GeekDad http://geekdad.com Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:45:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Sleeping Beauty Battle Royale http://geekdad.com/2014/10/sleeping-beauty-battle-royale/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/sleeping-beauty-battle-royale/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:50:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=64034 In just a few short days (11/04), the alternate version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, will be released on home video. It has been a long time since a movie has been so polarizing with an audience as Maleficent is to Sleeping Beauty. If you have not seen this new telling, then I urge you to go ahead and get ready by picking up a copy of the original Disney classic first. Continue reading

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Created by RAYZ

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic board games

1. Pandemic

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

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

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

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

Mord im Arosa

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

2. Mord im Arosa

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

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

Skinsaw Murders henchmen

Halloween-appropriate Henchmen appear in this deck.

3. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: The Skinsaw Murders

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

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

Tragedy Looper

Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

4. Tragedy Looper

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

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

DeadofWinter

5. Dead of Winter

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

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

NOGO

6. Night of the Grand Octopus

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

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

ONENIGHT

7. One Night Ultimate Werewolf

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

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

Castle Ravenloft

8. Dungeons & Dragons – Castle Ravenloft Board Game

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

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

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

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

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

KingOfTokyoHalloween

9. King of Tokyo: Halloween Expansion

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

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

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

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

Smash Up Monster Smash

Photo: Anthony Karcz

10. Smash Up: Monster Smash

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

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

Munchkin Bites

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

11. Munchkin Bites/Munchkin Cthulhu

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

Munchkin Cthulhu

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

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

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

Zombie 15'

Now, THAT’S scary. Photo: Cathe Post

12. Zombie 15′

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

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

LegendaryEncounters box cover

13. Legendary Encounters

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

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

Happy Halloween, and happy gaming!

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

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Justin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The topping beam at Daytona International Speedway, image via DIS

The topping beam at Daytona International Speedway, image via DIS

Halfway there and topped off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Poisoned Pumpkin: Taste-testing Seasonal Pumpkin Products http://geekdad.com/2014/10/the-poisoned-pumpkin/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/the-poisoned-pumpkin/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:00:02 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63982 This year, the pumpkin spice is everywhere. During these weeks leading up to Halloween, store shelves are loaded down with seasonal pumpkin-flavored coffees -- as well as breads, cakes, cookies, mints, trail mix, yogurts, sodas, health bars, teas, oatmeal... Ice cream? Jell-O? And so much more. Continue reading

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This year, the pumpkin spice is everywhere. During these weeks leading up to Halloween, store shelves are loaded down with seasonal pumpkin-flavored coffees — as well as breads, cakes, cookies, mints, trail mix, yogurts, sodas, health bars, teas, oatmeal… Ice cream? Jell-O? And so much more.

My wife, GeekMom Kay, and I wondered if any of these things were actually worth eating. So along with our son Bastian, we’ve decided to taste-test as many as we can find! The first video is now up:

Hopefully these videos will help you decide if you want to try any of these products. If not, at least you can enjoy watching our expressions when we try something truly gross!

And parents: Look for our upcoming videos on The Poisoned Pumpkin: After Hours, where we taste-test several dozen pumpkin-flavored alcohols! After your kids are in bed, of course!

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Thank You, Macworld. http://geekdad.com/2014/10/thank-macworld/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/thank-macworld/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:00:41 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63991 True story -- in 1984 my dad made what I believe to be one of the most important purchases in my 14-year-old life. He bought our family one of the very first Macintosh computers. Correction -- while my younger brother and sister used it, I am under no illusions that this purchase was primarily for my dad and myself. I can't remember my mom ever using it, and years later I would realize what a sacrifice my parents made to purchase that quite expensive computer (for the time) and give their oldest son access to what was most likely the hottest growing sector at the time. Continue reading

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Macworld - first and last

True story — in 1984 my dad made what I believe to be one of the most important purchases in my then 14-year-old life. He bought our family one of the very first Macintosh computers. Correction — while my younger brother and sister used it, I am under no illusions that this purchase was primarily for my dad and myself. I can’t remember my mom ever using it, and years later I would realize what a sacrifice my parents made to purchase that quite expensive computer (for the time) and give their oldest son access to what was most likely the hottest growing sector at the time. I learned to use a word processor — MacWrite. I got my hands on one of the very first graphic design programs — MacPaint. And I began to teach myself programming with the only language I had available at the time — BASIC. Oh, and I had a blast playing Infocom games on it as well as Sir-Tech’s most famous game, Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.

My dad saw my fascination with the computer and fanned the flames. I came home from school not too long after we brought that Mac home and sitting in the mailbox was an issue of a magazine called Macworld… and it had my name on it. My name. Not my dad’s name. I took that magazine inside and read it cover to cover more times than I can remember. I scoured even the advertisements. Up to this point, I’d had my hands on the occasional old issue of Byte or Creative Computing, but they weren’t relevant to me. What was tucked inside MacWorld each month was immediately useful to me.

Of course, the content found in Macworld quickly outpaced that first Mac. Soon enough the advertisements began for software I couldn’t afford and for hardware upgrades I didn’t need. The original Mac turned into the 512k Mac and as we all know… technology does not sit still.

But… that computer got me through four years of high school and a few years of college. Its dot matrix printer allowed me to avoid turning in handwritten papers. I took typing early in high school and my typing speed was unmatched amongst my friends. It probably doesn’t hurt that every day I could go home and get as much practice on the keyboard as I wanted before dinnertime. I was asked to design the graphics for the Sadie Hawkins dance invitation (called the Beau Dance at our school). I even recall being told I could not submit a dot-matrix printed paper in a freshman writing class and had to type it up on a keyboard — I went to the Dean of the department and explained why this technology mattered and why my paper was acceptable. (Ultimately it came down to the fact that there was no written rule from the professor that dot-matrix printers could NOT be used.)

