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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Big Hero 6 Fun Facts

If you read my review you know that I *loved* Big Hero 6, as did the rest of my family.  It's  rare to find a family-friendly film that is truly entertaining for our whole family (a fidgety 7 year old, a jaded teen, and two cynical parents), but Disney once again did the job.  Apparently everyone everywhere agrees, because Big Hero 6 was the #1 movie this week.

Disney sent me some very cool fun facts to share with you.  No spoilers here, so if you're still planning on going you can use these facts to enhance your experience!  I especially love the geeky facts about how Denzien, Disney's proprietary crowd-creating system, helped the animators make tons of unique characters to fill San Fransokyo, and the fact that several cast members are real-life robotics enthusiasts!



CHARACTERS

SLAM DUNK – Baymax is 6 feet tall and 75 pounds—until Hiro mechs him out. Baymax, in
his super suit, is more than 7 feet tall and can lift 1000 pounds. “He’s all air,” says head of animation Zach Parrish.
 
GO AHEAD – Artists looked at actors like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper and other cowboys to study cool, emotionally reserved traits while developing GoGo Tomago’s look and personality.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BLINK – Baymax sports a standard nine-frame-blink, says head of animation Zach Parrish. “We play with the speed of his blink throughout the film, but for the most part, it’s a standard blink. It’s the amount of time we give the audience to think before he blinks that says a lot—the longer it is, the more time he’s processing. A double blink shows confusion. We used that a few times in the film. That could be an acting choice for a human character, too.”

NEED FOR SPEED – Artists looked at speed skaters to inform the body type and movement for GoGo Tomago, a passionate student of speed.

DUUUUUUDE – Artists studied snowboarders, skateboarders and surfers to develop movement and posture for Fred.

CHILL OUT – Wasabi, at one time, was a very Zen character with very Zen dreadlocks. When filmmakers tweaked his personality, they initially decided the neatnik wouldn’t be a fan of the not-oft-shampooed-do and gave him a haircut. The look didn’t last. It turns out, everyone was just too attached to his cool locks.


LOOSE TOOTH – To ensure Hiro’s charming gap-toothed grin stayed intact from any angle, controls were added to his teeth so animators could make adjustments as needed.

TALENT
ROBOT LOVE – Ryan Potter, who voices Hiro in “Big Hero 6,” was obsessed with building robots as a kid. “I was 9 or 10 when I got a robotics kit,” he says. “I absolutely love science.”

MORE ROBOT LOVE – Genesis Rodriguez, who lends her voice to Honey Lemon in “Big Hero 6,” was on her school’s robotics team. “I was a welder,” she says. “So I made sure my weldings were just perfect and very aesthetically pleasing as well. People didn't expect us to be so good. That was the beauty of it. We were just this bright group of girls who had an idea, executed it and beat the guys.”

SMART GUY – James Cromwell, who lends his voice to Professor Robert Callaghan,
studied at Carnegie Mellon University (then called Carnegie Tech). “Big Hero 6” filmmakers spent time at the school, learning all about the innovative field of soft robotics, which ultimately inspired Baymax, a huggable vinyl robot that takes care of people.

FULL CIRCLE – As a child, Damon Wayans Jr., who provides the voice of Wasabi, wanted to be an animator when he grew up. He even studied animation after graduating high school before he decided to pursue acting.

FILMMAKING

LET IT GROW – The “Big Hero 6” animation team topped 100 members (103, to be exact). That’s about 15 more animators than 2013’s feature film “Frozen.”


MARTIAL ARTISTS – Filmmakers selected karate to broaden Baymax’s skillset—but animators had to adjust some of the movements to work for the voluminous character’s build. A few members of the team visited a nearby martial arts studio to get a feel for the practice. Pros were asked to attempt some of the moves while on their knees to simulate Baymax’s signature proportions.

I CAN FLY – Filmmakers consulted with flight specialist Jason McKinley, who worked on both “Disney’s Planes” and “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” to choreograph and execute the flight sequences with Baymax and Hiro.

