Category: Reviews

Another tiny little review: Loot Letter

Anyone remember the tiny little review I did ages ago for a tiny game called Love Letter?

Well, apparently that tiny little game has spawned a tiny little parody. World, meet Munchkin: Loot Letter.

You know it’s going to be silly if it’s in the realm of Munchkin.

A quick refresher: in Love Letter, your goal is to get your love letter to the princess. You’ve got a small deck of cards which are numbered, and there are various amounts of those numbered cards – there are far more of those lower number cards than higher number cards, and there’s only one 8 – the princess. Once you get the princess, you pretty much win the game unless someone forces you to discard her.

Well, Loot Letter is pretty much the same – only there’s no princess. Only loot. And Ducks of Doom, and a Dread Gazebo. And a lot of potted plants.

I got the chance to play Loot Letter with some dear friends over dinner recently, and it was quite a bit of fun. J and Kasi had played it on their own previously, and found out there’s a lot less strategy involved and a lot more luck when playing with just two players. Adding a third player, though, made things more fun, and introduced more strategic moves to try and win the loot. Even though I goofed up a few times by not entirely thinking through some of my moves (like using a Dread Gazebo to swap hands with someone without really thinking about the effects of someone else ending up with the cards in my hand), I somehow managed to win the most loot!

If you’re in need of a short game to pass the time while waiting for food at a restaurant, or for a TV show to start, but don’t feel like something sappy, then Munchkin: Loot Letter is the game for you.

Munchkin: Loot Letter on Amazon

Spoiler-Free Review! Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

starwars

It’s the movie everyone’s been talking about all over the internet the past few weeks: the new Star Wars movie.  After the mess that was the prequel trilogy, I know a lot of us Star Wars fans (myself included) were wondering what J. J. Abrams would do with the series.  Would he ruin it or change it beyond recognition, like the Star Trek films?  (Don’t even get me started on the Star Trek films by J. J. Abrams – I like them, but… yeah.  Don’t get me started.)  Would he fill it up with lens-flares?  Would it be more of the unpleasantness that was the prequel trilogy?

I’ll admit, I was nervous about seeing this movie.  I’ve seen the prequels.  I’ve watched Episode I too many times to count, mostly because it was the first movie at the drive-in every freaking week during the summer of 1999.  I didn’t see Episode II and III more than once, though, because they were mediocre.  They felt weird, compared to the original trilogy.  I was worried that The Force Awakens would be more of what happened in the prequels.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Very pleasantly surprised.

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Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

127455 After my vacation in Florida towards the end of May, where I tore through a ton of books rather rapidly, I found myself lacking in the books-to-read department.  I’d finished the last of the new books that came out earlier this spring, I’d read through a couple of my favorites by Stephen King, and even read through the first book in the Mercy Thompson series – and couldn’t think of any other books I had been interested in reading.  So I took to Goodreads, and looked for suggestions based on the books I’d read (that I’d actually entered into Goodreads, anyway.)  And as I was poking through the suggested books, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch popped up.  I’d heard it mentioned around the internet as a good book to read, and so I figured, what the heck, I’ll go to Amazon and buy it.

And then I saw this review on Amazon, and absolutely knew I’d enjoy it.

“Right now, in the full flush of a second reading, I think The Lies of Locke Lamora is probably in my top ten favorite books ever. Maybe my top five. If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have read it, you should probably read it again.”—Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times bestselling author of The Name of the Wind

If Pat Rothfuss, whose books I absolutely adore, says the book is good, then by gods, I should probably read it, right?  So I picked it up.  And I couldn’t put it down.

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Chromebooks – Yay!

So Beth and I recently purchased a couple Toshiba Chromebook 2 laptops. We stumbled upon a display at an Office Depot one day and were impressed by their design and prices (Chromebooks have come a long way since the earlier models we were already familiar with), and the next day I picked up a model CB35-B3340 during lunch, and Beth, being instantly impressed with it, purchased a model CB35-B3330 the same evening. The only apparent differences between the two Toshiba Chromebook 2 models is the 3340 has 4GB of RAM and a 1080 HD IPS display vs the 3330’s 2GB of RAM and a standard display.