I continued to get Macworld for a couple of years before letting the subscription slide. I cannot recall when that little Mac finally gave up the ghost, but it did. I wish I could remember it being a sad occasion, but in college an uncle provided me with an 8088 IBM PC and I never looked back. For the remainder of my college days and well into my first career, I was a PC. I got into IT and in the 90s it was all about Windows NT and Windows 2000 Server and domains and bleh… I did eventually get out. It just wasn’t my thing. I had an engineering degree and an English degree and I wanted to write. And I did. It would be many more years, however, and with quite a few technology books under my belt before one of my publishers suggested I familiarize myself with OS X — “it’ll open up additional writing opportunities for you.” I didn’t mind that! I went and purchased my first Mac — a MacBook Air — and took it home, turned it on… and began to fall in love again.

I will admit I came back to Mac kicking and screaming. Twenty-plus years with Windows can do that to a person. Don’t get me wrong… I’m OS-neutral. I have a Windows 7 PC, a Linux file server, and a MacBook Air. I use what I need to get the writing jobs done. Sometimes the publisher wants Windows screenshots… sometimes they don’t care. And when they don’t care, I’m all about the Mac. But again… picking up this new (to me) OS X was hard. And where did I turn for help? Yep… Macworld.

I went to the bookstore, picked up the latest issue… and started reading. It didn’t take long for me to figure things out, but I was hooked again. Macworld gave me the latest news and kept me up on my new favorite writing tool. I learned tricks, discovered secrets, and found new software and tools to make my life easier. Macworld was once again relevant to me.

This was about three years ago. Since then, I’ve picked up almost every issue of MacWorld at the newsstand. I never did subscribe, and honestly I’m not sure why. I could have saved some money. But for 30+ issues, I’ve enjoyed once again using a Mac. Things are different — MacWrite is now Pages, but my publishers all require me to use Word! MacPaint is long gone, with dozens of third-party solutions. And I cannot remember the last time I needed to actually print something — probably a few months ago — with the laser printer in my office. I’m thinking of donating it.

Another thing — since rediscovering how much I enjoy writing on a Mac, I’ve also discovered a number of websites that I frequent for Apple news and such. One of my favorite is MacSparky — if you don’t know it, check it out. David Sparks and Katie Floyd also put on one amazing podcast called the Mac Power Users. A month or more back, I was on MacSparky and read with sadness that Macworld magazine was closing its doors. It would maintain its website and the digital version, but the print copy? Bye-bye.

It makes sense in many ways. The audience for the magazine is decidedly technical, and I imagine many of them subscribe and read the digital version already. The print world is in upheaval, and I’m guessing there were some serious cost justifications involved in the decision. Still… it hurts. I may not have read every issue since that first 1984 issue, but Macworld was my first magazine subscription. I learned a lot from it. It made a significant impact on my life, education, and career.

I was just in the bookstore a few days back and picked up the last print issue of Macworld. I purchased it, grabbed a drink and sat down. And I read it. Cover to cover. Even the advertisements. It took me some time, but it was worth it. And then I went home and wrote this post on the ancestor of my first computer. As with that first issue, Macworld’final print issue was still relevant. And I learned many new things.

Thanks, Macworld

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The Mothership: A Visit to the New SparkFun Building http://geekdad.com/2014/10/the-mothership/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/the-mothership/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:00:06 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63988 The shipping department was full of dudes with asymmetric facial hair on skateboards. An engineer had picked up about a thousand Keva planks and on an upstairs wrap-around counter space, there was a crowdsourced build going on -- in which you could tell the crowd had higher than the average bear’s level of design thinking skills. Strung on a wall was a DIY art piece made of light bulbs and wire that was set to ripple in response to sounds. A trigger-operated race car track wound underneath a 7-foot tall version of one of those wooden dinosaur skeleton kits. Continue reading

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Sparkfun

The offspring, playing with the SparkFun engineers’ toys, underneath a giant dinosaur.

I’m more science geek than technology geek, but lately I’ve been doing my best — learning how to solder and code by building SparkFun kits along with my kids (6 and 8), first the WeevilEye, then Herbie the little mouse kit and now into the world of Arduino. (My daughter, Kestrel, bounces off furniture and people and walls as if she were the cue ball of a billiards trick shot, but she’ll sit and solder for a straight hour.) What this means is that instead of looking at soldering kits from the perspective of an electrical engineer who, I’m sure, sees these kits as simple teaching tools, I’m completely flabbergasted along with my kids when Herbie hits a wall and his electrical whiskers make the mouse turn. Wow! When we reach the great moment of flipping the switch to “on,” my armpits sweat.

All this is to say that when I scheduled a tour of the new SparkFun building just outside Boulder, CO, I told the education director that my kids were really excited. But in fact, I was Charlie waving my golden ticket while the offspring played the part of Grandpa Joe.

Who do you usually get as a guide when you take a corporate tour? Usually it’s the intern who hasn’t mastered the all-important corporate skill of looking harried and over-busy. At SparkFun we got Ben Leduc-Mills. Ben has a PhD in computer science. Ben was really excited about the open source SparkFun data site where users can publish streams up to 50mb. My kids were really excited about the fact that SparkFun employees can bring their dogs to work. Leif counted seven dogs and I’m sure there were more. Production manager Adam Silva explained that he had raised three dogs at SparkFun.

