GeekDad http://geekdad.com Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Fri, 28 Nov 2014 05:11:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 GeekMom’s Black Friday Deals Roundup http://geekdad.com/2014/11/geekmoms-black-friday-deals-roundup/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/geekmoms-black-friday-deals-roundup/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 02:21:44 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67978 Let us help you comparison shop on the stuff your geek families want from Black Friday sales. Continue reading

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It’s dangerous to go Black Friday shopping alone. Take one of these. CC BY-SA Darcy Casselman.

Black Friday sales turn stranger and stranger every year. I think I got the first “shop Black Friday early!” email three weeks ago! Many stores are allowing you to shop at their sale prices online now and have been for a while. Nevertheless, it looks like the best deals are still to be had on the day itself, so we’ve got a roundup of the things your geek family is going to be looking for. Remember that items aren’t necessarily identical from store to store (video game bundles especially can be a bit different, movies have special editions for specific stores, etc.), so even if prices are listed for the same item, double-check on your own the specifics to be certain they’re exactly the same before making a choice. Some of these deals may also be offered only during limited hours, so check out the store’s website or ad to make your plan.

In the first column of each section is the Amazon price as of writing, and the links all go to Amazon so that you can both price compare (is it worth the line on Black Friday?) and to check out reviews in advance. Prices in each column reflect those given in early-release ads from each retailer.

Movies

Though not as much as they once were, cheap DVDs are still a draw into the store, so you’ll find plenty of them available. The following are a few of the popular choices this year. Remember to check the disc you’re getting to be sure that it’s the version you want.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Despicable Me 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $9.96
Despicable Me 2 (WS DVD) $9.99 $7.96 BOGO $1 $9 with ornament
Frozen (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $24.94 $9.96 $29.99
Frozen (Sing Along DVD) $17.99 $14.96 $14.99
Gravity (Blu-Ray; some versions are 3D) $17.29 $7.99 $4.00
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $17.99 $7.96 $9.99
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DVD) $14.99 $9.99 $14.99 $10.00
Ice Age 3 (DVD) $1.96
Maleficent (Blu-Ray+Digital) $24.99 $9.99
Maleficent (WS DVD) $19.99 $7.96 $12.99 BOGO $1
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $9.96
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (DVD) $14.96 $7.96 $7.99 BOGO $1
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $7.96 $5.99
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (DVD) $14.96 $7.96 $9.99 BOGO $1 $9.00
The Lego Move (2-disc special edition DVD+Digital) $17.96 $3.99 $9.99 BOGO $1 $9.00
The Lego Movie (DVD) $14.96 $3.96
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $7.96 $9.99 $19.99 $19.99
Transformers: Age of Extinction (DVD) $17.69 $5.99
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Blu-Ray+Digital) $9.99 $9.99
X-Men: Days of Future Past (DVD) $9.99 $7.96 $9.99 BOGO $1

Phones and tablets

Features vary so, again, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you get a deal. Check the storage space, features like Wi-Fi, carrier, whether it’s unlocked, etc.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Galaxy Note 4 free with contract $0.00
Samsung Galaxy S4 $330-350 $0.97
Samsung Galaxy S5 free with contract $99.00 $1.00 $449.99* $0.01 544.99*
Phone (prices usually with contract) Iphone 6 16 GB $750-$1000 (unlocked) $179.00 $99.99
Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition 7” 8 GB $179 or $124.99 refurbished $129.99
Galaxy Tab 3 Lite 8 GB $99.99 $99.00 $119.99
Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 $139.00 $149.99 $149.99 $149.99
Galaxy Tab Pro 8” $349.00 279.99 (10.1” version) $199.99 $199.99
Galaxy Tab S 10.5” 10 GB $379.99 $399.99
iPad Air 16GB Wi-Fi $358.00 $397 with $100 gift card $319.99 $399 with $100 gift card
iPad Air 2 $482.48 $489 with $100 gift card $100 off $499 with $140 Target gift card

Cameras

Whether you’re looking for your first DSLR or a video camera, Black Friday is often a good time to do it.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D with 2 lenses $399-$599 (bundles differ) $449.00 $449.96
Canon Rebel T5i with 2 lenses $599-$849 (bundles differ) $699.00 $499.99
GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition $299.99 $249.97 $249.99 $249.99
Nikon D3200 with 2 lenses $319-$546 (bundles differ) $499.00 $499.99 $496.99 $596.95
Nikon D7000 with 2 lenses and SD card $549-$1199 (bundles differ) $1,099.96
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 $519.00 $297.99
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 $298.00 $249.00
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 $239.00 $299.00

Video games

If you’re still playing Xbox 360 or Playstation 3—or would like to purchase one of those consoles—there are some great deals out there on those older games and systems. But as you can see below, if you want deals on the current version consoles, you’re going to have to look harder and check out the bundles.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Disney Infinity characters varies 30% off $12.99
Skylanders Giants characters varies $9.00
Skylanders Swap Force characters varies $9.00
Skylanders Trap Masters $14.96 $15.99
Skylanders Trap Team characters $9.96 $9.00

Playstation 4

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Destiny $49.75 $49.99
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls – Ultimate Evil Edition $49.89 $35.00 $29.99
inFAMOUS: Second Son $25.49 $25.00 $19.99
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor $48.51 $24.99 $29.99
NBA 2k15 $50.99 $35.00 $29.99
Playstation 4 console $399.99 $399 with $50 gift card $399.99 $399.99
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 $34.49 $24.99
Watch Dogs $41.54 $35.00 $44.99

