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" »

February 17, 2015

Don't Miss Out: Hella Rad Deals on Geeky Kids' Books!!! (deals end 2/18)

It's been a nuts couple or weeks:

  • The Humble Brainiac eBook Bundle (explained here)--which includes my book Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred--has done insanely well, selling over 30,000 copies (i.e., 1.5 times as many copies as a New York Times bestseller in this category). It's pay-what-you can: Chip in as little as a buck and you get my book and four other; folks paying $15 get a total of 16 rad books worth $300. The project has raised a couple hundred thousand dollars for the EFF and Freedom of the Press Foundation. Everyone is a winner here.

  • In celebration, my publisher--No Starch Press--launched a crazy promotion, offering 50% OFF print copies of *any* No Starch Press kids' book (again including mine)[*]. That's better than wholesale, and a whole mess better than Amazon will do you. Just use the coupon code BRAINIAC when you place your order through the No Starch site.

    But all of this wraps up around lunchtime *tomorrow*. Hop to it, cash in, and get some books!

    Continue reading "Don't Miss Out: Hella Rad Deals on Geeky Kids' Books!!! (deals end 2/18)" »

  • February 12, 2015

    The Humble Brainiac Bundle Just Got 23% More Rad--Plus 50% OFF on Print Copies of Geeky Kids Books!!!

    The Humble Brainiac Book Bundle (explained here) is doing bonkers-crazy well! As of today we've sold somewhere north of 22,000 bundles (to put that in perspective: If a book like mine sold *5,000* print copies in one week, it would be a New York Times Bestseller. This past week has almost *quadrupled* the total number of copies of my book currently in circulation).

    We want to keep this party rolling for the six days, and to do so, we've sweetened the pot:

    • My publisher has added three more titles to the Humble Brainiac Bundle! Beat the average (which is currently $13.37) and you'll get the core bundle, the original beat-the-average-bundle (which was four books: Two LEGO, the Mange Guide to Physics and Python for Kids) *and* three new bonus books: Beautiful LEGO, the LEGO Build-It Book Vol 1, and the Manga Guide to Calculus. That means that bundle buyers who go all-in and spend $15 or more will get 16 books; $300+ in rad reads! (As always, you can still get the five core books--which include my own SNIP, BURN, SOLDER, SHRED, as well as a Manga science book, a LEGO book, a Ruby-for-kids book and the excellent LAUREN IPSUM--for pay-what-you-want! And I mean, pay just about *anything* you want; you can pay a buck and get those five books. It's an honest-to-god-*steal!*)

    • For the next week you can get print copies of *any* No Starch Press kids' book for 50% OFF if you use the coupon code BRAINIAC (Good through 2/18). That's absolutely and totally old-school bananas! Like, 50% off is a better deal than they give *me* on my book, which I buy in bulk to sell at events. There are *so* many good books included in this deal, it's just mind boggling! This deal includes all of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful LEGO books, all the Manga Guides, innovative programming books, and just plain lovely things like Bunpei Yorifuji's Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified. For real: Stock up now for the next few gift-giving holidays! Go. Buy. NOW!

    Finally, my Ask Me Anything over on GoodReads (his what-what over on where-now?) is going strong. We've been talking about DIY projects, publishing, working with kids, finding parts, "inspiration," and more. I'm going to keep it up until the end of this promotion bonanza on February 18. Swing by and hit me with your questions! New answers go up every other day or so.

    February 06, 2015

    This is Officially the Most Sadly Prescient SuperBowl Ad Ever

    It's the RadioShack ad that played during the SuperBowl last year:

    And last night--that's just one year and three days days after this spot ran--RadioShack declared bankruptcy. An hour or so earlier I'd been on their site looking up stock numbers for a parts list in the final project of my new DIY book (*sigh*) Guess that'll be one more thing for the copyeditor to sort out. I love you, copyeditor. I am sorry.

    RadioShack, The Electronics Chain, Files For Bankruptcy : The Two-Way : NPR

    I'm sure the Internet is already filling with eulogies for RadioShack today--eulogies largely written by folks who haven't set foot in one or mentioned the store, apart from as a punchline, in years. I was in my local RatShack weekly, because despite everything that was wrong with the place--as a bricks-and-mortar businesses, as an online retailer, as a source of anything useful--it was still the only place to quickly get electronic components when you were in a pinch--and as a guy writing a book full of electronic instruments, I was often in a pinch. Yes, these components were mostly overpriced, and some were of relatively poor quality (their store-brand soldering irons were junk, as were their jacks; switches were occasionally janky). But they had a few components that I'm going to sorely miss: The funky, throwback hexagonal knob covers (part #275-507)--which weren't really a throwback, since RS had been selling them without interruption for decades--the General-Purpose IC PC Board (part #276-159), their celebrated audio output transformer (part #273-1380), the many books of Forrest M. Mims III.

