Monday, April 8, 2013

Let's Get Medieval!

No, this isn't a Game of Thrones post - sorry. ;)

Saturday John and I drove out to the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, a massive outdoor event that opens shop for seven or eight weekends each year in Tampa.


There's live jousting, chess games with human chess pieces, carnival-type games that allow you to throw real throwing knives and axes, the highest per capita of corsets in the southern U.S., and lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol.
 I would say it's kind of like a convention, only with more dirt, sweat, and drunken carousing, but that really doesn't come close to capturing it. Ren Fairs are a unique phenomena all to themselves, and you kind of have to experience one for yourself.

Now, as a relatively quiet introvert who is easily embarrassed, I freely admit Ren Fairs are not my element. Everyone's so ... boisterous. There's lots of in-character shouting and challenges to duels and saucy propositions and barkers who'll call out to you and, well, interaction. With strangers. Heh.

That said, everyone's friendly and having a grand old time, and I fully realize I'm a big ol stick-in-the-mud. So even though I'm there strictly to gawk, I still have a good time from the sidelines.

The prettiest girl of the whole fair - and I'm not just saying that because she's wearing my favorite color. :) Isn't she stunning? 

I especially like the mix of attendees you get at a Ren Fair. There are equal parts hippies, goths, SCA enthusiasts, whole families, and everyday geeks and gawkers.


My camera failed to capture it, but that corset & skirt combo was STUNNING. The fabrics had this shimmer to them, and it was soooo pretty.

One area where Ren Fairs really shine is in the merchandise. The majority of the100 or so vendor stalls were filled with authentically handmade goods, and you could stop to watch glass blowers, glass forgers, sword smiths, leather workers, and more at their trades.

Heh. ("Honer"?)

Then there's the entertainment. There are something like 13 different stages set up around the grounds, with shows ranging from comedy to music to - I kid you not - mud wrestling. John and I have two favorites that we go to every year. Johnny Phoenix:

 Yeah, his show is kind of like that.

And the Washing Women:
These gals specialize in getting somewhat-willing men from the audience to do embarrassing things like this:

They also, well, pretty much molest the men way more than you'd think would be legal. They ripped one guy's shirt off, rubbed their hands all over another's chest and thighs, and licked this guy's bald head. A LOT. The good news (?) is the guys seem to find it hilarious, so s'all good. And when Pearl literally threw herself at this man, he not only played along, he took it further:

This culminated in a hilarious, faux-passionate kiss, followed by Pearl dumping an entire bucket of water over her own head. I honestly can't say if this show is a triumph or a blow to feminism, but DANG is it funny.

There's also plenty of more family-friendly fare, like this sword-fighting class that reminded me of the Pirate and Jedi academies at Disney:

And finally, there are the "street" performers: buskers who set out to amuse or amaze:

This statue guy is there every year. He looks pretty scary, but is surprisingly awesome with kids.

I think this contact juggler might be new:


Oh! And there was a mermaid tank!

For a dollar (I think) she'd dive down and fetch you a glass "gem." There was a huge crowd around, so it was hard to see, but all the little girls were clearly enthralled.

She made a trilling noise instead of speaking - a cute touch.

A few more random shots:

 All of the rides - and there were several - required a fair amount of manpower. Literally. :)
 (The tattooed guy would just push the "seahorse" back and forth.)

So many amazing, handcrafted costumes. It's a shame the glaring sunlight and dappled shade made a hash of most of my photos!

On our way out we saw the Maypole Dance:

 And that's it! 

Hope you guys enjoyed your virtual visit with us!


Oh, and since I mentioned it last post: my anxiety was fine at the Fair itself, but we had a bad time *getting* there. The whole hour plus drive was fine, but then the line of cars getting into the parking lot was backed up for miles, and for some reason being stuck in traffic is a major trigger for me. It's not rational, of course, but if I don't have the option of movement/escape at all times, I feel trapped. So anyway, I lasted maybe 10 minutes, I think (which of course felt like 30) but eventually my heart rate zoomed, the world spun, I wished for death, etc, etc.

I know I should be grateful car trips mostly don't bother me anymore, but it stinks that the second we hit traffic I start to freak out. It also makes me despair of my life ever being "normal" again, but I know I have to cling to hope and the knowledge that tomorrow will be a better day.

Anyway, John got us out of line and we parked about a mile away so we could walk in. It turned out that was *still* faster than waiting in the car line to park. We'll be remembering that for next year! Plus the walk was good for me to get my breathing and wobbly legs back under control.

