This Week in Geekdom

Happy Easter to all those celebrating today! Even if this weekend did not include any holidays for you, there was still plenty of nerdy goings-on to get excited about (and/or ample excuses to nom on delicious seasonal candy).


Games

Yesterday saw the inaugural celebration of International Table Top Day. Introduced back in February by Geek and Sundry, the call went out to nerds and muggles alike to go forth, patronize their local game store, get together with family and friends, and partake in some non-digital revelry. That call was taken up by everyone from Steve Jackson Games to MTV, underscoring not only the burgeoning popularity of tabletop games, but the reach and degree of the Nerdaissance as a whole. Since this all went down just yesterday, it may be a little bit before we can get a grasp on how prevalent the celebrations where but I have a hunch that this won't be the last time March 30th will be commemorated with the rolling of dice.

In an effort of what may be extreme optimism about the prospects of International Table Top Day (or a gesture to ward off boredom for our progeny), game designer Jason Rohrer created A Game for Someone, which he then promptly buried beneath the Nevada Desert. While sporting game hunters or geocache afficionados are welcome to try and find the game, the intended "release date", according to Mr. Rohrer, is some 2000 years from now.

Dennaton Games announced that what had originally been slated to be DLC for their break-out hit Hotline Miami has officially morphed into a sequel. The as yet unnamed volume will be set in the 90s and aims to tie off a number of loose ends left by its predecessor.

Gamers are still raving about the latest chapter in the Bioshock franchise. If you're one of those who are still stymied by the game's intricate, physics-laden ending, the guys at Forbes have put together a handy breakdown of just what happened in Columbia.

TV

Those of us attempting to stave off our craving for a new volume of the Song of Ice and Fire series can perhaps temper that need with a fresh season of its HBO incarnation, which debuts tonight.

The interwebs have been exploding with rumors concerning the upcoming 50th Anniversary Dr. Who special. While many of these have been discredited, fans thrilled at the official announcement that both David Tennant and Billie Piper would be active participants in the special.

Mr. Nathan Fillion celebrated his 42nd birthday on Thursday. If you'd like to offer belated birthday wishes to Captain Tightpants you can head on over to the homepage of his charity and make a donation in honor of one of the shiniest men to grace the 'verse.

Science

The guys over at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (which has the power to enhance your mind just by reading the name) announced that what they initially believed to be a miniature stellar blast was actually a new kind of supernova.

In what may be either the most groundbreaking development in climate change ameliorative efforts or the beginnings of the destruction of humanity, scientists at the Universities of Georgia and North Carolina put forth their findings on a strain of bacteria that they genetically engineered to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The bacteria transmutes the excess greenhouse gas into various potentially useful pseudo-plastics. No word on whether this project can be successfully brought to commercial scale or thwart the zombie apocalypse.

Comics

The man who defined the look of pretty much the entire roster of the DC universe in the 80s, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, turned 65 on Wednesday. DC announced that it will be releasing a collector's compendium of Garcia-Lopez' works next month to honor the latter's monumental contributions to comics.

Nerd Life

Wishes for a happy con to all those attending Wonder Con this weekend. The past 2-3 years have seen the convention blossom from the red-headed stepsibling of San Diego Comic Con to a major event in its own right. This isn't exactly surprising, given the fundamental issues that have cropped up with SDCC. As we discussed last year, we're probably going to see a lot more of this phenomenon.
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NomNoms! Chocolate Peanut Butter Eggs

With all the anticipation leading up to and exhausting dénouement from PAX East, it's less than surprising to turn around and see that April is staring us in the face. After a winter that would have appropriate on the continent of Westeros, the prospect of spring seems extra enticing to most New England residents. Though I'm normally not one to devote any particular efforts to the heralding of spring (normally it's "yay more sunshine; boo allergies!"), the notion of indulging in some bright colors and sweet treats after months of frigid darkness and shoveling meters of snow seems well-earned.

In any other circumstances, I'd pass over sweets in favor of something salty but the recipe featured in this post provides a fairly simple way to get that ideal combination of both. Seriously, can you ever go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate? If you can, I don't want to know. Anyhow, around this time of year certain types of candy make their annual appearances on store shelves and in Easter baskets, relish in the confectionary spotlight for a few weeks, then go into hibernation for the rest of the year. Foremost amongst these elusive goodies is the peanut butter egg. Some skeptical/cynical individuals will be quick to point out that you can procure peanut butter cups at any point during the year. Fans of the peanut butter egg will immediately know why their more common siblings are not, and will never be, a viable substitute.

What if I told you that you could have that perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter at any point in the year? Now add to that revelation the idea that you could customize this glorious salty-sweet creation to be of any shape, size and color. Bonus: you can have such a thing for almost as much effort as it would take to go out and buy the commercially made version. It's true!

