January 19, 2016

Simulate a Virtual Victorian Georgian Wig!

V&A Design a Wig

Yes, I too thought this sounded pretty stupid, but damned if it ain't hypnotic. The user experience of drawing the hair is really, really satisfying.

(thx to Steven Harper Piziks for emailing me with this meaningful diversion)

UPDATE: Alert reader Chris has brought it to my attention that wigs were a Georgian thing, not a Victorian thing. Thx, Chris!

January 04, 2016

oh My WHAAAAAT?! Immeriseve Fractal Environments #soRad

These sci-fi cityscapes weren't created by human artists; they were machine-generated using complexly tweaked fractals.

More stills here--The imaginary Kingdom of Aurullia - Interpretation of Mandalay fractal by @subblue--and this incredible video from the software's creator, Tom Beddard; totally worth your 15 minutes:

December 20, 2015

My funny, glamorous, gracious Aunt Lola died last night. She was enslaved in Auschwitz at 16. Z"L

I just learned that my Aunt Lola died last night--great aunt, technically, the wife of one of my father's uncles. Although we've lived in the same town for twenty years, Lola and I, I had only seen her a small handful of times during those decades; there's been bad blood in our family. Not with Lola and me, but elsewhere, and we wound up on different sides. That's just how it goes.

I loved her very much when I was small. She was small--putting her at my level, as a tall dweeb in a clip-on tie and penny loafers--and glamorous and funny. She glowed. Her rich, thick Czech accent always reminded me of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, which is a not-super-insane association for a boy who watched a ton of TV in the '80s. I remember one time, at a summer party at my Aunt Denise's house, at the end of the party, she slipped off her shoes--fancy gold, sharp-toed, high heels. Her toes were twisted and calloused, almost as though her feet had been bound--which I guess they had, although by American women's fashion, not some out-modded and backward cultural obsession with ideals of beauty (ha! Joke!)

I remember her gingerly stepping from foot to foot on the thick shag in her hose, "Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!" as though it was hot as coals--and she wasn't play acting; her feet were aching from the shoes and the standing and the heat of the day. She looked up to see me sitting on the sofa across from her, looking on in dismay.

"Oh David," she smiled, "Sometimes you need to suffer to be beautiful."

I didn't know then that, at 16, she been shipped to Auschwitz like a crate of shoes--a slow three-day train ride, because of the congestion on the tracks created by shipping so many other folks to camps, like cattle or shoes or some other commodity. There she'd been disgorged onto a ramp, and at the bottom stood Dr. Mengele. He was making a selection. Some were sent right, other left. Her folks went one way, she the other. She became my aunt, they became ash. She was stripped and shaved and tattooed and beaten, and sent walking to her new life.

She ended up in the barracks closest to the crematory ovens, and so her job was to sort the belongings of the dead--the clothes, the luggage--searching for jewelry and food and blankets and meds and anything of use. To sort it, to box it up for storage, or to be redistributed to widows and orphans.

There's more, there's lots more--heck, there's a second run-in with Dr. Mengele. You can read and listen to her testimony here.

But I didn't know any of that when I was small--I mean, I knew all of that, because such stories were not rare where I grew up, nor such survivors. But I did not know her story until I was much older--older than she was when she was enslaved--and I'm still learning bits and pieces, because I never heard it from her.

Which I don't take personally; there was never a good time to share it with me, and there was no bad blood between us. When I last saw her, even though the folks around her were shooting me and my sisters daggers--gosh, even though one of my cousins later sought me out to hassle me about that chance encounter--Aunt Lola was still as charming and gracious as ever.

And I still loved her very much. Let her name be a blessing.

Her name is Lola Taubman; she sorted the laundry in Hell for a time as a teen, and then lived 72 years more, largely here, largely in good health.

December 10, 2015

It's that Time of Year Again: *Happy Xmanukah!!!*

(NOTE: If you're feeling deja vu, don't sweat it; I post this every year, because I love you)

I'm a mixed Jew who's lived in the American Midwest for his entire life. I think these songs, more than anything else I've ever written, are honest about that experience.

  • Another Dark Xmastime (FUN FACT: I wrote this during my first year as a fundamentally unemployable stay-at-home dad; my son believes it is an accepted part of the general Xmas Music Canon.)

