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Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share Paperback – May 4, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ken Denmead is the Publisher and Editor-at-Large of GeekDad.com. A professional civil engineer, he lives near San Francisco with his wife and two sons, who are both geeks-in-training.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


About Being a Geek and a Dad

Once upon a time, the word geek was used to describe circusperformers. Then it evolved as a pejorative to describeawkward, skinny kids who got routinely thrown intoschool lockers by the high school football team. But these days, geekhas reinvented itself. This is the era of the geek. And geeks arecool.

There is some interchangeability between geek and nerd. Theyboth generally describe someone of restricted social ability whofinds enjoyment in pursuits outside the mainstream—pursuits likecomputers, role-playing games (RPGs), science fiction and fantasyliterature and movies, science and engineering, and so on—you getthe idea. But there is a key difference between the geek and thenerd.

One renowned geek dad (and honorary GeekDad), Wil Wheaton,describes it pretty simply: A geek is a self-aware nerd. It makes a lotof sense to me—I think geeks had those social issues growing upand liked all those things that weren’t part of the popular culturein school, but we came to understand our nature and, in a veryKübler-Ross kind of way, moved past the self-limiting aspects ofnerdhood to a state of acceptance, and even enjoyment, of our placein the universe. Which, in a funny way, helped us take care of someof those social issues, because a lot of us ended up actually gettingmarried and having kids (which totally rocks!).

I think part of the current ascendancy of geeks in general, andGeekDads specifically, is that there are a lot more geeky womenthan people realize, and some of us geeky guys were smart enoughto recognize our own kind and attempt to mate and perpetuate thesubspecies.

But before I get too far along, let me point out something important:Geeks aren’t just about the computers and the D&D and thepassion for anime and comic books. There’s a whole lot more outthere that people get passionate about, even mildly obsessive about,that can qualify them as geeks. If you’re so passionate about somethingthat you’re not just good at it but can lose yourself doing it forlong periods of time (often to your social detriment), you may be ageek. If you carry encyclopedic knowledge about a topic and willjoyfully use it to act as the pedant whenever the subject is beingdiscussed, you may be a geek. If you have a room in your house devotedto a hobby that other family members avoid talking about,you may indeed be a geek. I’m not talking about “experts” or“professionals”—I’m talking about the real deal. Here are some examples:

So, what are the factors that make up the geek? I’d like to positthat the geek is a combination of common personality factors thatwe see in all sorts of people. Indeed, these factors taken aloneor only in pairs may lead to less desirable characters. See, for example,the Venn diagram below (talk about geeky!), where I’ve describedthe possible combinations of key personality factors thatmake up the geek, and its associated stereotypes: Knowledgeability,Obsessiveness, and Social Skills.

Knowledgeability represents having significant stored informationwith easy recall. That knowledge may be broad and relativelyshallow—the know-it-all—or itmay cover only a few topics butbe deep and profound—the expert/problem solver.

Obsessiveness is a person’sability to lose himself in somethinghe has a passion for. Commonsymptoms include losingtrack of time while coding HTML/CSS or staying up until four a.m.to finish Portal because you hadto earn watching the final credits(and hearing that awesome JonathanCoulton song).

Social Skills can mean a lot ofthings, not all of which are aboutbeing “popular,” which geeks and nerds always feel they neverwere in their formative years. But geeks do at least have enoughpresence and personality to form lasting relationships, which helpsdifferentiate them.

So first, it’s easy to tag all the stand-alones: Dorks are the peoplewho are obsessive without the introspection to recognize it in themselvesor how it could affect others. Dweebs know everything butcan’t apply or express themselves. Goobers are good-natured butlazy idiots—no one minds them, but they aren’t much use.

It starts to get interesting when you begin combining the traits.The classic nerd has knowledge/intelligence AND the obsessive naturethat produces results. You can’t expect them to carry on conversationsthat won’t lose a non-nerd audience—they would talkyour ear off about something as nerdy as the exciting application ofquantum theory on the flow of mold over a piece of cheese, but setthem to work on a project without distraction, and you’ll be able tomine the results for pure gold (especially if it has to do with Worldof Warcraft and, you know, gold mining).

The twit—well, I suppose there are other names for this person,probably a lot of regional variations—but the twit combines obsessivenessand social skills into a double-edged sword. This could bethat sales guy who can talk up a storm but who really doesn’t knowsquat, or it could be the diligent hard worker everyone likes butwho really just doesn’t get it.

And then there’s the gadfly. He’s smart and he gets invited toparties, but he’s lazy. Or worse, he’s intellectually smart but emotionallyignorant, and doesn’t care. He’s the one most likely to bethe pedant in any gathering, and he probably uses people to get thework done he finds beneath him.

Of course those are extremes, and there are perfectly lovely,functional people who fall into those categories; but they’re not theones we’re here to talk about. In the sweet spot, right there in themiddle, is the tripartite synergy that creates the geek. The mixtureof knowledge (about comic books, particle physics, or the works ofMozart), obsessiveness (they’ll sit in front of a computer or a workbenchfor hours perfecting, building, or playing anything), and socialskills (they actually get together with people for pen-and-paperRPGs or get in line with a bunch of friends to see the midnightshowing of the next Star Trek movie), that makes a well-rounded,self-sustaining person of affable oddity.

