Honest Valentines from Mommy’s 15 Seconds

Meet Mommy. She only has 15 seconds to record her thoughts while hiding from her children in the closet or bathroom. No one knows how many kids she has or what her real first name is, but one thing is certain, whether she is inventing things to make life easier or sharing poopie stories, she sure is funny!

For Valentine’s Day, Mommy got a great idea that backfired horribly…

Well, to be honest, Honest Valentines are kind of funny… Continue reading Honest Valentines from Mommy’s 15 Seconds

Comikaze Expo Panel: Pop Culture and Parenting 2015

Comikaze Expo took place over Halloween weekend. Partnering with comic legend Stan Lee himself and Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Comikaze is the only pop-culture convention owned and operated by true pop-culture icons.

After spending time researching both local and national conventions in the United States, Regina Carpinelli, the co-founder and CCO of Comikaze Entertainment Inc., and the rest of the Comikaze team have crafted an event that will thrill and excite even the most casual comic fan.

It is the fourth year that we attending as a family. This is also the second year of being a part of the Pop Culture and Parenting panel hosted by the Geekling and Parental Units. Kendra Moras, who submitted and championed our group took on the nuts and bolts of creating this year’s experience and led with enthusiasm and charm. I, too, had the pleasure of being involved with the behind the scenes selections of the parenting panel. Helping chose the members and questions. Gathering giveaways and even recruiting my husband, Mark Cronan, to step in as the moderator. Continue reading Comikaze Expo Panel: Pop Culture and Parenting 2015

Why I Love Burrito Van, or Down With Kale!

The first time I tried kale was at a swanky automotive event in New York City. There were swanky drinks, swanky cars, and swanky appetizers on swanky little trays. It was swank. And then, there was kale.

I had never tried kale before, but had heard of its wonders. It was supposedly delicious and easy to make and the perfect substitute for not-healthy potato chips. This is what everyone told me. Everyone.

So, when I spied the funny-looking green things I asked if they were, in fact, the wondrous kale. I was informed that it was kale and that it had a light dusting of some kind of fancy salt I can no longer remember. I decided to try the kale.

You people, you all lied!

There is nothing tasty about kale. It is like munching on a piece of particularly crunchy grass. Pieces of it stuck to the roof of my mouth leaving me to awkwardly try freeing it with my tongue like a communion wafer in church. You cannot stick your fingers in your mouth to free that wafer and you cannot stick your fingers in your mouth to free stupid kale in a room full of swanky people being swanky.

I should mention that my partner-in-crime at this event, Emme, was equally appalled by the kale. She is not swanky. I love her and love that she thought the kale chips were the spawn of Satan. I’m pretty sure she encouraged me to use a strong swanky drink like mouthwash to free the kale. I say pretty sure because things are a bit of a blur after that, likely due to the strength of the swanky drink.

I have not once knowingly consumed kale since. I have no idea how anyone eats the stuff. Burritos, however, I totally understand. That is why I love this video by Parry Gripp and animator Nathan Mazur. Not only is it an ode to burritos, but it comes out firmly against kale.

Down with kale! Long live burritos!

(via ThatsNerdalicious)

A New Remote-Controlled Robot Kit From Thames & Kosmos

I was shopping Amazon’s back to school specials a couple of months ago and found a good deal on Thames & Kosmos Electricity & Magnetism, an experiment kit with block-like circuitry bits you can snap together. It looked like fun so I bought it, not really knowing exactly how interested my 4-year-old would be. The daughter of nerds loved it, shocker. She was so ridiculously excited about building her very own circuit and we were amazed at the amount of focus and effort she put into this toy—a rare occurrence, believe you me. So I was pretty excited to see if we could repeat the same success with one of Thames & Kosmos’ newest items, the Remote-Control Machines DLX.

Robo-Beetle. Photo credit: Thomas & Kosmos.
Robo-Beetle. Photo credit: Thomas & Kosmos.

The Remote-Control Machines DLX is a set of building blocks to construct remote-controlled robots. Included in the box are one IR remote control, one battery box with receiver, three motors, and a variety of frames, rods, gears, wheels, connectors, and other odds and ends for a total of 212 pieces. Also included is a thick manual which contains the instructions to build 20 different models, split into these categories:

The Robotic Arm—Model to make a robotic arm.

Can Robots Push and Crawl?—Five models, from bulldozer for pushing to animal-inspired crawlers.

Robots for Transport—Think of transport in terms of weight lifting rather than distance on this one. Five models for moving loads, such as a fork lift and elevator.

Driving Robots—Here are the distance transportation vehicles. Four models consisting on variations of cars and trucks.

Goooooal!—One model to stage a robotic soccer game.

A Look into the Future—Four models which explore air and space.

The DLX kit is a revamped version of their popular Remote-Control Machines kit which was well received, judging by the Amazon reviews. The previous model consisted of 182 pieces and the instructions on how to build ten models, whereas the DLX version contains 212 pieces and the instructions to build 20 models.

So was it a success? Did it win my 4-year-old’s fleeting attention span? I’d say yes. She is definitively too young to sit through an entire model build, so I started off by building one of the models by myself at night. The next morning, she was excited to find our new robot. The remote control was a great draw, compared to other robotics kit we’ve tried that only used an on-off switch. After the fun of controlling the robots started to wane, she started to explore how she could modify it. After a few iterations, she painstakingly pulled it apart back into its bare pieces. I thought was interesting that she stopped playing with it, not when it stopped working as a remote-controlled toy but when she could see every piece laid down on the ground. Pretty cool.

I should also emphasize that my daughter is half the age of the suggested age group, the set is labeled as 8+. I think an older child would get more play time out of the toy, being able to follow instructions and build the models from scratch themselves, but it doesn’t preclude smaller kids from enjoying it as well, with adequate safety precautions taken to avoid choking on the pieces of course.