Wii U

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Just Dance 2015 $37.98 $25.00 $24.99 $24.99
Mario Kart 8 $48.15 $35.00 $59.99+10% off the guide
Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit $49.99 $37.00
Wii U Super Mario 3D World Bundle $315.88 $299.99

Xbox One

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Destiny $49.35 $35.00 $49.99
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (2.0) Starter Pack $54.99 $39.99
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor $47.45 $25.00 $29.99
Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit $49.99
Watch Dogs $48.89 $29.99
Xbox One Assassin’s Creed: Unity Bundle $349.00 $329.00 $329.99 $329.99 $329.99 $349.99

Nintendo DS

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Nintendo 2DS with Mario Kart 7 $151.05 $129.99
Super Mario Bros. 2 Golden Edition Bundle other variations $110-$220 $149.96
Frozen: Olaf’s Quest $19.99 $15.00
Nintendo 3DS XL Mario Party Island Bundle $249.99 $179.99

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TableTop Plays Forbidden Desert as a Special Thanksgiving Treat http://geekdad.com/2014/11/tabletop-plays-forbidden-desert/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/tabletop-plays-forbidden-desert/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:09:11 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67869 Wil and friends, Felicia Day, Alan Tudyk, and Jon Heder, take on the cooperative game Forbidden Desert on this week's episode of TableTop. Continue reading

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It would seem that game designer Matt Leacock has TableTop’s number. In season one of the show, they played Pandemic and were destroyed (in two ways) by sweeping global diseases. During the second season, they took a second shot at Leacock by playing Forbidden Island, but were decisively sunk. Today, we find out if the third time is the charm when TableTop plays Forbidden Desert. This cooperative game puts players in adventurous roles as they try to recover a flying machine from building sands, so they escape before the desert swallows them whole or drains them dry.

Playing with Wil today are Felicia Day, Alan Tudyk, and Jon Heder. As host, Wil plays the Navigator, guiding the team. Wil’s a very skilled guide too, having recently graduated from navigator technical college. Felicia plays an important role as the team’s Water Carrier and she role plays it as having camel humps on her back which she uses to distribute the water. (Just go with it.) Jon Heder, who is a big time gamer, plays as the Climber, who can move blocked tiles and move other players with him, and Alan Tudyk plays as the Archeologist, who can remove Sand tokens from the board.

Tudyk spends the whole episode trying to get everyone else to laugh (and is hugely successful) as he plays as an aging, bumbling and incompetent archeologist. Everyone feeds off Tudyk and it makes for a crazy, funny episode. “This is my favorite episode from all three seasons,” says co-producer Boyan Radakovich. “We have fantastic and talented guests. They all come in on point and are really funny and improvise so well. But Alan Tudyk came in and just took it to another level … the entire production room was rolling. I couldn’t look at him without laughing. It was so great!”

So it’s an entertaining episode with some high praise after J. August Richard’s entertaining performance on the last episode, but will the Leacock curse strike again? You guessed it … you’ll just have to watch to find out!

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Holiday Science: How to Win the Thankgiving Wishbone Pull http://geekdad.com/2014/11/holiday-science-win-thankgiving-wishbone-pull/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/holiday-science-win-thankgiving-wishbone-pull/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 17:08:41 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67956 Engineers at the University of Michigan do the science, and demonstrate all the tactical know-how you need to ensure victory this Thanksgiving when faced with the wishbone break challenge. Continue reading

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Engineers at the University of Michigan do the science, and demonstrate all the tactical know-how you need to ensure victory this Thanksgiving when faced with the wishbone break challenge.

tl;dr choke up and let the other person pull.

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10 Geeky Things to Be Thankful For, 2014 Edition http://geekdad.com/2014/11/10-geeky-things-thankful-2014-edition/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/10-geeky-things-thankful-2014-edition/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 15:16:28 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67945 A list of ten geeky things we at GeekDad are thankful for today. Happy Thanksgiving! Continue reading

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No matter how rough things might be for you at times, you almost surely have some things in your life that make you feel lucky. Whether or not you believe in a deity or deities to whom to give thanks for the good things in your life, it can be good to take a little time out to consider how much you have that makes you happy.

It’s great to think about things like your family, your friends, a steady job (if you’re fortunate enough to have one), having a roof over your head, etc. But of course there’s more. Here’s a list of ten geeky things my fellow GeekDads and I are thankful for (in no particular order) this (American) Thanksgiving Day:

1. Even if Star Wars: Episode VII turns out to be bad, it can’t reach such epic depths of badness as The Phantom Menace. This is because it will have neither young Anakin nor Jar Jar Binks; George Lucas was not involved in the movie’s writing or direction; and… really, that’s more than enough.

2. Not only do we have a cornucopia of comics adaptations on TV now, and not only are most of them good, but they are actively embracing the “comic book” elements and making them work. (Thanks, Jim!)

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron promises to be even more awesome than Avengers was, which is saying something. Plus, any time something new by Joss Whedon hits the screen is better than most other times.

4. There’s a growing list of places for female geeks to buy merchandise, especially from places like Her Universe and We Love Fine. (Thanks, Corrina!)

