This Week in Geekdom

Holy Mother of Dragons! It's already Sunday again? What continuum-warping sorcery is this? I'm not sure if it's a function of the season or the aging process that makes this portion of the year seem to follow that whole time-passing-as-a-series-of-Lorenz-transformations phenomenon we talked about last summer. In any case, we're somehow on the cusp of August and, one week from today, I'll be GMing my very first RPG! It's not going to fill the gaping chasm left by the distinct lack of Gen Con this year, but it's very exciting nonetheless.

The sheer quantity of goings on probably played no small role in the pace at which this week flew by. So, without further ado, the week in Geekdom.


As a tribute to the final season of Futurama, article-crafter extraordinaire Harrison Krix of Volpin Props created this to-scale replica of the holophoner Frye occasionally plays in the series. Though the holophoner doesn't actually generate holograms, it is capable of producing sound and projecting an array of lights onto a nearby wall.

Yesterday, lucky con-goers at Celebration Europe II got to be the first in the world to catch a glimpse of the art that will be the foundation for the upcoming series Star Wars Rebels, the successor to the beloved Star Wars: the Clone Wars. If you weren't able to make it over to Messe Essen you can see the art for yourself here.

What if the great houses of the A Song of Ice and Fire universe existed in our present-day world? Given the level of ambition there, it wouldn't be surprising if each ended up as a major corporation. Graphic designer Mondayne had that exact thought and put together these super-glossy fake advertisements for the would-be uber LLPs of Westeros.

Uh, you may be better off planning your own wedding
On Monday, the consummate inquisitor Alex Trebek turned 73. In honor of the birthday boy, Brackets Daily put together a survey of everyone's favorite Jeopardy categories. What is a wish for a belated happy birthday Mr. Trebek?


Much to the delight of cyber-fantasy gamers, Harebrained Schemes released their Kickstarter-backed Shadowrun Returns on Thursday. If you missed out on the release, you can purchase the game directly here or through Steam here.

Ever watched/read 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondered what it would be like to be Hal? Well programmer Liz England might just have a way for you to find out. In her game, ISIS, you are the titular space station hosting a lone crew member. Make your way through this text based adventure to see how long you and your human "pilot" can co-exist before one of you snaps. The game is 100% free to play here.

 On Friday, mega-telecom conglomerate Vivendi announced that its brand Activision Blizzard was buying out the controlling stake of its parent company for the tidy sum of $8.2 billion USD. The purchase will effectively make the World of Warcraft publisher its own company again, though we'll have to wait and see just what that may mean for the future of its roster of titles.


Remember last week that we talked about the Cassini spacecraft and its mission to snap a rare picture of Earth from its vantage near Saturn? Well, here are the photographic results.

In an amusing instance of life imitating the Simpsons, the Norwegian town of Rjukan will attempt to ward off the doldrums of seasonal affective disorder this upcoming winter by focusing the precious little sunlight residents are exposed to onto a centralized location using giant mirrors. The mirrors, each 179.33 square feet (54.66 square meters), will be borne by helicopters, will get their first real test run this upcoming September.

Gravity. It's always acting on us, even when we're not on the surface of Earth. We know it's there, but have you ever seen it? Check out these amazing satellite images of gravity waves.

Speaking of not being on Earth's surface, the Mars rover, Curiosity, successfully completed its longest "road trip" to date. Considerately enough, it sent back these images of its red planet sojourn.

The red threads are those neurons manipulated by the "Inception" team
Tuesday's issue of Science would likely have made Christopher Nolan smile.  In the periodical, researchers from MIT chronicled their work successfully manipulating the neurons of mice in order to "implant" false memories.

A potential breath of fresh air for some allergy sufferers, a research team from the University of Cambridge has pinpointed the exact response by the human immune system that results in a person being allergic to cats. Bonus: the scientists believe that existing classes of pharmaceuticals can potentially be re-purposed to effectively treat cat allergies.

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
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Nomnoms! Ramen Broccoli Salad

Greetings readers! And welcome back to all those who've been able to get out to one of the many conventions that went down in the past weekend or two (including the inaugural PAX Australia!). Not gonna lie guys, I'm very much living vicariously through all of you during this con-filled part of the year. Don't get me wrong, our wintertime sojourn overseas was all sorts of amazing, but now, with Gen Con less than three weeks away, the notion that I'll miss it this year is acutely bittersweet. Ah, sigh.

