GeekDad http://geekdad.com Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Tue, 04 Aug 2015 20:56:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 GeekDad Daily Deals: SpinChill Portable Drink Chiller http://geekdad.com/2015/08/spinchill-portable-drink-chiller/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/spinchill-portable-drink-chiller/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 20:56:52 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104802 Chill out with the SpinChill Portable Drink Chiller: 20% off today Continue reading

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SpinChill

Here’s a hot deal on getting cold drinks, the SpinChill Portable Drink Chiller. This “cool” gizmo will chill cans and bottles 45 degrees in one minute. Click the link above to see details.

Be sure to check GeekDad’s section called Daily Deals. Each weekday we will offer new deals on cool stuff. These deals have limited lifespans, so keep checking back. Also, create an account and sign up for our newsletter at https://deals.geekdad.com/sign_up or follow our Store RSS Feed at https://deals.geekdad.com/feed.

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6 Back to School Hacks With the P-Touch Label Maker http://geekdad.com/2015/08/p-touch-label-maker/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/p-touch-label-maker/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 15:00:31 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104672 Get organized for your school year with the Brother's P-Touch label maker. Continue reading

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ptouch

Image: Brother

Every August heralds the return of the dreaded school year. With only two kids, you’d think it’d be easy to tell their things apart, yes? No. Instead, we are faced with regular discussions in the vein of, “He’s using my colored pencils” or, “She wrote in my binder.” Also, it never fails that they get very similar presents from our extended family. This means we label a lot of school materials, storage containers, and other odds and ends. This year was made easier by a new P-Touch label printer from Brother.

Now, our family doesn’t do stickers very well. We all hate them for the same reasons: sticky residue and wet/torn paper. Thankfully, the acid-free labels are sticky enough to work well, but don’t carry lots of excess adhesive. This means that I take off labels, when necessary, without worrying about residue. The labels are all laminated, so we also don’t have to worry about the labels discoloring, tearing, or warping if they get a little wet.

After an epic quest to label everything we could think of, the kids and I found some labels more useful than others. Our top 6 ways to use the P-touch are easy enough to share:

  • Identify your stuff

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Image: Rory Bristol

    When using similar containers for several people, label the containers to prevent confusion.

  • Find the right shoes

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Shoe storage can be a real pain. There are dozens of shoes in our home, so labeling the many boxes can make the shoe-hunt a little easier, saving precious morning minutes.

  • Find your supplies

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Image: Rory Bristol

    It never works to say “In the organizer.” You will just get more questions. Instead, label the organizer’s drawers, so you can say “read the labels, please.”

  • Language immersion

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Learning gendered nouns in other languages can be hard for English speakers. Practice seeing the correct articles each time you retrieve a bowl!

  • Re-purpose great containers

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Quality boxes are a precious thing in any home. Too many games come in awkward boxes, or no boxes at all. Other games, like Smash Up, come in great boxes, just to be put into the Big Geeky Box. Don’t let the great extra box go to waste!

  • Make-it-simple-silly

    Image: Rory Bristol

    Image: Rory Bristol

    It’s a dangerous thing to let your kids use your dice. Not because they can break (because good dice are night-indestructible). It’s because kids put things away in a rush. Make it simple, silly! Little labels can make a big difference for young people.

The P-Touch runs around $25 with the current back-to-school sales on Amazon. As with all life hacks, simple changes can make a big difference, and creativity can make your life fabulous. Good luck with school year 2015!

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Cats as Work Companions http://geekdad.com/2015/08/cats-work-companions/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/cats-work-companions/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 14:00:38 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104656 At my house, we work at home. Rory and I do our jobs from home, and I homeschool the kids. And each of us has plenty of room on and around our desks for our work companions: our two cats, Ezra and Lavinius. Continue reading

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Our cat, Lavinius, chilling on his cat bed. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Our cat, Lavinius, chilling on his cat bed on Rory’s desk. Photo: Jenny Bristol

At my house, we work at home. All of us. Rory and I do our jobs from home (yay, internet), and I homeschool the kids. So we each have our computers and desks, and each has plenty of room on and around our desks for our work companions: our two cats, Ezra and Lavinius.

Whether your job is done from home, or you just sit in one place for a while doing a hobby or a work-at-home second job, you may also have a spot for a cat or other small, furry creature. But as most of us know, such creatures rarely stay where you want them to stay. They like keyboards and laps. They rub against monitors because they want you to pay attention to them, not the words on the screen. They play with your mouse cursor. But there are a few things you can do to keep your fluffy creatures with you, without them impeding your work.

How does this not brighten your day? Photo: Jenny Bristol

Come on. You know you want to pet me. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Create a cat space. Placing an efficiently shaped cat bed on part of your desk is very helpful. Rory and I each have a square-ish piece of fabric-covered foam on our desks, which clearly defines the space in which a cat is allowed to inhabit. They are within easy reach of our arms, where we can pet and rub the cats when they paw at us for attention. You may prefer something with more character, though.

If your desk is too small, try keeping an end table or a stool right next to you instead. If they prefer to be on you instead of near you, place a towel or cloth on your lap to signal to them that you’re ready to accept their company. Gently encourage them to not be in your lap if the towel/cloth isn’t there. You may also want to keep a lint roller or furniture vacuum on hand for cleaning up their cat space, and you can launder any towel or cloth you use.

Ezra sometimes prefers my lap. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Ezra sometimes prefers my lap. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Keep cat toys at your desk for entertainment. Have a laser pointer and a ball of paper on a string–or other beloved cat toy–at the ready for when your cats want some fun and exercise. If you wear them out, they are more likely to curl up nearby and give you the purr treatment.

Despite the cat hair, occasional scratches and nibbles, and meowing, having cats around is good for you, as long as you aren’t severely allergic. Giving love and attention to a cat can lower your blood pressure and help you be calm, and thus they can be great companions when working or studying. They are especially great for people with anxiety, and can actually serve as emotional support animals for people with the need.

How do your cats fit into your working life?

Our cats are our constant companions and work buddies. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Our cats are our constant companions and work buddies. Photo: Jenny Bristol

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Running Geek: iClever Bluetooth Sport Ear Buds Are Perfect for Runners http://geekdad.com/2015/08/iclever-bluetooth-ear-buds/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/iclever-bluetooth-ear-buds/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 13:30:53 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104626 I like to listen to music or podcasts while I run. I've tried to switch to wireless headphones a few times, but it's never worked out until now with iClever's bluetooth sport ear buds. Continue reading

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iClever-MainI like to listen to music or podcasts while I run. I’ve tried to switch to wireless headphones a few times, but it’s never worked out until now with iClever’s bluetooth sport ear buds.

Over the years, I’ve gone through innumerable sets of headphones trying to find something that works for my while running. The biggest problem has been finding something that’s comfortable for a long time and that doesn’t fall off easily. My favorite wired solution is actually one of the cheapest sets of headphones I’ve ever owned–the Philips Earhook Headphones. I currently have four pairs of these in rotation because I love them so much.

But they are wired, and I still occasionally get a hand caught in the wire and yank them off (ouch) or just get plain bothered with the wire on my neck or down my shirt. I’ve tried several kinds of Bluetooth sport headsets in the recent past, but they’ve always been too bulky, too uncomfortable, or both. So when iClever asked if I wanted to try out their lightweight Bluetooth sport headphones, I thought it was worth a shot.

iClever-ContentsUpon first opening the package, I was very nicely surprised to see how lightweight and compact the ear buds are. Despite having the electronics, battery, and full controls all built-in, they feel as lightweight as my very basic wired headphones. Included in the package are three differently sized ear tips (though the default size worked fine for me) along with two cord management clips, two stabilizers, and a micro USB cable for charging.

iClever-ChargeThe design of these is so sleek that it took me a few seconds to find where the charging port was! The back of the right ear bud pops open to reveal the port. I plugged it in and patiently waited for the next morning to try them out though a full charge should only take about two hours. Pairing with my iPhone 6 was a cinch–hold the play/stop button down until the LED flashed and then select it on my phone.

iClever-inEarThe soft stabilizers are optional but, with them on, I found that the ear buds didn’t move around at all and made them very comfortable. After several runs, including a two-hour mountain trail run, the ear buds and stabilizers helped hold them firmly and comfortably in my ears. The sound quality was great, and I never had any connection problems between the headphones and my phone while running.

