GeekDad http://geekdad.com Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:02:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Kids React to Skylanders Trap Team http://geekdad.com/2014/04/kids-react-skylanders-trap-team/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/kids-react-skylanders-trap-team/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:02:09 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55983 Here's a round up of the leaked new Skylanders game Trap Team. This appeared briefly on an Amazon Spain listing. Is this really a leak or just a smoke screen to put pundits off the scent before the official announcement this week. Continue reading

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Here’s a round up of the leaked new Skylanders game Trap Team. This appeared briefly on an Amazon Spain listing. Is this really a leak or just a smoke screen to put pundits off the scent before the official announcement this week. I got a reaction from the Skylanders experts in our household — the kids.

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The Animation Adventure — Become a Hero! http://geekdad.com/2014/04/animation-adventure-become-hero/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/animation-adventure-become-hero/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:00:42 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55563 My son came home from school recently and I sat him down in front of the TV and told him I had a huge surprise for him. I popped in a DVD and pressed play at the menu and he got to see a 2.5 minute long movie preview featuring his alter ego, D-Man. It was Decker's face, Decker's smile, and it was Decker fighting off the bad guy, Hazzardus, and his army, taking down some aerial baddies, and really pulling off the Titanium SUPER-suit. When the movie preview ended, three little words were music to my ears -- "Play it again." Continue reading

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Hazzardus

Dark clouds were forming on the horizon as the city went about its business. Little did the citizens know that a danger from beyond the solar system was preparing an invasion. 

My almost-7-year-old son loves superheroes. He’s fond of Batman, but his preferred hero is Superman. He’s also enjoys the damage that only Hulk can deliver. We read The Adventures of Superman comic together when it comes in each month. And although I don’t let him watch many of the latest superhero movies, I do let him enjoy snippets; I cannot count how many times I’ve rewound and played Hulk sucker-punching Thor in that one memorable scene… he laughs every times. (So do I.)

He’s into just about every Power Rangers spin-off there is… and there are about 30 of them on Netflix. I’m not kidding. He was devastated when he lost his Superman LEGO mini figure. He has a few superhero costumes he still likes to wear occasionally around the house, and he totally surprised me with a logical (for a 7-year-old) explanation for why Batman would totally whoop up on Iron Man (my favorite Marvel character tied with Doctor Strange).

D-Man

So, you can probably imagine his reaction when he came home from school recently and I sat him down in front of the TV and told him I had a huge surprise for him. I popped in the DVD and pressed Play at the menu and my son, Decker, got to see a 2.5 minute long movie preview featuring his alter ego, D-Man. It was Decker’s face, Decker’s smile, and it was Decker fighting off the bad guy and his army, taking down some aerial baddies, and really pulling off the Titanium SUPER-suit. When the movie preview ended, three little words were music to my ears — “Play it again.”

The alarm was echoing throughout the base. D-Man smiled at the screen, watching the alien craft cruising at low altitude above the streets of the city he’d sworn to protect. Hazzardus wanted a fight? Fine… he’d give him a fight to remember.

The Lab

So what’s this all about? A movie trailer with my son as the lead? How did that happen? The short answer is it’s the creation of The Animation Adventure, a unique experience that allows your child (or yourself) to be inserted into a full-fledged superhero movie trailer.

The team at The Animation Adventure allow you to select a SUPER-suit, provide a couple of photos, and pick a suitable hero’s name… and then they use some software magic to create an HD trailer complete with epic background music, serious-voiceover-guy and plenty of explosions and a couple of fight scenes. What you’ve got is a sure-fire hit on your hands for any young superhero-wannabe.

D-Man

But it’s not just the trailer that The Animation Adventure team is making available… whether you’re throwing a birthday party or just celebrating a special day with your child, they’ve got some extras that are sure to wow any budding hero.

The fight was difficult, but D-Man was triumphant. He had sent Hazzardus and his fellow invaders limping back to their ship with a warning — “Do not return.” Safe and back at his base, heroes from around the globe had arrived to celebrate his victory.

Where to start? There’s a movie poster option, complete with your child’s character and hero name. If you’re wanting something with a little more *PUNCH*, you probably can’t go wrong with the life-size standing cardboard cutout of your little hero. And if you’re throwing  a party, there’s the really cool movie tickets that serve as invitations. Combine all these items with the BluRay or DVD disc (you choose, plus you get a private YouTube link upload) and your next party will never be forgotten. Here’s some sample snippets from my son’s video to give you an idea of what the movie trailer looks like…

My son absolutely loved it, and the poster on the wall reminds him daily that he really is a hero, and not just to his parents. My youngest (age 4) also enjoyed the movie trailer, and has been putting on the cape, mask, and wristbands from The Animation Adventure team and running around the house fighting crime just like his big brother.

Even better? The Animation Adventure team is telling me that they’ve got other trailer themes in the works that include an adult-themed zombie movie trailer and a pirate them among others. This is great news for parents with kids who might not be all that interested in superheroes.

Have an idea for another trailer theme? The Animation Adventure team would like to hear them, and they’re offering up a contest with 1 Grand Prize winner and 5 Runners-Up. All you’ve got to do to enter the contest (USA residents only) is answer the following question in the comments section:

What would you like to see be The Animation Adventure’s next SUPER-theme?
A.  Zombies
B.  Pirates
C.  Sports
D.  Other __________________
5 Lucky winners will receive a 12″x 18″ custom SUPER-Suit Poster and 1 Grand Prize winner will receive a full length SUPER-Suit trailer (DVD or BluRay).
Winners will be selected at random from all valid comments submitted before April 25, 2014, 11:59pm PDT. Winners will be notified via email to request mailing addresses.
A special thanks to The Animation Adventure team for providing the contest and for giving my son one very memorable keepsake!

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Warren Elsmore Is Back With More Brick Wonders http://geekdad.com/2014/04/warren-elsmores-brick-wonders/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/warren-elsmores-brick-wonders/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:00:58 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55895 UK Lego master builder Warren Elsmore is back with a follow-up to his successful book, Brick City. Brick Wonders features more photos of his amazing dioramas, this time themed around the wonders of the ancient, natural and modern world. Continue reading

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Warren Elsmore's London Bridge model from Brick Wonders

Warren Elsmore’s Brick Wonders and London Bridge

Around this time last year, UK master builder Warren Elsmore released his first book, Brick City, which featured photos of some of his most famous city based models including London’s St. Pancras station and the Olympic village, together with instructions on how to build some of smaller models. The format must have been a success because he’s back with a follow-up, this time called Brick Wonders.

As with the first book, this one starts off with a brief introduction and then some helpful tips on building techniques, where to find those tricky bricks and sorting and storing your collection. This last one made me incredibly jealous of Lego “Professionals” — seeing drawer after drawer of sorted bricks made me realise that it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever be able to build anything like these giant dioramas, so I’ll have to make do with looking at the pretty pictures!

Stongehenge

Stongehenge

The theme of the book this time is the Wonders of the World, and naturally it starts off with Lego recreations of the original seven wonders — The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and finally the Lighthouse at Alexandria. Each one is fabulously detailed and the crisp photography does a great job of highlighting those details over several pages. Dotted amongst the photos are some facts about the wonder in question. In-between the original seven wonders, Elsmore adds some other, smaller, builds from similar eras including a Trojan Horse and a chariot and this is where the building instructions come in to play again. For us mere mortals the amount of bricks required for the dioramas would be next to impossible to obtain, but with luck the smaller models are just about do-able, albeit with a few colour changes.