The thing is, we’ve all been in the offices of “creative” organizations that overreach for hipness — from somewhere upon high, the corporate overseers imagine that a scooter track will totally help recruit talent from MIT and Stanford. And then no one uses it.

SparkFun has some of the same uber-hip accoutrements, but it felt like the ideas grew organically from the employees. The shipping department was full of dudes with asymmetric facial hair on skateboards. An engineer had picked up about a thousand Keva planks and on an upstairs wrap-around counter space, there was a crowdsourced build going on — in which you could tell the crowd had higher than the average bear’s level of design thinking skills. Strung on a wall was a DIY art piece made of light bulbs and wire that was set to ripple in response to sounds. A trigger-operated race car track wound underneath a 7-foot tall version of one of those wooden dinosaur skeleton kits. The office of their e-textiles engineer is painted like a fairy forest, with a rack of antlers framing the chair’s headrest. These are the essentials. I’m sure that with a second month in their new building, additional interesting oddities will bloom.

Ben explained the cool things you could do with an Edison Board — it is WiFi enabled, which seemed to be really important to Ben. I am still severely limited by my lack of imagination but look forward to grokking the possibilities, just as soon as I finish the tutorial for my Sandbox…

But the cool thing about visiting the SparkFun mothership was that despite being one small step above e. coli in my ability to build and code, as I walked out of the building everything seemed possible. I felt like I could go home, download some open-source SparkFun code and program a drone that would drop water balloons on my wife as she bikes to work. I could make the limbs of my front yard tree grab tick-or-treaters as they step on the welcome mat. I could insert small Arduino-driven electrodes into the brains of my children that would force them to open and close their mouths in the presence of broccoli.

People at Sparkfun are psyched to build. And after visiting, I am too.

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My Summer 2014 Eclectic Reading List – Part 2 http://geekdad.com/2014/10/summer-eclectic-reading-list-2/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/summer-eclectic-reading-list-2/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:00:45 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63935 Summer is over and school is well under way, and my book stack is slowly dwindling again. But it's not quite back to a reasonable 3-4 titles that I can typically handle in a week. And new books continue to come in! I had considered declaring Book Bankruptcy and starting from zero again, but I just can't do that... there are just too many good books to share.
Continue reading

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Summer is over and school is well under way and my book stack is slowly dwindling again. But it’s not quite back to a reasonable 3-4 titles that I can typically handle in a  week. And new books continue to come in! I had considered declaring Book Bankruptcy and starting from zero again, but I just can’t do that… there are just too many good books to share.

So, let me present Part II of what would would most definitely be a great novel given the title — My Summer 2014 (and moving into Fall) Eclectic Reading List.

 

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic (The Adventures of Geo, Volume 1)

Plate Tectonics

George has quite an imagination… and a LOT of knowledge to demonstrate on today’s Earth Science test. Written in comic book format, this 36-page story follows George as he ponders everything he’s learned about plate tectonics, the ocean floor, tsunamis, earthquakes, and much more. GEO glides over the Earth’s surface and underneath, examining in colorful detail so much of the science that’s hidden underneath the surface. As George encounters various obstacles on his skateboard-ride to school, GEO encounters seismic activities that the reader can link together to help with memorization.

If your young reader enjoys this book, don’t forget to check out No Starch Press’s other educational books that use comic book/manga-style presentation such as their Can You Survive Inside the Human Body series (my review here) and many of its Manga Guides.

 

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress

Build Your Own Website

No Starch is on a roll. For kids or adults, this 250-page book also uses a comic book format to teach the basics of web design and a solid grounding in WordPress. I’ve done my share of basic web design before… and I stink at it. I’ve always heard there were better ways — much more organized ways — to create websites and manage them. What writer Nate Cooper and artist Kim Gee have done here is use simple art to supplement a minor amount of written text to explain web design from the beginning and offer me a good reason (actually, multiple reasons) for doing things a little differently than I’ve done in the past.

Even if you know HTML (as I do), you’ll follow along with (cartoon) Kim as she discovers the weaknesses of HTML and traditional HTML design. There’s a lot of information packed into the artwork that helps you understand how website design can get out of hand quickly, and the logical explanations for the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) via Glinda, the Good Witch of CSS. Everything in the first half of the book is helping the reader build up to understanding how to use the power of WordPress to create powerful webpages and sites. What’s funny is how FAST I finished reading this thing. What’s even better is how WELL I understood the content. This one goes on the bookshelf as a resource I will be hitting up again later this year or early next when I put together a website for a new project I’ve been working on… I’m that sold on using WordPress now!

Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards

Title Cards

Okay, I know that not everyone gets Adventure Time. There are still episodes that leave me wondering how my brain shutdown for the previous 20 minutes and what exactly happened. My 7-year-old and I watch Finn and Jake navigate the land of Ooo together, and I get to spend 30 minutes in his shoes watching and enjoying a show that I must honestly admit I wouldn’t watch by myself. That said, there is one thing I enjoy alone about Adventure Time that my son hasn’t yet discovered… the Title Cards. These amazing pieces of art open up each episode, and I’ve actually found myself pausing an episode to get a closer look. Thankfully, I don’t have to do that anymore… well, at least for Seasons 1 and 2.

Titan Books has released a collection of all the title cards for Seasons 1 and 2, and not only do you get a full-size image suitable for framing, you also get commentary from the collection of artists that create them as well as rough drafts showing the progression to the final title card. Some title cards are spins on familiar imagery (“The Silent King,” Season 2 Ep 40 riffs on the Conan look and feel) or 50s style movie posters or book covers. Others are just trippy sight gags. But as I said… all are works of art. If you’ve got an Adventure Time fan (probably older, but who knows?) who really enjoys the title cards, consider this a great gift suggestion.