    And, they had employees. Lots and lots and lots of employees (because they had lots and lots and lots of stores). And I've been in RadioShacks all over this great country, and I've gotta say: Those employees didn't always know a damn thing about electronics, but they were always very nice and very helpful (within their capacity), and few of the ones I've spoken to over the last year were willing to admit that this day was coming.

    So, yeah, I feel sad for my memories and sad I won't be able to get a couple RadioShack-specific parts I like and sad that I'm going to have to revise some chunks of a book that's already 90 percent of the way to printed. But I'm also really, really sad for the thousands of people who woke up without a job this morning.

    February 05, 2015

    Ask Me Anything about Crafting, Fiction, #DIY, #SciFi, Writing, Earning a Living Doing So--Anything!

    Yow! The HUMBLE BRAINIAC BOOKS BUNDLE (which includes my first DIY book and scads of other awesome family-friendly making/programming/science/LEGO books) is doing *incredible!* Thanks so much!(No clue what I'm talking about? Get the skinny on this Humbled Bundle stuff here)

    To celebrate, I'm doing an Ask Me Anything on GoodReads. Swing by with your questions about crafts, DIY, writing, science fiction, publishing, living by the pen, baking, childcare, liquor--whatevs. (Never used GoodReads? You can safely sign in using your Twitter, Facebook, Google, or Amazon account; if that proves odious, feel free to email me questions directly. I'll paste them and reply there.)

    I'm AMAing for the next two weeks. Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Sock it to me! Ask Me Anything: Goodreads | David Erik Nelson answers your questions — Ask the Author

    February 04, 2015

    Pay What You Want for SNIP BURN SOLDER SHRED & Four More DRM-Free eBooks in the *HUMBLE BRAINIAC BOOKS BUNDLE*!

    I'm super-pumped to have my first DIY book—Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids—included in this Humble Bundle.

    A QUICK INTO TO HUMBLE BUNDLES: Humble Bundles are collections of multi-format, DRM-free digital content (in this case ebooks) offered on a pay-what-you-want basis. When you purchase a bundle, you get to choose how much you pay and how that payment is divided between the content creator and several charities (in this case the EFF and the Freedom of the Press Foundation). If you pay more than average, you unlock bonus content.

    The "Core Bundle"—available to anyone who pays any amount—includes:

  • Ruby Wizardry: An Introduction to Programming for Kids
  • Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things
  • The Manga Guide to Electricity
  • Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids
  • The LEGO Adventure Book: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More!

    Folks who pay above the prevailing average also get:

  • LEGO Space: Building the Future
  • The Manga Guide to Physics
  • Python for Kids
  • Incredible LEGO Technic
  • Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress

    And big-spenders who break $14.99 (which, incidentally, is basically the price for any *one* of these books) get even more:

  • Steampunk LEGO
  • JavaScript for Kids
  • The LEGO Neighborhood Book

    That's 13 books--no less than $130 retail if you go with commodity ebook formats, and more like $250 for the high-end, ultra-crisp DRM-free PDFs No Starch sells directly. This is an insanely good deal. Even if you just chip in a couple bucks for the Core Bundle, you're getting some great books. The Manga guides are tons of fun, and both my kids (8yo boy and 2yo girl) love the LEGO Adventure Books (which are *soooo* slick and beautiful on an iPad). I gave my son a print copy of Lauren Ipsum for Xanukah, and he read it three times in two days, then got out his old copy of Phantom Tollbooth to re-read, then started reading them in some crazy cross-referenced tandem system of his own devising.

    CHECK IT OUT: Humble Brainiac Book Bundle Presented by No Starch Press (pay what you want and help charity)

  • January 29, 2015


    Now through Saturday morning you'll get 40% off and Early Access to my upcoming DIY book Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers. That means you'll *immediately* get PDFs of three projects from the beginning of the book, and more chapters as we finish proofing, layout, etc. Plus you'll be among the first to receive your print copy this spring.

