Monday, May 7, 2012

Comic Books for Newbies?

One of the cool things about being a geek is that there's always something new to try, read, or watch - and whatever you choose, there's sure to be tons of other geeks out there ready to cheer you on and give advice. Case in point: I've never really read comic books. It's not that I've never had the interest, exactly, it's just that I've never known where to start.

Well, Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, and thanks to the urging of nearly every geek I follow on Twitter, I decided to go check it out. Plus I'd heard there was a special give-away book being released from Archaia that included a new Labyrinth short story. Aww yeeeah.

John and I headed out to our local comic book shop around 3, and when we got there we found the parking lot mobbed with people. OUR people. A few were in costume, a lot had their kids with them (awww), and pretty much everyone looked to be in a good mood.

Then again, how could you NOT be in a good mood when you pass this on the way in?

Once we got inside the madhouse, John and I realized that we had no idea how Free Comic Book Day worked. So we wandered around the aisles, trying to look like we knew what we were doing and talking out of the corners of our mouths.

" it a buy-one-get-one kind of thing?"

"I dunno. Will we look stupid if we ask?"

"Yes. So you should do it."

"Maybe the guy driving R2D2 knows." 

"Ok. Go ask him. I'll be over here pretending I don't know you." 

R2 never judges us on our lack of Free Comic Book Day knowledge.

In addition to scoring some fun tidbits on droid-building, John eventually learned there were specific titles at the front counter that you could choose from for your free comic. And another lady passing by told us they still had the Archaia book! WOOT!!

After collecting our freebies John and I tried to find something to actually buy, which is when we remembered we know nothing about comics. And they're not really something you can browse through easily, are they? The only series I've read are the online comic Girl Genius (so addicting) and Lady Mechanika, which I also really like, but sadly they didn't have any of those at the shop. (We asked.)

I need to track down the latest issues of this; I've only read the first two!

Oh, and last week I read Return to Labyrinth, a graphic novel, but I didn't like it well enough to read the sequels. Actually, I didn't like it at all. Heh. Good thing it was a library read...

Anyway, after wandering around a while longer, John and I admitted defeat and left with just our free comics, feeling guilty.

The Archaia anthology has short stories from six different children's comics, which acts as a nice sampler of different writing and art styles. The Labyrinth one is about Hoggle and the Worm, and is funny with a slightly sad ending:

My other favorite was Return of the Dapper Men. The writing was utterly confusing - which I think was intentional -  but the art is nothing short of magical:

I've since learned The Return of the Dapper Man is a graphic novel, not a comic book. You can browse through some of the pages here on Amazon - and it's definitely going on my wish list.

So here's where I need your help, comic book geeks: where should a noob geek girl start? I don't have any particular favorites in the super hero world, so I'm open to most anything. I also love sci-fi, steampunk (obviously), kids' books, and old cartoons with reboots like TMNT and ThunderCats. Oh, and I know there's a Ghostbusters comic out there - is that any good? Please, leave your recommendations in the comments!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday Steam 5/5/12

This week one of my favorite artists, Doktor A, released photos of a gorgeous new toy prototype:

Her name is Bella, and the toys are due to be painted in gold and teal (see the mock up here). However, Doktor A also mentioned on FB that, "There is a plan for an all white version with Matte and Gloss areas and a random splatter of blood red." AWESOME.

And while I'm at it, check out my new favorite piece by the good Doktor:

It's called The Candy Factory, and it has sooo many drool-worthy details. The little glass bottles in the back! The two tiny mini-bots operating the hand cranks! THE CANDY! Click here to see the rest of the photos - they're well worth it.

And speaking of eye candy, check out the rare 1895 Ford typewriter featured over on Boing Boing:

Not quite as ornate as those ball typewriters, perhaps, but still impressive.

After a while, a lot of steampunk jewelry can start to look the same, but I'm really liking the shapes and chain draping on these necklaces:

Plus, with a shop name like Spanky Spangler Steampunk Creations, you know it has to be good.

(These two have already sold, but there are similar designs in the Spanky Etsy shop which range in price from about $33 to $48 - not bad!)

Just when you thought you'd seen everything anyone could *possibly* make with old watch parts, someone like Dmitry Khristenko goes and makes a mini motorcycle with 'em:

Almost everything you see here came from an upcycled wristwatch - even the seat is an old leather band!