We have a winner, folks! I’m really happy with the iClever ear buds and will be using these when I run from now on unless it’s a really long race. The charge will last for about five hours of music playing. That should be more than enough for my normal usage, but won’t cut it for the Angels’ Staircase 35K I’m running this weekend. But that’s fine with me because, on a beautiful race like that, I probably won’t listen to anything but nature anyway.

In addition to being great Bluetooth headphones for running, the iClever headphones also have a microphone and full phone control for most devices. I don’t often talk on the phone, though, so I didn’t get a chance to try out the microphone functionality. All of the music playing controls worked perfectly with my iPhone 6, though.

If you’re looking for lightweight, comfortable, wireless headphones, look no further than the iClever IC-BTH01. There is actually a deal on Amazon for them right now where you can get them at 55% off to make them even more enticing!

Note: I received a pair of iClever headphones for review purposes but all thoughts and ideas above are my own.

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Journal App Bridges Between Real and Digital http://geekdad.com/2015/08/journal-app/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/journal-app/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 13:05:59 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104592 The new Journal app solves the problem with digital sketchbooks: despite turning everyone into digital artists, something is missing in the expression. Continue reading

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Most all creative people use some kind of sketchbooks, notepads, or journal to record the day-to-day: our strongest ideas, greatest inspirations, personal thoughts, places we’ve been and (hopefully) all the incredible things we will create. The problem with digital sketchbooks is that while they are slowly turning everyone into digital artists, there is still something missing in their equation. “Most creative processes are anything but linear, and rarely isolated. Creatives, and designers in particular, need a free flowing workspace that is open to whatever media the world has to offer, more often than not, a mixed media.” says Anna Kenoff, Morpholio Co-Creator, “What if you want the freedom to combine the treasure-trove of photos, images, hand sketches, and drawings you are capturing everyday into one ultimate platform?”

'Journal' App from Morpholio

‘Journal’ App from Morpholio
Image Credit: Morpholio

Today, Morpholio introduces Journal, an application for iOS (sorry Android) that redefines the sketchbook as a mixing chamber where your photos can inspire drawings and your drawings can inspire thoughts. Now, designers, artists, writers, or members of any creative culture can write, draw, sketch, collage, paint, or color on anything, anywhere, with a sketchbook of infinite possibility at their fingertips.

Journal Unleashes 5 Super Tools:

  1. Sketch on anything, anywhere.
    Journal allows you to sketch and write on any media. Not everyone wants to start with a blank canvas and now you don’t have to. Design over an image, get creative with a photo, or make backgrounds of any type. You can sketch on top of any surface, and the sketch will literally move, twist and scale with the image it’s on. Draw on everything to build the ultimate archive of inspirations, ideas, and encounters, allowing the long memory of the computer to augment the short memory of the individual.

    Sketch with the 'Journal' App

    Sketch with the ‘Journal’ App
    Javier Galindo, a 2015 Rome Prize Recipient, www.jgch.org
    Image Credit: Morpholio

  2. “Ludicrous speed”: Rapid Fire Viewing
    The ultra responsive design relies on research into the human eye’s amazing capacity to rapidly assess high-bandwidth visual information. We now collect and store more information than ever before and require new ways to get through it–faster and smarter–while not missing what we need. Clearly the scroll is not the answer. In Journal you can soar through your infinite number of sketches, images, notes, photos, and thoughts with the touch of a finger. This groundbreaking approach to viewing yields an ultra fast, highly optimized page-turn interface making your entire book accessible to discovery and review within seconds.
  3. Designware: The Designers’ Set of Essential Pens, Pencils and Color Palettes
    Journal includes eight pens, brushes and pencils including chisel markers, charcoal, and other rendering tools capable of sheer digital magic. With unique line types per tool, they are carefully calibrated, not just for artists, but for designers who need to sketch in fine detail and diagram with precision. Sixteen color palettes, created by award wining graphic designers at New York’s MTWTF bring polish to your artwork by putting expert color theory at your fingertips. A perfect arsenal of pixel ink for true creatives.
  4. Collage Madness
    Not sure how what to do with the 1000 photos you haven’t posted? Collage, a tool of invention for many creative cultures, has been used to re-mix any number of visual media to promote new ways of seeing. Finally, a sophisticated drawing and painting platform opens up to the art of sampling, creating a collage tool that allows you to layer your everyday findings and thoughts in one place. Build mixed media artwork or layouts, photo albums, mood boards, material boards, scrapbooks, or rich archives of your discoveries, ideas and creations.

    Collage with the 'Journal' App

    Collage with the ‘Journal’ App
    Paul Stallan, Design Director at Stallan-Brand, stallanbrand.com
    Image Credit: Morpholio

  5. Super Notes
    Sporadic thoughts or moments of inspiration happen daily. Organizing and noting are essential to any form of journaling. Morpholio incorporates sophisticated technology to make writing easy and legible, allowing it to remain an integral part of thinking with your hands. Add notes anywhere on or off a page and write anything from paragraphs to simple tabs to mark your place. Morpholio has also curated calendar, notebook, grid and task list templates to help organize your life.

Never lose an idea again.

“Journal is an infinite sketchbook that goes with you and grows with you. Its speed at jumping between pages is important. It’s about reviewing and remembering as much drawing and documenting. Its unbounded number of pages and ludicrous speed will make enjoying all of your sketchbooks a daily pleasure,” says Mark Collins, Morpholio Co-Creator. Whether you sketch daily or occasionally, inspiration strikes us all at unexpected moments. Its unique book interface affords instant and easy navigation of thousands of pages, unlocking infinite potential. Finally, you can keep track of everything you encounter, and find new ways to visualize, test, and explore the world around you.

This post is cross-published on the Architechnologist, a site dedicated to exploring technologies that change the way we experience the world around us.

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Exploring Is Fun – Jump Into the Sewers With #BadDad http://geekdad.com/2015/08/sewers-with-baddad/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/sewers-with-baddad/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:30:15 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104619 Exploring your own neighborhood can be an adventure when you're a Bad Dad. Continue reading

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baddad

I feel like the spirit of Bad Dad month is those things we’re supposed to do as dads: push the boundaries and help develop a sense of adventure in our kids. Last month I was out for a Hearthstone Walk (playing Hearthstone and getting exercise… but that’s a story for another article) when I noticed that a runoff-catching pond in our neighborhood was missing its manhole cover. I went and took a look.  As sewers go, it wasn’t very exciting. Just one concrete block next to a pond, a ladder to the bottom, and a pipe to the other side of the berm.

A young boy and girl stand on top of a concrete drainage block by a pond. The manhole on the top is missing.

Also a good time to have them figure out why manhole covers are round. Image: Michael LeSauvage

I finished up my Hearthstone match before I got back home, giving me some time to think. When I was a kid, I crawled through a number of drains. There was a particularly large one behind my apartment building that ran under a road. I played there often (though I’m certain it wouldn’t have been an approved activity). I also remember a grate in my schoolyard that was missing its lock. It became a dare to climb down inside.

Those were formative moments for me, and they’re the kind of activity that our kids aren’t getting exposed to in our hyper-parenting safety-at-all-costs world. I got it in my head that I should bring the kids on a field trip! Rushing excitedly inside our home, I told them we were going to go do something that, while not necessarily wrong, was a bit “naughty.”