My version of the Tuk Tuk

My version of the Tuk Tuk

From the ancient wonders of the world we move into the next section featuring Historic Wonders, filled with more large scale dioramas of places such as The Great Wall Of China and Machu Picchu (both looking ace in microscale), an exquisitely detailed medieval London Bridge (complete with a tavern and cows!) and a model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Temple that must be using most of the world’s stock of grey radar dishes and radiator grills. Bizarrely, this section also has the instructions to build the little Tuk Tuk model in my photo — hey, they’re popular in Cambodia! Even for this tiny build I to adapt the parts list with the bricks I had available, which kinda adds to the fun as you get to make the model your own.

Angkor Wot

Angkor Wot

Lego iPad!

Lego iPad!

The building plans get a little weird in the next section, based around Modern Wonders, with the first two being a syringe and an antibiotic pill capsule — but they are at least related to the miracle of modern medicine scene that opens the chapter! After that we travel down the Panama Canal, over to Mount Rushmore (not quite as detailed as the one in LegoLand) and on to a microscale Hoover Damn. Buildable models here include some batteries, a lightbulb, a wind turbine and the Ford Model T — which I couldn’t resist hot-rodding a bit! However, my favourite mode from the whole book has to be the iPad, er, sorry, “Tablet Computer!” I love the curved corners and I had to try and build it, even though I had to substitute so many of the bricks/colours to get there. I was especially pleased with my Maps, Photos and Music app icons. There are even instructions on how to build the Twitter bird icon.

My Slightly Hot-Rodded Model T

My Slightly Hot-Rodded Model T

The book finishes up with some Natural Wonders including a mosaic of the Aurora Australis and a beautiful version of the Great Barrier Reef that’s so chocked full of colour and feels so organic. A massive contrast to the nano-scale, pixelated, rendition of the Grand Canyon on the next pages that looks like it could have been made in Minecraft! After a whirlwind trip to Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay (more micro scale) via the Matterhorn (with a build able mini version) and the African Savanna (with Duplo animals!), the book finishes over Niagra Falls with hundreds of transparent studs and wedges forming the foaming waters and spray.

The Nano Grand Canyon

The Nano Grand Canyon

Brick Wonders is a wonderful combination of amazing photos of incredible builds and interesting plans to use as starting points for your own Lego adventures, and deserves a spot on your bookshelf!

Geekdad was provided with a copy of Brick Wonders for this review

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Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition — Kickstarter Ending! http://geekdad.com/2014/04/metamorphosis-alpha/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/metamorphosis-alpha/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:00:49 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55931 Just a quick note to remind any of you who might be on the fence about the Metamorphosis Alpha Kickstarter project that it's ending in less than seven days. What started out as a simple attempt to raise $30,000 has crossed over to a rush for a number of last-minute stretch goals that the team at Goodman Games has been adding that come with no additional costs. Continue reading

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MA Cover

Just a quick note to remind any of you who might be on the fence about the Metamorphosis Alpha Kickstarter project that it’s ending in less than seven days. What started out as a simple attempt to raise $30,000 has crossed over to a rush for a number of last-minute stretch goals that the team at Goodman Games has been adding that come with no additional costs.

As it stands right now, anyone backing the project to receive the over-sized hardback edition of the Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition will also receive a number of add-ons that include:

* Free PDF of the original MA rules
* Free GM screen
* Free poster map of the Warden (the ship where MA adventures take place)
* Free 32-page Monster and Device Guide (from MA author James Ward)
* Free extra adventure (in addition to the one that comes with the book)
* Free d6 dice — six in all, with radiation symbols
* Free illustrated player handouts — minimum of 16 handouts

As the project winds down, additional stretch goals that haven’t yet been reached (but are anticipated) include another free booklet (The Starship Warden Armory), a re-print of an original MA adventure titled The Long Hard Mile and another booklet, The Mutation Manual. If these stretch goals are met, the Goodman Games folks say they might be able to squeeze in a few more stretch goals. I’m amazed at how many stretch goals they’ve agreed to provide in addition to the incredible hardback book they’re assembling that includes not only the original rules but dozens of supplementary articles, interviews, design notes, and more. For those of us who have fond memories of this amazing sci-fi RPG, this Kickstarter is going to be a much-enjoyed trip down memory lane as well as a great chance to introduce the game to a new audience.

Note: You can read my original post regarding the Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition Kickstarter here.

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GeekDad Puzzle of the Week – Easter Anniversary Dates http://geekdad.com/2014/04/geekdad-puzzle-anniversary/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/geekdad-puzzle-anniversary/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 10:00:39 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55944 Just how many times has my wedding anniversary fallen on Easter Sunday or immediately after a Friday the 13th? Continue reading

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wedding_main
This past Sunday was a very fun day in our house. Not only was it Easter Sunday, with an egg hunt and a great service at our local house of worship, but it was also our 12th wedding anniversary. Yes, that’s right, my wedding anniversary date is 4/20. Please note that the only reason that particular date was chosen was that it was the date when the adorable bed & breakfast at which we were wed was available.

In any case, our first wedding anniversary back on April 20, 2003, also fell on an Easter Sunday — much to our chagrin, as we wanted to “celebrate big” but couldn’t, as most restaurants were closed. More recently, in 2007 and again in 2012, there was a Friday the 13th in April — on the Friday immediately before our wedding anniversary.

Thinking about these date anomalies around our wedding anniversary led me to this week’s GeekDad Puzzle of the Week: Since the Gregorian Calendar was established in October 1582, how many times has my wedding anniversary date of April 20th fallen on either Easter Sunday or in an April that also contained a Friday the 13th?

As always, please send your submissions into GeekDad Central. All correct (or reasonably correct) responses received will be entered into a drawing for this week’s prize: a $50 Gift Certificate from the fine folks at ThinkGeek.

Thanks, and happy puzzling!

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Finland Schools Rule. But Why? http://geekdad.com/2014/04/finland-schools-rule/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/finland-schools-rule/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 11:00:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55872 I've spent some time in Finland recently as I'm part of a US/Finnish working group looking at educational games. I keynoted a few weeks ago at their biggest tech/ed conference and brought with me a digital postcard of what it's like to work in the US where we're still debating basic science (sigh) and where a classroom may have to contend with a dozen or more languages amongst its students. Continue reading

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Picture of text and images from Finnish classroom

Finnish classroom wall. Photo: Bill Shribman

I’ve spent some time in Finland recently as I’m part of a US/Finnish working group looking at educational games. I keynoted a few weeks ago at their biggest tech/ed conference and brought with me a digital postcard of what it’s like to work in the US where we’re still debating basic science (sigh) and where a classroom may have to contend with a dozen or more languages amongst its students.

In contrast, Finland tops the global charts in measures of how good their schools: they value teachers (though they don’t pay them more); they value play and don’t send their kids to school until they are six; they minimize homework. And they have almost no standardized testing. They also have some unique attributes compared to the US: one time zone; few private schools competing for skilled teachers; and one language in the classroom (because of relatively little immigration).