670’S A CROWD – Walt Disney Animation Studios’ proprietary system Denizen allowed filmmakers to create bigger, more believable crowds for “Big Hero 6.” created around 670 unique characters, compared to 270 in “Frozen,” 185 in “Wreck-It Ralph” and 80 in “Tangled.”
  • Each of the 670 characters has up to 32 different clothing look combinations, plus 32 different hair and skin tones. That means, filmmakers could invite 686,080 unique characters to the San Fransokyo party before there were any exact repeats. 
  • Denizen was made available to everyone at Walt Disney Animation Studios and employees were encouraged to model themselves in the system to join the crowd. More than 200 characters were created, and employees will see themselves up on the big screen—walking among the “Big Hero 6.”

COUNT ON IT -- The "Port of San Fransokyo" scene has over 6000 people in it
  • 23 districts were built in 3D.
  • 83,149 lots of the 150,000 in all of San Francisco were built.
  • 18.8 million building parts.
  • 215,000 streetlights.
  • 260,000 trees.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Device that Saved Drive Time

The City of Seattle is doing a "Neighborhood Revitalization Project" in my neighborhood.  This is fancy talk for "fixing the streets".  They are totally gutting the roads, putting in new drainage pipes, making them bigger, repaving with more durable materials.  It is a crazy ambitious project that by the time it's done in the beginning of next year, will have lasted two years. And it's all happening right outside my front door.  I live on a major thoroughfare and this project, which will eventually be a major improvement, is currently a major pain in my rear.

We moved into this little townhouse one month before the project started.  We were already wary of moving out of our former beloved (and currently way too trendy/expensive) neighborhood, because we lived two blocks from school.  Moving into our current house meant a 12 minute commute in the car.  Once the construction started it added 5 minutes onto our morning commute and a whopping 20 minutes and two miles onto our afternoon ride back to the house.

As I've written about before, it can be very difficult for us to get out of the house.  On many mornings I have resorted to bribery rewards. With the construction making our commute painful, one of the best "rewards" I can offer Kitty is the ability to watch a show in the car.  Problem is, with my current Data Plan (not through AT&T), my data is throttled after I reach 5 GB.  I don't frequently use that much data, even if we do watch a few shows, but letting Kitty stream Netflix, or a show from her Kindle Fire Kids Edition does use a bit of data, and I never want to be stranded somewhere, unable to use the data on my phone because Kitty was too engrossed in Wild Kratts.

Enter the AT&T Unite for GoPhone.  This thing has been amazing.  Netgear hooked me up with this rad device and 1.5 GB of data, so that I could let you know what I think about it.  It has really been amazing.  So far we've used it for a trip to school, a trip home from school and in a restaurant.  That 1.5 GB still has some data left, and the best part is that since it's a prepaid style device, Kit can EARN refills.  I love putting that responsibility in her hands.  Want to watch a show in the car?  Better do some extra chores and reading!




Besides the convenience of pre-paid, I love that the device was so easy to set up.  Even a wi-fi novice could get it going with its default settings in a matter of minutes.  I dinked around a little more so that I could change the hot spot's name to match the naming conventions we have for the rest of our devices, and even that was super easy.  I had the whole thing loaded up with a new pre-paid card and configured within 10 minutes.

It has good battery life.  The documentation claims 10 hours, and I found it to be a bit over eight, but that's still really good.  You can take a nice long road trip with that before you need to recharge.  I have a feeling this has to do with the number of devices and what they are streaming.  It can connect to up to 10 devices.  We had up to three connected, with two of them streaming low quality video.

I also like the ability to set a temporary guest wi-fi password.  I had a meeting the other day, and was the only source of wi-fi thanks to the Unite.  I felt safe knowing that I was giving my co-workers a temporary password that would no longer work after the meeting.

 Mobile data is still one of those products that costs more than it seems it should and this is no exception. The data plans are not super cheap, with $25 getting you 1.5 GB or a month, which ever comes first.  It won't be a big issue for us, as we will continue to use in places like the care where other wi-fi isn't available, but this tech isn't cheap enough yet to be your sole source of the internet.

I was given an AT&T Unite and 1.5 GB of  data to facilitate this review.  I have to say it, but you already know that all opinions are mine.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Can I take my 5 year old to Big Hero 6?

Last night the whole family went to a screening of Big Hero 6, the newest offering from Disney Animation Studios.  The film was delightful.



The movie centers around 14 year old robotics prodigy Hiro.  Hiro's brother Tadashi, a robotics genius in his own right, tries to motivate his under-achieving brother by taking him on a tour of Tadashi's workplace, a robotics research lab.  After a terrible tragedy changes their lives, Hiro goes on a mission to defeat a mysterious Kabuki mask wearing super-villian.  He creates a team consisting of other university employees and Baymax, the medical assistant robot Tadashi designed.

