Saturday, March 17, 2018

REVIEW: VideoGame Comes Alive - Just Dance Live comes to Chicago March 15-18

I got an invitation to check out a cool new quasi-theatrical experience last night.  It's Just Dance Live, a two-hour-plus dance party that's half stage show, half audience wish-fulfillment.  It's basically a Family Friendly Dance Rave.  It's playing at the Aon Ballroom in Chicago for the next couple of nights, before going on tour to a few other US cities.

I was going to take my son, but he got a sleepover invitation that he preferred over the show.  He and his friend were going to play video games for most of the night (as far as I know, not Just Dance, but it would be sort of poetic justice if it was.  I'll have to ask!)

DISCLOSURE:  I received complimentary tickets to this show with the hopes that I would write about it.  The free-ness of the tickets does not affect what I write about the show.  I respect my integrity, and so should you.

The show is aimed at the Just Dance crowd, which seems to be (based on my non-scientific estimates of roughly 150-200 people in the audience) a wide swath of the population. There were people there all ages, all shapes, all colors.  The one thing they all seemed to have in common was a love to dance.  I'd say that the average age in the room was 17, partially because a lot of people came with their parents, who sat politely in the corner.  The average age of the dancers was probably 12 or 13, but I saw a few people who might easily have been grandparents also shaking their tailfeathers.

What does the Fox Say?  Or better yet, how does he/she dance?
The whole show starts with the "Just Get Ready For It Experience."  There were face painters, obligatory merch salesmen, selfie opportunities, costumed characters and garishly wigged dancers aplenty, and a live trivia show about the Ubisoft video game hosted by reality tv star Nia Sioux (Dance Moms). She seemed personable enough, and her crowd was filled with people who knew some arcane trivia about Just Dance.

After about an hour of pre-show, the doors opened downstairs, and into the vast Aon Ballroom we went.   Three stages were set up in the audience, (as well as the traditional ballroom stage), fog filled the room, and the party began with a dance warmup.  It was clear that many people had played the game before because they seemed to know all the moves.

The air was full of confetti snow.
From there, the show was pretty fast-paced, as action cut from one stage to another, with very little gaps in between.  In addition to liberal uses of the fog machine, there were plenty of laser lights, video projections, and crazy over the top wigs and costumes.  The video projections were great and very dramatic, sometimes verging on vertigo-inducing.  There were piles and piles of confetti snow, which I tracked back to my house later as it got all over my clothes and hair.

I ended up tracking "snow" home with me.
There was also at least one great effect, in which the scene was transformed from the icy steppes of Siberia (or maybe it was Elsa's Frozen castle?) to more tropical climes, as some cast members pulled a giant blue sheet over the entire audience, tenting us in blue for a moment.  By the time the cloth had passed over the entire audience, a set of costumed fruit was ready to start dancing to Calypso music.  It was a nice transition.

The show was directed by Kim Gavin, who is a well-known theatrical and spectacle director from England (he directed the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London) .

I spoke to one of the actors doing the pre-show, who told me the whole show was rehearsed in London before coming over here.    This is the pilot tour, they are performing in four cities, seeing how it goes, and if it is successful, they will probably try to bring it to more cities upcoming.

The sets and effects were designed by a firm named Stufish, which has designed and produced 3 or 4 shows for Cirque du Soleil, as well as a number of rock concerts for huge names (Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and others) as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  The design team clearly knew what they were doing, although I wouldn't say there was anything ground shattering about the work. It was competent and professional and engaging. Likewise with the performers. I didn't notice any virtuosic dancers or any standout performers. They were all young and energetic and interchangeable.  They had a juggler who was competent (juggled three balls, walked on a rolling globe) but he was not a top end juggler.  He was merely a juggler.

But to me this makes perfect sense-this fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of Let's Dance.  The fun of dancing trumps the skill, and anyone can have a good time by giving themselves over to the beat.

(ADDED NOTE:  It turns out the juggler was also my friend Joe Dieffenbacher! Joe played the master of ceremonies in the show, as well as the Juggler.  I didn't realize he was touring with these guys, and   I didn't recognize him, and he thought he recognized me in the crowd, but he thought I still lived in NY!  It's a small world!)

I recommend this show for anyone who likes the Just Dance video game, or likes crazy dance parties that don't involve altered states.