But is that all there is to it? What is hiding behind these success stats? They have a narrow gap between the worst and best schools, but their best schools can’t compete with those in the States. I got the chance to sit down with one of the powers behind the throne in Finnish education to dig a little deeper.

GeekDad: Tell us who you are.

Kangasniemi: I’m Jouni Kangasniemi, I am a Senior Adviser working for the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland.

Photo of Jouni Kangasniemi

Jouni Kangasniemi. Credit: Finnish Ministry of Education.

GeekDad: What is your main area of interest and focus at the Ministry?

Kangasniemi: My passion is to promote meaningful learning. In my case, I work in policy areas such as promoting continuing professional development of teachers and digitalization of education.

GeekDad: Finland is famous for its successful schools. School starts later than most countries, with kids being encouraged to play. But can they continue to play in school? For example, do you see digital games in Finnish classrooms?

Kangasniemi: One of the secrets in Finnish success in good results in education is that kids are allowed to play and learn informally (a.k.a. grow up), until the age of seven (or six, when pre-school education starts). Kids can be kids much longer, play and learn informally on their own much longer than in many other countries where kids start school earlier – and in a way enter world led by adults. We often tend to forget that learning is “built inside all of us” and it comes naturally, if allowed. Early years are amazing.

To your point on digital games, I should say that digital games have, at least some extent, found their way into the schools. Of course, you don’t see them used every day. Good educational games are still a bit hard to find. I call the Finnish teachers often as “experts in learning.” It means that in Finnish schools, most important decisions concerning the teaching and learning in schools are left to the teachers themselves. Good games recommended by the peers find their way into classrooms, no doubt.

GeekDad: One success factor is Finland’s lack of an enforced curriculum and autonomy given to teachers. You said the safest place to hide money is in the national curriculum — do teachers really not need to follow it?

A teacher uses a web site (equivalent to PBSKids) on her interactive whiteboard.

A teacher uses a web site (equivalent to PBSKids) on her interactive whiteboard. Photo: Bill Shribman

Kangasniemi: Actually, it was one principal who told me that joke. More seriously, re-defining a curriculum means in Finland that we work in two levels, nationally and locally. National curriculum helps to re-new and, we hope, transform local municipal or school level curricula and educational practices, content and themes. Renewing a curriculum in Finland is always very collaborative effort. Normally this effort takes place every 10 years. Currently a new national curriculum is under development and it is due by 2016.

The process itself is very collaborative. Something you don’t see elsewhere. Drafts are already made public by the National Board of Education for the education community to comment, improve and update. By the time it is published everyone has already agreed and internalized it, build their own work upon it and defined the local level curriculum. That is how we work.

GeekDad: Your successes have been built over many years: what do you think Finnish schools (or education policy) need to do to maintain that leadership role in the future?

Kangasniemi: We need to value the teachers, their profession and support their work as much as possible. It has taken a long time to achieve this.The Finnish culture has deep roots in valuing knowledge and learning. Perhaps, it is comparable to how you value entrepreneurship and personal success in the U.S.

GeekDad: Finland helped spark global use of mobile phones — do they have a role to play in classrooms, with so many kids having access to them? Or are teachers cautious or even resistant?

Kangasniemi: Mobile learning means that you are extending your pupils learning beyond the classrooms or taking learning to very personal level. (Mobile phones are considered as personal devices.) Currently mobile learning is more common in vocational education than it is in elementary education. Some teachers have been successful and used mobile phones in their work in a very advanced way. For example, pupils have “collected” plants as pictures, made instant “out of the school reporting,” followed a nature path with near field communication (NFC) tags. They have collaborated in a new way.

We have learned that it takes some extra effort to use mobile phones properly and in a pedagogically meaningful way. Teachers still need agreement from the parents to work with mobile phones, learn together with the pupils the new possibilities phones can offer, prepare collaborative learning environment to where everyone has access and can work together and so on, just to name few prerequisites when going mobile.

GeekDad: You have many unique attributes that help your strength compared to the US. Is your model scalable to the US?

Kangasniemi: Unfortunately, the Finnish way is not something that can be exported and scaled up as such. Certain important elements can be exchanged and compared and then scaled up with small justification. We are always happy to use our education system as a model and offer to work in co-operation. There are some elements that US are doing better than ours. You just need to find them! In the end it helps us too, to improve our system further. When we talk about learning and education as a whole, it should always be based on a win-win development.

GeekDad: You’ve spent time in California. If you could bring three ideas back from the US to implement in Finland, what would they be?

Kangasniemi:

1.       promoting and learning self-expression from early age

2.       community support to schools

3.       entrepreneurial approaches

GeekDad: Thank you.

Photo of ice cream

If you’re ever in Finland, try the pine tar topping on ice cream. It’s the same tar they use to waterproof their boats. Delicious. Photo: Bill Shribman 

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4 Things Parents Should Know About Disneynature’s Bears http://geekdad.com/2014/04/4-things-parents-should-know-disneynature-bears/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/4-things-parents-should-know-disneynature-bears/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:05:49 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55880 The new nature documentary from Disney hits theaters today. What are the bare facts about it? Continue reading

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bearsposterNote: As this is a nature film, many of the usual questions asked in our “Things Parents Should Know” series aren’t relevant. Rather than try to stretch this out to 10 items, I’m sticking to just four.

1. What’s the movie about?

Bears. Oh, you’d like a bit more detail? It’s about a mama grizzly bear, named Skye, and her cubs Scout and Amber, trying to make their way across the harsh Alaskan wilderness to find food and better weather. Along the way, they encounter storms, predators, and dull, condescending narration.

2. Is the narration really that bad?

I really wish I could say it wasn’t. I like John C. Reilly fine as an actor, but as a narrator he evidently leaves a lot to be desired. His slow, even tone does nothing to make the movie seem exciting – when the footage is of mama bear Skye fending off a wolf to save her cubs, it’s exciting enough on its own, but when all they’re doing is trudging through the snow you may need a caffeinated beverage to stay awake.

The worst part of the narration isn’t Reilly’s fault, though, but that of whoever wrote it. I can’t stand documentaries aimed at kids that talk down to them and feel the need to throw in folksy jokes every so often lest kids lose interest, and Bears does both constantly throughout the film. When I was a kid, I always enjoyed the documentaries that treated me like a reasonably intelligent person; I may not have understood everything that was said, but I got enough of it that my interest to learn more was piqued. I would have liked Bears a lot more if it had more actual information about bears, and a lot fewer corny one-liners.

bearscubs

3. What about the visuals?

It’s pretty tough to film the Alaskan wilderness and make it look anything but spectacular, and Bears does just fine in this department. The cinematography is excellent, with some absolutely gorgeous shots of snowy mountains and sprawling valleys. And the trio of bears themselves are beautiful, strong, and sometimes adorably playful. Many of the shots of the bears will make you wonder how the cameraman could possibly have pulled it off without using trained bears or being eaten by the wild ones they actually filmed. The visuals are almost enough reason to pay to see the movie in the theater.

bearsmountains

4. So, is it worth seeing?

It’s almost worth paying to see it in the theater, just for the visuals. Almost. But, considering how much it costs these days to go to a film like this with kids, I can’t recommend it. Save your money and find a good documentary on bears on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or at your local public library. The odds are you and your kids will learn more from it, and you won’t have to pay $7.50 for a Coke.