5. Guardians of the Galaxy has demonstrated that not every delayed opening means a horrible film. (Thanks, Erik!)

6. DVRs. For obvious reasons. (Thanks, Ken!)

7. In just a few weeks, the last Hobbit movie will come out, and maybe Peter Jackson will stop making movies about Middle-earth. Finally. We hope. Seriously, Peter, you’ve been looking at enough in the rear-view mirror for years now.

8. Books, again for obvious reasons. And also this little girl who’s really enthused about books. (Thanks, Jonathan!)

9. Tabletop gaming is having a significant renaissance. Who, five years ago, would have thought they’d ever see Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride on the shelves in Target? (Thanks, Tony!)

10. Caffeine. Yet again, for obvious reasons.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at GeekDad!

Photo by Cozinhando Fantasias; published under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Nintendo’s Black Friday Deal Guide http://geekdad.com/2014/11/nintendo-black-friday-deals/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/nintendo-black-friday-deals/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 12:00:53 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67940 If you're thinking of picking up a Wii U or 3DS for the kids (or for yourself) this holiday season, then Nintendo seems more than happy to help you get the biggest bang for your buck. Continue reading

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Nintendo deals

If you’re thinking of picking up a Wii U or 3DS for the kids (or for yourself) this holiday season, then Nintendo seems more than happy to help you get the biggest bang for your buck. The house that Mario built has just launched their Holiday Gift Guide, a special site that collects everything a parent or other gift-giver needs to know about their current hardware and software lineup — including a rundown of upcoming Black Friday deals at major retailers like Best Buy, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us.

There’s also a handy wish list feature that can be shared via Facebook or emailed directly to the interested parties.

For those looking to save a little scratch on digital releases, Nintendo has even compiled a list of eShop Cyber Deals on a handful of new, new-ish and classic releases. Most of these sales, both physical and virtual, kick off at 9 PM Pacific tonight, so you should have ample research time between your second helping of turkey and the arrival of Black Friday-proper.

Unsurprisingly, Super Smash Bros. Wii U has proven its mettle by becoming the fastest selling Wii U title to date. And, as I said in my earlier coverage of the game, it’s definitely one to pick up if you’re a holiday Wii U adopter. Similarly, the latest entries in the Pokémon franchise, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, are sure to please new 3DS/3DS XL/2DS owners, and, with the new Shiny Mega Metagross internet distribution, those games are already serving up supplementary content to keep the Pokémaniacs occupied over what might well shape up to be a cold, cruel winter.

 

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An Inside Look at The Hunger Games http://geekdad.com/2014/11/inside-look-hunger-games/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/inside-look-hunger-games/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:00:24 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67906 With Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 now in theatres, actress Megan Hayes from Catching Fire offers an inside look at the dystopian series. Continue reading

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Megan Hayes as the Morphling from District 6 and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, image via Lionsgate

Just before the first Hunger Games movie was released in 2012, I had a chance to participate in a conference call with series executive producer Nina Jacobson. At the time, the future of the series was uncertain and Jacobson didn’t even have a go-ahead for a sequel.

At the time, Jacobson said, “Anybody who underestimates the power of girls in the marketplaces does so at their peril.”

Her words proved prophetic as the movies have gone onto to be one of Hollywood’s most successful franchises. The third movie, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, was released earlier this month. Even more impressive is that the book-to-movie translation has managed to keep the dark nature of Suzanne Collins’s dystopian future intact. This isn’t an action-adventure franchise, it’s a scathing look at a possible future for America.

Megan-Hayes

Megan Hayes, image courtesy Megan Hayes

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Megan Hayes, who played the female tribune from District 6, the Morphling who sacrifices herself for Peeta in the Quarter Quell as depicted in Hunger Games: Catching Fire. We talked about how the movies are made, the various setting, including a parking lot, her views on the story, and some of her other geeky projects.

My favorite anecdote had to be the filming of the sequence where the Morphling dies in Peeta’s arms in the ocean. To my surprise, this footage was actually shot in the Pacific Ocean, off Hawaii, and not on a soundstage in more controlled conditions. The entire Morphling sequence used three outdoor sets: a jungle in Hawaii, the lake in Georgia that held the cornicopia, and the Pacific Ocean off Oahu.

It was the ocean sequence where the Morphling is present but unmoving that was the trickiest for Hayes.

“We were on ‘standy,’ which means you need to stay in the scene and I was laying ‘dying’ in his [Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta] arms, and so we’re waiting and waiting and he leans over and started singing the Jaws theme song in my head.”

She laughed and called Hutcherson “super-sweet” a word she also used to describe the entire cast and crew, up to director Francis Lawrence.

Megan had read the books before she auditioned for the role and instantly became engrossed the series. “It’s such a great read and with a female main character. She’s not worried about men all the time, she has other things on her plate. She feels responsible for her family members and for others in the games.”

Morphlings_reaping

The Morphlings in Hunger Games, Catching Fire, image via Lionsgate

She noted that the films and books are clear that all the victors in the books suffer from PTSD, including her District 6 Tribune.

“I named her, Deirdre, and I added backstory, as actors usually do and I’m also a writer, so it’s my favorite thing to do with characters. District 6 didn’t know what to do with her after the games, so they drugged her to calm her down and she became addicted. What I found really fascinating about her is that she had a very physical presence, not a verbal one.”

Megan said this was one of the reasons she enjoyed the role because it was something that she’d never done before. The audition for the part, she said, was unusual.

“I had to walk into this tiny room in a warehouse and they said ‘you get attacked by a monkey and die,'” she said. “I kept doing it over and over as they redirected me.”