  • Dreidel Bells (FUN FACT: The beat here is an original GameBoy running an early German Nanoloop cartridge. Both voices are obviously me, but the filters for the robot voice badly overburdened my iBook, causing significant lag--which is why Mr. Roboto struggles so badly to hit his marks.)

  • DreidelDreidelDreidel (FUN FACT: The beat here is a vintage analog Boss DR-55 once owned by POE, crammed through a heavy-metal distortion stompbox.)

  • December 09, 2015

    Kevin Smith vs. Prince's Vault (and BONUS: Prince covers "Creep"!!!)

    There's sort of a lot here in this anecdote, both about Prince and Smith as people, and also about fame, and how fame (and different intensities of fame) plays out in different folk's heads. But, finally, it's about craft, and what good craftspeople do with the works that just don't pan out.

    But, most importantly, it's a fun story and worth your time.

    Continue reading "Kevin Smith vs. Prince's Vault (and BONUS: Prince covers "Creep"!!!)" »

    November 20, 2015

    Jews of America: Do a Solid for Syrian Refugees *UPDATED*

    [UPDATE Dec 2, 2015: I heard back from the governor and, in a fit of pique, replied honestly; scroll to the bottom for details. ]

    Hey All,

    Gentiles, of course, are welcome to join in, but I'm especially talking to my Semitic brothers and sisters here, since this is very much a "because of what He did for me when I was a slave in Egypt" situation.

    Many of our governors are being the proverbial "sack of dicks" about taking in Syrian refugees fleeing the violence of ISIS. It's time for us to write letters--as Jews--urging them to reconsider.

    Why us? To my mind, it's especially important for Jews to voice our support of Syrian refugees because the exact same "national security" justifications (and concern trolling) being used to halt their entry were used to sharply curtail Jewish immigration in the 1930s and '40s (example). Today, I think it is safe to say that basically *everyone* finds the idea of Jewish refugees operating as Nazi agents and saboteurs absolutely laughable, nonetheless this very "concern" kept tens of thousands of Jews locked up in Europe, and effectively ushered them to the gas (Anne Frank among them).

    It'd be awful nice if we could limit ourselves to making tragic mistakes just once.

    So, here's a draft of the letter I just sent to my governor. Please feel free to borrow from it as you will, and share it as broadly as you like.

    November 20, 2013

    Governor Rick Snyder
    P.O. Box 30013
    Lansing, Michigan 48909

    Dear Governor Snyder,

    I'm writing as a Michigan Jew urging you to reconsider your position: Please welcome Syrian refugees to our state. I know that many of my co-religionists are sending you notes very similar to this one. We want to show our children that our state and nation can live up to the ideals taught in our schools, that this continues to be a nation defined by diversity, acceptance, and opportunity—one that arrises out of many to be unified as one. As Jews, we acutely feel for our Syrian brothers and sisters, fleeing circumstances as dire and world changing as those our own relatives fled so recently. As Jews and Americans, we want to set a better example than that of previous generations, whose fearful inaction lead to the deaths of the many thousand Jewish asylum seekers that our nation turned away.

    The diversity of Michigan is exceptional, rich with agrarian traditions, vibrant and diverse Jewish and immigrant communities, a storied hotbed of African-American creativity and American industry. Michigan is home to America’s largest population of people of Middle Eastern descent—Muslim and Christian alike. Many were persecuted in their homelands, came here fleeing violence, and have formed the cornerstones of our state.

    As Jews, we are especially aware of what it means to be a minority that is both persecuted and feared. Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents owe their lives to America's open doors. Many of our families lost members who were not able to find sanctuary here when those doors slammed shut. When we see Syrian parents taking their children on dangerous journeys in unsafe conditions, sure that anything is better than what they are leaving behind, we see our own story—an emphatically American story.

    This week, for a homework assignment, my nine-year-old son asked me about how and why our family came to the United States. It's not an especially pleasant story: My Ukrainian grandfather was orphaned when his mother died of consumption and his father, a miller, was murdered during a pogrom. Relatives pinned a note to his jacket with a Detroit address, and sent him to be raised by his sister. But while I was telling him all this, it suddenly dawned on me: My son is the first member of my family not to experience anti-Semitism at first hand. I was six the first time that I was bullied by children and singled out by adults for being a Jew. By the time I was nine I knew about the Holocaust not just from textbooks, but from the stories of my aunt, my friends' grandparents, my teachers at Sunday school, and from anonymous vandalism, my peers' mocking jeers, and the vitriol of White Supremacists on TV and in public office.

