GeekDad http://geekdad.com Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Fri, 24 Oct 2014 20:05:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 ZAGG Rugged Book for iPad Air http://geekdad.com/2014/10/zagg-rugged-book-ipad-air/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/zagg-rugged-book-ipad-air/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:00:49 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64124 I've grown rather fond of ZAGG's keyboard cases for the iPad in recent months. It wasn't until I reviewed the ZAGG Folio Keyboard case for the iPad Mini earlier this year that I finally reached the state where I felt productive writing on an iPad. Since then, the combo has largely replaced the 11-inch MacBook Air that I used to lug around for mobile work. ZAGG recently sent me a new model to try out with a MacBook Air and this one offers all the benefits of the Folio Keyboard case, plus impressive armor. The Rugged Book transforms an iPad into a hardened notebook while offering flexibility in configuration options. Continue reading

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ZAGG Rugged Book for iPad Air

ZAGG Rugged Book for iPad Air is a heavy duty, highly adjustable keyboard case. Photo by Brad Moon

I’ve grown rather fond of ZAGG’s keyboard cases for the iPad in recent months. It wasn’t until I reviewed the ZAGG Folio Keyboard case for the iPad Mini earlier this year that I finally reached the state where I felt productive writing on an iPad. Since then, the combo has largely replaced the 11-inch MacBook Air that I used to lug around for mobile work. ZAGG recently sent me a new model to try out with a MacBook Air and this one offers all the benefits of the Folio Keyboard case, plus impressive armor. The Rugged Book transforms an iPad into a hardened notebook while offering flexibility in configuration options.

Slipping the iPad Air into the Rugged Book requires a little more effort than the simple “pop in” operation of the Folio. It’s still pretty effortless compared to many, but this probably isn’t a case that you’ll want to be slipping on and off throughout the day.

ZAGG in clamshell configuration

Image copyright ZAGG

But that’s okay because while the Rugged Book offers the advantage of a clamshell laptop form factor (with a sturdy hinge and excellent range of incline), it has a trick up its sleeve. The entire top half with the iPad mounted within can be easily removed, leaving you with an iPad Air inside a traditional protective case with grippy rubber to hold onto and all the ports, buttons and the camera accessible. This component docks securely to the keyboard using a pair of magnets.

The magnetic mount also lets you easily remove and flip the display around for viewing or presentations.

The Rugged Book keyboard is up to the usual high ZAGG standards —responsive, chiclet keys with good range of motion and adjustable backlighting (you can change both the intensity and the color of the light). I do love that backlight.

There are dedicated keys for iOS shortcuts like copy, paste, sound control and switching between open apps. Connectivity is via Bluetooth and ZAGG says a charge is good for an unheard of two years. I didn’t have two years to test it… However, it went for three weeks of heavy use out of the box before needing to be plugged in, and that was using whatever charge it happened to have had from the factory.

I’ll have to keep you posted on the two year thing, but my Folio regularly gets a month or more on a charge and I’m pretty happy with that.

A case of this nature obviously adds weight to your iPad, so it’s not going to be an “Air” while being used with it. I put the Rugged Book/iPad Air combo on my kitchen scale and it says 2.65 pounds.

Rugged Book is layered rubber, polycarbonate and steel

The layers of silicon rubber, stainless steel and polycarbonate that make up the Rugged Book. Image copyright ZAGG

To put that in perspective, though, it’s only a few ounces heavier than my MacBook Air and that weight not only protects the iPad from falls and bangs, it makes the whole setup much more stable when used as a laptop replacement. The Rugged Book doesn’t suffer anywhere near the same top heavy “tippyness” the Folio Keyboard did, despite the larger iPad encased in the lid. ZAGG says the case is constructed of silicon rubber, polycarbonate and stainless steel — it’s not just solid feeling and stable when open, it looks like something that would take a bullet.

At $149 (you can save a few bucks at Amazon), the Rugged Book isn’t an inexpensive iPad accessory, but if you travel with an iPad Air and use it for tasks that would benefit from a keyboard, it’s money well spent. You get protection, a backlit keyboard and multiple stand/case configurations in a single device.

Also available for the iPad Mini.

Note: ZAGG says a version for the new, thinner iPad Air 2 is due around the end of November.

Disclosure: ZAGG provided a Rugged Book case for review purposes.

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Extra Life: Play Games. Heal Kids. http://geekdad.com/2014/10/extra-life-2014/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/extra-life-2014/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:00:16 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64106 Tomorrow (Saturday, October 25) is Extra Life's National Game Day: gamers from all over will be attempting to play games (videogames, tabletop games, mobile games, you name it) for 24 hours in order to raise money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Continue reading

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Extra Life logo

Tomorrow (Saturday, October 25) is Extra Life’s National Game Day: gamers from all over will be attempting to play games (videogames, tabletop games, mobile games, you name it) for 24 hours in order to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

You can start your own event, and find a local hospital to support, or find an event and kick in a few bucks. And although the big game day is tomorrow, you can host your own events any day, or even split up your 24 hours over several sessions if needed. The point is to raise money and have fun while doing it.

 

Keith Baker

Keith Baker, game designer and Extra Life gamer.

I’ll be cheering for Keith Baker, who will be playing in an epic D&D adventure. His first 8-hour session will be tomorrow, and he let supporters help build his character. (It looks like Name and Bond are still up for grabs.)

Unfortunately I can’t play games for 24 hours myself tomorrow, but I’m happy to kick in to Keith’s campaign. Go to Extra Life’s website to find an event near you, and help local kids in need!

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D&D Adventurers League: Session 10 Report http://geekdad.com/2014/10/dd-adventurers-league-session-10-report/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/dd-adventurers-league-session-10-report/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:43 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64094 This week, I was fortunate to be sitting at a table when a brand new player, Ryan, walked in. He'd never played D&D before, and only understood basic concepts of levels and XP from the video games he'd played. It's important to remember that the Encounters events are designed for new players; although almost everyone at my event has past experience with D&D, it's still nice to see how a novice is welcomed and made to feel at home. We got him up to speed on the rules, provided him with a pre-generated character (a level 1 Halfing Rogue) and we had a good mix of combat and role-playing provided by DM Martin. When the night's game was over, Ryan told us he'll see us next week... a good sign that he enjoyed the night's adventure. He tells us he's going to create a custom character, too... can't wait to see what he comes up with. Continue reading

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Adventurers League

Last night, we began the first of nine sessions that will finish up the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure. Ten weeks ago, I began this adventure playing a level 1 sorcerer with some fellow gamers that I didn’t know all that well. With ten sessions gone, I’m now playing a level 3 sorcerer and have a group of new friends that I look forward to seeing each week.

This week, I was fortunate to be sitting at a table when a brand new player, Ryan, walked in. He’d never played D&D before, and only understood basic concepts of levels and XP from the video games he’d played. It’s important to remember that the Encounters events are designed for new players; although almost everyone at my event has past experience with D&D, it’s still nice to see how a novice is welcomed and made to feel at home. We got him up to speed on the rules, provided him with a pre-generated character (a level 1 Halfing Rogue) and we had a good mix of combat and role-playing provided by DM Martin. When the night’s game was over, Ryan told us he’ll see us next week… a good sign that he enjoyed the night’s adventure. He tells us he’s going to create a custom character, too… can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

We were informed that after Session 18, there would be a short break before Encounters starts up again. Of course, by this point in time, the new 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide will be out. That means I may very well be starting up my own campaign and looking for players. I’ve got some solid ideas, and am looking forward to getting back behind the screen.

Stay tuned after the adventure recap below for some miscellaneous news items… and let’s get going with the action!

