Happy Free Comic Book Day!

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Happy Free Comic Book Day! Support your local comic book store today by heading in and seeing all of the shiny pop-culture it has to offer. If you’re not part of the “Wednesday crowd” already, today is a good chance to go see a comic book store at its busiest. Look around and bear in mind that in most large stores Wednesday mornings hold a similar kind of buzz, where you’ll meet like minded people and can chat about what’s going on in the 616.

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As the title suggests, if you turn up today, you’ll get a pick of some free comics, and often some free posters, badges, stickers etc to boot. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already too late to get into the queues for the rarer, more sought-after stuff, but most stores will stock enough to keep fans at bay til closing time.

For a list of all of the comics that’ll be free today, click here.

Personal favorites include the Skottie Young Teen Titans Go cover, Street Fighter #0, the Sonic The Hedgehog x Megaman Flip Book and the 2000AD Special.

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Teaching an old clock new ticks

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I came across this 1950’s Smiths Westminster mantel clock at my Grandmother’s house. She told me she’d over-wound it a few years ago and wanted it fixed. I’ve never worked on anything as pretty or precise as a clock or watch, but ever-keen; I took it on-board. The clock belonged originally to P.G. Dodd; my Great-Grandfather.

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He was presented it after serving 45 years with the Great Western Railway, which connected London with Southwest England and Wales in the 19th and early 20th century. Up until a few years ago, this clock was the closest clue my Grandma (known by the family as “Ma”, in a broad, Shropshire accent) had to knowing her Dad’s full name. Back then, of course, she would have heard him being called “Phil”, but most likely referred to him as “Father” or “Papa” or something equally, quintessentially British, I’m sure. Different time.

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Thanks to my Dad delving into ancestry.com we learned, a couple of years ago, that his full name was in-fact Philip George Dodd.

The clock itself has seen better days. The chrome is peeling, the wood is chipped and it suffers from a cracking in the lacquer; synonymous with Smiths clocks of the time. My hope is to restore it, hopefully so it looks and sounds as good as new. The clocks are quite valuable in their original state, but since this clock holds such sentimental value, keeping it alive is more important than keeping it collectible. Even so, I’m hoping to restore it using original parts and traditional techniques, in order to keep it authentic.

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My roadmap for the restoration:

  • Repair and service the clock movement
  • Find an original, Smiths winding key (it currently has a third-party replacement)
  • Clean face and hands
  • Sand and refinish case with tobacco burst
  • Restore chrome facia
  • Polish and oxidize plaque
  • Retune chime and calibrate pendulum
  • Remove the “drop” from the back door and tighten latch

It’s a pretty tall order, and virtually everything on the list is beyond my ken, at present, but hopefully I’ll get it up and running shortly.

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Opening up the back, I found the key, a pendulum, and a catalog snippet for a new clock movement…from 1996! I’m guessing Ma’ has been looking to fix this for some time! There was also a key in the back, seemingly from a different clock, but it fits this one perfect. I’d like to get a real Smiths key, complete with the maker’s mark for it though, ideally.

Thanks to some preliminary tapping, prodding and meddling, the chime can now be triggered, although the pendulum won’t maintain its tick and, as mentioned, the springs feel out of place. So, my first port of call is to remove the movement and take out the springs. From what I’ve learned so far, the springs are prone to dislocating or shearing. If it’s the former, all this may take is some wiggling to get it back in order. If it’s the latter; the hunt for an old clock spring begins…

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett – My first visit to Discworld

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My first and only experience with the Discworld series, until today, was through the point and click adventures of Discworld, Discworld II and Discworld Noir on the PlayStation, and even though I enjoyed them, I never ventured to the paperbacks.

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Fortunately, due to a newfound dependency on audiobooks to ease the weekly commutes, I’ve been visiting all of the great literary sagas that I’ve never had the chance to check out or finish; from Iain M Banks’ Culture Saga, to Stephen King’s Watchtower Series, to some of the more popular runs; like George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones run, I’ll be taking advantage of them all. Today was my first ever run in with Pratchett, and my first real attempt at fantasy. Until audiobooks, anything that wasn’t non-fiction or military, or gangster related, (or both, or all) was put to one side and deemed “not for me”.

If you haven’t tried audiobooks; the fact that it pushes you to try stuff you typically wouldn’t be willing to invest time in warrants it enough. They may cost more, but the convenience more than makes up for it. If you’re strapped for cash, Audible offer 1 free credit as a trial and currently have 3 additional credits on sale at £18. A credit grants you a full download of any of their audiobooks and the thriftier buyers will notice you can pick up things like the complete works of Shakespeare and the 63 hour long 30th edition of Atlas Shrugged for a single credit; providing you with literally days of listening time in a single hit, for a fraction of the price.