As mentioned a few days ago, this summer has been frankly Hades-esque in terms of ambient heat and humidity. Mercifully enough, we're in the midst of a brief reprieve at the moment and can do things like eat warm food or walk about without breaking into sweat. It's wonderful but, as it's still July, is almost certainly not going to last. Given this, the fact that we're still in the prime of barbeque season, and that there hasn't been a new recipe on the site for a little while, it seemed like some warm-weather noms were in order.

This recipe is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and an ideal side dish. It's flavorful, colorful, easy to transport and even simpler to put together. The most difficult aspect of this salad is literally just remembering to put together the dressing the night before and set aside for use the next day. Aside from that, and some smashing of Ramen noodles, it's just a matter of tossing the ingredients together and being on your merry nomming way.

Difficulty: Noob
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Gadgetry: None
Feeds: 4-8 nerds
Time Till Noms: 12-24 hours of passive preparation time, then 10 minutes of active combining

Required Equipment: A large serving bowl, a smaller metal or glass bowl for the dressing, a whisk, salad tongs, a medium sized plastic bag with a top that can be zipped or sealed closed, plastic wrap.
Optional Equipment: A sharp knife (if you're making your own slaw), a mallet to break up the Ramen


3 packages [15 ounce/425.24 gram size] of Mann's broccoli slaw (see FAQ for specifics on this ingredient)
2 packages of Ramen noodles, crushed
1 cup sliced, raw almonds
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 cup dry roasted sunflower seeds
15 ounces (425.24 grams) shredded carrots

1 cup oil
1/3 cup vinegar
The seasoning packets of the two packages of Ramen noodles
1/2 cup sugar

Step 0: Remove the flavor packets from the two packages of Ramen noodles, then place the noodles themselves into your plastic bag and seal the bag.

Step 1: At least 12 hours before serving the salad, combine all the ingredients for the Dressing in any order that you choose in your small metal/glass bowl. After combining, whisk the Dressing ingredients together until the mixture is as uniform as possible. Once this is done, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in your refrigerator.  

Step 2: Just before you'd like to assemble the salad, crush the Ramen noodles (I do this with a meat tenderizing mallet while the noodles are still in the sealed bag). Wash your scallions, pat them dry, then chop them horizontally into small pieces.

Step 3: Combine the components of the Salad in your large bowl, including the scallions and crushed Ramen noodles.

Step 4: Remove the Dressing from your refrigerator; it will almost certainly have settled and stratified during the night. Whisk the Dressing until it's uniform again (this may take a little longer than in Step 1 as the ingredients have probably stiffened in the cold), then drizzle it over the Salad.

Step 5: Using your tongs, fold the now combined Salad and Dressing until the two are well mixed. Serve and enjoy!


Ok, the ingredients, particularly those for the Dressing, are super nondescript. Can we get some details on those?

Honestly, this recipe is incredibly flexible and lends itself to all sorts of experimenting (mini mad scientist laugh). For the Dressing, I tend to use a blend of balsamic and apple cider vinegar, granulated white sugar, cold-pressed canola oil, and packets from beef-flavored Ramen. Very astringent vinegars, like white vinegar, don't usually work as well as more robust vinegar varieties like red wine, champagne, balsamic or apple cider. You can also use brown sugar, honey, or agave syrup in place of granulated white sugar. Also, just about any flavor of Ramen will work in this recipe.

I can't find Mann's Broccoli Slaw anywhere. Are there any good substitutes?

Green Giant makes a similar version; Dole does as well. Also, lots of grocery stores sell generic versions (which are often cheaper and of comparable quality). You can usually find these in the produce section of your local supermarket alongside prepared vegetables. If there are no generics to be had, you can make your own slaw by julienning the stems of broccoli bunches, carrots, snow peas and tossing some purple cabbage into the mix for good measure.

What's with keeping the dressing separate for so long? Why not just make the whole shebang in advance?

Here's the thing, the moment you combine the Dressing with the rest of the Salad, the latter will start to lose its crispy, crunchy goodness. Unless mushy is the texture you're aiming for, you'll probably want to avoid this. Similarly, you'll want to keep the Salad away from high heat. It'll hold up fine over the course of a run-of-the-mill barbeque, but will wilt rapidly in direct sunlight or if stored in extreme heat.

