Thursday, March 29, 2012

Taking your kids to Emerald City Comic Con?

Comic Con season is upon us. In the past I posted guidelines on bringing your kids to PAX. I was just going to rerun that article in anticipation of tomorrow’s Emerald City Comic Con, but realized that PAX and a comic conventions are two different beasts entirely. That’s great news for nerdy parents, though; I’ve found that comic shows are way more child friendly than PAX. So some of the info here is a repeat of that, but there are some tips specific to comic cons as well. And if you aren’t bringing your kids (yay for you!) I suggest heading over to my friend The Geeky Hostess’ website where she has some great general con etiquette info.

This will be my eighth year attending Emerald City, and my kids have come with me for at least part of the time every year. Kit made her first ECCC visit at under a month old. I was working at that show and it was the first time I was away from her for longer than a trip to the grocery store. I wound up having to pump in the ladies room. Save the breast-milk-in-the-bathroom episode, we have always had a great time.

Tips for attending Emerald City Comic Con (or any comic show ) with kids:

Stay Healthy. Cons are germy places. Bring Hand sanitizer and use it often. I’m not the biggest fan of hand sanitizer (and would recommend you use an alcohol based one as opposed to Triclosan), but cons are one place where they are appropriate. I have recommended Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers before they even make little rubber sanitizer holsters that you can loop onto your belt loop, purse, swag bag or baby carrier. Let your kid pick their own scent, give them a little bottle of their own and make sure they use it often. Remind them that it hasn’t worked until it has dried. Bring disinfectant wipes to wipe tables and game pieces. Most importantly: wash your hands as often as possible. You need to wash them with warm water and keep the soap on your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door, there was a recent study that found that one third of men – and only slightly fewer women – don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Then they use their dirty hands to open the door, ewww!

Stay fed and hydrated. Food is available in the convention center, and at restaurants around it, but the choices aren’t great and the waits are long, not good when you have a cranky, hypoglycemic kid. We brought Fruit roll-ups, trail mix, pre-packaged apple slices and cheese sticks in a little insulated bag. Be conscientious, eat in designated areas and bring foods that aren’t messy. Give each person in your party their own water bottle. You’ll be on your feet all day and it’s easy to get dehydrated. Refill your bottles often and drink up!

Bring a baby carrier. If you have a kid little enough to tote around in a sling, Moby, Ergo or backpack carrier bring it. Strollers are discouraged on the floor of the main exhibition hall and toting a little one around in a carrier frees up your hands.

Bring a Camera. There are tons of photo ops to be had, from cosplaying attendees to cool promotional displays to pose in front of.  

Be polite to celebrities. Even if you don’t stand in line to wait for an autograph, you will likely see notable people on the convention floor. If they are clearly being escorted to/from somewhere with a ECCC Staff member, leave them alone. If you are in a position to say hello, do just that. Say hello, offer a brief platitude and then leave them be. If your kid is a fan, introduce them, but don’t force conversation. I would happily have a conversation with anyone, from Edward James Olmos to the guy selling used collectables but Nate is much more reserved than I am. He’s happy to stand and admire his favorite celebrities from a distance, talking to them makes him crazy nervous. He’s 11, that’s fine.  

Talk to the writers and artists. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by the comic creators. They are all there because they want to share what they do with the public. If you’re not familiar with someone ask them what they’re working on. Who knows? You may find a new favorite.  

Try not to embarrass your kids. I once told Felicia Day a funny story about Nate calling her Tina Fey and then commenting on the similarities between their names. Nate was mortified. That’s nothing compared to some of the scantily clad cosplayers I’ve seen with kids in tow. Or the guy making his daughter stand next to every celebrity and guest in the hall. On the other hand, Nathan STILL talks about getting to play Rock Band with Wil Wheaton, an opportunity he wouldn’t have had if I hasn’t made him. Know your kid and what they are comfortable with, and then try to respect their boundaries.

“Look with your eyes, not your hands” My mom used to tell us that when we were at an antique store, or in the china department. The advice applies at Comic Con, too. You’d be surprised at the rare /valuable/breakable things vendors just have laying on their tables. Be mindful of what your kids are touching.  