This one even has a cute little hatch back:

Epbot reader Tahlia P. sent these images in via e-mail, and when I tracked them down to Khristenko's DevianArt page (where there are dozens more), I got another pleasant surprise.  Check out what Dmitry's making from watch bits now:


He also made the most insanely complex and gloriously steampunk radio you will ever see:

Seriously, this thing has so many moving parts and switch-operated lights and built-in music boxes and spinning gears that the accompanying video showing them all off is TEN MINUTES LONG. Gaze in wonder, ye steamheads! GAZE! IN WONDER!!

Reader Kendra B. sent in John's favorite find this week: a bronze statue that's nearly three feet long called "Catfish Lily:"

Granted, it's not hugely steampunk, but there IS a gear, so we're going with it. For John's sake. Besides, the embellishments have a neat found-object look to them that reminds me of our bird Schnappsie:

(More on Schnappsie here.)

Since one of our cats (my cat) is named Lily, and the statue has all those lovely teal and orange accents PLUS a giant gear, John has become thoroughly smitten with "Catfish Lily." So much so that he went hunting online for a price. Which is $7,800. So I told John he could just use that picture up there as a desktop image. o.0

And finally, here's the best steampunk Leia cosplay I've seen:

By Flickr user CaptainSparrow

Now THAT's a princess. Love it!

Oh, and remember that steampunk Portal gun from last week? Well, I heard from Duncan, the creator, who sent in a couple more photos of himself & the gun. Hit the link to see them at the bottom of the post!

Friday, May 4, 2012

May The Fourth Be All About Crafts!

Some parents use the Fourth for good. Others, for evil. 

Um, today's we're just going to focus on the good ones.

Yep, in honor of all of the Star Wars celebrating today, I've got some fantastic kids' room crafts I've been saving up - and the very best part? They're all made by you Epbot readers!

First, remember Kimber G. and her amaaaaazing Millenium Falcon blueprint mural? (If not, go see! I'll wait.)

So, yeah, remember that?

Well, Kimber decided that next her kids' playroom needed a little something. You know, like an X-Wing-fighter-fleeing-an-Imperial-Cruiser-over-the-planet-Earth kind of something.


Here Kimber's kids admire their mom's handiwork with the respect it deserves:


And here they attempt to hug it backwards. I think.
Awesome work as always, Kimber! Be sure to let us know which room in the house gets a Star Wars makeover next, k?

And now, the very thing every Star Wars bedroom needs:

A custom carved Star Wars headboard! Amber B. had her husband and father build this beauty for her three year old son, Gavin. Check out the raised Rebel crest with his name in the middle!

But of course my favorite part:

"That's no bed knob..."

Say, you guys look like you want to see another awesome Star Wars mural.

Your wish = my command.

Jason J. painted these next scenes in his wife's nephew's room. Jason reports, "He wanted the Battle of Hoth, and since Ralph McQuarrie is my favorite Star Wars artist, I decided to put several of his concept art pieces together into one large battle scene."

And what a scene it is!

Check it out, I found the original piece that inspired that last scene:

Rock on, Jason! And the rest of you can see more of McQuarrie's art (which really is amazing) here.

And finally, for you parents out there who may not want to tackle murals or woodworking: how about crochet?

 Karen V.'s mom crocheted these for her last Christmas, proving that just 'cuz your kids are grown doesn't mean you can't still spoil their inner geek. (Although apparently Karen gave her a pretty strong hint by buying her mom the patterns sometime after I posted about them way back when. Hee.)

Things like this always remind me how much I wish there was a local geek girl craft class around here. You know, like the cake decorating classes John & I took at JoAnn's, only it'd be stuff like knitting Star Wars characters and forging armor and wiring up nixie tube clocks. (I WILL do that before I die, guys. I will.) Can one of you out there please get on that? And then include Orlando on your nationwide geek-girl-craft tour? Kthxbai.

And finally, I'll leave you with a picture of one of Marnie B.'s students during their school's "Crazy Hat Day:"

This girl's gonna be alright, you guys. I CAN FEEL IT.

Happy Star Wars Day! MTFBWY!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In Which John Does NOT Get Shot

For any of you who saw this tweet the other night:

Not to worry; John escaped the world of back-alley used video game dealing relatively unscathed.  I'd like to point out that he wouldn't be forced into such tactics, though, if GameStop would just stop gouging everyone on their used video games. Seriously, only $2 less than the brand new one, GameStop? Really?

If my husband gets shot while trying to save $15 on a copy of Skyrim, GameStop, I'LL BLAME YOU.