It's a little curious to me that Disney decided to release this under the Disney Animation Studios banner, as opposed to Marvel Studios. It's very loosely based on an obscure Marvel comic series from the 90's.  Super-Dad and I speculate that they didn't want to tie this film into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and so they left the Marvel Studios branding off.   But this could TOTALLY be a Marvel film.  Marvel's Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada consulted on the production, there was the Marvel de facto after credits scene and the obligatory (and cleverly done) Stan Lee cameo.

The story, based in the fictional mash-up city of San Fransokyo is beautifully animated. The script feels heartfelt, the character development is laudable, and the voice acting is top-notch.  There were many big laughs, as well as several somber, emotional moments.  This is definitely a must-see for the geeky family.


Parent's Guide:

There is no offensive language in this movie, not even a "crap".   There is some intense action, though no one is seriously injured in any of the fight (though it's not for lack of trying).  There are a few tense scenes, and the off-screen deaths of two characters.

I was actually really surprised by the level of emotion that I felt during the film, I expected a kids action comedy, and instead got a touching story about loss, determination, and applying your talent. Hiro experiences some pretty traumatic losses during the film and a big theme of the movie is how he processes his grief.  In the screening we were in a little girl (probably around age 5 or 6) got pretty upset and was crying.  I cried a few times during the movie, but at one point was actually fighting off sobs.  I am a crybaby and so it's no surprise that I would be affected in such a way, but 14 year old Nathan whispered to me for a tissue as well.  Kitty was convinced that there would be a happy ending, so she was able to hold herself together.  Apparently her grasp of fictional narrative kept her eyes dry.  I would expect that smaller children may have some questions about death and loss after viewing this one, but anyone aged 8 and up should be fine. Bring the tissues.

Target, Spiderman and Gender Roles

If you follow me on Twitter (@ParentingGeekly), you may have seen this tweet this evening.

This is the second time we've seen that same sign at Target.  Here it is from April, when a store manager told me "the signs just come that way from corporate".
Some may think this is an overly sensitive complaint, that it's just a sign at a store.  But Kitty decided that she didn't want those DC Super Friends Little People (she was in the market for some new bath toys) because they were "for boys".  C'mon Target! It's already hard enough when most of the super hero clothes are in the boy's clothing section, and when the kids at school tease her about her "boy's" backpack.  Can't we just leave the action figures out of it?  Why couldn't that sign just have left the word "Boys'" off?  They're just toys. There is no reason to tie anyone's gender identity into them, they are just TOYS.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vote!

When I was a kid my mother was fiercely private about her vote . She always told us it was rude to ask people who they were voting for. 

It must be a generational thing, I have no problem talking with my kids about what we are voting for, who we are voting for and why. We have a 14 year old son and I feel that it's really important to get him involved in the civil process before he has to do it all on his own.

Whatever your beliefs, whatever your political leanings, it is so vitally important that you go out and vote today (or make sure your ballot is mailed in.) In a democracy we have the ability to let our government know what it is we want, what it is we stand for. When people don't vote that system doesn't serve us the way it should, and those who don't vote have no right to complain about it.

So go out there and stand up for what you believe in. Even if you don't talk to your kids about it in detail, even if they're too young to understand, you're setting the example of how to be a responsible citizen.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Phase 3 of The Marvel Cinematic Universe Unveiled

With Halloween costume making taking up so much of my time this week, I neglected to report on some of the most exciting news in all of Geekdom.  Marvel is putting out EVERY SINGLE MOVIE EVER!   Well, not really, but they have definitely listened to their fans and have announced a slate that showcases diversity (Capatin Marvel is a woman in most comic iterations and Black Panther is the first black superhero to star in a mainstream comic ) as well as returning cinematic universe favorites Captain America, Thor, the Avengers (THREE NEW AVENGERS MOVIES!!) and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Robert Downey, Jr., Chadwick Boseman and Chris Evans
at the announcement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3
Of course casting speculation is already running rampant. If you type "who will play" into Google, the first auto-complete suggestion is "Doctor Strange". Benedict Cumberbatch was supposedly officially cast, until that was refuted by the bigwigs at Marvel.  There is already a social media campaign to cast Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff as Captain Marvel in a movie that isn't even scheduled to be released until 2018.  Chadwick Boseman  is confirmed as Black Panther, as he will debut in Captain America: Civil War.

