Friday, October 29, 2010

Netflix on the Wii, Part II

I wrote about Netflix streaming through the Wii when it was first announced earlier this year. I have grown to love this service more and more every week. I use it almost daily. At this point, I'm not sure what I would do without it.

All you have to do is have a Netflix account ($8.99 a month) and a Wii. A few quick configurations later, and you're watching one of a huge selection of movies or TV shows straight to your TV.

Previously, Netflix would send you a disc and you would insert it every time you wanted to access movies through the Wii. But now you don't even have to do that! Netflix and Wii have made it so that you can download the Netflix channel for free from the Wii Shop Channel.

Now, you can access your Netflix streaming just by turning on your Wii and choosing the Netflix channel from your home screen. It's awesome. It's possible that it makes me the laziest person on earth that I am so excited about this, but I am. Good times.

Honesty Clause: I pay for Netflix all by myself, but I do have a relationship with Nintendo as a brand enthusiast. But seriously, I use this service all the time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shapeways Color It!

I am always looking for fun gifts to give to my kids' grandparents that capture their personalities at a moment in time. In the past, I have put their artwork on key chains and bags or let them color on potholders.

When information about Shapeways' Color It! sculptures came through my email inbox, I jumped at the chance to test it out.

Shapeways is actually a cool company that can take 2D renditions of things and turn them into three dimensional jewelry, art, or pretty much anything else you can think of in a variety of materials. You can check out this video to learn about their process.

This year, Shapeways released Color It! personalized pets, which take your kids' coloring and puts it on an adorable little sandstone animal. Currently you can get Wiggle the Dog, Wooly the Sheep, or Oinkie the Pig.

The process is really simple.

1. Download the coloring sheet of the animal you choose and have your child color it.

2. Either take a photo of the finished product or scan it and submit it to Shapeways along with your payment. I sent this photo to them.

3. Wait patiently while Shapeways creates your sculpture. They keep you updated with emails to let you know where in the process your art is. It took slightly more than two weeks from the time I submitted my order to the time it arrived on my porch.

4. Ooh and aah over the adorable.

 5. Show your child the 3D representation of his art. Watch his head explode. My guy thinks this is so cool.

You may notice that the base of the dog's tail looks a little weird. That is because, sadly, Wiggle arrived with his tail broken off.

I was curious to see how Shapeways would deal with the situation, so without telling them that I was reviewing the product, I emailed them to tell them how the dog had arrived and asked what their policy was. The very next day I got an email from the designer who offered me a free reprint and just asked that I provide them with my order number and a photograph of the broken piece. (Because my copy was a review sample, I turned down the free reprint and just glued Wiggle's tail on.)

The sandstone is pretty fragile. The sculpture is definitely not something that you should let your kids play with unless you want little pieces of foot or tail snapped off, but as a piece of art, it is fantastic. I put ours on our TV stand so it's always there being cute while we're watching TV.

At $50 each, the price is a little steep, especially if you would want to produce art for more than one child. But if you are looking for a really fun way to showcase your child's coloring skills, this is a fun way to go. I like that it would be appropriate for all ages, as young kids can scribble on the dog and older kids can create more elaborate designs. This would be cool for teens and older kids who want to find a new way to express themselves.

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of a Wiggle the Dog Color It! at no charge.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Death at a Funeral (2007 version)

Stimey is watching Death at a Funeral—not the new one, but the British one. Those Brits and their black comedy. Sooo funny. I'm going to highly recommend this one.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mastermind & Animal Mastermind Towers

Who remembers Mastermind? You know, the game where you lay out some pegs and your opponent uses logic and the process of elimination to determine the colors and order?

Well, Mastermind is back. (Although I'm not sure it ever went anywhere.) Regardless, I hadn't played it for years. But then one day my nine-year-old stayed home from school because he was sick—or more accurately, "sick"—and I pulled it out so we could play.

I was worried that it would be too hard for him, but he picked it up quickly. We did give each other some hints now and again, but it was surprisingly fun.

