Category: review



I’m not one hundred percent sure what the real name of this thing is; there’s not much writing on the package that’s in English. Most of the listings on eBay refer to it as a “face shaping mouth piece” or the much more verbose “Facial muscle exerciser mouth toning exercise slim toner flex face smile cheek.”

Yeah, I’m going to regret this one.

The idea seems simple enough, jam this thing in your facehole and move your mouth to work the little piston in an effort to make your smile bigger. I found mine for ninety-nine cents with free shipping, but I’ve seen the same item with the same packaging go for five to six times that.

How does it work? Not very well.

The craftsmanship is poor, the very first time I squeezed it together the casing on the larger half split down the seam and I’m afraid it would split the rest of the way and send the inner spring down my throat or through my cheek if I use it very much. Even if it wasn’t broken, it’s very hard to get it to work at all. The slight curve causes the inner shaft to rub and catch against the inside of the larger piece, causing it to jam. Even using my fingers to work the mechanism will cause it to jam. The pieces that are supposed to fit in the corners of your mouth caused me to drool a bit.

This thing is a waste of money; if you feel your smile is inadequate, you would be better off stretching your mouth with your fingers than buying this thing.

According to Mother Dearest, it looks like “something a porn star would own.”

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Saturday was pretty drab and gray, so I decided to go to a movie that had just come out that I wanted to see – The Pirates! Band of Misfits. (You can watch the trailer here.)

I’m a fan of stop-motion animation as well as pirates, so I was hoping for a good movie. I was not disappointed.  The movie follows the adventures of a group of pirates (in case the title wasn’t a big enough hint) led by the Pirate Captain. All of the pirate crew are nameless; there’s the Albino Pirate, the Pirate with Gout, the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (who is a woman wearing a beard that looks like a bathmat) and so on. The only competent pirate is the first mate, who can translate the Pirate Captain’s orders such as “Fire those long things that go bang!” into something that makes sense. The entire crew is just thrilled about being pirates, even if they do happen to be the worse pirates on the sea.

A merry band of scurvy dogs. (And one "parrot")

The Pirate Captain desperately wants to win the Pirate of the Year award, despite being the laughingstocks of all the pirates. They go out plundering and meet with a series of failures culminating in an attack on the Beagle, complete with Charles Darwin.

Who, as a bonus, is voiced by David Tennant.

Darwin correctly identifies Polly as a dodo and not the “big-boned parrot” the crew believe her to be and tries to buy her from them. The Pirate Captain initially refuses, but changes his mind when Darwin tells them that the discovery of a live dodo would mean “wealth beyond imagination” but fails to explain that the wealth is not of the shiny sort. Hilarity ensues.

The story is pretty good for a kid’s movie, there are enough things that will entertain an adult but a kid probably wouldn’t catch. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, which is how I judge movies.


I bet you’re thinking “I didn’t know they made three Paranormal Activity movies.” Well, neither did I. I don’t recall seeing many advertisements for it when it came out back in October but Netflix offered the title up as a suggestion so I added it to my queue.

The posters for all three movies are almost identical.

Up front I’m suspicious of the film, sequels are rarely as good as the original and in this case the original wasn’t really all that good.  I like Paranormal Activity well enough, the idea is novel enough but I found it to have serious pacing issues. If you’ve never seen it, the premise of the first film is simple – the girl (Katie) has been experiencing some “strange events” so her boyfriend decides to set up a camera to catch anything that might happen. Eighty-five percent of the film is the two of them sleeping in bed, which is about as exciting as you can imagine, interspersed with the two bitching at each other and the occasional lamp swinging around or loud thumping noise. Nearly everything interesting happens in the last fifteen minutes. The second film followed the family of Katie’s sister Kristi and there was much more “activity” as well as the introduction of an actual motive for the events. In the first the invisible “demon” that torments the couple really doesn’t have a reason for doing so, but in the second there is some discussion about why this would be happening. One character theorizes that it would be possible to sell or bargain the soul of a first-born son to gain power or wealth, but that no male children had been born to the family for several generations until Kristi’s son is born. Weird, but odd things are happening so it’s logical that people would be looking for any explanation.

