Thursday, December 18, 2014

Is Walking with Dinosaurs Scary? Educational? Scientifically Accurate?



Last night our family was invited to see the Seattle-area opening night of Walking with Dinosaurs.   We are a group of cynics, and I expected seven year old Kitty to be the only one truly impressed with the show.  Fourteen year old Nate was mad that we were dragging him away from the house to see the animatronic/puppet dinos, and he was very vocal about his displeasure.  It didn't help that we got caught in hellacious traffic, and the normally 45 minute ride from our home in North Seattle to the Tacoma Dome took two hours (I had planned an extra 45 minutes into our time to account for traffic, but still missed a special behind-the-scenes tour, which was a bummer.  When are we supposed to get those robot cars, again?).

I am pleased to report that everyone left the show with a smile on their face.  Walking with Dinosaurs is a huge spectacle; from the giant teeth surrounding the stage to the whimsy of the inflatable, changing foliage, there is a lot going on on the arena floor.  No where can you see the bulk of this show's $20 Million budget better than on the dinosaurs themselves, though.

The combo animatronic/remote control/human powered puppets were really where we thought they'd lose us.  We were expecting some clunky four wheelers with paper mache dino bodies smacked on top. We were pleasantly surprised to experience very real looking dinosaurs. These are beautifully crafted, expertly puppeteered creatures.  Even after realizing that this was indeed a first-class show, Super-Dad and I joked when they brought out a baby brachiosaurus, explaining that the adults actually grew to the height of a three storey house. "Makes sense, they'd show us a juvenile" I said to SD "how the heck would they make a three storey tall dinosaur puppet?" Guess what walked on stage just then?  A giant, life-sized, adult brachiosaur. It was HUGE, you guys.  SD's jaw dropped, I gasped, both kids had huge smiles on their faces, it was great!

Is Walking with Dinosaurs scary?
I've already have had a few people on Twitter ask if it was too scary for little kids.  I'd say that it was suspenseful, but not really scary.  There are some very loud T-Rex roars, and a sort of scary "comet strike" near the end, but those were the scariest moments. The show has a theatrical score, which was beautiful, but just like in the movies it really punched up the more suspenseful scenes.

Is Walking with Dinosaurs violent?
Well, it's about dinosaurs, who we don't normally think of as warm and cuddly.  The most upsetting part of the show for my 7 year old happened in the first few minutes when a baby dinosaur was snapped up by a predator.  It wasn't scary, and it happened in a quick and matter-of-fact way, but Kit was definitely distraught.  There is also a fight where a Torosaurus loses a horn, and is rammed in the side by another Torosaurus, though (like the few other fights depicted in the show) there is no blood or wounds shown.

Is Walking with Dinosaurs scientifically accurate?
The shows producers insist it is.  And while I'm no Paleontologist, I am a proponent of presenting audiences, especially young audiences, with the most scientifically accurate info.  Everything presented seemed to jive with what *I* understand to be the most up to date scientific information.

Is Walking with Dinosaurs educational?
The show is presented by an actor playing a Paleontologist, who guides us through the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, introducing us to the geography, flora, and climate of the time, and then bringing out a few dinosaurs for dramatic vignettes.  If your child is dino-obssesed, there may not be a whole lot here they didn't know.  Then again, if your child is dino-obssesed just seeing a life sized Tyrannosaurus Rex  will probably be pretty exciting.

How long is Walking with Dinosaurs?
I've seen a few reviews online where bloggers complain about the short length of the show .  It was two 35 minute acts with a 20 minute intermission in between.  We found it to be the perfect amount of time for our family.  The 35 minute acts were jam-packed and no one got bored or looked at their watch.  The 20 minute intermission allowed us all to have a bathroom break and grab a beverage.

Walking with Dinosaurs plays the Tacoma Dome through December 21, 2014.  Discount codes for select shows can be found here.

