Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Happier Meals Ahead: McDonald's Vows to End Gendered Toy Labels

Last month when I heard McDonald's was including some new Ninja Turtle toys with their Happy Meals, I decided to swing by with John to pick one up. 

"Would you like a girl's toy or a boy's toy?" asked the bored voice through the drive-though speaker.

John gave me a wry look, and answered, "The Ninja Turtle, please."

As we drove home with my new toy, I mentioned (ok, griped) to John that I was surprised McDonald's was still using "girl" and "boy" labels. Here in my lovely online bubble of geeky acceptance at Epbot, it's easy to forget the "real" world is still catching up to the fact that girls can love Ninja Turtles and boys can love My Little Pony.

Happily one young girl did more than gripe, though: Antonia Ayres-Brown was 11 years old when she first wrote to McDonald's CEO back in 2008, asking him to change his company's policy. And when she got a canned customer service response claiming her experience "was not the norm," Antonia proceeded to conduct a series of her own studies, visiting dozens of local McDonald's with her father and documenting the results.

If you don't think McDonald's gender labels on toys are that big a deal, then head over to Antonia's article to see the resistance she and other kids in her study met when trying to get the "wrong" toy. I was amazed, and if anything, this story helped put me even more on the side of gender-free toy marketing.

But, this story has a happy ending: after sharing her results and continuing to ask McDonald's for change, Antonia finally received a letter in December of last year stating that Happy Meal toys would be provided "without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender."

And here's proof they're following through, spotted on a McDonald's wall and posted by Do Something earlier this month:

I love that this change is happening, but I love the fact that a young girl-turned-young-woman made it happen even more. 

I tell ya, kids these days... out there, making our world better! It's enough to make a person grin like an idiot, am I right? ;)

Hat tip to reader Ann-Marie M. for sharing this story with me!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Cinder

Cinder has been at the top of my most-recommended list for ages, and once again, you guys didn't lead me wrong!

But let's be honest: you had me at "Cyborg Cinderella." ;)

To say that Cinder is a cyborg Cinderella story really doesn't do it justice, though - much like this cover:

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1250007208/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1250007208&linkCode=as2&tag=wwwcakewreckc-20">Cinder</a><img src="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=wwwcakewreckc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1250007208" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

Apparently Meyer's publisher hoped a Twilight cover clone would make us confuse her with Stephenie Meyer - a deception only made worse by the fact that not only does Cinder never wear red shoes in the book, she doesn't even have skin over her metal foot. Ug.

 Quick comparison shot.

That's about where my griping ends, though, and we can't hold the cover against Meyer; odds are she didn't have a say in it anyway.  Besides, cover notwithstanding, Cinder is darn close to absolute literary perfection.

You heard me: perfection.

Now, you might be tempted to think - as I did - that a cyborg Cinderella story simply MUST have an element of humor to it.

It doesn't.

In fact, Cinder is a wholly nuanced, sophisticated, and surprisingly believable story that adheres to the fairy tale only in its most basic aspects. It then builds on those aspects, layering in a deeper, richer story with so much more at stake than romance. At times Cinder is fighting for friendship, for family, and later for the freedom of her entire planet. This is not the Cinderella who runs weeping to her room; this is the Cinderella with the strength and independence to fight for both herself and those she loves.

[To clarify: there are lighter moments of humor in Cinder, like in any good book, but the overall story isn't meant to be funny. Sorry if I made it sound too dark!]

The setting for Cinder is its own character: a futuristic "New Beijing" that reminded me strongly of the cityscapes in Blade Runner or The Fifth Element, complete with hovercrafts and cramped marketplaces. The Asian cultural elements sprinkled throughout add another layer of depth and color, as the prince won't be king some day, he'll be emperor.

Cinder herself is a mechanic - the best in the city - but she's reviled for the android limbs and programming that make her a cyborg. She tries to hide her identity behind gloves and high boots, but a chance encounter with the prince soon makes her life a lot more complicated.

Again, Meyer does a masterful job of raising the stakes: a deadly plague is decimating the country, while a hostile planet continues to threaten war. She also tries to create a mystery around Cinder's origins, but sadly gives the whole thing away on page 44 (!!) with her heavy-handed hints. I wish she hadn't made the "mystery" so obvious, but that's a minor qualm, really, and not so central to the story that it makes much difference.

I should also mention this is one of those stories that grabs you from the first line and refuses to let go, so clear your schedule before you pick it up. I made the mistake of starting it around midnight, and was close to finishing all 450 pages in the same sitting, except John started questioning my sanity around 7AM. Ha! Tired as I was the next day, my first priority after work wasn't a nap, it was finishing this book. (Don't you love that feeling?)

Cinder feels like an older YA title, but content-wise it's fine for younger kids, too; no violence, language, or sexual content. There are some heavy topics and potentially disturbing imagery, but no where near as dark as, say, The Hunger Games trilogy.