    Just add Junkyard Jam Band to your cart and use the coupon code BRIGHTANDEARLY to save 40%--which is a steeper discount than Amazon is ever gonna offer you. Everyone's a winner! (except Amazon--who, come to think of it, are hella beating the crap out of all of us, in the grand scheme, so EVERYONE'S A WINNER!!! [sorta])

    January 23, 2015

    Being "Mixed" Means Always Being In and Always Being Out

    I'm not a huge fan of "Shit X People Say" and "Awkward Moments Only Y Folk Understand," but this video really nails the In-Group/Out-Group nuances of being culturally "mixed"[*], and thus considered an "Outsider" to both your internally and externally identified cultures, while often also being asked (or obliged) to serve as spokesperson for either/both of those cultures.

    [*] e.g.., the American-born child of Korean immigrants, a person of mixed race/ethnicity, etc.

    January 22, 2015

    Annual Not-At-All-Obligatory #HumbleBrag Award-Eligibility Post #scifi

    I had two novelettes published in 2014; you may have read them and enjoyed them--or you may be about to read them an enjoy them. If either is the case, and if you'd like to register that enjoyment on some sort of ballot, it's your lucky day!


  • "There Was No Sound of Thunder" (Asimov's Science Fiction, June 2014)
  • "The Traveling Salesman Solution" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014)

    These are both eligible for the Nebula and Hugo Awards in the "novelette" category.


    Anyone who is/was a voting member at the 2014, 2015, or 2016 Worldcons can nominate works for the Hugo Award. Any Active, Lifetime Active, Associate, or Lifetime Associate member of the SFWA can nominate works for the Nebula Award.

    Not a member of anything? Not a problem! "There Was No Sound of Thunder" is also in the running for the 29th Annual Asimov's Readers' Award (FUN FACT: This story is a sequel to "The New Guys Always Work Overtime," which tied for best short story last year.)--*Yikes!* Voting for the Asimov's Readers' Award closes February 1, 2015! Vote NOW!


    Still haven't read one of those novelettes? Lost your summer issues of Asimov's and F&SF when your roof leaked? The magazines in question will likely hook you up with copies of my stories if you ask, but I'm also happy to do so myself; just email me and we'll sort it out. Thanks!

    Request a reader copy:

    pick a story:

    Continue reading "Annual Not-At-All-Obligatory #HumbleBrag Award-Eligibility Post #scifi" »

  • January 16, 2015

    When the Machine Knows You're a Jew

    Yesterday I hit Amazon.com to see how steeply they were discounting my book, and was met with this home page:

    Check out that row of suggested titles above; they're all Jewish children's books. This stopped my heart. Because I am indeed a Jew, and I do indeed have small children.

    Just for comparison's sake, I switched my browser to Incognito Mode and reloaded Amazon. Here's what I saw:

    Still got Megan Trainor and the GEICO gecko, but now my above-the-fold pitch is for a bunch of HD movies that were big blockbusters that I'd never, ever watch. I.e., pretty generic.

    Maybe this seems like no biggie to you. After all, algorithmically suggested purchases are a cornerstone of Amazon's business model. I respect your position. I know that I've got more than a little paranoia and clinical hypervigilance informing my thought process. So, just to break down why this greeting from Amazon was so disturbing:

    1. *All* the titles are Jewish kid's books. The algorithm seems *really* confident that these would interest me (and, shit, it's right: We own an earlier edition of one of these books, and read it often).
    2. It's unclear how Amazon would have reached this conclusion based solely on my interactions with Amazon: I've never ordered much in the way of explicit Judaica via Amazon, or had Jewish-themed items on my Wishlist or in my browsing history. I've ordered more tools and owl pellets from Amazon than explicitly Jew-themed items. This leaves two possibilities:
      1. Their conclusion is based solely on my order size and timing--because I do indeed tend to place my big holiday order earlier than most, since I'm buying for both Xanukah and Xmas. But, man, that seems pretty thin justification to dedicate a *major* portion of screen real-estate to Jewish children's books--items that would have basically *no* interest to huge swaths of the buying public.
      2. Amazon can make some wicked-awesome inductive leaps based on buying patterns, the kind of stuff that you'll never notice with the small sample sizes normal humans experience, but become glaringly obvious when you have Big Data to crunch. Like, maybe all sorts of people buy owl pellets and read Ben H. Winters ebooks, but only bona fide child-rearing Jews buy the second-cheapest owl pellet package that includes a bone chart *and* wait for those Ben H. Winters ebooks to dip below $2.99 each?
    3. Since the sub-points under #2 seem pretty far-fetched, we're left to assume that Amazon is doing some very heavy-weight, semantically deep data correlation. Yes, it's certainly "public knowledge" that I'm a Jew--not only does Google tell you so, but I've donated to Jewish charities, am active in my congregation, have worked for Jewish organizations, and have published essays and columns about being a Jew--but still, that's some pretty granular cross-correlation for a site that mostly makes money off me by offering good deals on horror and SF ebooks and being able to quickly deliver the Slinkies my children adore and destroy at regular intervals. Which is to say that I'm left fretting not only about HOW Amazon determines I'm a Jew, but also WHY they bother, and WHAT might happen if someone else suddenly realized "Hey, I bet you Amazon's data could cough up a pretty complete list of every Jew/homosexual/trans person/woman/Asian/whatever in the US! Wouldn't *that* be a handy list!"
      1. 'cause, you know, there's never ever ever been a situation where a suitably motivated group of people with a pretty complete list of all the X-TYPE PERSONS in a geographic region has set their sights on killing all of them.
    4. As the kosher-market raid coordinated with the Charlie Hebdo massacre demonstrates, sometimes any old Jew is a good enough target.
    5. So, that's me, that's my paranoia and hypervigilance, my over-reaction to a perfectly innocent commercial gambit. It's just the free hand of the market, nothing more, nothing less. No one is coming to stuff me in a boxcar; I'm just a nervous guy with my nervous, paranoid fantasies (based on my relatives' and co-religionists actual lived experience, and my own personal experience of anti-Semitic [micro]aggression and threats).