Beginning last October and continuing though…well now I've been tinkering with this recipe and swear on my non-Special Edition copies of the original Star Wars trilogy that it really is easy to do.  Is it time consuming and potentially messy? Sure, but difficult it is not. 6 ingredients and four steps is all that separates you from peanut butter chocolate nirvana.
Mmmm...peanut butter nirvana
Difficulty: Easy
Availability of Ingredients: Most Common
Gadgetry: None
Feeds: 4-8 nerds (about 15-20 eggs)
Time Till Noms: About 60 minutes of preparation and an additional 15-30 minutes of active construction

Required Equipment: 1 medium pot or saucepan, 1 large glass bowl, a large spoon (Tablespoon-sized), a wooden spoon, a baking/cookie sheet or two, a carton of wax paper or parchment paper
Optional Equipment: a cookie scoop, a large pot and a smaller pot that can nest atop or just inside the first pot, OR, if you're really fancy, a double boiler/bain-marie.

Ingredients

1 cup of creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups powdered (a.k.a. confectioner's) sugar
2 cups of chocolate chips (or 12 ounces of chocolate chopped into small pieces)
2 Tablespoons of vegetable shortening or oil

Step 1: Line your baking/cookie sheet with your wax or parchment paper (enough to cover the flat bottom and rise up a little around the edges), then clear enough space in your refrigerator to accommodate those baking sheets.
Your filling will go from solid to this state in about a minute

Step 2: Take your peanut butter, actual butter, and brown sugar and toss them into your medium pot/saucepan, then put the pot on your stove and turn the burner to a medium heat.  Remain near the stove and keep a sharp eye on the pot as the ingredients warm up. As they come to temperature, the peanut butter will soften markedly and the butter will melt. Once you see this start to happen, begin stirring the mixture until you get a homogenous, creamy liquid, then transfer the whole thing away from the heat source. After you've moved the pot off the heat, begin adding the powdered sugar to your peanut butter mixture in 1/4 cup increments, stirring until the sugar is fully incorporated into the mixture before adding more. The mixture will get exponentially stiffer and more difficult to stir with each addition of powdered sugar. It shouldn't be too difficult to keep stirring until the last 1/4 cup of sugar. If, for whatever reason, the mixture is being uncooperative, return the pot to a low heat and continue stirring. Once all the sugar has been added and successfully stirred in, leave the mixture to cool to approximately room temperature (about 10-15 minutes).

First 1/4 cup of powdered sugar
3/4 cup of powdered sugar
After all 5 quarter cup increments, the filling will look like this
Step 3: Using your large spoon (or cookie scoop), divvy up your peanut butter mixture and place your freshly-scooped spoonfuls onto the paper-coated baking sheet(s). At this point, you can shape the newly-partitioned mixture into whatever shapes you like. The shape you leave the mixture bits in now will be the foundation for the shape of your finished pieces. Once you've divided the entirety of the mixture and sculpted the resulting pieces into the desired shapes place your baking sheet(s) into the vacancy you've made in your fridge and leave them to chill for about 30 minutes.
They look so cold. Let's give them a coat...of chocolate!

Step 4 (Easy mode): After your peanut butter shapes have chilled out in the fridge, grab your large glass bowl and toss your chocolate bits and shortening or oil inside. Continue reading if you'd like to proceed on Easy Mode. If you're up for a challenge AND have the optional equipment listed above you can skip ahead to the Advanced instructions.  Place the bowl in the microwave and heat the chocolate in 30-second increments, removing the bowl to stir the contents between heating sessions, until all the chocolate is completely melted. Take your chilled peanut butter pieces out of the fridge and toss them, one by one, into the melted chocolate, using a fork or spoon to turn them until each has an even coating of chocolate. Place the newly chocolate-ified pieces back onto the baking sheet(s) and return them to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes until the chocolate coating has hardened. Woot! You have yourself a clutch of peanut butter chocolatey goodness!

Step 4 (Advanced mode): Fill your large bowl or the reservoir of your bain-marie about 2/3rds full of water and place on the stove. Put your chocolate into the smaller bowl/active portion of the bain-marie and nest this bowl inside the larger bowl/reservoir so it floats atop the water. Heat the water to gentle boil (think the point just before you'd toss pasta in, so some bubbles but not cascades of them). As the water comes to temperature, the chocolate will slowly begin to melt.  Stir the chocolate intermittently until it has completely melted. Take your chilled peanut butter pieces out of the fridge and toss them, one by one, into the melted chocolate, using a fork or spoon to turn them until each has an even coating of chocolate. Place the newly chocolate-ified pieces back onto the baking sheet(s) and return them to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes until the chocolate coating has hardened. Woot! You have yourself a clutch of peanut butter chocolatey goodness!
Om nomnomnom!

FAQs

Does it have to be creamy peanut butter?

It doesn't absolutely have to be, but chunky peanut butter will be a bit more difficult to work with (it will take longer to heat evenly when you're making the filling) and will take longer to chill. If you love the idea of a bit of crunch in your creations, I'd recommend using a blend of both creamy and chunky peanut butter and experimenting with the ratios.

What about all natural peanut butter? Is it ok to use?