A Christmas-Tastic Carol

Christmas-Tastic Carol

Yes, another Adventure Time book. This one is going to be a HUGE hit in a few months for my 7-year-old. The old Ice King is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve who try to get him to mend his ways. Will he? Can he?!

It’s a funny spin on the traditional A Christmas Carol, with all your favorite Adventure Time characters showing up in one way or another (and little BMO subbing for Tiny Tim). The rhymes are fun, and kids will love the the artwork… adults may actually appreciate the message the story still manages to get across about how we treat others and how our actions can affect today and tomorrow. Who knows? You and your child may actually show feel a bit of sympathy for Ice King as he discovers just how the rest of Ooo feels about him. Just remember — if Scrooge can change, so can Ice King. No more Bah! Hum Butt!

Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Steampunk Carol

Okay, maybe an Adventure Time version of A Christmas Carol isn’t quite your style. If that’s the case, give this steampunk version a try! Running Press has done three additional outstanding steampunk branded classics in the past such as Steampunk Frankenstein, Steampunk Poe, and Steampunk H.G. As with those other titles, Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol provides the original text but mixes in new steam-infused artwork by Zdenko Basic. At over 200 pages and with over 45 full-color, full-page images, any steampunk fan is going to love Basic’s take on Scrooge and the ghosts (especially Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come) as well as the beautiful framing of each image.

In addition to the main story, the book also includes two short stories — “A Christmas Tree” and “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton.” I had read the former, but never the latter — a nice surprise!

Steampunk LEGO

LEGO Steampunk

My steampunk-loving heart is at full pressure! No Starch has produced some beautiful LEGO source books, filled with unique designs, build instructions (BIs), and professionally photographed dioramas, and its latest has really knocked the ball out of the park. My previous favorite (also from No Starch) was its LEGO Space: Building the Future, but it never really had a chance once I got word that Steampunk LEGO was coming out.

Starting with creations that ride the rails (or a double set of rails for the Ironclad-Class Light Double-Gauge Steam Railship on page 19), you are NOT going to believe your eyes when you see what the creator (Guy Himber) have come up with to fill these pages. Cars, bikes, automata, walking cities, ray guns, waterships, airships, and even steampunk versions of the X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, Y-wing, Millennium Falcon, and Imperial Coach for you Star Wars fans! And there’s hundreds more creations… many that defy classification. I’m in complete awe of Himber and how he managed to collect such an amazing collection of LEGO parts that fit the color, style, and mood of steampunk. The hardback book is 190+ pages of full-color imagery that will make any steampunk fan sit for hours looking at all the details, and that’s not even counting the fun to be had reading all the notes and communications between the various characters that inhabit the book. Well done, No Starch!

The Martian (paperback due out Oct 28, 2014)

The Martian

Written by Andy Weir, all I have to add about this beyond my original review is that the smaller-sized paperback is perfect for sticking in a high-schooler’s backpack (or your own) and will now make it easier to get this book into the hands of young inventors, scientists, and engineers.

Seriously, if you haven’t read this book… do so. BEFORE the movie comes out. It does have some NSFK language here and there, but I’d almost encourage any concerned parent to read the book and black out the bad words because the story is so incredible and motivating. Following along as astronaut Mark Watney tries to stay alive after being left behind on the Martian surface is fun… reading his solutions to food and water and oxygen shortages is even more crazy when you begin to understand the real science behind his solutions. You’ll also find an interview with Weir as well as a new essay titled “How Science Made Me a Writer,” a great little piece that describes how Weir came up with the story and his thoughts on the predicaments he tossed at his fictional hero.

Think Robinson Crusoe on Mars, with a healthy dose of Macgyver (with attitude) mixed in and you’ve got the general idea. I’m reading the book again… I loved it that much.

Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove

Gadget Glove

Nick and Tesla are brother-sister twins living with strange inventor Uncle Newt. This is the fourth book in the Nick and Tesla series, and once again the book provides a fun story along with a number of projects for the reader to build. Unlike previous books, however, all projects in this book are combined to create one amazing creation — the Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove. It has an LED flashlight, a voice recorder, a panic alarm, and a UV light for reading invisible ink. All the components for building the glove can be found at Radio Shack, and all that’s needed beyond that is a hot glue gun and a glove. The instructions for assembly are easy to follow, but parents may want to provide some help for younger inventors.

The story is fun, too — the X-Treme Learnasium is about to open but all the exhibits are going a bit haywire. Nick and Tesla suspect tampering, and it’s this storyline that will encourage young tinkerers to not only read, but to also perform the project tasks to see how Nick and Tesla actually solve the problems they encounter. My son and I will be building the glove (hopefully) this weekend, and I’ll try to get a post up soon showing our work. Young inventors are going to love this series, and I’m hoping Book 5 is in the works! Here’s are Link 1 and Link 2 and Link 3 to my earlier reviews of the three previous books.

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft

As a long-time fan of Lovecraft, I have been anxiously awaiting this book since I first heard of its development. If you’re not familiar with annotated books, just imagine your favorite novels or short stories supported with photos, historical documents, author notes, professional critiques, and more. Instead of footnotes, the annotations appear to the left or right of the original text, and  are numbered to match up to spots in the text where commentary will be useful and/or provide additional information that the editor (in this case, Leslie S. Klinger, who is also responsible for the three volumes making up the The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, another of my most cherished book collections) has selected.

