you wish they did this less often. I think my kids spend an average amount of time doing electronic-based activities, but at one point I realized that I still wished they would spend less time doing it, and spend more time with their many other toys and with each other. Both of my kids love their toys, but when given a choice, my son will usually take the electronic way out. “Ooo shiny!” My daughter usually picks an analog option, so this effort is mostly aimed at my son.

How did I successfully combat my son’s preference for all things electronic? I created Electronics-Free Fridays. Did the kids balk? Not too much. My daughter wasn’t upset at all. She prefers to play the old fashioned way, anyway. My son does still say that he isn’t happy about it, yet every week he has imaginative adventures dressed up in costume, or he reads a book, or he builds giant structures or elaborate play sets.

What are the rules? I have decided that there will be no television, no computer (unless it’s directly related to the homeschooling we’re doing that day), and no video games. They are allowed to listen to records, since it’s something they do together. I don’t set them up with any activities. I let them decide what to do on their own. They have no trouble staying incredibly busy, almost always playing with each other.

What about boredom? My son is never bored, regardless of what day of the week it is. He always easily finds something to do, electronic or not. My daughter only complains about being bored on the other days of the week, when my son is on the computer or watching television.

Every week for Electronics-Free Friday, my kids end up doing something different. They spend time playing with each other, playing with all their toys, reading books, or running amok outside. This weekly reminder of how much fun they can have without electronics has also made them unplug more often during the other days of the week. Mission accomplished!

So if you despair of getting your kids off the Wii, or to put away their iPod, try setting aside one day each week to unplug. Its effect will carry over to the other days of the week, and the results are nothing but great joy for everyone.

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