The obvious question is how it compares against Legos. We have a big box of Lego bricks at home and it’s definitively a different building experience. It is interesting to think in terms of the pegs and holes design of Thames & Kosmos versus the interlocking bricks design of Lego. I wouldn’t say one design is better or worse from a casual user perspective, but the variety has been fun just to get that extra challenge of spatially planning things a little differently.

While the Thames & Kosmos building sets are obviously not compatible with your existing Lego brick collection, the Thames & Kosmos sets are compatible with each other. This includes construction kits, physics kits, the wind power kit, and the hydropower kit. The Thames & Kosmos Remote-Control Machines DLX is currently priced at $110.47 on Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

New Tim Burton Trailer: Stunning and Creepy, of Course

Whether you like his movies, adore his movies, or couldn’t give a hoot, one thing’s for certain, Tim Burton’s always going to shock you. Whether making Catherine O’Hara sing a reggae song, or having Helena Bonham-Carter bake questionable pies, Burton’s always got a twisted twist somewhere. His latest movie doesn’t seem to have that same sense of the overt peculiar, but his subject matter will certainly give him plenty of opportunity for some emotional peculiarity.

Big Eyes is a biopic of Margaret Keane, whose paintings of over sized doe-eyed children are certainly in keeping with Burton’s aesthetic. It is her life, success, and divorce, however, that are the subject of this movie. I look forward to seeing Burton explore artistic property, and the rights of a woman in 1960s divorce court. Her divorce proceedings made it all the way to federal court, where finally, Margaret challenged her husband (who had been claiming authorship of her works) to a “paint-off.” She notoriously created a painting in front of the judge to prove that she was the artist. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Burton movie without those remarkable eyes making their way into a few mirrors and real faces along the way. Burton seems to have long been taken with Keane’s work and in fact, in 1998 Keane painted a portrait of Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter, stating “She looks like my paintings—she has big eyes.” (LATimes)

For me, anything starring Amy Adams and Kristen Ritter is a must see movie event.

The trailer for Big Eyes was just released this week and the movie opens on Christmas Day.

BIGEYES
© 2014 – The Weinstein Company

Cookie Monster and John Oliver Team Up to Give You the News, and It’s Amazing

I’ve already talked about how this new season of Sesame Street is promising to be more entertaining for parents than kids, and after seeing today’s video on Mashable starring John Oliver, I’m officially a bigger fan of the show than my five-year-old.

If John Oliver, Cookie Monster, Al Roker, and Nick Offerman teamed up to deliver the news every night, I’d never miss it!

Robert Downey Jr. Gets Even More Awesome, Is Doused In a Bucket of Ice for Charity [Video]

It’s a fair bet that many of you have already had a bucket of ice dumped on your head as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS and that you also have a Facebook feed full of  videos of very chilly, wet friends. If you aren’t familiar with this challenge, then here’s the scoop.

If you’re challenged, then you have 24 hours to accept and donate $10 to an ALS Charity and dump a bucket of ice water over your head. There’s the option to decline, but if you’re too chicken for your ice shower, then you’re supposed to donate $100 as penance.

Lots of people have done it, including a fair number of celebrities, one of whom is Robert Downey Jr. who posted his video that includes the names of the three people he’s challenging to follow his example.

The #IceBucketChallenge has been running since July 29th and in that time over 70 million people have donated over $4 million to ALS charities. Watch Robert Downey Jr. take the challenge, shirtless in a pool no less, and check out who gets the honor of dumping the ice on his head.

Modular Robotics Makes Building Robots Simple and Fun With MOSS

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.

Star Wars Rebels: The Hype Menace

I told myself after The Phantom Menace that I’d never let myself fall victim to Star Wars hype again, but after seeing what Lucasfilm and Disney have in the works for Star Wars Rebels, I just can’t resist. I’m officially hyped.

Star Wars Rebels will introduce a crew that includes a Twi’lek pilot, a former Jedi Knight, a female Mandalorian, an astromech with attitude, and more. This is the beginning of the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Galactic Empire.

The period between Episodes III and IV is rife with potential, and if the SDCC trailer is any indication, it gives Star Wars Rebels ample opportunity to bring in characters from both trilogies, including Artoo and Threepio, Jedi Luminara Unduli, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. There’s also a Sith Inquisitor voiced by Jason Isaacs (you may know him as Lucius Malfoy), and a look and feel strongly influenced by Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art… Okay, okay, I’ll allow myself a small fangirl squee.

Star Wars Rebels premieres this October on Disney XD.

 

Knit Nests for Baby Birds in Rehab

I’m no knitter, but birds are easy to love. So, when I read that abandoned baby birds need warm nests to live in at wildlife and conservation centers, I knew GeekMoms had to hear about it.

WildCare is a nonprofit in San Rafael, California, that cares for over 3,000 wild animals annually (including more than 500 baby birds last year). Many of these baby birds had fallen out of, or otherwise become separated from, their nests during the spring season. An important part of their recuperation is a warm, soft, safe nest substitute. The hard plastic bowls that had been used to house them sometimes resulted in bruises… the idea for knitted nests was born.

Local knitters answered the call from WildCare and donated over 500 nests last year.

Knitted nest snuggles baby birds in video from babybirdnest.org. (Screengrab K. Moore)

If you’d like to help, contact your local conservation organizations to discover whether they are using knitted nests, or donate directly to WildCare. They have a web page dedicated to the Nest Knitting project and knitting instructions are available, along with a Ravelry group and FAQ. There is also a crochet option if a hook is your thing.  (via SFGate)

Be a Citizen Scientist by Hunting Asteroids

If you’d like to balance your video game-playing karma, head on over to the new web app Asteroid Zoo and try your hand as a real-life asteroid hunter.