Anyway! onto The Colour of Magic…

This is the first of Pratchetts books in the enormous Discworld series; which describes the events of a world, on a disc, on the back of a pack of elephants, on a turtle…which is floating through space, to a location undetermined. Discworld has now spanned 3 decades and 40 novels, snatching up awards and bundles of critical acclaim along the way.

The version that I picked up was a spritely 7 hours long and narrated by Nigel Planer, who does a great job at getting hold of all of Pratchett’s complicated, imaginary vocabulary. A semi-downside of the Nigel Planer version is that it sounds a lot like it has been ported from an old cassette version. You can hear the subtle, magnetic squeal of digital synthesis in the background and the volume, and even general mastering of the audio track varies from chapter to chapter; which can be obnoxiously jarring when you’re caught up in the story. It does, however give it the retro feel of an 80’s novel though, which is probably as close to the feeling of picking up a tattered, much-read, beloved book as you can get with an audio track…so maybe it’s something to be embraced.

As with any longstanding series, the first book comes across as a little bit wet behind the ears, which will surely buff out as the series carries on. Despite it being an introductory novel, of sorts, it actually does a great job of introducing you to the concept of Discworld and the physics, lore and jargon that surrounds it. Rather than explaining everything that’s unique to the realm of Discworld, Pratchett refreshingly describes things as though you’re one of its inhabitants and that you should already get the gist. This may sound daunting, but it actually serves the fantasy really well and makes all of the new feel much less of a struggle.

Rincewind, the main protagonist, is painted well as the last person that should be playing the hero, but someone who is unwillingly thrust into situations beyond his ken; and you’re encouraged to feast upon his misfortune throughout, with some hilarious perforations from his unwanted, scythe-wielding onlooker.

It’s a brilliant combination of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and something that clearly inspired the likes of Riyria Chronicles and the Wizard’s Choice digital gamebooks that I recently reviewed. I feel slightly guilty that I’m so late to the party…hopefully I’ll be caught up soon…39 to go!

STEM + Art = STEAM

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STEM subjects are the areas that most big players in economy, education and industry consider to be the plenipotentiary, from which all other priorities should follow. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and studies in these areas are comparably well funded, well supported, and ultimately, well paid, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to get people interested in investing their own time in them.

As an Engineer that taps all 4 of the STEM roots, I may be biased, but I tend to agree with the STEM structure, and have always looked at the STEM studies as the most important. I too, often struggle to break down why I like what I do, when talking to my friends and have almost given up on talking about STEM subjects that can’t be tied in with sports or videogame culture.

It’s tough to ignore the fact that there’s a perceived lack of a conventional “human” aspect in the four pillars of STEM. There’s a stigma that these areas are cold, black-and-white, robotic and inhuman. For this reason, many will look on at the STEM studies and instantly think “that’s not for me” or “I don’t do math” or other damning thoughts to that effect. The children of STEM will always try to get across the reality that everything to do with Mathematics or Science is equally as creative, evocative and emotional as any movie, statue or painting that others would consider to be more “human” things to admire and appreciate. From Six-Flag rollercoasters and Las Vegas water fountains, to Large Hadron Colliders and lab-grown organisms, STEM ventures are the pinnacle of human endeavor, and something that everyone is involved with, whether they realize it or not.

“Art is in everything”, “Art Imitates Life” and all of those other cliche phrases have always been the cry of artists and creative types, who are determined to prove to the average man in the street that they are part of it, and to the same extent, STEM’s advocates are tortured by the knowledge that their work is used by everyone but always with a line between the creator and the user.

Joined at the hip, by the same communicative issues; a campaign has emerged, to add Art to the STEM core, creating STEAM.

The idea is that Art and Design are of equal importance to the STEM studies and that together, they can push their own boundaries and bring more people who traditionally “Aren’t into art” or “Don’t get Science” into the equation.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan, and, in a way, jealous of the Otaku culture in Japan with the likes of Otona no Kagaku, the “Science for Adults” series that encourages learning and creativity beyond the school walls.

I must admit, that I personally have been a “Don’t do Art” person, and built the same rift between myself and the creative, but the more I look at it; the fewer differences I see.

The drive to make Art and Design an essential study, paired with the rest of the STEM is championed by many big organisations and personalities and is making waves across Europe and America. The likes of StemToSteam.org and the i.am.angel Foundation, headed by superstar will.i.am have seen changes in classrooms, from Raspberry Pi and arduino workshops in schools, to the Arkyd project, which plans to grant open space telescope access to students, pushing creativity, model making and design, whilst also encouraging interests in the rest of the STEM community.