Megan said Lawrence, the director, was so “warm and kind” at the audition but it was all over in five minutes. Later, when her climatic scene was to be attacked by a CGI monkey and die, it was perfect practice.

“I get attacked by a monkey and die,” she laughed. The monkeys were entirely CGI, though the setting around them was real, so she didn’t see the full sequence until the move was finished. “We had two cardboard cutouts of monkeys on set that they sometimes moved into position but that was it.”

She was cast for two months before she was allowed to announce it publicly and also had to lose weight for the part, since the Morphling is an emaciated drug addict. Her friends became concerned, she said, so she told them she was losing weight to play a role in an independent film.

The first day of filming featured that parking garage. “On my first day of filming, I drove into a parking garage in Georgia, and then I found out we were going to another parking deck to film.” They’d remade the deck into the training center where Katniss, Peeta and the other tribunes get ready for the games.”

I was surprised at how much of the movie wasn’t CGI. The monkeys obviously were, as some of the training sequences, but one of the tentpole sequences in the film, with all the tribunes gathered on stage and holding hands on the eve of the Quarter Quell, was almost entirely real.

“We were on a set for that, with a full audience and nearly the entire cast,” she said. “We also shot the whole Mockingjay dress sequence but, on that part, all we did was see her spin. We couldn’t wait to see what that looked like with CGI.”

Her make-up was also entirely real and took about three hours to fully apply, but she felt lucky in that most of her sequences were filmed in the afternoon and she didn’t have to be ready to go until 1 p.m.

“They painted me to match a banyan tree, a real tree in that area of Hawaii,” she said.

Acting in the movie gave her an even deeper appreciation for the books, especially the way the emotionally damaged tribunes are portrayed. Hayes has some personal experience with mental illness. Her late father struggled with schizophrenia, which she called “heartbreaking” and she wants to draw as much attention to the needs of the mentally ill as possible.

“It’s important to talk about this so it’s not this dark, hidden secret,” she said. “My dad is passed now and I think he’d have wanted me to talk about it.” She said it’s still difficult on some days but it’s all about “moving forward.”

Hayes is also involved in Blessings in a Backpack, which provides elementary schoolchildren who are on the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal Program with a backpack of food to take home for 38 weekends during the school year, according to their website, and is an official ambassador for Planet.Eco, an organization connecting people, communities and other organizations to work collaboratively to advance the sustainability of the planet.

Hayes has voice work, acting and screenplays to her resume. When I asked what she’d liked to do next or as a career, she noted that this is the new Golden Age of Television, where the possibilities for writers and actors seem limitless thanks to new outlets like Netflix and YouTube. But her ultimate dream job is to become a series regular on a well-done television show, where she can take her character through a long journey over the course of the show.

And, she said, “I’d love to write.”

In the mean time, Hunger Games: Catching Fire is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

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5 Kid-Tested Ways to Create with Autumn Leaves http://geekdad.com/2014/11/5-kid-tested-ways-to-create-with-autumn-leaves/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/5-kid-tested-ways-to-create-with-autumn-leaves/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:30:32 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67895 Here are five ways to use one of nature's most colorful fall craft mediums. Continue reading

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Autumn leaves are like works of art on their own, making them favorite art mediums for crafters during the season. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Leaves have always been one of the “go-to” nature craft items during the fall months, but they are more versatile than you might think. Here are some different kid-friendly ways to use these colorful—and plentiful—art supplies you may or may not have known about.

As Folding and Cutting Paper. This works best with leaves that are still pliable. I’ve found if you run your fingers along a branch of leaves that haven’t fallen yet, those that fall off easily, without having to be plucked, are at this stage.

You can make fall “rosebuds” with larger leaves (like maple leaves) by folding the top down to meet the stem and rolling them gently. Then, secure the bottom with chenille stem or raffia (straw ribbon). I learned about this craft when I was looking for a bouquet for a “corpse bride” Halloween costume, but they turned out to be great Thanksgiving accents as well.

Smaller leaves can be folded lengthwise and cut to make hearts, stars, simple paper doll animals, or other designs. You can also use a small cookie cutter as a guide.

fold:cut leaf

Fold and roll a leaf to create autumn “rosebuds” or punch out and cut shapes for colorful, natural tabletop decorations.

As a Canvas. This is one of the most fun uses for younger crafters. Larger leaves that are still fairly flat can be used as canvas for seasonal or rustic images. This is also a great backdrop for little “turkey” hands. Laminate them for safe-keeping or glue them onto construction paper.

painted leaf

Use leaves as a rustic canvas for painting.

As a Stencil. Find leaves of different shapes and sizes that are still relatively flat and arrange them on a piece of paper—any color will do. These can be held in place by placing a small piece of tape on the back of each leaf. Drizzle or sponge acrylic or craft paint over the leaves, careful not to let it seep under the leaves. These final images can be folded for fall place settings or note cards. This works with spray paint as well, for more advanced crafters.

stencil leaf

Gather leaves of various shapes to use as a stencil.

As a “Painting” Medium. This is actually more like a mosaic than paint, but it takes advantage of the different colors of fall leaves to create a collage or add color to nature crafts. The more crinkly and dry a leaf is, the easier this is to do. Crumble different colored leaves over paper plates. Less crumbly leaves can be torn or cut like paper. Then “paint” flat river stones with the leaves by gluing the leaves over the top of the surface and securing them with a layer of decoupage glue.