My son really enjoys playing. In a weird way, once you figure out the basic logical rules of how to proceed with the game, which he picked up on quickly, it puts both players on a pretty even level, which is something not all games do. I also like that it teaches players to think logically and figure out puzzles.

Here's my pet peeve about the game. There's a little compartment on the side to hold the pegs, but it's not big enough to hold all of them. For the logical, puzzle-y type people who love this game (me), this flaw is kinda irritating.

I ended up putting all the pegs in a Ziploc bag, which was probably a better solution anyway.

Mastermind sells for $14.99.

Mastermind is intended for kids ages 8 and up, but they have come up with a great alternative for the younger set. Animal Mastermind Towers is a fun version with a more visual interface that is a little easier.

Intended for kids ages 6 and up, Animal Mastermind Towers just has players figure out the order of their tiles as opposed to Mastermind, which has players figure out color and order. Another adaptation is that you can choose to play with any number of tiles.

Each player chooses their animal tiles and the other player asks questions such as, "Is the penguin above the frog?" Once you get your answer, you can organize your matching cards to help you remember your opponent's answers. It's silly and fun, and OMG, check out the adorable tiles:

My oldest son aced this game quickly, but it was challenging for my youngest son, who is five.

He was drawn to it though, because of the sheer cuteness. With some practice, I imagine he'll pick it up quickly. Plus, what a wonderful way to teach logic and problem solving skills.

Animal Mastermind Towers sells for $12.

Honesty Clause: I received review copies of both Mastermind and Animal Mastermind Towers at no charge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Single Man

Stimey is watching A Single Man. This movie is very beautiful and very sad.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

NHL Slapshot for Wii

My family is all about hockey these days because my 7-year-old son recently joined a hockey team. He is madly in love with the sport and really enjoying playing it.

He and my other two children were very excited to try out EA Sports' NHL Slapshot for the Wii. My kids love to play video games, but they have never played a team sports game like this one, so I was curious to see how they would like it.

The game looks fun from the get go, because players put their remotes and nunchuks inside a plastic hockey stick, so the play is much more hockey-like than if the player were just pushing buttons.

I'm also happy to report that the blade of the hockey stick is spongy, so if you get whacked straight across the face with it, like I did, it won't hurt very much.

The hockey stick also makes for an energetic game that you should probably stand up for, making the video game experience a more active one. Jack beat the system on this one, managing to play effectively from a sitting position.

You can play without a hockey stick, although it is probably less fun. If you get the game bundle, it comes with one hockey stick. Additional sticks cost $14.99.

Up to four people can play the game, which is great. I always appreciate when games let more than two people play at one time.

So how is the actual game?

The short answer is that it is fun. The long answer is that it is a little complicated. There are so many ways to play the game that adults and more adept gamers will really enjoy exploring the options. Kids are probably better off starting with the 2 vs. 2 option, as opposed to the full team option.

Thankfully there is a training option for the game because, not being someone who knows a lot about hockey, I barely understood the terms in the controls guide. Like, what's a poke check? Probably someone who knows more about hockey would get more out of the nuances of this game.

My kids love to play. They play the peewee league 2 vs. 2 option, but there is so much to choose from. You can play as a pro, you can play 5-on-5 junior league games, you can play a whole season, you can play starting as a peewee and work your way up to pro. You can play any of the mini games from shooter vs. goalie to free for all.

You can create your own player or assume the identity of your favorite player on your favorite team. You can even play as Wayne Gretsky. One of the cool features is that if your Wii is connected to the internet, you can access online updates to make sure you have the latest rosters and schedules.

All in all, it's a pretty cool game.

Here's my pet peeve about the game. The hockey stick? It comes in a lot of little pieces. Most of them are easy to figure out how to put together, but it is impossible to intuit how to stick the blade into the shaft of the stick. I almost gave up.

The game itself has a video on how to assemble and use your stick, but I knew that I couldn't put in the game disc to access that video without having all three of my kids come running in and yelling at me until I let them play. So I tried to assemble it from the instructions in the manual.

(UPDATED TO ADD: EA has put up a step-by-step guide with pictures on putting the stick together. Perfect!)