Regular ticket prices start at $ 45. A limited number of specially priced family four packs are available for each performance — early birds can receive four tickets for the price of three (a 25% savings)! A limited amount of VIP packages ($95-$99) are also available and include priority entry to the show, exclusive merchandise (Glow Up Glasses, Exclusive Draw String Bag, and VIP Glow Laminate), a JUST DANCE in-game reward and a VIP meet & greet with the cast after the show.

Tickets are available for purchase at and group tickets can be purchased by calling group sales at 1-866-468-3399.

Next tour dates include Houston March 22-25 and Los Angeles March 29-31.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Report: The Giver by Lois Lowry

When I was my son's age, my mom literally had to force me to go outside.  I wanted to stay inside and read.  She made me take my book and go outside on the steps to read.  I did that, and eventually started making friends with the neighborhood kids, and started playing street baseball, and Hide and seek, and basketball, and kill the kid with the ball, and all those fun street games.

I've been a very dedicated reader all my life, and when the book  The Giver by Lois Lowry came out in 1993, I was 29 years old, and I thought I was really into Young Adult Fiction.  Apparently not, though, as I missed it entirely, and I've since found I've missed hundreds of other books.  And this was a particularly bad miss, as it is a great book, and ended up winning The Newbery Medal in 1994.  It was also ranked in 2012 as the 4th best children's book of all time by Elizabeth Bird's Top 100 Chapter Book Poll.  (more books I've been meaning to read!)

(On an aside: It's a little bit of a fantasy that I'd like to make my 9-year-old child read only Newbery books.  I haven't even read them all (I just did a little count, and I've read 16 of the 412 books that have either won or been honored by the Newbery folks.  I better get cracking!).  Unfortunately, he's the kind of kid who loves his trash reading.

Don't get me wrong, I love that he reads, and through him I've read some really great stuff. He's read all of the Alex Rider novels, all of the Ranger's Apprentice novels, all of the I Funny novels, and all of the Harry Potter novels, as well as many others. Some of these he's read multiple times.  I have to force him to read new books, and when he does, he usually loves them.  I don't know if he's ready for Agatha Christie, but I get the feeling he is going to eat them up when he is.)

Some of the books my son loves.  (CLICK IMAGES TO SEE THEM ON AMAZON)

He's an inveterate reader, and for that I'm glad.  Even if he doesn't always read the books I want him to read (and it makes sense, seeing who his parents are. )  Right now he's refusing to read this next book, and when I do force him to read it  I'm sure he's going to love it!


Artwork inspired by The Giver. via Pinterest
Back to the Giver:  It's a utopian/dystopian novel, in which we follow a young boy named Jonas who lives in a Utopian society that celebrates equality and sameness... up to a point. The society is very ordered- at 8 you get a bicycle, at 10 you get your hair cut short, at 12 you receive your job- and when you are old enough you retire to the home for the Aged, until eventually you are Released.

Everybody turns age at the same time, and your peer group works together.  It's a polite society where apologies are mandated for even the tiniest infraction of the group. A group of Elders studies you and decides how you are best suited to help society in your job, and who your spouse should be, and eventually, when the people suited to be Birth Mothers deliver, who gets which child and what their name should be. It's a society that seems like it should be operating at peak efficiency.

But as you learn as you read further, things are not necessarily idyllic.  Boys and girls (and men and women) take pills every day to quell their "stirrings."  At a certain point, you realize that the Mother and the Father are not the biological mother and father.And when you get much further into the book, you realize that even the idea of color has been stripped away from the community's life.  Not color as in race, but as in color, red, green, blue, etc.  Whether this is done via drugs or via surgery is not necessarily clear.

As well, you realize that there are some other sinister elements.  There's a young baby who doesn't sleep well, and there's a fear that he might have to be "released."  At first it's unclear if "Released"  means sent to another community, but pretty quickly you get the foreboding idea that released is a euphemism for euthanized.  And the same with the elderly who get "released" as well.

It turns out there are sequels!
Check them out on Amazon
Our hero, Jonas, ends up being selected to be the Receiver of Memories, a special job that requires that he take in memories of the past times from the current Receiver, who is an old man. (And once Jonas becomes the Receiver, he becomes the Giver) Something happened 10 years before to the previous Receiver in Training.  And as Jonas starts to receive memories from the long past, he starts to realize that there's more to his society than meets the eye...

The book is so well written, and takes a simple idea and expands the hell out of it.  I love how there's a sense of foreboding from the first line, and we discover gradually things about this society without being told so much about them.  The version I read came with A Reader's Guide at the end, along with questions for discussion and an interview with the author.

Because of the dystopian element, this book has been on "The Challenged Book List" for a long time.