I opted for the 3340 due to the extra memory and resolution, and while the extra RAM proved to be an immediate benefit (tons of tabs could remain open without bogging down my fanless sweety), it wasn’t until I realized how well pages rendered when zoomed in I ceased longing for Beth’s far more readable text (my eyes would ache reading some articles, especially those fixed-width pages taking up all of a fifth of the screen real estate). Web developers, the majority of you create wonderful sites I can browse on any device and enjoy the experience. The rest of you? To hell with your fixed-width 1990s-centric “best viewed in Y browser at CRAPxPOOP resolution” pages. I know you don’t specify such recommendations these days, but I see it in your designs… you’ll never fool me!
Ahem.
See for yourself how an “I hate anything over 640×480” page renders on my Chromebook vs zooming in using handy keyboard shortcuts. Amazing. This feature alone made me fall in love with my Chromebook all over again! And for those wanting to take it a step further, the resolution of the entire screen can be adjusted. I won’t detail the steps to do this, simply press ctrl+alt+? (yes it’s all lower case on a Chromebook keyboard!) and mash the ctrl, alt, and shift keys to see a wealth of delicious shortcuts. No, I haven’t tasted them all.

Screenshot 2015-02-18 at 20.08.55
My layout sucks and my parents disowned me…

 

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…but thanks to zooming, you’ll soon forget my crippling inadequacies!

 

I’ve read several reviews bashing this Chromebook’s performance. In my not-so-humble-opinion, either those reviewers were out of touch and possessed excessive expectations, were using older versions of Chrome OS, or were just plain derp. Or all three.
The Chromebook has entirely replaced my Windows or Linux-based laptops, unless I’m gaming or in need of serious horsepower (e.g. transcoding video). The <5 second cold boot, instant-on from standby, and (in my experience thus far) 7 to 11 hour battery life has made using a laptop a more enjoyable experience than before. When it comes to word processors, etc. both Google Drive applications and Office 365 render beautifully in the browser, and even media-rich documents display with very little perceptible lag. When scrolling through a bunch of such pages quickly it’s evident I’m not on my speed demon desktop, but the delay never gets in the way of usability.
Oh, and being able to access and control all of my computers and servers thanks to Secure Shell (ssh in a browser whaaaat) totally sealed the deal in making the Chromebook my primary mobile device.

Eventually I’ll get bored of vanilla Chrome OS and install Linux alongside it, or, if I can manage to install a custom BIOS, replace Chrome OS entirely. But for the time being I’m happy to enjoy what Chrome OS has to offer and learn to work around any limitations. After all, I’m frequently asked to recommend laptops for friends and coworkers, and for those who can’t (rightfully so) justify spending over $300 for something they’ll use for internet browsing, word processing, and streaming, Chromebooks are a wonderful alternative. Oh, and I suppose being unaffected by viruses and malware is a stupidly awesome advantage over a Windows-based laptop as well!

Game Review: Pairs (or: What to do while waiting for GenCon housing access)

Well, I found myself with some unexpected time on my hands today, and I’ve been intending to review this game for a bit, so….

 

Pairs: The Review

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I’ve had this game on a shelf since September, waiting for the chance to get to play it.  I discovered the Kickstarter for Pairs through Patrick Rothfuss’ blog, sometime last spring, and eagerly backed the project and snagged three decks as a result.  (I mean, come on, Pat could put his name on anything and I’d be likely to back it.)  There were many decks available to choose from, and I picked three with artwork from Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles series, as I do love those books and was curious to see Shane Tyree and Nate Taylor’s artistic interpretation of the characters I’ve enjoyed reading about.  Once the decks finally got delivered, I opened them all up, looked at the beautiful artwork, and then set them in my “let’s play this later” pile on my bookshelf.