      On the way out, I guess I just want to point out that this is an excellent moment to crystalize what "privilege" really means when we talk about "White Privilege." As I've written in the past, 99.999% of the time I'm as White as any other pink person, and enjoy all those privileges. But when I see a thing like this, history indicates I'd be a supreme fool not to take a moment to meditate on the ramifications. No American Xtian or Athiest has to do that when Amazon greets them with a big fistful of Xmas items. Simply put: "Privilege" means the privilege of not having to invest cognitive cycles in wondering who might be coming to hurt you and your children. This is why, when the fan starts getting shit-hit with things like Charlie Hebdo and Ferguson and GamerGate you need to be a little patient with us hysterical Jews and Blacks and women and whatever. We get a little worked up because, now and again we're just completely worn out waiting for the other shoe to drop.

      Anyway, this isn't just a pity party for those of us who live in a protected class. This party is for you too, for you in the majority, you who sleep easy, because it's instructive of the Shape of Where We're At:

      There are no more secrets.

      Yeah, sure, you'll get your little bullshit secrets--that you pooped your pants a little last week, that you kissed someone you shouldn't have in 7th grade, that you've got some naked pictures, whatever. But it's not like I got paranoid yesterday; I've been paranoid for almost forty years. I've sorta made a point at keeping the word "Jew" from being associated with my name whenever I suspected it might go into structured data (in my medical records, for example). But still, Amazon found me, and they weren't even really, really looking. They don't have some sort of ideology that rewards flushing me out, they have no demagogue promising that their God Thing will lavish them with heavenly rewards for hurting me and mine, they have no cosmology that holds that I've systemically dicked them over with interest rates and business shenanigans. Amazon saw it fit to sort me out and label me "Jew" in some arcane column of some totally banal, cyclopean spreadsheet because it means an extra $5 to $10 in sales a year to them, if even. That was enough to make it worth it to Amazon. And they did it on their own, without ever violating my "rights." And if tomorrow Amazon switches business gears, and becomes the world's marketplaces for demographic lists of people instead of the world's marketplace for SF ebooks and horror anthologies and owl pellets, well I just better hope that no one running a bomb lab in Yemen or Boston or Paris decides to buy a mailing list.

      Here's the thing: I was fine with being "David Erik Nelson, Jew"--because that's what I indeed am, what I've been my entire life. And for most of my life, when being a Jew has caused me grief, it has done so in association with being David Erik Nelson, as a response to something I did or said. Sure, it may not have been fair--when an Xtian gripes about Xmas, it's because everyone is stressed out; when I do so, it's because I'm a fucking whining Jew who should just be glad America tolerates me--but at least it felt personal and specific and, in some way, intelligible. When the threats came, it was because someone specifically disliked something I wrote or said or embodied.

      But in Amazon's datacenter, I'm a row in a table. The index on that row is something like "CUSTOMER #2045674" and the cells include "kindle-owner" and "SF reader" and "owl pellet buyer" and "Jew" and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions--until that table gets resorted by the "Jew" column, and then I'm a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I'll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then! Oh brave new world that has such things in't!

      All of which is to say: The data got smart faster than I did.


    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
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  • Contact: dave[AT]davideriknelson[DOT]com
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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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