In related news, I expect I'm about to become a video game widow for untold weeks, since John has recently acquired (for those of you who weren't paying attention just then) a copy of Skyrim. That's assuming I don't swipe it out from under him and start playing it first, of course. We're both properly prepared: we've already been making "arrow to the knee" jokes for months

In less-related news, MY GALLBLADDER IS PROBABLY FINE. I know how worried all of you were, so, yeah, sorry to keep you in suspense like that*. However, if you ever start getting crazy pinchy pains in your lower right side (or "flank" as we professional gallbladder-type persons call it) that last for several days after eating something really high in fat like creamy butternut squash soup, then you should probably go see a doctor. That way she (the doctor) can jab around your abdomen and give you a little pee cup in a paper bag to carry out in front of all the other people waiting outside, even though that paper bag is SO NOT FOOLING anyone, and they'll watch you with their judgy eyes as you close the bathroom door and they'll all think, "Wow, that girl is totally peeing in a cup right now," while you attempt to actually pee in a cup, which might make it kind of hard to get things going, if you know what I mean, but that's why I AM A PROFESSIONAL. 

*What, you weren't worried because you don't obsessively follow my every tweet? WELL WHY NOT?!


Sometimes I think back to the second-grade-me, sitting at my crappy wooden school desk and dreaming of being a writer, and then I'll look over a paragraph I just wrote that will be read by literally TENS of people about me peeing in a plastic cup, and I'll think, "Does 'judgy' have an 'e' in it? 'Judgey?' Is that right?"


Just now John asked me what I was writing about, and I told him "not much," because if there's one thing I know, it's that I do NOT need any actual content to write a LOT of stuff. 

But just so these last few minutes haven't been a complete waste of your time, take a gander at these adorable polymer clay charms of Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural:

AAIEEE!! So cute!!

These were sent to me by the lovely Stacey G., who commissioned them from her sister Chey. And you can tell they were made just for me because the boys are wearing Mickey ears. (Mental image: Sam & Dean riding Haunted Mansion. You're welcome.)

Oh, and the boys don't have bottoms...but I don't mean like that (*mrowr*) I mean like this:

I like to think there's a portal under each of them. :)

Chey has an Etsy shop here, in case you're looking for your own Supernatural goodies. (I'm especially digging her Castiel pendant with the tie - very fun.)

Oooh, and speaking of Supernatural, I think I'm driving John nuts by constantly talking about the last few episodes. I won't spoil anything for those of you haven't seen 'em yet, but I AM SO EXCITED AND HAPPY AND I HOPE THEY DON'T SCREW THIS UP. That is all. 

I mean, this could be a huge turning point for the better and add such a cool new perspective on the show and I am reeeeallly invested in these characters and they're probably going to screw it up, aren't they? Harrumph. No,  no - I'm remaining positive. So...fingers crossed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Recommended Reading: After The Hunger Games

Some of you no doubt remember that I am a HUGE YA Fiction fan. As in, it comprises 90% of my recreational reading. I get a lot of e-mails asking for more recommendations, but of course it always helps to compare notes so I know what you've already read and liked.

So, for the purposes of this post, I'm going to assume you've read and liked The Hunger Games series. Not necessarily LOVED them, but at least liked them. Good? Good.

Now, what should you read next?

Well, if you haven't already, I'd start with these:

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
(links lead to Amazon)

This is the first book in a four-part series, so you might want to have the next one on hand, too, to spare yourself some suspense. Like HG, it's set in a warped future with a totalitarian government, only here all the kids are forced to get plastic surgery instead of fighting each other to the death.

It's, er, a lot more exciting than I'm making it sound, though. Honest.

Terrier, by Tamora Pierce

You guys know I love Pierce's work, and Beka Cooper is one of her most kick-ass heroines to date. C'mon, she's the fantasy world's equivalent of a beat cop. She and Katniss are cut from the same cloth, kick-assingly speaking, although Beka has a better cat and is a bit more likeable in her romantical leanings. (You know what I'm talking about, HG fans.)

Oh, and John is telling me to make sure I mention how much he loved this book, too. So, there you have it: two made-up words and a recommendation from John. You just can't beat that.

So This is How it Ends, by Tui T. Sutherland

I read this book several years ago, and loved it. In fact, here's an old review I wrote for it:

Post-apocalyptic adventure? Check. Diverse yet fully fleshed-out characters? Check. Killer robots, psychic mutant animals, and time travel? Check, check, and check. What's not to love?