*** NOTE SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BELOW ***

*** Do not read further if you wish to play in the Hoard of the Dragon Queen Adventure ***

*** NOTE SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BELOW ***

After our return from the cultist camp, both Chi and Anton volunteered to go with the Governor of Greenest to help spread the word in a few nearby towns about the dangers of this invading group. We were unable to determine the cultists’ next target, so we’re all hoping the group returns soon with good news and not news of another attack. Just after the small party left this morning, the old monk Leosen visited with the rest of us, thanking us over and over for helping to rescue him. He admitted to being over-confident, and is glad we were there to help him escape and return with the information he had managed to gather from the cult leaders he saw and spoke with… information we hope will help nearby communities to shore up their defenses in anticipation of attacks. After we enjoyed a fast meal with Leosen, he casually dropped a request along with a certain gold incentive. He wants us to return to the camp and investigate that strange cave… the one he refers to as The Nursery. I must admit… I really want to know what’s in there. Dragon eggs are on every one’s mind, but might there be more? We’ve met a fellow adventurer that the townsfolk call Bull. He claims to have a detailed knowledge of the back trails in the area and says he can get us to the camp and the cave fast and without being observed. I’m not confident we can get in the cave, but what’s the harm in taking another look. There might even be some hidden way into that cave. Where there’s one cave, there’s usually more. Maybe.

We were down THREE regular players tonight… Chi, Griffon, and Anton. In our group tonight:

Essie — Human Fighter
Rolan — Wood Elf Ranger
Niloshis — Half-Elf Sorcerer
Bull — Halfing Rogue (Pre-Gen, first time player)

So our new player, Ryan, chose to play the role of a halfling rogue from the area. Once Ryan got the hang of playing the role and speaking to DM Martin about what he wanted to do and what his character would “know’, he was off. With some successful Nature rolls, Bull was able to get us back to the campsite in fast order… with only one encounter with a small group of Kobolds. It was a great opportunity to teach Ryan the basics of AC, modifiers, and the use of miniatures. One of the kobolds was exceedingly tough, and managed to survive long enough to let Bull supply the finishing hit. Tonight, my Firebolt cantrip would also have an amazingly high ratio of hits to misses.

Kobolds!

Bull managed to find us a trail that swung us behind the encampment and high above the cave. We took great care to try and hide, as it was mid-morning and the sun was high above us and could easily give away our position. Strangely enough, all that we could see below us were signs of an abandoned camp. Smoldering fires, debris from tents and broken equipment, and a general disarray that one sees when a large group has left the area. Still, we took our time circling the entire camp from above, spotting a few moving figures here and there. Bull seemed to recognize some of the figures and thought they might be local hunters or rangers, but we weren’t willing to take chances. We moved down to the camp from a side we thought we could use for cover, and made our way to the cave. Essie pointed out deep tracks from wagons, and a better look at some of those wandering around the camp allowed us to determine they were simply locals from a nearby town or possibly a local group of scavengers. We didn’t see them as a threat, but then we caught a glimpse of a green robe near the entrance of the cave. A member of the Dragon Claw, an elite group within the cult. And he was with kobolds…

We discussed rushing the cave. Going full-on LEROY JENKINS! Our group got a good laugh as we related that bit of Internet lore to DM Martin, but ultimately decided it wasn’t such a good idea with only four players. We did a split approach to the cave from the two sides and then timed our entrance into the cave and… nothing. We knew the cave was NOT empty, so we moved in deeper… and deeper. Right into two ambushing Dragon Claws. Bull was not surprised and managed to get a solid hit on one cultist, but these guys were crazy dangerous — dual attacks. They both targeted Rolan (4 attacks!) but only managed a single hit. It was enough, however, to force our nervous ranger to disengage and pull back 30 feet closer to the cave’s entrance. He prefers bow attacks from a distance. I don’t blame him. We took some damage, but we still managed to defeat both of them, knocking the second one unconscious.

Leroy Jenkins?

The noise from the first attack attracted four more kobolds, but they were no challenge for our group. The cultist was waking up, however, and we wasted no time pushing him hard for information about the cave. He admitted to the dragon eggs, but tried to scare us by telling us over two dozen Claws were guarding them deeper into the cave. Maybe. But with the camp abandoned and the cult moved on, why leave such a large group of skilled fighters in a cave? Bull offered to scout ahead and stick to the shadows as best he could. We let him, and were surprised when he returned quickly and urged us to follow him. He led us forward to these steps carved into the stone floor. Ahead the large cavern was divided in half, with these large luminescent mushrooms covering the floor. The back of the room wasn’t visible, but there appeared to be nothing unusual about the room. I recognized the mushrooms as edible… completely harmless. Bull made the decision to proceed to the rear of the cavern, and that was when we discovered the truth about this cavern…

It was a trap. A sneaky trap. The stairs were triggered by weight, and unlucky Bull found himself dropped down onto the cavern’s floor. His skin began to burn, and he realized there were actually two types of fungi — one was harmless, the other not so much. He sprinted to the opposite side of the cavern, not really caring what was back there but knowing he needed to find an exit or a way to get away from the attacking fungi. He jumped on top of a large (safe) mushroom and was able to warn us about the trap. Of course, we tried to avoid the trap… but that didn’t work either. Essie was able to avoid the trap and run down the safe side of the cavern. Rolan and I triggered the trap and found ourselves running to avoid the attacking fungi. We made it, but barely…

Shrooms

And that’s where Session 10 ended. We began to talk about where this cave adventure was going, and DM Martin showed us a quick glance of his “map.” And by quick, I mean a split second “here it is” and then gone. What did I see? Dungeon crawl! Not one or two rooms, but an honest dungeon that will probably require some mapping finally. This is looking good…

Some closing comments for this week:

* XP and Gold — 150XP and 2GP each. I’m now up to about 1800XP… 2700 for level 4. I was thinking about playing my new monk, but now I think I really want to get this sorcerer to level 4 first. Decisions, decisions.

* Recordkeeping — You can download my 3-page adventure log PDF for Session 10 here.

* Titan Games & Comics — As always, a big thanks to the crew at Titan for providing a place to hold the Encounters event as well as lots of other games. They give a discount to any RPG purchases made during the Encounters event (that explains all the boxes of miniatures being bought each week!) and give you a Re-Roll Ticket for every $5 purchase (up to a max of 2). Please come join the D&D game or any of their other planned gaming events — check out Titan’s Meetup.com signup page here.

* Level 3 — I burned three of my level 1 spell slots tonight. Three. And eight more sessions where I’m not 100% certain a Long Rest will be provided. Maybe we’ll find a nice place to hole up and rest in this cave… one can hope.

* Tarrasque Takedown Part 2 on YouTube — A few weeks back, our Encounters host, Topher, took part in a  level 20 D&D 5th edition battle royale — the first of many monsters they would fight turned out to be probably the toughest of all… the Tarrasque. The team didn’t finish up their fight with the other surprise monsters, so they picked up where they left off and have released the latest video on YouTube for your enjoyment. From the video’s description:

It’s time to save the multiverse! James Introcaso, Joe Lastowski, Christopher Dudley, and Topher Kohan are back to take some more abuse from the world’s greatest DM, Mike Shea, to see how high-level play shakes out in the new edition of D&D. It’s level 20 characters going toe-to-toe with some of D&D’s most legendary baddies! Currently mid-fight with a death tyrant and it’s zombie beholder minions, there’s no telling who else might show up. A demilich? An ancient red dragon? A tarrasque redux?! Anything can happen. Join us as we sacrifice four PCs to the elder gods to find out just what high-level combat is like in 5e.

Click here to watch the full video.

That’s it for now. Next week, Session 11 and we see how deep this rabbit hole cave really goes…

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Gravlander Episode 1, a New Serial Story by Erik Wecks http://geekdad.com/2014/10/gravlander-1/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/gravlander-1/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 10:00:25 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64090 I love cliffhangers. You know... those stories that end with chapters where the hero and heroine are up to their necks in danger. When I was little, one of my relatives let me listen to some tapes of old radio shows that used to use this format. They would end with "Will our hero escape the clutches of the villain? Stay tuned for the next episode of...." and I can imagine lots of young fans back in the 40s and 50s shaking their heads and wanting to know what comes next? Continue reading

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Erik Wecks Novels

I love cliffhangers. You know… those stories that end with chapters where the hero and heroine are up to their necks in danger. When I was little, one of my relatives let me listen to some tapes of old radio shows that used to use this format. They would end with “Will our hero escape the clutches of the villain? Stay tuned for the next episode of…” and I can imagine lots of young fans back in the ’40s and ’50s shaking their heads and wanting to know: what comes next?

We don’t experience this type of serial storytelling much these days. Sure, movies may end with a teaser for the next movie, and many authors of novels pick their endings to build tension for the next novel. But it’s rare to find a book where each chapter leaves you wondering… what comes next?