Last year, GeekMom shared news of Arkyd, a Kickstarter project to both mine asteroids for resources and make space telescopes that are accessible to the public, including schoolchildren. Planetary Resources, the people behind Arkyd, has teamed up with the citizen science workshop Zooniverse to create a game-like opportunity for the public to scan our skies for asteroids. The job reminds me of the recent crowd-sourced search for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

Asteroid Zoo doesn’t offer a very game-like interface, but it still sucked me in. The web app displays a short series of space images collected by the Catalina Sky Survey, so you can mark them for possible asteroid tracks. You get assistance from a tutorial and a Talk forum.

Seeking asteroids by looping through a four-frame sequence. Screen capture by K. Moore.

Planetary Resources can use data from these “sightings” to help pinpoint asteroids for their eventual asteroid mining efforts. NASA is also interested in asteroid detection and will use the data to test future asteroid-detection software. They are partnering with Planetary Resources to offer rewards for the creation of asteroid-finding algorithms.

asteroidzoofind
Result of a sequence with 1 asteroid and 1 artifact identified. Screen capture by K. Moore.

Get a preview of the app in the video above or head on over to Asteroid Zoo and try your luck.

For more on Arkyd, Planetary Resources, and asteroid hunting, check out Fund This: Organic Yarn, Blast into Space and App Camp for Girls and Are You My Asteroid-Busting Hero? …Sign in Friday Morning.

Maleficent: Feminist Fairy Tale

maleficent
Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, c/o Walt Disney Company.

It shocks me that this movie was made by a major Hollywood studio. Not because it’s feminist, because we’ve already seen Frozen reject a number of popular tropes, but because this movie is about a woman’s recovery from something horrific.

Frozen is, at heart a sweet movie about the love between two sisters. Dark elements are hinted at, about men being untrustworthy and the difficulties in coming of age under special circumstances but it’s a very happy movie.

Maleficent has a happy ending but it delves into something far darker.

WARNING: COMPLETE AND UTTER SPOILERS BELOW

Maleficent couldn’t have come along at a more opportune time, as our society is in the midst of a long discussion about the way women are treated. It’s a discussion that erupted after the shootings in California in which a young man went on a rampage because he hated women for not having sex with him and hated the men who were lucky enough to have sex. See #yesallwomen.

Maleficent opens in a wonderful, eye-popping sequence with young Maleficent flying all over the land of the enchanted, an obvious metaphor for childhood innocence. She’s wide-eyed and happy, innocent, but never stupid. Into the land comes a young thief that she saves from punishment. They became friends, then lovers as they grow into adulthood.

But Stefan, the young man, isn’t content. He started as a thief and he’s intent on winning a kingdom. He leaves with the intent to make himself king of the land of humans. Though sad, Maleficent grows up strong, happy, and the protector of the enchanted land, beloved by all. Hers is a good life. This is not a scorned woman. This is a happy, mature person.

But Stefan re-enters the picture, apparently comes to apologize. What he’s really come to do is kill her, as he gets to marry the king’s daughter  and thus win the kingdom if he does.

Maleficent trusts Stefan, she has no reason not to trust him. Stefan can’t quite kill her. So he does something else that robs her of power. He drugs her and rapes her. Oh, not as we’d call it in the real world. What he does is a symbolic rape: he cuts off her wings. He cuts off her freedom. He wrecks her hope and faith in the world.

It’s a moment of such cruelty that it takes your breath away.

At this point, I wondered where the movie would go. Having established Maleficent had valid reasons to hate the new king, Stefan, and to curse his firstborn, Aurora, I expected a descent into villainy with a small redemptive moment at the end.

I expected a revenge fantasy or the tale of how one woman couldn’t be saved but the next generation could.

I expected Prince Phillip to play some sort of part in it.

None of that.

There are scenes of action, of course, as Stefan and his men try to find and kill her and the usual silliness with the fairies who raise Aurora. But the second half of the movie is taken up mostly with the growing bond between Maleficent and Aurora.

Instead of it being about her revenge and madness, the story becomes about Maleficent’s recovery.

And that’s where  it’s genius.

Jolie has to carry this part of the movie. Because becoming emotionally involved in the growing bond between Maleficent and Aurora entirely depends on Jolie’s ability to convey several emotions at once. Her facial expressions, sharpened to a point with make-up designed to feature her cheekbones, show off the smallest flicker of emotions.

And carry it she does.  While on the surface, Maleficent is all about her anger, underneath, it’s all about how she comes to love watching over the little girl she calls “beastie,” the little girl who’s not afraid of her, the little girl who calls her, unironically, her fairy godmother.

And, reminded of kindness, Maleficent tries to break her curse. She wants healing for herself and for the innocent she made her victim. At this point, I really expected Prince Phillip to have something to do with this, especially as the movie recreates his and Aurora’s first meeting from the original Sleeping Beauty.

Would Maleficent set it up so Phillip would fight her and then Aurora would fall in love with a stalwart hero? Would his true love’s kiss awaken her?

No, again.

It’s Maleficent’s own heart breaking at her failure to save Aurora that instead saves them both. After her heart is restored through compassion, Aurora helps Maleficent get her wings back, a moment that has symbolic resonance for all victims. She can fly once more.

After, Maleficent is even willing to let the feud with Stefan end. But he’s too lost in his anger and guilt to survive any longer. He’s the cautionary tale of who she could have become. Phillip does show up at the end, hinting at a possible romance in the future for him and Aurora but one that will be built over time on trust.

And so, in the end, Maleficent not only survives her ordeal but to regains love and compassion. It’s a very happy ending, not only of survival, but ultimate recovery.