Tactical error! I got my daughter sufficiently worried that she started to cry. She thought I was going to get in trouble. However, she also really wanted to go. So, after my wife and I sorted out her concerns, we were on our way. We bicycled over to the pond, and the kids readily jumped on top. They were pretty happy to be there, but weren’t too keen on climbing down the ladder, so I went first.

A boy and girl wearing bicycle helmets look down through a manhole cover. The shot is taken from inside the sewer, looking up at the children framed behind the manhole and the sky.

Ground control to Major Tom(s). Image: Michael LeSauvage

Once I got down, I described it to them, and talked about the pipe leading to the lower side of the hill. They got excited about that and ran to find the outflow. After hollering back and forth, they came in to join me. That normalized the place for them, and they both tried climbing up the ladder, then back down, and out the pipe again.

Dark silhouette of two kids coming through a sewer tunnel.

A fun day, but we failed to locate the kingdom of the Mole-men. Image: Michael LeSauvage

The day was a success. The kids both had fun and gained some self-confidence. The world had just become slightly less of a mystery, and they learned that not all areas foreign to them are necessarily off-limits. As part of the outing, I had a talk with them upon returning home about parenting styles, and why they shouldn’t spread the word to their friends. I followed up with a neighborhood Facebook post about the missing cover for the less Bad Dad-inclined parents, and it’s since been replaced.

To complete the tale, that schoolyard sewer expedition of my youth didn’t end so well. The grate was accidentally dropped on the arm of one of the kids. So maybe there’s something to be said for a safer world. In place of the total freedom of days gone by we’ll keep looking for Bad Dad adventures.

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Programming With Robots, Part I: Sphero SPRK http://geekdad.com/2015/08/part-i-sphero-sprk/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/part-i-sphero-sprk/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:00:13 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104259 Who says learning shouldn't be fun and there can't be value in play? Certainly not the folks behind the new SPRK Edition Sphero. Continue reading

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Robotics Kits

For a kid who discovered a love of programming during the Reagan administration, it wasn’t easy growing up in a small Midwestern farming town. My high school computer teacher was a wonderful woman, but the computer class she taught consisted of playing Oregon Trail, using a word processor, and creating crossword puzzles on the school’s dozen or so rapidly deteriorating Apple IIe computers. One year, I even entered a program I wrote into the “computers” division at the 4-H fair–I was the only entrant. So when the school decided to offer computer programming classes, it was quickly apparent to my teacher, and to the three of us who signed up, that we were all going to have to figure it out as we went along. We played with Pascal, flipped through FORTRAN books, and generally just goofed off on the computer. (Did you know that on the old Mac, you could set it to play a sound on every keystroke? After the 90th “Are you out of your Vulcan mind,” our teacher did.)

Fast forward 20 years. My wife and I are touring the middle school where my oldest son would soon be attending 7th grade. As we walked into the computer lab, I was floored by, and more than a little envious of, the resources available to these kids. They had Photoshop classes, classes where students can produce their own movies or music, and the kicker, an entire section on robotics and programming with LEGO Mindstorms.

Unfortunately, this is not the norm across the country. Although schools regularly recognize the importance of computers and the internet, many are simply raising up a generation of technology users who have no concept of how anything works. As mobile technology and the “app” culture advances, this disconnect between computer users and programmers grows even wider. Even so-called STEM (and its cousin STEAM) programs frequently focus on technology use (e.g. CAD/CAM, engineering software, Matlab, etc.) over technology development. Perhaps that is why, despite the increase in the popularity of the STEM program, only 1 in 5 STEM college students believe K-12 education prepared them extremely well for relevant college coursework.

With the popularity of this year’s BattleBots reboot, as well as movie robots such as Chappie, Ultron, and Star Wars‘ BB-8, now is a great time for educators or parents to spark an interest in programming via robotics. Hardly a day goes by where someone else isn’t announcing a new Internet of Things or robotics project on Kickstarter. We at GeekDad got our hands on a number of different kits, from closed system units to expandable kits that snap, plug, or solder together. Whether you’re looking to instruct one student or a dozen, at home or at school, from pre-K to college level, there is likely a kit that fits your need.

Note: I am using “robotics” as a catch-all term to refer to any device that is controlled by a computer program. This includes both movable robots like Johnny 5 and C3PO and fixed location robots like the one that puts on door hinges at the Ford factory, as well as devices that have no moving parts such as PLCs and Arduino.

Sphero SPRK 1

Just released today from Sphero, makers of the fun little remote controlled ball that sparked an entire development community, is the SPRK Edition Sphero. Designed to accommodate everyone from beginners to experienced programmers, the SPRK (Schools/Parents/Robots/Kids) edition was created with the idea that learning should be fun and that there is value in play.

The first big change in the SPRK Edition Sphero is the ball itself. Instead of the translucent white shell of previous versions, the new Sphero is completely transparent. If, like our family, you have a young hardware hacker who has to know exactly how everything works, but who rarely can reassemble things the way he found them, the transparent shell is a lifesaver. Now kids can see exactly how the drive system works, and, in doing so, better understand the correlation between a programming command to “turn right 90 degrees” and the action taken to complete this command. For even more detail about the inner workings of the Sphero, the new SPRK app, also released today on Android and iOS, includes a 360 degree exploded view of the robot with all of the parts labeled.

The true power of the new app, however, is its new block-based programming interface. This zero code solution allows anyone to start programming the Sphero SPRK right out of the box without any prior coding experience. Want to turn the LED red? Simply drag the “Set Color” command block to the main screen and snap it to the “On Start Program” block. Other actions include setting the speed, heading, and directly controlling the motors individually. You can also listen for events like “On Freefall,” “On Collision,” and “On Land,” and perform actions based on these events. Sensors on the device can give feedback regarding heading, speed, and vertical acceleration, and you can use these values as parameters for other actions or operations (e.g. “if Speed is greater than 100, set LED light to red”).

If all of this sounds way too confusing, 12 sample programs are included. They cover all of the functions, and you can edit and save each one instead of starting from scratch. In addition, the app includes a link to the Sphero community where in the future you will be able to download programs from others and share your own programs with the rest of the community. In keeping with the educational nature of the SPRK Edition Sphero, all of the block based programs are simply a user-friendly interface for the Sphero code itself, which is written in OVAL, Sphero’s own version of C, and which is visible for each program by tapping code view button in the upper right corner of the block programming screen. Future versions of the app will allow direct editing of the OVAL code for more advanced programmers who want to start out with the blocks but then make changes in the code itself.

The Test

sphero sprk edition box contents

Minutes after the box arrived in my office, I had the Sphero sitting on the charger and was installing the app on my iPad Mini. Firing up the app, I ran into my first problem with the device. The instructions on the screen said to tap the Sphero twice to turn it on. I assumed it was touch sensitive, and was gently tapping the ball in every spot imaginable to no avail. My son, for whom delicacy is not his strongest trait, picked it up and *THWAP* *THWAP*, it came right on.

And that’s the first thing you have to realize about the Sphero. This sucker is durable. I’ve played with a number of DIY robotics kits, and this is the first where they actually suggest actions like running into things, throwing it up in the air, and tossing it in water! My idea of an “On Collision” method would be:


OnCollision(){
   TakeExpensiveRobotAwayFromChild();
}

Sphero does recommend not dropping the device from a height of greater than six inches, nor kicking or throwing it. While I’m not recommending taking it to soccer practice or chucking it off the roof, our Sphero did get accidentally kicked a number of times and dropped off the desk at least once, apparently without any ill effect.

Once you come to the realization that you’re not going to break it, playing with the Sphero becomes a joy, which is the entire point of the SPRK Edition. Play drives inquisitiveness, which drives discovery and education. We quickly went through all 12 sample programs and started creating our own, both from scratch and using the samples as a starting point. Can we drive it completely around the house? How high can we make it bounce by directly manipulating the drive motors? Can we combine side to side motions and lighting effects to make the Sphero “dance?” What happens if we tweak the code to try to do two things simultaneously?