With an introduction by Alan Moore, this 852-page book is a monster — a monster worthy of the subject in question. You’ll find a solid history of Lovecraft, with dozens of black and white photos, historical documents (including examples of his early childhood sketches and some communication), and even a color photo of his gravestone. There’s some substantial background on early critics and researchers of the man, and a lot of color images of the early magazines that would contain H.P.’s work. Of his seventy stories (written under his own name), Klinger has selected 22 that “exemplify the best of the author’s Arkham cycle…” and I have to smile when I see the selection and realize I’ve read them all… and many more than just a few. (For my English degree, I was fortunate to have professors that allowed me to focus many research papers on Poe, Doyle, Lovecraft and other Victorian-era writers who often were grouped in the “pulp” genre and not always viewed as acceptable literature for students to reference.)

I’m only about 1/4 through the book. It’s slow-going as I enjoy reading the commentary and examining the stories all while trying my best to forget what I know and experience them again “for the first time.” The hand-drawn map (Arkham, page 39 is a treasure, as is Innsmouth, page 594), the amazing artwork from Weird Tales 36 (page 59), the movie poster I remember so well for The Reanimator (1985), the original title image for Call of Cthulhu for Weird Tales 11, no 2 1928 *(page 123) as well as Lovecraft’s original drawing of the Cthulhu sculpture that helped define this creature’s look forever (page 126) and numerous photos of his handwritten manuscript pages…  and so many color photos of the various buildings that H.P. used as references for the locales in his stories… it’s a Lovecraft fan’s dream book. With over 300 illustrations and over 1000 annotations, there is zero doubt you’ll learn so many things about Lovecraft and his stories that you never knew before.

My goal is to finish this book by the end of the year — it’s going to be my holiday reading assignment. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

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An App for Your Personal Library: You Borrowed It http://geekdad.com/2014/10/you-borrowed-it/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/you-borrowed-it/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:00:46 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63943 I love loaning books and board games to friends. The problem, of course, is keeping track of who's got what. You Borrowed It is a simple little app that keeps track of the things you lend out. Continue reading

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You Borrowed It Screenshots

I love loaning books and board games to friends. I have a big collection of both, so chances are I can go without any particular title for a while without missing it. It’s always a fun feeling to find something I think somebody will like and be able to send it home with them to try out. The problem, of course, is keeping track of who’s got what.

You Borrowed It is a simple little app (for iOS or Android) that keeps a list of things people have borrowed from you.

The interface is pretty simple and bare-bones, but it’s functional. You type in an item description and optionally take a photo of the item. There’s also a “cash” button in case you’re lending money. Then you select a contact from your address book. (I guess it might be nice to be able to type in a name, but maybe the assumption is that if you’re loaning something to somebody you’ll have them in your contacts list.)

Then you pick a due date: there are default buttons for today, tomorrow, this week, next week, next month, or you can pick a date. I do think it’s funny that you can put “today” as a due date, and I would love to have an option of leaving the due date blank, since quite often I don’t have a particular date in mind. (It’s mandatory to select a date.) You can decide whether to add the due date to your calendar.

Finally, you add it to your YBI list. Tap the “Borrowed Items” button to see a list of items you’ve got loaned out, in order of due date. If somebody returns something, just tap the item and hit the “Return Item” button. You can also add a note if you want: “Bob really loved Tigerman.” (He should; it’s an excellent book.)

On the Borrowed Items page, you can also switch to “Archive” to see things that you’ve loaned out in the past that have already been returned. It’s nice that it keeps this record, in case you discover that your copy of King of New York is missing a die.

You Borrowed It isn’t fancy, but it gets the job done. I’ve been using it for a few months and it’s much easier than the little notebook I’d been using—not least because I kept misplacing the notebook, or would have to go look for it if I wanted to find out what I had loaned out. With the app, as long as I have my phone with me, I can look things up, and add new items. It’s only a buck, so well worth it if your friends frequently borrow things from you.

Disclosure: GeekDad received this app for review.

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Experience Fantasy Life on Nintendo 3DS http://geekdad.com/2014/10/fantasy-life-nintendo-3ds/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/fantasy-life-nintendo-3ds/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:00:04 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63901 First Animal Crossing: New Leaf, then Tomodachi Life and now Fantasy Life -- yes, when Nintendo has an early review program for a 3DS life sim they know exactly who to call! Continue reading

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fantasy life

First Animal Crossing: New Leaf, then Tomodachi Life and now Fantasy Life — yes, when Nintendo has an early review program for a 3DS life sim they know exactly who to call!

I’ve spent the last week becoming familiar with the land of Reveria , a fantastical world from Level-5 (the same minds behind the Professor Layton series), and I’ve come to understand it as a wonderfully quirky offering. There are obvious shades of some of my very favorite titles therein — from the job-switching of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to the vast clan- and quest-heavy world-building of Skyrim to the simple homemaking of the aforementioned Animal Crossing — and yet Fantasy Life is still somehow its own unique experience.

It’s a multifaceted game about action and adventure, about cultivating bonds and proving oneself worthy of the kind of accolades a hero always receives when at the heart of a larger-than-life fantasy story. Moreover, Fantasy Life, both as a work of interactive fiction and within this delightful game world itself, is all about fulfillment. Yes, above all else Fantasy Life is game about… well, discovering a satisfying occupation.

You’re confused, and that’s understandable — so allow me to elucidate.

Reveria is a place where the idea of finding your true calling in life is so important as to be at the very heart of its mythology. Each person has a Wish, a driving principle at their very core that, once realized by choosing an appropriate path, a Life, makes their world and the worlds of all around them even better. Perhaps a person wants to be the fiercest Mercenary, the most adept Hunter, the wisest Alchemist or maybe just the best Angler.

