What Jared Dudley does for the Phoenix Suns doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Dudley will never be a Hall of Famer, but he's essential to Coach Alvin Gentry's squad if it has any hope of pulling itself up by its sneaker strings to mediocrity this season. To say the Suns are in a rebuilding mode is like saying New Orleans was in a rebuilding mode after Hurricane Katrina. With the recent departures of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, we've barely heard of most of the roster. But the smiley Dudley is back for his third full season, having come over in a trade from the Charlotte Bobcats with Jason Richardson. Though Dudley was considered just the other guy in the trade, his on-court hustle off the bench made him vital to the Suns' offensive plan, and Richardson was traded away. And it's not that he's only a tenacious defender; Dudley can score and rebound. He just can't jump very high for a guy who's 6-feet-7; he rarely dunks. (He was a fat kid who slimmed down and made it to the millionaire world of NBA millionaires — the guy's an inspiration to us all.) Last season, J-Dud averaged 13 points and five rebounds a game in an average of just 31 minutes of playing time. The forward's an upbeat journeyman who'll be a locker-room leader this season with that host of young players. And he's a lock to be one of a couple of bright spots we'll enjoy watching as the Suns predictably blow.

We know the kid can play! In fact, when the Phoenix Suns traded him to the Houston Rockets in 2011, he was supposed to be the successor to ball-handling wizard Steve Nash. The trade boggled the mind because, while a little streaky at first, Dragic turned in some performances that made even perennial All-Star point guard Nash envious. We'll never forget his literally taking the team on his skinny shoulders in game three of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. The lightning-fast Slovenian scored 23 of his 26 points in the final period to lead the Suns to a 110-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. In what then-teammate Grant Hill called the best fourth-quarter performance he'd ever witnessed in a playoff game, Dragic's scoring burst included five of five three-pointers to bring Phoenix back from an 18-point deficit. But the main thing we love are his passing skills. He learned from the master, Nash, and it showed last season with the Rockets, where he averaged 5.3 assists per game. The good news is, he's back in Phoenix, where he will anchor a mostly underwhelming Suns lineup.

HeatSync Labs

Into 3D printing, radio, gaming, augmented humanity, pomo fiber arts, musical tech, or just making and inventing in general? HeatSync is a community-supported space where folks of those bents can play, demo, craft, swap ideas, knuckle down on projects, hack, gossip, or just observe. Along with the power of multiple brains, visiting HeatSync Labs gives you an opportunity to use equipment — like lasers, welders, oscilloscopes, and the Cupcake printer — that can be tough for individuals to purchase and maintain. Check out the online discussion boards and events calendar for details, and plan some face time. See a video of HeatSync Labs.

When video-gaming goes from casual hobby to serious business, diehard gamers look for every advantage to take down their virtual enemies. Enter Evil Controllers. The online gaming distributor caters to a worldwide customer base of xBox and PlayStation enthusiasts by building custom video game controllers that meet the button, thumbstick, and trigger requirements of individual players.

Evil genius Adam Coe founded the Tempe company at age 19 in the Mark Zuckerberg fashion of building and distributing controllers from his dorm room at the University of Arizona. As demand for a once-nonexistent market multiplied, Coe abandoned his academic distractions to pursue his business efforts full time, with the help of his mom and older brother. Four years later, the words "evil controllers" might as well be considered a cheat code, as far as disadvantaged gamers are concerned.

Delivering one-of-a-kind products through an online platform that puts their competitors to shame, Evil Controllers lets customers construct their designs from scratch using the website's Controller Creator. Finished dream devices can even be shared on social networks so friends and family know exactly what to get you for the holidays. It's just one of the many features Evil Controllers offers to stay ahead of the game in the business world.

This is also one of the few companies that delves into the market of accessible controllers. Working alongside the Able Gamers Foundation, Adam Coe connects individually with disabled gamers to develop the right controller for each one's range of motion. Turns out, Evil Controllers is not so evil after all. See a slideshow here.

The Secret Service was less than thrilled, but how do you keep POTUS from playing with a big air-powered PVC gun at the White House Science Fair? At the February event, President Obama found 14-year-old Joe Hudy's extreme marshmallow cannon, which fires relatively harmless s'more stuffing up to 176 feet, as fascinating as we do. The Phoenix teen is no one-trick pony; he holds two editors' choice awards from Maker Faire and has launched a small business selling one of his other inventions, a kit to make a 3x3x3 LED Cube Arduino Shield. Your computer makes it light up, and that's all we know. We might stick with the candy gun.