Unfortunately, this is where we ran into the biggest limitation of the SPRK Edition Sphero. While you can view the source code in order to understand how the program you just wrote looks in OVAL, you cannot directly edit the code. My 13-year-old was about 10 minutes into the programming before this question came up, so it’s something to be aware of if you have a kid who is a little more experienced with coding. However, I asked Sphero about this limitation and they do plan to add it as a feature in a later release of the app. Also, if you’re used to programming with kits like littleBits or Cubit, the inability to add modules to expand functionality can be disappointing, particularly when you start considering the possibilities (cameras for autonomous navigation, ultrasonic sonar for object avoidance, etc).

SPRK Packaging Small

Don’t let these limitations dissuade you, though. While it’s easy to criticize based on a bulleted list of missing features, Sphero excels at the one thing that is lacking in too many other robotics kits: it’s incredibly fun and easy to use. I’ve had other kits sit on my workbench for weeks with the kids showing little but a passing interest, but as soon as the Sphero came out of the box, both of my boys were clamoring for the chance to get their hands on it. My concerns about the programming environment being too simplistic for my 15-year-old CS student were quickly assuaged. Heck, I’ve been writing software for years and, despite a few missing features I’d like to see added in future versions (e.g. multi-selecting blocks for moving or deleting), even I enjoyed creating custom programs with the block-based language.

On top of all that, it’s still a Sphero, and the new app includes the ability to put the programming on hold and simply have fun driving it around the house, or with the addition of the Nubby Cover, around the neighborhood. Plus, when you’re not using it as a programming platform, the SPRK Edition Sphero can be used with the more than a dozen games and apps created by Sphero for both Android and iOS, including Sphero Golf, The Rolling Dead, and Sphero Draw ‘N Drive.

According to Sphero:

There’s no rule that says learning shouldn’t be fun, or that playing can’t be valuable. If there is, we created SPRK Edition to break it.

Mission Accomplished.

SPRK Edition Sphero is available today at Amazon, Target, Sphero.com, Brookstone, and other retailers.

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Our Most Favorite Things About Gen Con, 2015 Edition http://geekdad.com/2015/08/favorite-things-gen-con-2015/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/favorite-things-gen-con-2015/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 11:30:48 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104729 We came, we saw, we didn't sleep much! GeekDad takes on Gen Con and lives to tell tales of playing games, battling beasts, and, best of all, hanging out with friends. Continue reading

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It’s quiet now at the Indiana Convention Center. All the gamers, designers, and publishers have gone home and every last meeple and foil pack has been swept away. But for four glorious days (and as many long nights) 61,423 gamers made the pilgrimage to Indy to enjoy the “Best Four Days in Gaming.” We saw a lot, played a lot, and talked to a lot of people. In the end, we were exhausted, but we couldn’t stop smiling because we had such an incredibly, wonderful, perfectly, good time. Here are some of the best things we did and saw.

After losing a quarter of his hit points, John Booth tries to heal through hydration. (Photo: Brian Stillman)

After losing a quarter of his hit points, John Booth tries to heal through hydration. (Photo: Brian Stillman)

The RPG King: John Booth

Three Gen Cons in, it has become very clear where my core time-balancing struggle lies: I absolutely love the free hours (often late) spent at the table with fellow GeekDads and friends, playing new game after new game after new game. That said, with each passing summer trip to Indianapolis, I’ve spent more time sitting down with dice and pencils and character sheets for role-playing adventures.

After last year’s first visit to the Ninth World in Monte Cook Games’ Numenera, I returned this year for another ticketed small-group adventure, “The Hideous Game.” GM Ryan Chaddock led our party through an increasingly creepy mystery and a fun climactic face-off (for real: someone’s face came off. Numenera‘s weird.), and the four-hour session zipped by. It also added to my knowledge and appreciation of the Cypher System developed for the game, which came in handy less than 48 hours later, on day three of Gen Con, when, for the first time, I sat in the GM chair and ran an adventure. (I’ll write more on this in an upcoming GeekDad post.)

I also tried out Monte Cook’s second Cypher System game, The Strange, which is set in the modern world, with the core premise that the collected myths, legends, and fiction of humanity have spawned small pocket dimensions called “recursions.” This means adventures can take place in pretty much any setting imaginable, and bizarre stuff is way more likely than not. The adventure we played was called “Mastodon,” and there were velociraptors and cyborgs and something called a Wonder Gun, I think. Our GM, Dan Guderian, had a nice flair for cinematic storytelling that was put to good use in our final showdown. There’s definitely a Numenera flavor to The Strange, not just in the game system, but in the use of one-shot odd items called cyphers, and the chaotic undercurrent that means what’s behind that next door is probably never what you’re thinking.

After playing one-hour Dungeons & Dragons sessions my first two Gen Cons, we went for one of the three-hour D&D Epic adventures this time. After a bit of a rushed, confusing party muster just prior to game time, our party of seven settled in for “Mulmaster Undone.” As part of this year’s D&D Adventurers League events, this meant that as we took our place amidst dozens of other tables and parties, we were a small part of a large, single story event, and our table’s success (or failure) contributed to the overall story arc for the entire group. We had a fun mix of players and characters, levels one through three, and despite losing a quarter of my hit points in literally the first two minutes of the game – which is what happens when you’re a first-level deep gnome rogue facing a panicked stampede and YOU ROLL A ONE – I survived to the end of the night and had a ton of fun bringing down some nasty Elemental Evil cultists. Full credit to our dungeon master Ashley Oswald for keeping things moving and ensuring everyone at the table got to contribute significantly to the play. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Those three sessions, plus my Numenera game, accounted for more than a half a day of my real-world time at Gen Con. Of the remaining hours, I played nine new tabletop games – my favorites were Mysterium, Codenames, and Camel Up – along with revisiting two others.

Somewhere in there, I also ate and slept. I think.

Camel Up, just one of the late night games played by the GeekDads.

Camel Up, just one of the late night games played by the GeekDads.

The Noob: James Floyd Kelly

As I try to wrap-up my thoughts as a first-time Gen Con attendee in a few paragraphs, it occurs to me the four-day event was a whirlwind of activity. Therefore, my summary will also be a whirlwind of sorts. Here goes: Arrived Wednesday evening, checked in, and proceeded to stay up until about 2am playing games with fellow GeekDad crew. Up early Thursday to get Press Pass for 1-hour early entry. Exhibit Hall is insanely HUGE and completely overwhelming: boardgames, RPGs, dice, miniatures, artwork, author tables, tee shirts, videogames, card games, and more … everywhere. Any game you’ve likely ever wanted to play can be found here at a table where you can sit down and get instructions. Got to see (and play) many new games in development. 

My game playing: Dozens of tabletop games that included Warehouse 51, Steampunk Munchkin, Imperial Assault, Flip City, Bad Beets, Dead Panic, and so many more that my tired brain just cannot recall at the moment. Card games: Evolution (definitely one of the best I played at Gen Con – thanks, Jonathan Liu!), Wrath of the Righteous (Pathfinder Adventure Card Game), Dead Man’s Draw (great for kids), Worst Game Ever (yes, that’s the name of the card game… and it was a very fun card game), and many more. What else? Zombie 15′, Pandemic: The Cure, Pathfinder Online, Mysterium (thanks, Dave Banks!), Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG, Numenera RPG (thanks, John Booth!) and, again, way more than I can recall. I got to play in a D&D Epic (300+ players) and participate in my first True Dungeon.