My good friend and fellow GeekDad writer Erik Wecks and I have been discussing this idea for some time now. Erik has created a universe he calls Pax Imperium, and inside it are a number of short stories and novels that he’s written over the years. They’re excellent, and I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend. His latest, The Far Banks of the Rubicon, had me smiling for weeks after I finished it. Erik’s a great storyteller. So when I challenged him to create a Pax Imperium story in the format of the old serial stories, complete with cliffhanger endings, he took up that challenge and has delivered the first of ten episodes that when put together will become a new novella titled Gravlander. What is Gravlander? I have no idea. I’m in the dark on this new story as much as you are. It’s kinda fun, isn’t it, not knowing what’s ahead?

One other fun little bit about this project is that you’re really reading Erik’s “beta” story. Why not a polished final story? Well, Erik will be writing this as we go, and he’ll be looking for some feedback from readers like you. Erik’s got thick skin, so tell him what you like… and what you don’t like. Offer some suggestions if you like. While Erik knows where the story starts and ends, we will all be getting a glimpse into how a story develops, chapter by chapter (or in this case, episode by episode). When it’s done, Erik intends to self-publish the final story as a novella, and all edits and revisions will be in there — based on feedback and Erik’s decisions as the author, what we read over the next few months will most likely NOT resemble the final story.

Each week, I’ll introduce the new episode and include the story. But I’ll also be putting in some other stuff… an interview here and there with Erik, and maybe some short discussions of his other stories. There will also be a contest or two, and even a small Kickstarter for a cover. It’s going to be fun.

One last item before moving into Episode 1 — Erik is offering up a free e-book to anyone who visits his website and signs up for his newsletter. Those who sign up during the ten weeks of the serial will also be eligible for a random drawing to win one of fifteen Audible copies of The Far Banks of the Rubicon. If you’re interested, point a web browser at www.erikwecks.com to sign up. Look for the link that says “Get a Free Story.” But that can really wait… because here’s your first installment of Gravlander, titled “The Crucible.” Enjoy.

—–

Gravlander

Episode 1: The Crucible

Jo Lutnear stared out at the vastness of the starlit void. Six years. We’ve been here, on the run, for six years.

There was a depth to the void in the Crucible, a depth not found in the deep dark of elsewhere. In the Crucible, stars lay so close together that the apparent distances between them became almost conceivable. At their current position near the center of the cluster, eight hundred and sixty-seven stars lay within a parsec of the fleet. There were just over forty-five thousand stars in total in the whole of the cluster.

However, such proximity came at a price. It created a kind of stellar insanity, a continuous dance of hot plasma and radiation. One discontented star could erupt and send shivers through the whole.

Here in the light and fury, life had no chance to develop on its own. Planets lasted at best a mere few million years. Life in the Crucible was an alien import, ephemeral and tenuous.

The danger of such lingering weighed heavy on Jo’s mind. Six years ago, the House of Athena and its allies lost a war. Six years ago, the Ghost Fleet went on the run, hiding in the godforsaken corners of the empire, outmaneuvering the Unity fleets sent to stop it. One point two million people fleeing across space. One point two million people packed too close together on warships that seemed to get progressively smaller with each passing day.

One wrong move, one ill-chosen word and all of this will end, either from outside or in. Jo thought the violent heart of a star cluster to be an apt hideout for the vulnerable fleet.

The twenty-year-old turned away from the window. It was time. She wrapped a towel around her now naked body and stepped through the door at the far end of her compartment into one of the women’s lavatories and showers on the hospital ship Gallant.

“Well, look who’s here! If it isn’t Prissy.”

“Hello, Prissy.”

“Hey, Prissy, did you leave your breasts in your bunk?”

Jo’s heart rate increased. She tried to stay calm, to look calm, but the pace of her walk involuntarily increased. She thought there was an empty shower a little down on the right. She ignored the taunts of her shipmates. Why do they bother me? What did I do wrong? I never did anything to them. By the time she got to the empty shower stall, she was already shaking. Hanging her towel over the hook nearby, she stepped in.

Jo pushed the button on the shower, releasing exactly thirty seconds of precious hot water. She expertly contorted her body, teasing the pitiful stream of tiny droplets into a thin coating of moisture. The exhilarating dampness stopped with a loud thunk as the wetting part of her shower found its inglorious end.

She had just bent over to lather up her legs before beginning her rinse when the shower curtain violently left its hooks and wrapped itself around her. She tried to fight back, but by the time she realized what was happening, it was already too late. Someone much larger and stronger held her from behind.

Jo thrashed, trying to escape. She tried to scream, but as soon as she did a hand was clamped over her mouth. The more she struggled, the tighter the grip around her ribs became. Soon she feared they might pop. When she couldn’t breath any longer, she quit struggling.

“Guess what we got ourselves here, ladies. It’s a pig in a blanket.”

Hoots of laughter followed this pronouncement.

Someone grabbed Jo’s feet, hauling her into the air. The arms around her chest and mouth clamped down again.

Tears flowed, silently carrying the screams to which she could not give voice.

Her tormentors laid her down on the ground. It was then that she heard the bonding gun. Over and over she was rolled across the central floor of the women’s lav, while bonding tape was wound round her, placing her in a virtual cocoon. During the whole thing, she cried like a baby, while those she couldn’t see giggled in delight.

When all was said and done, Jo was dumped naked, encased in tape, in a janitor’s closet.

******

Amanda let her bare toes play in the black soil of the grow room. Josephine stood beside her, unwilling to take off her boots. She couldn’t imagine what it had cost Amanda to get them a pass into the brightly lit space where they now stood. After six years, a certain kind of real estate market had developed on the fleet. In the cramped spaces of the Athenian warships, downtime passes into quiet spaces came at a high price. Then there was the shuttle ride itself. Jo didn’t want to think about all that this little trip had cost her best and only true friend. She and Amanda mingled with thirty or so other members of the Ghost Fleet, all of whom had spent considerable resources to gather in the oxygenated air and mechanical sunshine of one of the fleet’s grow rooms. Jo would have loved to put her feet in the dirt like her friend but she already felt too vulnerable and the idea of taking off her boots made her nervous. Besides, she said to herself, some of the maintenance in here looks really bad. The last thing I need is to get hurt right now and end up in a hospital bed on my own ship.

“Jo, you show them up.”

Jo crossed her arms. “That’s not fair, Amanda! I’m just doing my job.”

“It may not be fair, Jo, but it’s the truth. Here you are, a twenty-year-old upstart, who’s only been nursing for two years, and you keep showing up those who’ve been doing it since before the war began.”

“That’s not my fault. What am I supposed to do? Quit doing my best?”

Amanda sat on the grate, leaning back on her elbows, while her feet played in the dirt in front of her. Amanda shrugged. “I guess that would be one solution. The other is to just understand the tension you bring to the team. It’s not your fault, but you’re upsetting the apple cart, and the apple cart doesn’t want to be upset.”

A lump formed in Jo’s throat. Upsetting the apple cart seems to be the metaphor for my life, she thought. When she was four, she had been forced to flee her homeland after her parents were murdered by the man who now ruled the whole Pax Imperium. When she was six, the same man had tried to murder her surrogate parents for having the audacity to escape with her. Then six years ago, she had fled again as the Unity war machine had overrun a galaxy unprepared for its zealotry. From the age of fourteen to eighteen, she and her surrogate parents had lived under the protection of Prince Jonas Athena. For four years, she had been at the heart of power, privy to discussions and secret plans as the Ghost Fleet fled across the galaxy. Life among the elite had been beautiful, but it hadn’t been her own, and eventually Jo had decided she needed to stand on her own two feet. She had enlisted as a nursing tech at the age of eighteen. Now at twenty, she was about to become one of six candidates for medical school. Jo suspected it was this honor, won at the expense of more senior nurses, that was the real source of her problem.

Amanda looked sideways at her sullen friend. “You could work on not letting it bother you so much.”

That hurt. Jo didn’t turn. She couldn’t speak. Her vision clouded as tears flooded her eyes. I was the victim here. They left me in a closet. That’s not my fault, and I can’t just make it better. No one, not even her only friend, seemed to understand. Without a word, Jo just walked away to the other side of the huge grow room, seeking someplace where she could shed private tears.

