January 31, 2014

Baby AT-ATs are the best AT-ATs

Sometimes you come across a picture that just makes your heart melt into a giant, gooey puddle:

Even AT-ATs need sustenance, and this AT-AT mama is taking care of it. My guess is she's feeding her babies delicious fuel.

Photo by Red and Jonny, h/t BoingBoing

January 30, 2014

I'd Like to Live Inside All of These Star Wars Dioramas

Star Wars action figures look cool displayed on their own, but with some dedication and craftiness, you can use them to recreate scenes from the films. Artist Carl BouMansour has taken diorama building to the extreme with his detailed work. He's built locations such as the Mos Eisley cantina, Yoda's hut, Jabba's Palace, and more for commissions. I'm floored by the paint jobs on the miniature sets, and they're scaled perfectly. Just check out some examples:

Besides the accuracy of the models, the beauty shots are carefully composed. Especially the last shot - I love how you can see Luke, Leia, and Han looking at the fight in the background.

Yep, pretty much ready to shrink myself and move into these dioramas now.

h/t Laughing Squid

January 29, 2014

Win a Premium Figure from Iron Man 3 From Me and Sideshow Collectibles

It's time for another giveaway from Sideshow Collectibles! I've teamed up with them to give everyone a chance to win an insanely detailed sculpt of Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Just check out how close the likeness is to Kingsley:

The sixth scale figures is 12 inches tall. Don't worry, he doesn't spout propoganda. He comes with a ton of accessories including: an antique chair, sunglasses, army green boots, all the Mandarin's fancy rings, an embroidered dark green robe, and more. The retail value is $214.99. You can enter to win it for nothing but the cost of shipping and handling though!

Finally! A Merida Collectible!

Ever since I saw Brave and fell in love with Merida, I've been not-so-patiently waiting for more collectibles. Disney/Pixar has released toy sets, Squinkies, dolls, and a few other options but not many grown-up choices. I adore the items geared towards younger audiences, but I wanted more. There was a limited released statue and even a set of nesting dolls when the movie hit theaters but nothing since then. Insert sad face here.

Luckily, some of my Twitter followers know I'm obsessed with Merida and one of them gave me a heads-up about a new Jim Shore figure featuring my favorite redhead:

Ahhhhh! I squee'd when I saw the picture. Purchasing the figure was a no brainer. I like Shore's style and own a couple of his Disney pieces. All the carved details are beautiful, and I'll be photographing the heck out of the collectible when she arrives. You can buy one of your own from Amazon.

Thanks, Jeff Rothman!

January 28, 2014

New places I'm writing and podcasting!

I have some exciting news to share: I'm officially a full time freelance writer. I made the jump recently and though it was a scary decision, it was time. I've been essentially working two jobs for three, almost four years now - my dayjob and writing. It took a bit to build up enough regular and paying writing gigs for me to feel okay about pulling the trigger (paying bills is important), but here I am. And as such, I wanted to tell you about some sites I'm now contributing to!

Adafruit - The Adafruit blog primarily focuses on electronics, how-tos, and technology but they also recognize cosplayers are makers, too! I'm writing a couple of cosplay posts for them a day, specifically focusing on cosplayers who detail their process. I'm also interviewing a cosplayer each month - the first installment featured Kimi of Golden Lasso - and working on a series discussing how to use everyday objects in costumes. For my first object, I focused on five ways to use pen and markers in cosplay. More to come on Adafruit, too!

Nerdist - Many of you know the name Nerdist, and I'm excited to be contributing to the website about general pop culture news and fun stuff. I just started with them last week and am already having a blast working with such a nice and cool team.

Full of Sith  - Now, the podcasting news! I've recently joined Full of Sith - a chill, fun Star Wars fan podcast - as a regular contributor. I'll be appearing once a month and discussing various topics. The first episode with me just launched, and it's all about rumormongering and Star Wars reporting plus I fill you in on the supposed plans for Star Wars rides and such in Disney parks. The guys who run this podcast are awesome, and I'm looking forward to doing more.

In addition to those things, I just wrapped up a feature piece that will be appearing in Star Wars Insider soon.

Thanks to all of you who read the things I write. I wouldn't have been able to make the switch to freelance without you!

Applying the Jedi Code In Real Life

Like any self-respecting organization, the Jedi have a code. The creed guides them in decision making and influences their thoughts and actions. It's like a mission statement all members can follow and use as a framework for leading their lives. Their tenets can have decent side effects, and you can take a principle or two and apply it to your life even if you haven't been to the Temple or built a functioning lightsaber. And, you can do so without going overboard into the whole "Jedi beliefs are a religion" thing.