Wildlife World Zoo

Of all the animals that might look out of place in the cactus-ridden sauna of the Sonoran Desert, penguins arguably rank first. Fragile-looking, flightless waterbirds in the land of rattlesnakes, dust storms, and a heat wave that begins each spring and stretches to fall — it's just plain wrong. The first time we saw the collection of black-footed penguins at World Wildlife Zoo, it was in May — on Mother's Day, to be precise. A small waddle of the birds gathered in the only patch of shade in their rocky pen, which was about eight square feet and shrinking as the sun went higher. It was clear that the birds would soon have to make a choice between swimming in their cold pool, going inside to their air-conditioned apartment, or roasting in the sun like roadkill. Sad.

But let's face it, few zoo animals look entirely comfortable in their tiny, artificial cages. It's best not to dwell on the matter and just enjoy the experience of seeing such exotic animals. In fact, the exhibit is a relatively spacious housing and play area for the birds, which incidentally come from South Africa, not Antarctica. No bars surround the viewing area, allowing for an up-close and personal look at the these amazing, flipper-flapping critters. The World Wildlife Zoo has many awesome animals, but to desert dwellers like us, seeing live penguins is like a frosty treat.
Bearizona

Take the terror out of spotting a black bear alone in the wilderness and view it like we do — from inside the security of our own vehicle.

Thirty miles west of Flagstaff, in Williams, entrepreneur Sean Casey has turned 160 acres into a rugged but manicured drive-through wilderness park featuring rescued bears and other mountain wildlife, à la Jurassic Park. We've gotten a kick out of seeing bears, bison, and wolves up close since Bearizona opened in May 2010. But please don't get out of your car to pet the bison, like one group of Red Hat Society ladies tried to do. These are wild animals. We did hear that the women made it out safely, thanks to the roving employees and cameras all around the park scoping out any dangerous wildlife or human roguery.After the two-mile drive through the wildlife habitats, park your car and head into the walking portion of the zoo, featuring bear cubs born at the zoo, javelina, and foxes, among others. Don't miss the birds of prey show and be sure to sit toward the center of the audience for an extra special thrill. Giant raptors skim their feet just inches above your head.
Arizona Museum of Natural History

Although it's been dead since the end of the Cretaceous period, the towering Tyrannosaurus bataar inside the Arizona Museum of Natural History is still terrorizing smaller creatures, albeit of the Homo sapiens variety, with its frightening teeth, menacing presence, and roaring countenance. Toddlers sometimes skitter away from its petrified skeleton, despite the fact it hasn't moved on its own for more than 80 million years. Theropods like this fearsome killing machine are just one of more than a dozen fossilized bones on display in Dinosaur Hall, the museum's main attraction. Other ancient bones include those of the cow-like camarasaurus, the duck-billed iguanodon, and numerous examples of triceratops. Meanwhile, models of pterosaurs and pteranodons hang from the ceiling over in the Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies room. And Dinosaur Mountain, a three-story re-creation of a Triassic peak, is populated by growling animatronic versions of a pentaceratops, stegosaurus, and other scaly relics. It's like Mesa's own version of Jurassic Park, except without the deadly dangers of dinos running amok.

Phoenix might not have a lot of things, like cool ocean breezes or soaring forests, but one thing we do have? Snakes and other reptiles. We're like a herpetological all-you-can-eat buffet.

To commemorate this, someone at ASU (nobody is exactly clear on who) started a massive collection of snakes, lizards, and other cold-blooded denizens of the Arizona desert. Since the 1960s, the collection has grown to contain nearly 45,000 specimens, all lovingly preserved and on display in the A Wing of the Life Science Center on ASU's Tempe campus. Whether you fancy a look at an albino western diamondback or a pickled Gila monster, this is the place to come. Though most specimens are preserved in tanks and glass jars, but some are, theoretically, open for handling by the public. If the hands-on exploration of herpetology isn't for you, there always is the electronic database, which lists most of the specimens in the collection, as well as where they were collected. Thomas Dowling is the man to speak to about seeing all the snakes. He's the interim curator and can be contacted via e-mail at thomas.dowling@asu.edu.
Phoenix Zoo

Allow us to nip your first question right in the bud: No, the pair of Komodo dragons currently residing at the Phoenix Zoo are not related to the winged serpent of legend in any way. Nor do they breathe fire, although their bite is considered to be quite toxic. Sadly, the only commonality (other than the whole scales thing) is that, as a protected species, the Komodo dragon possibly could wind up being just as invisible as the mythical beasties. There are about 50 in captivity around the globe, which is probably one of the reasons Valley residents have turned out in droves to catch a glimpse at the bulky Indonesian creatures, who measure around seven feet long and are considered the largest lizards in the world. Well, they usually only see Ivan, the male, who's more social and often is found sunning himself on a rock in his half of their habitat located along the Tropics Trail. Gaia, his sister, is more of a recluse, preferring to hang out in the shade of her sleeping area. And though Komodos can be vicious — and reportedly have feasted on humans — Ivan seemed relatively docile, merely gazing at us through the Plexiglas while calmly darting his tongue out. Then again, they might've been sizing us up for a potential snack.

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