Disneynature’s Bears opens today in theaters. It’s rated G, and is appropriate for everyone.

Poster and photos copyright by, and courtesy of, Disney.

Viewing a prescreening of Disneynature’s Bears was part of a press junket I attended that was paid for by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.

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The Internet Is Saving Me a Fortune in Appliance Repairs http://geekdad.com/2014/04/internet-saving-fortune-appliance-repairs/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/internet-saving-fortune-appliance-repairs/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:48 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55855 I often tend to think of the Internet as a time and money suck. I don’t even do the Facebook thing, but far too much of my day seems to involve being online. And too much of that time is taking advantage of the one-click, delivery-to-the-door shopping experience. It’s just way too easy to buy another hard drive, a better keyboard or — while we’re at it — a new computer, thanks to Amazon and others. However, much as the Internet has drained my time and resources, it also gives back. For example, I’ve saved a small fortune in appliance repairs. Continue reading

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Fixing the dishwasher

Last weekend’s fun home project gets underway. Photo by Brad Moon

I often tend to think of the Internet as a time and money suck. I don’t even do the Facebook thing, but far too much of my day seems to involve being online. And too much of that time is taking advantage of the one-click, delivery-to-the-door shopping experience. It’s just way too easy to buy another hard drive, a better keyboard or — while I’m at it —  a new computer, thanks to Amazon and others. However, much as the Internet has drained my time and resources, it also gives back. For example, I’ve saved a small fortune in appliance repairs.

Let me explain how this works.

We bought a new high efficiency, front-loading washing a few years back. And once the warranty was up, right on cue it began having problems draining. I’m not the world’s handiest guy, but I’m willing to tackle a project given decent instructions. Before calling for service, I searched online using the appliance make, model and symptoms. Bingo, I found a YouTube video from someone purporting to be an appliance repair technician, showing exactly how to remove a panel, drain the excess water and pull a likely clog from a concealed filter.

No mention of this procedure in the manual, just a call for service number. And word on the street that the “repair” runs around $250 per call.

With the washer no longer under warranty and the video for guidance, I unplugged the power, took out some screws and sheet metal, got a little wet, but removed a handful of dog fur, coins and granola bar wrappers out of innards of the machine. It worked perfectly after that.

I’ve got the washing machine filter clearing down to a science now after having done it a dozen times or so (with my daughter starting to do her own laundry, it’s a regular lost and found in that filter).

Last weekend it was the dishwasher, also recently out of warranty. After weeks of shutting off repeatedly mid-cycle, it refused to run altogether. A quick search on the error code (which was supposed to be a service call, according to the manual) and I found another YouTube video showing the fix for what is apparently a common problem with this model. The How-To video was comprehensive enough that I was able to pull out the dishwasher, remove a shield to access a float tank, remove the tank, dissemble it and clean out all the guck that had accumulated, then put it all back together good as new.

There’s no way I would have figured that one out on my own and I can just imagine what the repair would have cost. A lot more than an hour or two of my spare time.

I should have spent more of that spare time reading the crappy reviews for the dishwasher on Amazon before buying it, but at least I can get cheap OEM replacement parts online should I need them.

I wouldn’t attempt anything truly dangerous, no matter how good the instructions, and I’m careful to corroborate any repair advice — just in case someone is putting out fake instructions that end in a write-off — but I’m feeling like the Internet has become somewhat of an equalizer between consumers and manufacturers/service centers.

Of course, any money I’ve saved inevitably goes back to back to feeding, clothing and entertaining kids, or keeping up with the latest tech toys so the win is short-lived.

The web giveth and it taketh…

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Books About Bugs http://geekdad.com/2014/04/books-bugs/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/books-bugs/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:00:07 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55825 Lots of bugs are actually quite cool once you get to know them. Some Bugs celebrates the beautiful diversity in fun rhyming verse. Bugged is full of fun stories about how bugs have influenced human history. Continue reading

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Some Bugs interior spread

A two-page spread from Some Bugs showing all of the different bugs in the book.

Recently I took my daughters to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), and we were looking at the various live creatures in the room at the back of the Life Science Hall: reptiles and amphibians, fish, and insects. One of my favorites is the big terrarium of walking stick bugs, the sort that look kind of like bits of leaves. Sometimes the staff will pull one out and let you hold it. (I know I’ve got a picture of my daughter holding one, but I can’t for the life of me find it, so instead I’ve got these pictures of them playing with a wild praying mantis at a zoo in Taiwan.)

My kids with mantis

My kids with a praying mantis. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

While we were standing there admiring the walking sticks, there was another little boy who came up and watched them excitedly. I showed him how you can blow gently on them, which makes them sway as if they’re leaves fluttering in a breeze, which he thought was pretty cool. Then his mom came over, saw what he was looking at, and shuddered. She made some comment about how she can’t stand creepy bugs, that they’re just gross. I thought, well, that’s too bad—and I hope this little boy still gets a chance to make up his own mind about bugs.

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan WenzelAngela DiTerlizzi had a similar experience with her own daughter Sophia, and that’s what inspired her latest picture book, Some Bugs. Okay, sure, there are some bugs (like mosquitoes) that just seem like pests and if it weren’t for their spot in the ecosystem I could do without them entirely. But lots of bugs are actually quite cool once you get to know them, and Some Bugs celebrates the beautiful diversity in fun rhyming verse.

The illustrations by Brendan Wenzel are really great—they’re cute versions of the bugs, rendered in a mix of all sorts of media. It’s a much-needed reminder that there are all sorts of different bugs, and a lot of them are pretty awesome.

If you’re looking for something a bit more wordy, check out Sarah Albee’s Bugged: How Insects Changed History (with illustrations by Robert Leighton). Albee gives a fast-paced overview of human history, focusing on times when insects have influenced its course. (Hint: a lot of these involve mosquitoes and malaria). She discusses insects that are beneficial to humans like silkworms and honeybees, and throws in curious factoids about bugs throughout.

Bugged by Sarah AlbeeThe book is designed for kids, with lots of punny headlines and “Insect Aside” sidebars. Albee has also helpfully put the more gruesome tidbits in “TMI” sections so that squeamish readers can skip past those. (But really, those are some of the best parts!)

The illustrations are a mix of goofy cartoons by Robert Leighton and various photos, paintings, and the sorts of things you’d expect to see in a history book. For some reason, though, the entire book is printed in purple and green (including the text) which I found a little hard on the eyes.

It’s a nice blend of history and entomology, and seems pretty well-researched. At the back of the book, there’s a glossary, resources for further reading (both online and off), citations of sources, and an index. All in all, something that is as informative as a textbook but a good deal more entertaining.

The Beetle Book interior

An interior page from The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins.

Finally, if you just can’t get enough of cool illustrations, check out The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. This one isn’t new, but it’s still one of my favorites. Jenkins’ illustrations are made with cut-paper and are incredibly detailed. The variety of beetles is astounding and beautiful, and many of the illustrations are life-sized to show the huge differences in sizes. The book has a lot of facts about beetles, but the pictures are really what make it shine.