We all have our broken bits, I know. I only mention this stuff to remind my fellow anxiety-sufferers out there that you're not alone, and you never will be. If nothing else, we can always be a little bit broken together. :)

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Sweet "Spica" Chair Modeled After Disney's Monorail

When Epbot reader Katie J.'s little niece Hannah recently had double hip surgery, she needed something called a Spica Chair - a specially designed seat for young children in plaster casts. Since the whole family loves Disney, Hannah's dad got together with a friend to build little Hannah something positively magical:


Yep, they based the chair on Disney's monorails! More specifically, on a Disney pop-up book that Hannah's mom has had since she was little:

They made it as a surprise for both Hannah and her mom, who I can only imagine was just as thrilled.

Hannah's dad built the chair/desk combo, and his friend Keith handled all the painting. In fact, you can head over to Keith's blog for more photos, including in-process pics!

I just love seeing how fans incorporate their passions into even the most necessary and potentially un-fun things in life. Mega kudos to Hannah's dad and Keith for the gorgeous work, and for making this big beautiful smile possible:


(And hey, a chalkboard desktop? So smart!)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Weekly Favs 4/4/13

(I'm kind of bored with my usual "Jen's Gems" title, so I thought I'd switch it up with something a little more descriptive this week. I'm open to suggestions, though, if you have any!)

First up, Thomas Zahler (author of Love and Capes) tweeted this ADORABLE mini Joker from WonderCon last weekend:

And the pants - but in my size. And the flower. :)

John and I keep an IM window open all day while we're working (or, "working"), so he likes to send me links to his favorite finds. Here's an especially squee-worthy one from yesterday:

Photo by Karin Thorell

These are baby geese ducks leaving the nest for the first time. (D'AWWWWWW. Must...nuzzle...)
Don't you want a little plush toy of these guys? With beanbag filling so they're extra squishable?

[Note: Holy bird corrections, Batman! Apparently calling ducks "geese" is all it took to get our very first Epbot Epcot. Ha!]

John and I finished BioShock: Infinite last weekend, and let me tell you: it's every bit as amazing as you've heard. There *was* a scary section with some spooky bad guys, and John nearly jumped out of his skin one time when he turned around and there was a bad guy RIGHT THERE, but other than that, it's still way, WAY less scary/disturbing than the first two BioShocks. If you're on the fence, definitely give it a go! (I've even started a new game on my own at the "easy" level, although I don't know how far I'll get!)

If you're not interested in playing it yourself, though, then check this out: someone has edited together the entire story to make a 3.5 hour long movie! And believe me, this is a *fantastic* interactive movie, so I'd highly recommend you watch it any way you can.

Found via SuperPunch

One of my most popular finds on Pinterest this week: Comic Book/Pop Art nails!

By Reddit user ReneeJade, who has a Tumblr nail blog here.

So fun, and relatively simple, too! As someone already pointed out, this would be perfect with a Roy Lichtenstein face paint/costume.

This has been all over this week, but in case you haven't seen it yet: artist Michael Lee Lunsford decided to explore the question: What if female superheroes were fully clothed? So he drew new versions of classic superhero costumes while still striving to maintain the overall feel. Even for the ones where you might prefer a little more skin showing, this is a great conversation starter for fans and young kids alike:

Fully clothed Elektra & Supergirl

See the rest over on GeekNative! (Found via my friend Alex on FB.)

Related, but also covered just about everywhere already: The Hawkeye Initiative is both hilarious and a valid commentary on the "hyper-sexualization" of women in comic books. Take a look, if you haven't already!

And finally, since it's been days since I tempted you with goodies to drain your bank account on, BEHOLD:

The pendant from The Neverending Story! Only $15.99 from Geekify Inc.

That's the same Etsy seller who makes those stellar iPad and Kindle covers that look like the book from the movie, but I like that you can snag just the pendant, too. It'd be perfect as-is for a necklace, or for custom projects!

John and I have a crazy ten days or so coming up, as we're headed off to a renaissance faire this weekend and my parents are arriving for their big Disney vacation on Monday. It'll be nice to break out of my reclusive hermit routine, but I'm hoping my anxiety plays nice! How about you guys? Any fun plans for the weekend?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do We Need a New Word for "Geek"?

Last week Felicia Day - who I love -  posted a quick video talking about the next season of her Youtube channel, Geek & Sundry. In it, however, she posed some interesting questions and observations on the label "geek." Here, take a look:

(Video link here for those who need it.)

I've seen some push back on this, of course, with people accusing Felicia of adding qualifiers to "geek" and therefore risking more of the fake geek girl controversy that has been beaten to death this past year.  Overall, though, I think the response to her stance has been pretty positive.