The third film is a prequel and takes place in 1988. The rationalization for this is a box of VHS cassettes that Katie brings over to Kristi’s house that later vanish. This also brings up the first problem I have – if the cassettes are missing, where did all the “found footage” come from? With the exception of a few minutes, most of the ’88 footage is far sharper and crisper than what it should be, but I guess there is such a thing as being too accurate. It’s also kinda absurd that so many members of the same family would be so obsessed with filming themselves sleeping – especially back in the late 80’s when there wasn’t really any consumer technology available to do this. There is a throw-away line when one of the little girls asks about the tapes and the mother’s boyfriend (a wedding videographer) explains that the tapes only last six hours. This would mean that he would have to be changing them four times a day and there are eventually three cameras in the house. That’s a hell of a lot of tape, a lot more than there appears to be in the box Katie brings over. Even though Kristi’s husband makes a few comments about watching the tapes, it’s unlikely any of the family members watched them as two deaths and multiple odd events occur over the course of the several days filming occurred and none of the characters from the first films ever mention any of it.

The invisible demon, who is also the youngest daughter’s imaginary friend Toby,returns and is much more active than in the first two movies and there are a couple of pretty clever scenes. I have two particular favorites, the first occurs pretty early on. After their attempt to make a sex tape is mercifully cut short by an earthquake, the camera gets knocked over and forgotten as the couple rush out to check on the girls. Dust falls from the ceiling and settles on … nothing – a nothing shaped somewhat like a person. A few seconds later the shape shakes off the dust. A simple effect, but very well done. The second occurs near the end, when the mother is still refusing to believe that anything odd was going on. The boyfriend had altered an oscillating fan to act as a rotating camera mount covering the living room and kitchen. The mother is on the phone and walks into the kitchen when she hears a sound at the front door. She goes to the door as the camera slowly pans over the kitchen, showing the usual mess you find in most kitchens, and then slowly pans back to the living room where the mother finds no one at the door. She walks back towards the kitchen (as the camera just happens to be following her) and is shocked to see that all the mess – the countertop clutter, the appliances, even the table – are all gone. She stands there for a few seconds before everything falls from the ceiling with a loud crash as the camera pans back towards the living room. This of course freaks her out. The editing is good, the fan-mounted camera’s motion is smooth, and as a movie nerd I’m impressed at the effort it would take to rig up such a practical effect. The rest of the movie is pretty forgettable, I just watched it before writing up this review and I’m having trouble recalling specifics. Towards the end there is a coven of witches introduced and it is implied that they brainwash young girls into having sons for reasons that aren’t really clear (but are probably demon-related) and that’s about all the reasoning the audience gets.

Overall it’s not a bad movie for what it is, but it suffers the same slow pacing as the others in the series. It’s to be expected, watching the “real life” of a family isn’t much fun, but if I wanted to watch “boring stuff-boring stuff- something slightly interesting-more boring stuff” then I’d just watch one of those ghost-hunting shows on TV. If you liked the first or second movie then you would probably like this one, but I’m indifferent to it.

Review – The Legend of Korra


  Last weekend I was flipping through the channels, looking for something to put on as background noise, and stopped on Nickelodeon because they were showing cartoons. While I was halfway paying attention, a commercial came on that made me stop what I was doing. It was for an upcoming show and there was something about the music that was very familiar, so I used the DVR and bounced back a bit to see the whole thing. It was for a show called Legend of Korra, a sequel to the very successful Avatar: the Last Airbender series that ended back in 2008. Intrigued, I looked it up and set my DVR to record it. (I love DVR.)

 

Holy smokes, it’s like Avatar plus! The animation style is very similar, with the same subdued palette and matte-finish look of the original, but it is much more dynamic. Like the original, the season is called a Book and the individual episodes are Chapters; this first episode was two chapters run back-to-back. Like most first episodes in a new show it was more “Let’s get to know the characters” than any real story, but it was still very entertaining.

