Tag Archives: gadgets

Review: Boston Metaphysical Society

love me some steampunk and gaslamp fantasy.  And webcomics.  So I’m always happy to check out a new series or comic in one of those genres, especially one that’s appropriate for both adult and youth audiences so that I can write about it here.  This week I checked out M. Holly-Rosing’s Boston Metaphysical Society, which is both a webcomic and a series of prequel novellas.  I quickly was sucked in to the comic and enjoyed the story immensely.

It’s more on the supernatural side of steampunk – the characters deal with demons, ghosts, and monsters but there are also lightning-powered weapons and airships.  It also has flavors of historical fiction and alternate history, and you’ll probably recognize some of the characters from your school days: Tesla, Bell, Edison, and Houdini.

The art in the comic reminds me of the style in the Batman graphic novels I loved as a kid, but a little more sepia-toned to give it that Victorian feel.  The art is very well suited to the themes and storyline, and the people are drawn as fairly proportional people in clothing that makes sense for their jobs and culture (i.e. no women in strange, anatomically impossible poses with their chests falling out, but you will see some corsets and even bustles).

The characters range from the guy with an enormous upper-class superiority complex to a quiet, flawed hero with a past, to the under-appreciated genius whose station in life keeps him from being the tremendous success he should be.  There is also a talented young medium who the hero reluctantly lets assist him out of desperation.  She’s the only female character in the webcomic so far, and only a sidekick, but I have high hopes that in the future of the series she’ll get an even bigger role and continue to defy the conventions of her society.

The accompanying novella to the comic, The Demons of Liberty Row, is a prequel that gives background info on the early days of the Boston Metaphysical Society.  It’s written in a style similar to the comic so it’s just a little bit dark, and it leans towards the melodramatic.

The Demons of Liberty Row was an engaging story with interesting characters, but at first I kept finding myself distracted by the need for a heavier hand at editing.   Things like typos, repeated words, irregular use of commas, and long, run-on sentences with frequent use of semicolons made it hard to follow and focus on the story.   The ratio of exposition and description to dialogue and action was also a little high for my taste.

About fifteen pages in, though, I mostly was immersed and stopped being quite as distracted.  I was able to enjoy the really cool devices and doodads all over the home of genius Granville Woods.  I would totally give my right arm to have something like Granville’s amazing house filled with gadgets, workshops, and secret passages.  I also liked his spunky young niece, Sarah, and hope she features again.

My favorite part of the novella was how well it brought the steampunk and gaslamp fantasy genres together.  It has tons of cool gadgets and a healthy dose of mad scientists (both the sort with questionable morals and the simply angry sort).  But it also has plenty of supernatural and spiritual elements that make it a unique cross-genre story.

I would recommend starting with the webcomic, and if you are the kind of person who really likes more background info, then look into the novellas.  The comic and stories contain some violence and a bit of gore, but nothing overtly sexual or over-the-top bloody.  I consider it geared towards adults but appropriate for ages twelve and up, or possibly younger if you have a kid who likes spooky stuff.


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Ode to my Uber-Excessive Collection of Small Kitchen Appliances

Being both a geek and a foodie means I have a lot of kitchen gadgets.  I mean a lot a lot.  And I covet more.  If it were up to me, I’d have every multi-use and single-use kitchen doodad known to man – and about three times as many cupboards as I currently have to hold them all.

Many are the result of combining two households, some were received as wedding gifts, and some just seem to have appeared in the collection in between moves somewhere.  As in “Hey, did that mystery thing even come out of one of our boxes?”

So doing a quick inventory I came up with, in order of most-used to least-used: microwave, coffee maker (x2 – one lives at work), rice cooker, electric kettle, blender, toaster, slow cooker (x2), food processor, stand mixer, crepe maker, immersion blender, fondue pot, waffle iron, ice cream maker.  This doesn’t begin to tackle the list of thingamajigs I have that don’t plug in, by the way.  And I’m not even the chef in the family!

What don’t I have anymore that I collected over the years?  There are a few things that actually didn’t make the gadget-hoarding cut.  The donut maker never worked right, so it went to Goodwill a few weeks ago.  The electric skillet died in the last move.  The juicer was more trouble than it was worth to clean and was passed on to someone who might love it more than me.  Maybe I’ll try a different one someday (when I can afford it).

Then there are the gadgets I’ve loved to death.  I’ve killed the motor on several blenders and one immersion blender.  The blender/mini-food processor combo was handy and space-saving, but under-powered.  The George Foreman grill was highly overrated and generally just terrible at cooking things.  A popcorn air-popper that never really worked right.  In my just-after-college years I used to death a very cheap rice cooker that was upgraded to my current fuzzy-logic masterpiece.  And those infamous movers get credit for cracking the bowl of the old food processor.

What would I add to the collection if I could?  In order of would-love-to have: A Vitamix, a dehydrator, an induction burner, a deep fryer (which I actually won’t ever buy because I like fried food way too much to have that in my house) an electric griddle, and a raclette grill – just because I want to try it.  And of course the remaining KitchenAid accessories I don’t have: the meat grinder, the pasta maker, and the ice-cream maker attachment for whenever my current one dies.