Cinder's ending doesn't exactly end, but it does reach a point where I felt pretty satisfied to leave off.
You all know how I feel about cliff hanger endings (KILL THEM WITH FIRE), but no obvious threads were left dangling, and you're given a strong sense of what's going to happen next, so it feels like a natural stopping point.

That's a tricky line to toe, reaching a conclusion while still moving forward, and I'm really impressed with how well Meyer pulls it off. I've already ordered the sequel, Scarlet, but I'm not so much desperate to see what happens next as just looking forward to continuing a great story. If only all "cliffhangers" ended so well!

So in a nutshell: definitely pick this one up if you haven't already - but maybe get a good nap in, first. ;)

Looking for more? Then check out my complete list of book reviews and recommendations right here. And as always, please tell me what I should read next in the comments!

Friday, April 25, 2014

April Art Roundup: Frozen Nouvea, Sherlock Typography, Polygon Star Wars, & More!

Time for this month's roundup of geek art goodness!

First up, Megan Lara knocked it right out of the Disney park with this Frozen art nouveau piece:

 "Let Me In" by Megan Lara, 8X10 prints starting at $17


Er, does a necklace count as fan art? Let's say yes, so I can post this:

 Hand Sculpted Cookie Monster necklace by Geek Goddess Creations, $24.99

And by the same artist, this amaaaaazing Totoro box:

Handpainted Totoro Box, $49.99

All the sides are painted, too!

Head over to the Geek Goddess Creations shop for lots more goodies and jewelry, including this gorgeous TARDIS design:

I'm digging the mod look of this Polygon Star Wars Art by The Retro Inc:

Prints are only $5 each, or twelve for $30 - OR you can get them printed on custom pillow covers, starting at $34:

Which reminds me: check out the White Rabbit art pillow I ordered from Society6 last month!

It looks quite Wonder-full on my red leather armchair. ;)

That design is also available as a print, t-shirt, or anything else Society6 makes, though:

"Rabbit Hole," by Medusa Dollmaker, prints start around $17

John's sister is a fellow Sherlock fan, so we picked up this print for her at MegaCon last month:

Sherlock & The Hobbot Typography by Scott W. Smith, 11X17 prints $30

Each print is made up of dialogue from the movies! Pretty cool, right? Here are two more that caught my eye:

Head over to Smith's online store for lots more.

Danielle Soloud Gransaull debuted this new print at MegaCon:

 "DC Derby Girls"

And you can also get it on a t-shirt over at Red Bubble.

I really like Danielle's pin-up style, and her prints start at just $5. Check out this Wonder Woman commission of hers, also from MegaCon:

 Love the soft watercolors.

Head over to Danielle's webstore for more.

I caught up with Joe Rocks again last month, and since he still doesn't have a webstore, I grabbed a few more prints for the give-away board:

That Jareth is wicked.

Joe has an entire series of Star Wars, Doctor Who, and lots more. Head over to his DeviantArt gallery to see the rest!

I found this great TARDIS travel poster over on Etsy:

"Travel by TARDIS" by TheArtEye, 11X17 print $17

The artist, Joshua Graham, also has a fab monochromatic Sherlock design for the same price:

Love it.

And finally, I HAVE to share this squee-worthy Ponies find:
"Flight 101" by Stephanie, aka Steffy-Beff on DeviantArt

I don't think it's available as a print (boo), but Stephanie does have this dainty Fluttershy available as a t-shirt through We Love Fine:

(Yep, the shirt comes in men's sizes, too!)
Head over to her gallery for TONS more pony art, and where you can commission a digital sketch starting at just $5. Sweet!

K, that does it for this month! Now, you know the drill: comment below to be entered to win your choice of prize from my Pinterest Art Giveaway Board! I'll announce the randomly selected winner next week, and yes, I'll ship anywhere!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More DIY Antique Key Necklaces!

I've been playing with re-purposing old jewelry and antique keys again:

 These particular keys are kinda strange; they're like a modern/skeleton key hybrid:

While going through my stash I found some filigree that fit perfectly, though, with just a little trimming:

The glass leaves were in a goody box from one you readers. (Every now and then I get a bag of old jewelry or keys from one of you guys to play with, and every rusty box is like Christmas. :))

 Here's another one:

The skull charm is another scavenged find, although I added the red crystals:

I like the idea of using the key body as a kind of charm bracelet, so next I made a really delicate one:

The key is a modern reproduction you can get at any hardware store for a few dollars. The little bow was its own necklace, if you can believe it, that belonged to my grandmother. (They made some TINY necklaces back then!)

I made the loops for the little pink Swarovski crystals myself - which I'm pointing out because it was a PAIN:

They all slide around a bit as you wear it, of course, but I kind of like the jumbled-charm look.