You cannot do that. It simply won't work. I was forced to search the internet for more details and was reduced to watching a 13-minute YouTube video on HOW TO OPEN THE BOX. It took until about minute 12 of that video before they gave me the tip that I needed for the hockey stick assembly:

The part of the shaft into which you put the blade opens. You can't just jam the blade into the stick.

Once you have the stick all constructed, you put the remote in—but you won't be able to point the remote at the screen after you put it in the stick, so make sure you set up your game first. There is room for everything to neatly coil inside the stick.

Voila! There is a little door that goes over the coiled wire. My kids need help to put everything all together, but older kids could do it by themselves.

All in all, NHL Slapshot is a fun game with a lot of room for my kids to grow into it. I like that it is wholesome and nonviolent, but that it can appeal to all ages, from my 5-year-old to my husband. Granted, my husband can play with more skill and will use more of the options than my children, who have as yet only mastered a few controls, but they all have so much fun. And, honestly, that is the real goal.

Really, the smile on this kid? That's all I need to see.

Honesty Clause: EA Sports sent me a review copy of the NHL Slapshot Bundle (with stick) and an additional Slapshot hockey stick.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism

It is customary to write book reviews near a book's actual publication date. Sometimes, however, a book comes to your attention years after its first appearance on bookstore shelves and is so vital and fresh that it seems brand new. Such was the case for me with Paul Collins' Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism.

The book's enigmatic title is based on a phrase used by theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who would put down colleagues by calling them "not even wrong"—their answers were so off target as to be irrelevant. Collins applies the phrase to people with autism, whose frame of reference is so far off from that of a typical person that their perceptions, answers, and ideas can be described as neither right nor wrong, but something else entirely. Collins writes:
"Only a person working from the same shared set of expectations could give a wrong answer. The autist is working on a different problem with a different set of parameters; they are not even wrong."
The book chronicles Collins' personal realization that his very young son has autism and the journey that he and his wife take to communicate with and teach him. What elevates the book from being merely a touching account of one family, is that Collins jumps back and forth between stories of his family and stories about autists throughout history.

These stories—of mostly undiagnosed individuals—are fascinating, beginning with that of Peter the Wild Boy, an 18th century feral boy found in Germany and brought to England as a kind of mascot by King George I.

Then there is Henry Darger, who kept a detailed daily record of Chicago's weather from 1957-67 and penned a 15,145-page typewritten novel. Darger followed this up with a more-than-5,000-page autobiography, of which more than 4,500 of those pages focus on weather.

Collins also writes about Darius McCollum, arrested 19 times for impersonating a transit employee in New York City, working alongside actual transit workers and driving trains for weeks at a time. McCollum was ultimately thrown into maximum security prison and confined to a cell—a cell on which he hung a sign reading "Train out of service."

There are many more stories as well, stories of both achievements and failures, and Collins brings them to life with tremendous warmth and respect. He writes not only about the people whom he terms "autists," but also those who work with autists and have made it their life's work to study their condition.

Not Even Wrong has become one of my favorite, if not the favorite, book on autism that I have read. Easy to read and beautifully written, Collins' book manages to capture the essence of autism. By focusing on the details and the individuals, much like an autist might do, Collins gently shows us the whole.

I read this book mostly in 25-minute increments during my autistic son's therapy sessions. Last Saturday, I sat on a couch across from the mother of one of the children in my son's social skills group as I read the final few pages, including the following:
"Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg."
I held back tears as I thought about my son, my own square peg, and how much I want him to find the hole that fits him—not the other way around. I am grateful to Paul Collins and his tremendous book for taking me on this particular adventure in autism. I look forward to seeing where my son's own adventures will take him.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Stimey is watching Angel. I adored Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so naturally I decided to watch this spin-off. I'm still in season one, but I'm a little disappointed. I loved the humor and characters in Buffy. It's a little hard to replicate that with a sad vampire lead who can't ever find true happiness—or go out during the day. (Although they seem to be a little haphazard with that.) Does it get better?