Monsters Making Friends: The Other Side of Hugless Hill

children's picture books
Image from The Other Side of Hugless Hill via Mark Mariano

Good picture books should be fun for kids to read and have illustrations that they remember. Great children’s picture books should have those plus that extra touch of humor and humanity that makes reading them over and over worthwhile.

The-Other-Side-of-Hugless-Hill-cover
Cover via Mark Mariano

I’d call The Other Side of Hugless Hill by Mark Mariano a great children’s picture book.

It’s the parallel story of two monsters living on different sides of a hill who have trouble making friends with the monsters in their neighborhood. Each one tries something different with her group of monsters and each one finds a problem with that activity.

The artwork is adorable, with a little touch of Maurice Sendak’s wild things, but what really hooked me is the humor. As each little monster tries something else they hope the others will like, it becomes increasingly more absurd, like when one loves kittens and the other monsters? Well, they love kittens in an entirely different and darkly humorous way.

There’s also a life lesson, of course, in that there’s a friend out there who might share your interests if you look outside your comfort zone. But I can well imagine the draw of this book will be children laughing over the increasingly silly reactions of the monsters who just don’t get it.

Why You Should Look for Hardware in The Fault in Our Stars

If you’ve turned on a television, tuned in to a radio station, or checked in on Hulu lately, you’ve surely heard about the new movie called The Fault in Our Stars. It’s going to be a pretty big deal. Trust me. I found the book accidentally a few months ago and as soon as I finished it I was so moved I had to sit down and share my thoughts with you in a review. And now it’s a movie. With a movie trailer that is the most liked movie trailer in YouTube’s history. That big.

I somehow drew the lucky straw last week and got to be a part of an interview session with the author of the book, John Green. I joined a handful of other bloggers as we threw our best questions at him. I had a unique line of questioning for one of my favorite YA authors.

Being the resident amputee mom around here, my first question had to be about the character Gus, and how his prosthetic leg is handled in the filming. I’m thrilled that prosthetics are a much bigger part of mainstream media these days, but because I’ve lived with a prosthetic leg for over a decade now, I’m very sensitive to how accurately amputees are played on television and in the movies. There are plenty of us “out there.” There is no reason for a director to get this wrong, and getting it right is very important to those of us missing limbs. We live normal lives, but we live adapted lives. Please give us the courtesy of portraying our lives accurately.

In doing research I knew that Mr. Green is a friend of Josh Sundquist. If you don’t know Josh, you should. He is an amputee, but he’s so much more than that. He’s a young, active, hilarious guy who happened to lose his leg, high at the hip, to cancer when he was a kid. The fact that Mr. Green had access to a guy like this, to represent amputees, is a blessing. I have little doubt that their friendship solidified in Mr. Green the fact that amputees are just real, authentic people who happen to have “less than four.”

headshotforbio
Photo: Josh Sundquist

So I asked the question, during the interview last week, “Were you concerned specifically about getting the details right, like in the everyday life things that the character Gus went through?”

He said he’d spoken with Josh, and with others, and then said, “The prosthetics are really good…as I’m sure you know.”

We shared laugh as I said, “Yeah, I know. I’m wearing one.”

He chuckled, then continued. “Exactly. You know, they’re really good now, and I wanted him to be at a place physically where it’s integrated into his life. The thing that I was worried about is the things like sitting all the way down on the grass in a big open field, and then figuring out how to get up.”

“But when we were filming the movie, we worked with this guy, Tanner, who had the exact same amputation as Gus. He worked a lot with Ansel and also was our stunt double, I guess.”

“And Tanner, he’d learned his balance so that he could just jump up almost like you couldn’t tell, from a seated position or from sitting on the ground without anything to pull himself up (on), which kind of astonished me. But, he’s super strong, and it happened early in his life (as it did for the character Gus), so he just kind of integrated it into his life.”

Great answer, Mr. Green. You’d think this might not be his first rodeo.

I haven’t seen the film, so I don’t know if this scene from the book made it into the movie, but I also took the chance to let Mr. Green know that I’d been surprised and pleased by a simple situation that played out in the book. The amputee character Gus is not feeling well and is laying on the couch. His friends come into the room and it is decided that they need to go somewhere to help Isaac, another character (it involved eggs and a lot of stress relief—look it up on page 226 of the latest release of the book—it’s brilliant). And, as casually as if he’s saying, “Pass the peas,” Gus says, “You’ll find my leg under the coffee table.”

YES! Mr. Green gets it. Gus is a regular guy. You barely remember the detail about his missing limb as you read the book. But when he’s not feeling well, he takes off his leg. Just like I do. Just like almost every amputee does. It’s a genius detail that made me believe, wholly and fully, in this writer and in the authenticity of this story.

The movie opens on June 6th. You might want to pre-order tickets if you plan to see it in its first week of release.

Here is the take away for those of you who won’t wear a prosthetic into the theater next week—keep an eye on Gus. Watch how he maneuvers in the world. See if you can tell that the character is an amputee and see if the actor Ansel pulls off the movements of a young man with an amputated leg. Keep in mind that the character did lose his leg early in life. Youth and youthful resilience have their advantages. Just ask Josh Sundquist.

Here’s a big question I’ll have for you—did you leave the theater aware that there had been an amputee character, but not distracted by it? Did you fall in love with Gus for the same reason Hazel Grace does (because true, deep love doesn’t care about function, or dysfunction)? I have a feeling you will. You will walk on your two good legs out of that theater, with red puffy eyes and a pocket full of wet tissues, but your outlook on life will be changed. You’ll appreciate every deep breath you are able to inhale. You’ll appreciate every confident step that leads you out to the parking lot.  And you’ll be thankful, so very thankful, for every single day.  Thanks to a guy named John Green and his story that got the details right.