If you can’t find a suitable stone, make a disc out of polymer clay. Use a popcicle stick or clay tool to draw a simple design in the clay before baking. For a little more color, add some petals from fall flowers.

mos leaf

Crumble or cut up leaves of different colors and flower petals to make river stone collage mosaics.

As a Stamp. As opposed to the other fall leaf uses, this one needs fresh green leaves to work best. However, there are plenty of evergreen and house plants that can be used in the fall. Place a leaf on piece of light-colored paper and cover it with a paper towel. Gently pound over the leaf with a hammer until it is completely smashed. Remove the remainder of the leaf, for a natural stamped image on paper.

stamp leaf

Fresh leaves can be hammered to create natural stamped images.

These techniques can find their way onto note cards, autumn centerpieces, wreaths, gift wrapping, paper weights, or any other creative fall use, so go gather some leaves and gather your ideas.

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Crowdfunded Gadgets Roundup http://geekdad.com/2014/11/crowdfunded-gadgets-roundup/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/crowdfunded-gadgets-roundup/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:00:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67884 Here are several projects (some on Kickstarter, some on Indiegogo) that I've discovered recently that have caught my attention. Continue reading

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I write about a lot of crowdfunding projects, but primarily board games: I have the most experience with them, and it’s a lot easier to get a working-but-not-final sample of a board game than an electronic device. So for gadgets, I’m mostly relying on the same information you can find on the crowdfunding page, with just a couple of exceptions. But here are several crowdfunding projects (some on Kickstarter, some on Indiegogo) that have caught my attention recently.

New to crowdfunding? Be sure to read our crowdfunding primer.

WIGL

Vivek Mano demonstrates Wigl at the PDX Maker Faire. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Wigl

This first one I have seen in person, back in September at the PDX Mini Maker Faire. Vivek Mano has designed a little robot that is controlled by music: play notes on an instrument or even sing them, and the robot will move forward and backward or turn left and right. Or put it in programming mode, play a short tune, and the robot will follow all the commands in sequence. It’s a cool little device and I like the way it combines music and programming. Check out the Wigl Indiegogo campaign.

Silibagz

The Silibagz is a reuseable silicon container. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Sawatdee Silibagz

I’ve tried sous vide cooking before, using the “poor man’s sous vide” method, and I have to say that it’s been the best way for me to make steaks that aren’t either undercooked or dried out. But I’ve just been using regular plastic resealable bags, which aren’t intended for cooking—not to mention it’s not so great environmentally.

Silibagz

The clamp and stainless steel straw can be used to seal the bag shut and suck out the air; a plastic handle attaches to the top. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Silibagz are reuseable silicon containers that are food-safe and quite versatile. I got a sample to try out and have used it once for sous vide. But it can also be used to replace one-use resealable bags, brown bags, or anywhere you need a portable storage container. They seem like they’d be pretty great for camping, too.

Unfortunately, they’re not cheap, especially if you wanted enough of them to replace your disposable-bag habits, but I really like the idea. For more information, visit the Silibagz Indiegogo page.

Appiom

Appiom

The Appiom is a device (based on a Raspberry Pi) that plugs into your home network, and gives you control of your kids’ online activity via an app. Set blackout times for bedtime or family dinnertime, or shut off only specific apps like Facebook during homework. Now, while I think it’s preferable to have conversations with your kids about wise use of screen time and the internet, the Appiom also seems like it could be a handy way to help establish those habits when sheer willpower doesn’t do the trick. The Appiom is on Kickstarter now.

L3D Cube

Fireworks on the L3D Cube. Image: Looking Glass

L3D Cube

Ok, this one’s a real splurge, but it’s fascinating to look at. It’s an 8x8x8 grid of LEDs that you assemble yourself (no soldering required), and is capable of really cool three-dimensional light shows. It’s Arduino-compatible and completely hackable, but you can also play with it without any programming knowledge. Or go really big and get the 16x16x16 cube. Check out the L3D Cube on Kickstarter.

FITGuard

FITGuard

The FITGuard is somewhat similar to another project I wrote about a while ago, the Jolt Sensor—it’s a concussion sensor designed to notify coaches or parents when an athlete has had a severe impact that could result in a concussion. However, the FITGuard is built into a mouthguard with indicator lights, making it even easier to see at a glance if an athlete should be pulled aside for evaluation. One concern for me, having fit my kids with mouthguards for roller derby, is whether these can be custom fit or if they just come in a few standard sizes, since there’s gadgetry built in. Still, it’s good to see companies taking on the issue of concussions and injuries in sports, and I’d like to see this trend continue. Check out the FITGuard on Indiegogo.

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Play DIY Board Games This Holiday Season http://geekdad.com/2014/11/play-diy-board-games-this-holiday-season/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/play-diy-board-games-this-holiday-season/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 11:00:28 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67868 Decorate your own game board, apply stickers, and color playing pieces with this fantastic collection of games for kids. Continue reading

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Image: Laurence King Publishing

Image: Laurence King Publishing

Some board games are ready to play right out of the box, or at most require taking cellophane wrappers off decks of cards. Others, however, require quite a bit of piece-punching-out, sticker application, and board construction. If you or your kids get excited about the latter, a new game is out that you might enjoy.

DIY Board Games is a box of five different board games with plenty of pieces and components that you decorate and arrange the way you like. The game boards and pieces themselves are thick cardboard, and the set comes with a pair of wood dice. The style and design of the artwork is playful without being cartoon-y, and is very appealing to kids and grown-ups alike.