This is the four line version of the code based on the meditations of Odan-Urr:

There is no emotion, there is peace. 
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity. 
There is no death, there is the Force.

First of all, the code is exactly the sort of geeky mantra I like to memorize to calm myself down when I'm feeling anxious or stressed. But there are other takeaways (curse the business person who put that word in my brain!). Let's look at it line by line.

There is no emotion, there is peace.
While I don't believe all emotions should be discarded and neither should attachments, it can be beneficial to put them aside. Emotions have value, and our feelings about each other and different topics make us who we are. However, in a crisis or just when you need space to take deep breaths and be calm, having the ability to pack your emotions away in a corner and focus on peace is extremely helpful. Working within the void of peace can help you make more logical and fair decisions. Finally, I think this line is about understanding that emotions exist and learning to confront them or to recognize when they're in the way.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
This is like saying, "The more you know..." The more you are willing to learn, the more relaxed you'll be. I interpret this more as being open-minded rather than studious. Sure, there are benefits to continually keeping your mind active by learning new skills and researching new topics - I can't deny that. It's also just as valuable to leave your mind open so you can absorb new experiences. Part of this is also understanding that you won't be able to know everything - no one can - and coming to terms with it.

There is no passion, there is serenity. 
Line three seems like a repeat of line one - it just has more intensity. In this instance, I read passion as runaway emotion. We witness this in Anakin's obsessive love of Padmé; it appears to be fueled more by insane passion with no balance of logic. Emotions can lead your behavior and decisions, passion - in this Jedi Code example, not forever and always - can lead to intense and crazy actions (again, see Anakin). It's about control and learning how to dial yourself back and find serenity when you're about to do something rash and stupid.

There is no death, there is the Force.
The Force as seen in the Star Wars films doesn't exist. You can find similar beliefs in religion, but as that is not my path, I can't speak to it. What I take away from this line is not to fear death.

Do you ever apply the Jedi Code to your life? How would you interpret the code differently?

Her Universe has the perfect Valentine's Day gift for Star Wars fans

If you and your significant other celebrate Valentine's Day, you may struggle with finding the right gifts for each other. Well, if you have a lady fan of Star Wars on your list, Her Universe has helped you out by releasing one of the coolest pieces of jewelry in their collection so far: The "I Love You, I Know" necklace.

The necklace features the Rebel Alliance logo split in half with one of the memorable quotes on each side of the necklace. The chains included are two different lengths to help with sizing. One person can wear both sides, or it can be split and given to a loved one.

You can also bundle the necklace with a beautiful t-shirt design by artist Cat Staggs. The tee was pulled out of the vault (Her Universe used to sell it) for the occasion. It has lovely art, and it's one of the softest Her Universe shirts I own.

Order from Her Universe soon to make sure you get your gifts in plenty of time for Valentine's Day!

January 27, 2014

Geeky destinations: Bow Bridge in Central Park

One of the few good things about "The Angels Take Manhattan" was seeing several New York locations become part of the series. The 11th Doctor, Amy, and Rory spent part of the episode in Central Park reading and then running. Their quiet outings often seem to result in running.

I recently traveled to New York and while wandering around the park I stumbled across a certain bridge. It took me a while to realize why it looked familiar (I wasn't smart enough to look up Doctor Who filming locations before I left) - I'd seen Matt Smith running on it:

Bow Bridge is in the south half of the park by The Lake (that's its name) and not too far from Bethesda Fountain. We only found it accidentally on our way to the fountain, actually. It was a cold winter day instead of spring like during the episode, but it was still a lovely view.

I also spotted this clue near the end of the bridge:

I can't believe it doesn't have a tie to Doctor Who. Next time I go to New York, I'll have to bring my Amy Pond costume with me.

Bonus: Rory went off by himself here (the idgit):
It's right by the Bethesda Fountain at the Bethesda Terrace:
Just goes to show that stories you love can show up in your day in the unlikeliest of ways.

Check out my other geeky destination suggestions.

Photo of "female samurai" offers sound lesson for not believing everything you see on the internet

As I was browsing my Tumblr feed over the weekend, I came across something cool. That actually happens on a regular basis on Tumblr - it's an addicting site! Anyway, I spotted what was labeled as a rare photo of a female samurai. Just look how impressive:
An onna-bugeisha who is not only dressed in fantastic armor but also has flowers in her hair?! She's the sort of character we love to find in history books. Excited as I was and even though ladies like this might have existed (and probably did - take a big enough sample and you'll find a bit of everything), I had suspicions about the authenticity of the picture. Being skeptical will help you survive the barrage of information on the interwebs.