Now maybe weigh it just slightly toward the social skill set, andyou have someone who can actually get a date, find a mate, get married,and procreate. That, in a nutshell, is how a GeekDad comesinto being. The conditions need to continue to be favorable—isthere support at home for ongoing geekiness? Will infecting thechild(ren) be allowed? How many times will the wife feign a chucklewhen you lift your little tyke and in a deep voice intone, “Luke, Iam your father” (knowing it’s a misquote) before it gets old? Howmany jokes about containment breaches will be tolerated at diaperchangingtime?

It helps immeasurably when your mate is a geek, too (but that’sanother book). I’ve been lucky enough to have that situation in mymarriage. In fact, not only have my little quirks been tolerated, butsome of them have actually been encouraged. And in return, I encourageback. I mean, how many men can say their wives wanted atrip to a science fiction convention for their anniversary? I’m onelucky man.

But the best part is getting to share with my kids, share thegeeky things that informed my childhood and continue to informmy existence: Star Wars, Star Trek, math, science, reading, writing,music, computers and video games, movies and television. I can’ttell you the joy of having my kids get into Doctor Who and comicbooks and Lord of the Rings, and then talking with them about theimportant aspects of the stories and watching them just soak it up.I lived through the school years as a breed apart (though I hadgood friends who were geeks, too), so it makes me feel great to beable to inform and guide my kids through the social aspects, andthe occasional challenges, of growing up as a geek. All parents wantto protect their kids, but I like to think the best protection I canoffer them is to help them understand what will happen, why, andhow to best deal with it. I want them to know that different isn’tbad, and that being intelligent and inquisitive is something to beproud of.

Indeed, that’s what being a GeekDad really means for me. For allour personality quirks and interests in pursuits that are outside themainstream (or at least interests more technical than is usually palatablefor the mainstream), we’re all about understanding, and communicating,and connecting with others by sharing what we loveand helping others to grok it as well. Of course there’s a biologicalimperative to have kids and raise them to survive and thrive, butwe want them to be happy, too—whatever happiness may mean tothem.

I’ll encourage my kids to love what I do, but I won’t force it onthem, and when they want to try something different, I’m happy tolet them just as long as they come at it like a geek: They should beknowledgeable about it, be a little obsessive about it, and get alongwith the other people who are doing it. That’s what all the greatestgeeks do.

Geeky Projects for Dads and Kids to Share

Most “parenting” books aren’t about things you can do with yourkids. Most are about things to do to your kids, tricks and tactics fortweaking their behavior in some desired manner usually at oddswith what kids really want: to play, and spend real quality timewith you.

I’m not saying all those books are bad. Some of them do try toreinforce the idea of spending quality time (though I’d really like tofind a new phrase to replace quality time) with your kids. This bookhas the same goal of those others: to help you share time with yourkids in their formative years in constructive, educational ways,without making that time seem as if it’s supposed to be constructiveor educational (not always easy). The difference here is thatfrom a geek’s perspective, constructive and educational may notmean what all those other books think it means. Here’s what makesour approach different:

- Geeks like games that require a fantastic imagination.

- Geeks love science and knowing how things work. Experimentation is the best way to learn those things. If things go“boom” in the process, all the better.

- Geeks love finding interesting, „ creative solutions for problemsthat could be solved in a more mundane fashion.

- Geeks love to play, but in playing, to build and learn aswell.

There is a plethora of projects included here about an eclecticarray of subjects, from board games to electronics, crafts to coding.But I’m not here to tell you exactly what to do. The instructions aremeant give you a structure to start your adventure with your kids.Each of these projects will allow for extensive customization andpersonalization. Indeed, what I have in my workshop and availableat the hardware store in my town may be rather different from whatyou have. So I expect you to improvise, adapt, and even (quitelikely) improve on these projects.

Project Information

At the start of each project, you’ll see a table with summary informationto give you an idea what to expect from it, and there aresome symbols not unlike what you see in a restaurant or hotel reviewto explain cost and difficulty. Here’s a legend to explain theirmeaning.

One thing you’ll notice as you go through the projects in thisbook is that they are not long, costly, or overly difficult and involvedprojects that take too much work before paying off in thefun department. If you and your kid have the kind of patience andgeeky determination to spend days/weeks/months on a project,then let me suggest you take up painting Warhammer armies ormapping the visible sky in your area with a telescope you builtfrom scratch.

It’s not that I don’t have respect for folks that do that kind ofthing! On the contrary, they are the epitome of geekhood, and I amnot worthy to clean their brushes or polish their lenses. I just don’thave that kind of time or energy. I want to do something fun withmy kids NOW (or at least in the few minutes to couple of hours ittakes to complete any project in this book). So you’ll find that themost important common features all these projects have is that theyare accessible, affordable, and truly buildable for just about anyonewith an ounce of geek in them.