Our version of Snakes and Ladders. The kids and I colored the snakes, but they applied the leaf stickers and sewed the rope ladders. Photo: Jenny Williams

Our version of Snakes and Ladders. The kids and I colored the snakes together, but they applied the leaf stickers, sewed the rope ladders, and colored the pieces. Photo: Jenny Williams

The five included games are well-known to some, but some of them, or at least their names, may be unfamiliar: Backgammon, Ludo (Parcheesi), Game of the Goose (um.. well.. I’m up for an adventure!), Snakes and Ladders (Chutes and Ladders), and Draughts (Checkers).

You may wonder, if the games are decided already, what makes this a DIY game? The customization is the point here. The publisher has left some parts of the boards and pieces unfinished, so players can color them, construct 3-dimensional counters, and even arrange stickers to their liking. Each of the five boards has different DIY options. There are many pieces in the game box, but they are labeled on the back as to which game they go with, so it’s easy to sort out what you need. Additionally, since the games are pretty basic, kids can unleash their imaginations to make up games using the pieces and boards. Have them make up some rules to a brand new game of their own design!

What's included. Image: Laurence King Publishing

What’s included. Image: Laurence King Publishing

The included game instruction booklet includes everything needed to get the pieces and boards set up, as well as including complete game playing instructions. So, color and customize each game, and then dive in to play! Kids will love to play board games which they had some part in assembling and decorating.

Intended for kids age four and up, any age game lover will get a lot out of this game set. It is also a fun activity for groups of different ages, including multi-generational groups. Have fun with it, and in the end, you’ll have custom board games that you can be proud of.

Whether your game-loving kids like to color, assemble, or apply stickers, DIY Board Games is a fantastic gift. They’ll enjoy setting it up in the first place, and then will play the included games for hours. It’s a great item to have on hand for family gatherings, since so many different kinds of games can be played, and all are included in a box the size of just one game.

DIY Board Games retails for about $25 and is available now.

Note: I received a copy of the game for review purposes.

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Skylander Eruptor to Appear in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade http://geekdad.com/2014/11/skylander-eruptor-appear-macys-thanksgiving-day-parade/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/skylander-eruptor-appear-macys-thanksgiving-day-parade/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:00:50 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67842 Many congratulations to our friends at Toys For Bob, and Activision. Eruptor, one of my favorite Skylanders, is to appear in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The larger than life Eruptor balloon took more than 40 gallons of fluorescent paint and five barrels of glitter to recreate his fiery personality. Check out the parade on turkey day starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Continue reading

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2014MacysParadeSkylander

Many congratulations to our friends at Toys For Bob, and Activision. Eruptor, one of my favorite Skylanders, is to appear in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The larger than life Eruptor balloon took more than 40 gallons of fluorescent paint and five barrels of glitter to recreate his fiery personality. Check out the parade on turkey day starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

You can see a sneak peak of the balloon on Macy’s Facebook page.

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Lord of the Rings EE + Shadow of Mordor on Sale for (Pre-) Black Friday http://geekdad.com/2014/11/lord-rings-ee-shadow-mordor-sale-pre-black-friday/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/lord-rings-ee-shadow-mordor-sale-pre-black-friday/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 18:27:36 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67864 The Blu-ray set of Lord of the Rings (Extended Edition) PLUS the excellent Shadow of Mordor videogame (PS4 or XBox One) together for just $55. Continue reading

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Knowing our audience here at GeekDad, we just had to point out this rather excellent pre-Black Friday sale over on Amazon today. The Blu-ray set of Lord of the Rings (Extended Edition) PLUS the excellent Shadow of Mordor videogame (PS4 or XBox One) together for just $55. That’s a pretty deep cut! So, pick them both up for the geek in your life this holiday season (note: said geek in your life may well be you).

Check out the deal here.

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The Jurassic World Trailer Is Here and Awesome http://geekdad.com/2014/11/jurassic-world-trailer-awesome/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/jurassic-world-trailer-awesome/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:48:21 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67861 This looks amazing - I got chills. The Jurassic Park feel is there, and we get glimpses of even more amazing dinos. And hints of more scientific hubris. Continue reading

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This looks amazing – I got chills. The Jurassic Park feel is there, and we get glimpses of even more amazing dinos. And hints of more scientific hubris. But I totally want to go there on vacation!

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Stack Overflow: More Is More http://geekdad.com/2014/11/stack-overflow-3/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/stack-overflow-3/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 14:00:15 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67833 I like big books and I cannot lie. You might like your little digital book device that holds an entire library in your pocket, but there are some things that just aren't meant to be shrunk down to that size. Here are some great examples of books that are just better in full size—all of them are bigger than your iPad's screen. Sometimes, more is more. Continue reading

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Stack Overflow: More Is More

I like big books and I cannot lie. You might like your little digital book device that holds an entire library in your pocket, but there are some things that just aren’t meant to be shrunk down to that size. Here are some great examples of books that are just better in full size—all of them are bigger than your iPad’s screen. Sometimes, more is more.

(Photos with my kobo for size comparison)

The Art of Big Hero 6

The Art of Big Hero 6

You know how much I love “Art of” books, and they’re a prime example of something that shouldn’t be shrunk down to the size of your palm. The Art of Big Hero 6 takes you on a tour through the inspirations for San Fransokyo, the creation of the colorful characters, and even a peek at the cinematography and new Hyperion Renderer used for the film. One interesting note is that it doesn’t give spoilers about the villain, though some other plot points are revealed.