 

It begins seventy years after the end of the first series according to the beginning narration. It is later revealed that the narrator is Tenzin, the son of Aang and Katara from the original series. (Two other ofspring are also briefly mentioned but as Tenzin is the only airbending master they are either non-benders or waterbenders like their mother.) He recounts the founding of the United Republic of Nations and the capitol city of Republic City (very original) in what was once the Fire Nation’s colonies after the war as sort of a perfect, balanced society, but after the death of Aang the balance began to crumble. There is then a jump to the home of a Water Tribe family where members of the White Lotus Society have arrived to investigate claims that the couple’s young daughter is the new Avatar. The mother calls for her daughter Korra as one of the elders expresses his doubts, only to have a portion of the home’s wall fly past them. In what is possibly the best character introduction ever, a little girl of about four stomps in shouting “I’m the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!” and proceeds to earthbend rocks up out of the ground, sets one of the elders’ robes on fire, and then puts it out with waterbending.

Pictured: pure badass.

There is another jump forward to what will be the show’s present day showing a teenaged (seventeen or eighteen is my guess) Korra completing her firebending training and awaiting the arrival of the airbending master. When he arrives he tells her he cannot stay because there is some unspecified trouble in Republic City – her training will have to wait. Being strong-willed and determined, Korra runs away, sneaks aboard a ship with her pet polar bear-dog (who is the size of a bison) and goes to Republic City.

Republic City with Korra in the foreground.

Even though it has an almost identical appearance, the show contrasts nicely with the original. Where the original series took place mostly in rural areas or wilderness,Legendis set mainly in the metropolis of Republic City.  The city is huge and there is evidence of more widespread technology – the streets are packed with vehicles called “satomobiles” that resemble early cars and there is evidence of advanced mechanical and electrical devices including radios that broadcast the wildly popular pro-bending matches. This sport is really interesting to watch and accounts for most of the action sequences in the second half of the premiere. The playing field is an elongated six-sided polygon divided into six zones and raised above a pit filled with water. Two teams of three benders – once each for earth, fire, and water – attempt to knock their opponents backwards through the three zones and ultimately off the field and into the water below. Through a series of events, Korra joins the pro-bending team of a pair of brothers, the Fire Ferrets.

This is a fire ferret, a red panda-ferret hybrid. I want one. Why are all the animals in the Avatar world so frickin’ adorable?

It’s too early to say if the show is going to be as good as the original, but so far it is very promising. Instead of rehashing the old they have developed what feels like a very good continuation of the story. The world isn’tidentical to the first, which is completely believeable given to progression of technology, but has what I’d call an Asian-inspired steampunk flavor added. I can’t wait to see more.

I will make a grounds-less prediction that there will be some sort of romance in Korra’s future, probably with one of the brothers on her pro-bending team. Since one is easy-going and a bit goofy and the other is taciturn and brooding, I also predict it will be the brooding one who doesn’t seem to like her very much. I’ve seen enough romantic comedies to recognise a “I hated you but now I love you” plot line.


Along with about a million other people, many who looked like they were in the same theater as I was, I went to see The Hunger Games.

Ooh, flamey.

Those who are fans of the book will be happy to learn that it stays fairly faithful to the source material and the plot is pretty much the same. There are a few minor tweaks; the pacing is much faster, the training period before the Games is shortened as are the Games themselves, and the history of the mockingjay pin is changed. The most notable changes I saw were Peeta’s injury, (which is much more severe in the book) the absence of the gift of bread from Rue’s district, a shortening of the “prim and pamper” segments, and the lack of Katniss’ brush with severe dehydration. I didn’t miss the “primp and pamper” too much, but the other parts were some of the best parts of the book.

Overall the movie was in many ways better than the book, in my opinion it even works well as a stand-alone movie for people unfamiliar with the book. The scenery was beautiful, but I’m slightly biased as much of the filming occurred in my home state of North Carolina.

Book Review: Dead Until Dark


When my recent cold left me home with little to do besides drink hot tea and watch too much Doctor Who (which is silly; there’s no such thing as “too much” Doctor Who) I decided to read one of the books that came on my Kindle. The one I chose was Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, the first of the Southern Vampire Mysteries – the books that serve as source material for the show True Blood. I’ve never seen the show so I was unfamiliar with the characters and the work in general.