Take a lot of breaks. The kids will tire faster than you do. Sometimes being a good parent means that we have to pull ourselves away from all the fun and just go sit. If you are staying at a hotel nearby, go back to your room for a nap. Leave the convention center and go sit in the surrounding park. If you have a three day pass, go home early. You don’t have to stay every hour all three days with a cranky kid. Most years the kids only go for one day because it’s just too much, and one day is PLENTY for them.  

Skip the panels. While they’re interesting to you, your kid will probably be bored and cranky. I’m a big proponent of NOT putting kids in situations that are bound to lead to what will appear to the average non-breeder as “misbehavior”. Making your kid wait in a long line just so they can sit still and be quiet is a formula for disaster.

Make a plan. Use the Emerald City Comic Con’s website to look over all the panels (if you must), check the event schedule and look at the long list of guests and exhibitors. If there is something or someone you have to see, make an agenda. If you or your kids are fans of a certain comic book, bring some copies to have signed.

Tag-team. If you are planning on bringing your kids the best thing I can tell you to bring is another able-bodied adult. If you can switch off on child care duties you will have a better chance of getting to see a panel you really want to check out something more mature in nature.

Make it easy to be found. Stick a business card in your kid’s pocket, or consider getting some Safety Tats. Either option makes it easy for your kid to contact you if you get separated. Staff members will be wearing distinctive T-shirts, make sure your kids know what they look like in case they need to find help. One of my readers (thanks, Gina C.) suggested via the Parenting Geekly Facebook page that parents wear a distinctive color to make it easier to find you in a sea of black T-shirts.

Be prepared to spend. There is plenty to buy including limited editions, games, shirts and toys and most kids will ask for at least something. I suggest setting a spending limit before you leave home. We tell our kids how much they can spend and then don’t let them spend it until they’ve done a loop around the convention center. Otherwise they spend their money on the first thing they say and then regret it one table later. Also, be aware that almost all of the media guests charge an autograph and photograph fee (usually $20-$50).

Bring a Backpack (or a tote if you have a backpack carrier) and have the kids carry one too. There is a lot of swag to be had, and if you don’t give the kids a way to carry their own, you’ll be carrying two times the amount of junk around.

Most importantly, have fun! This is a great opportunity for your kids to see what the geek community is all about. My kids look forward to it every year. If you have any tips to add please share in the comments!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The best Dowton Abbey parody so far.

I (like most women and many men in America) am a huge fan of Downton Abbey.  There have been quite a few spoofs circulating, but this one from Yahoo!'s Sketchy web series seriously cracked me up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guest Post: 5 Comic Books for Kids

Author Info:
Sara is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor of nanny agency.  You can reach her at

Comic book superheroes are a pinnacle part of most of our childhoods. Who wasn’t been left in awe as Superman took off flying through the sky or Spiderman crawled onto walls and ceilings? They represent a higher power that we yearned to be a part of and even idolized. However as society continues to move forward and focuses on more risqué and provocative story lines and characters it can be hard to want our kids to indulge in the same comic book adoration that we did growing up. Luckily there are still classic, child-friendly comic books out there:
Teen Titans GO!
Teen Titans GO! is a spin-off from the popular television series Teen Titans and the older comic book series The New Teen Titans which focuses on five main teen superheroes and several lesser characters that are unique to the comic book series. There isn’t a lot of overlapping in each issue, making them easy to pick up no matter what the edition, and quick, fun reads for comic book-loving kids

Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four features a family of four individuals who each have a certain superpower skill that allows them to help combat evil. What makes the Fantastic Four different from most superheroes is that they were open about their superpowers instead of hiding behind alter-egos. The success of the Fantastic Four led to several different spin-offs, but the original comic series is still a popular and kid-friendly choice to read.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane
The comic book choices specified for girls is generally slim-pickings, but this series holds strong for female comic lovers. Set in a high school scene, it follows Spider-Man, Peter Parker, and Mary Jane and their blossoming love for each other. It also follows more of Mary Jane’s story then the typical Spider-Man focus.

The Avengers
The Avengers has long been hailed as one of the most popular team of superheroes, and your kids will probably recognize them on an individualized hero level such as the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man from their popular movies. The comic series catalogues their adventures as the Avengers team working in union to rid the world of evil villains.