With books like these, I hope that plenty of kids will grow up excited about bugs instead of grossed out by them!

Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of these books.

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Geek Elites Join Magic: the Gathering for 2015 Release http://geekdad.com/2014/04/geek-elites-magic-2015/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/geek-elites-magic-2015/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 09:00:05 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55833 Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with 14 of the world's Gaming/Geek Elite to design a series of cards for Magic 2015. Continue reading

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Wizards of the Coast has announced that they are in cahoots with some of the world’s most famous geeks and game designers for the Magic 2015 project. George Fan, the designer of Plants vs. Zombies, participated in this mash-up, which birthed the terrifying, bizarre, and altogether amazing Genesis Hydra.

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Image: Wizards of the Coast

With a look akin to a Venus flytrap gone horribly wrong, the Genesis Hydra is exactly what I hoped for, and feared. The pile of bones gives a nod to the fact that zombies are not welcome on the field with this floral force of nature. The (X) cost makes this card, though. In the “big game” mentality of 2015, mana ramps will continue be a core component of Green play, and the biggest challenge for turn and burn decks to overcome. The bonus of a free-play behemoth (if you are lucky, or your deck is well built) means that players that slam the Genesis Hydra onto the field will drop a double dose of mean muscle in a single play. I feel myself itching for a Cancel.

Along with George Fan, 13 other geek-elites have teamed up with Wizards for this year’s release. We can only wait for the other 13 cards to be released, and you can bet your deck that I will seek out all 14 of them.

  • George Fan: Plants vs Zombies
  • Mike Krahulik & Jerry Holkins (Gabe and Tycho): Penny Arcade
  • Markus “Notch” Persson: Minecraft/Mojang
  • Richard Garriot “Lord British”: the Ultima series
  • David Sirlin: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix; Yomi
  • Rob Pardo: World of Warcraft
  • Isaiah Cartwright: Guild Wars 2
  • Justin Gary: Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer; Solforge
  • Stone Librande: Riot Games; Diablo 3; SimCity
  • Brian Fargo: inXile Entertainment, Bard’s Tale, Wasteland, Fallout
  • Mike Neumann: Gearbox Software; Borderlands
  • James Ernest: Cheapass Games; Kill Doctor Lucky
  • Edmund McMillen: Super Meat Boy, featured in Indie Game: The Movie
  • Brad Muir: Double Fine Productions

Is your idol on this list? Mine is, and I can’t wait to see what Notch throws at us.

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Free App for Young Scientists: Plum’s Photo Hunt http://geekdad.com/2014/04/photo-hunt/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/photo-hunt/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:20:39 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55661 I met my wife when I was a photographer. I've encouraged both of my daughters to take photos. And I have TEDx and TED Ed talks online about photography. And as part of my ongoing encouragement to take advantage of this ubiquitous tool, I've produced (with my team at WGBH) a free, photographic iPhone app. Continue reading

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Screenshots. Copyright WGBH 2014

Screenshots. Copyright WGBH 2014

I met my wife when I was a photographer. I’ve encouraged both of my daughters to take photos. And I have TEDx and TED Ed talks online about photography. And as part of my ongoing encouragement to take advantage of this ubiquitous tool, I’ve produced (with my team at WGBH) a free, photographic iPhone app.

It’s Plum’s Photo Hunt and it launched today at iTunes.

It’s a part of Plum Landing, our brand new PBS KIDS environmental science project for kids 6-9, and the app gets kids outside and taking photo safari missions. Kids can take photos, photobomb them, and save them or send them to the site for inclusion in nearly 100 image galleries which we’ll be updating every week with new photos. There’s an HTML5 design tool on the site for those that don’t have the app.

Our goal is to get kids outside and engaged in simple scientific observation. The app prompts kids to find things like signs of the change of seasons, or shadows, or wildlife. It then supports them with guiding questions so that they can describe their picture with some reflection before submitting it for publication.

Screenshot. Copyright WGBH 2014.

Screenshot. Copyright WGBH 2014.

The challenge of keeping an app like this COPPA compliant is no small endeavor, and all images will be reviewed before posting. The new COPPA privacy rules include new definitions of personal information and include selfies and geo-data, so we won’t be using either.

Behind the scenes, as we’ve been making this, we’ve had a lot of input from kids, from community educators, and from science specialists to keep this simple application as kid-friendly and science-focused as it can be. I hope you Geek Dads and Geek Moms will encourage your kids to give this a spin.

Funding for this project came from the National Science Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Kendeda Fund with additional funding provided by the Northern Research Station, Forest Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Links to it and to the original animations, games and activities for parents and educators can also be found at brand new Plum Landing site at PBSKids.org.

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A Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Grey’s Anatomy Shows There’s a Geeky Side to Every TV Show http://geekdad.com/2014/04/greys-anatomy-behind-the-scenes/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/greys-anatomy-behind-the-scenes/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:13:31 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55810 I was more than a bit skeptical about what kind of article I could get out of the visit to the set of Grey's Anatomy that was part of the press junket I went on last month. What I hadn't realized is that, behind every successful scripted TV show - regardless of genre - is a team of makers. Continue reading

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Greys-on-air

I was more than a bit skeptical about what kind of article I could get out of the visit to the set of Grey’s Anatomy that was part of the press junket I went on last month. After all, it’s not a geeky show in any noticeable way, and is definitely not aimed at children, so how could I talk about it in a way that would engage GeekDad’s audience?

What I hadn’t realized is that, behind every successful scripted TV show – regardless of genre – is a team of makers. It makes sense: when you’ve invented a world for your characters to inhabit, you sometimes need to create sets or props to make it as real as possible for the viewer. This is, of course, especially true for period pieces and science fiction/fantasy shows, but even ones like Grey’s Anatomy that are based in a realistic contemporary setting require plenty of things that can’t be bought (or, at least, require modification after being bought) in order to maintain verisimilitude.

Props, including a beating heart (note the person handling the air bulbs)

Props, including a beating heart (note the person handling the air bulbs)

While on the blogger trip to Los Angeles last month, our group visited the set of Grey’s Anatomy and got a chance to look at and discuss the show’s props with propmaster Angela Whiting and actress Jessica Capshaw – who plays Dr. Arizona Robbins on the show, and is incidentally the daughter of Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and the stepdaughter of Steven Spielberg. It was extremely cool to see some of the items, big and little, that they very frequently have to produce quickly but that have to look perfect or risk making the show look fake. In particular I enjoyed seeing the very realistic latex human heart they had made that actually appeared to be beating.

A hallway in the hospital set

A hallway in the hospital set

Visiting the set gave me a real appreciation for how hard the set designers work. We first visited the set of the home of two of the show’s characters, which looked for all the world like a place lived in by two very well-off people who hire someone to clean. But that wasn’t even that impressive when compared to the hospital set. I swear that the rooms that had proper ceilings (rooms on sets often don’t, if they’re going to be filmed in such a way that the ceiling won’t be seen on camera), you could bring in an unconscious person and leave him there, and when he awoke he would be completely convinced he was in a real hospital. Not that I’m advocating trying this, mind you. There were rooms and hallways and desks and such that anyone who’s ever been to a good-sized hospital will recognize immediately – consider how much stuff there is in an actual hospital room that you would only really notice if it weren’t there, and you’ll see what I mean. These people are really good at their jobs, and it shows.