There are even more games, but they don't quite fit on the bookshelf...
There are even more games, but they don’t quite fit on the bookshelf…

Fast forward to today – the day housing access opens up on Gen Con’s website!  I eagerly awaited the coming of 12:00 pm, to see how long of a wait I’d have to get to the housing portal…

WHAT
WHAT

So, Ross and I figured this would be a good time to pick up Pairs and play.    Based on what I’d heard about it from the Kickstarter page, and what I’d read in the rules when I’d first opened the games, it seemed pretty simple – points were earned by getting a pair of cards, and the person with the highest score lost.  So, going off of that, we figured we’d shuffle the cards (which turned into an ordeal, due to the fact that neither of us can properly shuffle a deck of cards without turning it into a game of 52 Pick-Up) and start a game!  I read off the rules while Ross and I took turns slowly shuffling the deck – and the rules ended up being a little less straightforward than we initially thought…

It took Ross and I a little while to put the rules in terms we could wrap our brains around...
It took Ross and I a little while to put the rules in terms we could wrap our brains around…

Gameplay, for Ross and I, went as follows: Whoever dealt took five cards from the deck and put them face-down to start the discard deck, as the rules suggested, and then the dealer passed out a card to each of us – whoever had the lowest card went first.  Then, we’d take turns drawing cards, hoping neither of us would end up with a pair – especially a high scoring pair.  (The deck is a pyramid deck – there’s one 1, two 2s, three 3s, and so on, making your chances of getting a high numbered card pretty large.)  When one of us ended up with a pair, that ended the round – we’d set aside a card from that pair to keep score, and the rest went into the discard pile.  We repeated that until one of us hit 31 points, the suggested “losing” score number that the rules gave us.

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A round in progress…

 

It was actually pretty fun – and once we figured out what we were doing, we enjoyed it.  I think we ended up playing three games – I lost twice, Ross lost once.  It didn’t help too much that Ross kept commenting on the artwork on the cards – it hinted at what cards he had, haha.  The artwork for the Commonwealth Deck (the one we played with), done by Shane Tyree, is absolutely gorgeous. While I wish the art focused on specific characters in the Kingkiller Chronicles, the game is mentioned to be played in the universe of the stories – and characters from the story seeing themselves on a card, well, that’d be rather odd.

Steve enjoyed the game, too.  He thought it was tasty.
Steve enjoyed the game, too. He thought it was tasty.

Overall, it was a pretty fun game, and a good way to kill time.  I think it might have been even more fun with more people playing, but for Ross and I, it was pretty good too.  I might even bring this along with me if I’m going out to eat with a group of people, as a fun way of keeping everyone entertained while waiting for food.  If you want to learn more, visit the Pairs page on Cheapass Games’ website!

Well, killed some more time...
Well, killed some more time…

And it meant a half-hour’s worth of time not spent looking at the computer, anxiously waiting our turn for housing.  (At the time of this writing, I’ve got fourteen and a half minutes left – I hope hope hope there’s still room in the JW Marriott or even the Hampton Inn…)

Straight from the future: Review of the LG G Watch

When I first heard about smartwatches, when the Pebble first came out, I thought “oh, they’re just a fad, they’ll never take off.”  Then again, I said the same thing about smartphones and tablets, and now I’m on my fourth smartphone and currently own two tablets (although one likes to pretend it’s a laptop), so…  Anyhow, time passed, more smartwatches were released, and then I heard about the Android Wear operating system – in short, a tiny version of Android meant to power smartwatches.  That caught my attention, as I’ve been an Android fangirl since I first used Froyo on my first ever smartphone (an HTC Hero).  In fact, I can tell you exactly how many Apple mobile devices I’ve owned – two.  A second gen iPod touch, and a first gen iPad mini.  But I digress.  Anyway.  Smartwatches with Android?  Sign me up!  I got rather excited when I found smartwatches on the Google Play store, and read quite a few reviews about them which got me even more excited.  And then I told Ross about them – and he got excited too.

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A close-up of the LG G Watch, attempting to control my camera for me.

We both ended up snagging the LG G Watch, straight from the Google Play store (it was on sale for $179 when we got our watches).  And paid rush shipping, because we’re both impatient.  And once the boxes ended up on our doorstep (the UPS guy thought we’d both ordered the new iPhone, because they came in roughly phone-shaped boxes – I let him know otherwise, haha), I tore right into mine and started playing with it.  Sure, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do with the watch on its own – it’s meant to work as an extension of your phone – but even so, it’s amazing to be able to check and dismiss your alerts, pull up information about your commute, see when the next sportsball game is, control your music, pause Netflix, and more, all from your wrist.