As comic fans do, even Super-Dad and I had our nit picks, personal favorites and praise for both confirmed and speculated casting choices.  Could Katee Sackhoff really embody the "girliness" of Captain Marvel?  Sackhoff is known for playing toughies and Carol Danvers definitely has a more fragile side historically.  Cahdwick Boseman has definitely shown his acting chops with his lauded performances as James Brown and Jackie Robinson, but my first thought upon seeing a recent photo of him was "He's going to have to bulk up".  Clearly these are "problems"  that can be easily taken care of by talented actors and good personal trainers, but we're geeks and it's how we do, I personally, would love to see Beyonce as Captain Marvel, but I don't think that's going to happen. 


Seriously, though,,,Beyonce!

Here's the lineup:
  • 5/1/15 – AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON 
  • 7/17/15 – ANT-MAN 
  • 5/6/16 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
  • 11/4/16 – DOCTOR STRANGE 
  • 5/5/17 – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 
  • 7/28/17 – THOR: RAGNAROK
  • 11/3/17 – BLACK PANTHER
  • 5/4/18 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART I
  • 7/6/18 – CAPTAIN MARVEL
  • 11/2/18 – INHUMANS
  • 5/3/19 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART II
Who do you want to see play your favorite Marvel character?  Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy Half-assed Halloween

If you follow me on Twitter (@ParentingGeekly) you may have seen some of my “half-assed cosplay” posts last week.  See, I have this idea that homemade costumes are the best costumes.  I feel this way despite my lack of sewing skills and complete absence of attention to detail.  Every year I “half ass” it, and every year we get a bunch of compliments.  I am a crazy perfectionist, convinced that  everyone will mock my hot glue and hem tape efforts, and then surprised when they turn out okay-ish.
Anything has to be better than this, an actual costume I wore circa 1985.
Why am I sharing this humble-brag?  Because you can half-ass cosplay too!  It just takes an idea, a little creative thinking and a good attitude.  Seriously, half of the costumes I am going to share started when one of the kids had an idea, which I promptly shot down for being too hard or too complicated.  It was their insistence that kept my gears turning, which eventually led to successful costumes.

My tips:
  • Set a budget.  Once you get started it can be hard to reign it in.  Suddenly, *everything* in the craft store looks like it might work, and the next thing you know, you have spent $150 to be Mincecraft Steve.
  • Let go of perfectionism.  Half-assed cosplay is, by definition, half-assed.  It may not win an award at comicon, but it may just win your office Halloween party.  The average joe isn’t going to nitpick that your homemade NInja Turtle shell had 12 segments instead of 10.
  • Make it durable, to a point.  Half-assed cosplay is meant to be worn once or twice.  Ours usually involve a lot of hot glue and cardboard.  Some, like my Thor costume are mostly reusable, others, like my dirndl will not stand up to more than a few wearings.  The costumes need to last for your event though, so make sure if it’s going to rain little Timmy has something more long-lasting than a toilet paper mummy costume  for trick or treating.
  • Pinterest is your frenemy. Chances are, if you have an idea, someone has already made it. The problem is that the person who made it, and took the time to put a detailed tutorial on the internet, probably did not half-ass it.  Use the internet for inspiration, but be innovative! Don’t get too caught up in trying to do things the way those ladies from that cosplay reality show did it, because you will wind up disappointed.

Here are a few of our costumes and how I made them:


Sugar Skull and Voodoo Guy  (and my bestie's Mermaid costume).
This one just required raiding my closet for some leftover clothing from my goth phase and a lot of practice with makeup.  I did this one in 2010, before it was popular (hipster!) and so I had to base the makeup on some Dia de los Muertos pin up art.  Super Dad invested in a Goodwill vest, a re-purposed alligator tooth necklace from an old  pirate costume and the face makeup from my costume. My friend Karen took a store bought mermaid costume and added her own wig, some jeweled decals from a nail art kit (applied with eyelash glue) and a quick trip to the drugstore for some makeup.