If I had to whittle it down a bit, I could probably cut down, but… no, probably not.  I might use them all again in the next month or two!

The one that surprises me with its frequency of use is the Panasonic rice cooker.  This fuzzy-logic little marvel is multitalented.  I think we use it to steam things more than we use it to cook rice.  It has an awesome steaming tray and is perfect for vegetables or heating up those nice frozen pork buns.  Mmmm, Dim Sum.

This baby has settings for white rice, sticky rice, and brown rice.  It has a set-ahead timer so I can have fresh rice to make Misubi with in the morning, and it has a porridge setting so I can do overnight steel cut oats as well.  I haven’t ever tried it, but it even has a recipe for chocolate cake.  Yes, in the rice cooker.  So that, by far, wins first place in my book as the ultimate geek kitchen gadget.

My favorite kitchen appliance

The other gadget that *gasp* doesn’t plug in that I can’t live without is the apple peeler-corer.  For under $20 one of these little wonders will save you a lot of time with anything you need to mass-peel and slice.  It can be set up to just peel, just core, or both, meaning that when you have to feed 20 for Thanksgiving you can actually use it to peel potatoes for the mashed potatoes.

But most importantly to me it 1) makes “slinky apples” for my kid with its amazing spiral-slicing, and 2) makes things like homemade applesauce, apple butter, and apple pie a whole lot less painful.  I also get a surprising amount of use out of my salad spinner, because while I love the convenience of bagged salad, it usually disappoints.

What kitchen gadget(s) can’t you live without?


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Product Review: the LuminAid

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the brilliant young ladies who invented the LuminAid to help disaster victims as part of a grad school project after the Haiti earthquake.  It sparked my interest in their product, and happened to coincide with a time when I, like the good old paranoid person I am, was working on upgrading my own family’s disaster kits.

While I had already made a handy, affordable, and oh-so-easy batch of homemade jar candles (a post on making those later), I wanted to add something that would not require flame or batteries or hand cranking to produce light.  We have a little solar-powered lantern in our camping gear, but the LuminAid sounded even better.

So I ordered two – one for the emergency kit in each of our cars.  I figure if a disaster hits at home, we have two dozen flashlights… somewhere… around the house.  Geez, I know there’s at least one in every room, if only I could find them.  They’re there, really!  Plus I think I have at least three dozen scented candles at any given time.  So yeah, wanted the LuminAids for the cars and possibly for use on camping trips as tent lights.

This week they finally arrived, and now I get to play with the new toys.  First impression, these really are nice and small.  First pictures shows the LuminAid in the package, with a standard black pen for size reference.

photo 5

First strike was the packaging.  It’s that godawful cardboard-sandwiched-around-plastic-with-too-much-glue thing.  Basically you end up having to destroy the thick cardboard part to get the darn thing out – peeling was not gonna happen.

Second strike was the overwhelming plastic chemical spill when I took it out.  Think of the worst cheap plastic inflatable toy you’ve ever taken out of a dollar store package.  That smell.  The plastic feels fairly thin/flimsy, but only time will tell how that will hold up, and the small size/weight wouldn’t be possible without the plastic being so thin.

photo 4

Once I let it outgas for a few, though, things drastically improved.  Reading the packaging (from the one I didn’t destroy opening it), I followed the directions for charging and inflating.  It’s super easy to inflate – took me two deep breaths to get it filled all the way up.  It’s extremely lightweight (just a few ounces) and you can hang it somewhere by the handle to free up your hands.  It also has a little loop you could use to clip it up with a carabiner or something similar.

photo 3

I charged it for the full seven hours in sunlight, and then went to put to the test their assertion that it will run on that charge for up to 16 hours on the low setting.  Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my husband to leave it on.  So I turned it on after dinner last night, and he turned it off first thing this morning.  So we know it will go for at least 12 hours but didn’t find the limit.  I’ll post an update when I get to try round #2 of that experiment!  I will also be testing out the 8 hour max at the high setting.

The low/high settings are 15 and 30 lumens respectively.  To give some reference, my mini maglite LED flashlight is 84 lumens.  So the LuminAid’s not terribly bright, but would be sufficient in a tent, shelter, or other small space – and remember it’s fairly diffuse light.  You’re probably not going to do your homework or sew or perform surgery by this light, but it’s fine for most routine tasks.

The 'high' setting in our bathroom (the easiest place to make dark during the day)

The ‘high’ setting in our bathroom (the easiest place to make dark during the day)

I’m not going to actually test the waterproof assertion this week (I’ve always had back luck breaking my new toys when trying to verify that one), so whenever my kid manages to submerge it or spill something on it, which she inevitably will at some point, I’ll post an update on that result, too.

It also deflates fairly easily – have to do a little extra rolling/folding to get all the air out, but overall not too bad.  Then it folds up and snaps shut with a little strap, to a little bigger than your average smartphone.

Overall, it’s awfully neat, but only time will tell how well it holds up.  More to follow on that whenever a member of my family manages to break it!

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