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night

You may have heard of Dinovember, a crazy month-long romp with plastic dinosaurs, created by Refe and Susan Tuma as a way to entertain (or terrify?) their kids. Now you and your kids can delight in the dinosaurs’ antics with this book of some of the funniest photos (with captions, of course).

Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark

Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark

This collection of astounding LEGO creations by builders from all over the world is big, with over 300 pages of glossy photos. The “Dark” theme includes creepy crawlies, mechas, disasters, aliens, and much more. Although there are a few references that aren’t entirely family-friendly, my kids have enjoyed this one as much as I have.

Geek-Art: An Anthology

Geek-Art: An Anthology

This volume, curated by Thomas Olivri, is wide-ranging in its geekery. Art inspired by videogames, comic books, movies, ’80s cartoons, propaganda posters… You’ll see pixel art, photorealistic paintings, minimalist posters, detailed costumes. Most of the art is available online, but I was only familiar with a fraction of it—Olivri’s book puts a huge collection in one place, with a brief bio of each artist and URLs for finding more. Geek-Art weighs in at over 400 pages. (Note to parents: there’s a bit more in here that’s not appropriate for kids, so preview before you set it out for them.)

Brick Wonders

Brick Wonders

This book features “ancient, modern, and natural wonders” in brick form. From the Great Wall of China to an iPad, there are huge models and tiny models, and even instructions on how to build some of the smaller structures. The book even includes two pull-out posters. Let’s see you do that with your Kindle.

Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour

Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour

If you’ve got a kid who’s wild about dinosaurs, this is the book you need to get. (Well, along with What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, of course.) It’s a huge encyclopedia of dinosaurs (“from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops”), but the format is kid-friendly, with an at-a-glance sidebar showing the dinosaur’s era, how many million years ago it lived, what it ate, its size, and where the fossils were found. As a bonus, there are field notes by Jack Horner, the paleontologist who served as technical advisor on Jurassic Park. (Although, ironically, mostly it’s things like: “ignore what you know about this dinosaur from Jurassic Park.” RAWR! Velociraptor!)

Steampunk LEGO

Steampunk LEGO

Hey, what can I say? We like LEGO. And steampunk. From monowheels to airships to a steam-powered AT-AT, this book is chock-full of gears and pipes. Many (but not all) of the photos are appropriately sepia-toned. The LEGO creations in Steampunk LEGO are also from builders from all over the world.

Animalium

Animalium

This isn’t a book. It’s a natural history museum that’s always open. Although it contains a limited number of species, it does guide you through many branches of the tree of life, with beautiful illustrations by Katie Scott. The illustrations look like something from long ago—and the book itself seems like an artifact from another age. This book isn’t too thick, but it’s enormous, 15 inches high and nearly a foot wide: perfect for an afternoon of sprawling out on the living room floor with your kids.

The Thing The Book

The Thing The Book

This curious object isn’t a traditional book—it’s an ode to the book, in book form. Curated by Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, The Thing The Book is part of THE THING Quarterly, an experimental periodical that is a different physical object each time. This time it happens to be a lovely bound book, filled with contents lovingly created by more than thirty participants to answer the question: “What exactly is a book?” It’s a perfect example of a book that can’t be anything but a physical object.

The Art of the Brick: A Life in LEGO

The Art of the Brick: A Life in LEGO

Ok, last LEGO book in this list, I promise. There are a lot of LEGO artists around the world, but Nathan Sawaya is certainly one of the most well-known. My kids and I saw one of his art exhibits when it came to OMSI here in Portland. This book digs into the how and why of many of Sawaya’s famous creations. He shares the stories behind them, along with concept sketches and photos of the builds. If you’ve seen The Art of the Brick exhibit, this is like the behind-the-scenes tour, from the artist himself.

Novel Living

Novel Living

So, now that you’re convinced that you need a few of these physical books, you might want a guide to using them. Novel Living does give some tips on decorating and crafting with books (it’s by the same author as The Repurposed Library), but it also has useful tips about repairing books, making slipcovers, and creating and curating your library. I suppose I could use the section on—gulp!—thinning out my collection.

Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of these books.

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Howard the Duck Brings Quack-Fu Back to Marvel Comics http://geekdad.com/2014/11/howard-duck-brings-quack-fu-back-marvel-comics/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/howard-duck-brings-quack-fu-back-marvel-comics/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67827 When he appeared in the post-credits stinger for Guardians of the Galaxy, Howard the Duck caused some to celebrate, some to shake their heads and the younger crowd to ask; “who was that?” Not surprisingly, Marvel has announced Howard’s official return to comics in the all-new Howard the Duck #1 coming this March. Continue reading

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Howard_the_Duck_1_Cover

Cover by Joe Quinoness. Source: Marvel Comics

When he appeared in the post-credits stinger for Guardians of the Galaxy, Howard the Duck caused some to celebrate, some to shake their heads and the younger crowd to ask; “who was that?” Not surprisingly, Marvel has announced Howard’s official return to comics in the all-new Howard the Duck #1 coming this March.

No matter what your reaction to Howard’s cinematic return, there was no doubting he would in some way make an even bigger return to the world of comics. Ready to rehab Howard’s image after George Lucas’ disastrous 1986 film adaptation, Marvel is diving in to the new series with Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals, Original Sin) writing, and art by Joe Quinones (Savage Wolverine, Harley Quinn). Zdarsky has a knack for satire, with Sex Criminals, his co-created Image Comics series standing out as one of the freshest, funniest comics of 2014. Sex Criminals is also one of the edgiest, most-adult books on the market, so it will be interesting to see just how risqué Zdarsky’s Howard might get.