Zachary Levi and Bert Team Up to Get You to Go Outside

Sesame Street has long been known for taking full advantage of the Internet with unforgettable videos, and their newest one is no exception. Today’s message is for the parents, though!

Chuck and Tangled leading man Zachary Levi flexes his singing voice for “A Lovely Sunny Day,” an ode to getting off the screen and getting outside. Kids watching might not know what Instagram and Snapchat are, but can still get the same idea from this romp at the park: get out there and play!

This Baby Just Won’t Give Up

As the mom to four kids, I’ve had my fair share of baby years. One of my strongest memories is of trying to convince my babies/toddlers/preschoolers that it was time to just “give up and go to sleep already!”

In honor of Mother’s Day, and all of the moms who will spend the day trying to reason with a tired, fussy baby (or toddler), here’s a little video you might relate to. It’s made with a GoPro camera, the same one I told you about a few months ago, and quickly edited on their Studio 2.0 software.

Who says every video you take of your kids should involve blowing out candles and toddling across the floor? Sometimes you just need to capture these more realistic moments. Of all of the things I could wish for my fellow GeekMoms on this Mother’s Day weekend, the one at the top of the list would have to be sleep… peaceful sleep.

Pixar Easter Eggs Revealed!

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

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

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

Batten Down Your Hatches, Tom Hiddleston Sings!

Charismatic actor Tom Hiddleston is already one of our favorite stars for stealing both Thor movies, and pretty much every one of his scenes in The Avengers (no small feat considering the company he was in). As if that wasn’t enough, this video just piles on the charm factor. Watch him belt out a catchy number from the upcoming Tinker Bell movie The Pirate Fairy, in which he plays a cabin boy named James.

Why I Binge Read Ava’s Demon

The cover of Ava's Demon (hard-bound Kickstarter reward) by Michelle Czajkowski. Image: Cathe Post

Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski, showed up on my doorstep earlier this week. This incredibly heavy-for-its-size box was addressed to my husband. I didn’t recognize the return address let alone know how to pronounce the name attached to it. Then I remembered Tim had mentioned something about a Kickstarter reward coming sometime this week…

The book in the box was even gift wrapped. I found myself torn between leaving the pretty wrapping for my husband and just ripping it off to see what was so dang heavy! The wrapping paper lost, and I found myself looking at this incredibly simple, yet beautiful, hard-bound book cover.

To say that Ava’s Demon is beautiful is an understatement. The book measures almost two inches thick. Most of what those many pages contain is an illustrated story which is occasionally moved forward by character dialogue. It is a quick read if you don’t stop to look at the images…but why would you rush through such amazing art?

The art is so stylistically appealing and  the color is so warm that all of the artistic aspects lend to telling the story as much as the dialogue itself.

This looks like it could be a picture book/graphic novel kids would enjoy—but looks can be deceiving. Be warned that there are f-bombs and quite a bit of conversation about suicide. Also, the story is called Ava’s Demon for a reason: Ava has a demon who is haunting her. The behavior of that demon is less like a house ghost from Harry Potter and more like a trapped soul from Constantine. My advice would be to read it before handing it over to school-aged children.

If you received the Kickstarter book, you might have seen pages that looked like pictures of playable videos. The videos themselves can also be found on the Ava’s Demon website (normally at the end of a chapter as part of the archive). The addition and quality of the videos to the web-comic series is unsurprising since Michelle Czajkowski interned at Pixar and worked at Dreamworks.

I wasn’t aware of Ava’s Demon until it showed up on my doorstep. It captured my attention so quickly and fully that I knew I had to share it with you. If you are interested in checking it out, Ava’s Demon is a web comic which is updated on Mondays and Thursdays (the hardcover Kickstarter reward book contains the first six chapters). If you fall in love with the art as much as I did, you can also buy the artwork in print or wearable forms.

A Paralympic Commercial That Has Nothing To Do With Pity

Photo: Team USA

It’s been a season of great commercials. First we had the traditional Super Bowl commercials, that can sometimes be even bigger news than the actual game. Then we had some real tear jerkers in the middle of the Olympic Games. Those ad agencies really know how to grab at our heart strings and make us reach for our Kleenex. Now that it’s time to tune into the Paralympic Games, a new commercial has been released.

This one is not designed to make you cry or cause sympathy to stir up in your heart. In fact, Carlo Cavallone, of the ad agency 72andSunny, says, “The last thing we wanted to be was tear-jerking. There’s nothing to cry about here.”

The point of this spot, for the company Samsung, is that an athlete is an athlete, no matter what his sport, no matter what his ability. The goal is to win. In the Paralympics, the goal is to win gold. It’s not a demonstration for the world to see how well a disabled person can compete in sports. One leg or two, sighted or blind, upright or wheelchair, the goal is to win gold.

And sport doesn’t care. The voiceover at the end drives home the point. These athletes train hard, make incredible sacrifices, and get out of bed on days that most of us would just give up. But they do it for the same reason every other athlete does it. They have a drive to push the limits of their sport.

“They’ve got a lot of problems, the problems every athlete has,” Cavallone says, “but their disability doesn’t count as one.”

Star Wars Rebels Introduces Sabine

Star Wars Rebels, a Disney XD show that will unveil the mysterious time between Episodes III and IV, is set to premiere in a movie this fall. Disney’s team behind the show has been releasing behind the scenes and character profile videos, and they’ve finally announced their first female character, Sabine.

As excited as I am for the rest of the series, and intrigued by the new cast of characters–Freddie Prinze Jr. did an impressive job in Mass Effect 3 so I’m now a fan of his voice work–I’ve been wondering if my daughter will be able to identify with any of them. Sabine is a Mandalorian, which should instantly earn her fans with the veteran Star Wars crowd, but it’s her personality that caught my (and my daughter’s) attention.