True Dungeon

Our True Dungeon party–yes, we’re dead, but we’re still happy. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Speaking of True Dungeon — WOW! Ten of us, GeekDad writers and a few new friends, were given an opportunity Saturday night to run through the puzzle version of Into the Underdark (versus the combat version). The first thirty minutes or so was spent picking our classes (I chose Wizard), finding the right mix of tokens for armor, weapons, and spells, and then practicing for the adventure. In my case, I had to memorize the position of special words on a dartboard-like chart — in the adventure, if I chose to cast a spell, the room’s DM would point to a blank chart and ask me to point to the location of a certain word. Out of ten spells cast during the adventure, I missed one. The adventure began, and our first puzzle turned out to be a timed puzzle to activate the elevator that would take us into the depths. We fought three different monsters (in three rooms) — the mini-shuffleboard game was a very cool way to resolve hits and misses and damage. The final puzzle, however, proved too much for our party. TPK (total party kill)… seriously. But it didn’t matter… that was two hours of pure fun.

Gen Con was amazing, and I definitely plan on going back. I loved the late-night game sessions with Dave, Jonathan, John, Brian, and the other GeekDads in attendance. But I also enjoyed making new friends and visiting with gamers from all over the world. Leaving was bittersweet — I loved every minute of my time there, but I was also ready to get home and see my wife and kids.

Chuck Wendig signs books for a fan after a panel

Chuck Wendig signs books for a fan after a panel.

The Writer: Samantha Bryant

I spent most of my time at Gen Con Writer’s Symposium, and it was time well spent. This was my first time there as a published author, so I mostly attended sessions on advice for early career authors and publicity. (For a fuller write up of what kinds of sessions are available, see my article here). I got some good advice on utilizing social media to connect with readers and other ways to promote my book without annoying people. I got some reassurance that at least some of my own instincts about how to do this were good. I went home with new things to try and that’s always a good feeling. This year, I spent more time just enjoying book talk with other book nerds. I bought a pile of books and made a list of more to buy on next payday. Marc Tassin continues to put on a fantastic event. It’s obvious that the writers enjoy being a part of it. Sessions are full of laughter as well as sage advice.

Other highlights for me were the Exhibit Hall and people watching. I left myself a lot more unscheduled time this year than I have in past visits to Gen Con, trying to stay open to what might come up. That meant I had time to demo more games, stop and watch more spontaneous performances, talk with people I met, and just enjoy being there. I demoed an extra -arge version of an older game, The Duke, which is a tile-laying strategy game with similarities to Chess and RRR. That’s right up my alley, so into the bag it went! I also really enjoyed Dice City and plan to pick it up when it comes out later this year. It was easy to learn and seems open to a lot of different types of gaming, from a more aggressive screw-your-neighbor approach to a more my-space-your-space, side-by-side play.

I only played in one tournament this year. A heads-up tournament of the new Ascension game: Dawn of Champions. While I enjoyed getting to play with the new set, which I hadn’t had much time to explore yet, I was disappointed that my prize was an old card I already had. I’ll definitely be bugging my friends at home to play this one with me though. The new rally mechanic adds an element of luck that means strategies I’ve come to rely on in past releases had to be rethought.

IMG_3120

The Sentimental Veteran: Dave Banks

When I arrived at my hotel on Wednesday, I got on the elevator with a couple of jock-types who spent the whole ride up making fun of the “nerds in the lobby” and some others who were “dressed like it was Halloween.” While this sort of immature name-calling isn’t new to me (or, likely, any of you), I was a little taken aback because cons like Gen Con are usually safe places where we don’t have to listen to others judging us. But, whatever. Screw those guys. I was there to have fun and you’d better believe I did. After that elevator ride, it was a total and complete joyride for every single moment I was there. It’s difficult to articulate how much I enjoy gatherings like Gen Con. Here, I am among my people.

From the attendees to the staff working the booths and the volunteers to the ICC workers, everyone was just so darned nice and polite, it was easy to forget there were 9% more people jamming up the aisles and hallways than last year. Walk down any American street and bump into someone you’re likely to get a nasty look (or worse). Accidentally rub shoulders with someone in the packed aisles of the exhibition hall at Gen Con and you’ll most likely get a smile and apology. Over and over again. People are just better when they are around the things they love. So, yes, my favorite thing at Gen Con is being around other gamers. You are all beautiful and funny and I want to play games with every one of you.

Codenames

One of our many late-night Codenames sessions. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

However, the whole reason we are there is for the games. And I should talk about some of those! Far and away, the game we enjoyed most was Codenames from Czech Games, one of my most anticipated games before arriving. We must’ve played this game a dozen times over the course of the con. It’s a really fun, team-based deduction game. It’s easy to learn, simple to teach, and has tons of replay. I’ll be writing up an in-depth review soon, but if you can get a copy, just buy it. It’s that good and that fun.

Mysterium

Playing Mysterium in the Hyatt lobby. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I also really enjoyed Mysterium. I have an imported copy of the Polish version of the game, which we played a lot. However I also had the opportunity to take some time to evaluate the newer US version, read the rules, and get hands-on with the components. Everything I had an issue with about the earlier version has been fixed and improved. What felt like a really good idea now feels like a fully realized product. It is improved in every way it can be. And what an incredibly wonderful game it is. Grab one as soon as you can.

Again, we were challenged by the forbidding halls of True Dungeon (another thing we’ll touch on later this week) and, again, (spoiler alert!) it was a TPK. Nevertheless, we had a great time. There was a metric tonne of games that look great that I (and the other GeekDads) will spend time with and will write about in the coming days and weeks.

Evolution

Playing Evolution in Hall E, full of gamers despite the late hour. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Other than that, I really enjoyed Warehouse 51 (more on that soon) and Evolution, a game I hadn’t played before but played exceptionally well on my first try, decimating the other GeekDads with unforgiving brutality. But I apologized after every extinction because, to me, that’s what Gen Con’s about: hanging out with friends (and new friends — I’m looking at you, Brian Stillman, and your incredible True Dungeon insight!), gaming, and doing your best to totally annihilate your opponents. You can always hug them later!

And, unlike last year, I didn’t catch the con crud — win!!!

Gen Con Haul

The Gen Con haul: what I took with me, what some friends asked me to bring back, and everything else. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Industry Insider: Jonathan Liu

I’ll admit: Dave’s the one who came up with the “industry insider” bit there, but I guess it fits. It’s gratifying (but still sort of unreal) to introduce myself to people and have them say, “Oh, GeekDad! Of course we know about GeekDad!” I’ve poured a lot of my time and energy diving into the world of tabletop games, and even though I’m still a relative noob when it comes to Gen Con (this is only my third year, after all), I’ve been making a lot of connections along the way.

Exhibit Hall

The Gen Con exhibit hall: vast and full of exciting things, and I want to see them all. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

This is probably best evidenced by the fact that, in this sea of over 60,000 people, I couldn’t turn a corner without spotting somebody I knew–designers, publishers, podcasters, or just other tabletop fans I know from Twitter. (I apologize that I can’t always place names on the faces, but chances are I’ll remember playing that game with you last year, and I’m working on getting better.) I’m pretty much in the exhibit hall the entire time it’s open, until they start turning off lights, because it’s the only way for me to say hello to all of the folks I’ve worked with in the past on board game reviews … and then try to introduce myself to all the new folks I haven’t met yet. A few people have told me that the exhibit hall was just too overwhelming–that they could only stay in there for a few hours before coming up for air. But for me, this is where I can catch a lot of people: while they’re stationary in a booth. Because once the exhibit hall closes, everyone scatters in search of dinner, rest, or a place to sit down and play games.

So I spend my daytime hours here, collecting games to review. And when evening comes and the hall closes, I find a spot in the gaming halls to camp out and play games as long as I can. I played about 16 games (a far cry from Bristol-Liu Con, but of course that one didn’t include any publishers), and by far the one I played the most was Codenames, which Dave mentioned above. I’ve got a few other highlights, too, but the majority of my Gen Con gaming will actually be in the coming months, when I break open all those games I hauled home in my suitcases.