    We live in a truly remarkable time, and I'm often stunned by our progress. Now it's time for us to progress further.

    As humans, we have a moral duty to help the helpless. As Americans, we are honor bond to make good on the promises inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. As Jews, we are obliged to work to mend what's broken.

    Please reconsider your statements and positions. We urge you to be strong in bending the arc of Michigan's history toward justice; keep our home ever a place of opportunity, growth, and acceptance.

    All Best,
    David Erik Nelson . . .

    UPDATE 12-02-2015:

    On the day after Thanksgiving I heard back from the governor's office:

    Thank you for your recent email sent to Governor Rick Snyder regarding Syrian refugees and immigration to Michigan. The Governor has asked me to respond on his behalf. He believes it is important that you are heard and appreciates the time you took to comment. Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigrants. With that in mind, the governor’s first priority is protecting the safety of all Michigan’s residents.

    In light of the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Gov. Snyder has directed the state to temporarily suspend efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan until the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security complete a full and thorough review of security clearances and procedures. These steps serve as a precautionary action, the governor stresses the importance of recognizing these horrific acts committed by a select few are not a representation of the beliefs and peaceful nature of the broader Middle Eastern population in Michigan, or elsewhere.

    In addition, Governor Snyder sends condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those affected by the terror attacks in Paris and throughout the world. There will be tough times ahead for the people of France and Lebanon and they remain in his thoughts and prayers.

    Again, thank you, for taking the time to share your concerns with our office. Please let me know if I can be of assistance in any State of Michigan related issue.


    Laura Stoken
    Constituent Relations
    Executive Office of the Governor, Rick Snyder

    This is a pretty bullshitty copy-n-paste—shit, it isn't even addressed to me—and I'm cranky with a headcold, so here's the reply I sent them:

    Governor Snyder and Ms. Stoken,

    With all due respect, your response is absurdly facile. To the best of our knowledge, most of the Paris attackers were French or Belgian citizens, not Syrians. Statistically speaking, more terrorist acts on US soil are committed by North Carolinians than Syrians (consider: http://goo.gl/w1VmDl )

    Meanwhile, Michigan has a *very* robust, established, and patriotic Syrian community—if anything, we are the *most suitable* home for questionable immigrants, as there are strong ties between the community and the government. Michiganders of Syrian descent are obviously highly motivated to help law enforcement identify and track down ne’erdowells.

    Finally, this sort of "national security" concern trolling has *consistently* been used in the US to turn a blind eye to the needs of refugees. Most poignant—to me and other Jews—would be something like this: https://goo.gl/Wu2cc8 I think we can safely say that, today, basically *everyone* finds the idea of Jewish refugees operating as Nazi agents and saboteurs absolutely laughable—nonetheless this very "concern" kept tens of thousands of Jews locked up in Europe, and effectively ushered them to the gas (Anne Frank among them: http://goo.gl/LDILSI )

    I appreciate that you appreciate me writing to etc., etc.—but please, all of us have short time on this earth: Don’t bother to reply unless that reply is substantive and demonstrates that you’re actually hearing what constituents like me are saying. The right thing to do is so plainly obvious here, I simply can’t conceive of honest and intelligent people seeing it differently. It isn’t my job to convince you to do the right thing; it’s your job to suitably explain why you are refusing to do so.

    Thank you for your time and (I hope) consideration.

    All for the Best,
    David Erik Nelson . . .

    Once again, if you should need them, my words here are yours to use. Enjoy!

    November 13, 2015


    Gott in Himmel, it's finally happened: Copies of Junkyard Jam Band are shipping and in stores! It's 400 pages of awesome, covering 16 projects with 300+ pics, diagrams, schematics, and illustrations. Each project includes mods and expansion, plus there's a dozen extra circuits and appendices that will get the total newbie soldering and the total neophyte started with music theory. It took me almost four years to write the damn thing, and it was almost 30 months *late.* There's so much of my blood, sweat, and tears in this thing, each copy of the book is technically as closely related to me as either of my children.

    Folks have been asking me what the "best" way to buy the book is. Short answer: Any damn way you want! Long answer:

    In terms of cash in my pocket:

    Buying the book from me at an event puts the most money in my piggy bank. In those situations I'm selling books that I personally purchased wholesale from the publisher, and I see ~10x as much money in this situations. BONUS: You can get your copy personalized! DOWNSIDE: I don't do a ton of events, and they are almost all pretty damn local.