Tony Stark, Team Fortress 2 Sniper and Wonder Woman
Kit’s Wonder Woman costume was bought from the clearance department because it was missing all of its accessories.  I think my mother found it for about $3.  We made the tiara from gold cardstock, the bracelets from glittered foam sheets and the lasso from the same gold elastic cording that kept the tiara on her head.  The boots were bought from Goodwill, and built up with duct tape, spray painted blue, and then trimmed with more duct tape, in white.


Super-Dad’s Tony Stark Costume was created around an expensive t-shirt from ThinkGeek that lights up to look like the Arc Reactor is embedded in his chest.  He already owned the coat, and the goatee.  The only other accessory we had to get him were the sunglasses, which were purchased for 99 cents at a second hand store.


Nate is the Sniper from Team Fortress 2

The shirt and vest both came from the ladies’ department at the thrift store, the pants came from the boy’s department (and were a little short - let go of perfectionism)  I made his side pouch from felt and hot glue, and we modified an Indiana Jones hat by gluing the flap up.  The alligator tooth necklace makes its final appearance as hat trim.







Tony Stark(again), Pinkie Pie, and Aperture Scientist

We had to buy another pair of sunglasses for Super-Dad, but we were glad to get another wearing out of that expensive shirt.


Nathan has on a lab coat purchased from a Medical Uniform Shop for under $20.  We created the Aperture logo using Inkjet Iron on Paper, he also had a bigger aperture on the back.  He carried a clip board with a “Test Subject Questionnaire” that we created.


Kit’s Pinkie Pie costume was one I wasn't sure I could pull off.  It came together when we decided to do something that was kind of inspired by Equestria Girls, but stayed true to the look of “regular” Pinkie Pie.  I hand stitched the Cutie Mark onto a store bought skirt, added leggings and leg warmers, made a felt Gummy the Crocodile with felt and glue.  With used silk flowers to suggest a curly mane/ears and sprayed her hair pink.


Dirndl


I have before and after pics for this one, because I knew that if I pulled it off it would be a pretty big transformation. This was created for an Oktoberfest party, and will be reworked into Little Red Riding Hood this Halloween. I started with a thrift store “Medieval Bar Wench Costume”.  I added the green ribbon lacing, some ribbon trim and some appliques. All hot glued on.  The apron had a frilly top, which I hacked off, and then added some matching ribbon to the waist.  I cut off most of  the clingy polyester red skirt that was attached to the bodice and wore a plain black skirt over it.  I borrowed Kitty’s flower headband and braided my hair into a crown to complete the look.


Luke Skywalker

This was my first attempt at making a costume.  He wore an all black outfit and some black costume gloves.  The cloak was an unhemmed piece of fleece cut to size and pinned on with a safety pin. We had the lightsaber.  Everyone thought he was Harry Potter.


Lady Thor
Probably my favorite costume ever.  We had the toy headpiece, I made the Power Discs out of silver cardstock and stuck them to a black dress I already had using double-sided tape.  The cape was unhemmed velour, cleverly pinned on using hidden safety pins.  I layered the whole thing over a  long sleeve blue t-shirt.  The cuffs are glittered foam sheets with fake leather lacing.


The Tenth Doctor

Nate won “Coolest Kid Costume” at Super-Dad’s office party with this one.  We bought the Sonic Screwdriver from the comic shop.  The trench was thrifted (once again from the ladies’ department) and we bought some cheap Keds knockoffs for under 10 dollars.


I hope you have found inspiration in this post!  Most of these were made at the last minute, you still have time to half-ass your own costume!  If you do, or if you have, please post a link to photo in the comments!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: A Parent's Guide



Last week we were invited by Disney to check out “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day”, their new family film staring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner.

Alexander is sick and tired of being the non-perfect member of his perfect family. Dad is a baby-and-me-going, birthday-party-planning, stay-at-home-super-dad aka “Fommy” (Father Mommy as coined by his yoga instructor). Mom is a hot shot at book publisher, his older brother is handsome and popular, and his older sister is the angelic voiced star of the school play. His baby brother is an adorable and because of his age, needs (and gets) a lot of attention.

The main conflict comes when a popular boy at Alexander’s school announces that he is throwing a huge birthday party the same day Alexander had planned his. Not only is Alexander’s crush planning on attending the rival’s party, so is Alexander’s best friend! Feeling jealous and sad, Alexander makes a wish on his birthday candle that his “perfect” family would understand what it’s like to have a day as bad as one of his.

