July 06, 2015

Jam out like Jack White: Build Your Own DIY Single-String Electric Guitar and Amp

tl;dr: Get your free Junkyard Jam Pack download NOW! Go build an amp and an electric diddley-bow guitar!

OMFG! I've gotta a new book coming out SOON!

I've got a new DIY music-&-noisemaking book coming out at the tail end of this month. Here's a sneak peak of the sorta stuff in there:

To celebrate the new book, we've put together the Junkyard Jam Pack: Full, DRM-free PDFs of a couple of the most popular music projects from my first book.

*BONUS* The Junkyard Jam Pack includes a coupon code for 30% off either of my DIY books!

Click here to download the Junkyard Jam Pack! Click this little button below to share the Jam Pack!
Click other things in other places to do other stuff!

June 22, 2015

A Pretty Solid 5min Explanation of Neural Networks, Genetic Programs, and AI as "Thinking Machines"

My 9-year-old has been pretty concerned about consciousness and the evolution of intelligence and AIs and such recently (for the non-childed: this isn't humblebragging; my kid is indeed a weirdo besought with weird worries--because of Nature and Nurture--but this brand of light-weight epistemological crisis is pretty much developmentally on the ball among humans).

Anyway, without malice aforethought (or any real forethought at all), I let him watch half of this X-Files episode where a building-maintenance AI murders a dude, and that sorta made things much worse, in terms of his growing terror about what is and isn't knowable--esp. know that I'd compounded the problem by introducing the possibility that an autonomous building might try and kill us if it felt even the least bit threatened.

So I showed him this video, which gives a much more complete sense of how academically interesting--but largely trivial--modern autonomous AIs are. It's a very concise, but nonetheless enlightening 5-minute primer on neural network AIs and genetic programming. We watched it a couple times, he groked it, I asked if it seemed threatening, and he agreed that MarI/O could not hurt anyone--with the proviso that this was because they'd hooked it up to a Nintendo. If they'd hooked it up to something else . . .

And, well, I had to concede his point. That is sorta the story of evolution, isn't it? Red in tooth and claw, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway, it's still a nice little lesson for those of us with no working understanding of the field (and I've got it on good word that the video is basically on the ball).

Continue reading "A Pretty Solid 5min Explanation of Neural Networks, Genetic Programs, and AI as "Thinking Machines"" »

June 11, 2015

Shakespeare Talked Like a Newfie #FACT

(tl;dr: This video is a lit-nerd treasure trove. WATCH IT NOW!)

HEY DAVE, WHAT THE CRAP IS A "NEWFIE"?: "Newfoundland" (pronounced "new-fin-land," I learned the embarrassingly hard way) is that big ole island in the Atlantic alongside Canada. It's kinda remote, Canadians hardly ever remember it exists, the weather isn't great, and they sorta have an attitude (e.g., it's nicknamed "The Rock"--you know, like the prison Alcatraz--and didn't actually join Canada until 1950-ish, and then only because they needed the money.) The folks that live there are "Newfies"; they drink a cheap rum called "screech," eat cod cheeks, and put 10,000-year-old chunks of glacial iceberg ice into tourists drinks, because it fizzes and impresses the hell out of tourists (thus making it easier to overcharge them). Also, quite beautiful country--on account folks don't generally bother going there or messing with it much. In other words, it's the Upper Peninsula of Canada. I like it quite a bit.

But for the purposes of this account, what matters is that they have a remarkably whack-ass accent, a crazy burring brogue that sounds like an Irish person ate a Scottish person, and then gave birth to a riding lawnmower. The lawnmower is the one talking in this example, and it's insisting on telling you about how great their Healthcare system is and how dangerous is is to drive at night, on account of the moose. That's basically every conversation I had with any Newfie: A lawnmower that works as a trucker, loves socialized medicine, and is really worried that because you are an American (and thus, implicitly, a dumbass) you are going to insist on driving at night and hit a moose (which, I guess, like to stand around on the highways at night because the blacktop stays nice and warm after the sun goes down).

HEY DAVE, WHAT THE CRAP IS THE "GLOBE THEATER" THIS VIDEO IS GOING ON ABOUT?: The Globe was Shakespeare's theater--the one where he staged most of the plays throughout his career; he and his actors built it themselves after getting in a dispute with their landlord that culminated with them tearing down down the Theater (their previous HQ), carting the timbers off, and using them to frame the Globe (which, side note, is the best landlord-dispute resolution I've ever heard, and my whole damn family is in commercial real estate). The Globe burned down in 16-something, they rebuilt, and it burned down again after Shakespeare died (I'm glossing somewhat; a lot of this is foggy to me, because it's been several decades since I was last asked to recount it using a number two pencil and a powder blue exam book).