The battery life on this little guy is pretty good – an average day’s use involves me checking and dismissing alerts, using the pedometer to count my steps, occasionally responding via voice to a text message or Google Hangout chat, and telling Pear (a handy app that reminds you to grab your phone if you’ve left it behind) that yes, I really did mean to leave my phone at my desk while I wandered to the other side of the CIB to get a snack.  And with that day’s average use, I tend to get home at the end of the day (often around 8 pm) with around 50% battery life left.  Which is pretty impressive for a device with a screen that stays on all day!  There are also apps that allow you to customize your Android Wear experience – for example, I make use of Wear Mini Launcher so I have access to the app menu a little more easily, and I also use Facer to create custom watch faces (which you can see in the image on the left, with the pink and black background, built to match my phone’s background).  If you’re a Starbucks lover, you can even pay for coffee with your watch using one of the many apps available to show your card’s barcode – Ross and I use Coffee Time, and enjoy the reactions we get from the baristas as we pay with our watches, haha.  Heck, if you’re an ’80s kid who always wanted a calculator watch, much like myself, you can even download an app to turn your watch into a little wrist calculator (Calculator – Android Wear is my favorite).  There’s quite a bit you can do with this little watch!

What my watch typically looks like when it's not active, just without the "plz let me control your camera" thing.
What my watch typically looks like when it’s not active, just without the “plz let me control your camera” thing.

Overall, I’m pleased – while I wish it could do a few more things (it’d be nice, for example, if the pedometer data could be backed up to another service so I can keep track of my step history), for what it is, it’s pretty awesome.  Plus, I feel like I’m living in the future when I’m shooting down the street on Mia and feel the watch vibrate on my wrist because I’ve received a text.  Sure, I feel silly shoving my wrist into my helmet to shout a response at my watch, but I also feel pretty darn epic, you know?  I’m talking.  To my watch.  While sitting on my scooter at a stoplight, sending a text message.  (I do practice safe riding, and don’t screw with the watch while Mia’s moving, I don’t want to have another incident like that crash involving a shoddy cellphone mount startling me as it and my phone plummet into my lap, causing me to lose my balance and topple over onto the pavement at 25mph.)

If you happen to want a smartwatch of your own, you can get them in a couple of places – Amazon, for one, and also the Google Play store – and there are a few varieties.  There’s the LG G Watch, like what I’ve got, which is water resistant, has a 1.65 inch screen, and gives you the option to switch out the watch band for something different if you choose.  (I do like the G Watch’s band, though, it’s actually pretty comfy to wear.)  There’s also the Samsung Gear Live watch, which I almost went with – in addition to being water resistant and having the same screen size as the G Watch, it also has the added functionality of being able to check your heart rate via the watch, which may be handy for fitness nuts.  For those of you who prefer a more traditional round watch face, there’s the Motorola Moto 360, which has many of the same options as the Samsung Gear Live watch.  One of the biggest things to keep in mind as you pick out a smartwatch is to remember that this is the first generation of Android Live smartwatches – and there are bound to be some bugs.  Apps will crash, the voice recognition will mangle your text messages occasionally (which can be amusing, albeit also frustrating), and other unexpected things will happen.  If you’re looking for a smoother smartwatch experience, you may want to wait until the next generation of watches are released.  However, if you’re like me, and you like to experience the newest technology, then these watches are a good starting point for those looking to get into the smartwatch world!

61 Levels Later… (or, eight months with HabitRPG)

Started out as a lowly warrior, back in December...
Started out as a lowly warrior, back in December…

How many of you remember me posting about HabitRPG, the to-do and habit building site/app that turns your life into an epic adventure where you can earn experience for taking the dog for a walk?   Well, if you can’t quite remember it, here’s the post I wrote.

I’ll admit – when I first started using HabitRPG, I was thinking “oh, I know me, I won’t stick around for long.  I’ll use it diligently for a few weeks, and then stop.”  That’s usually how it goes with me – but not this time.  Oh, definitely not this time.

Logging in day after day, checking off my to-do list and daily habits and getting experience for them, well, the novelty did wear off after a little while.  But then I went on some quests.  I fought Vice and got some pretty impressive goodies such as a staff that makes my awesome Mage just that much awesomer.  I conquered The Spirit of Spring, The Hedgebeast, and Octothulu and earned quite an impressive menagerie of pets. And most recently, I banded together with all the citizens of Habitica to fight off the Dread Drag’on of Dilatory.  The quests are definitely one of the things that keep me coming back.