Or perhaps — like your player character who is accompanied by a mysterious talking butterfly called… Butterfly — the perfect path to that Wish involves more than just a single Life. Characters are free to change their Life at any time at the Guild offices in any of Reveria towns, and the Skills mastered as your train in one Life are still available when you move on to another, making you a more flexible and well-rounded adventurer.

But don’t think it’s all about slinging spells or clashing swords. No, in Fantasy Life the warrior is no more important than the cook, the archer no more valued than the smith. The dozen available Life paths encompass not only combat, but also gathering and crafting, which serves to make the game stand out even more from its simpler hack-n-slash brethren.

Its experience system too takes three unique forms, all expressed as Quests. Challenges are Life-specific tasks that net you Stars, points required for moving from the initial Apprentice level of a Life on up through Fledgling, Novice, Adept, Expert and eventually Master. Butterfly’s Requests are story-centered missions that reveal more about the history of Reveria and uncover more about the central narrative behind your mysterious flying friend; successful completion of these reward you with Bliss, which is used to unlock bonuses like increasing item storage capacity, adopting pets or even broadening the number and types of goods available at shops. There are also the self-explanatory Other Requests, tasks for other villagers that earn both items and in-game currency, Dosh.

I began my Fantasy Life as a Paladin, a member of the King of Castele’s own special guard. Take a look at the pictures below to get a feel for both the game’s visuals and its wonderfully inspired narrative tone. While Nintendo specifically requested that participants limit early coverage to the game’s first three chapters, I’ve also made an effort to make things as spoiler-free as possible. Fantasy Life truly excels at storytelling, as I’m sure you’ll discover when the game hits shelves this Friday.

In the meantime, if you’d be so kind as to excuse me, I’m off to change my Life. I reckon I’d make a solid Wizard or Carpenter, but currently I’m feeling lead to the Life of the noble Miner.

The Journey Begins That Hughes Jerk Paladin Change Your Life Blah Blah Blah Luminaire Beef Tortoise Parenting The Rules Damien House Dash Stars Expert Master Song

Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America

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Lunarbaboon: The Best Laugh of Your Morning http://geekdad.com/2014/10/lunarbaboon/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/lunarbaboon/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:00:39 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63921 Lunarbaboon is the self-styled identity of web-humorist and cartoonist Chris Grady. Continue reading

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lunarbaboon-L-lCAHXG

If you are not familiar with the webcomic Lunarbaboon, let me introduce you to this (not always) subtle and (usually) nuanced read. Chris “Lunarbaboon” Grady is an adult male from Toronto with a wife and one child. His webcomic is centered around his interactions with the world. His humor is born of brutal honesty about his experiences, with a healthy healing dose of imagination. Whether his life is highlighted by getting aliens to take out the trash, or calling into work because his cat has made its home in his lap, Lunarbaboon is ruled by his own geek-dad mind. References to Star Wars, Spider-Man, and crossovers abound in this family-friendly graphic delight.

Every morning I hope to see Lunarbaboon in my Feedly feed. It makes my day to see another dad out there with a strange view of the world. If you fall in love with what you see, consider supporting the Kickstarter campaign to publish Lunarbaboon: VOLUME 1. It is already funded, but that means you can donate just $5 CAD to get the PDF for yourself.

1 icomic to bind them all. Image: Lunarbaboon

One comic to bind them all.
Image: Lunarbaboon

Heads up to parents: there is the occasional swear word, but the themes are family friendly. Screen before showing younger kids.

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Doctor Who and the Dalek Teaches Players to Program http://geekdad.com/2014/10/doctor-who-teaches-to-program/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/doctor-who-teaches-to-program/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 23:01:34 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63861 The BBC have just announce a new Doctor and the Dalek game that aims to teach players basic programming skills. Continue reading

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The BBC have just announce a new Doctor and the Dalek game that aims to teach players basic programming skills. We had some time with the game and its creators.

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Show Kids Another Side of History With Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States http://geekdad.com/2014/10/young-peoples-history-of-us/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/young-peoples-history-of-us/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 10:00:27 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63886 Learn about history from other points of view with this fantastic children's adaptation of a modern classic. Continue reading

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One of my favorite educational resources for children. Image: Triangle Square

One of my favorite educational resources for children. Image: Triangle Square

History books are often written by the victors — the big names in events. In school, we learn about a lot of names, dates, battles, laws, and movements. Less often do we read about the oppressed, the conquered, the silent, the every day folk. Howard Zinn changed all that for me when I read A People’s History of the United States in college.

Adapted from Howard Zinn‘s original, this juvenile version, A Young People’s History of the United States, is an eye-opening experience for children, especially those who have been taught the usual history material in school. Aimed for ages 10 and up, it simplifies Zinn’s original, shortening it, but still containing great detail and amounting in the same effect on children that the original had on me as a young adult.

“Wait, this is what history is about?”

My version is dark blue, since I read it in the early to mid 1990s, but this version has been updated to cover additional modern events. Image: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

My version is dark blue, since I read it in the early to mid 1990s, but this version has been updated to cover additional modern events. Image: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Indeed. While the original digs deeply into each chapter topic, giving detail after detail, this version for kids instead gives a look into each subject, whetting their appetite for more. Enough detail is given to make the reader feel like they have learned about real people and events, but chapters are short enough to read in one sitting, and are also great read-alouds.