Sabine is a unique character in the Star Wars universe who expresses herself through art, or specifically, graffiti. Her “phoenix” mark bears a striking resemblance to the symbol of the Rebel Alliance, wouldn’t you say? She’s also described as a “spunky” weapons expert with “a little bit of an attitude,” so it sounds like she’s a kindred spirit of Princess Leia.

EW.com just shared a complete list of the series’ new characters, including one more fearless female, the Twi’lek pilot Hera.

In the meantime, if you’re like me and you never watched The Clone Wars, good news! It’s coming to Netflix in March with a final season, giving you plenty of time to get prepared for Star Wars Rebels.

Jerry the Bear Is Here to Help Kids With Type 1 Diabetes

Jerry the Bear is an incredible interactive game designed to educate young children with type 1 diabetes. And co-founder and CCO Hannah Chung insists that Jerry is, indeed, an interactive game.

“We call Jerry a game instead of a toy because there is more of a gaming component to it.”

Jerry the Bear is a stuffed bear with a touch screen in his belly. He is designed to walk kids through the experience of type 1 diabetes, talking to them about his own insulin levels, his symptoms, and his diabetes maintenance.

He began as a Design for America project at Northwestern University. Hannah and co-founder Aaron Horowitz attended Northwestern together, and Hannah is also a co-founder of Design for America. “It was the first project that came out of Design for America,” Hannah says. “The idea of Jerry the Bear came about spring of 2009, but we really started working on the first prototype in fall 2011. During school we made 3 prototypes, and since then we fell in love with him and wanted to kind of work on it full time.”

Hannah and Aaron left Chicago during their senior year to set up their company, Sproutel, in Providence, RI, after meeting several mentors there who could help get Jerry off the ground. They finished their last quarter at Northwestern via Skype so they could concentrate on their new company full time.

“Starting January 2012 till now we’ve made about 28 different prototypes so far. We’ve tested with about 350 kids, and you know when you test with kids they come up with more ideas, and we just did more and more and more. Our philosophy behind prototyping is ‘build often, test often.’”

“I read almost every book out there on diabetes and family care,” says Hannah. “But you know, it’s really hard to understand. Diabetes is not simple, even for parents dealing with diabetes it’s a lot of information to handle.”

The idea behind Jerry is to empathize with kids who have type 1 diabetes and help them adapt to and understand more about the illness. “Kids with diabetes are usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 7, which is the age that we’re targeting, but until they’re teenagers they can’t touch any of the medical equipment. Kids don’t get to touch what is going through their body or understand the process behind it. They get really confused and upset that they have to go through something that’s boring and painful all the time.”

Screenshot from www.jerrythebear.com: Jackie Reeve.
Screenshot from www.jerrythebear.com: Jackie Reeve.

Kids taking care of Jerry get to explore his treatment, helping them to conceptualize their own treatment. “There’s a module where you have to take care of Jerry—test his blood sugar level, give him insulin, and you can see how things like exercise translates to his blood sugar level.”

“The biggest goal of Jerry is to help kids easily communicate their symptoms,” Hannah says. “When Jerry’s feeling high or low he will speak his symptoms. ‘I feel tired.’ As you take care of Jerry he’ll say, ‘Thank you, you’re doing great!’ Lots of positive reinforcement. When Jerry needs insulin you have to hold him and give him his insulin pen. When you practice giving Jerry a shot with his insulin pen, you think, ‘Jerry’s doing this because he needs insulin, that’s why I need to have a shot, too.’”

“He is speaking all of the possible symptoms kids can experience so that kids will learn what language to use when they need help from their parents. They can use the same language as Jerry, like I’m dizzy, or my hands feel clammy. It’s helping them go through and build good behaviors early on.”

This is wonderful for very young, newly diagnosed children with type 1 diabetes. But Sproutel quickly learned that they needed to do more for the older kids. “I think it was up until prototype six or seven, Jerry was only about taking care of Jerry.” Prototypes were sent out to families along with cameras and journals to document how children played and interacted with him. “Newly diagnosed kids, kids who had diabetes less than 6 months, they loved Jerry. They would play with Jerry, like, three hours every single day. But for kids who had diabetes for longer than a year, it was too easy for them.”

That was when the team really set out to add a gaming element to challenge older kids. “The main objective of the game behind Jerry is to help Jerry win the All Star game. So Jerry has to go through different levels, learn different sports, and each level has three storybooks and a game. In order to unlock those levels you need to take care of Jerry really well. So we’re not screaming diabetes education just by playing with the bear, the kids are trying to help Jerry win the All Star game, and in that process you have to take care of Jerry.”

It was a challenge to cater a toy to their targeted age group. “Even though our target audience has only a four-year gap, it’s a really big knowledge gap for kids from three to seven. So we had to read a lot about early childhood development, a lot of education models. I did a lot of research on the education side, but also on the diabetes side. What do educators, parents, or doctors recommend that the parents teach if their kids are in this level?”

So, why focus on diabetes? “My whole father’s family has type 2 diabetes, so growing up it was close to me but I didn’t know the complications behind it. So when I was in sixth grade my grandfather passed away from hypoglycemia, and that was the first time I realized how serious diabetes is. And then my dad was shortly after diagnosed,” Hannah explains. “I was always interested in designing for health, but diabetes is more close to me because of my family. Jerry the Bear was the perfect opportunity for me to work on that.”

Co-founder Aaron had human growth hormone deficiency and needed daily injections during his high school years. “Even though he would say that he can’t compare himself to someone with type 1 diabetes, he did understand how stressful that was and how scared he was to get all of those needles all the time. So that’s where our passions came about, and we loved Jerry the Bear and wanted to continue.”