Gen Can't Emperor's New Clothes: Designer Edition

Contributors to Emperor’s New Clothes: Designer Edition. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu, made with collage.com

For Gen Can’t, I decided to give away a copy of my own game Emperor’s New Clothes as a prize. After all, what better prize for an “unconvention” than an “ungame”? But then I stole an idea from Rhiannon Ochs, who was giving away a giant meeple signed by all sorts of rad people at Gen Con. I took a stack of blank white cards with me, and asked a bunch of game designers to design and sign a card for the game. What began as just a small idea became one of the biggest parts of the weekend for me, tracking down designers and putting them on the spot. Mostly I approached people I already knew, though there were some available for autographs that I introduced myself to, and all of them were happy to oblige. There were so many people I missed, though–so expect an expansion next year!

Tony DiTerlizzi

Meeting Tony DiTerlizzi at Gen Con. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Tony DiTerlizzi–I find any excuse I can to have him on my podcast, but I’d never met him in person. So I was thrilled that he was the Artist Guest of Honor this year, and I got to spend a few minutes just hanging out with him at his booth–during which time the line of people who had come to see him and get an autograph never stopped. Tony and his wife Angela are fantastic, wonderful, gracious people, and it was an honor to meet them both. Tony gave a talk about his career, from discovering Dungeons & Dragons as a kid to getting hired by TSR to becoming a children’s book illustrator.

ePawn demo

The demo of the ePawn was eye-opening. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The ePawn Arena Kickstarter was canceled, but Christophe Duteil made the trip to Gen Con anyway and I was able to meet with him for a short demo of the prototype board. Even though I’d seen the videos and gotten some demos over Skype, seeing it in person still blew me away. Part of the challenge right now is having some established games that can be upgraded to use the ePawn system, so Duteil is working on making connections with publishers who would be interested in working together. I hope it happens quickly, because I can’t wait until this technology becomes available.

Storm Hollow

Storm Hollow sample books, cards, dice, and meeples. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

I became friends with Angela Hickman Newnham and Julian Leiberan-Titus when they were working on Storm Hollow years ago, and I really wanted the project to turn out right. For me, part of that is stamping out grammar errors. So I offered my services as a proofreader, and I’ve been editing hundreds of pages of books and cards over the past year or so. They brought some samples of cards and some pre-production books to Gen Con, and I finally got to see things in their assembled form, with artwork and things laid out on a page (thanks to Dann May’s hard work). It’s the first time I’ve been a part of something of this scope, and I’m so pleased with how it’s shaping up. Of course, now I have hundreds of card proofs to re-check one more time for errors that may have cropped up during layout. Wish me luck!

GeekDads at Gen Con

A few of us managed to get a photo together on the last day–tired, but happy. (Next year, we’ll have to plan better for all the GeekDad writers to get together.)

Like the others, though, the best part of Gen Con is the people. It’s being able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone you see for several days, from the time you set foot in Indy (or sometimes even sooner) to the time you board your flight home. It’s staying up way too late playing games and laughing, or playing games and thinking really hard in silence about your next move, or just talking to people that you recognize as part of your tribe. I don’t get to see the other GeekDads that often–maybe once or twice a year for some, and even less for most–so the opportunity to spend four days rubbing shoulders with them is a real treat.

Thanks again, Gen Con, for a fun-filled week. We can’t wait to come back!

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The Geekly Reader: ‘Fowl Play’ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/fowl-play/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/fowl-play/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 11:00:28 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=103880 'Fowl Play' by Travis Nichols is a picture book filled with idioms, and my daughter loves it. Here's her review, with an assist from dad. Continue reading

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Fowl Play

In an attempt to get my daughter to practice her writing skills and get through my book review stacks, I decided to have her try her hand at reviewing a book. My middle schooler reads constantly, and probably gets through more of my review books than I do–but so far eliciting an opinion from her usually results in “Oh, it was good. I liked it.” or “Nah. I didn’t like it.”

But we’re practicing. I asked her to choose one of the books she’d read that she actually enjoyed, and she picked Fowl Play by Travis Nichols. We’d seen Nichols’ art before–he also illustrated the Monster Doodle Book several years ago, so his style looked familiar.

Anyway, Fowl Play is a picture book all about idioms that we’ve enjoyed recently. Here’s my daughter’s take on it.


In a pickle? Call Gumshoe Zoo and they will straighten it out in a jiffy.

The most brilliant detective agency, Gumshoe Zoo, is on the case of Mr. Hound the grocer’s broken window. Who broke it? How? Why? There is definitely some monkey business going on here. Follow the clues throughout this fantastic book and see if you can figure out the answers to all of these questions.

Fowl Play is filled with idioms from the very first sentence, “Looks like another dull as dishwater day.”

Even the pictures show idioms. When Quentin the goat sends out the call to all the detectives, I like to pick out all the idioms from the pictures. Bull in a china shop, fish out of water, monkey in a barrel, rat race, the list goes on and on. When they get to the crime scene, the clever detective animals quickly figure out that there is something fishy going on, and as they inspect further, bigger and bigger clues are revealed.

All the idioms used in the book are explained in the back of the book, which is really good if you are a parent trying to explain idioms to your child. They look something like this:

sitting duck: someone who is vulnerable to attack

There is also the definition of an idiom on the same page. Just looking at this page and going back through the book to see if you can find all the idioms is fun in itself.

Fowl Play

The illustrations are really cute, and my 2-year-old sister likes to point them out. Duck, monkey, horse… This is an amazing book for all ages, and I hope you like it.


What my daughter didn’t mention was that as the animal detective team investigates, each detective makes a comment that’s an idiom about another animal. “Oh! No offense, Reggie.” It’s having fun with idioms and poking a little fun at our fear of offending anyone at the same time.

Fowl Play was released today from Chronicle Books.

Disclosure: We received a review copy of this book.

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Studies Show Hufflepuff Key to Creativity http://geekdad.com/2015/08/hufflepuff-creativity/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/hufflepuff-creativity/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 10:30:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104624 Creativity isn’t the lucky gift it seems. "This research demonstrates that persistence is a critical determinant of creative performance and that people may undervalue and underutilize persistence in everyday creative problem solving," write authors Brain Lucas and Loran Nordgren from Northwestern University. Continue reading

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Hufflepuff.Creativity.jpgCreativity is when Van Gogh suddenly decides to slather paint in raised ridges. Or when John Coltrane realizes there’s room outside the chord changes. We illustrate creativity with a lightbulb blinking on over someone’s head–where there was nothing, suddenly there is something! The lightbulb itself is a good example: Thomas Edison stuck a filament in a glass bulb and–voila!–let there be light!

Putting it in Harry Potter terms (because everything becomes clearer when embedded in the framework of our shared cultural knowledge of Harry Potter), these pioneers of creativity seem like Ravenclaws–their bristling brains crackle an idea into existence. Or you could make a case for Gryffindor–they have the courage to create. But a series of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that creative people are Hufflepuffs.

“This research demonstrates that persistence is a critical determinant of creative performance and that people may undervalue and underutilize persistence in everyday creative problem solving,” write authors Brain Lucas and Loran Nordgren from Northwestern University.

Here’s how the studies worked: participants were asked the brainstorm in response to prompts. For example, in the week before Thanksgiving, the researchers brought a bunch of college students into the lab and asked them to, “Generate as many original ideas for things to eat or drink at a Thanksgiving dinner as you can.” Then participants were asked how many more ideas they thought they could generate if they persisted with another 10 minutes of brainstorming. Then they put persistence to the test, completing this additional brainstorming. Every response judges thought demonstrated above-average creativity earned an entry into a $50 lottery.

The question was how their predictions compared to reality–how useful did they think persisting would be and how useful was it, really?

In the first 10 minutes, students generated an average of 21.79 ideas. Then they estimated that if they had 10 more minutes, they’d come up with an average of 9.83 new things to eat for Thanksgiving. But when they actually tried it, they generated an average of 15.04 new ideas. Not only had they underestimated the power of persistence, but the ideas generated while persisting were scored as more creative than those in the first set. (It makes sense in the lab and in life: maybe the first things that come to mind are obvious, less creative ideas, and it takes persistence to push through this low-hanging fruit into new territory?)