Covering topics such as slavery, the “purchase” of parts of Mexico, women’s history, the revolution against England, class struggle, the world wars, and civil rights, this book tells history from the perspective of every day people, and is an important counterpoint to traditional education’s point. The truth of history isn’t just one side’s version. There is always at least one other version of events, and usually many more. Each one of these perspectives is another truth of what happened. While Zinn’s books don’t cover all possible perspectives, of course, they train us to remember to question what we read, searching for other stories, other experiences.

That’s what A People’s History of the United States did for me, and I hope that A Young People’s History of the United States will have the same effect on my kids. Reading through the chapters as a family allows us to discuss what we read and share our reactions and questions. Sometimes the chapters give us more questions than answers. This leads us to keep questioning, keep seeking more versions of truth. I hope these books inspire you and your family as well.

A Young People’s History of the United States costs about $15 and is worth every penny. It is also fantastic for more casual adult students of history, if Zinn’s larger work is more than you want to sink your teeth into. For those who love detail and immersion, the original A People’s History of the United States also costs about $15. Either one of these books is a great gift idea for any American history lover on your holiday shopping list. And if you won’t take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to Matt Damon.

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5 Observations on Comics and Fandom from NYCC http://geekdad.com/2014/10/observations-nycc/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/observations-nycc/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 11:00:33 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63842 I was one of the more than 150,000 people to descend upon NYC last weekend for New York Comic Con Continue reading

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nycc-logo-hi-resI was one of the more than 150,000 people to descend upon NYC last weekend for New York Comic Con (NYCC), the biggest mass media conglomeration on the East Coast. This is what I learned.

Say what you will about San Diego Comic Con, but New York is really where true comics love resides. After all, New York is the birthplace of the American comic book industry and the stomping ground for some of the worlds most celebrated superheroes. NYCC has grown so fast that this year’s con even surpassed San Diego in attendance.

Its been argued that television and film have overtaken comics as the major draw to the big con’s these days. This is my fourth year in a row attending NYCC and I would argue on the contrary; Comics still reign supreme.

There is so much more to New York Comic Con than simply previewing the teasers for new movies and television episodes we’ll all be able to see in a month’s time. Beyond the star-studded panels moderated by Chris Hardwick with Michael Keaton, George Clooney and the cast of The Walking Dead, New York Comic Con is really a celebration of comics and fandom.

With that in mind, here are five observations I made at this years event…

1) Geek Girls are NOT a minority. It’s easy to say that female fandom is on the rise, but honestly, that’s an ignorant observation overlooking the simple truth that women have always been a major part of fandom. Looking over the NYCC panel schedule, featuring panels with titles like “Marry, Do or Kill? What Will it Take to Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics?,” and cosplayers representing a new cast of great female superheroes like Ms. Marvel, Batgirl and the new female Thor, its not female fandom that’s on the rise, but rather, the acknowledgement of and respect for this fanbase by the industry. Finally, comic book publishers are starting to shed stereotypes and tropes and introduce great female characters. It’s a slow movement, but certainly one that is on the rise.

Even NYCC itself took strides to recognize that a change is necessary. As the topics of misogyny, intersectionality, sexual harassment and bullying are being discussed more openly within geek culture, NYCC took action by teaming with The Mary Sue to devise an anti-harassment initiative based on the idea that “cosplay is not consent.” As someone with two daughters who might someday want to attend the con with their dad, I for one fully endorse these strides.

The_Unbeatable_Squirrel_Girl_1_Cover

Source: Marvel

2) Marvel embrace the wonderfully weird. Unlike DC, who prefers darker storylines, Marvel is consistently embracing the weird and fun side of the superhero genre. I’m in the camp of people who think comic books should be fun. Marvel gets it. Just look at Guardians of the Galaxy, the highest grossing movie of 2014, a film with which Marvel have proven that weird works. Marvel revealed a promise to keep comics weird at NYCC, unveiling a new run for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and hinting at a cosmic Kitty Pryde/Star Lord relationship. Thanks Marvel, for knowing what fans want and creating superhero comics that cosmically appeal to the diversities of the entire comics reading audience.

3) DC Comics are confused. New York is the comic book capital of the world, and until 2013, home to the industries two mega-publishers, Marvel and DC. Marvel still calls NYC home, but last year, DC Comics moved their operations to Burbank, CA. The move was an obvious shift towards pivoting against Marvel’s successful cinematic universe, but some, myself included, feared the step would make DC lose their focus on comics. Lo and behold, the NYCC show floor had one striking absence this year; No DC Comics booth. Sure, DC had a slew of scheduled panels, lots of writers and artists in attendance and a nice display of Batman suits to celebrate Batman’s 75th anniversary, but no booth to celebrate the comics themselves.

This all leads to a point I’ve been considering for some time. Batman and Superman are undoubtedly the most classic superheroes of any comics publisher ever. These two heroes are DC’s bread and butter, and despite DC’s physical absence, Scott Snyder’s incredible Batman series is consistently the best-selling comic month after month. Does DC need a physical presence on the show floor to succeed? No. Or at least not for their Batman titles to succeed. But what about their other characters? In order for Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and even Superman to succeed, DC needs to showcase these characters in more than panel discussions with a limited audience. Fans want to experience DC, meet writers at a DC booth and take pictures with DC icons on the show floor. Marvel does it big, and fans flock to their booth more than any other. With DC announcing their new slate of movies this week, and those titles including a new attempt at a Green Lantern film, DC had better take Marvel’s lead and start building the hype around the comic books themselves.