“What we realized as we brought in more team members to our group, people who are passionate about the issue bring a different energy.” Andrew Berkowitz, their VP of Engineering, was diagnosed with type 1 when he was 7 years old. “He was like, ‘I always wanted something like this, how can I make this even better for kids like that?’ We’ve worked with a lot of people who have a personal passion behind it.”

Screenshot from www.jerrythebear.com: Jackie Reeve.
Screenshot from www.jerrythebear.com: Jackie Reeve.

And how did Hannah Chung become interested in STEM herself? “Growing up I always loved math and science.” She read biographies of famous female chemists and scientists. “But I was also passionate about art. I thought design was all packaging, just outer stuff and no meat. So I tried my best to stay away from design in high school.

“But when I came to college I realized design is more than packaging. It’s a whole process which involves science, engineering, business, even art. It helped me focus and realize that I wanted to do mechanical engineering but also focus on emotional design. The psychology side of things.”

“I think the word engineering makes kids think of, like, cars and planes or trucks. But when you think about engineering it could be something like building toys or building a house. There are so many other ways to apply engineering, but I think the traditional concept of engineering is limited.” She feels a responsibility within her own generation to help show younger kids, especially girls, how big the world of STEM really is.

After tackling diabetes, Sproutel has plans to focus on other illnesses like asthma. The company has big plans for 2014. “Our first batch was 250 bears, and we sold out,” Hannah says. Their goal for 2014 is to sell 1500 bears. “I think 2014 will be very exciting! We have 4 camps who are using Jerry the bear in their curriculum.”

Jerry is currently only available in the United States, but Hannah hopes that will change. “We’ve been getting a lot of interest from the UK, Canada, and Central and South America from Mexico to Brazil. To go international you need to do more product testing, but we are pushing our best to make Jerry the bear sales internationally.”

At Thanksgiving, Jerry was backordered until at least April. But production has ramped up, and he is currently available for $249 on www.jerrythebear.com.

GeekMom Plays: HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft

There was such positive feedback about my article on HearthStone, my husband and I decided to share one of our games with you (spoilers: it’s a close game). If you are the significant other of someone who plays, but don’t know if HearthStone is a game for you, this video is especially for you. We talk about how the game works turn-by-turn.

If you want to play a game sometime, tweet at @GamerMom1_0 on Twitter.

Benedict Cumberbatch Shines in Sesame Street Short!

Hey GeekMom fans! After several days of counting down on the PBS website and the YouTube channel, this morning PBS released our favorite Sherlock, Khan, and Smaug working on a simple math problem with Murray-arty and The Count.

Enjoy!

Exclusive! Discover the Secrets in Tesla’s Attic

It’s no secret that many of the GeekMoms are fans of Nikola Tesla. In February, an intriguing new fiction trilogy that pays homage to the inventor and scientist kicks off in Tesla’s Attic.

As book one in the “Accelerati Trilogy” by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman, Tesla’s Attic introduces us to Nick and the unexpected twists his life takes after an unimaginable tragedy.

Fourteen-year-old Nick, his younger brother, and their father move into a ramshackle Victorian house after their old home burns down. But when Nick opens the door to his attic room, and is hit in the head by a toaster, it’s just the beginning of some weird experiences. After getting rid of the odd antiques in a garage sale, Nick befriends some local kids—Mitch, Caitlin, and Vincent—and they soon discover all of the objects have extraordinary properties.

teslas-atticWhat are these strange objects Nick has discovered? And how is it all tied to Nikola Tesla?

Middle-school kids who love science and supernatural adventure–and readers of all ages who have a soft spot for the artifacts of Warehouse 13–might find Tesla’s Attic to be right up their alley.

Here’s your chance to get an exclusive first look at the full feature-worthy trailer for the first book, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion. Tesla’s Attic hits bookstore shelves on February 11, 2014.

Want Your Name on an Asteroid? Let Spacecraft OSIRIS-REx Take It There

About one month and a half ago, on December 9th, 2013, a countdown began. 999 days left before the launch of OSIRIS-REx, an asteroid sample return mission lead by professor Dante Lauretta at the University of Arizona.

What’s cool, aside from the mission itself and the knowledge we stand to learn from it, is that you can submit your name to travel aboard the spacecraft to asteroid Bennu!

The university received its largest grant ever, to the tune of $800 million, for this mission. The spacecraft will be built by Lockheed Martin Space System, while the mission management and launch will be provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as part of its New Frontiers program.

Moreover, the Planetary Society with CEO Bill Nye has helped run the “Messages to Bennu!” campaign. People can submit their names on the campaign website, all of which will be included on a microchip on board the spacecraft. Nye comments on the mission website, “at the Planetary Society, our mission is to engage the citizens of Earth in space exploration and the Messages to Bennu! campaign fits right in with this belief.” Lauretta told me that since opening the campaign to the public on January 15th, they have received over 200,000 names. He added, “no one will be left behind that wants to fly with us!”

Making the mission as open to the public as possible has been at the heart of this project. The mission will be very active on social media, providing daily updates on Facebook, tweets about the spacecraft’s build at Lockheed Martin on Twitter, and 321Science! educational videos on YouTube. The mission website also offers a wealth of information about the project and some of the science behind it.

Because this is, after all, a university-lead project, the mission has provided a priceless teaching tool for students of many disciplines. “We have over 60 students employed at the UA at any given time,” Lauretta told me. “These students work in the areas of science, engineering, business management, graphic arts, videography, and administrative support. It is great to give back to the students in this way—it is one of the biggest benefits to having a university lead a NASA mission like this.”