Maybe it's because I grew up watching the Martian Chronicles, but I love the whole last-person-on-earth concept. This takes that premise and combines it with some action-packed adventures, fascinating yet believable characters, a smidge of romance, and a somewhat bizarre ending. That ending has me wondering if I'll enjoy the sequel(s) as much, since it was an unexpected twist from your typical sci-fi, but I'm looking forward to reading them regardless.

So, again, some similar Hunger Games-like survival scenarios with teen characters. Good stuff. (And I still need to look up that sequel!)

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card 

This one is such a classic that if you *haven't* read it yet I'm going to look at you quite sternly over my glasses. Don't make me do that. I mean, I don't even know where my glasses are.

The premise doesn't sound at all relatable - a six-year-old boy genius is taken to a space school to learn war tactics - but the story will suck you in almost immediately. Plus, the zero-G fight sequences are some of the best action scenes I've ever read. Seriously. I never though fight scenes could be awesome until I read this book. (Well, except for the naked shower fight. That was more awkward than awesome.) So, yeah: kids fighting to the death plus some of the best sci-fi writing in history. READ IT.

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins

It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized the author of The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - is also the same author who wrote Gregor the Overlander, another of my favorite books. Gregor is written for a younger audience than Hunger Games, and is a vastly different storyline, but if you like Collin's writing then you should definitely check it out. 

The story follows Gregor, a boy from the present day, who falls through a grate into a vast underworld on the brink of war. It's fantasy at its purest form, with talking bats and giant cockroaches and plenty of adventures, so if you have kids definitely read this one with them. (And if you love it, there are four or five more books in the series, which are also excellent.)

So there you have it! Here's hoping at least a few of these titles might be new to you. And if you're looking for even more YA fantasy recommendations from your fellow Epbot readers, go check out the comment section on this post; it's chock full of titles and reviews. Every now and then I go back there myself and make a new list of books to read. 

Ok, guys, your turn: what should *I* be reading next? (And for the record: I did love The Hunger Games, but I hated the series' ending. Too abrupt! Not enough closure! Can I get a witness?!)

UPDATE: By all means tell me your thoughts on Hunger Games, guys, but try to keep 'em spoiler-free, k?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Seven Ways To Be A Better Pinner

Hi. I'm Jen, and I'm addicted to Pinterest.

If you've also pinned the Kool-Aid, then you know Pinterest is a fun and easy way to visually catalog the things you love online. However, as the controversy over Pinterests's Terms of Service the other month showed, there actually are wrong ways to pin - ways that could even potentially get you in legal trouble. (And even if they don't, they're not very nice.) So whether you've been pinning for ages or are just getting started, here are a few tips to help you be a better pinner:

1) Pick The Right Picture

This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes - particularly with things like DIY tutorials or self-help articles - people tend to make some...well...odd choices:

If this isn't an article about hugging small appliances, I am gonna be SO MAD.

Maybe it's a Toy Story couch?

As a general rule, just look for a picture that's as self-explanatory as possible. If you're pinning a product, use a close-up. If you're pinning a recipe or DIY project, use a photo of the end result. 

 For example, I found this pin:

Right next to this pin.

Which would *you* click?

Articles can be a lot trickier, of course, since many don't have ANY pictures to pin, much less one that makes sense:


So, writers, this tip is just for you: always illustrate your articles, and use illustrations that are at least in some way related to your content. Remember, the more pinnable your content, the more readers Pinterest can send your way.

2) Pin From The Source

This is the most common mistake I see on Pinterest, probably because most pinners have no idea they're doing anything wrong.

The beauty of Pinterest is that, when used correctly, it directly rewards original content creators. However, when you pin from a third-party-site (meaning any place that is *not* the original source), you're robbing that content creator of page views and even business. Pinterest has become the #1 traffic driver for countless independent Etsy sellers, artists, bloggers, and more - so believe me, those clicks count.  

At best, an incorrect source link is an annoyance. At worst, it might get you in trouble with the image's copyright holder - so try to err on the side of caution.

Even if the site you're on credits a source, that's not enough. Too often that credit is just another site crediting another site, and we all know how frustrating it can be to chase a link through half a dozen websites. Don't do that to your followers or the content creator - find the original source and pin from there.

So to recap, because this really is that important: If I post a jewelry roundup here on Epbot, don't pin your favorite necklace from my site. Instead, follow my link to the shop it's sold from and pin from there. By the same token, if you see my flip-flop hangers featured on a craft site somewhere, follow their link back to Epbot, and pin the image from here.