For more information and to see when Walking with Dinosaurs is playing in your area visit www.dinosaurlive.com


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: Samsung Galaxy Gear 2

The original Galaxy Gear in smashing rose gold (bottom), and the much improved Galaxy Gear 2 (top, with Pip-Boy watch face)
As we march headlong into 'the future is now!' one of the big new fields is wearable tech. I am all about metrics and data and information, so as soon as the Galaxy Gear became available, I wanted one. Super-Dad got me a Samsung Galaxy Gear (original version, in rose gold of course ) for our anniversary last year - my kind of jewelry! Sometimes being an early adopter has its disappointments. The general concepts are there, answering calls and texts from your wrist, a camera, and a pedometer; they just aren't executed super well. I found the software to be buggy and the hardware to be clunky. The camera is inconveniently placed and constantly brushed against stuff. The charging port was a ridiculous contraption that wrapped around the entire watch face. But, this isn't a review of the Original Galaxy Gear, it’s a review of the far superior follow up attempt, the Galaxy Gear 2.

The Galaxy Gear 2 may only be a second generation device, but in this age of super fast development cycles, that means more than it once did. The interface has improved dramatically, with significantly less bugginess than the original. It has a great list of features including IR (can be used to screw with your friends’ TVs! Or just to change the channel on your own set ) a heart rate monitor, a more accurate pedometer, and a sleep monitor. The Gear 2 also offers a more robust list of apps from which you can get notifications. SD is a constantly on call Systems Engineer, and the ability to check these alerts for urgency without fumbling around for his phone it great. It offers him both quick convenience and subtlety when we are out and about. This has been the true selling point for him. He, like so many of us, had given up on wearing a watch. It’s a relic in a time when everyone has a phone in their pocket. He was reminded of how convenient it is to easily check the time from your wrist, and the Gear 2 has the added bonus of allowing you to also check message and mail. It’s quite the time saver.

The ability to customize the watch has greatly improved since the original Galaxy hit the scene as well. There are a ton of watch faces available whether you want a fancy multiface analog style watch or something a little more geeky, like the Fallout Pip-Boy display.

The hardware has also gone through a major update with the two major design flaws - the obtrusive camera lens and the bulky charger - both being replaced with sleeker more integrated design. The charging port is still a separate piece that snaps onto the back of the watch face, and a downside to it being smaller is that it’s much easier to potentially lose. I’d find a permanent home for it, and just leave it plugged in.

Super-Dad did accidentally “wrist dial” people a few times. Mostly me, but it did lead to at least one awkward conversation with a business associate. SD also found that the icons would rearrange themselves on the home screen, which was annoying. These complaints could be avoided by addressing one of our other complaints and adding a lock screen. The Gear 2’s accelerometer also locked up once during the three weeks he tested it. This went unnoticed for a few days, SD just figured it wasn't tracking sleep for some reason,  but was easily fixed with by restarting.

So what’s the verdict? Well, our Gear 2 is on loan from AT&T for review purposes, and SD really doesn't want to give it back. Guess it’s a good thing that Christmas is just a few short days away. The Gear 2 would make a great gift for any Samsung Galaxy user. I can actually see it being really practical for our teen as well. Phones are supposed to stay in pockets at school, but a watch is a useful tool and a watch that also gives my ADHD kid reminders? I think that could be pretty great.

You can check out AT&T’s collection of wearable devices here: http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/accessories/wearables.html

And you can see the whole family of Galaxy Wearables here: http://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/wearable-tech/all-products??cid=ppc-ce-wea-0614-43700002117091018

I was not compensated for this post, I was offered the Galaxy Gear 2, on loan, for reivew purposes from AT&T.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs - Discount Code

Kitty is seven years old, and like many seven year olds, she is obsessed with dinosaurs.  So I'm really excited that the folks from Walking with Dinosaurs invited us to join them for opening night in the Seattle area!  We haven't yet seen the show, but are looking forward to what the creators bill as a "$20,000,000 spectacular".



I will be posting a review of the show the night of the 17th, so if you're on the fence about seeing it when it comes to your town, keep an eye out!