Looney Tunes
All your favorite Looney Tunes characters come together in this comic book series with good, clean humor that your kids will love reading. Their zany adventures are immortalized within the comic book pages and are classics to pass from generation to generation.
Cultivating comic book appreciation doesn’t have to be put on the back burner until your kids are older. Despite a push for more lavish and seductive comics and cartoons, there are still good, clean comics out there that you can rest easy in your child reading.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I want to be THAT when I grow up: Mission Control edition

Last August I was fortunate enough to be part of a NASA tweetup celebrating the final shuttle mission, STS-135.  While there I met a lot of super cool people, both fellow STEM and space enthusiasts as well as lots of passionate NASA employees and contractors.  After the official tweetup activities (riding the shuttle simulator!) were over, several people involved with NASA met the attendees for dinner.  I was lucky enough to be sitting across from the delightful Holly Griffith.  Holly was getting ready to end her position with Shuttle mission control (since there would no longer be a shuttle program) but was excited that she had the opportunity to move over to the International Space Station team.

Since "I work at Mission Control" is one of the coolest answers to "What do you do?" I asked Holly if she'd be willing to answer a few questions for us. She kindly obliged:


What is your job title?

ISS OSO (Operations Support Officer) flight controller

How long have you held this job specifically, and how long have you worked at Johnson Space Center?

 I have held the ISS job since August 1, just after STS-135 landed. I've worked at Johnson Space Center since March 2004 as an Electrical Power Systems flight controller for the Space Shuttle until August 1. I interned in Huntsville, AL, doing some work with Marshall Spaceflight Center when I was in college.

What does Mission Control do in general? How is working on the ISS side of things different than working in the shuttle program?

 If you’ve ever seen Apollo 13, that’s an excellent portrayal of what Mission Control does. Mission Control monitors all of the data coming down from the vehicle. Whenever there’s a problem, we respond to that using various procedures. Everyone in Mission Control is responsible for their own system – you have the electrical system, environmental system, communications system, etc, led by the Flight Director.  Shuttle and ISS are VERY different – in Shuttle, there were different certifications for ascent, orbit, and entry. In ISS there’s just the orbit phase of flight. In Shuttle missions would launch, complete the mission objectives, and come back home. Any problems that we would have on Shuttle during a mission could be fixed on the ground in between missions. That’s not true with ISS – the astronauts have to do all of their own maintenance and repairs so it’s a bit of a challenge sometimes. We thought of Shuttle missions like a sprint, and ISS is more like a marathon.

What do you do on a typical day?

A typical day as a newbie coming in on the ISS side...lots of classes and reading!!! We need to know every nook and cranny of ISS, so that means learning as much as you can by taking the classes that are required in our training flow and self-study. Once that’s finished, I’ll move into the sim flow. This means that I’ll be sitting on console again working sims (simulations), where we have the flight control team in Mission Control and the astronauts in another building in a training mockup and our training team throws failures at us. They make it look like different pieces of equipment are failing and we have to try and fix it in a certain amount of time. This can be anything from a light burning out to loss of all cooling on board the station.

Do you still get a thrill out of talking to people in space? (I still won’t shut up about getting to talk to the ISS on my tweetup, I can’t imagine that thrill ever totally diminishes).

I don't talk to them personally but I do communicate with them via notes or email. It never gets old to see something you wrote make it on board.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Simulations, or ‘sims’. We have the whole MCC team on console in a pretend mission scenario. The training team throws failures at us and we have to figure out how to fix them.

What is your least favorite part of the job?

Those normal office days with meetings or lots of reading or paperwork. Even though so much of our job is ridiculously exciting, we still have those days where we’re in front of our computers reading email or going to lots of meetings. In that regard I’d say it’s just like any other job even though the topic of the emails or meetings may be more interesting.

 What is an aspect of Mission Control that an outsider would find surprising?

We work with a lot of funny people who like to laugh and have fun. We understand the seriousness of our jobs but we also know that you have to have fun while you do it or you won’t be very good at it. As a flight controller technical knowledge is obviously very important, but even more important is communication. You have to be able to communicate a very detailed problem in your system to someone else who doesn’t know as much about your system as you do and you have to do it in a timely manner.