More excitingly, I just discovered that there are sequels!  She apparently wrote four books in this series.  (Although not exactly a quartet, there are four books set in this world, although they all follow different protagonists. ) Gathering Blue, The Messenger, and The Son Can't wait to read them!

There's also a 2014 movie! Featuring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.  It didn't get great reviews, but I think it looks well worth seeing.  Except at the end of the trailer, the super high-tech flying machine seems a little too Hunger Games-ish.   Completely missed this one too! I now feel like I've been under a rock about this book.

Has your child read the Giver?  What did they think?  Please tell me in the comments below. I'm trying to build up a persuasive case to get my son to read it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pi Day Specials 2018 π: Chicago

It's PI Day again (3.14 is a close approximation of the mathematical symbol π, for those of you who are long removed from 7th-grade mathematics.)  It's become a bit of a commercial celebration for Pizza makers, and Dessert makers, and science nuts, all celebrating the silly coincidence of the Greek letter pi and the English word pie.

That silliness is your gain. Here's some free or discounted stuff you can get in the Chicago area tomorrow for Pi day.

If you want a fuller explanation of π, peruse last year's PI Day post, where I explain how irrational numbers work.

Please check with the location before going there.  I got this info off the Internet, and that is of course, super reliable, but you never know.

Pi Day poster via teacherspayteachers.

  • Bespoke Cuisine in the West Loop, a cooking party venue, will lead groups in putting together a meal featuring nothing but different kinds of pie. Tickets are required.
  • All four First Slice Pie Cafe locations, have a buy one slice, get one for half off deal.Promotion excludes full pies.
  • Waters School in the Ravenswood neighborhood will host a free Pi Day Celebration and Family Fun Festival featuring games, stories and crafts. Pizza and pie will also be for sale.
  • Macello's Ristorante at 1235 W. Lake Street has eight wood-fired specialty pizzas for $3.14.

  • If you want to work off any pie you indulge in, the Illinois Science Council and Fleet Feet Sports will host three Pi Day “Pi K” Fun Run/Walks in Old Town, Logan Square and Oak Park. Registration is $30 each.

    Enjoy PI Day!

  • Monday, March 12, 2018

    Win Two Tickets to See Raffi in Chicago on April 8!

    Raffi is one of the foremost children's singer/songwriters in the world.  He's turning 70 this year, and to celebrate, he's doing a  #belugagrads special tour.  Many of the kids who first turned on to Raffi now have kids themselves, and are therefore "Beluga Grads."  The concert will be an amazing singalong for kids and families.

    He'll be coming to Chicago (The Harris Theatre at Millenium Park 205 E. Randolph Drive ) on Saturday, April 8, and we've got a special arrangement to give two tickets away to the show! Read on for details on how to win your tickets!

    Raffi has had an amazing career for over 40 years as a singer, songwriter, producer, author, lecturer, and tireless advocate for children. He is best known for his work as a children’s entertainer and advocate whose string of gold and platinum-selling recordings includes his iconic song, “Baby Beluga,” He was once called “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world” by the Washington Post and “Canada’s all-time children’s champion” by the Toronto Star.

     Raffi is a recipient of the Order of Canada and the United Nations’ Earth Achievement Award. He has published three books for adults and holds four honorary degrees.

    “I love singing with and for children and families,” says Raffi. “In 2018, I look forward to hearing more ‘Beluga Grads’ and their kids singing favorites like “Baby Beluga,” “Down By The Bay,” “Bananaphone!” plus more from my recent Best of Raffi album.”

    In 2010, Raffi founded the non-profit Centre for Child Honouring. With the motto “Respecting Earth & Child,” the Centre is at the heart of a global movement that views honoring children as the best way to create sustainable, peacemaking societies. The concerts that he is preparing will all benefit that Center.

    For more about Raffi or the Centre, visit or


    There are a number of ways to get entered into the giveaway, including spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, or checking Raffi out on Amazon.  However,  the easiest and best way to enter is to honor Raffi's career, and just do something nice for a kid.  See the entry form below for details.  The giveaway ends on March 28, so enter today!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    If you just want to buy tickets for the Chicago date, they range from $29.50 to $75.Tickets are on sale now for the Harris Theater performances.  The VIP $75 tickets will include an opportunity to meet Raffi in person after the show. (Please note, the tickets in the giveaway do not include that opportunity.)