And I can play with friends, too.  There’s two ways to do this – you can have a party of people you go questing with, or you can create a guild and participate in challenges.  Either way is a great way to keep yourself coming back.  There were some days where I was feeling lazy, and didn’t really feel like logging in and marking my stuff off as done… but then I’d remember I was part of a quest with my party members, and if I didn’t log in, they’d take damage, and I didn’t want that to happen – which motivated me to get off my butt, get stuff done, and help fight off whatever boss we were tangling with at the moment.

From lowly warrior to epic Mage, with a Mantis Shrimp as my pet!
From lowly warrior to epic Mage, with a Mantis Shrimp as my pet!

Now it’s been around eight months since I got an account and started leveling up my little character.  And in those eight months, I’ve developed some good habits.  No snacking late at night.  Walking every day, and taking short walk breaks when I’m in the office all day.  Making sure I actually eat breakfast AND lunch each day.  Keeping hydrated by making sure I drink enough water.  My habits and daily tasks are constantly evolving, too.  When the end of August comes and classes start up again, I’ll likely be adding tasks to make sure I get my homework done.  And with the new house, there’ll be new chores too (I expect to be vacuuming a lot more often, given I’ll not only have carpeting pretty much everywhere, I’ll also have a cat!), and of course I’ll need to get into the habit of doing them regularly.  And I know HabitRPG will help me with that!

So, if you’re already on Habit, look up the guild The Crafty Nerds.  It’s the official guild of The Crafty Nerd (you’ll know you’re in the right place if you see Scooterlou as the guild leader, I mean, come on, who else would name their character after their old scooter but me), and I’d be happy to have you there!  And if you’re not, why not join up?  It’s free, it’s easy to get the hang of, and will definitely help you build some good habits.  Plus, the retro art style keeps things fun, and the wide variety of quests to do, pets to collect, and people to meet in the Tavern will keep you coming back.

A Week With the Surface Pro 2

I don’t generally write hardware reviews here – mostly because I tend to just pick up technology as I go, get all excited about it for a few days, and then once it incorporates itself into my daily life it simply becomes mundane.  But recently, I got a new piece of technology that really, REALLY stands out.  I find myself using it pretty much all day – in fact, right now, outside of work it’s my sole computer.

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… if you look really closely you can see my ghostly reflection in the HP monitor. Creepy. XD

I ended up picking up a Surface Pro 2, after the untimely death of my laptop’s battery.  I’d done a fair amount of research, and got to see the Surface Pro 3 in action a couple of times at work (a co-worker of mine teaches workshops from his), and I figured, if I got one with decent enough specs, I’d be fine with a Surface Pro 2 instead of a pricier Pro 3.  I mean, if my co-worker could teach entire workshops off of it, it had to be at least a halfway decent laptop replacement, right?  So I stumbled across an open-box Surface Pro 2 on Amazon with a 256 gig SSD and 8 gigs of RAM (pretty much an exact replacement for my laptop, aside from the SSD, which is a major upgrade) for a relatively good price, around $900, and I jumped on it.  So what if it was older hardware?  It should suit my needs without breaking the bank.

And I have not been disappointed, not one bit. 😀

First things first – I love the fact that I can hook up various peripherals through USB.  This is the only tablet I’ve owned so far that’s had a USB port on it!  I’ve even gone so far as to hook up a USB hub and run a wireless keyboard and mouse through it, before I picked up the Type Cover.  With that awesome little USB port, I can hook up an external hard drive, use my USB headset to deliver a workshop, use a mouse for when I need something more than a tiny trackpad… I think that’s quite possibly my most favorite feature about this tablet.

The fact that I can also hook it up to a monitor with the help of a dongle is awesome, too.  With the external monitor and mouse, it almost feels like I’m using my full desktop.  It’s not quite the same experience as using my desktop, as my desktop has twice the RAM, but it’s an incredibly smooth experience, especially for a tablet.  I’ve worked in Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and InDesign on here so far, and the only thing that reminds me that I’m on a tablet is the keyboard for the Type Cover.  In fact, this thing runs better than my work desktop – far better.