For more information on the show and for dates near you: http://www.dinosaurlive.com/

For my Seattle area readers:
For tickets and more info visit: http://www.tacomadome.org/

Discount codes for Parenting Geekly Readers:
$5 off Price Level 2: $44.50 (reg. $49.50)

$3 off Price Level 3: $26.50 (reg. $29.50)
Offer Code: KIDFUN

Valid on all Tacoma Dome shows except Sat 11am/3pm & Sun 1pm

Tips for Buying your Kids a Smartphone this Holiday



I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet. With the exception of one gift for each kid, I have yet to check anything off my list! Nate really wants a new smartphone this year. He has been getting our hand me down phones, so it might be time for a new phone all his own to put under the tree


I'm pretty phone saavy, and I'm sure most of my readers are as well, but this list from AT&T has some great reminders. I know that I want a quad core processor, unlimited data and a durable case, but sometimes I go into the store and have an "Oooh, shiny!"moment and forget all that. I love the idea of bringing a checklist. This is especially helpful if you plan is to buy whatever phone is a good deal. If it's not one of the big two (iPhone or Samsug Galaxy S series) you may not be as familiar with the specs. Keeping a list with you will make sure you get exactly what you want for the best price.

Here are the tips from AT&T:

Smartphone Buying Tips for Parents
When it comes time to buy your child his or her first smartphone, there are several considerations and decisions to make. Determine exactly how your child plans to use the new cell phone. Parents can alleviate confusion and potential disappointment by finding out this key information before buying a phone.

Parents may want to prioritize the features of a wireless device that will be most important to their child, so they can narrow down the choices and make a wise purchase decision. Wireless carrier stores offer a wide variety of options. For example, AT&T stores stock nearly 70 wireless phones. There’s a device that’s just right for everyone; you just need to know what features will be most useful. Consider ranking the child’s mobile wish list using these criteria:
  • Text messaging
  • Send/receive e-mail
  • Social media
  • Take and share photos
  • Games
  • Listen to streaming music and mp3 files of music they already own
  • Watching TV (YouTube or streaming video)
  • Apps
  • Browsing Web
  • Video chat
Bring the list of priorities along when shopping for a wireless phone. A store salesperson can then offer several devices in a variety of price ranges that will meet those needs. If a child enjoys video games and streaming video, a smartphone with larger display screens may be a better choice. It’s also helpful to know how a child will use the phone when selecting the right voice and data plan. Streaming audio and video use more data than email and social media posts, so the mobile data plan you select should match how the phone will be used to avoid any surprises later.

After selecting a wireless phone, mobile protection insurance should also be on the shopping list. Anyone can drop a phone, no matter their age. Another key decision a parent should make is whether to choose a wireless device that requires a contract or not. The latter may be a good option for a parent trying to teach a child financial responsibility—the parent may purchase the device and make the child pay the monthly cost of voice, data and texting. A no-contract option has no activation charge or contract. Choices of prepaid phones range from basic voice phones to quick messaging devices all the way up to smartphones.



I was not compensated for this post, I just think there are some smart considerations here. Thanks, AT&T.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Help Sesame Street Celebrate their 45th Birthday on this Giving Tuesday



Last month Sesame Street celebrated its 45th Birthday!  If you've read this blog before you know that not only am I a huge fan of the show, but I am a big supporter of Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind the television production. This being Giving Tuesday, I encourage you to make a donation to Sesame Workshop, or any non-profit that you support.

The story of Sesame Street's creation is an amazing one, and lots has been written about it (I recommend Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street and Sesame Street: A Celebration of 40 Years of Life on the Street)  Here are the highlights:

Sesame Street and the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) were created by Joan Ganz Cooney, a woman who was compelled to work in educational television as soon as she learned that such a thing existed.  She originally appiled to be a publicist for her local station, but upon being told that they needed producers, she told them that she could do that, despite never having done it before. She's said: "I've never been qualified for any job I've been hired for". This is a woman who heard her calling and went for it.  She's one of my personal heroes, and I hope some day to get to tell her that in person.

Anyway, Cooney had this idea that they could take the addictive properties of television, a concern that was already being expressed by the mid 60's, and turn them into a way to benefit children.  Children's Television Workshop was started and conducted over two years of research on the best ways to prepare children for school through the medium of television.

For many kids, it was the only program on television that showed a street like theirs, in a neighborhood like theirs, with neighbors like theirs.  Sesame Street, the place, was gritty and urban. The people in the neighborhood were white, latino, and black.  They showcased kids and adults who were deaf and in wheelchairs.  Some grownups were hippies, some were preppies (Bob!).  There were women in the fix-it shop and women who were moms.  There have been births, deaths (my surrogate grandfather Mr. Hooper!), divorce and deployment.  Sesame Street showcased the reality of many of its young, urban viewers, something was revolutionary then, and still rare now.