    Here are some of the other dates, in case you live in a different city:

    Saturday, April 7, 2018 - Minneapolis, MN - Pantages Playhouse - 1:00 PM

    Sunday, April 8, 2018 - Chicago, IL - Harris Theatre - 1:00 PM

    Saturday, May 5, 2018 - Fresno, CA - Tower Theatre - 1:00 PM

    Sunday, May 6, 2018 - Modesto, CA - Gallo Centre for the Arts - 1:00 PM

    Saturday, June 2, 2018 - Kingston, ON - Grand Theatre - 1:00 PM

    Sunday, June 3, 2018 - Kitchener, ON - Centre in the Square - 1:00 PM

    Saturday, June 9, 2018 - London, ON - Centennial Hall - 1:00 PM

    Sunday, June 10, 2018 - Toronto, ON - Roy Thomson Hall - 1:00 PM

    Saturday, June 23, 2018 - Burlington, VT - Flynn Centre - 1:00 PM

    Sunday, June 24, 2018 - Concord, NH - Capitol Centre - 1:00 PM

    To get tickets to those events or to find out more, visit Raffi's Concert Page.

    Thursday, March 8, 2018

    The National Day of Unplugging: A Sabbath for Cellphones

    Step away from your technology, people!

    Yes, digital technology is a great boon and can be a tool for good and it's a transformative power that is reshaping the world we live in.

    But not all change is good- you can make an argument that it's also ruining people's lives by making them feel like they have to be always on, always available, work 24/7 and miss out on all the good stuff in life.

    There was a recent article in the NY Times where columnist Farhad Manjoo only got his news from printed newspaper for 2 months and the lesson that they learned was that 24/7 can easily lead to panic and paranoia,  slowing down your news intake gives you time to take a break.  READ THAT ARTICLE.

    A propos of this, from sundown to March 9 to sundown March 10, the organization Reboot is encouraging you and your family to unplug and give your cell-phone and other technology a rest.

    The day has its roots in the idea of the Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) which is supposed to be a day apart, a day where you don't work, a day which you can dedicate to something other than your workaday world.

    Reboot's communications manager Tanya Schevitz was recently quoted as saying "The practice of taking a break is familiar to Jews, but this modern day of rest was developed for people of all backgrounds as a way to bring balance to the increasingly fast-paced way of life and reclaim time to connect with family, friends, and communities."

    This project grew out of a larger project called the Sabbath Manifesto, also sponsored by Reboot, which is a way for people to slow down and re-connect.  They've created 10 principles, open to interpretation by you, as a way to be mindful in the ways that technology is intruding on our lives, and to remind us to slow down, once a week at least, to enjoy and savor our friends, family, and community.

    Here are the 10 principles they espouse:

    1. Avoid Technology 
    2. Connect with loved ones.
    3. Nurture your health. 
    4. Get outside 
    5. Avoid commerce. 
    6. Light candles. 
    7. Drink wine. 
    8. Eat bread. 
    9. Find silence. 
    10. Give back.

    If you are planning to unplug, they suggest that you upload a message to your account letting your friends know that you'll be back.  Here are two illustrated messages they created for you to upload to your social media.

    To find out more, visit

    So, what do you think? Are you going to unplug?

    Tuesday, February 27, 2018

    Daddy-Con is this weekend in Chicago! (March 3-4, 2018)

    The very first Daddy-Con, a conference for dads, is premiering this weekend, and the premiere is happening right here in Chicago!  (Well, Rosemont, actually, but close enough!)

    Daddy-Con is focused on bringing fatherhood to the forefront of the parenting conversation. With over a dozen speakers, the event convention will take a playful approach to discussing all aspects of fatherhood.

    The festivities start on Saturday March 3, and will feature dads talking about a variety of topics, including becoming a stay-at-home parent, baby-wearing, home-birthing, and how dancing with your children can improve your relationship with them.  There will also be an exhibit hall, a CityDads Meetup, and the Dad-Games Competition, sponsored by Huggies, in which dads will compete for prizes in stroller-folding, diapering, and the colossal Pack-n-Play Collapse-a-thon.  The games will be hosted by natural parenting dynamo Mat York (of ThatDadMat)  Other speakers who are friends of mine include Eric Bennion (Diary Dad)and Pat Jacobs (VP of the National At-Home Dads Network) Check out the full schedule below.