You can use any peanut butter you want so long as the inherent oils do not separate easily from the solids. Does your peanut butter have a layer of oil sitting on top? If so, maybe save that for a snack or another project (like peanut butter frozen yogurt). The more liquid the peanut butter, the more difficult it's going to be to work with since you ultimately want it to form solid filling at room temperature.

How about almond/cashew/walnut butter? Can I substitute one of these for the peanut butter?

Definitely. As long as they don't separate easily (see the response to the second question in this section) you can substitute, blend, and otherwise experiment with pastes from just about any nut.

Can I use any kind of chocolate for the coating?

Sure thing. Milk, semi-sweet, or dark chocolate (or any combination thereof) will work just fine. You can even use white "chocolate" if you wanted to do some custom decorating. Baking chocolate probably wouldn't be the best thing to use though, unless you sweetened it during the melting process.

Shortening is gross! Do I have to use it?

It honestly depends on how long it will be between the time your peanut butter creations are finished and when they will be eaten. If that lag time is less than a day or so, you can easily substitute oil for the shortening (I do this all the time, since shortening squicks me out). However, if you're making these in advance and need to store them for a couple days then shortening is probably your best bet. We're trying to maintain a solid shape at room temperature and the best way to do that is by using solids. If you're still nonplussed by the idea of tossing hydrogenated fats into your cooking (can't say that I blame you there), then you may want to procure some baking wax. Yes, it's a thing and a thing you can typically find in the baking section of the supermarket. It's a tasteless, paraffin-based compound that forms a nice solid structure at room temperature. NOTE: under NO circumstances should you EVER use butter or margarine. They melt too easily, do not like to hold a shape, and become brittle if put in a refrigerator or freezer.

As always, best of luck and have fun experimenting!
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PAX East 2013 Recap

It's funny, there's really no single adjective or handy phrase out there that encapsulates the sensation left behind in the wake of a convention (in English anyhow). Though, ostensibly, we all experience this differently, most con-goers tend to grapple with a mélange of exhaustion, fond recollection and contented emotional hangover tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that it may be months or even years before such feelings are stirred anew. All in all, PAX East was generally a good time. There were games, demos, and excellent cosplay aplenty (you can check out pictures of all this on either our G+ or Facebook pages).  More interestingly, the convention organizers laid the groundwork for a cavalcade of potential awesomeness in the future. But first, some of the major game-related highlights!
- Some of the biggest buzz leading up to PAX surrounded an announcement that Blizzard had promised would be forthcoming at the convention. So what was it? It is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a digital CCG based on, you guessed it, the classes and characters from World of Warcraft. Response to the announcement, which happened in the first few minutes of the convention, was mixed. The trailer for the game was extremely shiny, but actual gameplay was generally described as a run-of-the-mill CCG with no distinguishing features. Following the announcement, the title was promptly relegated to a corner of Blizzard's booth while their prime feature, the console version of Diablo III, took center stage, leading many to try and puzzle out just why Blizzard thought we needed or wanted the CCG in the first place. Though Blizzard hinted that Diablo may or may not be extended to platforms beyond Playstation, they did not provide information as to whether or not the content of these new incarnations would extend playtime beyond the six hour mark. Meanwhile, PC gamers that braved the lines and got to demo the PS3 version quickly found themselves frothing with rage as they discovered the latter edition of the game contained better loot and features that were deemed "impossible to incorporate" for PC (ahem, always online gameplay).


- One of the other most anticipated items at the con was a real and true highlight: a live, playable demo of Transistor, the follow-up to Supergiant Games' 2011 smash, Bastion. Though the Supergiant booth was downright spartan compared to its peers in the main expo hall, the sheer visual and auditory beauty of the demo succeeded in drawing in hundreds of congoers. The wait times to play the 15-minute demo extended beyond the three hour mark for much of the con. As mentioned, the game provided a stunning sensory experience, flush with rich, crisp animation and a soundtrack that had players actively begging to buy the individual mp3s (which were, unfortunately, not available). Fans of Bastion will immediately recognize the general play style and may appreciate the newest feature: a variant on "bullet time" that allows the protagonist to drastically slow the progress of events in the game in order to lay out a brief sequence of actions. Lamentably, we'll have to wait until 2014 before we can bring Transistor to our own PCs but, given the depth and promise of the demo, it may very well be worth the wait. 

- One of the few booths to boast wait times that rivaled those over at Supergiant was Bethesda and their prolific demo of the Elder Scrolls Online. The guys over at Forbes do an excellent job of summarizing the game after having the opportunity to partake in an extended version of the demo not available to your average attendee. The game itself has decent potential given its commitment to highly immersive gameplay and a large, devout fan base BUT Bethesda offered very little when questioned about that critical facet of a good MMORPG: the endgame. As we saw last year with Star Wars: the Old Republic, a colossal pool of rabid fans and highly engaging gameplay only go so far in terms of player retention and satisfaction. It'll be interesting to see if Bethesda can provide the solid late game experience that has been the bane of so many other MMORPG offerings.