And WHAT a bad day each of them has! As a parent I really, really laughed at the challenges Alexander’s Dad felt having to drag the baby to a job interview at a way younger-skewing video game company. Alexander’s mom has to commute across town on a bicycle in high heels to prevent a disastrous book reading with a mis-printed children’s book.

His siblings don’t fare much better. His sister, trying to soothe a flu before opening night, drinks a bit too much cough syrup and performs Peter Pan while inebriated. His brother suffers a misunderstanding with his girlfriend and then fails his driver’s exam in the most spectacular fashion possible.

So, should you bring your 5 year old to see “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day”?

I brought Super-Dad and seven year old Kitty along. Kit had a hard time waiting for the punchlines. It all just seemed very extreme and mildly upsetting to her, she was just a bit too young to really enjoy the schadenfreude inherent in a comedy of errors. There were definitely moments where she laughed, but they weren't as frequent as SD and I. Some of the themes were a bit too more mature for her as well. Certainly nothing too objectionable, just a little “old” for her. There was a bit of cyberbullying, some rough language “crap, idiot”, and the young teen sister accidentally gets drunk on cough syrup.

Younger kids may not get some of the more subtle aspects of the movie messages; like how members of the family can have trouble seeing and empathizing with the problems others are having. While Alexander is convinced his family lives perfect lives, in reality they all have their own “No Good” worries. Dad is worried about finding a job, while mom is worried that a new opportunity at work will leave her even less time for her family. Big Brother Anthony is struggling to placate a status-hungry girlfriend. Sister Emily has a lot of pressure on her from her school’s Drama Director. Everyone is so caught up in their own issues it’s hard for them to see that each of their family members are having their own problems. Bigger kids hopefully will understand that the message here is that NO ONE has a perfect day. The resolution of the film actually comes when the family is able to come together to handle their “Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day” as a team.

14 year old Nate, was having his own “terrible, no good day” on a mandated tent camping trip with school. It’s a shame, too. I think that this movie is perfectly suited for his age. While there is nothing too objectionable for younger kids, I think kids 10 - 14 and their parents will get the most enjoyment from this adorable flick.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seattle Geeks: See the Premiere of Star Wars Rebels on the Big Screen

Courtesy: Disney XD
On October 3rd, Disney Channel will be premiering Star Wars Rebels. (After that premiere the series will run on Disney XD starting on October 13th) Star Wars Rebels is a new animated series that takes place between the events of Episode III and Episode IV.  Here's the synopsis:

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away....
Against the might of the Galactic Empire, an unlikely band of heroes emerges to renew the fight for freedom. Witness the epic debut of the riveting animated series Star Wars Rebels, in this one-hour movie event – showing on the big screen one time only!
The story unfolds during a dark time when the evil Empire is tightening its grip of power on the galaxy. Imperial forces have occupied a remote planet and are ruining the lives of its people. The motley but clever crew of the starship Ghost -- cowboy Jedi Kanan, ace pilot Hera, street-smart teenager Ezra, the "muscle" Zeb, explosives expert Sabine, and cantankerous old astromech droid Chopper -- is among a select few who are brave enough to stand against the Empire. Together, they will face threatening new villains, encounter colorful adversaries, embark on thrilling adventures and become heroes with the power to ignite a rebellion.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg5YN3LAGw4

If you'd like to check out the one hour series premiere Star Wars Rebels: Spark of the Rebellion before it hits the small screen, you can see it on the big screen in Downtown Seattle on September 27th.  Prior to the screening there will be Star Wars themed events including face painting, a costume contest and balloon animals (Balloon Wampas maybe?).  Bring your Star Wars loving family and have a good time!

To register for tickets you just need to go to: http://www.seeitfirst.net/pin/167614.
Event Code: 167614

I'll be there, and would love to have you join me!

For those of you not in the Seattle area, you can learn more about the series here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Five ADHD friendly tips for getting out of the house on time with everything you need.

Everyone in the ParentingGeeekly household has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. We've never known any other way, and we're all in in together, so it's really not a big deal.  What it does mean is getting out the door and to school/work every morning is an....adventure.
I was inspired to write about some of the tricks we use after a particularly disorganized morning last week.  If you are a naturally organized person these tips are probably going to seem pretty basic and pedantic.  If, however, you struggle with ADD, ADHD or just are generally more disorganized you may find these helpful.  The most important part of any new plan or routine is following it!  There are many nights when I get tired and don't bother to lay stuff out the night before, and I *always* pay the price the next morning!