I tried a Google image search which led me to a post stating the anonymous photo above was indeed a female warrior. Interesting, but I still wasn't sold. Further digging led me to a Reddit post and a comment that pinpointed the photo's origin: it's part of a group of portraits for sale, specifically "Portraits of Japanese Kabuki actors and geisha. 1870s." The photographer is unknown. You can view one listing for the photos here.

The awesome rare photo of a female samurai is actually a portrait of an actor. Furthermore, women were banned from participating in kabuki plays at the time of the photo, so it's possible the photo is of a guy dressed as a female warrior.  Now, that assessment could also be false, but that was where the trail ended for me. It was yet another lesson for me to not take everything I see on the internet as truth. Google is your friend.

UPDATE 1/29: I tried to search for a definitive answer based on a comment below. I looked at several of photos of Kabuki actors from the period, did several searches, and an hour later I can't prove if the photo is a samurai or an actor. If anyone has the history, I'm happy to hear it!

h/t Tumblr

January 24, 2014

Geeky Leggings Comparison/Review

Fashion leggings is an area that has exploded in the last three years. It seems like it all started with Black Milk Company. I remember seeing their galaxy leggings and their R2-D2 swimsuit first. Since then, they've acquired multiple licenses and churned out dozens and dozens of leggings with appealing prints. Geek ladies around the world rejoiced! Before too long, other companies got hip to the trend and now, there are leggings freaking everywhere. It's kind of awesome, but with all the differeing price points and materials, it's hard to know which brands are worth it.

Though I resisted purchasing leggings for a while because I didn't think I could wear them without showing my spandex covered butt to the world, I eventually came around. I recognized how comfortable leggings are and finally understood that I could just wear longer shirts with them. Finding lengthy, stretchy tanks and layering them with sheer flowy shirts have allowed me to expand my leggings collection enough that it now warrants its own drawer.

Since I own a few different brands of leggings, I figured it was time for a run down of the positives and negatives.
Black Milk Clothing Leggings

Good: Tons of options and getting more licenses all the time: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Adventure Time, etc. High quality material, wide variety of cool designs, not see-through at all, been around for a while with reliable reviews, free shipping, epic Cyber Monday sale
Bad: If you're in the US, the free shipping can occasionally take a while, pretty much the priciest leggings I own
Material: Polyester, lycra, spandex - it varies
Sizing: I wear a medium, true to size
Price: $65 and up

Good: Good quality, fair price point, the designs they have so far are fun
Bad: Just Doctor Who and The Walking Dead designs as far as I know (still good designs)
Material: Polyester
Sizing: I wear a large (a size up for me)
Price: $27

Good: Frequent sales, several franchises including Disney, and Her Universe brand items show up here
Bad: Stock changes too fast to keep up with sometimes, medium quality but better than Forever 21, some prints are ones you see on lots of licensed apparel (especially Star Wars)
Material: Disney brand is 94% polyester and 6% spandex blend
Sizing: I wear a large (a size up for me)
Price: $19 and up

Good: Really cool Marvel comics designs, most affordable leggings on the list
Bad: Fabric pilled up after the first wash, very see-through and lowest quality I've purchased so far (still wearable)
Material: 95% cotton and 5% spandex blend
Sizing: I wear a large (a size up for me)
Price: $15 and up

Good: Fun and unique designs
Bad: Initial shipment had delays (specific to the type of leggings I ordered) and myself and a friend noticed we could hear seams stretching and making unhappy noises when we put them on - nothing actually ripped, but I've never had that happen with leggings
Material: Polyester and lycra blend
Sizing: I ordered a medium/large
Price: $65 and up

Good: Snappy designs with artwork that begins low enough that it won't be covered up by long shirts, bright and colorful and several cute options
Bad: Slightly see through, print on demand so shipping takes slightly longer than other places (in the US)
Material: 95% polyester and 5% spandex blend
Sizing: I wear a large (a size up for me)
Price: $26.50

As you can see, price makes a difference in the thickness and overall quality. You get what you pay for. The less expensive and thinner options are fine as long as you're planning to wear something long to cover the underwear area and if you won't be outsize in freezing weather.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with different brands and make this a leggings reference compendium thing!