Best of luck with your culinary experimenting!
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This Week in Geekdom

Hey guys! Whew, another week in the books already. Most of us on the East Coast of the US are more than willing to see the last few days along, as we've been mired in a protracted and brutal heat wave (with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 37.8 degrees Celsius in Boston). Mercifully, the heat is currently in the process of breaking and we've had plenty of fun things to distract ourselves as we sweat through every article of clothing we own. Though we've talked about the increasingly dubious nature of San Diego Comic Con before, the con is still one of the single biggest sources of nerd news in a given year. Though this year seems to be a bit light on the actual content, there's still plenty of headlines coming out of the convention center. Since I could not make it out to San Diego this year, I recommend heading over to Topless Robot for a great run down of everything coming out of SDCC.


On Tuesday, paleontologists based out of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science released their findings on a new species of dinosaur in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Similar to a Triceratops, Nasutoceratops titusi is said to have been native to present-day Utah.
Imagine Running of the Bulls with one of these guys...

Dedicated to the notion of proving that hybrid engines can be both powerful and environmentally sound, British inventor Alan Bond (allegedly no relation to James) has received a parliamentary grant to build a functional prototype of his conceptual SABRE engines. If successful, the hybrid SABREs could be used in private space missions and reach speeds exceeding Mach 5!

Because University of Chicago researchers have apparently never read Asimov or seen any early 90s era science fiction, they have successfully built and tested the most advanced artificial intelligence humanity has seen thus far. As of now, their AI is about as smart as an average 4-year-old (sans tantrums).

Ever wonder what the guys at CERN do now that they've found compelling evidence of the Higgs Boson? Well, turns out they've been busy trying to test the limits of the Standard Model of particle physics. Here's a little synopsis of what this sort of testing entails and how the Model has held up so far.

On Friday, the Cassini spacecraft snapped only the third picture of Earth ever taken from the outer reaches of our solar system. To celebrate the occasion, dedicated video editor and astronomy aficionado Fabio di Donato composed this digital stream of all 200,000 images the Cassini spacecraft has taken in its eight years of service.

Thursday brought us the three little words that had science buffs all around the world in a frenzy: the pitch dropped.


Capcom made waves at SDCC with their announcement that they will be releasing a new title in their long-historied and beloved Strider franchise. If all goes according to plan, the game will be available on Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and PC in early 2014. Here's the SDCC trailer to hold you over until then.

Ah! Why do I have to miss GenCon this year? We got word this week that not one, but two games based on the Firefly 'verse are not only close to being released, but will make their world debut in just a few weeks out in Indy. 

General Awesomeness

The self-proclaimed King of the Nerds Wil Wheaton made his play to access even more of our lives earlier this week as he released his beer, w00tstout, to the general public. Check out the mini review of this alcoholic geekery and get a list of the states w00tstock is being sold in here.

Do you love to write? Were/are you a fan of Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal? The Henson Company may need you! Jim's daughter, Cheryl, has opened a portal on to accept submissions for a new novel set in the Dark Crystal universe. If you're not a writer, the site hosts plenty of other fun ways to indulge your fandom, including an 8-bit text based adventure game!

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
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Movie Review: Pacific Rim

The second half of July is usually a pretty fine time to be a nerd/geek. By this point in the month convention season is in full swing and suddenly we're awash with things to look forward to for the rest of the year. Add to this the much-anticipated Steam Summer Sale and a cavalcade of summer blockbuster movie releases and you may quickly find yourself giddily suffused in All The Things and perhaps marginally aware that you're a bit lighter in the wallet (curse you Summer Sale!). 

I return to you from my quarterly battle with the Elder Hydra mostly unscathed and eager to report on an epic confrontation of another sort. It was mentioned a bit earlier on in the year, but last night I was able to actually partake of Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim

Giant. Robots. 'Nough said.
How was it? Short version: It was the most fun I've had at the movies since The Avengers.

Not-so-short version: Were you born between 1979 and 1985? Did you, at any point, have a favorite Power Ranger? Is the Universal Century a legitimate epoch marker? Does the phrase "Shut up Shinji" mean anything to you? 

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above then you're probably already inclined to like this movie. Even if none of the above questions applied or made sense, there's still plenty to love about this film so long as you have the right mindset as you approach it. If you go into the theater with the expectation that this will be a lot of action and a lot of disregard for basic physics then the odds are that you'll probably come away from the movie having had a good experience. This is not a treatise on scientific feasibility; this is an encapsulation of all the best parts of a summertime popcorn flick. 