Original Photo by DangApricot. Used and modified under a Creative Commons license.

The first three days of school were great.  We were out the door early, everything we needed in hand.  Pick up was just as smooth.  Lunch bags and snack containers came home in backpacks and were washed right away once they made it home.  Then came Monday, school day four, the day we found our normal.  The one clean pair of jeans I had ready for Kitty were "too baggy".  She couldn't find her other "Star Shoe" (her current favorites, mint green Chuck Taylors), she didn't want to wear her black glasses, she wanted to wear her blue glasses....   We made it out the door in time, though she was noshing on a granola bar in the car as we hadn't had time for an actual breakfast.  We got about a half mile down the road when Nate declared "We need to go back, I forgot my book".  We live in the city. It took us fifteen minutes to turn around and get back to the house, but we did it!  We even made it to school on time! Victory!  My moment of of triumph was interrupted by Kit's shrill whine "Moooooooom, I forgot my baaackpaaaaack!  I don't want to buy cafeteeeeeeria luuunch!"  I dropped the kids off, made the 15 minute drive back to our house and brought Kit her backpack.  As I was driving back I vowed to implement systems (or reinstate systems we had used in the past)  to avoid this problem in the future.  Here is what I came up with:

Set out everything the night before:  It is one of he most tried and true pieces of organizational advice we hear, but that's because it works. If  you only pick one piece of advice to follow, follow this one. On school days one through three we set everything out the night before.  I picked out Kitty's outfit and she approved it or we made changes.  It's better to know "I hate that shirt, it itches" when you can still do something about it.  Had I taken a moment to do that the night before Awful Day Four (as it shall now be known) we could have thrown a load of her clothes into the washer, and pitched the too baggy jeans into the donation bag.  I suggest doing this at a reasonably early hour, so that you have time to make necessary adjustments (laundry, small repairs, locating missing socks, etc.). Don't think that just because your little one isn't so little that they don't need this step.  We were almost late this morning because Nate couldn't locate his belt.   We also get as much lunch and snack packed up and into the fridge as possible the night before. Sometimes it's 9:30 PM, and I have just finished cooking dinner, cleaning up after dinner and doing other chores.  I'm tired and the last thing I want to do is pack lunches.  It sucks.  But doing it in a rush 15 minutes before you need to leave sucks more.  If it can be done the night before, do it the night before.

The Count:  This is a good one for people and kids who usually bring the same things out the door with them, and is Super Dad's preferred method.  He always has four things with him: his wallet, his phone, his work badge, and his keys.  He knows he needs at minimum  those four things every day. As he leaves the house the morning he counts.  It's makes the "List" a little less to think about, works great for people who have ADHD or anyone who gets overwhelmed easily.  This is essentially what Nathan does too (Jacket, binder, phone, laptop) but we encounter an issue when something out of the ordinary like the book enters the picture.  That's when setting your stuff out the night before helps.

"Where am I going? What do I need? Do I have it?" A friend of mine (thanks, Shelly!) made this reccomendation after I posted the story of Awful Day Four on my Facebook page.  She got the idea from a professor who made her family answer those three questions every time they left the house. Shelly adopted it into her own routine and says it really works.  Conscientiously asking those questions takes you out of auto-pilot mode and makes you really think about what it is you need for the task at hand. Shelly wants to craft a sign to hang by her door.  I love this idea, and would add a chalkboard or whiteboard to help remind about those only-need-once items like Nate's book.  That leads me to:

Write it down where you can see it :  When Nate kept forgetting his laptop last year (a big part of his accommodated learning plan) his principal printed a label that said "laptop" to put above our doorknob.  This tiny little thing helped him immensely. I used to have a note, written on my mirror in eyeliner that said "Take your thyroid pill!".  After awhile your brain (especially an ADD brain) will tune out those messages, but hopefully by the time that happens you have trained yourself to make those part of your routine.