Okay, it’s time. Go get your kid(s) and get started!


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Avery (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592405525
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592405527
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julie Neal VINE VOICE on May 21, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Perfect for families looking for creative and amazing projects, Geek Dad had me bookmarking favorites to try right away. Many involve science in a fun, lightweight way. I can't imagine a child who wouldn't be excited by the prospect of some of these activities: the ultimate outdoor obstacle course, the light-up nighttime kite, the finger-painting with windup toys. The directions make each step simple and understandable.

Each project has a table that describes the concept, lists the tools and materials needed, and gives ratings for cost, difficulty, duration and reusability. Costs are from $0 up to over $100. Difficulty levels begin with primary-school kids up to high school age. Duration is from 0 to 15 minutes up to 3 hours or longer. Reusability ranges from one-time-only use to "good forever."

Throughout the book are drawings, maps, diagrams and tables. Everything's in black and white.

Here's the chapter list:

Introduction: About Being a Geek and a Dad
Make Your Own Geeky Games and Crafts
1. Make Your Own Cartoons
2. The Coolest Homemade Coloring Books
3. Create the Ultimate Board Game
4. Electronic Origami
5. Cyborg Jack-o'-Lanterns and Other Holiday Decorations
6. Windup Toy Finger Painting
7. Create a Superhero ABC Book
8. Model Building with Cake
9. Pirate Cartography
10. Parenting and Role-Playing Games
11. A Never-Ending Demolition Derby
Geeky Activities for the Great Outdoors
12. See the World from the Sky
13. Best Slip `n Slide Ever
14. Fireflies for Every Season
15. Video Games That Come to Life
16. Fly a Kite at Night
17. Build an Outdoor Movie Theater
18. The "Magic" Swing
Awesome Accessories
19. Smart Cuff Links
Read more ›
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This is based on a popular Wired.com blog, and while it's easy to see why that - and the idea of pooling great, technologically assisted ideas for children - might have seemed an appealing starting point for a book, the result is - once one gets past the nice cover design and so on - decidedly under-powered.

On the one hand, there just aren't that many "projects and activities" and, of those there, some are great - attaching lightweight LEDs to a kite for night flying and using remote-control cars covered in Lego for reuseable demolition derby races - but many others - for example, a Dungeons and Dragons-based system for household chores, a swing that's, well, a swing but that has two interleaved phonebooks to show the wonders of friction, a light made from a stack of CDs and cuff-links made from ethernet connectors - are, if not just dull, "geeky" rather than "awesome". The suggestions also don't lend themselves particularly to further development. One wonders if the text got shredded by a host of product liability lawyers or, alternatively, if the target audience is a bit - or perhaps a couple of decades - too old.

Definitely worth looking for a more substantial, if possibly less well-formatted, experiments/etc for children guide.
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Hey I'm a geek and a Dad so right off the bat this book is full of win for me. The real test though is the kids. If the kids don't dig the projects then it's a geek book. In the words of my 10 year old daughter after flipping through the book "We are totally doing some of these projects". What more can a Geek Dad ask from a book of projects?
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Geek Dad has a wide range of projects, from those requiring simple items you already have around the house, to a few that might inspire you to designate a piggy bank ahead of time. There are plenty of crafty ideas sprinkled in with electronics and robotics- even a crochet project!

The instructions are easy to understand and adaptable for different skill levels, including non-geeks. Both my 10 year old and my 6 year old found projects they want to try ASAP.

These projects offer kids a chance at hands-on experiments, something they frequently miss in today's test-focused school day.
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This is an attempt to join the DIY movement targeted at those of us that are fathers. The book gives ideas of what can be done, some tips, ideas, and that's about it. No fully fleshed out projects, no build lists, no instructables. It makes for a great source of inspiration, but falls short for giving a 'how-to' on some real projects. Not a bad book/reference, but not worth the $15.
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This is a great concept, but the ease of the projects is overstated. You can't simply crack the book open on a Sunday and do a project. Some involve buying or ordering specialty products (ie "ice cubes fit for a geek) recommends ordering a special resin from Amazon. Others involve writing computer code or electronics - things you'll just end up doing yourself.

Also, it's unlikely your kid will enjoy sitting by your side as you spend an hour writing computer code or editing a stop animation film as much as you do. Aside from LED lights on a kite, there aren't many quick and fun projects. I admit I dread every time my kid suggests we look through this book, because I know we won't end up doing any of them.
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I was very excited for this book. I was expecting to find many projects I could do with my 6 and 10 year olds. I found 5 that I might do. There were several reasons I ruled out projects: too much like arts and crafts which isn't what I bought the book for; we already did something along those lines; didn't seem interested to young kids; too elaborate to ever get around to it. I got science experiment books at the library and am much happier with those.

These are just our preferences. Obviously, other reviewers like the ideas.

I might have given it only 2 stars, but I have to give the book credit for pointing me towards Arduino boards and ThingM products.
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