In short, art’s creativity proves itself to be a driving force in innovation, granting a whole new dimension to how people engage with the core studies.

Alone, STEM and Art have always struggled to engage, but together, we’re already seeing how great they are at amplifying each other, and breaking down the barriers between the public’s perceptions and their actual potential.

Check out RISD.edu to learn more.

Do you know what the best thing about Humble Bundle is?

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Everything.

Humble Bundle is a company dedicated to three main things; donating proceeds to charity, getting revenue directly to the game developers, and providing gamers with a host of games and gamer gear at a fair price.

The idea is simple; Humble Bundle pile together a host of games, soundtracks and downloadables, for a limited amount of time, and you decided how much you want to pay for them.

The premise hinges entirely on honesty and generosity, and is very open to being exploited, but despite the risk of everyone paying the minimum amount (you can pay any price you want), gamers have shown that they’re committed to the cause, consistently paying over the odds for the packages.

If you pay over the average amount, additional games and add-ons are thrown into your bundle too, driving up the average and perpetually aiding the cause.

Not only do you choose your price; you also choose where it goes. Once you’ve valued the bundle, you choose what percentage of the money goes to the developers, what percentage goes to charity and what percentage goes to the people at Humble Bundle too.

They put out gamer bundles, indie bundles and right now, their forth mobile bundle, featuring everything from Catan to Vector, to Gunslugs (if you pay above average). A personal favorite of the current bundle is Rainbow-Six-esque, Breach and Clear.

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Charities donated to include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child’s Play

Follow them at @Humble or check out HumbleBundle.com for more info

Geekstore Spotlight – Insert Coin

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It’s no secret that I spend an ungodly amount of time playing Street Fighter on the weekends; so much so, that I now have a ritual when it comes to playing. I pour myself a cup of coffee, check the batteries in my fight-stick, and most importantly, roll up the sleeves on my Ryu dressing gown from Insert Coin.

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If the name sounds familiar; Insert Coin were the guys and gals who launched the original, and virally popular, Monteriggioni – Class of 1499, Assassin’s Creed hoody, complete with the signature peaked hood back in the day. I remember it well, because, much to my frustration, it was always sold out.

The stuff you pick up on Insert Coin is all fully licensed, gamer merch, catering to gamers old and new. I’ve picked up tee’s with stealthy, old, Golden Axe references, modern, Halo in-jokes and also much more blatant, simple Sonic stuff, but all of it has a quirky, “home-grown” kind of feel to it. You know that if somebody in the street spots the game it’s from, they’re going to comment on it. I put this down to it looking more low-key and subtly geeky, when compared to the “G33K” emblazoned stuff that you’d pick up on the high street.

A personal favorite deal of mine, back in my student days, was their “Mystery Box”. You threw them a pile of money and your t-shirt size and they sent you a random handful of their t-shirts, always worth more than you’d spent. It was a great way to pick up a quick, cheap wardrobe of geek chic, and since all their designs were good and trustworthy; you could buy with confidence. Sadly, the option seems to have disappeared from their store. I hope it comes back.

From Albert Wesker – S.T.A.R.S button downs to Dreamcast-shaped messenger bags, they have it all. They ship all over and add new items pretty frequently too. They don’t have a huge amount for girls, but again, they’ve began branching out more and more;  personal favorite of my girlfriend over at Tough Cookies, is their nerdy leggings range.

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Of all the stuff we’ve got piled up here, from hoodies, to t-shirts, to dressing gowns, everything has been of great quality and has been made to last. You’ll notice that their non-sale stuff costs a little more than a lot of online t-shirt stores, but there’s a significant difference in quality. I have stuff picked up from other online geek stores (rhymes with “for shoe-man sheeples”) that’s half the age, half as used and twice as worn-looking as the stuff I pick up from Insert Coin. Also, they have a tonne of stuff on sale, and almost always have a discount code doing the circuits. Follow them at @InsertCoinTees or listen to gamer podcasts like Rooster Teeth’s cast on iTunes, and chances are you’ll come across a 5-15% discount along the line.

Check them out at insertcoinclothing.com

April 5th – International TableTop day!

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April 5th is International TableTop day!

Spread the word, pick a game, throw a party; do what you can to make TableTop gaming a stable part of your social life and get your friends to geek out! You can host a games session of your own, or find one to join in on at tabletopday.com or by searching for the hashtag #TableTopDay

I think for this International TableTop day I’ll be trying out the Game of Thrones board game, as I’ve heard it’s really well designed and comfortably complicated 🙂

Let me know you ITTD plans in the comments 🙂

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