Post-Its!  I swear these are an ADD brain's best friend.  Nate has a pad stuck to the front of his assignment book, Sometimes assignments are given out too quickly or he's too overwhelmed to find the appropriate space in the planner.  He can take these notes and transcribe them into the proper spot when things are little quieter.  If he remembers during the day that he needs something for tomorrow he can jot it down and then stick it on the door when he gets home.  If I know I need one of those need-it-once items, I put a Post-it on the door to remind me.  I do the same on the bathroom mirror if I have a medication that I need to take temporarily, like antibiotics.  Yesterday I called the doctor's office and they were closed. A Post-it on my phone reminded me to call this morning.  I'll put a Post-it on the door right now to remind myself that I need to bring some insurance paperwork with me to that appointment.

This isn't perfect, there is bound to be an Awful Day Thirty Three in our future.  Even if we weren't dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder, we would forget things.  But by implementing these relatively simple routines (and following them, that's the important part, and the part we struggle with!).  We are way ahead of our "normal" game.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Parenting Geekly's PAX Prime 2014 wrap up.


Our PAX experience was a bit abbreviated this year.  We missed out on our chance to purchase tickets (they were sold out within 25 minutes!) and due to the break I took from blogging, I didn't even bother applying for a press badge this time.

We did wind up getting two badges for Sunday and two for Monday. Super Dad and Nate went on Sunday (when the gaming floor remained open until midnight), and SD and I did Monday (when the whole thing closed up at 7, way closer to my bedtime). Due to a raging headache, I didn't even make to the convention center until about one in the afternoon.  So it was kind of a PAX Fail this year.  I buzzed around the expo halls and tried to take in as much as possible, and so now I present to you:

Parenting Geekly's very brief PAX Prime 2014 Wrap Up:

Highlights for the kiddos:

Cartoon Network Studios has the Adventure Time Game Wizard coming out in time for the holidays. Cartoon Network has partnered with Pixel Press and this game will be based on the same technology as Pixel Press Floors, a game in which you design a platformer by drawing it. This could be a really cool licensing partnership that helps introduce kids to game design principles. I'm excited to check this one out with the kids once it's available.

On Monday I played Shadowrun: Crossfire , a cooperative deck building game from Catalyst Games.  As with many modern tabletop games, there was a bit of a learning curve, but it was fun and I *loved* the cooperative aspect.  It reminded me  of Upper Deck Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game , where the players are essentially playing against the board.  We sometimes play the Shadowrun RPG, so it was fun to see that world in a tabletop environment.  This one is probably well suited for teens and up.

Nathan had a lot of fun playing a BattleTech expansion called Alpha Strike.  It was a quicker, faster
to get started version of the main game.  Combat is simplified and it was a great introduction to the popular miniatures game for a young teenager.

Super Smash Bros. comes out for the 3DS in early October and for the WiiU during the holiday season.  Nate spent a lot of time in the console gaming room playing older versions of Super Smash Bros. for the N64 and the Gamecube.  This was one the big highlights of his PAX experience.


Sega was pushing their new Sonic BOOM series, which will feature the speedy hedgehog and his friends in a television show and in games for Nintendo.  I am long time Sonic fan, and giddily ran up to have my picture taken with him. He doesn't seem as impressed as I was.


While the line to demo the game was too crazy long for me to wait in, we are pretty excited about Borderlands the Pre-Sequel.  I even got up close and personal with Handsome Jack. Definitely not for the little kids, but the Borderlands franchise is one of Nate's favorites. We also picked up some cool Civilization merch while at the 2K booth.

We spent a lot of time, as we do each year, in the retro arcade.  They have lots of pinball and retro arcade games, all free to play.  It's great fun for the adults and it's a great place to take kids who are bored of the expo hall. Thanks to Ground Kontrol, one of our favorite spots in Portland, for hosting!

I've been hearing a lot about Habitat recently.  From the game's Steam Page:
"Habitat is a successfully funded Kickstarter game from indie developer 4gency. It is a real-time, physics-driven orbital strategy game where you build, fly, and fight with the unique space stations that you create out of space debris orbiting earth. In its simplest terms it is a strategic space survival game."

Our friends who have played have raved about it and reviews are all pretty positive.  What really got me interested though, was 4gency founder Charles Cox's incredible enthusiasm.  For me, this is what PAX is all about.  I really enjoy learning about new games from Indie game developers.  I plan on purchasing a copy of Habitat this weekend, you can expect a full review soon.

*Amazon links are affiliate links, which means that if you buy from that link I make a few cents (literally cents, but every little bit helps!).  All other links are just there so you can check out some of the things I saw.

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