By 1979 (the year *I* started watching Sesame Street) over nine million kids were watching Sesame Street daily.  I watched Sesame Street every single day from about age one until I was probably developmentally way too old to be watching it.  My parents couldn't really afford early childhood education for us, and my mother cites Sesame Street as a big reason that I was an early talker, an early reader, and was educationally ready for kindergarten.

These days Sesame Workshop works around the globe to help young children cope with the issues that affect them. Their current initiatives in the U.S. include fighting childhood obesity, a program to help children grieving the loss of a parent, and a program to help children in families who are experiencing job loss/economic uncertainty.  In Indonesia two thirds of children watch Jalan Sesama, the local version of Sesame Street, which aims to teach children in super diverse Indonesian archipelago about their share cultural identity.  In India, Galli Galli Sim Sim, actually comes to the children.  A repurposed vegetable cart outfitted with a DVD player travels to the Indian slums, giving the children there access to an early childhood education program.

I wholeheartedly believe that if we wish to see great change in our world, we need to educate our children.  All of our children, all over the world.  Sesame Workshop is doing just that,  Happy, happy birthday to my friends at Sesame Street.  And many, many returns.

For more information and to donate to Sesame Workshop visit their website at SesameWorkshop.org

Book links are affiliate links through amazon.com.  Any purchase made through those links makes me a few pennies (literally pennies) which help me pay for the upkeep for the site. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Win Tickets to See ANNIE Before it Hits Theaters (Seattle) and a Gift Pack (US)

On Saturday night, Nate was hanging out at a friend's house, and we were looking for something to do.  We saw that the original Annie was on Netflix, so Super-Dad, Kitty, and I  cuddled up on the couch and watched.  Kitty LOVED it.  She maybe didn't love the vocal accompaniment that SD and I provided (I thought we were pretty good), but she is *so* into Annie.
I'm glad she got a chance to see it before the remake of ANNIE hits theaters on December 19th.  Totally coincidentally, two days after we watched the original Annie, the folks over at Columbia pictures asked if I'd like to offer my Seattle readers VIP tickets for an advance screening of ANNIE on December 13th at 10:30 AM at Pacific Place.  There will be three winners!  Two of you will win passes for four, and one runner up will win passes for two.  Your passes will enable you to enter the theater and choose your seats before the rest of the line.  To enter, use the first rafflecopter form below.

Don't live in Seattle, but still a fan of ANNIE?  Don't fret!  Columbia Pictures has a gift pack filled with collectible ANNIE items that anyone in the U.S. can enter to win.  The pack includes: an ANNIE T-Shirt, fuzzy socks, a poster and a plush Sandy.  To enter to win this pack, use the second rafflecopter form below.



Enter to win either a 4 pack (2 winners) or a two-pack (1 winner) of VIP Tickets to the preview screening of ANNIE on December 13th at 10:30 AM at Pacific Place in Downtown Seattle (Seattle and vicinity only)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win a Promotional Gift Pack of ANNIE Merchandise (open to all residents of the US)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Amazon Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition Review

Kitty teaching her cousin about the states at a local Red Robin.  Making dinner time education time!
With the holidays coming up we were starting to toss around the idea of getting Kitty her own tablet. Her desire to use my laptop and my tablet was beginning to take a toll on both my productivity and my hardware.

Super-Dad and I made a list of the features we would want if we were to buy her her own device. She is reading now, so a tablet with a good e-reader was a must. She loves to watch PBS shows on Netflix, so the ability to install common apps was also high on the list . After a bit of going over what it was we wanted, we actually decided against getting her a device. We don’t generally buy things made specifically for kids since A) Our kids are pretty savvy (as I am sure many of my readers’ kids are) and B)They inevitability outgrow them and then you have an expensive paperweight. Anything that would meet our expectations would be too expensive and fragile to risk her breaking it - and one of Kitty’s nicknames is “The Destroyer of Things”.