Amanda just shook her head. “Aw, Jo. Come back! Don’t go.”

Jo just kept walking. She wasn’t sure how long her mind swam in its private sea of pain, perhaps twenty or thirty minutes. Even in this quiet space, she couldn’t be truly alone. As she cried, people passed by. A couple of them stared, but no one bothered to stop. After a time, Jo finally reasserted control over her emotions.

She had just turned to head back to reconcile with Amanda when she heard a momentary squeal from one of the huge atmospheric processing machines at the end of the room. Seconds later, a surprisingly quiet “whoomp” announced that the compartment’s plentiful layer of methane near the ceiling had ignited, creating a wall of blue above her head. Jo turned to run but something told her that she wouldn’t make it to the door, which was more than fifty meters away. Instinctively she dropped down a stairwell into the hydroponic section that ran under the grating upon which she had walked. Down on this level reprocessed waste ran in a liquid slurry, used to fertilize the roots of the plants growing above. The slurry had to be the source of the methane on the ceiling. It was supposed to be a closed system, but somewhere there had been a leak. When combined with the extra oxygen given off by the engineered organisms, the fire above her consumed with dispassionate fury and rage.

Only a second after Jo had ducked down the stairs to the lower level of the compartment a massive flashover above her raced from one end of the compartment to the other, outpacing everyone in its path.

The dying were screaming now.

Unable to hear or think any more, Josephine ran through the shimmering heat. She reached the door to the compartment a few seconds later. Already smoke and fire curled around the top of the compartment door frame. For a brief moment she stood there hunched over her knees, coughing and sucking in the cool air in the corridor. Then she looked sideways and saw the fire suppression lever. She stared at it, and then turning back and feeling the heat of the raging inferno, she did what she knew she must to save the ship. Breaking the case that covered the lever, she pulled it down and then twisted it. The giant bulkhead door slammed down with a devastating boom, forever sealing the fate of those still in the compartment. The noise startled Josephine. She jumped a little and then realized the finality of what she had done. Almost as if she had touched a live current, a devastating wave of fear and regret shocked her body. Thinking of poor Amanda, she screamed, pounding on the now closed door as a the yellow light overhead began to flash and a hissing sound announced the compartment had started venting its life-giving oxygen. As the hiss became a roar, Josephine Lutnear slid down the door onto the floor, heart shattered.

******

Staring at the sterile floors of the white hospital ship, Josephine pinched her lips together before speaking. “I’m still not sure I can go on with it.”

Twenty-five-year-old Princess Sophia Athena reached out a hand and put it on Josephine’s arm. With the other, she cradled her infant daughter against her chest. “Well, just think about it. It’s not like you have to decide right now. It’s a big deal to get a medical school ticket. It’s not an opportunity to be wasted. Believe me, you want something to do on this fleet.”

Josephine nodded, continuing to stare at the tile floor in front of her, allowing her long blond hair to hide her face. The two women walked slowly back toward the royal shuttle. A single bodyguard accompanied them. He also served as the shuttle’s pilot.

The princess had sighed just a little too bitterly for Jo’s comfort, and Jo wondered again what it must be like to be a captive of your birth. She decided for the thousandth time that she wouldn’t have traded places with Sophie for anything, not even for her husband, the prince.

In her lucid moments, when Jo could get her eyes off her gnawing pain, she had to admit, she hadn’t done well at all in the six weeks since the fire on the Rosemerta claimed the lives of thirty-three sailors. The disaster ranked as the worst accident to strike the Ghost Fleet in the last six years. An inquest was inevitable and necessary, and Jo was supposed to testify next week. She wasn’t sure she would survive having to relive those moments in a room full of dress uniforms and serious brass.

Without Amanda around she felt vacant—empty like the void just outside the too-thin crust of metal and ceramics that surrounded her.

In the days following the disaster, she had been put on administrative leave from her position on the Gallant, which might not have been so bad if there were anything for an idle hand to do on the fleet. At first, she had traveled back to the command ship Ares and spent some time with her surrogate parents, but after two years away, Ares wasn’t really a home for her any more.

Still, it had been good to be around people she loved. Sophia had sat one afternoon to hear everything. Desperate for someone to listen, Jo had even opened up about her treatment on Gallant. Apparently, Sophia must have told Jonas about it all because the prince had asked about it later. He offered to say something to her commanding officer, but Josephine had insisted that he let her handle it on her own. She didn’t want anyone coming to her rescue. She wanted to feel strong enough, independent of authority. Reluctantly the prince had agreed. Besides, thought Jo, the incident was really only a minor one in a fleet that was finally showing the strain of years away from home without much success for their efforts. It wasn’t truly worth his time.

Her visitor today was proof that Sophia and Jonas disagreed. Jo had come to the Gallant two years prior to leave behind all of that privilege and instead stand on her own two feet, and now for the first time, the privilege had come to her. Sophia had visited without giving Jo a choice. Jo wondered if that were part of the point. Wherever they went through the halls surprised looks and stares followed. Occasionally, there was the odd salute as well. Sophia took it all in stride, but it made Josephine uncomfortable. On the other hand, she had no doubt her tormentors would find out soon enough that she was chummy with the princess, and that would likely improve her standing. To Jo it felt like a bitter surrender.

The crowds thinned as they got down toward the docks. These were rarely used parts of the ship, unless there were patients inbound. It was dark, with only spare emergency lighting.

As they turned a corner, the Marine guard stopped in his tracks. The sudden halt startled Jo. He was just reaching for his side arm when he went down with some kind of energy pulse to his chest. Jo looked up.

Over two meters in height, the deformed, gray-skinned person pointed his weapon straight at her, and for a second, Jo saw her death in his vertically-slitted yellow eyes. Then something registered and he stopped. It was hard to tell for sure with those eyes but Jo thought she saw surprise there…and fear. With his weapon still leveled, he ripped his ancient breathing mask off his face and yelled. “Skvop! Aust skorpt trigen!

The Timcree were human, or at least they had been at one time. Genetic engineering had created some debate as to whether or not the two groups could still interbreed.

Jo and Sophie froze.

Feeling the stress in her mother, the baby woke, her cry echoing in the silent passageway.

Behind the man, three more tall, wiry persons stepped out of the airlock. Jo figured this was as close as she would ever get to a first contact situation.

Water still dripped from the ceiling where their Decon showers had just stopped their cycle. Still in his pressure suit, one of the four now stepped forward and examined them. After a second, he gestured with his hand. A series of clicks and tweets that substituted for words emanated from his suit. Without giving them another look he turned and stepped back into the brightly lit airlock.

Two of the other Timcree lowered their weapons toward the women…

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Geekdad Passport: Ross Village Bakery http://geekdad.com/2014/10/geekdad-passport-ross-village-bakery/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/geekdad-passport-ross-village-bakery/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:00:21 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64115 Some people think that the Ross Village Bakery in Ross, Tasmania, is the real-life inspiration for the fictional Gütiokipänja Bakery featured in Kiki's Delivery Service. What do you think? Continue reading

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Did Hayao Miyazaki find inspiration in this historic bakery in a small Tasmanian town?
Kikis Delivery Service IRL?

Does this quaint sandstone storefront look familiar? Kind of? Maybe?

Some people think that the Ross Village Bakery in Ross, Tasmania, is the real-life inspiration for the fictional Gütiokipänja Bakery featured in Kiki’s Delivery Service, (named the Good Cooking Pan Bakery in the English dubbed version).

Gütiokipänja Bakery

Image: Studio Ghibli.

This claim is neither confirmed nor denied by the Ross Bakery (right on the front door), but a brochure available inside the bakery asks the question, “can thousands of Japanese tourists each year be wrong?”

Home of Kiki and Jiji?

The Ross Village Bakery makes no claims. They leave the interpretation up to each visitor.

The adjoining Ross Bakery Inn (first built in 1832) even has a room (with three single beds) they call Kiki’s Room, where for $85, fans of the movie can sleep in a small attic room directly over the bakery. They advertise a TV and a mysterious device called a VCR guests can use “to watch Kiki videos.” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stay there (sorry, no kids under 8).

