May 14, 2015

HELLA-RAD DEAL ALERT from @nostarch: Save 40% on maker books—#DIY toys, music, & electronics—until SUNDAY MAY 17

To celebrate the big Bay Area Maker Faire this weekend my publisher—No Starch Press—is offering a 40% discount on a fistful of their premier maker/DIY titles, including Arduino Workshop (which I've found *really* handy as I've been monkeying around with Arduino), The Maker's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (!!!), The Manga Guide to Electricity (one of my son's faves), and my books Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids and Junkyard Jam Band. As ever, any print purchase automatically includes DRM-free ebooks in ePub, .mobi/Kindle, and stunningly rad PDF formats. (FYI: If you buy Junkyard Jam Band—which goes to print this July—you'll be signed up for the Early Access Program: Advance-reader copies of the projects will drop into your inbox as I complete layout review. It's like an all-access pass to my bizarre, junkband fever dreams; video examples of prototypes after the jump.)

Wanna get in on the deal? Just toss the book (or books) in your cart and use the coupon code ELECTRICUKE at checkout—but strike while the iron is hot; this deal ends on SUNDAY MAY 17!

Continue reading "HELLA-RAD DEAL ALERT from @nostarch: Save 40% on maker books—#DIY toys, music, & electronics—until SUNDAY MAY 17" »

May 08, 2015

Your Mid-Afternoon Reminder that You *Will* Feel like an Asshole for Even Bothering to Try...

... 'cause the fact is, you're mostly gonna fall on your face. Still, it's better to be a loser than a spectator. Chins up, oh my Best Belovéd; we will defeat them one by one.

May 07, 2015

Prepare to Fall in Love with the HTML 5 Drum Machine

There's a lot to love about the HTML5 Drum Machine. For starters, it's all in HTML5, which means you can look at the source, monkey with it, and run it locally regardless of OS. On top of that, it apes a stripped down version of the venerable Roland 808 by default, with fairly faithful sounds (esp. the clap and rim, as well as those distinctively WtF?! "conga" sounds). Most importantly, it's super easy to get your head around and use. Here's a quick sample of a track a tossed together in roughly the amount of time it takes to listen to.

Yes, the response is a little sludgy (jeez, it's browser based, for crissakes!), and it lacks some of the things I really love in Roland's hardware drum machines (like the way the closed hat would clamp the decay on the open hat--'cause, you know, that's how physical hi-hats work)--but, oh jeez, is this thing a ton of fun!

GO! Make a good noise here!

HTML5 Drum Machine

(via Free HTML 5 Drum Machine For Your Web Browser -- Synthtopia )

April 30, 2015

MICHIGAN VOTERS: Our Roads Suck! Plz Vote YES on Prop 1!!!

Our roads are in crap condition and our legislators have basically been refusing to act like grown-ups and raise taxes to pay to fix them. So, they punted the decision to us with a moderately confusing ballot proposal--Proposal 1--to fund this. Here's the bit: There's now this growing grumble that we should torpedo the prop just to be dicks to the governor (who favors Prop 1).

This is a not-good plan. Our feelings about the governor are our feelings about the governor; failing to pass Prop 1 will not punish him. It will punish children, the elderly, and the poor. If you are pissed at *those* groups, then yeah, I guess you should kill Prop 1. Otherwise, vote YES on Prop 1, write an angry letter to the governor, and get on with your day.

Again, our legislators failed to act like grown ups and just fix the damn thing; the proper response is for us to act like responsible grown-ups, not to pitch a ballot-box tantrum.

UPSIDE OF PASSING PROP 1

  1. Our roads will get fixed, making them safer and saving *everyone* money on auto repairs, travel times, fuel consumption, etc.
  2. School funding will be protected.
  3. Taxes taxes will get somewhat more rational (gas taxes will go to fix roads, and several gas taxes will be repealed in order to replace them with a slightly higher single tax; sales tax will get bumped one point to 7%, in order to pay for public schools)
  4. The Earned-Income Tax credit will be restored (this helps low- to middle-income families)

DOWNSIDE OF PASSING PROP 1

  1. A governor who you maybe personally dislike is happy about something
  2. This is a net tax increase which disproportionately falls on the low- and middle-earners (which is just the reality of sales and fuel taxes)

Yeah, this is a crappy situation--even if you think the governor is dandy, it's still an imperfect fix and and overall crappy situation, because it shows such weak, childish governing on the part of our elected officials--but it's better than the alternative (as per Proposal 1: The issue that has turned too many Michigan progressives into tea partiers | Eclectablog):

Here’s the reality: the Republicans, a full 70% of whom voted FOR putting Prop 1 on the ballot, would like nothing more than for voters to kill it. Then, the “lesson” they will have learned, one they are counting on, is that Michigan voters don’t want their taxes raised. Once that has been established, they will feel free to start cutting our state budget. If you think that means rolling back the corporate tax cuts that we all fought so hard against, you couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

We already know where they will find the money to put into the roads because they have been showing us for the past four years. They will cut programs that impact those in the most need – the elderly, the young, and the poor – and they will continue to cut education. In fact, conservative Senator Patrick Colbeck has an 83-bill package of legislation waiting in the wings in the event Prop 1 goes down in flames to begin these cuts.