Let’s take it a step further. Do we globally underestimate the value of persistence, or just underestimate its value for creativity?

This time, the researchers divided participants among six tasks–three that required creativity (like generating slogans for a hamburger and fries) and three that didn’t (like doing a word search). It turned out that people grossly underestimated the value of persistence on the creative tasks and only slightly underestimated the value of persistence on non-creative tasks. Again, one very important piece is that only in creative tasks, the quality of the work increased during persistence. (People didn’t find longer words in the search, but their burger-and-fries slogans were more creative.)

Later studies in the series replicated the finding and ruled out some alternative explanations. They also showed that it’s not just newbies presented with an abstract task whose creativity benefits from persistence. This is cool: the researchers worked with organizers of the sketch comedy festival (creatively…) named SketchFest to test the creativity of professional and serious-hobbyist comedians. Just like the Thanksgiving dinner test, they gave comedians a prompt and asked them to generate ideas, in this case offering set-ups like, “Four people are laughing hysterically on stage. Two of them high five and everyone stops laughing immediately and someone says ____.” (An example answer was, “…and that is how the Glue brothers became joined at the palm.”)

Again, subjects flexed their creativity, predicted the power of persistence, and had a second go at the task. And again, these trained comedians working in their area of expertise underestimated the power of persistence in generating creative ideas; they thought persistence would result in fewer ideas than it did… and their ideas when persisting were more creative than their first ideas.

Look at the Van Gogh painting, Pollard Willow. It’s got water and clouds and a gnarled tree, but this early work is far from Van Gogh’s trippy, creative later work. Listen to Coltrane with Miles Davis in 1955. It’s virtuosic and inventive, but is it as creative as his 1966 recording Live at the Village Vanguard Again? And Edison? Well, he tested more than 1,600 filament materials before settling on the one that went in his bulb.

These creative people persisted, both in physical hours of experimentation and in the mental persistence it takes to avoid settling. It may be blasphemous to say, but Van Gogh, Coltrane and Edison were Hufflepuffs–or at least had enough Hufflepuff overlay on their other talents to reap the creative benefits of persistence.

The moral of these studies is that  Like Van Gogh and Coltrane and Edison, you can have creativity too… if you’re willing to work and keep working for it.

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Ask Dr. GeekDad – Episode 1: Sun Safety http://geekdad.com/2015/08/ask-dr-geekdad-episode-1/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/ask-dr-geekdad-episode-1/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 10:15:53 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104720 Welcome to the inaugural edition of the new video series Ask Dr. GeekDad! This first video focuses on Sun Safety. Though it powers the Earth, radiation from the sun can be harmful. We all need to protect ourselves accordingly! Check out the video after the jump for a few tips and feel free to sound off in the comments or on social media if you have questions or ideas for further videos. Continue reading

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Welcome to the inaugural edition of the new video series Ask Dr. GeekDad!

Gerry L Tolbert, MD - Board Certified Family Physician -  Used with Permission

Gerry L Tolbert, MD – Board Certified Family Physician – Photo Courtesy of the AAFP. Photo Used with Permission

Several months ago, when I joined GeekDad, we discussed the possibility of creating a series of videos about broad topics in health. After several iterations and multiple ideas, I’ve settled – for now – on some short-form, informational videos covering several topics that relate mostly to situations in daily life.

This first episode focuses on Sun Safety. Though it powers the Earth, radiation from the sun can be harmful. We all need to protect ourselves accordingly! Check out the video below for a few tips and feel free to sound off in the comments below or on social media if you have questions or ideas for further videos.

For more information on sun safety for both kids and adults, visit the CDC’s website or check out this great article at FamilyDoctor.org.

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Daily #DadJoke for August 4, 2015 http://geekdad.com/2015/08/dadjoke-080415/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/dadjoke-080415/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 10:00:00 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104472 What do dyslexic insomniac agnostics do most evenings? Continue reading

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Daily #DadJoke for August 4, 2015:

20150804What do dyslexic insomniac agnostics do most evenings?

Stay up and ponder the existence of dog.


Have a great joke that you would like to see in print (complete with a “submitted by your name here” shout-out)? Send it in to GeekDadJokes!

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New Rock Band 4 Songs Announced http://geekdad.com/2015/08/rock-band-4-songs/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/rock-band-4-songs/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:02:49 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104585 Start tuning up those fake guitars and warm up your vocal cords in anticipation of even more great songs that will be released with Rock Band 4 on October 6, 2015 Continue reading

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Rock Band 4

The fourth iteration of the game that turns mere geeks into rock gods isn’t scheduled for release until October 6, 2015, but the a new song list for Rock Band 4 turns up our anticipation for the new game to eleven! Previously announced songs run the entirety of the rock spectrum by including everything from Spin Doctors and The Cure to Judas Priest and System of a Down. The the new song additions follow the same pattern and represent a wide array of eras and musical styles including:

4 Non Blondes – “What’s Up?”
The Black Keys – “Fever”
Disturbed – “Prayer”
Duck & Cover – “Knock Em Down”
Eddie Japan – “Albert”
Fall Out Boy – “Centuries”
Halestorm – “I Miss The Misery”
Heart – “Kick It Out”
Heaven’s Basement – “I Am Electric”
Lightning Bolt – “Dream Genie”
Rick Derringer – “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”
Rush – “A Passage To Bangkok”
Scorpions – “No One Like You”
Slydigs – “Light The Fuse”
Soul Remnants – “Dead Black (Heart of Ice)”
System of a Down – “Spiders”
White Denim – “At Night In Dreams”

It is unknown whether or not more songs will be included when the game releases globally on October 6, but what is clear is that music lovers everywhere will be able to find at least one go-to rock song. Rock Band 4 will be available on Xbox One and the PlayStation®4. For more information or to pre-order you copy, check out www.RockBand.com.

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Memory, Drives, and More Computer Upgrades on Sale at Amazon Today http://geekdad.com/2015/08/computer-upgrades-amazon-today/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/computer-upgrades-amazon-today/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 14:25:12 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104583 Today, there are some serious deals on memory (the 16Gb DDR3 memory above is just $80 - that's $5 per gig!), SSDs, tower cases, keyboards, monitors, and more. Continue reading

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It seems like Amazon does one of these sales about once a month, so if you’re ever looking to upgrade your PC, just wait a couple weeks, and it’ll come around again. Today, there are some serious deals on memory (the 16Gb DDR3 memory above is just $80 – that’s $5 per gig!), SSDs, tower cases, keyboards, monitors, and more. Check it out!

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‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ Lets You Fight Epic Space Battles on Your Tabletop http://geekdad.com/2015/08/halo-fleet-battles/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/halo-fleet-battles/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 14:10:19 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104561 Imagine yourself on the bridge of one of the big ships in the 'Halo' universe with this new, exciting tabletop miniatures game. Continue reading

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'Halo: Fleet Battles' UNSC fleet. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ UNSC fleet. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

I should probably mention at the outset that I’m a big Halo fan. A couple of years ago, when we upgraded our home game console, we chose the Xbox 360 primarily because it allowed us to play all of the then-existing Halo games. We’re now discussing upgrading again, and it’s merely a matter of if, not what: our next console will also be an Xbox, because of Halo.

I’ve also been slowly building a collection of tabletop miniatures games. I have all three Star Wars titles: X-Wing Miniatures Battles, Imperial Assault, and most recently, Armada. I backed Sails of Glory and Shadows of Brimstone on Kickstarter, and got Wings of Glory for Christmas last year.