This is not to say that the movie is egregiously shallow. Transformers this is not. Aside from lavish visuals and compelling combat sequences, Pacific Rim boasts a both a very competent cast and a stirring score, the latter being brought to you by Ramin Djawadi, who also composed for Iron Man and Game of Thrones. Supporting all this is a distinct, palpable adoration that del Toro clearly has for the mecha genre. The film is less an homage and more a legitimate attempt to modernize and reintroduce the notion of giant weaponized robots to the public's purview. It's everything your favorite Saturday morning cartoons wished they'd grow up to be.

The film gets a blistering start off the blocks, peppering the audience with a synopsis of the disturbing events that shape the near future (the first of which taking place later this year). A cleft in the tectonic plates deep beneath the Pacific Ocean is the foundation for a dimensional rift that occasionally spews forth enormous hostile beasts, the mythic kaiju. These gargantuan creatures make a habit of coming to shore near major coastal cities and ravaging the surrounding urban area. After a brief period of panic, humanity bands together to offer a mechanical rejoinder: the Jaeger. Standing eye-to-ehm...visor-windshield amongst the skyscrapers they aim to protect, the Jaegers give their otherworldly counterparts a run for their money. For a while at least. But the kaiju aren't so easily cowed. Some seven years after their first appearance before mankind, they have evolved to such a degree that the Jaegers are no longer wholly effective against them. Unwilling to provide a continual stream of resources to potential failure, the governments of the globe withdraw from the project that brought the Jaegers to 'life'. 

With six months of funding remaining and the kaiju threat mounting to apocalyptic proportions, former Jaeger pilot and program director Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) launches a last-ditch effort to save humanity. 

At first glance, the nebulous of main characters appears thin and formulaic. You've got your washed up ex-ace pilot who's oh-so-talented but traumatized and unsure of himself. There's the unyielding, consummately selfless commanding officer. You've got the insufferably cocky but skilled counterpoint to our earthy, emotionally broken protagonist and the good old guy trying to keep the former in line. The lab is populated by the wannabe hip, eccentric fanboy and his straight-laced foil as the scientific noncombatants. Finally, there's the sidelined prodigy eager to prove herself and avenge the demons of her past. They all seem trite, like the price you'd pay for this kind of action movie, but there's actually a bit more to them than meets the eye. Each character is not only meant to be an active tribute to their counterparts within the mecha genre, but a sampling of humanity as a whole. Considering the dark subject matter, the movie is surprisingly humanistic and, despite our obvious shortcomings (there's a brief mention that anthropomorphic climate change provided ideal conditions for the invading kaiju), optimistic about our capabilities as a species.

Additionally, Pacific Rim is refreshingly non-Amerocentric, as the majority of the main characters hail from Australia or Japan and the lion's share of the action takes place in Hong Kong. It's extremely clear that this issue directly affects the entire oceanic region and the film tries to see that all countries in the monstrous blast zone get some sort of representation. It would have been nice to see even more diversity, as Southeast Asia and Polynesia got little-to-no screen time, but the movie did make a notable effort.

We're totally drift compatible.
Idris Elba steps out from under Heimdall's helm to give an unquestionably commanding performance, but it is Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi who effectively steals the show as Jaeger co-pilot Mako Mori. With her blue-streaked pixie cut hair, she exudes the flawed, determined, hyper-capable essence of Rei Ayanami. While she is, ostensibly, a love interest to the protagonist, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), the amorous aspect of their attraction is decidedly secondary to their overarching psychic/emotional connection. The latter is requisite for co-pilots of Jaegers, who operate the mechanical giants via technologically-enabled psychic link in order to share the incredible neural load that piloting entails. Moreover, any sexualization in the film is superficial and parceled out equally amongst both genders.

The movie moves at a breakneck pace for the majority of its run time, making it feel like the shortest 2 hours and 11 minutes of your life. There are a few slow and bumpy bits, but del Toro is aware that the relentless pace is part of the experience and these moments are short lived. The ending is predictable, the handful of attempts to weave actual science into the mix are clumsy, and Ron Perlman feels somewhat out of place, but none of these detract overly much from your viewing pleasure. For each qualm there is at least one moment wherein you'll want to bust out into applause (which several people did more than once during our screening). 

It is certainly not a perfect film, but Pacific Rim delivers soundly on its premise. So long as you keep this in mind, you won't likely be disappointed. By the end you'll be cheering and potentially amazed by the huge grin on your face. It's the perfect way to escape into nostalgia and anime-fueled fantasy...or just escape from the heat for a few hours.

Final Grade: A-
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