Then came the Amazon Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition. It launched last month and kinda flew under my radar. Frankly, even if I had seen it, I would have assumed all it promised was too good to be true. Well, two weeks ago Amazon gave me a Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition, and it has lived up to all of its promises and more. While it’s no longer an option for our holiday giving to Kit, it should definitely be on your gift list.

If you are going to buy your kids a tablet this holiday season, I strongly recommend the Amazon Fire Kindle HD Kids Edition. Here's why:


  • It’s Kitty Proof - Even The Destroyer of Things can’t hurt this sucker. Made of super tough Gorilla Glass and wrapped in a “Kid-Proof Case” it’s not going to be easy for her to break. The case is a lightweight rubbery/foamy material that surrounds the whole device like a bumper. It also has adds a surface for small hands to grip.
  • Two year No Questions Asked Warranty - Even if she does somehow break it, it is covered under a two year no questions asked guarantee. I asked if that for sure covered user-caused damaged. Ya know, like if it accidentally fell into a toilet? To which the awesome folks at Amazon replied “No questions asked, if it stops working within the two years, we will replace it”. That is UNHEARD of, and I’m sure will be very welcome in most households with “spirited” children like mine.
  • Sooo many apps - The Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition comes with one year of Amazon Freetime, a hand-curated subscription of over 5,000 kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. After the one year period is up the Freetime App is still a huge value at $2.99/month for Amazon Prime Members and $4.99/month for everyone else. This is AMAZING you guys. There are books and videos featuring Disney characters, Nickelodeon shows, PBS Kids content and so much more. There are tons of leveled readers, lots of great educational apps and a selection of entertainment videos and games. Kitty has been using this thing practically non-stop for two weeks and has yet to say that she is bored with the content.
  • The parental controls were clearly designed by parents - besides having the ability to control exactly which of the Freetime content you want your kids to have access to, you can control when they can have it. The Freetime parental controls contain Wake up and Bed Time settings and kids are locked out of the device outside of that time frame. What we really, really love though, is that we can lock Kit out of any of the “entertainment” content until she has met certain educational goals. Kitty gets a total of two hours of screen time a day( not counting reading time, which is unlimited), but before she can access iCarly or the Hair Salon game, she has to read in the reading app for 30 minutes on school nights and 45min on weekends, use any of the educational apps for 30 minutes(right now Stack the States is the favorite, and has given her the ability to put all 50 states on the map! She’s seven! I can’t even do that! ) and watch an educational video (Wild Kratts and BrainPOP are the current winners in that category) and only then can she watch or play what Freetime has marked as entertainment. She has always been a reluctant reader, and this has helped immensely. I like, want to find the person who came up with this idea and buy them a coffee. It has the reward built right in. We don’t have to nag or police her. If she wants the tablet to do something other than read, she’s gotta read. You can fine tune these settings at any time, so if we take a road trip, or she’s stuck in bed sick, we can give her more time. If she’s having a hard week listening, we can give her less.
  • It’s a real tablet - This thing has real tablet specs. It’s the Kindle Fire HD with the Kids stuff on top. When she is done for the night, I log onto my profile and watch a show in bed before I fall asleep. I have access to any app in Amazon’s app store. I watch Netflix on the HD display, the quad-core processor means everything runs smoothly and looks great, and it has a 2MP camera for photos and 1080p HD video. You can skype and it looks pretty good.
  • It may be a real tablet, but it was designed for kids - Amazon told me that they started from the ground up when developing a tablet for children. It boots directly into kids mode (no “Mommy, wake up, I need you to put in the password!”) and is intuitive for even the youngest non-readers to use. The lack of physical home and back buttons takes a little getting used to, but as with many tech related “issues” Kitty got used to that before the adults did.


The only real detractor here is the $2.99/$4.99 monthly price tag for the Freetime after your first year is up. It is an added expense, and the parental controls go away with it, but I think that it is such a good value for all the content that you get that I can’t even complain about that too much. When the time comes, I will happily pay it. Practically unlimited books alone is worth that tiny price tag.

I was given an Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition to facilitate this review, but my love for it is all my own. If a tablet for a kid is on your shopping list this holiday season, this is a good bet.

The Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition starts at $149 and includes a case, a two year Worry Free Guarantee and one year of Amazon Freetime. ( if you buy from that link I get some pennies [literally a few cents] to help with blog maintenance.
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