Little Girl Sings the Heck out of Let It Go

Even though it's been almost two months since I saw Frozen, I still have the soundtrack on repeat - everything except the troll's song. "Let It Go" has me under its spell and if a version of the song pops up in my feed, I have to watch it. Have to.

I recently came across this rendition by 9-year-old Annelise Forbes and holy crap. She knocks the song out of the park.

h/t Cheezburger

January 23, 2014

January Loot Crate Time!

It's almost the end of January and that means it's time to open up a box of Loot Crate surprises! The theme for January is Launch - all the space and alien things! I liked the variety of this month's box; it has a toy, a book, a patch, stickers, a calendar, and more. Since it has the Star Wars Galactic Phrase Book, it became my favorite Loot Crate box ever. Check out all of the items I got this month:
So  many shinies!

The big ticket items in the box - a Superman Pop! Funko toy and the previously mentioned Star Wars Galactic Phrase book

A NASA patch (!!) and an AT-AT PocketModel pack

16 month Minecraft calendar

Star Trek and melting Rubik's Cube stickers

Not too shabby at all. Plus, the accompanying magazine has an interview with systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi from JPL (a.k.a. NASA Mohawk Guy).

The random theme and items are a gamble each month, but this box happened to really suit my tastes. I don't play Minecraft, but everything else is going on my shelves and all for great value! I estimate the retail value of these items to be over $40. Not so bad when you pay less than $20 (shipping and handling included) for your monthly subscription.

Sign up for Loot Crate now so you can get a box next month! You can try the service for as long as you like - a month, two months, whatever. Use discount code gwcloot for $3 off. Happy unboxing!

Full disclosure: Loot Crate box was provided free of charge for review purposes. This did not affect my opinions.

January 22, 2014

Pride and Prejudice Themed Engagement is Delightful

I have a special place in my heart for Jane Austen. Like many others, Pride and Prejudice is in my top ten favorite books and I love to revisit it from time to time. I've heard of Regency era themed getaways where you can stay in a manor with an elegant name and wear fancy dresses for a weekend, and I think they sound magical. Just experiencing a taste of that lifestyle would be interesting and educational.

But, if a vacation isn't in the cards, you can just put on an empire waist dress and pretend. That's what happened to Redditor ByTingo. Her boyfriend and family surprised her with a Pride and Prejudice themed engagement.

ByTingo came home and found her sister dressed in Regency attire and proclaiming that Mr. Bingley had returned to Netherfield. Another sister made ByTingo change into an appropriate dress (the mother made five Regency style dresses over two weeks) and ByTingo was handed a script. She was Lizzie Bennet. Family members and her boyfriend filled out other roles (the boyfriend was of course Mr. Darcy) and went through scenes from the book for about half an hour. The only word for this is charming.

Eventually, Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet departed for their walk and Mr. Darcy proposed. Huzzah for happy endings and creative proposals!

Best wishes to the couple!

h/t Super Punch

The Screens You Need To Create the Perfect Home Cinema

If you like science fiction or fantasy movies, having a fancy screen to watch your favorite films on is a must. I've recently upgraded from a 32 inch or so television to over 60 inch, and I'm blown away by the difference. I didn't know Star Wars could look so pretty. I had the experience again when I sat down to watch Pacific Rim in a friend's home theater. He has a solid sound system and a giant projector screen, and the combination (with comfy chairs of course) made for a night of movie-watching heaven.

It was definitely one of those things I couldn't appreciate until I experienced it in person. And now? I'm having dreams about a home cinema of my own one day. If you're also daydreaming about a better movie-watching experience, you can buy projector screens here and find everything you need to build an impressive theater.

Giant mechs and monsters were meant to be watched on the biggest possible screen, and if you can add a 3D projector to the mix, even better. I can't imagine what Lord of the Rings and Disney movies on Blu-ray would look like on the screen. Until I can get my own home theater set up with a projector and all the shiny accessories, I'll probably be making several visits to my friend's house for selfish reasons. But, hey, I'll always bring the popcorn.

January 21, 2014

Review of Hot Toys' Tony Stark, The Mechanic and a Giveaway!

Hot Toys. Most geeks with an affinity for toys and collectible figures know the company. I've seen their toys online and in Sideshow Collectibles' booth at conventions and have always been impressed by their attention to detail. It turns out their collectibles are even more stunning in person. Sideshow Collectibles sent me their exclusive version of the Tony Stark, The Mechanic from Iron Man 3 to check out, and I've been playing with him all afternoon. I'm floored by the clothing, the accessories, the sculpt, and the paint job. I don't remember the last time I had this much fun opening a toy.