A ward (dressed as pediatric) on the hospital set

A ward (dressed as pediatric) on the hospital set

So, all in all, it wasn’t enough to make me start watching Grey’s Anatomy – it’s just not my kind of show – but it did give me a new, healthy respect for how much work goes into making even the least geeky of fictional TV shows, and how much of that work is more than appropriate for geeks.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays (including tonight) at 9:00pm ET/PT on ABC.

Photos by Matt Blum.

Note: Visiting the set of Grey’s Anatomy and talking with its propmaster were part of a press junket I attended that was paid for by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.

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When the World Ends, You’ll Need The Knowledge http://geekdad.com/2014/04/world-ends-youll-need-knowledge/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/world-ends-youll-need-knowledge/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:18:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55629 I'm not a sky-is-falling kind of guy. I don't have a bunker behind my house and a decade's worth of food stocked away for my family (although I do sometimes think about it). Every generation has had its concerns about the world ending, but I'm one of those optimists that hopes we'll be able to solve our problems -- water shortages, global warming, pandemics -- and not be despised by our great-great-grandkids.

But who really knows? Asteroids are flying around our universe with sufficient mass and speed. New and scarier viruses seem to pop up every few years. So many countries seem to want their own nuclear bombs these days. Experts seem to think a major financial collapse lurks around the corner. Just how prepared are we if the world we know it stopped functioning normally for an extended period of time? How long would we last without the modern conveniences of electricity, medicine, clothing, food, and clean water? Continue reading

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The Knowledge

Author Lewis Dartnell poses an interesting question in his new book, The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch:

If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, perhaps from a viral pandemic or catastrophic asteroid impact, what book would you want to press into the hands of the survivors?

Just over a decade ago, I was living in Texas and taking occasional trips out to the hill country for camping, hiking, and climbing. There’s a whole-lot-of-nothing out there, if you’ve never been. It’s beautiful, but you can go days without seeing another human being if you’re in the right spot. Bringing in your own water and food are an obvious necessity, and you’ve got to be very careful with every activity as medical help isn’t easily available… and neither is mobile phone coverage. My friends and I would frequently sit around the campfire and talk about just how society sat so precariously on that razor’s edge and question whether we were truly prepared if we lost the corner grocery store, indoor plumbing, and every other modern necessity that we take for granted.

I’m not a sky-is-falling kind of guy. I don’t have a bunker behind my house and a decade’s worth of food stocked away for my family (although I do sometimes think about it). Every generation has had its concerns about the world ending, but I’m one of those optimists that hopes we’ll be able to solve our problems — water shortages, global warming, pandemics — and not be despised by our great-great-grandkids.

But who really knows? Asteroids are flying around our universe with sufficient mass and speed. New and scarier viruses seem to pop up every few years. So many countries seem to want their own nuclear bombs these days. Experts seem to think a major financial collapse lurks around the corner. Just how prepared are we if the world we know it stopped functioning normally for an extended period of time? How long would we last without the modern conveniences of electricity, medicine, clothing, food, and clean water?

There are plenty of books out there that offer up advice for short term and long term survival — you can learn how to find and purify water, how to build a shelter, how to start a fire, and so much more. But so many survival books focus on the short term — three days to three months. What happens if a collapse of society is more permanent? What kinds of problems are we looking at and how might we get around them? And, ultimately, how might we more quickly recover from a collapse? These and more are the questions posed and given answers in Dartnell’s The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch.

The first three chapters introduce readers to the situation — a complete and utter collapse of civilization. Whatever the reason, Dartnell explains that what will be needed if humans are to survive is a reboot-manual. He offers up some examples of collapses that humans could most likely survive… and types of collapses where things don’t look too good for humans. For those types of collapse where we have a fighting chance, Dartnell argues that there are certain skills that we simply cannot lose… to lose them would mean extinction or additional dark ages where everything humans knew pre-collapse would have to be rediscovered through trial and error… and trial and error in this situation means more lives lost.

Dartnell briefly offers up a discussion on what he calls the Grace Period… where your chance of survival means figuring out how best to set yourself up to be part of the survivor group that will need to survive and preserve as much knowledge as possible. He tells you why you’ll need to get out of the city. Immediately. You’ll get a crash course in food and water prep and some discussions on what to expect when the power grid goes down. And then the book takes a solid turn…

For the remainder of the book, each chapter takes on a single category with Dartnell offering up a brief history on the category (such as clothing) and how that category developed over time… and finally with what information would need to be kept secure in order to make certain humans didn’t have to make the same development discovery and errors. Chapter categories include Agriculture, Food & Clothing, Materials, Medicine, Power, Transport, Communication, and many more.

Each chapter will open your eyes to just how much information and innovation have been collected over thousands of years. Dartnell shares breakthroughs and unique details related to each category; what’s shocking is just specialized our society has become and how many skills have been lost as manufacturing technologies have replaced the human element. Sure, there are plenty of people in the world who might still know how to create spun yarn, but how many of them might still be around after the collapse of society? How many people these days know how to properly can their food and use simple chemical processes to slow down food spoil? Do you know how to properly find and prepare a field for planting crops? And if you do, do you know the best way to keep the soil’s nutrients replaced over time?

Dartnell’s book is an eye-opener. Glass. Aspirin. Soap. These and dozens more are just the simplest of items that humans are at risk of losing because we lack the knowledge to recreate them. And I said simplest of items… the book offers plenty more subjects that are going to be even more difficult to make, but all are required for modern society — sulphuric acid, for example, used to produce fertilizer, bleach cotton, making detergents, prepping iron, creating lubricants, and much more.

Over 300 pages in length, The Knowledge is an amazing checklist of human discovery. It could also be an extremely depressing checklist for human survivors as they inventory everything they’ve lost.

One big caveat — Dartnell’s book is NOT a How-To guide. He does cover dozens and dozens of topics in a summary-type manner, but you’re not going to finish reading this book and immediately know how to create your own soap or aspirin, for example. Dartnell does explain the basic idea behind most every concept, but it’s going to be up to you to reach further if you wish to develop any or all of these skills.

One obvious point you’ll pick up on quickly as you read through the book is just how valuable it will be for humans to gather together again. We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows that show how society degrades into us-vs-them, but Dartnell makes a solid point that there’s simply no way for any one person to have all of the skills necessary to reboot society. With that thought in mind, the book can provide you a jumping off point for picking one or two specialties that you might be able to add to a small group of survivors. I’m pretty good at making little wind generators that could light a single lightbulb, and I’ve actually made soap in my younger years and could probably figure it out again with minimal effort.

Whether you’re a prepper or not, The Knowledge is one of those books that could be invaluable to anyone wanting a better understanding of just how dependent we’ve become on technology to do our work for us… and how many skills have been lost over the years. For me, I’m crossing my fingers that the book never moves beyond a simple thought experiment. But in a worst case scenario, The Knowledge is one book that you’ll want to seek out (if you don’t own a copy) and preserve with extreme prejudice along with any other books that can provide what society will need to survive, reboot, and rebuild.

Note: I’d like to thank Samantha for providing a review copy.