So, on May 5, please VOTE YES ON PROP 1.

Continue reading "MICHIGAN VOTERS: Our Roads Suck! Plz Vote YES on Prop 1!!!" »

Stop Beating Yourself Up for Not Being as Productive as Your Artistic Heroes

Nifty inforgraphics here based on data from Mason Currey's significantly niftier Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

One thing I really, really want to flag, though: Look carefully at the green "Day Job/Admin" bars. Fewer than half of the folks listed here (which are a very small sub-portion of the folks dealt with in the book, as I recall) have *any* time devoted to a day job. Those that do (Kurt Vonnegut, Wolfgang Mozart, and Sigmund Freud we're specifically called out for "spending a good deal of their time working a separate day job," even though Kafka seemed to have a more regular job than any of them) still only put in a half-day by modern American work standards.

Maybe you are like basically every artist I know: Someone who creates things, and also puts food on the table and keeps the lights on by selling his or her labor the old fashioned way. If that's the case, and you are feeling down on yourself because you aren't cranking out stories like O'Connor or Dickens, cut yourself some slack: You work for a fucking living.

Still feeling glum? Then take a second to imagine Vladimir Nabokov making cold calls trying to get folks to answer survey questions or Maya Angelou troubleshooting connectivity issues with the office's wifi enabled printer.

Yeah, you, me, we aren't writing Lolita, but Nabokov would run screaming from a half-day of what we do. Solidarity, brothers and sisters.

April 21, 2015

Early Access to More Projects from JUNKYARD JAM BAND!!!

Just a quick heads-up that we've added four new projects to the Junkyard Jam Band Early Access, for a total of *seven* fully-functional musical instrument projects you can download and build *now*--including the Droid Voicebox (learn to solder and then talk like a funky robot today), my new Playing-Card Pickup design (perfect for cigar-box guitars, diddley bows, steel-string ukes, mandolins, etc.), and the Elephant Trumpet (a couple bucks in parts, five minutes to build, hours of laughing yourself silly).

Q: What's "Early Access"?

A: My new book, Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers, won't hit store shelves until this July. You can buy it at a discount *today* and get immediate access to PDFs of the projects. You'll be updated as new projects become available, and ultimately receive your copy of the finished book before anyone else. ADDED BONUS (for both you and us): You have a chance to hit us with feedback about how we can make these projects *even more rad!*

Wanna jump aboard? Just add Junkyard Jam Band to your cart and checkout using the coupon code EARLYBIRD. You'll save 30% and can start making a jazz noise ASAP.

March 19, 2015

Write Better: The Coyote, the Road Runner, Sympathy, and Craft as the Art of Constraint

Back at the beginning of March this list of Chuck Jones's Rules for Coyote-Road Runner cartoons made the rounds:

(The pic, taken by filmmaker Amos Posner, shows a display in the Museum of the Moving Image's "What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones" exhibit. It's identical to the Coyote-Road Runner Rules Jones listed in his 1999 memoir Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist)

There's some question as to the consistency with which The Rules are followed, as well as their pinned-to-the-wall workaday legitimacy, but as I work through a set of hard revisions on an almost-just-about-right SF novella, I've been thinking about these rules--not because I'm employing any of them in my edit (I'm not), but because they embody a different way of looking at constraints[*], and I'm very fond of drafting with a fuck-all attitude and revising with a sharp blade and very narrow constraints. By hewing to constraints we drive our work towards the Graceful Universality of fairytales, Willie Nelson songs, Basho haikus, Jones' Coyote-Road Runner shorts, and the like. Besides, even if you miss the "graceful universality" bullseye, it's effort well-spent, since the entire target constitutes "stuff someone will pay money for" (i.e., "work that meaningfully touches people").

Jones' Rules have been floating around the Internet for more than 15 years, during which time the list has swelled to as many as 11 items listed (in fact, Wikipedia editors only culled back to nine following Posner's tweeted picture, even though Jones' canonical nine-item Rules have been in print since 1999). Interestingly, the earliest instance of the Rules swelling beyond the Canonical Nine traces back to its *first* online incarnation back in 1999, which includes this 10th Rule:

(Rule 10.) The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.