For those unfamiliar with the book, here is a brief synopsis –

At some unspecified point before the beginning of the book, vampires “came out” and have started living openly in human society. This is made possible by the widespread availability of synthetic blood and the existence of vampire groupies (called “fang-bangers”) willing to serve as live donors.  The main protagonist is Sookie Stackhouse, a young waitress in a small Louisiana town who has what she considers a “disability” – telepathy. Her ability is widely known in the small town, but on par with a bad habit – people ignore it to be polite and rarely ever speak of Crazy Sookie’s eccentricity. One of the vampires, Bill Compton, has returned to town to claim his family’s home now that he is legally able to do so and he shows up at the bar where Sookie works. She surprised to discover that she cannot read his thoughts and finds him fascinating, partly because of his vampirism and partly because of the silence she hears around him. Shortly after his first appearance in the bar she saves him from a pair of “drainers,” humans who drain vampires of their blood and sell it as a street drug. The two begin a romance that oscillates off and on for much of the book. Sookie’s boss, Sam, also begins displaying feelings for her, something Sookie calls him on when he starts acting jealous by pointing out that he had plenty of time to ask her out before Bill arrived in town. Laced within this rivalry/love story is the mystery of who is killing local girls, the fact that they were all fang-bangers leads many to suspect that the killings are the work of a vampire.

The author attempts to blend together a love story with a mystery and in trying to balance one against the other they both suffer. Sookie falls very quickly in love with Bill, even though he acts remote and distant at times, in a way that reminds me unpleasantly of Bella from the Twilight series. However, Sookie is a much more dynamic character than that wet piece of cardboard and is quite likable. Bill is very stoic, revealing very little of himself, but there are hints of a deeper character underneath. When Sookie reveals details of what her “funny uncle” did to her, he remains outwardly calm but the next morning the uncle is found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs with a broken neck. Since this is the first of several books, I hope there is more character development in the future.

There were enough hints as to who the murderer of the fang-bangers is well before the identity is revealedthat it is more of a “Of course it was [***].” moment instead of a “I can’t believe it was [***]!” moment. I like a little more suspense in my mysteries.

I am impressed with the author’s depiction of Sookie’s telepathy, which is perhaps the most realistic interpretation I have read. Instead of being able to pluck thoughts from people’s heads and read them like books, she gets shattered fragments; words, phrases, a image, a vague feeling, a swirl of colors, or a memory playing out like a snippet of film. This is closer to how people really think, in cobbled-together bits and pieces, than the neat and orderly fashion often depicted in fiction. Sookie isn’t always able to interpret what she sees and feels from others, since it often lacks context, and her frustration over this at pivotal times lends to the believability of her character. Instead of being an omnipotent mind reader able to probe your innermost recesses, she is stuck adjusting the rabbit-ears on an old analog TV in an attempt to pick up anything that makes sense.

My final grade for the book is a C; the plot was muddled and forced at times, but the characters have potential and there are some very unique aspects to the world the author has built. I am curious to see what the second book will be like.

Book Review – The Hunger Games Trilogy


When I bought my Kindle among the books the previous owner left on it was the Hunger Games trilogy. I just finished the last book, Mockingjay, last night. I was reserving judgment on the books until I finished the whole series and have come to the conclusion that they were … okay.

For those who haven’t read the books, I’ll give a very brief synopsis. The series is set in a far future dystopian world with a fairly unique premise. The country of Panem is divided into fourteen districts – the Capitol, districts 1-12, and a destroyed thirteenth district. Seventy-four years before the beginning of the first book there was a great big war that nearly destroyed the country and is the reason there isn’t a thirteenth district anymore. After the end of the war the Capitol decided to punish the surviving districts by holding the Hunger Games every year – two tributes are chosen by lot from each district and made to fight to the death in an arena packed with death traps for the amusement of the Capitol’s citizens and the rest of the districts are forced to watch the televised Games by the Capitol. The books follow Katniss, a girl from District 12 who volunteers to take her little sister’s place in the Seventy-Fourth Games and her fellow tribute Peeta. There’s more, but I don’t do spoilers. Go read Wikipedia for that shit.

The world-building the author has done is good, each district has its own character and the Capitol has a very decadent, late Roman Empire feel. The author does seem to have an obsession with bread; each district has it’s own kind, bread features in several pivotal scenes, and the male protagonist is the son of a baker. Even the country’s name, Panem, comes from the Latin phrase “Panem et circenses”  or “Bread and circuses.”There’s also numerous references to fire and things burning that I feel to be a bit heavy-handed, but tolerable.