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Scientifically Inaccurate Fun: Velociraptor! Cannibalism! http://geekdad.com/2014/04/velociraptor-cannibalism/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/velociraptor-cannibalism/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:59 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55719 Very few people know that velociraptors were capable of mutating in order to change their offensive and defensive abilities as well as their speed. It's also not widely known that their diet consisted primarily of things like bunnies, baby seals, and cupcakes. The reason you didn't know these things is, of course, that they aren't actually true ... unless you're playing Velociraptor! Cannibalism!, a game which trades scientific accuracy for pseudo-scientific hilarity. Continue reading

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Velociraptor! Cannibalism! cover

Very few people know that velociraptors were capable of mutating in order to change their offensive and defensive abilities as well as their speed. It’s also not widely known that their diet consisted primarily of things like bunnies, baby seals, and cupcakes. The reason you didn’t know these things is, of course, that they aren’t actually true … unless you’re playing Velociraptor! Cannibalism!, a game which trades scientific accuracy for pseudo-scientific hilarity.

At a glance: Velociraptor! Cannibalism! is for 3 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. The retail price is $50. (It was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2012 and is now available for purchase.) I’ve played it with both my kids (ages 10 and 7) and adult friends—there is some pretty simple addition/subtraction involved, and there’s also a decent amount of spite, so it’s not great for sensitive souls.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! components

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! components. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

Components:

The game includes:

  • 8 Player Mats
  • 172 Cards (70 Meat Locker, 92 Jungle, 10 Climate)
  • 30 Egg Tokens

It also has the Mythos Expansion packaged with it, which adds 4 player mats and 30 cards (10 of each type).

The quality of the components is pretty standard: the egg tokens are just little cardboard punchouts and the cards are fine. The artwork is pretty great, though, particularly on the player boards and the Meat Locker cards, which are animal parts that you can use to modify your raptor. The prey cards all have silly little taglines which can be pretty amusing, too, though with a slightly morbid sense of humor.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! player mats

With the Mythos Expansion included, there are a dozen velociraptors to choose from. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

How to play

The goal of the game is to have the largest population (i.e., the most eggs) at the end of the game.

Each player gets a player mat—the raptors in the base game all have little bios in the rulebook, in case you want to know more about their personalities. Each of the three decks (Meat Locker, Jungle, Climate) is shuffled individually, though you set aside the “Truce” Climate card and place it on top for the first round. Put three egg tokens per player to form the population pool. Finally, each player gets a body part from the Meat Locker and immediately adds it to the appropriate place on their dinosaur.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! climate cards

Some Climate cards help everyone, some harm everyone, and some affect only certain players. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

To begin each round, you’ll flip over a Climate card, which may affect any number of players. The first card is Truce, which just states that nobody can attack anyone for a round. Then in clockwise order, everyone takes a turn, which consists of Hunt, Eat, Action, and Digest.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! jungle cards

Jungle cards can be events, prey, or predators. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

Hunt: draw a number of Jungle cards equal to your speed. Your base speed is 3, but body parts may speed you up or slow you down. Most of the jungle cards are prey, which provide calories. Some are events, which can affect your stats or have other effects. Finally, there are predators, which you’ll have to fight or flee from. If your total attack or total defense equals the predator’s attack value, then you fend them off and nothing happens. If it’s lower, then you have to run away, at a cost of 200 calories. If it’s higher, then you defeat the predator and you gain the bonus shown at the bottom of the card—some of the predators give you body parts that you can then equip.

Eat: After hunting, you have to eat. Each body part that’s equipped to your raptor has a calorie cost (except for the predator body parts, which are free). You’ll have to eat enough calories to pay for the body parts. You’ll also have to pay for any fleeing from predators you did. If you’re short on calories, then first you’ll eat any eggs you have, for 200 calories apiece. Still not enough? Then you start to eat your own body parts, for their listed calorie count. Any calories you have left can be used in the next phase.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! Meat Locker cards

The Meat Locker is where you get all sorts of useful body parts. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

Act: You may spend 500 calories to reproduce, which lets you take an egg token and put it in your Nursery. These eggs are safe from attack until the beginning of your next turn. You may also mutate by spending 300 calories to draw a card from the Meat Locker deck. If there’s an open slot for the new body part, you must equip it. If that slot is already taken, you can decide which of the two to equip and which to digest (put in your stomach). Finally, you may attack one player—add up your total attack, compare it to their total defense. If your number is higher, then you may steal either a body part or an egg from the other player. Again, if you steal a body part and you have an open slot for it, you must equip it.

Digest: If you have any leftover body parts or prey, you may store up to four cards in your stomach. (Note: you don’t get any change for partially-used cards, so if you use 300 calories from a 400-calorie Otter, you have to discard it.)

The game ends after all the Climate cards are used, or at the end of the round when the population pool runs out. (If there are no eggs left in the population pool, you can still reproduce and take more egg tokens from the box, but the pool indicates that the game is ending.)

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! Julian

Julian has a pretty good attack with his porcupine quills and tentacles. Plus a cute bunny tail. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

The Verdict

There are a number of games that involve piecing together bizarre animals: Creatures was one from a few years ago, and Evolve is on Kickstarter now. The appeal of mix-and-match images doesn’t go away when you get older, I think, and the artwork on the body parts just lines up so well, which makes it even better. Even the backgrounds on the cards line up with the background of the player mat. (The exception is the predator body parts, which are kind of disappointing when you equip those because it’s just a picture of the predator, not the relevant body part).

The gameplay itself is pretty easy to learn and straightforward: flip cards, take your food, fight predators, and then mutate and make eggs. For the most part, the cards are easy to understand and you won’t have to refer to the rulebook for much. The player mats have a nice turn summary and the costs of actions—the only thing that isn’t listed is the calorie value of eating an egg (200), which I had to look up in the rulebook the first time I played.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! game in play

Playing Velociraptor! Cannibalism! at GameStorm. (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

The humor in the game is fantastic, from the types of Climate events to the predators that will attack you. I love the fact that most of the food is adorable, if not actually from the Cretaceous Period. Adding in the Mythos expansion can make it harder (tougher predators), but also adds a good helping of silliness.

The downside is that the game can be very luck-dependent. When you go to the Jungle, you may end up drawing a bunch of predators each time, while your opponents are loading up on prey. That means you spend calories running away, so then you don’t have calories left to mutate, so you can’t improve your attack and defense, leaving you vulnerable to predators (or your opponents) for the next round.

There’s a slight catch-up mechanic in the fact that having a lot of body parts means that you need to consume a lot of calories in order to maintain them, but if you have high stats, then you’ll probably be able to draw a lot of Jungle cards and defeat any predators you encounter, so you’re still at an advantage.

Velociraptor! Cannibalism! sprinkles

Sprinkles stole some of Julian’s parts, that thief! (Photo: Jonathan H. Liu)

When you do have enough calories, you do get to make some interesting choices: mutate for the chance at better stats (but a higher calorie cost), or reproduce so you can have eggs to win the game? If you spend all your calories to make eggs but don’t get better defense, then you might end up losing those eggs to another player.

That’s when you have enough calories, though. I’ve also seen some players have a string of bad luck, where each round they just don’t have enough calories to even make those choices, and that’s not quite as fun.