The flight director is in charge of Mission Control and has final say on all decisions. Flight directors are former flight controllers – so if a flight director was in the propulsion system before, and I’m a controller in the electrical system and there’s a failure, I have to be able to explain not only the failure but what my recommendation is to fix it and why I think it’s the right thing to do – all in minutes or less.  Then imagine if there’s a failure in the communications system – that officer has to do the same thing for their system and the flight director has to take all of this information into account and make a final decision about what’s more important and what course of action we’ll take.

We're not all the straight-edge hardcore engineers that you see on TV. We laugh a lot. We tell a lot of jokes. We have food ops! But we always know that the crew's safety is our number 1 priority. It's an amazing group of people who are great at what they do :)

What is the geekiest part of your job?

It’s rocket science – it’s all geeky!!!

If a kid wanted to pursue a career as a Mission Control worker what should they study or what skills should they acquire now that will help them in college or the early part of their career?

They should study mechanical, electrical, or aerospace engineering. They need to be good at science and math, but they also need to be able to think critically. We have procedures for some failures but a lot of failures that we see are things we never thought about so you have to be able to take a step back, look at all of the information that you do have, and based on what you know as an engineer and your system you need to be able to put the puzzle pieces together and decide what it is you’re seeing and what you think we need to do to fix it.  On STS-117 some of the Russian computers that controlled the attitude of the ISS went down.  We had never seen that before.  Luckily Shuttle was docked, so we were able to use the Shuttle’s jets to control the attitude.  But, this was a big failure and we didn’t know how long it would take to solve it.  Shuttle had a limited amount of “gas” – Oxygen and Hydrogen for its fuel cells – to stay on orbit. After awhile that would eventually run out. Think about it like your house – if you keep your lights on, your AC running, and always watch TV, you use more electricity. The more electricity we used the more gas we used. So we came up with a plan to turn off a lot of equipment in Shuttle that wasn’t essential to save gas and be able to stay up in space and docked to ISS longer to give the engineers on the ground more time to figure out the problem. Eventually we did so our efforts had been worth it.

That’s a long answer, but it shows that you have to be able to think outside of the box. It wasn’t just that the computers had failed, it was everything else that was affected that we had to think about. My system was the electrical system and had to coordinate with all of the other systems in order to power things down. For that, communication and teamwork were just as essential as technical knowledge.

When I got to visit you at JSC, it seemed like there were a lot of female employees, many in STEM positions.  In your experience would you say that you are still in a male dominated field?

It’s still male dominated but it's not bad. Overall women only make up about 20% of total engineers, so it’s not unrealistic to expect there to be more men than women. In this job you have to trust your fellow flight controllers otherwise bad things happen, regardless of gender. I have heard that women are naturally better at flight control due to the amount of communication involved, but I don’t have any numbers to back that up.

What other geeky hobbies or interests do you have?

Video games (Skyrim & Star Wars: The Old Republic right now), reading (I’m in the middle of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book: ‘Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier’), watching TV (Big Bang Theory of course!, The Clone Wars, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park are just a few of my faves), podcasts (StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe), and spoiling my cat – Star.   I actually have a Star Wars room in my house so I’m always on the lookout for new things to add to it. I have the autographs of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Jeremy Bulloch, Dave Filoni, and Marina Sirtis (yes, I know she’s Star Trek, but she fits in). I was able to tour Skywalker Ranch last year and that was unbelievable.

I’ll be speaking at South by Southwest this weekend on how to get more people interested in the space program, and I’m working on ideas for a presentation tying science and science fiction and how they influence each other. If you can think of anything, let me know!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Muppets gets a sequel

Fresh off their Oscar win for Best Song (for "Man or Muppet, which is hilarious), it has been announced today that the Muppets is getting a sequel.  Director James Bobbin will be back, and Nicholas Stoller, who co-wrote the film has singed on to write the screen play.  There's been no word on whether or not Jason Segel will be back as a writer, and if he does not his passion for the Muppets will surely be missed.  Also no word on a cast at this point.  I'm just glad that The Muppets did well enough to warrant a sequel, our kids deserve their zany brand of comedy.

And here, in case you missed it, is the Bret McKenzie ("Flight of the Conchords") penned "Man or Muppet" video:

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