BATMAN66_LostEpisode_VariantCover

Source: DC Comics

4) Comics are truly everywhere. Arguments that Comic Con is not about the comics are clearly false. Television and movies are taking over comics just as quickly as comic books are absorbing those same mediums. Just look around. Every major movie and TV panel at NYCC was somehow based in the world of comics. The Walking Dead, Gotham, The Flash, Constantine, Daredevil and Powers TV series’ are all based on comic books. Michael Keaton’s Birdman is about a former superhero actor. Big Hero 6, based on a comic. Look at the other side of it and you’ll see that some of the big comic book news from the Con revolved around new licensed books spun from popular movies and TV shows including Rick and Morty, Bobs Burgers, Sleepy Hollow and more. Marvel announced a new comic book title based off of their upcoming Agent Carter television series as well as teasing the slew of new Star Wars titles the company is launching in 2015. Hell, even DC announced a fun and exciting new TV/comic crossover. They revealed a new graphic novel bringing to life Harlan Ellison’s unproduced script that would have introduced Two-Face into the sixties Batman television series. Cross pollination is alive and well in mass media, and lots of it is revolving around comics.

5) Image Comics can’t be beat. While Marvel and DC have countless superhero books running simultaneously, IDW and BOOM! are excelling at licensed crossovers and other companies are trying to stay original, the greatest, most consistent company out there is Image. Not only are Image Comics running the best sci-fi series on the rack with Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga, they also may have the second best with Jay Faerber’s new space-western, Copperhead. They certainly have the most provocative and interesting series with Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals and now the scariest with Scott Snyder’s Wytches, the perfect book to read alongside Image’s other horror favorite, The Walking Dead. Image brought Copperhead to NYCC along with Ed Brubaker’s fantastic noir series Fade Out and a slew of other titles and creators. Simply walking past the Image booth was enough to say to myself, “wow, this really is the most creatively innovative publisher out there.” Looking for great comics? I recommend you start with Image.

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Everything Parents Need to Know about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel http://geekdad.com/2014/10/borderlands/ http://geekdad.com/2014/10/borderlands/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 10:00:42 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=63864 Here's a run down of what parents should know about Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. From what makes it an enjoyable game to what to watch out for. Continue reading

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Here’s a run down of what parents should know about Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. From what makes it an enjoyable game to what to watch out for.

Genre and story

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a first person shooting game where players shoot human enemies in a science fiction setting. The game can be played alone, but also in cooperation with online team mates.

This is the third game in the popular Borderlands series, which combines frenetic, colorful violence with eccentric characters over the top humor.

The ‘pre-sequel’ sub-title is a tongue in cheek reference to the game’s story being set between the events of Borderlands 1 and 2, charting the rise of Borderlands 2 villain Handsome Jack. The game promises to retain the series’ vivid cartoon graphics, offbeat humor and over the top violence, while the new setting of one of the moons of Pandora promises new environments and new game-play elements like zero gravity and oxygen tanks.

Developer

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel is developed by 2K Australia, a studio that has worked on the Bioshock series and X-Com: The Bureau, rather than by Gearbox, the studio that developed Borderlands 1 and 2. However, Gearbox have contributed to the game and overseen its development, so the Pre-Sequel should match its predecessors.

Format

The game is set for release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

Length

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel should take around twenty hours to complete, quicker for experienced players willing to skip side quests and tear through the main campaign. However the Borderlands series has always provided plenty of opportunity for repeat play-throughs as different characters or with different online friends, so the Pre-Sequel should keep fans busy for weeks.

Ratings (UK and Europe – PEGI)

In the UK PEGI rate Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel 18 with content descriptors for extreme violence, multiple motiveless killing, strong language, content that encourages or condones gambling, and that the game allows players to interact with other people online. PEGI states that ‘Violence consists mainly of your player shooting at human characters wearing post-apocalyptic clothing or futuristic armor, with a variety of guns. It’s fairly realistic with blood effects and corpses lying about.  The worst of the violence happens when you shoot at them causing meaty chunks and indeterminate body parts to go bouncing along the floor.’ PEGI also notes that the game involves the killing of unarmed people by the player, and that although sexual swearwords like ‘f%ck’ and ‘c%nt’ are bleeped in dialogue, it is clear what those words are, including in subtitles.

Ratings (US – ESRB)

In the USA the ESRB rate Borderlands The Pre-Sequel ‘M’ for ‘Mature’, suitable for over 17s, stating that game-play involves “pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, combat can be frenetic at times, highlighted by cries of pain and realistic gunfire; human enemies emit large splashes of blood when hit.” The ESRB also highlight that the game sometimes requires players to shoot unarmed opponents to complete missions, and that dialogue involves swearing and sexual references including ‘asshole, ‘prick’ and ‘bitch’.

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media’s preview of the game says that parents need to know that “Players can expect to spend the bulk of their time engaged in frenetic fire fights with human enemies who scream in pain and spray red gushes of blood when hit. Mature themes are likely to include skimpily dressed female characters and occasional references to sexuality in spoken dialogue.”

Themes

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel addresses the possibility of good intentions leading to terrible outcomes, with Handsome Jack descending into villainy and becoming the monster we know from the sequel. To this end, expect to be made uncomfortable as you pursue enemies who turn out to be not all bad, while the player characters morally lose their way.

Why people play

The Borderlands series has been a breath of colorful, loud and irreverent air into the stale and muddily macho genre of first person shooters, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel continues that tradition. As well as plenty of loot to find and carnage to cause there’s the treat of playing as a Claptrap, one of the series’ signature deranged robots.

Finally, this is a rare last generation exclusive as major action games move largely to the PS4 and Xbox One, so fans of the older consoles should appreciate this.

More 2 Minute Guides in the Family Gamer TV Playlist.

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