And the keyboard?  Pretty impressive for something so small.  I’ve had varied experiences with tablet keyboards, and more often than not they’re too small for me to type comfortably on.  I remember trying to type with the keyboard for my old iPad Mini – I had to squish my two hands together and take a few minutes to adjust to typing on a keyboard crammed into such a small space.  And there was no trackpad, either.  The Type Cover feels like I’m using an actual keyboard.  And it’s backlit.  Having laptops with backlit keyboards have spoiled me in the past, what with my old Macbook Pro and my recently out-of-commission Asus laptop, and in low light conditions I rely on the backlighting to make sure my fingers are on the right keys.  And this little keyboard does not disappoint, either.

Might be a little difficult to see, but those keys are all lit up.
Might be a little difficult to see, but those keys are all lit up.

Last of all – but certainly not least – is the battery life.  Oh lord, there’s nothing that makes me giggle with glee quite like hovering over the battery icon and seeing I have ten hours of battery life left.  I’ve been able to use the laptop tablet casually all day long, and have only needed to plug it in at the end of the day.  When doing more intense work like using Creative Suite, I have plugged it in just to be on the safe side, but that’s just me being the paranoid designer that I am.  (Save early, save often, or you will be very sad if your machine dies)  But for simply browsing the internet and listening to music (and oh gods the sound is amazing for such a little tablet!), I’ve been able to go most of the day without plugging it in.

And there you have it – my impressions of the Surface Pro 2 after spending a week of quality time with it.  If you’re considering getting one for yourself, keep an eye out on Amazon for good deals, and shoot for a Pro 2, as they’re cheaper considering the Pro 3 has just come out with some new models.  The Pro 2 will do you just as well, but without entirely breaking the bank!

 

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Hunger_gamesYes, I admit, I hadn’t read The Hunger Games trilogy until, well, this past week.  I finished The Stand sometime on Thursday night, and needed something to read that wasn’t Stephen King… so I poked around on Amazon until I saw The Hunger Games, and realized that while I’d seen the movie, I hadn’t read the books yet.  And usually I’m the type to read the book WAY before the movie comes out!  (With the exception of Twilight.  I only read the books after the first movie came out because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  I’ll hold back on my opinions on the Twilight series, haha.)  I was in the mood for something new to read, and I really did enjoy the movie version of The Hunger Games, so I sat down and read it.  And blew through it in a day and a half, and ended up signing up for Amazon Kindle Unlimited when I realized it would cost less than buying Catching Fire and Mockingjay combined!  (And once I’ve got some more experience with that, I’ll likely be reviewing that too!)  And then blew through most of Catching Fire.  And then I realized – hey, I should write about these books.  They’re good.  So, here’s part one of my review of the Hunger Games trilogy!  There will be spoilers.  You have been warned.

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How To Train Your Dragon 2: The Review

Well, the movie’s been out for a couple of weeks now, so I feel it’s only right to finally get around to posting this: a review of How To Train Your Dragon 2.

The plot of the movie, without really giving too much of the story away, focuses on Hiccup becoming an adult and discovering more about himself as he discovers more about the world he lives in.  This movie’s set five years after the first one, and Hiccup is 20 years old at this point – an adult, but still the same Hiccup we grew to knew and love in the first movie.  There’s a lot about HTTYD 2 I want to talk about, so I’ll get the non-spoilery stuff out of the way first.

how-to-train-your-dragon-2

First off, I’d like to gush about the graphics.  I’ve watched both movies pretty much back-to-back lately, and it’s very obvious how much technology has advanced since the first movie came out in 2010.  The textures look so much more real, the characters look more lifelike – at times it felt like I could just step through the screen and into this lush fantasy world.  And, strangely enough, the first thing that stood out to me when it came to just how much technology had advanced was Stoick’s beard.  It looks far better in HTTYD 2, much more realistic…

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It’s not just the beard. Stoick in his entirety looks much better this time around.

Another thing that I absolutely loved about the movie was Toothless’ antics.  When he wasn’t a central character in a scene, he was still stealing the show in the background, with his silly antics and ridiculous cuteness.  I loved him in the first movie, and I love him even more now.  And I’m incredibly glad I’ve seen the movie twice – because I won’t lie, there may have been times where I was paying more attention to Toothless goofing off in the background than I was to the main plot.

How can you not love that face?
How can you not love that face?