At any rate, the Globe in the video was rebuilt in around 1994, just a few hundred feet from Shakespeare's original Globe. This new Globe is dedicated to verisimilitude, which is pretty damn rad. They go out of their way to perform as Shakespeare's actors would have, to use period-appropriate costumes (i.e., when they stage Julius Caesar, they dress as moderately educated Elizabethan Englishmen believed ancient Romans dressed), blocking, sets, hand props, and so on. Starting a few years ago, they expanded this to include period-appropriate pronunciations--so called "Original Pronunciation" (in contrast to the more popular modern "Received Pronunciation," which my American readers probably think of as "BBC English" or "that stuck-up snooty-ass style British accent.")

HEY DAVE, WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME ALL THIS?: Shakespeare and his Elizabethan actors apparently had the same accent as modern Newfies. That bawdy pirate going on about how, hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, then hour to hour we rot and rot? That is spot on *exactly* what every long-haul trucker I drank with in Newfoundland sounded like.

This Newfie sound really stands out at 3:17, with both the pronunciation of words like "War," "harry," "port," "heels," and "hounds," but in the cadence. Also, check out some great (and very Newfie-like) dirty talk at around 8:00. For folks interested in the ins-and-outs of actually staging a play, there are some interesting bits around 7:00. I don't know that folks who've never staged a play ever think about pacing, but it really is your central concern as a director/performer; pacing is what makes or breaks any performance, and it's a failure to attend to pacing that tends to make student productions absolutely intolerable.

BONUS: Here's another one from Ben Crystal (the younger dude in the above clip) where he takes a stab at explaining the mechanism whereby modern Newfies ended up talking like Elizabethan Londoners (FYI, I've heard a similarly argument made to explain why modern U.S. Appalachians use intransitive verbs--like "to learn"--in a transitive mode, just as Shakespeare and Donne did, despite it no=longer being considered grammatical in "proper" English).

The basic thrust of the premise: Folks who wound up being "transported" to the New World (i.e., sent against their will as punishment for largely petty crimes) came disproportionately from the streets of London, and *that's* the language preserved in these Shakes scenes.

Again, lots of fun; this is one charming mutherfucker:

June 10, 2015

SPOILER ALERT: It’s a Parable about Global Climate Collapse

Cautionary tale: A parable of science fiction.

Yes, to a large chunk of folks it'll be suitably obvious what Plait is driving at by about graff 3, but I still want to put this in front of folks because the piece is sturdy (if a touch tedious at moments, and clunking in the conclusion) and rhetorically useful. For those who are aware of climate collapse in a sort of background-noise way, it's likely to be instructive.

Anyway, just to be super-duper clear: We are indeed already in the midst of an Extinction Level Event. I'm not saying that to be cynical or dramatic or to spur you to this action (or inaction) or that one; I'm saying it because it is factually the case.

For rather obvious reasons, it puts me into the mind of this song:

May 29, 2015

"Junkshop Percussion" in the Wild: Techno Goes Acoustic

I've been wrapping up my new book, which dedicates an entire section to "Junkshop Percussion": washboards and cajons and spoons and buckets, and all the great "instruments" that are just detritus-plus-panache.

So, folks like this--who take a musical form that arose from digitization and mechanization via insanely expensive studio gear, then make it a dirt-cheap, no-tech, hands-on, all-acoustic expressive art form--just tickle me pink.

Like this guy, he's a pure delight with the speed, steadiness, and raw sweat of that drum-n-bass:

Around the 2:15 mark this guy emulates a classic EMD filter sweep with his foot muting a bar; wünderbar!!!

Or check out the Pipe Guy's PVC-and-flip-fop electro trance:

OMFG! I *love* old-school analog drum machine claps (like you get on a Roland 808, or my treasured Boss DR-110)--and he's getting that sound from a goddamned flip-flop! *Outstanding!* I especially dig the point near 2:55, where dude launches into a cover of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy", then abruptly segues into the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" (although I'm kinda disappointed that this never becomes a cover of the Knight Rider theme, 'cause it hovers right at the cusp of doing so).

There is a future where these dudes appear on a Skynet-hosted show called HUMANS GOT TALENT. Howie Mandel continues to host, because he is a cylon.

At any rate, more to the point: If you dig things like these dudes are doing, then you might dig my next book (out in July). If you can't wait to start building instruments and making sweet-ass sounds, you can start *right now* with a free download of the two most popular music projects from my fist DIY book:

Get your Junkyard Jam Pack download NOW!

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.


  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)


  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.


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.

  • Find him online at www.davideriknelson.com
  • Follow him on Twitter: @SquiDaveo
  • Stay in touch
  • Contact: dave[AT]davideriknelson[DOT]com
  • Shop

    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*).
  • Reviews, samples, and full table of contents: Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred
  • Kits and Supplies


  • Tip Jar

    Powered by
    Movable Type 3.2