The entire thing is written in the first-person from Katniss’ point of view and I find the style a bit limited. There are points when a different perspective would have really helped the plot, especially in the third book when she spends much of the time doped to her gills after a series of injuries. Katniss also veers dangerously close to Mary Sue territory because she can instantly read the symbolic meaning in the smallest gesture from a few characters, but even after Peeta repeatedly confesses his love for her, she assumes he’s playing some sort of role so that sponsors will send them food and supplies during the Games because, as Peeta says, “She has no idea. The effect she can have.”

It’s written for young adults so even though there are numerous deaths, the author doesn’t linger on each detail. The continued theme of Peeta and Katniss’ relationship means that there is quite a bit of kissing in places but nothing more graphic than that. Some of the plot points are pretty obvious, but there were enough surprises to keep me happy. Unlike the Twilight books, the female protagonist isn’t some limp, cardboard cutout content to worship a cut-rate undead Gary Glitter but is a pretty badass chick who has no problem taking care of herself.

I’d read it again, which is my ruler for how good a book is, but it doesn’t have the complexity of, say, the Harry Potter series. If I had to give them a grade, I’d say they were a solid B.

El Gato Está de Vuelta


On Saturday, after I met my word-count for the day, I went to the movies. I love movies, but as I have Netflix now I usually wait for things to come out on video. This was something I wanted to see, so I made an exception and went.

What did I see?

Guess.

 

It was good, I enjoyed it, but being the animation nerd that I am I was fascinated by the fight sequences (and the dance fight sequences) and trying to figure out how they were choreographed and the way the fur was rendered. The tech for these kind of movies is just getting better and better, the face they had on one of the characters – Humpty Dumpty, the anthropomorphic egg – was just freaky.

The voice acting was wonderful, I just love Antonio Banderas and the fact that he’s willing to make kitty noises for a role endears him to me even more.

 

This has nothing to do with it. Honest.

There were a few scary moments that would not be good for very young children, but it was quite enjoyable over all. Not spectacular, but good. It’s a good stand-alone movie, I caught a few references to the other movies but there were not many – Puss is once again caught with catnip, but  “It’s for  my glaucoma.”

Yarn Blossom


(Be sure to catch the last four chapters  of ITS MY LIFE, posting today over at The Library of the Damned)

I’ve been going through some stuff recently and when I start getting overly anxious, I like to have something to do with my hands. That’s why I’ve been signing up for so many swaps – it gives me something else to occupy my thoughts than what I have been focusing on.

I wasn’t feeling well on Wednesday so I stayed home. I finished up on what I had the supplies to do and found myself at odds. I felt too bad to actually do anything active, but not so bad that I wanted to go to bed.

To the Internet!

I had some bright orange yarn that I was using to make small pumpkin cat toys for a swap partner, so I decided to look for a new flower pattern. Several random clicks later I found The Crafty Tipster’s free pattern for a spider mum. It looked easy, so I started it.

And, after what felt like ten thousand skinny petals, I finished it!

It's either a spider mum or a tribble with dreadlocks.

Now I have to figure out what to do with it. From petal tip to petal tip, it’s about seven inches wide, the circular base the petals attach to is only about 2.75 inches across. So far all I have the following;

  • Use it as a pot scrubber (tawashi) – it’s a rough acrylic yarn so it would work well
  • Make another one, stitch the two together, fill the middle with catnip and turn it into a cat toy.
  • Add googly eyes and turn it into my new blog mascot,  Miss Twinklelocks.
  • I don’t know, some sort of hat? Is there going to be another royal wedding soon?

I’m leaning towards cat toy, but that’s mainly because I’ve got a drawerful of tawashi that I rarely use.

(Tawashi is the Japanese word for a sponge or scrubbie – it has come to mean any crocheted or knitted scrubbie. They are usually cute and/or colorful, in different shapes like fish, fruit, or animals.)

The pattern works up pretty fast and it’s really easy – the only stitches used are a single crochet, a slip stitch, and a magic ring in the center. Repetitive, but easy.