Personally, I see both sides of it: by defining "geek" - or any label, really - you automatically add exclusions, which risks a "geek police" mentality. But on the other hand, if "geek" means anyone who owns an Xbox or watches Game of Thrones, then you risk diluting the term to the extent that our sense of community is lost.

Why does that matter? Because the geek identity is something that draws us together, and (ideally) lets us know we're among friends. You may be into Anime and I may be into Steampunk, but we share this common thread of experience: of loving something even when it's unpopular, of being ridiculed or excluded for it, and of not letting other people's judgement dim our passions, but rather fuel them. THAT, to me, is what being a geek is all about.

You can already see that definition changing, though, as things like Avengers and Star Trek and, yes, even mash-up t-shirts go more and more mainstream. That's not a complaint, by the way - I LOVE seeing more people get excited about everything from comics to steampunk, and if I'm being marketed to more now by savvy businesses, then that's a win for everyone. I'm more than happy to support sites and stores like ThinkGeek and etsy sellers that cater to my interests, so hey, bring on the geek gear!

Still, the question remains: how do we remain an open, inclusive community while still retaining a strong sense of identity? Or should that even be a concern?

Do we rename "geek", or reclaim it? Do we start using words like "nerd" or "fangirl" instead, or maybe just qualify what kind of geeks we are, ala a Dizgeek, comic book geek, etc.? And keep in mind I'm not talking about labeling ourselves for the sake of labels; I'm talking about a means for finding each other - online or off - so that we can share our passions and grow together as a big, geeky family.

It's easier for me, I know, since I put all my interests right out here in the open on Epbot. When I get to meet you readers IRL, you already *know* who I am and what I'm into. Like I tell everyone: if you think we'd be friends in real life, then odds are you're right. Letting all my awkwardness and crazy passions hang out online makes it SO much easier to find kindred spirits and new friends - but what about everyone who *doesn't* write a geek-centric blog? Even I have a hard time connecting with geeks offline, so frankly, I don't know how the rest of you do it!

I can't claim to have all the answers, but I do know I'm never going to stop sharing the things I love here on Epbot, with the hope that inspires the rest of you to get unashamedly excited about the things *you* love. We're geeks, and I like to think we know who we are and what that means. Whether we find a new label or reinvent this one, I believe as long as we remember the ultimate goal: of sharing our passions and banding together to encourage others to do the same - we're going to be just fine.

So what do you think, guys: Rename, or reclaim? Also, how do you connect with your fellow geeks, both online and off? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Reviews: Across The Universe & Off To Be The Wizard

I've got two great books to share with you guys today, so let's get right to it!

Oh, but first I have to say: I absolutely love that there are so many authors reading this blog. I have a standard policy of accepting pretty much any book offered to me, but I make it clear that I won't necessarily read and/or review it, just to keep the pressure and expectations off. Even so, I get a little thrill every time someone tells me, "I love Epbot, and I wrote a book! Want one?"

So anyway, that was the case with Beth and her book, Across the Universe:

This book grabbed me by the gut by the third sentence, and it refused to let go. When John asked me how I liked it after the first few pages, the best word I could find was "gripping."

It's not that there's immediate action or nonstop suspense; the story just sucks you in with this unbelievably vivid description of undergoing cryogenic freezing, and the first person narrative makes you practically FEEL the sterile room, the needles, and the painful cold.

The story is equally fantastic, and everything you could want from great science fiction. A ship is sent out to colonize a distant planet, with a society onboard that hasn't seen Earth in more generations than anyone can remember. Then people start dying. The heroine, Amy, teams up with a boy named Elder to find out what dark secrets the ship's leadership is hiding. (Dun dun DUNNNNN.)

I loved just about everything with this book, from the characters to the mystery to the chilling commentary on power, control, and human nature. The ending was a perfect mix of resolution with some lingering mysteries left for the two sequels, which I look forward to reading.

I will say this is definitely a more adult Young Adult book due to sexual content - although not in a romantic sense - so I'd advise parents read it first before handing it over to their teens. Specifically, there's an attempted gang rape that gets a little graphic, and which spoiled what would have otherwise been the perfect sci-fi mystery/adventure for me. But then, you guys already know I'm pretty sensitive to that kind of thing, so unless you have similar or stronger qualms, don't let that keep you from reading Across the Universe.