Hey, if you’re playing a game called Velociraptor! Cannibalism! then you should probably expect that it might not be a deeply strategic experience. But it should at least be entertaining, and that’s where it’s important to know your players. If everyone at the table can admire somebody else’s crazy Frankenstein raptor and laugh even though their own player mat is blank, then you’ve got a good group for the game. However, if somebody is going to be put out by the fact that they never got a good card draw, then you might want to play something else.

Overall, I’ve had some fun playing Velociraptor! Cannibalism! and my kids thought it was hilarious, but as a game night host I’ve also felt somewhat bad for introducing a game that left a player without a hope of winning. I think it’s a better one for more casual gamers, or as a funny filler in between more serious stuff. For the right group, though, it can be really great, and I always love seeing new combinations of body parts.

For more information or to order a copy of the game, visit Board Raptor Games.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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Giraffes and Condors and Bears (Oh My!) http://geekdad.com/2014/04/giraffes-condors-bears-la-zoo/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/giraffes-condors-bears-la-zoo/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:15:29 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55770 The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is mere miles from the glamour and glitz of Hollywood, but you'd never know it from the inside: it's clearly earned the second part of its name, with lush greenery and exotic flowers at every turn. And then, of course, there are the animals, many of which are remarkable. Continue reading

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lazoologoUntil last month, I had never been on a press junket that included a trip to a zoo. Awesomely, the same trip during which I participated in a group interview of the stars of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, attended the Muppets Most Wanted world premiere, and met several Muppets face-to-face, also included a trip to the L.A. Zoo, to prepare the group for seeing the new Disneynature film Bears.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is mere miles from the glamour and glitz of Hollywood, but you’d never know it from the inside: it’s clearly earned the second part of its name, with lush greenery and exotic flowers at every turn. And then, of course, there are the animals, many of which are remarkable.

I must qualify my observations of the L.A. Zoo by pointing out that, to me, the experience of going to a zoo I’ve never visited is greatly tempered by the fact that I grew up and currently live in the Washington, D.C. area and have been going fairly regularly to the National Zoo for as long as I can remember, first as a child and now as a parent. The National Zoo is not the most spectacular in the world, to be sure, but it has much to recommend it, including of course the famous giant pandas. My memories of the National Zoo are so ingrained in me that I just can’t get that excited by other zoos unless they have something truly different.

Dolly the California Condor

Dolly the California Condor

The L.A. Zoo does have one very awesome difference from the National Zoo: It has California Condors. While the condors themselves are not always on display to the general public – the zoo has an enrichment center to teach kids about the birds and their habits and habitats – the blogger group I was with was treated to a visit from their “condor ambassador,” named Dolly. I had seen pictures of California Condors before, but it’s quite another experience to see one in real life – their wingspan is just amazing, and, while they are scavengers and not terribly attractive as birds go, there is a certain majesty to them nonetheless. In addition to being able to see Dolly, I also learned a lot about California Condors and their plight – in particular, I had had no idea that the chief cause of the high numbers of condors dying was lead poisoning from hunters’ bullets that the birds accidentally eat along with animal corpses. It’s gotten to the point where California now has legislation requiring hunters to use bullets that don’t contain lead.

Giraffes (obviously)

Giraffes (obviously)

A pensive-looking chimpanzee

A pensive-looking chimpanzee

We got to see a bunch of zoo animals that were very cool, but not terribly exciting to me for the reasons I mentioned above. The giraffes were very pretty, the apes were fun – particularly the chimp who looked like he was posing for Rodin’s “The Thinker” – and Randa the 44-year-old rhino who survived cancer treatment in 2009. The other highlight for me was the carousel, which, like the one at the National Zoo, uses a wide variety of exotic species in place of the conventional horses. There is one chief difference between the L.A. one and the D.C. one: the D.C. one does not have a dung beetle with a giant ball of dung that you can sit in. I’m not certain which is better, honestly.

bearsposterUnfortunately, we only got to see one bear at the zoo. This is unfortunate because the main reason for bringing us there in the first place was because one of the films we had seen as part of the junket was Bears. They had even given us some very cute and fuzzy stuffed bears based on the mama and cubs in the movie, and encouraged us to get photos of them with the real animals in the background, but I was too afraid I would drop the bear somewhere from which I couldn’t retrieve it to try much.

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and the zoo is well worth a trip if you live in or visit the area. It’s not spectacular, but it gets the job done, and it’s very pretty – which is more than you can say for most of Los Angeles.

Disneynature’s Bears opens in movie theaters this Friday, April 18, ahead of Earth Day (which is next Tuesday). Check back on GeekDad on Friday for my review. If you’d like a bear plush of your own, get it soon: The Disney Store will contribute $1 to the National Park Foundation for every Bears plush purchased between now and May 11, 2014. You can purchase the cubs Amber and Scout online.

Photos by Matt Blum.

Note: Visiting the L.A. Zoo was part of a press junket I attended that was paid for by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.

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An Essential Question About Kids, Survival, and the Zombie Apocalypse http://geekdad.com/2014/04/essential-question-kids-survival-zombie-apocalypse/ http://geekdad.com/2014/04/essential-question-kids-survival-zombie-apocalypse/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:00:34 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=55726 When the apocalypse comes, would you want you and your children to survive, only your children to survive, only you to survive, or everyone to go as quickly as possible in the first wave? Continue reading

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Image: Flickr/Pascal cc license

Image: Flickr/Pascal cc license

I was at a party this weekend, which used to mean one thing and now means something else entirely. While my 7-year-old boy stared blissfully into the light breeze having his face painted by a classmate and his 5-year-old sister tried to catch his terrified friends and kill them with a badminton racket, I found myself chatting with a circle of dads. Of course, the topic turned to the zombie apocalypse.

The question was this: When the apocalypse comes, would you want you and your children to survive, only your children to survive, only you to survive, or everyone to go as quickly as possible in the first wave?

Greg was sure a quick death for all was the best possible end. He should know: his popular self-published book on how to retrofit a Sprinter van as an RV puts him in contact with a population of steampunk tinkerers who have looked the awful possibility of the apocalypse in the eye.

Scott recommended all or nothing – you and the kids both live or both die – citing the idea that if the kids survive, you’d want to be around to take care of them. But then again, Scott tends sponges for a living. Okay, he’s a Berkeley-trained PhD cellular biologist, but can you really trust the reasoning of a man who grows sponges?

Chris is a toymaker. He gave my offspring blowguns for their two-years-but-one-day-apart birthdays. He said that he would choose to live after the apocalypse but wished a quick end for his kids. His reasoning is that the post-apocalypse world would suck, but that as an adult he was equipped to handle it emotionally and physically in a way that would destroy the souls of children. Then again, he gave my kids blowguns, for frick’s sake. And now my dogs are nervous.

My knee-jerk answer was for the kids to survive but for me to sacrifice my own tragically limited grey matter by taking a dive off the highest, nearest cliff to Boulder, CO as soon as the zombie horde passed critical mass. It was knee-jerk because: can you imagine wishing for the death of your kids in any circumstance? But on second thought, maybe leaving them the responsibility of continuing the human race amid certain awfulness is selfish?

Can we please come to a reasoned conclusion on this important issue? I imagine there are existential, metaphysical, technical, and moral implications beyond my grasp.

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