I’m thinking if I make one in a smaller scale, maybe using sock yarn, I’ll have something that’s more useful. I might have to scare up some of my 100% wool and see how the pattern looks after it’s been felted.

 

Swap Meet


As a sort of follow-up to my Postcrossing post, today I will be talking about Swap-Bot.

WHEEEE!

I discovered Swap-Bot in 2007, shortly afterward GhostSister and Mother Dearest joined after hearing me talk about it.

Swap-Bot is similar-yet-different from Postcrossing; both sites are free to sign up for, require a physical address, promote contact through the mail, and connect you to people you would normally never meet. The difference is that Swap-Bot is largely moderated by its users – users set up swaps and run groups with surprisingly little intervention from the site’s moderators – and things larger than a postcard are normally swapped.

There are actually two kinds of swaps on Swap-Bot – the registered swaps and forum swaps.

Registered swaps are just like they sound; a user will create a swap through the site and post it in the swap listings, they will choose a sign-up period, how many partners each person will have, what the rules of the swap will be. Like Postcrossing there is a ratings system; when a package is received the recipient rates it on a five point system depending on how closely it followed the swap guidelines. If it was a dog-themed swap and someone sent fish flakes instead of a dog bone, they would get a lower rating. You can also add extras to the swap that go beyond the swap guidelines – sending four items instead of five, for example, or including a profile surprise. If the recipient feels the package was extra-special, they can give you a heart. Each user has a rating, displayed on their profile page, showing how many hearts they have earned and how high their score is. Many swappers will refuse to swap with other swappers who have low scores or no score, since it takes a lot of time and effort to put together a swap package. There are usually a few that are newbie-friendly swaps, they are normally small things like postcards or ATCs rather than large complicated swaps, and there is a forum thread of swappers willing to do one-on-one swaps to help a newbie increase their ratings.   Newbies can only have five swaps at the time, as your ratings increase you are allowed to swap more often.

Decorating the envie (envelope) is a good way to get hearts.

Let’s say I want to start a swap that’s cat-themed. I’d pick the dates people could sign up and the date the packages have to be sent by. I would also specify the theme, (cats)  the minimum number of items or amount to be spent, (typically $5-$10 depending on the swap) how many partners each person would get, if it was international, (some people avoid international swaps because of the high postage) and if there was a minimum rating for those who wanted to join. Anyone who looked at my swap could sign up for it, it would be my responsibility to check each person’s ratings and decide if they should stay in the swap. Once I decide who stays and who is banned, I click on the “Assign Partners” button. The site randomly assigns partners based on who has signed up, you might get someone who lives across town or across the world. I was in an Alien Dotee Doll swap and as it happened, Mother Dearest was in the same swap and got me as one of her partners. You don’t necessarily get the same partners who are sending things to you, in the same swap I had two totally different people that I sent dolls to. I would also be responsible for angeling (sending a replacement swap package)  if the swapper’s partner flakes (doesn’t send anything. ) It would also be my job to babysit the swappers, sending messages to remind them to send out their swap, finding out if something was sent but not received, that sort of thing. If everyone in the swap enjoyed themselves they could rate me, as the swap creator, with a star.

I currently have five stars for swaps I have started and a perfect 5.00 rating after four years of swapping. :pats self on back:

Forum swaps are much less formal and quicker, but they don’t count towards your rating. Forum swaps rely on the honor system and there are threads regarding flakers (bad swappers who never complete swaps.)

Among the different fora at Swap-Bot, there is the One-On-One Trades board. There are three categories – Tags, Trades, and Random Acts of Kindness.

The Trades are an excellent example of a barter economy – I might have ten sheets of vintage sheet music and three people may want to trade chocolate bars, or stickers, or a jar of salsa for them. (Yes, I have traded vintage sheet music for a jar of salsa – homemade salsa verde to be specific. It was delicious.) You simply post that you have X and would like Y, Z, or W – someone who has Y would send you a private message to get your info so you could trade.

Then there are the RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) postings – someone who is feeling generous will post that they have X and the first (or tenth or whatever) person to reply will get it. To use the same sheet music example, I could post that the first five people to post an original limerick will get two sheets. I would expect nothing in return, the receivers are under no obligation to send me anything.  Most people who receive a RAK will hold on to the sender’s info and send them a profile surprise at a later time, or they might do an angel for them if they get flaked in a swap.