Mmmm. Vanilla Slice.

The bakery’s famous vanilla slice can be seen just left of center.

After visiting, I can’t be sure the claim is fact or just a fun legend. But if you happen to be in Tasmania, I recommend a stop in at the Ross Village Bakery. Even if you’re not a Miyazaki fan, the bakery’s famous vanilla slice alone is with the trip. The coffee is pretty good, too.

Kiki at the bakery counter.

Image: Studio Ghibli.

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Happy Birthday Grant Imahara (@grantimahara)! http://geekdad.com/2014/10/happy-birthday-grant-imahara/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/happy-birthday-grant-imahara/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 22:18:20 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=9779 Our favorite robot-building geek, Grant Imahara of Mythbusters (and so much more) adds another year to his tally today. Everyone send him your best wishes, either here, or via Twitter (he's @grantimahara). Continue reading

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Grant Imahara from Mythbusters. Cropped image ...

Image via Wikipedia

Our favorite robot-building geek, Grant Imahara adds another year to his tally today. Everyone send him your best wishes, either here, or via Twitter (he’s @grantimahara).

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Go Outside and Watch the Eclipse! http://geekdad.com/2014/10/go-outside-watch-eclipse/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/go-outside-watch-eclipse/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 20:46:30 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64100 There's an eclipse today, visible over most of North America. Here in the SF Bay Area, it's about to start, and in my option there's no better reason to get up and out of my cubicle and go outside. Continue reading

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eclipse

There’s an eclipse today, visible over most of North America. Here in the SF Bay Area, it’s about to start, and in my option there’s no better reason to get up and out of my cubicle and go outside.

Check out this site to see how much eclipse you’ll get today. Remember: don’t look directly at it. My favorite way to see the eclipse is to look at the shadows that trees cast on the growd and notice that where the sun shines through, during the eclipse, you’ll actually see the crescent of the moon cut out of the sun.

Tweet us your eclips photos at @geekdads!

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Clothes Make the Man: Let’s Talk About Socks http://geekdad.com/2014/10/clothes-make-the-man-sock-fancy/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/clothes-make-the-man-sock-fancy/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:00:03 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64080 Doesn't matter, had socks. Continue reading

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sock fancy

Brace yourself, my friends, for I have come to you today to talk about rules – sock rules. Yes, these are real things that exist. Specifically, they govern black socks, which should only be worn with black trousers, and white socks, which should only be worn whilst engaged in sport.

Now, in our brave new world of jeans and sneakers, these edicts – like those regarding white after Labor Day and not mixing patterns – have been all but tossed out the window. But I’m gonna suggest the unthinkable; I believe we should bring them back.

I propose that we reinstate these sock rules not so much for what they say as for what they don’t. Think about it; if black socks are formalwear and white socks are sportswear, what are we expected to do in literally every other situation?

This brings me to the real purpose of this post. You see, no matter where you work or how stringent the dress code, you can always jazz up an outfit with socks. Furthermore, they’re not only the perfect stealth mechanism for expressing your own unique style, they’re the perfect place to start in developing that personal look.

I’ve got D20 socks and Decepticon socks and great grey, wooly boot socks. But maybe you’ve got nothing but a drawer full of yellowing Kool-Aid socks and a dream of a better tomorrow.

Well, your time has come!

After spending years in marketing, Atlanta’s Stefan Lewinger came to the conclusion that most men weren’t concerned with fashion simply because keeping up with trends and fighting one’s way through the wasteland of mall department stores is just too damn hard. His solution was to make it easier for guys to take control of their wardrobe by starting with the smallest conceivable component: socks.

Stefan is the creator and co-founder of Sock Fancy, a monthly sock-by-mail subscription service. Yes, this too is a real thing that exists.

For nine bucks a month ($17 if you’d like two pairs) plus $2 shipping, Sock Fancy will seek out and send to you weird, random and wonderful socks. On the surface it sounds like a fairly novel idea – a “what do you get for the man who has everything” kind of deal – but it’s actually a genuinely useful service that delivers high quality, handpicked products that anyone can enjoy.

Stefan was nice enough to hook me up with a subscription, and my care package included two pairs from Richer Poorer Inc., one in a cool spotted green and the other a vibrant mix of blue, orange and white stripes. These socks typically retail for around $12 apiece, making the subscription a solid price for some genuinely well-made (not to mention sweet looking) products.

The process couldn’t be easier; just sign up, checkout and unwrap awesome socks every month. And if you’re a little skeptical regarding hopping on the funky sock train, rest easy knowing that Sock Fancy has a 100% satisfaction guarantee that allows customer to send back any pair they don’t like for a free replacement.

With both men’s and women’s styles available and easy gift options, Sock Fancy puts an interesting – and, let’s face it, useful – spin on the monthly mystery box service. Give ‘em a try, and treat your feet right.

Review material provided by: Sock Fancy

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Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: The Return of Spell Saga http://geekdad.com/2014/10/spell-saga-2/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/spell-saga-2/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:35:51 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64062 A year ago, I wrote about a fascinating single-player "tabletop novel" called Spell Saga. It's a card game that tells a story as you play it, and I found it very intriguing, unlike any other game I've played. Unfortunately, though, the Kickstarter campaign failed to meet its funding—but designer Todd Michael Rogers continued plugging away at the game anyway, promising that somehow the game would exist eventually. Well, here's your chance. Continue reading

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Spell Saga

A year ago, I wrote about a fascinating single-player “tabletop novel” called Spell Saga. It’s a card game that tells a story as you play it, and I found it very intriguing, unlike any other game I’ve played. Unfortunately, though, the Kickstarter campaign failed to meet its funding—but designer Todd Michael Rogers continued plugging away at the game anyway, promising that somehow the game would exist eventually.

Well, now you get another chance to help make it happen. Spell Saga has been relaunched on Kickstarter, with some differences. The base game is now slightly cheaper ($5 for the Print-and-Play* or $25 for a physical copy) and the overall goal is significantly lower. The reward levels have been simplified, too—most of the higher levels add holofoil cards and some bonus cards but the game really focuses on producing Deck 1. In fact, the project is already over 80% funded, because many of the original backers decided to come back.

If you want to know more about the gameplay, read my original review here. I’ll reiterate what I said last year: I’d love to see Spell Saga get funded. I think it’s a unique game, with fantastic artwork and a poetic feel to it. I feel like I’ve seen more and more games including single-player variant rules, so maybe gamers are ready to give a solitaire-only game a shot.

Plus, I really want to know how the story ends! Back it so Rogers can make the rest of the decks. Whether this funds or not, he does plan to continue creating the game (probably at a slower pace) and releasing them as Print and Play versions, but I’d love for there to be nice production copies, too.

For more, visit the Spell Saga Kickstarter page.

*CORRECTION: The $5 level will get you the digital version of Deck 2; the first Deck is already available as a Print-and-Play for free.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review prototype of this game.

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Teaser Trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron http://geekdad.com/2014/10/teaser-avengers-ultron/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/teaser-avengers-ultron/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:30:07 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64083 There's still a long wait until the next Avengers movie hits theaters in May 2015, but Marvel released the teaser trailer and poster yesterday for Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it looks, well, marvelous. Continue reading

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Avengers Age of Ultron

There’s still a long wait until the next Avengers movie hits theaters in May 2015, but Marvel released the teaser trailer and poster yesterday for Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it looks, well, marvelous.

All our favorites are back: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, the Hulk, and Nick Fury. Well, maybe not all our favorites. I know people who think every movie should include Loki, and I’ll miss Agent Coulson. But we do get a few new faces, too: Wanda (The Scarlet Witch) and Pietro (Quicksilver) Maximoff, the twin offspring of Magneto—no telling yet if their on-screen relationship will reflect their comic book history. And, of course, there’s Ultron.

We’re excited already.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Poster

Images provided by Marvel Studios, used with permission.

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Sonic the Hedgehog http://geekdad.com/2014/10/sonic-hedgehog/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/sonic-hedgehog/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:00:59 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63964 Why do kids love Sonic? My daughter provides some insight into why she loves these comics. Continue reading

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Image courtesy Archie Comics

Image courtesy Archie Comics

There’s something about speed that kids enjoy. I was obsessed with the Flash as a kid, not because I loved the stories but the very idea of being anywhere, instantly, seemed the best thing ever.