And finally, for something completely different:

This one's my favorite. :)

I saw a similar design on Pinterest, and since I'd just purchased some wing charms anyway, figured I'd give it a try. All you need is a Dremel to drill extra holes in the wing tips:

That chain is one of the coolest link designs I've ever seen, btw. I found it and the other heavy chains in this post from a junky stall at Renningers, the giant antique market out in Mount Dora. There was an enormous box full of random chains, and if I ever find that seller again, I may have to buy the whole thing!

Hope you guys liked the eye candy! I'm debating trying to sell a few pieces from time to time, assuming I can ever bear to part with any, of course. ;) Not ready to take that leap yet, though, so for now I'll just keep making the pretties, and hope they help inspire my fellow tinkerers!

Oh, and you can see my other key necklaces here, if you missed 'em way back when.

(Or come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ashol-Pan, The 13-Year-Old Eagle Huntress

Jessica G. sent me a cool story from BBC News: For possibly the first time in 2,000 years, a 13-year old girl named Ashol-Pan has been apprenticed in Mongolia to hunt with Golden Eagles:


Ashol-Pan is part of the Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia, the only people today to hunt using Golden Eagles. BBC photographer Asher Svidensky spent time with 6 of their apprentice falconers, and described Ashol-Pan as being "more comfortable" and "more powerful" with the eagles than her male counterparts.

Awww yeah. Care to join me in a little standing-and-cheering, my friends?

[standing] WOOTWOOOOT!!


Head over to the original BBC article to read more, and to see more amazing photos like this:

Now, who else is inspired to write a whole YA series based on Ashol-Pan? And/or cosplay as her? Just me?

Monday, April 21, 2014

MegaCon 2014, Pt 5 - Last One!

Ok, it's finally time for my last installment of MegaCon costumes. Is this a new record? Ha! I like stretching them out like this, though; less stress on me, and I think you guys can appreciate the costumes more in smaller bursts. Yes? Maybe?

Well, either way, ONWARD!

Daenerys brought one of her dragons along. Creepy little fella, idn't he?

Awesome Big Sister from BioShock 2:

She even has the pink bows on her Little Sister basket!

(I am suddenly seized with the need to see a Big Sister carrying a Little Sister in the basket. Somebody, please, make this happen.)

These next few photos aren't mine, but I had to share this adorable little girl Doctor fighting off Roxy the Rancor:
Posted by Joey Myers here on Instagram.

And then there were two costumes at MegaCon I was mildly heartbroken to miss: first, Captain EO:

How cool would it have been to get a pic of the good Captain here with John's Dreamfinder? Two vintage, cancelled Epcot attractions, together again! *sigh* Well, maybe she'll be back next year. (Before I'm corrected: yes, Captain EO is back at Epcot right now. Details, details... ;)

And finally, oh how I WISH I'd seen this motorized Patriot in person:

via Orlando Weekly

Check out the exposed leg pipes! And he's even got the two crossed flag poles on his back. Sweet.

Ok, back to my own pics:

When I asked this Lady Death for a photo she had her cape closed in front, and so then proceeded to throw it open to pose like this:
John was visibly startled, which was adorable. :D

This next photo is horribly backlit, but these elves were amazing:

The guy had to show us his legs to prove he wasn't on stilts; I think he was nearly 7 feet tall!

More bad lighting, but here's a lovely gender-swapped Sherlock & Watson:

Plus Zelda's Majora's Mask.

(The red carpet & high lighting in the vendor hall does terrible things to photos. Terrible things, precious.)

This Harley had a great hammer & shoes:

And Tink there has the classic pout down pat. Super cute.

Sonic, squared:

This photo is begging for a caption. BEGGING.

Oh! Remember I promised Disney princesses wearing their princes' clothes?

TA-DAAA! Aren't they great? Probably inspired by this artist's drawings.

Steampunk super heroes and the new record-holder for Most Ridiculously Oversized Sword:

Dude. THAT is a Ridiculously Oversized Sword.

You guys will have to help me out on this one:

 I may not know the character, but that is a super impressive costume - right down to the metallic face paint and wigwork.

[Update: Looks like he might be the Monkey King from The Forbidden Kingdom, a martial arts film. Thanks, Nisay!]

 How to unintentionally make your cosplay photo look like an ad for Aquafina:


I don't know what's happening here, but to be fair, you never really know with a gang of Deadpools:

This Roger Rabbit was the bomb; not only was he perfectly dressed, he NAILED that pose:

And this was at the end of the day, too! Love seeing enthusiasm last that long.

Here's another character you don't see much these days: Betty Boop!
 I LOVE the black-and-white color scheme; she even wore gray contacts!

And finally, a gorgeous gender-swapped Wolverine:

Digging the wild, color-dipped hair; so perfect for the character.

K, this concluded my MegaCon 2014 coverage! Hope you guys had as much fun as I did!