- Gearbox Software made every attempt to cover as much ground as possible during the convention. Between their enormous booth, guerilla marketing tactics (all the SHiFT codes), and active participation in several panels/press conferences, the developer seemed omnipresent. The lion's share of attention was lavished on Borderlands 2, for which a sixth playable character, Krieg the Psycho Bandit, was introduced on the third day of the convention. Players can purchase Krieg as a separate bolt-on to the base game for 800 Microsoft Points ($9.99 USD) beginning in May. Gearbox's partner for Borderlands, 2K Games, announced that a new level cap, 61, and Ultimate Vault Hunter play mode will anchor the release of next month's Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack, which is included in the cost of a Season Pass.
That's Mr. Psycho Bandit to you

The developer also sought to save face following the acrimonious reception of Aliens: Colonial Marines but it's hard to pretend that you're "committed to the game" when you blatantly dump the property onto another developer so more resources could be given to Borderlands 2. We'll see if anything comes from this, but the company's claims to improve the game rang hollow. Honestly, after such a disastrous release, at this point even if Gearbox does step it up it may be too late to save the game anyway.

- Firaxis eschewed a booth in the expo hall this year and instead availed themselves of a semi-interactive panel. During the panel they announced that XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be available for Mac on April 25th and that gameplay would be extended to all iOS devices by the end of the summer. The panelists made cryptic references to possible upcoming DLC in this teaser trailer and insisted that this maybe/sort of potential sequel would be, "faithful to the PC original source material." As someone who attended the XCOM demo at last year's PAX, was explicitly promised that the PC version would adhere to the canon of the franchise, and then got a generic interface that was very clearly intended for a console because the game was rushed to market, I'm extremely skeptical of these claims. Don't get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed XCOM, it just wasn't what the guys at PAX promised and it's something to consider with this year's proclamations.

The other major news from Firaxis stemmed from the upcoming expansion pack to Civilization V, Brave New World. Due out on July 9 (July 12 for everywhere outside the US), Brave New World will have nine new playable civilizations, two new scenarios, and cadres of new units including, get this, XCOM squads delivered by skyranger. As a fan of both franchises, I'm not quite sure what to make of the crossover. Firaxis did not, however, confirm whether or not Brave New World would provide anything other than stock additions like, say, a stable fix for the multiplayer portion of the base game, something which has been a source of frustration for many players since the release of Gods and Kings.

- Fans of Ubisoft's blockbuster series, Assassin's Creed, waited in line for upwards of four hours at a time to bear witness to a trailer and some pre-alpha footage of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (slated for release on October 29). Assassins and pirates! Whale hunting! There was no opportunity to actually try out any portion of the game itself and Ubisoft ruffled more than a few feathers by releasing the same video footage online mere moments after the convention drew to a close, but even some of those gamers who didn't care for the other three games in the series conceded that Black Flag had the potential to win them over. Despite all the press and floor space dedicated to Black Flag, Ubisoft managed to stir up quite a bit of excitement for their other upcoming release, Splinter Cell: Blacklist which, by all accounts, was the "surprise" AAA hit of the convention.
All this game needs is ninjas

- Bioware made noises that, somewhere, something would be done at some point in the future. Seriously, that was about it.

- Indie and semi-indie developers, Supergiant Games included, formed a considerable ring around the major publishers on the expo hall floor. Dennaton Games, the makers of the breakout hit Hotline Miami, followed up their recent port of said title for Macs with the announcement that the game would be making its way to consoles as well by late spring. The ports would come about with the help of fellow developer Abstraction Games. Unfortunately, the other offerings that Abstraction had available at the con were less than thrilling.

- Klei Entertainment, makers of Mark of the Ninja and Shank, leveraged a prime spot on the expo hall floor to promote their long-tinkered-over foray into self-publishing, Don't Starve. This psuedo-Victorian/dark humor survival game has come a long way since the beta and will be available for full release later this spring (though you can "pre-order" on Steam and start playing right now, which I highly recommend).

- Speaking of projects that were long in the making, the Behemoth had a strong showing at the con with the polished, nigh-unrecognizable Battleblock Theater, the follow-up to their original hit, Castle Crashers. Designed to be a cooperative game, though a solo option is also available, Battleblock pits players against a series of puzzles in the twisted, sadistic humor that made Castle Crashers so popular. The game will initially be available only on Xbox live starting on April 3.

In addition to the multitudes of games and general nerdy revelry, PAX East succeeded in several critical but not necessarily obvious ways:

Overall layout of the Convention: The physical layout and usage of the floor space was the most logical and user-friendly that we've seen yet. Despite the fact that attendance this year almost certainly smashed last year's records, the oppressive crush that used to be ubiquitous in the expo hall was markedly lightened. No more spending 20 minutes trying to squeeze yourself through the crowds to meet up with your friends on the other side of the BCEC. Were there still insanely long lines? Yes. If you pack 80,000-100,000 people into a space there are probably going to be lines. However, this year you got to wait in line without feeling as though you were going to be trampled to death at any given minute. Aside from a better overall configuration, those clever convention-planning minions did away with a mass outpouring of swag bags during the massive Friday morning queue to get into the halls and instead distributed bags from a central location every day. I have a feeling this prompted some congoers to take more than a few bags per person (particularly after it was discovered that each bag contained one of three different limited edition Cards Against Humanity packs), but perhaps cutting back on such excesses will be the focus for future cons.