    If you *really* want a signed copy, they have a few left at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor, MI. You can also order a copy through my website or catch me in downtown Ann Arbor (I'm reliably in my Main Street office on Wednesdays. Contact me to make arrangements.)

    In terms of my career:

    Frankly, every other option is about the same, although for different reasons. No matter what you pay, I'll see the same amount of cash (my royalty is a percentage of the wholesale price, where-as discounts generally come out of the retailer's margins). But buying through a store makes my numbers better, which in turn impacts how willing places are to carry the book and the kinds of events I get invited to, so it's not a terrible trade-off.

    You'll probably get the book cheapest from Amazon, and Amazon sales make my look good, as those sales numbers and author rankings are a common metric of "success." Other online stores offer similar deals, and it's about the same to me (here's B&N and O'Reilly.) Incidentally, I see about the same money and karma boost from selling ebooks as print copies, but I'm going to level with you: While I love the PDF versions of my books (they're actually the *exact same files* that the printer uses to make the paperback copies), I'm less enthusiastic about the .mobi and .epub versions (with the proviso that I have an old Kindle; it might look more rad on a newer eReader).

    Meanwhile, my publisher is happier if you buy direct from them (naturally). The upside for you is that they throw in the PDF and other ebook formats for free, and the PDF is *fantastic.* Also, they'll basically match Amazon's price if you use the coupon code included in the Jam Pack PDF. (Sign up for the newsletter, download the PDF, and you'll find the code on the first or second page of the PDF. BONUS: That coupon code works for both my books; easy Non-Denominational Gift-Giving Holiday shopping right there.)

    Finally, it is perfectly rad to get the book at any physical bookstore you dig; lots of shops stock it (including many B&Ns), and anyone can easily special order it.

    Finally, of course, lots of libraries are getting it, because craft books are an easy sell to libraries. If yours doesn't have it, they will almost certainly be thrilled to order a copy; fulfilling patron requests is part of their mission (hell, my library--the Ann Arbor Public Library--started loaning digital oscilloscopes and analog synths because that's what patrons wanted. They are *awesome!*)

    November 03, 2015

    Guess Who's Featured in the New York Times (full-page ad)!!!

    Check out who's in this past Sunday's New York Times (advertising section):

    Yep. I made it there, kids; I can make it *anywhere!*

    More specifically, I'm going to make it to the Ann Arbor Barnes & Noble on Washtenaw Ave next weekend, to talk about making and DIY music and boomerangs and whatever. Details:

    • WHERE: Barnes & Noble, 3235 Washtenaw Ave
    • WHEN: Saturday, November 7, 1–2pm.
    • WHAT: Chit-chat, Q&A, a story about a chimpanzee, etc.; I'll have copies of both my books on hand to sell and sign.

    Finally, we're closing in on the last day to win a copy of that newest book, Junkyard Jam Band. Don't miss out!

    Goodreads Book Giveaway

    Junkyard Jam Band by David Erik Nelson

    Junkyard Jam Band

    by David Erik Nelson

    Giveaway ends November 04, 2015.

    See the giveaway details
    at Goodreads.

    Enter Giveaway

    October 23, 2015

    EARLY HALLOWEEN TREAT: "The Slender Men"

    For those descending into the Halloween mood, I offer this previously unpublished horror story: "The Slender Men." Among other things, it's sort of my love letter to all the folks caught on the non-tenure-track adjunct hamster wheel. Solidarity, brothers and sisters.


    "The Slender Men" | dark fiction by David Erik Nelson

    Your Annual Reminder: *Fall* is the Best Time for Kite Flying #FACT

    Despite the fact that National Kite Month is in April, now is the best time to fly a kite in most of North America. Here in Michigan, it's been a frikkin' beautiful October; go fly a kite! (My FedEx Diamond Kite project is included in the Craftfoxes database of free projects).

    (see also: Reminder: Springtime is an Awful Time for Kite Flying)

    About the Author

    David Erik Nelson is an award-winning science-fiction author and essayist. His fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and elsewhere.

  • Find him online—and get some free fiction—at www.davideriknelson.com
  • Twitter: @SquiDaveo
  • Monthly(ish) emails:
  • Contact: dave[AT]davideriknelson[DOT]com
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