My daughter is similarly obsessed with speed but instead of the Flash, she latched onto the Sonic the Hedgehog comics. She liked the games, too, but she loves the stories. And while Archie Comics is becomingly increasingly known for adult story lines like Afterlife with Archie, a terrific zombie series, they’ve also upped their game with the Sonic and Mega Man titles. The Justice League of America/Justice Society of America crossovers drove my obsession and, similarly, the Worlds Collide storyline had my daughter riveted. She’s looking to the next announced crossover, Worlds Unite.

Here’s her review of what she loves about the series.

CAUTION: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM SONIC AND MEGA MAN WORLDS COLLIDE

I’ve been reading the Sonic the Hedgehog comics for about 2 years now, and trust me it’s been worth that time. The writing is great and the art has helped me with my drawing skills.

Why do I love why I love them?

For one thing, it’s the writing. Ian Flynn is an amazing writer. He sometimes puts in little quotes from other media. Like one time in Worlds Collide when Mega Man (A.K.A Rock) and Sonic were fighting Copy Robot and The Genesis Unit. Copy Robot was comparing himself to Mega Man he quoted this line “It’s useless Rock! I’m your perfect copy! I know everything you’re about to do before you even do it! Strange isn’t it?”

I love a well-placed quote that’s also an in-joke.

Oh, I should tell anybody who hasn’t heard about the origin of the “Strange Isn’t it?” line. Well, long story short in a really bad Sonic movie called Sonic The Hedgehog The Moviewhich cast horrible voice actors (in my opinion) Sonic was fighting Metal Sonic or Hyper Metal Sonic in this case and, no, it is just a name Hyper Metal Sonic does not have the Seven Super Emeralds, it is just a name.

Anyway, when they clashed Sonic said this: “You may know everything thing I’m going to do, but that’s not going to help you because I know everything you’re going to do! Strange isn’t it?” Ironically, the voice actor Sonic had was perfect for that line and he made it more memorable.

So back on subject, I love the writing, yeah. Ian Flynn great on Sonic’s personality, he made sure that Sonic kept his best traits: cockiness, selflessness, and just being plain cool. They also stayed true to Knuckle’s personality and Tails’ and Amy’s.

The best part about the writing is the cliffhangers. At the end of each comic when that cliff hanger happens, it makes me excited and disappointed, but mostly excited because then I can speculate and find out what happens next. But that’s what makes this a successful comic, you got the suspenseful cliffhangers, great writing and illustrations, which will be our next topic.

The illustrations are great. It’s like they looked at the video games and then took that and drew it in their own way, which they probably did. Like I said in the beginning, the comic has helped improve my drawing skills, especially using Sonic as a guideline. The overall art never strays from the Sonic art style and you can always tell it is a Sonic comic.

Now our last topic will be the characters.

I briefly talked about the characters before, but there is more than that, my friends!
Sonic is a blue hedgehog from the planet Mobius. After the Genesis Wave not much of Sonic’s past is known as yet. Anyway, as everybody knows he has super speed, can transform into Super Sonic and has many other abilities. He wears white gloves, red shoes, with a white strap around it and a buckle on each side of the shoe. As I said Sonic is selfless, cocky and acts cool all the time. Only in dire times he loses these cocky and acting cool traits.

Sonic also hates water and can’t swim. Apparently, the Sonic Team didn’t think hedgehogs could swim and, just so you know, they can. Sadly, thanks to Sonic Team not knowing that hedgehogs could swim, poor Sonic can’t swim and we got an unbeatable enemy in videogames: water.

Amy occasionally tries to get Sonic pushed to her side, not as much as in the video games, but they stay true to her personality: quick tempered but nice.

Tails is a bit more of a wimp than in the games, but not much, but Knuckles is the same. Sally or Princess Sally Acorn is great; her personality is good and she is a true leader. Rotor can be a bit pushy, as I’ve discovered in the Waves of Change Arc, but he is still cool. Bunnie or Bunnie D’Coolette is pretty much the same as the games. Antonie or Antonie D’Coolette, on the other hand, has changed greatly. He is brave, and is not scared of everything and can show his feelings better. It’s about time Antonie, it’s about time.

Overall Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog is a great comic! It has action, adventure and characters that you don’t just see games. I give these comics 5 Stars.

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Sleeping Beauty Battle Royale http://geekdad.com/2014/10/sleeping-beauty-battle-royale/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/sleeping-beauty-battle-royale/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:50:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64034 In just a few short days (11/04), the alternate version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, will be released on home video. It has been a long time since a movie has been so polarizing with an audience as Maleficent is to Sleeping Beauty. If you have not seen this new telling, then I urge you to go ahead and get ready by picking up a copy of the original Disney classic first. Continue reading

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Created by RAYZ

In just a few short days (11/04), the alternate version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, will be released on home video. It has been a long time since a movie has been so polarizing with an audience as Maleficent is to Sleeping Beauty. If you have not seen this new telling, then I urge you to go ahead and get ready by picking up a copy of the original Disney classic first.

sbIn fact, just recently, Disney released for the first time on Diamond Edition Blu-ray, Sleeping Beauty from the vault. Sleeping Beauty tells the wondrous tale of a princess cursed by an evil fairy, protected by three loving fairies and, ultimately, saved by true love’s kiss. Featuring the voice talents of renowned opera singer Mary Costa as Sleeping Beauty and Eleanor Audley as the evil fairy, Maleficent, the film’s vibrant visuals were created by a team that included Milt Kahl and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men and an Academy Award-nominated score, 1959, adapted from the incandescent music of Peter Tchaikovsky. Sleeping Beauty is the sixteenth animated feature in the Disney animated features canon and was the last animated feature produced by Walt Disney to be based upon a fairy tale. It is the tenth film released as part of Disney’s prestigious Blu-ray Diamond Collection.

The 2-Disc Blu-ray Superset with Digital Copy (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) includes several bonus featurettes about the work at the Disney Parks to include fairy tale lore, the work that went into restoring the classic and the Generations of Disney Villains. It also contains never before seen deleted scenes and a sing along video. One of the most interesting alternate scenes is the Arrival Of Maleficent. This alternate scene obviously had an impact on the film, Maleficent, and is very similar to the live action movie.

I highly recommend adding Disney’s 2-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray Superset of Sleeping Beauty to your collection and picking up Maleficent to complete the set on November 4th.

 

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10 Great Geeky Covers by Postmodern Jukebox http://geekdad.com/2014/10/10-great-geeky-covers-postmodern-jukebox/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/10-great-geeky-covers-postmodern-jukebox/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:22 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64054 Do you love covers? Have you heard Postmodern Jukebox yet? If not, you need to. Read (and listen) on! Continue reading

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I’ve been a music geek since elemntary school. I was in chorus all through my school career, including some a capella groups in high school and college. And I performed Tom Lehrer songs at school cabaret shows (h/t Robert and Bill).

If there’s one kind of music I like, it’s covers. I love hearing someone take another’s work – often big popular songs – and turning them on their ear in another genre. It shows both respect for the quality of the original, and a love of other forms. Which is why I’ve become a huge fan of Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox on YouTube.

The simple idea is that Scott, who is a virtuoso pianist, arranges popular songs (either contemporary piece or classic rock/pop) and turns them into jazz and blues standards, and plays them with a rotating group of amazing vocalists and band members. You may already have seen them due to a few viral hits they’ve had – especially the ones with Puddles the Clown singing lead on Chadelier and Royals. Puddles has an incredible voice. (I’ve also posted about one of their covers before)

They’ve also done a series called “Saturday Morning Slow Jams,” where they cover the themes from childrens’ shows form the 80s and 90s. They are so much fun.

So, in order to bring my joy to more of you, here are 10 of my favorite covers by Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox. Make ture to check them out on YouTube, and you can buy their music on iTunes.