As to what they hope to get from this mission, Lauretta is keeping his fingers crossed for clues to the origin of life and volatiles on Earth. “My dream sample is something loaded in organic molecules that provides deep insight into the chemistry of carbon in the early solar system. Such a sample would help us not only understand the origin of life on Earth but also help us determine the likelihood of life originating elsewhere in our galaxy.”

The spacecraft will launch in 2016 and return to Earth with its precious loot in 2023. If you are curious, as I was, about the process it took Lauretta and his team to receive the right grants, permissions, and partnerships to lead this mission, Lauretta explains it in detail on his blog.

The Simpsons Pay Tribute to Miyazaki

Two animated universes will collide on the small screen this Sunday, January 12, in a new episode of The Simpsons. Fox has released a sneak peek of a scene that honors the films of anime master Hayao Miyazaki. The Studio Ghibli founder recently announced his retirement from filmmaking; his upcoming release The Wind Rises will be his last, he says. See how many references you can spot in the clip above.

For those playing at home, there were nods to Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle (and possibly even more we didn’t catch).

The episode, which is titled “Married to the Blob,” features a romance between Comic Book Guy and a manga creator named Kumiko. As if we didn’t already have enough reason to watch, it also boasts guest stars Harlan Ellison and Stan Lee as themselves.

GeekMom Jenny Williams Talks Parenting and What It Means to Be a Geek

“Imagine the possibilities.”

That statement pretty much sums up the parental journey for a lot of us. Those are also words that inspire GeekMom Jenny Williams, our fearless co-founder/editor and one of the core contributors over at GeekDad.

Jenny recently sat down for a chat with The Parentalist, where she touched on her family’s 40-day road trip (which included a stop at NASA!), homeschooling, her passion for mental health, and much more. The interview covers a ton of topics and, of course, all of the possibilities that come with being a GeekMom.

“The reason ‘imagine the possibilities’ works well for me is it reminds me that almost all of the options in the world are available to me. I can do anything I want. I can achieve anything I want. You just have to be open to sometimes unconventional ways of doing things.”

The entire interview is available as a podcast or you can watch it in the video above.

Toca Boca: Mayhem and Makeovers

Not too long ago, I organized all of the icons on my iPhone and realized that I have a menu page that consists entirely of Toca Boca apps. This prolific developer makes so many apps that captivate both my 3-year-old and my 8-year-old (not an easy age span to bridge). Two recent additions to their app catalog are no different, Toca Cars and Toca Hair Salon Me.

Toca Cars lets you cause all kinds of motor mayhem in an adorable cardboard town. First, you choose whether you want to be a boy driver or a girl driver, but they’re both pretty punk rock so they’re both fun to play. Then, you choose whether you want to drive on an existing course or create your own. The preexisting course and the course that you can create are made up of roads (naturally), ramps, buildings, streetlights and signs, and puddles of paint.

tocacars2
Screenshot of the awesome paint puddle action.

This is not the app for you if your kid likes everything neat and orderly. Your car follows your finger, and unless you’re taking it super slow, you’re going to cause some damage to your adorable town, crashing through signs and driving through puddles. Actually, the puddles are the favorite part for both me and my daughter because you can leave colorful track marks in your wake. It’s also fun to jump the ramps and crash into things when you land. It’s a little tricky to line up your car right, but super satisfying when you do. Toca Cars might have a narrower appeal than some of their other apps, but for kids who like their car play with just the right amount of destruction, this is perfect.

I believe my kids play the various iterations of Toca Hair Salon more than anything else given the sheer volume of colorful character makeover head-shots that appear in my photo album. My daughter in particular loves styling the hair of the different characters, trying out all sorts of crazy colors and looks. Now, with Toca Hair Salon Me, she can try it on herself. It would be cool with a static picture, but the app goes the extra mile. After you take or upload a photo, the app asks you to mark the location of the eyes and mouth. Why? So it can animate you. My daughter giggled as she saw her own face react to the different hairstyles she was trying out.

TocaSalon
My daughter’s avatar smiles at her two-toned hair.

Like the other Hair Salon apps, you can grow the hair longer and cut it shorter in a variety of ways. You can wash it, blow it dry, straighten it, and curl it. There’s also a rainbow array of hair dye colors. I happen to have pink hair at the moment, so my daughter enjoys trying out different colors for me to try. It’s like Cher in Clueless taking Polaroids of her different looks. I may well take one of the headshots from this app to my hairdresser on my next visit.

Toca Hair Salon Me is worth picking up even if you have one of the other Hair Salon apps. It’s so delightful for kids to immerse themselves in the experience. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go try out Toca Labs with the kids based on GeekMom Kelly’s review.

GeekMom received a review copy of Toca Cars

My Speakeasy Addiction

If you find yourself with time on your hands during your winter holiday, I invite you to join in my latest obsession, the web series Speakeasy with Paul F. Tompkins. Comic Paul F. Tompkins is joined in various well-lit bar settings by a wide range of people from comedy, television, and film in this highly watchable and addictive interview show.

speakeasy

My first foray into this boozy world was an interview with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Kaitlin Olson. Usually in interviews with funny people, especially in late night television, everyone is too busy mugging and cracking jokes to get real. In Speakeasy, though, Tompkins has a generous interview style that shows off his guests and pushes beyond all of the usual questions. I loved learning more about Olson, who is one of the most under appreciated people in comedy.

Speakeasy has been around for over a year and there are a ton of videos to get sucked into. My favorites are when comedy people get nerdy about comedy, like in the interviews with Bill Hader and Key and Peele. There are also plenty of entertaining people from our favorite geeky shows, like Alison Brie from Community and Mad Men, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks from Breaking Bad, Simon Helberg from The Big Bang Theory, and Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica.

I tend to lose two to three hours each time I start watching a Speakeasy video, even though they tend to be only five to twenty minutes long. Be ready for hours of entertainment.