    Daddy-Con is an offshoot (spouse conference?) of Mommy-Con, which is a national series of conventions for women journeying through parenthood.  Mommy-Con has been going on for 4 years, and produces about 10 events a year.   Their literature says that over 50,000 parents have been through in the last 4 years.  Mommy-Con focuses on natural parenting, takes a gentle and positive approach to educating parents about the emotional and physical benefits of natural birthing, breastfeeding, and babywearing, as well as creating a community of support, acceptance and non-judgement for women (and now men) journeying through parenthood.

    Mommy-Con will run concurrently with Daddy-Con  from Friday March 2-Sunday March 4.  (Although if you look at the schedule below, I think it's more accurate to say that Daddy-Con is running concurrently (and is dwarfed by) Mommy-Con.)  Your registration to Daddy-Con includes registration to Mommy-Con (and vice-versa), so you can go to all of the sessions listed (but I think that some are designed for an all-female audience, so respect that vibe if you are there! Don't be a creeper!)

    Click image to see Friday's schedule larger.
    One of those where dads are probably not welcome is"Vagina Village" where women can talk about what makes their Vagina happy.  I'm not sure I really want to know! (And by the way, how glad are you that there is no Penis Pavilion?  I know I'm thanking my lucky stars!)

    But don't worry, there's still plenty of stuff for dads at mom-con, including a session of  sleep consultation time, practical tips on baby-wearing, and a session about managing your startup business while still being a parent.
    Click image to see Saturday's Schedule larger

    Click image to see Sunday's schedule larger
    Looking at the schedule, it does seem like the event(s) are geared towards new and expectant parents, but I'm guessing older parents like myself will also be welcomed, and there will be stuff to do and see (and buy) that will be of interest.

    I for one am looking forward to checking it out this weekend!

    Get tickets and more info here:  

    Daddy-Con  ($25 for each day)

    Mommy-Con ($25 each day, with some VIP options as well)


    Use code “howdy10” for 10% off of tickets.

    Friday, February 23, 2018

    Determining the best Navigation App

    I drive a fair amount.  And usually I'm going to places I've been before.

    Nevertheless, I usually have at least two navigation systems operating at the same time.

    Subaru Nav System.  This is not my car or map.
    We've got a Subaru Forester with navigation, and I have that pre-programmed with a number of destinations (Costco, The skating rink, fencing class, the farm in Indiana, my wife's cousins house)  Places I go once a week or fewer times, and places that are across town.  I also have preprogrammed places near other places, so if I get a little confused about where I am, I can navigate approximately.

    The Subaru navigation isn't bad, and we added the traffic subscription feature, but some features are lacking.   The traffic feature doesn't seem very smart, especially about congested streets vs highways.  I'm usually on congested streets, and that's a bigger problem for me. And entering stuff into the Subaru navigation is a bear.  You can't do it on the fly, you have to do it by the dumb touchscreen, etc.  I have made errors entering information multiple times. The other thing is that the Nav system is outdated info.  So if something is closed or a bridge is out-- it doesn't know.

    Even though I have the nav in the car, I will also use my phone to use WAZE, the crowd-sourced traffic app, and I usually use that to compare routes and see if something is particularly crowded.  Then I make my actual decisions based on the data I have in front of me.

    Yes, data-driven driving.  Very 2019 of me!

    I've been a WAZE user since the early get-go, and when we lived in New York, would swear by it.  It seemed whenever I tested it against Google or Apple Maps it was more accurate. And I like the weird gamification features (you get points for reporting obstacles, and you can change up the voice that leads you.)

     But that was a while ago, and now that my Apple Watch is always on me, I could just say "Siri, get directions to .... "  and it is pretty good about getting it.  That uses Apple Maps, which came with my phone. And I also need to have Google Maps on my phone because they have all of the public transit options.  (Which Waze and Apple Maps don't provide)

    I have been wondering which app is the best, and lo and behold, the internet provided some fruit.

    A guy named Arturrr has been doing a nearly year-long navigation test.  To read his full results, you should check out his blog:

    He does a great and thorough job of explaining his methodology (he's in the SF bay area, he takes a lot of short trips, etc)

    His findings: 
    1) Apple Maps is conservative in its estimates, meaning you often arrive faster than it says you will.
    2) Waze and Google Maps are overly optimistic about arrival time.
    3) Google Maps had consistently shorter routes (timewise) than Waze or Apple Maps.

    Of course, the maps/travel times for the Chicago area could be way different, and (as they say, and this time it's literal--Your Mileage May Vary)  Nevertheless, this has definitley made me think about giving Google Maps a second look.

    How about you?  What Nav system/app do you use?  Please let me know (along with any nav horror stories) in the comments!