In Tags a swapper will post a list of items, either by name (an eraser, a chocolate bar, a cat toy, etc…) or by description if it’s mystery tag (something red, something fluffy, something sharp, etc…) and someone will post claiming the desired item and post their own list. A  person will list several items to trade and someone will claim one (or two, or however many the tag is for) and post their own items. If no one claims any of  the items after a certain time period (usually a few hours or a day) then the original poster will add something else to the original list. They will usually continue adding items until someone claims something. This is called a Pay It Forward – you help the person under you. There are also Pay It Backs, where you post a list of things you would like. Someone agrees to send one of the items to you and then posts a list of their own.

The astute person will have noticed that there is a tremendous opportunity for a less-than-honest individual to commit various types of fraud.  There is nothing to stop a person from setting up a Swap-Bot account, signing up for a handful of swaps or claiming a few tags, and then vanishing without sending anything. That’s why swappers are leery of doing big swaps with newbies. Swap-Bot also encourages regulars to use a non-home address, preferably a P.O. Box, to prevent some crazed person from showing up and chopping you to bits with a fire ax. I have been flaked on a couple of times, posting a message in the fora and the flaker’s profile and/or giving them a zero rating is the most you can do. Surprisingly there are very few trolls in the fora, I guess it’s hard to stir up trouble when people are discussing the best glue to use on collages. For the most part the posters are polite and don’t use any bad language – a nice change from the penis jokes I’m used to seeing on the Internet.

By and large the items swapped are not terribly valuable – it’s not like swappers are trading uncut diamonds and Picasso sketches – and most are crafting supplies of some type. Ephemera, ribbons, fabric – typical crafting things or artist’s supplies. Food is also big – teas and candy especially. I have a large box of teas I have received from all over the world and a jar of candies that are equally exotic.

I have no idea what half of these are, but most are quite tasty.

It’s a barter economy – what’s valuable to one person is common to another. I once received a stack of British magazines in return for a couple of Jiffy Pops – I enjoyed some reading material I would not have had access to otherwise and my partner got something she enjoyed but had not been able to get in her country.

Many of the swaps are for original artwork of some sort, the most popular being dotee dolls, ATCs, inchies, matchboxes, and postcards.

Postcards are pretty self-explanatory – they are handmade postcards.

An ATC is an Artist’s Trading Card – a 3.5 X 2.5 original work of art. An ATC can be a drawing, a painting, a collage, anything. Some are quite beautiful.

Inchies are one-inch squares that, like ATCs, are original works of art done in any media.

Dotee dolls are art dolls, usually oval, that do not have any arms or legs and are anywhere from three to seven inches long with a face, a “tail” that dangles down, and a loop for hanging. Most dotees are heavily embellished, either with beads, paint, lace, or other materials. I’m on the fence as far as dotees go, I’ve gotten some cute ones and some not-so-cute ones.

Some of the dotee dolls I have received. I couldn't find one. The alien in the spaceship is, of course, my favorite. It's the one Mother Dearest made for me.

Matchboxes are boxes of matches, usually the smaller 32 count ones, that have been emptied and decorated before being filled with small objects. Mostly stickers, beads, and scrapbooking supplies, but anything small enough to fit in a matchbox is fair game.

All that stuff fit in the matchbox. It was a "Favorite Color" swap and my partner liked black, gold, and brown.

Forum swaps are usually small, most are things that can be mailed very cheaply. The bulk of the registered swaps are small things, but not as small as a forum swap. A forum swap might be a single fat quarter or one ATC, a registered swap would be four fat quarters and a few notions or three ATCs done in the same theme. Then there are the big swaps, the ones that take several weeks to put together and can contain quite a few items. I don’t do a lot of big swaps, but I do like to do small ones.

A typical batch of outgoing mail. I like to make my own envelopes out of wrapping paper or wallpaper. I think it makes getting mail even more exciting.

I haven’t swapped recently, but I just signed up for a Macro Photograph Postcard swap that looks like fun. I’ll do a post about that later.