Exposure for Indie developers: As mentioned above, independent game developers were situated around the bigger name studios like a giant ring. You had to pass through them in order to get to the gooey, chewy center of the expo hall. This, in conjunction with strategic placement of game makers like Supergiant that were coming into the con with their own following, encouraged attendees to sample from unfamiliar studios and otherwise go outside their gaming comfort zone. Given all we've seen from major studios in this year alone, throwing some attention at indie game developers can hardly be a bad thing.

Prevalence of Tabletop games: It was profoundly clear at this year's PAX that the convention is actively acknowledging the role that non-video games play in greater Geekdom. Not only was more floor space dedicated to the playing of board and tabletop games, but that space was situated in such a way as to give players the best possible conditions for their games (i.e. far away from the din in the expo hall). PAX played host to several large scale tournaments in everything from Magic: the Gathering to Dominion to Warhammer 40K. For large portions of the con, space in the dedicated tabletop section was an extremely scarce commodity. It was an excellent sign and hopefully an indicator of more comprehensive conventions in the future.

New Types of Panel Subjects: In addition to the extended tabletop gaming space, PAX slyly introduced its support for a couple other nerdy arenas that have previously gone unrecognized at the con. Foremost amongst these was crafting. Not only were there crafting panels, but a few "workstations" in which congoers could do things like paint minis. It's a far cry from the full-on crafting classes offered at other conventions, like Gen Con, but it's definitely a step in the right direction if PAX wants to move away from being an all-video-games-all-the-time show.

Until next year PAX!
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This Week in Geekdom



Happy weekend everyone! It's almost con o'clock! We're exactly 5 days out from PAX East 2013, so it's officially the height of anticipation and costume crunch-time. Boston is currently abuzz...ok, most of that is due to the fact that St. Patrick's Day is pretty big affair here, but even those celebrations have a geeky presence.  I'm up to my elbows in sewing, planning, and note-taking at the moment, so my apologies that the extent of posting this week is confined to a This Week in Geekdom. Also, next week's post will be a little delayed so you guys can get a full recap of all three days of the convention BUT you'll be able to get live updates from the floor of the BCEC via our Facebook, G+, or Twitter accounts if you're so inclined. Woot!

The 501st brings some much-appreciated nerdery to Southie
This past week was pretty jam-packed with events from all across the nerdy spectrum. Additionally, we had the awesomeness of pi day! Mmmm...always love an excuse to bake pie; the nerdy overtures are just proverbial icing or...filling...as it were.

Movies
In a massive victory for its long-stymied followers, the cult tv series Veronica Mars will be made into a feature film thanks to a now absurdly overfunded Kickstarter. While the results of the Kickstarter have certainly underscored the power held by legions of fans acting as a concerted unit, this instance might have all sorts of implications for crowdfunding as a concept.

TV
As mentioned on our various social media pages, Cartoon Network declared the official air date of the much-anticipated Season 5of the Venture Brothers. 

The producers of the Game of Thrones HBO series sat down to address the question that's been on the minds of many fans since the first season aired: what happens if the show outpaces George R.R. Martin's writing?

Comics
Iron Man turned 50 this week. Here's a look at the evolution of everyone's favorite roguish playboy billionaire genius philanthropist.

During SXSW last weekend, Marvel announced that it was releasing 700 #1 issues in digital format for free. The promotion was so successful that the sheer demand caused several major distribution websites and their servers to crash. Could this be their way of gearing up for an epic Free Comics Day later this year?

Books
Douglas Adams would have been 61 this week and even Google paid tribute to the man who encouraged us not to panic and to always have a towel handy.

Gaming
Since EA seems to have no concept of how tointeract with their customers or any notion of conducting business like rational, capable beings, the company continued to deny that it is impossible to play the newest edition of Sim City offline. This claim has since been rebuffed numerous times by both existing employees and savvy gamers. Seriously, guys is it really so hard to just listen to us when we say we don't want DRM or online only gameplay?

An innovative sixth grade social studies teacher successfully incorporated Settlers of Catan into his curriculum. Where was this when we were in sixth grade?

Science
Pi Day gave us more than a fun opportunity to indulge in tasty pastries and irrational numbers. We got confirmation from the guys at CERN that they are now confident enough in their findings from their experiments last July that what they measured was, in fact, the Higgs Boson.

25 years ago, the LA Times ran a feature illustrating what engineers and city planners thought the city of Los Angeles would look like in the year 2013. While some of the predictions, specifically those regarding the various technologies that are supposed to be available to us, seem adorably naive, the article focuses primarily on the demographic and environmental stressors that did, in fact, play out almost as forecasted.