This isn't in Chuck's Nine Rules because it's something he explains a few pages earlier in his memoir, while setting up the discussion of the Coyote-Road Runner Rules. he returns to the idea in his analysis at the end of the book. It's tacked on as a 10th Rule in that ancient webpage, but it's really the 0th Rule, the fundamental Truth: The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote, and to a greater or lesser degree the Rules guide the forward energy of each story toward this goal. The Coyote is humiliated not so much by an active antagonist (that damnable Road Runner) as by his environment, by the core physics of the universe, by shoddy consumer goods, and by his own mania.

You know, like the rest of us.

All of which is a nice reminder for me, that any part of the craft--all of the rules of thumb and editorial tricks and writing tactics and daily grinding--exist to serve the 0th Rule of the Coyote and Road Runner: You need to cultivate the audience's sympathy for the protagonist. "Sympathetic" doesn't mean "likable." Likability, in my humble, is bullshit: We don't "like" Richard III, on balance, or Hannibal Lecter, or Walter White, or Lady MacBeth, or Medea--but these are among the most compelling protagonists in Western narrative.

Similarly, "sympathy" isn't "pity"; pity is a form of contempt. We feel superior to those we pity. But I don't think most audience members ever feel superior to even the very disagreeable protagonists I've listed above, flawed and awful as they are. Why? I imagine it's because, like Coyote, they may be failures, but they certainly aren't quitters. We can respect that, and sympathy rests on a measure of (often grudging) respect.

Now there's most certainly another 3k words I can put to this--especially as it applies to the modern argumentative essay and social media--but let's stop here, with the nuts-and-bolts Write Better advice:

  • Our job is to cultivate sympathy--not to be liked or pitied.
  • We write better when we hew to constraints that guide our readers toward "feeling with" our characters (even the Bad Guys).
  • There are many ways of formulating constraints; it doesn't matter how they constrain you, so long as they do in fact constrain, that you at some point in your process feel hemmed in and annoyed by the Rules that you've set for yourself.

    Or, in other words, accept the Fundamental Truth that Chuck Jones never deemed worth saying--that most artists come to see as so self-evident that it doesn't bear mentioning:

    You cannot catch or eat the Road Runner. But you always must chase.

    *Amen.*

    Continue reading "Write Better: The Coyote, the Road Runner, Sympathy, and Craft as the Art of Constraint" »

  • March 13, 2015

    These Humans Are Downright Adorable!

    (although not precisely work-safe, unless you have headphones)

    Women Try Men’s Underwear For The First Time - YouTube

    Guys Try On Ladies' Underwear For The First Time // Try Guys - YouTube


    March 03, 2015

    Write Better: The Genius of Sasheer Zamata

    I love this piece for two reasons: It is perfectly structured, and it's compassionate.

    Structurally, we've got a clean three-part structure (which, established, I believe in with a passion that is sort of embarrassingly open and sincere) that conforms to my workhorse Setup-Tangle-Resolution formula. Although it doesn't strictly hew to my favored 45/45/10 distribution (in terms of time devoted to each of these three sections), I do note that the gag itself Resolves at the final 10% mark, with the line "It was like a date, with a lot of stuff missing out the middle." (I've got a sort of vest-pocket theory that having the Resolution drop into gear as you round the last 10% is fairly consistent across stories and storytelling modes).

    More importantly, she offers us this perfectly structured, perfectly delivered story in the service of compassion. I mean, there's really no way around it: in telling the story, Zamata inhabits a man who sexually assaulted her (however mildly, by some measures) and brings us to the point of identifying with and feeling pity for him. This is a joke, but it is an incredibly powerful joke, and even if it is an absolutely 100 percent factual account, it is also in its perfect craft an excellent example of moral fiction.

    I've watched this over and over and over again, and I love it every single time. It is an excellent primer on storytelling. Watch and learn, Oh My Best Belovéd, watch and learn.

    Continue reading "Write Better: The Genius of Sasheer Zamata" »

    February 26, 2015

    39-cents: White "Allies" in Race and Gender

    This is nice in a lot of ways—the use of the races of the actors (in that it both lampoons the explicit target of the satire *and* makes fun of the badly skewed racial mix of the SNL cast and staff without making *light* of this monoculture problem), the fact that the only person putting on a phoney-baloney accent is the white guy (in contrast to how "Africa" skits normally play), the pacing and delivery--it's a nice, concise take on self-determination and "White allies" when it comes to issues of race and gender, and how patronizing this kind of "help" can feel from the inside. In my humble.

    Continue reading "39-cents: White "Allies" in Race and Gender" »

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    About the Author


    David Erik Nelson is an award-winning science-fiction author and essayist. His fiction has appeared in Asimov's, The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded.

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    Make cool things (water rockets, cardboard boomerangs, a $10 electric guitar, a sock squid, etc.) while learning cool skills (basic soldering, sewing, carpentry, woodburning, etc.), and do it all on the cheap (most projects are under $10, many supplies are *FREE*).
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