After the jump, there will be spoilers.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and don’t want to spoil the story for yourself, don’t read any further!

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Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly_Dreaming_DexterI’ve been a fan of the Dexter television series for quite a while now – a friend of mine introduced me to it in 2009, and I binge-watched the entire series up to the current episodes (middle of season 4, for those curious) in about two weeks.  And I’ve been a loyal fan since.  I’m re-watching the series with Ross right now, as he’s never seen it, and Mr. Crafty Nerd isn’t too terribly fond of Dexter – so I hadn’t had a chance to re-watch it since the end of the series.  And it got me thinking – I know there are Dexter books.  I should read them, because I need new things to read.  So, I signed out Darkly Dreaming Dexter from my library’s e-book collection, and added it to my summer reading list.

For those of you who’ve watched the series, this first book should feel familiar, as it was the basis for season 1.  The characters should be familiar to those who’ve seen the series, although some names and roles were changed.  Some of the most prominent characters in the TV series are background characters in the novel, but you can definitely tell that the show’s producers were faithful to Jeff Lindsay’s renditions of the characters.  We’re introduced to Dexter Morgan – a serial killer who only hunts down the dregs of society, thanks to the code instilled in him by his adopted father Harry.  We learn a little about his life as a blood spatter analyst for Miami Metro Police, we take a peek into his personal life with his girlfriend Rita and her kids, and we also get a glimpse of Dexter’s Dark Passenger – the voice inside that urges him to kill.  The “villain” of this novel – the Tamiami Slasher (who TV show viewers may know as the Ice Truck Killer) – has been murdering prostitutes and depositing them all over town, and Dexter becomes utterly fascinated by the killer’s work.  I won’t get too in-depth into the rest of the story, as I don’t want to spoil the story for those of you who end up reading it, but for fans of the television show, you won’t be disappointed or bored.  The story, while familiar, is still gripping, and there’s just enough difference between the show and the book to keep readers entertained.  If you’re looking for a good summer read that’s on the darker side of things, or if you’re a fan of the show and miss having a little bit of everyone’s favorite serial killer in your life, I recommend this book.

 

HabitRPG: Where doing laundry gets you experience points!

One thing that I am horrible at is building new habits – and sticking to them.  Sure, I’ll wear my Fitbit for about a week, excited about all the data it provides to me about how far I’ve walked and how many times I woke up in the middle of the night, then forget it at home one day… and sure I’ll say “I’m going to read ALL THE BOOKS this year” and then, without fail, end up on the computer all weekend and watching Law and Order to fall asleep.  Or I’ll start a craft project, work on it for a few weeks, and then go “oooh I should start another Doctor Who scarf” and forget about whatever it was I was working on completely.

Well, HabitRPG sets out to change that.

habitrpgYes, that’s my little tiny character, clad in leather armor, brandishing a sword.  I need to keep up my good habits in order to earn a helm.

The premise is very simple – build habits and complete tasks, earn XP and gold pieces to spend on in-game goodies to keep you from losing too much health should you forget to complete a given task in a day, or to redeem for real-life privileges and treats.  When you log in for the first time, you’ll see four columns – Habits, Dailies, To Do, and Rewards.  You’ll also see a little pixel version of your character up in the left hand corner of the screen, which you can customize to your liking.  HabitRPG will suggest some habits and daily tasks for you, as well as suggest some possible rewards you can give to yourself – the first thing I did was set up some habits that I’m working on (like wearing my Fitbit every day, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, bringing my lunch to work) and also add some daily tasks I wanted to make sure I did every day (including reading a book for at least 30 minutes, and spending an hour away from the computer – which you might think is easy, but when you work in IT, your entire life is computers!).  To-do comes in handy as a reminder list that also earns me gold and XP – and the Rewards section is where you can go spend your gold.

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Don’t think that it’s just a cute way to remember to walk the dog and mail out the bills, however.  There are QUESTS.  (Or, as HabitRPG calls them, challenges.)  Yes, you can compete with/against other HabitRPG warriors for the potential to earn goodies while building good habits!  Which is pretty awesome.  And you can randomly get pets – I picked up a wolf egg when I checked off one of my dailies today. 😀

And so you don’t have to go it alone – you can create parties, join a guild, and more.  I’m currently going it alone, as there’s no easy way to share a link to a party so others can join, but if any of you readers join up, shoot me a comment on here or on the Facebook page with your User ID (which can be found either here or here, but you must be logged in) and I’ll add you to my party!