Wired did a humorous semi-satire detailing how you could build your own spacesuit. In actuality it's more a general guide in systemic problem solving, but a fun read nonetheless.
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This Week in Geekdom

What's this? Two posts in one week? At this still semi-early stage in the year you guys have seen a couple new features on the blog and this latest tidbit is the last in this crop of experiments. Over the next few months the new features will be tweaked and adjusted as I get an idea of how popular/useful they are. The major post types (the ones that get their own subheadings at the top of the page) will continue as before. As always, if you guys have strong opinions about how the blog is constructed, or would like to contribute to this new features, feel free to let me know on any one of our social media pages or via [email protected]

This Week in Geekdom is essentially a round-up of events that fall within the purview of nerdery and occurred or were released within the past seven days. Makes sense right? The idea is to cover both pertinent posts from major news outlets and interesting pieces from smaller publishers, crowdfunding proposals, or blogs. It's less a litany of breaking news and more of a "hey, you may have missed this."  And, without further ado...

Games

Obviously, one of the biggest stories of the week was the kerfluffle surrounding the disastrous release of the newest edition of Sim City. You couldn't even open a muggle/normie news source without hearing about it. Though we already discussed this a bit, Forbes put together this commentary framed around a rare public outburst from an (alleged) EA employee. Aside from its general disregard for its customers, EA is also notorious for squelching any and all dissent within both its current and former ranks. I don't think this will be the last we'll see of this sort of backlash, but it will be interesting to see if this frustration actually fosters any change.

In what I'm sure is a wonderfully-backhanded coincidence...ok, it's totally a ploy to capitalize on EA's colossal failure, Steam is offering massive discounts on the excellent city-building game Tropico 4 by Kalypso Media Digital. Tropico 4 and its expansions have controls that are simple to grasp, but a deep and complex gameplay that will satisfy fans of strategic simulation games. The sale lasts until March 15th.

Given all the attention that's been thrust at EA, it's easy to overlook one of the other major recent releases.

It's already reached its funding goal, but if you haven't seen the trailer for the proposed Shadowrun Online game, you owe it to yourself to go check it out.

Comics

Disney and Stan Lee are on the brink of an enormous legal throwdown. I'd say this would have been a titanic clash a couple decades ago, but, with Mr. Lee suffering from several health problems and Disney being...well, Disney it doesn't bode well for the comic mastermind.

Feel good story of the week: a group of college buddies are banding together to honor a classmate whose life was cut short by an aggressive brain tumor by getting the latter's writings turned into a comic book series. Best of luck to these guys.

Movies

Because JJ Abrams apparently never sleeps, he worked as a consultant on the script for Iron Man 3. You know, when he's not producing multiple TV shows, putting the finishing touches on the upcoming installment of Star Trek or laying the groundwork for Episode VII of Star Wars.

Science

Though Sim City may be drowning in its own heinous publicity at the moment, digital city planning still has enormous real-world applications. Check out this so-called "City of Tomorrow" built almost entirely on algorithms and simulations.

Dutch airline KLM announced that it will be using biofuels, specifically fuels derived from cooking oil, on its transatlantic crossings.

Nearly two years after the horrific earthquake and resultant tsunami that caused Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to meltdown, a small cadre of journalists were permitted to inspect the clean up efforts. This amazing video shows what's being done to decontaminate the stricken facility.

Conventions

Some fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series were treated to this art exhibit at SXSW.

That's it for now! Hope everyone has a great week!
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Nerd Life: Once and Future Gamer Redux?

Being free from the all-encompassing grasp of graduate school has had a myriad of positive effects. Though I'm relishing each of these in their turn, those most potent consequences thus far have been A) getting to sleep relatively normal hours again B) reclaiming weekends as sources of fun rather than opportunities to do homework and C) indulging in games with not-quite-reckless abandon.  Fortunately, this gaming barrage hasn't included the latest incarnation of Sim City, the release of which (in North America) has unfolded into the sort of PR and customer service nightmare that has become depressingly common for EA.

Is this recent debacle a fresh rendition of the phenomenon we chatted about last year? Mmm, sort of. Though the internets are rife with the paroxysms of infuriated gamers, their gripes are fundamentally different than what we saw last spring in the wake of the release of Mass Effect 3. This situation is more akin to what Blizzard found itself mired in after it released Diablo 3 to the masses. With Sim City, the issue isn't a matter of the content of the game itself, but of critical problems with the functionality of a product that has been purchased and attempts by the manufacturer to address said issues.
In lieu of table flipping, we bring you this car fire
The guys over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun provide an excellent breakdown of this wholly unnecessary catastrophe. Bottom line: this happened because EA is caught up in corporate hubris on an epic scale. Their insistence on forcing online-only, DRM laden access to a game that is primarily single player drove gamers away in scores from the much-anticipated release of Spore. The company has apparently blithely ignored the immense backlash conducted on the forums of Amazon.com and pressed ahead with this deeply flawed distribution/business model. Now thousands of nerds are left with $60 of digital deadweight eating up space on their hard drives and too many hours wasted in what may well be a fruitless battle for restitution.