(By the by, I was surprised at how much controversy/conflict my last review stirred up on that count, when I mentioned not being about to stomach certain things in my entertainment. I really didn't intend for it to be that big of a deal, which is why it's kind of funny how many book recommendations since then have included an enthusiastic, "... and there's no rape!" Ha! Anyway, here's hoping you guys know I *do* judge a book by more than just that - and also to take my own "sensitivities" into account whenever you're reading my reviews.)

Ok, next up is a book I'm super DUPER excited to tell you guys about, for three very important reasons:

1) My friend Scott wrote it.

2) I had the honor of being the final proofreader/copy editor for it. Yep, you can pin any misspellings or grammar errors ON ME. [gulp!]

3) It's freaking awesome.

 Off to Be the Wizard, by Scott Meyer

Here's the official blurb:

"It's a simple story. Boy finds proof that reality is a computer program. Boy uses program to manipulate time and space. Boy gets in trouble. Boy flees back in time to Medieval England to live as a wizard while he tries to think of a way to fix things. Boy gets in more trouble.

"Oh, and boy meets girl at some point."

This is a light, fun read reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and/or some of Terry Pratchett's work. It's not nonstop zaniness, though; the story stays grounded just enough to make the funny bits really sneak up on you. Those unexpected, laugh-out-loud moments were my favorite, simply because it's so rare for me to laugh out loud while reading. (That's one of the perils of writing humor for a living; you get pretty jaded to other people's attempts at humor.) Happily Scott was able to catch me off guard several times, though, and his use of the occasional geeky homage is the metaphorical cherry on top. (Btw, Scott didn't implicitly say that he included the one Ghostbusters reference just for me, but I'm going to go ahead and believe that's the case anyway. Cool? Cool.)

While Scott doesn't bill it as a YA title, Off To Be The Wizard is perfect for pre-teens on up. Anyone who's a little bit geeky and/or old enough to remember Commodore 64s will probably appreciate the tech and pop-culture humor the most, though.

You may already know Scott from his web comic, Basic Instructions, which also blends smart humor with the occasional dollop of geekery. If so, then I can tell you firsthand that Scott and Missy are pretty much exactly how he depicts them in the comic - and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. ;)

Off to Be the Wizard is $3.99 for the Kindle version, or you can grab the paperback for $9.99 here. Best of all, you can also read the first 35 pages here, for free!

As always, I welcome your book suggestions in the comments! And if you're looking for more of my reviews and recommendations, be sure to check my book review page, where I've listed them all by author and title.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Steam 3/30/13

I almost dedicated today's whole post to this AMAZING jewelry I discovered the other week by Justin Gershenson Gates - but then I found a few more goodies to cram in, too. :) But, first:

How cool is this?!
I am over the moon for this style, you guys. It only looks like the face slides open - the pendant is fixed that way - but the suggestion of a hidden mechanical element is just brilliant.

Here's another:

In addition to the deconstructed watch faces, Gates also makes gorgeous bird pendants from watch innards like this:

Plus intricate gear wheels painstakingly soldered together like these:

All of these pieces have already sold, but you can see much more at Gates' etsy shop, A Mechanical Mind. I'm going to be stalking it from now on in hopes of snagging a watch face pendant some day!

Now on to the other steamy goodies that have caught my eye since last time:


This gorgeous sculpt is by artist Tim Wollweber, and I'm gobsmacked by how perfect it is. That detail! That paint job!

In case you don't remember the original Gizmoduck from DuckTales, here's a reference:

See more pics of Wollweber's sculpture over at NerdApproved.

Speaking of cartoons getting a steamy makeover, Ellie R. spotted these Adventure Time illustrations by Mica Anunciacion over at io9:

I immediately told her I wanted to see them cosplayed, and whaddaya know, some people already have! Hit Mica's link up there to see more illustrations and cosplay pics, plus tips on how to build the costumes yourself. Fun!

Which reminds me: I've read that Adventure Time is FINALLY coming to Netflix ... today! WOOT! I can't wait to hop on the fan bandwagon; I've never seen any of it, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

Psst. Hey. Looking to do a little steampunky decorating on the mega-cheap? Then check this out:

The Library of Congress has released a huge online gallery of over 400 vintage prints and photographs like this, and they provide handy download links in case you want to print them at home!

Prepare to lose a good 20 minutes browsing, because there are TONS of great hot air balloon illustrations and ads in there:


In fact, I'm eying a spot on my living room wall RIGHT NOW that could use a pair of these. I see some printing and framing in my near future!

Well, I think that's enough for now; I'll save the rest of these goodies for next week. I hope you're all having a wonderful Easter weekend, and as always, please share your steampunky finds and creations in the comments, or over on the Epbot Facebook page!