So, for those of you who have some trouble sticking to new habits, or just want to find a new way to make doing all that laundry exciting, give HabitRPG a try! I’m enjoying the heck out of it, and may have freaked out a little when I neglected my chores for a day and though “nooo, my little warrior is going to die if I don’t clean!”, heheh.

 

Tiny little review of a tiny little game: Love Letter

Last night, I had the opportunity to play a new game – it’s a short and sweet little game called Love Letter.  Michael and I played it while at dinner at the local Chinese buffet place – because why not have a little game with your dinner?

51Z6pBcHybLThe premise of Love Letter is simple – Princess Annette is pretty darn popular, and has quite a few suitors wanting to get a love letter to her.  However… she’s locked herself in a tower, and it’s your job to try and cozy up to the people closest to the princess in hopes of getting your letter to her.

61QKHd7QoBLThere’s a small deck of cards with various people from the castle, with different numbers on each card.  The number indicates how close that person is to the princess.  Each card also has a condition on it – for example, the Priest card makes it so another player has to show you their cards, and the Countess card has to be discarded if she’s caught with the King or the Prince in the same hand (scandalous!) – these conditions can make game play pretty interesting.

At the end of each round, whoever has the highest numbered card in their hand gets their letter to the princess, and they earn a token of her affection (which is a little tiny red cube).  Once a player earns enough tokens, they win the princess’s affection (and therefore the game).  The game can be played with 2-4 people, and the amount of tokens needed to win changes with the amount of people playing.  For two players, you need seven tokens to win.  It’s a pretty quick game to play, especially depending on what cards you end up with.

Michael and I managed to play through an entire game in a half hour – I was wiping the floor with him for a chunk of the game, as I kept getting lucky and getting the princess card (I mean, how much closer can you get to the princess when you’ve got the princess card?) – however, then Michael kept getting cards that made it that even once I’d gotten the princess card I’d have to discard it (and therefore lose the round, because the princess card’s condition? When discarded, you lose the round).  In the end, Michael swooped past me, captured the princess’s affections, and won.  I was so close, too – I was two tokens shy!

So, in short, this is a good little game to play if you’ve got a little bit of time to kill and want a small game to play – the entire game fits into a bag roughly the size of a dice bag, and doesn’t take terribly long to play.  It’s also pretty entertaining, too, and is pretty inexpensive to boot!  You can find it here on Amazon.

So, in short, The Crafty Nerd’s verdict?  Pretty darn awesome, and I suggest you give it a try!

 

 

Book review: Anything Goes by John Barrowman

I’m going to preface this review with the following: I need to read more.

I’ve fallen into a sad habit of watching too much television lately.  Sure, there’s lots of wonderful television shows out there!  Doctor Who, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Farscape, Firefly, Archer, 30 Rock, Mad Men… but I used to read so very much!  When we moved to Bloomington, I signed out a giant stack of books and read through them in a week!

So I’m going to challenge myself to read more – and I’m also going to talk about the books I’ve read, too, in hopes people discover new books to read.  And I’m going to start with a favorite of mine.  (A favorite that I should really buy my own copy of.)

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Anything Goes by John Barrowman

This was an incredibly quick read!  And an incredibly enjoyable one.  If you’ve watched Doctor Who or Torchwood, you’re familiar with John Barrowman – he plays the incredibly awesome Captain Jack Harkness in both shows.  (He’s also in Arrow, but I haven’t seen that yet – I don’t have cable, and live off of Hulu and Netflix, and missed out on the start of it, sadly)  This book tells his story – from when he was a kid, to his experiences as a teenager, all the way through to his time on Doctor Who and Torchwood.

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How to Make Your Own Dragon

2013-03-24 22.09.21I’ve noticed that people keep coming to my site to look at all the various Toothless plush that I’ve made (well, the one plush, and the one crocheted Toothless) – and I just now realized I don’t have any links to where I got the patterns or inspiration for these awesome dragons!  So,  this post is dedicated entirely to where to find out How to Make Your Own Dragon.

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