So I was obviously very excited when I first heard about Halo: Fleet Battles. Combining my all-time favorite video game with perhaps my favorite tabletop genre was a match made in heaven.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' Covenant cruiser. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ Covenant cruiser. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

The first set, Fall of Reach, includes everything you need to get started playing in the Halo world on your tabletop. The game is designed for two players and is recommended for ages 12 and up (although there’s no way I’m keeping my nine-year-old Halo-obsessed son away from it.) Games usually run for an hour or two, depending on the scenario.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Halo:Fleet Battles for review.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' rule book, campaign guide, terrain, and reference sheets. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ rule book, campaign guide, terrain, and reference sheets. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Components:

  • 49 plastic ship models: 1 UNSC (human) Epoch Heavy Carrier, 4 UNSC Marathon Heavy Cruisers, 27 UNSC Paris Frigates, 1 Covenant (alien) ORS Heavy Cruiser, 2 Covenant CCS Battlecruisers, 14 Covenant SDV Heavy Corvettes.
  • 30 Custom Halo Dice
  • Two Regular Six-sided Dice
  • 128-page Core Rulebook
  • Fall of Reach Campaign Guide
  • 2 Fleet Commander Data Sheets
  • 145 Flight Stands in Three Sizes
  • 24 Ship Bases
  • 30 Ship Overlay Sheets
  • Punch-Out Scenery and Token Sheets
  • One Model Assembly Guide

Set-up

Out of the box, the game takes quite some time to set up as the ship models do not come pre-assembled. I took me about 90 minutes to glue all of them together, and then another 45 minutes to remove the bases and stands from their runners and punch out all of the tokens, scenery and ship overlay tokens.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' UNSC heavy carrier. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ UNSC heavy carrier. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Once that part is done, setting up for each game isn’t too different from any other miniatures game. Each player builds a fleet by determining which ships they want to play with. This might eventually take a while as the company releases expansions, but the Fall of Reach set comes with just enough ships to perfectly outfit two fleets, so at least for now there are not a lot of decisions to be made on the fleet.

A more important decision is the formation of battle groups–sets of ships that will work together in combat. Forming the battle groups is the most important strategic decision to be made pre-game, but the core rulebook includes a suggested battle group setup that players can use for their first few games.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' ship base and flight stands. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ ship base and flight stands. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

The models then need to be snapped into their bases. This is where one of the more innovative components of the game becomes apparent. The ship bases are a 5×5 grid of holes, allowing for a wide variety of ship configurations on a single stand. Bigger models such as the UNSC Heavy Carrier and the Covenant Heavy Cruiser are held securely by two pegs, removing the instability found on bigger models in some other systems. Smaller ships can be put two or three to a stand, in several different formations that impact game play.

Players then choose a scenario to play, find a nice big table (the recommended minimum playing area is 4’x4′), set up their battle groups along the edges of the table, take turns laying terrain (planets, asteroids, and the like) in each other’s way, and then begin the battle.

Game Overview

I’ll admit that at first glance, the game was pretty daunting with that 128 page rulebook. While it’s definitely necessary to read through it before the first play, the system turns out to be well designed and the game is easier to play than it first appears.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' custom dice. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ custom dice. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

To begin, each player rolls a set of Order Dice–custom dice for each faction. They place these on their Commander Data sheets (the rules imply that more commanders will become available in future expansions, but for now there’s just one for each faction). Then, they determine initiative. The player with initiative then decides which player will go first.

Next, players execute the Wing phase. While Halo: Fleet Battles is primarily concerned with capital ship combat, it does acknowledge the existence of smaller fighters, bombers and landing craft by way to cardboard tokens. These are automatically created with the various battle groups and deployed on setup. The first player selects some fighters or bombers and moves them forward. As with many similar games, it takes a few turns for these to get into range, so at least on the first turn they’ll just move.

Movement in this game is much simpler than in the other ship-based miniature games I’ve played. You use a simple tape measure (that you supply), and each ship has a pre-set range of movement. Depending on the size of the ship, you can turn it up to 45 degrees either before the move, after, or both.

Once all of the small craft have moved, the big ships take their turn. Again using the turn order, each player selects a single battle group and moves all of its ships. Once they move, they can attack if they’re in range.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' mid-game. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ mid-game. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Combat is likewise surprisingly straight-forward. The player adds up the combat value of all of the weapons in the battle group, which are printed on a set of included reference sheets, and rolls that number of Halo dice. The dice have either a single success icon, a double success icon, a miss icon or a fail icon. Some elements of the game allow for the die that came up on the miss icon to be re-rolled a single time, so if necessary the player re-rolls those. Then, the player simply adds up the number of successes.

The defending player then rolls a number of die as indicated on the reference sheet for the ship being targeted. The successes rolled here cancel out an equal number of successes from the attacker. The end total of attacking successes then hit the ship.

This is the point where a lot of similar games get bogged down in paperwork or checking things on tables and the like, but Halo: Fleet Battles does none of this with a brilliantly simple mechanic that’s easy to implement and keeps the game moving. Each ship has three damage numbers, printed on the ship overlay and on the reference sheet. If the total number of attacking success rolls equals or exceeds the first of these numbers, the ship is damaged and gets a damage token. From then on, damage is compared to the second number, until an attack succeeds again, at which time it gets a second token. Once the third number is exceeded, the ship is destroyed.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' mid-game. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ mid-game. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

This battle group phase is repeated by each player in turn until all groups have moved. After that, the final combat phase begins. This again harkens back to the video game; in fact, the very opening of the first game. Each ship now has the ability to launch boarding parties, which will fly to enemy ships and attempt to damage or destroy them. This phase is ultimately handled as elegantly as ship-to-ship combat.

Finally, once all of the boarding parties have done their thing, there’s a fairly quick end phase, where players can attempt to repair damage and carriers can launch new waves of bombers and fighters. After that, the whole thing starts again until one side gains a pre-determined number of victory points or a set number of turns have elapsed.

The Verdict

As I said above, the game turns out to be a lot simpler than it first appears. It was also an enormous amount of fun to play. It requires significantly less record keeping than similar games, which makes it a lot easier to learn and a lot more fun. It also doesn’t have tons of cards or other minutia that modify what’s going on but that is very easy to forget or get confused by.

The models are very nice and highly detailed. They come unpainted, but the company has smart enough to color-code them, with the UNSC forces in grey and the Covenant in purple, making the game entirely playable out-of-the-box. While I do plan to eventually paint mine, it’s nice that the game can be played without absolutely needing to paint.

'Halo: Fleet Battles' Covenant fleet. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

‘Halo: Fleet Battles’ Covenant fleet. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

The rules make references and even include pictures of ships not included in the set, so it’s not only clear that they plan to make expansions, but also that the first expansions may be very close to being released. I for one can’t wait to see where they take the game moving forward, but they’re certainly off to a great start.

While Halo: Fleet Battles isn’t cheap–it retails for $129–it’s a great game and well worth the cost, both for fans of Halo and for fans of miniatures combat games.

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Sunday Evening With Captain Owen Episode 014: ‘Huckle’ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/sewco-014/ http://geekdad.com/2015/08/sewco-014/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 13:00:23 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=104501 This episode we spend the entire show reading from Richard Scarry's 'Best First Book Ever!' It's a pretty long and detailed book so we spend the entire time on it today and still didn't read close to everything! Continue reading

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Sunday Evening With Captain Owen is a podcast where I sit down every other week with my son, who just turned 2, to discuss whatever he wants. The goal of the podcast is to chronicle his geek growth through the years. His mom also joins in from time to time and, in the future, his friends will also start joining us. New episodes air every other Sunday.

This episode we spend the entire show reading from Richard Scarry’s Best First Book Ever! It’s a pretty long and detailed book so we spend the entire time on it today and still didn’t read close to everything!

Download the MP3 here, subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS, or just listen with the player below:

If you enjoy our podcast and want us to keep at it, think about throwing a few bucks into the GeekDad Patreon. If you can’t, maybe you could just leave a review on iTunes or share the podcast with your friends. We’d really appreciate it!

If you have any questions or topic suggestions, please leave a comment or reach out to the podcast on Twitter @captainowenj.

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