First of all, the packaging was wonderful. Everything was protected but it wasn't obnoxious to get Stark out of the box, if that makes sense. Just look at all the parts!
Because I'm that person, I read through the instructions first and then carefully opened everything. I was overwhelmed by the options - in a good way. For someone who has only collected basic figures, busts, and maquettes, this was all foreign to me. It was like a box that kept on giving pretty Tony Stark-Iron Man parts. I went through the basics and was pleased to see the zippers all zipped up and down, the articulation was mostly fantastic (I had a hard time posing Tony's right arm - he must have tennis elbow), and the arc reactor and hand repulsor lit up. Amazing. I had the hood up and aviator glasses on in no time:
Though it would be easy for me to ramble in an excited manner about the quality of this figure and the fact that I got to essentially play with a Tony Stark doll, I'll go over some highlights:

Sculpt/likeness/paint: I think this is about as close as a toy can get to looking like Robert Downey, Jr. The beard looks nice for not being fuzzy and the battle damage looks realistic. They especially did a great job at making the blood look like actual blood instead of the usual bright red ugly stuff. I think Stark's bruised and battered face might have made the likeness a little easier to capture.

Clothes: Wow, they're made so well! From the jeans to the zippers on the hoodie to the logo'd undershirt - all of it rocks. The fabric is soft and flexible and moves with the articulation. It's very natural. And I can't forget the shoes! A+ work.

Accessories: This is where The Mechanic figure goes from amazing to awesome for me. So much thought and care was put into the accessories! It makes it easy to stage many memorable moments from Iron Man 3. The nail gun, the Christmas ornament grenade, folding pliers that actually fold and unfold, a gun, a plumb bob on a string, a small newspaper, the watch (not Dora the Explorer themed - I blame licensing issues), and extra hands and so many armor parts. Holy crap! I had way too much fun arranging tools on the backpack:
I had a little bit of trouble making the black headset snap inside the clear casing of the augmented cognition set but I suspect that was more user error than a problem with the product.

I only have a couple of nitpicks. For someone who isn't used to removable parts, I wasn't sure how hard to pull and push the joints. I have a knack for breaking things, and I was very concerned about hurting my Tony and causing irreversible damage. An insert for Hot Toys mentioning that you really have to push/pull would have lessened my anxiety. But, I also have the internet to tell me this and I have to factor in the fact that I'm a wimp.

For all the details they put into their figures, I wish they had actual hair. However, I completely understand that would come with its own challenges. Getting real hair to look and lay just right would be difficult, and if it wasn't perfect, it would take away from the overall awesome-ness of the figure. I can live with the plastic 'do.

Overall, The Mechanic sixth scale figure by Hot Toys is freaking awesome. It does more than just look cool on a shelf; you can derive hours of enjoyment from this figure by changing out parts and posing him. Iron Man 3 was one of my favorite films of 2013, and I respect and like that they made a figure of Tony Stark as himself and not as Iron Man. You can order the figure from Sideshow Collectibles.

Before I go, I also have a giveaway to announce: I've teamed up with Sideshow Collectibles to award one lucky person a Hot Toys' The Mandarin sixth scale figure. It has all the details you've come to expect from Hot Toys and who doesn't want Ben Kingsley on his or her shelf? Go over to Sideshow to enter for your chance to win! The contest will run for one month.

Full disclosure: The Mechanic was provided by Sideshow Collectibles for review purposes. This did not affect my review of the product.

January 16, 2014

Cold? Cut Open This Tauntaun Hoodie

The Polar Vortex has come and gone, but you never know when you'll face Hoth-like conditions. Be prepared with this new awesome, smell-free tauntaun hoodie from WeLoveFine:

Just look at it! The design is made for practical uses and everyday cosplay - it's got to be the easiest way to dress like a tauntaun. I mean, it even has horns and guts. It's apparent WeLoveFine put a lot of thought into the hoodie and included plenty of small touches.

For example, the zipper pull is a lightsaber. So, you slice open the sweatshirt with your lightsaber to reveal and crawl into the guts! And, the guts are made from a shiny satin material so they actually look slimy and have a different texture from the rest of the hoodie. Freaking brilliant.

It's priced at $59 and given the level of detail, that seems fair. Like most hoodies, it's listed in men's sizes but it's pretty much unisex. Just check the sizing chart before you order. As a fan of Star Wars, I'm so excited that hoodies like this are being made - who knows what other awesome designs it will lead to?

Get a tauntaun hoodie to call your own over at WeLoveFine!

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