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13 Tabletop Games for Halloween http://geekdad.com/2014/10/13-tabletop-games-halloween/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/13-tabletop-games-halloween/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:30:16 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63869 Halloween approaches, and what better way to celebrate than by breaking out a few spooky board games? Last year we shared a list of 13 games for Halloween, and this year we've got 13 more. Continue reading

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Halloween approaches, and what better way to celebrate than by breaking out a few spooky board games? Last year we shared a list of 13 games for Halloween, and this year we’ve got 13 more, selected by Dave Banks, Rory Stark, Anthony Karcz, John Booth, and yours truly. So grab some candy corn or other non-sticky sugary treats (caramel apples are right out), and play some games!

Pandemic board games

1. Pandemic

I know what you’re thinking: “Pandemic? That’s not a Halloween game.” Usually, no, but this year everyone’s scared of Ebola and Enterovirus D68, so what better way to conquer your fears than by finding cures for nasty viruses? But I should warn you: chances are, the nasty viruses will wipe you out. Here’s hoping life doesn’t imitate art.

Pandemic is a now-classic cooperative game, where you work together to formulate cures before the diseases wipe out too much of Earth’s population. The On the Brink expansion adds a few new roles, more virulent diseases, plus an optional bioterrorist role.

Hate being on the losing side? Next month, you’ll be able to pick up Pandemic: Contagion, where you get to play a disease trying to wipe out the human race. That reminds me: better go get your flu shots.

Pandemic: 2 to 4 players (5 with On the Brink), 8 and up, about 45 minutes to play.

Mord im Arosa

Where will the clue end up? Keep your ears open. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

2. Mord im Arosa

Mord im Arosa is a bizarre little murder mystery that requires careful listening. You drop wooden cubes into this tower of boxes, trying to hear which floor they land on. Of course, the goal isn’t to figure out whodunnit so much as to pin the murder on somebody other than yourself. Be careful, though—sloppy investigations leave behind even more clues for other players to find.

Mord im Arosa: 2 to 6 players, 10 and up, about 60 minutes to play.

Skinsaw Murders henchmen

Halloween-appropriate Henchmen appear in this deck.

3. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: The Skinsaw Murders

You already know I’m a huge fan of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but the second adventure deck, The Skinsaw Murders, is a particularly good set for Halloween. Pumpkin-headed ghoul scarecrows, ghostly haunts, zombies, and crows—it might be a good time to revisit Sandpoint. For extra credit, throw in Syrinscape‘s Pathfinder-themed soundscapes while you play.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: 1 to 4 players (up to 6 with the Character Add-On Deck), 12 and up, 60-90 minutes to play.

Tragedy Looper

Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

4. Tragedy Looper

Tragedy Looper is a game from Japan that got an English printing from Z-Man Games this year. It’s a brain-bending puzzle: one player is the Mastermind, trying to wreak havoc with various tragedies: serial killers, conspiracy theorists, and so on. The rest of the players are trying to figure out who’s behind the plots, and they loop back in time to prevent those tragedies from happening. It takes some time to learn but it’s worth the effort, and playing it out feels like a horrific version of Groundhog Day.

Tragedy Looper: 2 to 4 players (4 is ideal), 13 and up, about 2 hours to play.

DeadofWinter

5. Dead of Winter

There are hordes and hordes of zombie-based board games on game store shelves; what makes Dead of Winter so great, you might ask yourself, before pointing out that it doesn’t even have plastic minis! Dead of Winter is billed as a “meta-cooperative psychological survival game” which means all players are working toward a common goal, but individual players also have secret objectives. In order to win, both goals must be achieved for each player. But beware! Among the players, there may also be a betrayer, working to thwart your plans by driving down morale. The result is lots of tension, suspicion, and second-guessing each other’s motives. Dead of Winter is one of those games on everyone’s “must play” lists this year, so the only thing more horrifying than surviving a winter in a colony surrounded by zombies might be trying to find a copy to call your own.

Dead of Winter: 2 to 5 players, 12 and up, approximately 60-90 minutes.

NOGO

6. Night of the Grand Octopus

Have you often thought to yourself, “I wish I could share the obsession and madness that accompany worship of Cthulhu with my kids”? Now, at long last, there is a game for you: Night of the Grand Octopus. In this light-playing and non-threatening family game, players secretly move their cultists and their octopi offspring from room to room of an English university. If you end up in the same room as another occultist, you must negotiate or bad things can happen. End up in a room with an monster, and your game is over. But if you end up alone, you can grab magical goods. Grab enough goods and you can summon the Grand Octopus and win the game!

Night of the Grand Octopus: 3 to 5 players, 7 and up, 20 minutes.

ONENIGHT

7. One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Few party games at our table get the comment “Come on, let’s play one more time” as often as One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Most people are familiar with werewolf and mafia type games, where players assume roles with special abilities and then try to root out the werewolf (or mafioso) in their midsts. There are plenty of variations, but One Night Ultimate Werewolf is special for a few reasons: First, it looks great; it has wonderful art. Second, you can play this particular game with as few as three players. Third, you don’t need a moderator. Just download the iOS/Android app and start having fun. Fourth, there is just a single round, play is fast. For us, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a game worth playing a lot more than just a single night.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: 3 to 10 players, 8 and up, 10 minutes.

Castle Ravenloft

8. Dungeons & Dragons – Castle Ravenloft Board Game

How perfect is this to set the scene for a late October night of D&D board gaming:

“The castle rises over the dark forests of the land of Barovia, looking down upon a sad, frightened village surrounded by an endless sea of dense fog and mist. The master of the castle, Count Strahd, is a vampire, and the night and its creatures belong to him…”

Strahd and Ravenloft go way back in D&D lore, but even players who’ve never rolled a saving throw or tangled with kobolds can dive right into this cooperative game as heroes on a mission to defeat Count Strahd and the various monsters within the castle – no Dungeon Master necessary.

Players choose from five characters (Human Rogue, Dwarf Cleric, Dragonborn Fighter, Eladrin Wizard, and Human Ranger), each with different strengths and weaknesses. Using a simplified version of D&D combat rules, you explore Castle Ravenloft and battle a range of monsters, supporting villains, and Strahd himself. The game provides 13 nicely-varied adventure scenarios, and winning isn’t easy: The fun is tense and thrilling.

Castle Ravenloft Board Game: 1 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, time range to play varies (1-3 hours, depending on the adventure scenario and number of players)

KingOfTokyoHalloween

9. King of Tokyo: Halloween Expansion

What could be more Halloween-ey than playing as a giant monster with a flaming pumpkin for a head or pile of dark ectoplasmic goo? Well, Iello, makers of the original King of Tokyo (and the upcoming King of New York for which this Collectors Pack has a promo card) have a few extra tricks up their sleeves. Not only do you get two Halloween-centric monsters, and orange and black dice, there are two new gameplay elements: Gift Evolutions and Costumes.

Costumes are just that. You want your Pumpkin Jack to be a Pirate Robot Clown? Then save up some energy and buy them! Even better, steal them from your opponent. The Costume cards are extremely powerful, so you’ll want to spread them out and shuffle them into the main Power deck (that is, unless you want your game to be done in 15 minutes).

Gift Evolution cards are the toothbrush and dental floss that no one wants in their trick-or-treat bag. They’re extremely useful in that they help strip away some of the powers granted by the Costumes; but they’re only for Boogie Woogie and Pumpkin Jack. It would have been nice to get “Gifts” for all the existing monsters too. Despite that one quibble, King of Tokyo: Halloween is a refreshing expansion, in that it chooses to focus on the fun side of Halloween rather than the horror side. Not only is it a solid addition to the original game, it’s chock full of more Halloween goodness than a Werewolf jacked up on candy corn.

King of Tokyo: Halloween: 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes. (Requires base game to play.)