The new ongoing series will revolve around Howard as a New York private eye taking strange cases from Marvel Universe characters like Black Cat, She Hulk and maybe even some of the Guardians of the Galaxy. There will also be backup stories from a handful of other writers beginning in issue #2.

Created in 1973 by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, Howard the Duck is one of the strangest, most satirical and cult sensible characters of all time. Ironically, The Walt Disney Company once threatened legal action against Marvel for Howard’s perceived likeness to Donald Duck. Marvel saved face by adding pants to the character, which he appears to still be wearing today.

There’s no telling if Howard will return to the big screen, but with his tendency to show up across the Marvel Universe, it’s fun to speculate. In Marvel’s Civil War series Howard gets buried in bureaucratic red tape when he attempts to register under the Superhero Registration Act. The Civil War storyline, in part, will be the basis for the next Captain America film, so maybe Howard will make an appearance.

If you can’t wait until the new series this March, Marvel just released the Howard the Duck Omnibus collecting stories from Adventures Into Fear #19, Man-Thing #1, Giant-Size Man-Thing #4-5, Howard the Duck #1-33, Marvel Treasury #12 and Marvel Team-Up #96.

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Pressure Cooker Carnitas: Because Science Makes Awesome Food http://geekdad.com/2014/11/pressure-cooker-carnitas-science-makes-awesome-food/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/pressure-cooker-carnitas-science-makes-awesome-food/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:30:06 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67834 Yeah, I know: almost all cooking has something to do with science. However, the pressure cooker just kicks it up a notch. You're cooking. Under Pressure. It's like making stew on Venus! Continue reading

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Yeah, I know: almost all cooking has something to do with science. However, the pressure cooker just kicks it up a notch. You’re cooking. Under Pressure. It’s like making stew on Venus!

The science is simple: Pressure cookers heat food quickly because the internal steam pressure from the boiling liquid causes saturated steam (or “wet steam”) to bombard and permeate the food. Thus, higher temperature water vapour (i.e., increased energy), which transfers heat more rapidly compared to dry air, cooks food very quickly. (h/t Wikipedia)

What that allows to you do is make dishes, that would usually take hours and hours by other methods, very quickly. For example, if you want fall-off-the-bone ribs, just cook them in a bit of broth and spices for 20 minutes in the cooker, and then broil them with your favorite bbq sauce for another 5-10 minutes. You’ll never visit Dickey’s (or the better local outfit) again.

So, just last night, I tried making carnitas. It’s SO simple. Cube up some pork shoulder (2-3lbs). Brown the cubes in some oil (something I can do in my Cuisinart electric pressure cooker quite easily). Add garlic, onion, cumin, cardamom, salt, pepper, and whatever level of spicy peppers you like, plus 1-1/2 cups of beef broth. Cook at high pressure for 30-40 minutes, and what comes out is a succulent joy. I served mine with Spanish rice, refried beans, and some mole sauce. It was amazing.

If you’re interested in seeing what other amazing foods you can cook WITH SCIENCE, check out one of my favorite pressure cooker sites: Hip Pressure Cooking.

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The Role of the Lego Mindstorms EV3 Robot in Artificial Intelligence Research http://geekdad.com/2014/11/role-lego-mindstorms-ev3-robot-artificial-intelligence-research/ http://geekdad.com/2014/11/role-lego-mindstorms-ev3-robot-artificial-intelligence-research/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:00:32 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=67830 The Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot isn't just a useful tool for teaching children about robotics. Read about how scientists are using it to explore artificial intelligence using the nematode worm connectome. Continue reading

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Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot. Image: Maryann Goldman

Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot. Image: Maryann Goldman

As a First Lego League (FLL) coach, Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot enthusiast, and overall Lego brick fan, I read a lot of Lego-related books and articles. This week, I stumbled upon a fascinating article on the I Programmer website talking about the EV3 and artificial intelligence (AI). In the article, writer Lucy Black describes how scientists have connected the brain of a worm to the sensors and motors of an EV3 robot using a computer program. The scientists started by mapping the 302 neurons of the nematode worm. Then using that information, Timothy Busbice of the OpenWorm project implemented an object oriented neuron program.

The research didn’t stop there. Scientists connected the neuron program to the EV3 so that the EV3 sonar sensor became the worm’s nose, and the EV3 motors controlling the wheels became the worm’s muscles. The EV3 touch sensor was also used to detect obstacles going forward and backward. The scientists were then able to observe normal worm behaviors such as the robot moving toward food or backing up when coming into contact with an an obstacle like a wall. I thought the whole process sounded complicated and incredible at the same time!

What I liked most about this article and the research is that it makes science, math, and programming real. That is, I can go back to the kids on my FLL team and show them a real-life use of the EV3 which will help me drive home how important the effort they are making to learn how to program the EV3 is. I now have a real world example where science meets math and programming. I think interesting research like this has the potential to capture the imagination and trigger the innovation of our youth. I know some people will read the article and want to debate the likelihood of true artificial intelligence or even the merits of doing artificial intelligence research, and that’s fine too.

For more detail, please read the full article. Besides a more detailed explanation, the article contains a video of the EV3 in action.

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