3) Link To Posts, Not Home Pages

Now that you've found the correct source of your pin, help your followers out by linking directly to the specific page or post on the site in question, not just the website's home page. I've accidentally made this mistake a few times myself; I'll go back to a pin a few weeks later and realize my link only leads to a website's front page, while the post I'm looking for is buried somewhere in the archives. This can be ├╝ber frustrating. Don't do it.

4) Label It!

Pinterest encourages users to explain and describe pins by requiring a caption, but more and more people are just putting a period in the caption box to get around that requirement. 


I can't tell you how many caption-less pins I've seen of clear plastic bottles filled with colored liquid. What are they? Homemade dish soap? Perfume? Your baby's first wee? SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT'S IN ALL THESE FRICKIN' BOTTLES.

What is it?!


Adding a word or two of description not only helps people understand your pins, it also helps people find them. Think about it: if all you type is "WOW!" on your new bathroom makeover, then anyone searching for "bathroom makeovers" is never going to find it. Throw a few keywords in, though, and you'll not only be making Pinterest a more useful place for everyone, you'll also be reaching more potential followers. (I know I routinely follow people I've found while using the search function.)

5) Check Sources Before You Repin

I know this sounds like going above and beyond the call of duty - and it is! - but seriously, for every conscientious pinner out there, there are several more pinning willy-nilly from third-party scraper sites or the 75th Tumblr re-blog or some other uncredited source. At some point, someone needs to step in and remind the community that the originating source deserves a hat tip, don't you think? 

Fortunately, it only takes a second to click a pin and check the source address:

If the address looks suspicious or leads to something like a Google image search (another popular mistake), then take a moment to find the original source before pinning it. And if you want an extra gold star,  leave a comment on the incorrectly-sourced pin with the right link, too, so the original pinner can correct it.

6) Relax! You CAN edit your pins!

So you just realized you pinned something awesome from a third-party site instead of the original source. Don't worry; you don't have to delete it and start over again! Pinterest allows you to edit your pin source after the fact. Just hover over the image and click "edit."

Easy peasy!

7)  A Little Thoughtfulness Goes a Long Way

Hey, no one can follow all the rules all the time, so if pinning is becoming a chore, cut yourself a little slack. So long as we all keep these general guidelines in mind, and remember that there are real people being affected by where our pins lead, I think we can continue making Pinterest a great place to lose all of our productivity. Who's with me?

- And Finally, A Quick Word on Copyright:

The brouhaha over Pinterest's Terms of Service a few months back led to a lot of pinners deleting their accounts in a panic, and probably scared off a lot of potential users as well. The problem stemmed from language in Pinterest's ToS that stated you had to own the copyright of every image you pinned, or else have express written permission from the image's copyright holder. Obviously, 99% of the pins on the site break this rule. 

More worryingly, the Terms of Service also indicated that Pinterest could sell or license anything you pinned, leading people to fear their grandkids' photos might someday end up on a box of Lucky Charms.  

Remember this?

Fortunately, Pinterest has since changed the language in their ToS to this:  

" grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify (e.g., re-format), re-arrange, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest for the purposes of operating and providing the Service(s) to you and to our other Users." (emphasis mine)

As you can see, Pinterest is still laying claim to your content rights, but only insofar as to operate the site itself. And frankly, as far as CYA legalese goes, this isn't unusual or scary at all. Given the massive amounts of good Pinterest is doing for small companies and independent artists, I personally have no qualms with using the site or posting my images there - but of course you should read their complete Terms of Service and make that decision for yourself. 

I hope some of you found this helpful! And feel free to look me up over on Pinterest and/ or recommend boards to follow there; I'm always looking for more ways to avoid actual work.

So tell me, fellow Pin-addicts, what'd I miss? List your pinning advice and pet peeves in the comments!

UPDATE: A few excellent additions from the comments:

- Categorize your pins on boards, and do it correctly 
  Recipes don't belong in the "geek" category. 'Nuff said.

- Take the time to flag spam and inappropriate content
   Pro-anorexia and other self-harm pins *are* out there. Flag 'em (plus any other offensive content) by clicking the pin & selecting "report pin," so we can make Pinterest a safer place.
   Scammers can be harder to spot, but here are a few tips from Mashable on how to do so.

- When repinning, change the caption if it includes something personal
  You'd think this would be extra obvious, but it sounds like this happens to you guys a lot! So, if you see a personal note ("Hey, Mom, look what I made!") don't just repin that - change the caption.