Smash Up Monster Smash

Photo: Anthony Karcz

10. Smash Up: Monster Smash

Alderac Entertainment Group brings all the ghouls to the yard with their latest Smash Up expansion, Monster Smash. While Smash Up is already pretty spooky, what with its zombies, ghosts, and Lovecraftian horrors, Monster Smash goes full on B-movie schlock-fest with Mad Scientists, Vampires, Werewolves, and Giant Ants. In typical style, each new faction has a certain play style. Mad Scientists infuse their creations with new power. Vampires mow through other minions to fuel themselves; which is helpful when the Giant Ants start to swarm. And Werewolves recruit new members to the pack to gain the upper hand. The art is amazing, as always. The Elvira lookalikes in the Vampire deck and the Giant Ants, especially, took me back to those Saturday afternoons I spent glued to the latest horror double-features. The new factions play a little more straightforward than previous expansions and while “power counters” are new, they aren’t quite the unique addition that madness from the Cthulhu expansion was; but with factions as iconic as these, you don’t need embellishment. Besides, who can resist Ninja Vampires? Or Robot Werewolves? Or Time Traveling Mad Scientists? Or…

Monster Smash: 2 to 4 players, 14 and up, 45 minutes

Munchkin Bites

Classes from Bites! include vampires, changelings, and werewolves. Image: Steve Jackson Games

11. Munchkin Bites/Munchkin Cthulhu

Munchkin Bites is a never-ending joke, cleverly disguised as a tabletop version of LARP sensation Vampire: The Requiem. When a werewolf can put on black nail polish to help him fight a Sunbeam, you know you are in for a campy and punny adventure. To maintain suspense, there are bats everywhere! If a bat comes into play, other players can add bats to the battle. And you never know, someone might imitate Bela Lugosi to go up a level!

Munchkin Cthulhu

How long will your sanity last? Image: Steve Jackson Games

Munchkin Cthulhu is a tabletop crossover game. Players can use the Necronomicon in their battle against the Great Cthulhu, or even H.P. Munchcraft himself. Yes, the puns are that horrible. Terrible I say. Enough to drive you mad. At which point you become a cultist – a crazed follower of the Old Gods. When every player but one is a cultist, the last sane person goes up a level just for keeping his wits. If all players become cultists, the game is over. The player(s) with the highest level automatically win! Tacticians beware, you can never stop being a Cultist voluntarily. You are insane, after all. To add to the Halloweeny horror, there are Goths everywhere. Any time a creature with Goth in its name is played, players can also add Goth creatures to the combat.

Munchkin Bites/Munchkin Cthulhu: 3 to 6 players, 10 and up, 90 minutes

Zombie 15'

Now, THAT’S scary. Photo: Cathe Post

12. Zombie 15′

Okay, of course it wouldn’t be a Halloween games list without at least a few zombie games, right? I do like playing long, thematically rich zombie games, but sometimes you just want to jump in and run for your life. That’s where Zombie 15′ comes in. It’s a real-time cooperative zombie game that takes 15 minutes per session. I mentioned it in my earlier roundup of zombie games, and it’s a blast to play (though it takes a while to set up each scenario). Just because the zombies are slow and shambling doesn’t mean your game needs to be!

Zombie 15′: 2 to 4 players, 14 and up, 15 minutes.

LegendaryEncounters box cover

13. Legendary Encounters

Halloween monsters traditionally include vampires, werewolves, and zombies, but how about some xenomorphs? Alien is a classic scary movie, and Legendary Encounters lets you relive the whole series, or mix it up. There are several ways to play: you can go full cooperative, or you can throw in alien players when people succumb to chestbursters, or you can even have a hidden traitor working against you. This deck-building game does a great job of recreating the tension of the unknown. (Read my full review here.)

Legendary Encounters: 1 to 5 players, 17 and up, about 45 minutes.

Happy Halloween, and happy gaming!

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These Battery Chargers Will Keep You In-Touch For Hours Longer http://geekdad.com/2014/10/justin-battery-chargers/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/justin-battery-chargers/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:25 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63976 Keep your tablet or phone charged up with these battery options for boosting power on the go. Continue reading

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Justin

My phone isn’t what it used to be. Aside from the fact it looks downright puny compared to these more modern monolithic devices, the battery life has begun its long slide downhill. I first noticed the battery dwindling around Gen Con this year when my phone couldn’t quite make it through the whole day, even with just texting. It was time to find a solution.

For the past month, I’ve been playing around with two different devices from Justin, the 5,200 mAh and the 10,000 mAh Power Banks. These battery packs can be charged at home and then used to recharge your phone, tablet, or other devices.

Both devices take a 5 volt/1 amp input to charge up and can be fully cycled about 500 times in their lifetimes. There’s the obvious difference in battery capacities — the 5,200 uses a lithium ion battery and outputs 5 volts at 1 amp, while the 10,000 uses a lithium polymer battery and has two outputs (both 5V), one at 1 amp, the other at 2.1. A single amp is best for charging phones, while tablets charge faster with the 2.1 amp output.

Size-wise, the 5,200 is nice and compact. It fits snugly in the palm of your hand at about 2″ x 3″ x 3/4″ and weighs about a quarter of a pound. The 10,000 is about the size of an iPhone 6 at about 5.5″ x 3″ x 3/4″. Its weight is double the 5,200 at half a pound.

Both devices arrive already charged, but when you deplete their stores, the 5,200 will take a little over 6 hours to recharge and the 10,000 will take 14 hours to fully charge. Once full, the 5,200 will be able to fully charge your phone three times and the 10,000 can completely charge a phone five times. The Power Banks come with a mini-USB cord to charge the Power Bank, but not to charge your device. Both devices have a display to show how much battery remains. The 10,000 uses four LED lights to display the reserves and the 5,200 has a LCD readout.

Finally, the price of the Justin devices is equally impressive. The 5,200 is just $29.99 and the 10,000 is only $49.99

After a month of use, I’ve been very pleased with both devices. The 10,000 is a trusty source of power and I appreciate its dual output (you can charge two devices at once) and especially the 2.1A source for getting my tablet running again. But the 5,200 has been my go-to power source. Its small size fits unobtrusively in a messenger bag, backpack or pants pocket and I can tell at a glance how much battery I have left in the Power Bank. What’s more, compared to other battery chargers I’ve used, the Justin devices are both handsome and comparably lightweight.

Justin Power Banks can be found at Shopko, Kohl’s, and Belk.

Disclosure: GeekDad was sent samples of these products for review.

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Daytona International Speedway Stadium Rebuild Is Halfway Home http://geekdad.com/2014/10/daytona-international-speedway-stadium-rebuild-is-halfway-home/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/daytona-international-speedway-stadium-rebuild-is-halfway-home/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:30:53 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63968 The reimagining of Daytona International Speedway is past the halfway point. Continue reading

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The topping beam at Daytona International Speedway, image via DIS

The topping beam at Daytona International Speedway, image via DIS

Halfway there and topped off.

That’s the progress made in the $400 million re-imagining of the experience for fans attending races at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The current target date for full completion is the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and that year’s Daytona 500 but attendees at next year’s Daytona 500, on February 22nd, will get a glimpse of what it’ll be like when the new grandstands will be partially open.

The Daytona Rising project by thThe complexity of this project intrigued me the moment I toured the site in July. There are a tremendous number of moving parts, from the unique physics of the racing oval that make this project a unique design challenge, to keeping track of the vast number of materials being used on-site, to tracking progress each day, and coordinating all the subcontractors, the job of general contractor Barton Malow.

All of this is being done via computer, the first such project to completely digital, but likely not the last. When the rebuild is complete, the new stadium and grandstands will have over 101,000 permanent, wider and more comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms, and three times as many concession stands. Possibly of more interest to GeekDad readers is that the entire place should have free and reliable wi-fi.

It’s hoped that the new track experience plus a new tourist destination area across the street from the Speedway will make it and Daytona Beach, Florida, even more of a tourist destination, which explains the presence of state officials at the topping off ceremony earlier this month. Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio were in attendance for the milestone.

As part of the event, members of the France family (the first family of American racing) signed and unveiled a special commemorative plaque that was placed at the center of the steel beam (previously signed by the project’s construction team). International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy also spoke about the significance of the DAYTONA Rising project.

“Daytona International Speedway is a special place and we’re honored to continue its legacy through the DAYTONA Rising project,” said France Kennedy. “We’re literally building history and creating an unprecedented motorsports experience. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for my grandfather to turn his vision into reality when he built the Speedway more than 50 years ago.”

Even the half-finished construction was impressive when was on-site in July. Once upon a time, I tried to hit all the classic baseball stadiums in every city I visited, from old Memorial Stadium and the newer Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore to old Comiskey Park in Chicago, to Yankee Stadium (the second one) and, of course, Fenway Park in my backyard.

I still love the old places, especially those that are gone, but I can’t help appreciating this new, designed-to-be-people friendly project for the Speedway’s fans.

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