Is EA doing a fabulous job of trying to ensure that it is crowned "The Worst Company in America" for a second consecutive year? It sure seems that way. However, we, as gamers, victimizing ourselves via one of the major underlying trends that we spoke of last spring: we keep buying these products. Instead of exercising caution when buying games or, hell, even doing something as minor as delaying a purchase for a week or so after a game's release date, we rush out with all the consent and candor of one Phillip J. Frye.
This is why we can't have nice things
That enthusiasm is more than understandable; the Sim City franchise hasn't endured some two and a half decades because people hated it. I'll gladly admit that was a Maxis fanatic for the vast majority of my formative years. A considerable number of hours were logged on things like SimFarm and even SimIsle. If my computer had had the appropriate system specs at the time, my undergraduate GPA would likely have succumbed to the Sims 2. This trend would have continued in all likelihood had EA not attempted to force its online-only gameplay down my throat. After successive disappointments with Spore and the Sims 3, incidents that were considerably worsened by horrific interactions with EA's customer service staff, an air of heavy skepticism seemed to be in order when considering future purchases from the company. If you go to a restaurant and subsequently suffer poisoning it's plausible that it could have been an isolated incident; but where does the blame for your illness lie if you make several return trips and end up with food poisoning every single time?

The real issue, aside from the legions of disgruntled geeks, is that this sort of failure is cyclical. It has become so commonplace that we've actually come to expect it on some level. That is NOT ok. By buying into this phenomenon as a given within the industry we're tacitly admitting that it's perfectly alright to give us terrible service, to deny paying customers access to a functional product and/or a timely refund. Several counter arguments have been put forth that this isn't a simple corporate sham, but something of a "social experiment" due to the alleged lack of precedent with server-based single player games. Umm, no. It's a business model centered around absolute control of proprietary content. You could try to make that argument if EA was the new kid on the figurative video game block, but they're assuredly not. The studio peddled its digital wares for decades, with great success, until it became obsessed with web-based piracy. It has encountered considerable fan reprisals with every single one of its major releases for the past five years yet still clings obstinately to its draconian DRM and enforced online access.

And we keep buying into it. Guys, we're smarter than this. It's going to take more than venting our spleens on any forum that will give us access. If this is truly important, if you feel you've been wronged, then you need to vote in the only way that will resonate with companies of this size: with your wallet.

Best of luck to those still trying to get access to the game they paid for and a happy con to those headed off to All Con or SXSW!
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Cosplay: PAX East 2013

It's typically around this time every year that a deep sense of frustration seems to emanate from those who've trudged through the throws of winter. This year the phenomenon appears particularly prevalent in much of the US as we've spent most of the past month and a half digging out from one snowstorm after another. It makes for decent exercise, but more than a few people have had more than their fill of cold, dark days and inhospitable weather.

So the transition from February to March tends to have an element of attending anticipation in its own right, but the impending vernal/autumnal equinox is but one element of this. This year early March brings us Emerald City Comic Con and kicks the 2013 convention season into high gear. A happy con to those attending ECCC!

Oh sweet convention season. It seems like far too much time has passed since my sojourn out to Indianapolis for Gen Con 2012 but, between the holidays and a few other interesting recent developments, the days between that convention and the next have evaporated. And what's the next convention?  That would be PAX East 2013!

So, with a little under a month until doors open for PAX, we get to return to a topic that has gone largely unremarked upon since last October: cosplay. As PAX is what I'd consider my local convention (i.e. it involves an easy daily commute rather than flights and a hotel stay), I'd normally use this opportunity to engage in cosplay that's more intricate or involved than, say, something that needs to be toted through multiple airports. This year is a bit special though, as PAX will mark my first official costume commission.

You may remember a mention of a game called Consequential in the post-Gen Con run down. Well, after several months of work to broaden and improve upon the visual and digital aspects of the game, the guys at Asmadi Games will be hosting the world premiere of the public beta at PAX East. As part of the marketing run-up associated with the release, I'll be cosplaying as one of the playable characters from the game: Mariana.

Semi-Related Note: In the interest of preventing bias from creeping into the blog, any future reviews of games produced by Asmadi will be written by guest authors. The last thing I'd want is for you guys to feel like you're getting less-than-forthright content as a result of my new relationship with Asmadi.

Anyhow, back to bringing Mariana to life. She's a sorceress with garb that straddles the line between steampunk and pirate. Fortunately, both of these are fairly popular genres amongst cosplayers so there was a wealth of information for me to work with during the brainstorming process.
Guys, meet Mariana

The brainstorming bit differs heavily from cosplayer to cosplayer. Some people prefer a distinctly regimented approach to building a costume while others go at their cosplay in a spontaneous creative burst. Though making costumes definitely gets the creative juices flowing, I'm definitively in the former camp. Call me a stereotypical scientist, but I tend to work best approaching projects methodically. However, you shouldn't be afraid to experiment with different ways of doing things, even if you've been making costumes for years. It can make for a great thought exercise and/or an opportunity to reach out to the cosplaying community.

So I broke down Mariana's outfit into three major components: blouse, corset, and skirt. The blouse can be tackled in a couple different ways. Not going to lie here guys, making that kind of blouse from scratch is not easy. It's not impossible by any means, but it's not for those sewing neophytes out there. If you're up for the challenge, there are patterns here and here that are reasonably close approximations of what's needed for this sort of costume. You'll want a light fabric for the blouse, preferably cotton or a cotton-based blend, particularly if you're planning on layering it under a vest or corset. However, If you feel as though you could more ably reassemble the Triforce than cobble together your own Victorian/Edwardian blouse fear not. There are several online retailers that offer comparable pieces at reasonable prices. Yes, there's a distinct stigma out there attached to the use of pre-made items in your cosplay but, as we've discussed, there are occasions where pragmatic concerns outweigh any quibbles regarding the stuff you didn't personally make. These guys specialize in high quality period wear.

Next on the docket is the corset. For costumes that call for it, the corset tends to be the centerpiece of the entire outfit and for obvious reasons. It cinches, it accentuates, it has an air of intrigue about it, and it can carry both color and texture. Win all around. But, given that it's a garment that isn't exactly widely used nowadays, acquiring one can be somewhat tricky. Can you make your own? Definitely. Doing so is a tricky and time consuming undertaking, but is a great option if your corset needs to have a certain pattern or take on very specific dimensions (or if you're just itching for a challenge). There are a couple of very good tutorials that will walk you through the construction process if you decide to go this route.

If you're not revving up your sewing machine to build your own, then you should ask yourself one very important question before beginning to shop for a corset: Do I need it to be a functional corset?

That might seem like a semi-ridiculous question, but the distinctions you draw from your response are important. Essentially it comes down to whether or not you need heavy duty cinching ability or if you just need a garment that looks like a corset. If you throw 'corset' into your favorite search engine, you're likely to be met with a deluge of results and, frustratingly, an extremely wide range of prices. The items you will be presented with will probably fall into three broad categories: fashion 'corsets', mid-grade or stock corsets, and custom/professional corsets.

Fashion 'corsets' are really more like bodices or vests. Their sole purpose is to give the appearance of a corset, but they don't actually do much more than that. While the fabric used in these pieces can vary from chintzy to ornate, the boning used (if it's used at all) is usually plastic that will bend easily if it's subjected to stress. Any lacing featured on the piece may be ornamental, as most of these types of garments feature zippers at the back or side.

Mid-grade or stock corsets are functional corsets, but are pre-made with standard dimensions. The material used in the construction of the piece is typically the primary determinant of price for these items and the garment itself will likely feature one or more sets of laces. Most importantly, the boning sewn into these kinds of corsets will likely be metal that can withstand a good measure of stress.

Custom/professional corsets are exactly what the title implies: a piece made specifically to your measurements by a professional corsetiere. Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, you can access members of this highly specialized profession. A few emails/phone calls/Skype sessions are usually all it takes to begin the crafting process. Ostensibly, these corsets can take on just about any dimensions and be made of nearly any material. These are also extremely functional pieces designed to be worn for long periods of time.

So how on Earth do you choose? Let me break it down.


Pros
Cons
Fashion 'corset'
§   Inexpensive
§   Versatile
§   Easy to acquire
§   Can be worn for long periods
§   Limited functionality
§   Loses shape easily
Mid-grade/stock corset
§   Less expensive than professional corsets
§   Very functional
§   Somewhat easy to acquire
§   Can withstand stress
§    Can be uncomfortable or difficult to wear for long periods
§   May get distorted over time
Custom/professional corset
§   Extremely functional
§   Designed to be worn for long periods
§   Can be of any design/material
§   Long lasting/durable
§   Historically accurate
§   Very expensive
§   Can often take weeks or months to make


Unless you intend to re-use the corset or the occasion that you'll wear the corset to is particularly special you can probably get away with using a fashion 'corset' for costuming purposes. For this PAX cosplay, the biggest factor was the ability to wear the piece for long periods of time. Since I plan on standing or walking around for the vast majority of that time, I'm ok with sacrificing on the longevity of garment itself (specifically the boning).

Ok, let's get to the skirt. It looks complex, but is actually a product of tactful layering. The majority of the shape comes from a crinoline. A crinoline is one of those items that seems to imply difficulty and expense, but, depending on how much volume you need, you can easily make one yourself. All that's needed is 4-6 layers of stiff tulle and a fabric or elastic base on which to anchor the tulle. Cut the first 2-4 layers of tulle to end about a foot (30cm) away from your waist. Make accordion folds along the edge that will be sewn to the anchor, then attach the short tulle layers to your base. Take the remaining layers (which should extend to the hemline of the garment they'll support) and lay them atop the shorter bits of tulle, then sew the former to the base. Boom! You've got a quick crinoline.  Or, if you haven't the time or the inclination, crinolines are readily available online.

What I've got so far

As always, feel free to share pictures of your own costumes or jump in with comments/questions/tidbits of your own! Best wishes to all those gearing up for a convention in the near future!
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