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June 29, 2012

Print-n-Snip Boomerang Template


This PDF includes templates for three boomerangs: a scaled down version of the quad-blade fast-catch boomerang in Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred, plus two new tri-bladers). Each fits on a single sheet of standard 8.5-by-11 paper (and, as a bonus, each of these designs scales pretty well; if you have access to a printer that can handle bigger paper, then you can scale these up and make bigger boomerangs).

To use the Print-n-Snip Boomerang Template:

  1. Print out the boomerang that catches your eye (slightly heavier paper--like resume stock--makes for a slightly easier to trace template)
  2. Trace the design onto light-weight cardboard (such as poster board, a cereal box, a Krispy Kreme donut box, etc.)
  3. Carefully cut it out
  4. Crimp the quarter-line on each blade (as described in step 7 of Project 18 in the book)
  5. Tune and throw!

If you come up with a boomerang design you like and want to add it to the template, drop me a line! (My email is in the "About the Author" box.)

June 28, 2012

Liz Arum's 2011 Workshops

I've meant to post this for ages, and it somehow kept slipping through the cracks. About a year ago Liz Arum (of Makerbot fame, at least for me) did a summertime DIY/making workshop with a bunch of kids and built a few projects from SnipBurn (as well as others). She posted a bunch of pics that warm the cockles of my heart:

(the rest are here)

As it turns out, Liz used 30-gauge winding wire for the pickups in those $10 Electric Guitars--significantly beefier than the 42-gauge I cal for in the book, and also significantly easier to find at RadioShack. This, obviously, takes many more windings than the 42-gauge design, but she reports that the sound is good. I've since talked to other SnipBurn makers who've likewise used these much thicker gauge wires and had good results, so I'm going to start experimenting with this cheaper/easier wire as I work on projects for my next book (which is all musical instruments). Stay tuned for more details on my findings.

FYI, if you've built something cool based on one of the projects in SnipBurn, then totally hit me with some links to pics, audio, or video; I'm happy to add it to the gallery and share your links.

How to Trim Yr 'stache

Clearly more useful for some readers than others--but I'm one of the "some," and this method differs somewhat from mine (I've never done Step #3, and am still a little ambivalent about it).

(via the oft enjoyed Art of Manliness)

June 26, 2012

Cork, Wine Bottles, and Food-Grade Wood: Fixing Broken Appliances and Making Them Beautiful

FACT: While many of our home gadgets are complex microcomputers that are basically beyond the ken, let alone skills, of average folk like you and me, the vast bulk of our appliances (even the heavy ones, like your stove or dishwasher) are still simple electromechanical devices heart. If you can replace a fuse, recognize an obviously burned out connection, or re-attached a slipped belt, you can keep that "broken" vacuum or toaster humming for years to come. You can teach a grade schooler to do this safely.

COMPLICATION: While the electrical *guts* of our devices continue to be mid-twentieth century technology, the *cases* are almost invariably customized, injection molded plastic pieces of crap held together with glue, break-away tabs, and funky-ass screws designed to drive average folk *insane.*

PROBLEM: Plenty of devices have perfectly workable guts, but broken cases, and those cases can't be readily repaired.

SOLUTION: Make your own replacement enclosures.

These are so, so lovely *and* well within the reach of Average Joes and Janes. Yes, this guy is using a fancy CNC, but he's also planning to roll out this system to the UK equivalent of the Salvation Army. If you're just fixing your blender or rice cooker, then you can easily work the wood with hand tools. What's brilliant here is that he's using *cork.* Cork is *great* for kitchen appliances: You can carve it with a drill and hobby knife, it will put up with lots of knocking about and getting wet, and it can easily mesh with the curved-line aesthetics of modern appliances (i.e., you can replace *parts* of a FUBARed case, instead of having to rebuild the whole thing with food-grade wood from for local lumber yard). I love it!

Short-circuit : Gaspard Tine-Beres

Cheap household appliances such as kettles, coffee makers or toasters, are typical of goods that are thrown away while in perfect working order. But, even when damaged, the electrical components unlike the casing are easily fixable; therefore, landfill sites are increasingly becoming sources of viable and perfectly working complex electrical and electronic components. Moreover, these same components represent a major waste problem, due to their composite and toxic nature.

. . .

My Coffee-maker, kettles and toaster, are made out of re-used components, and factory seconds glassware such as wine bottle and chemistry beakers, in order to take advantage of it's ubiquity, and standardized dimensions. The main structure is made out of natural cork for it’s waterproof, anti-bacterial and insulation properties. This design required no mould and can be easily adapted, upgraded, or repaired as required.

June 24, 2012

CNC Routing Is a Lovely Process

A CNC router is a machine that uses a computer to control a spinning bit ("CNC" stands for "computer numerical control") in order to precisely carve materials (usually wood or metal, although you can basically carve anything that's rigid-ish: I've seen folks route fiberglass, acrylic, styrofoam, ice, and even hunks of melon). Any shape you can map with a computer can be carved by the appropriate CNC router.

In my humble, CNC routers are just lovely to watch, in and of themselves. If robots had to invented ballet, it would look like this. That the process is being used to produce a Möbius strip lends the whole think a little extra cognitive luster. I especially like that they elected to retain--and even accentuate--the milling artifacts of the CNC process; lends just the right touch of wabi-sabi, the degree to which a "perfect" automated process still leaves signs of its having passed this way.

mobiprize | rvtr

June 20, 2012

OS X Lion DiskMaker for Greater Good!

I'm finally getting around to upgrading my unibody MacBook to OS X 10.7 Lion (mostly because Apple is forcing my hand: I have to join iCloud before the end of this month, or face the consequences).

Since Lion is the first download-only OS upgrade from Apple, I've been strongly advised by my computer programming cohort that I really ought to make a bootable recovery OS X disk (actually a USB drive--the damn OS installer is +4Gb!) prior to running the install (just in case--and because making the boot disk *before* installing is *much* easier than trying to do it afterward, as OS X erases the installer disk image when it cleans up post-intallation).

Lots of great instructions cover doing this (here are the ones I followed: How to make a bootable Lion install disc or drive | Macworld); it isn't really arduous, but it's far from intuitive, so you'll want the walk through.

I only discovered *after* purchasing a 8Gb ScanDisk Cruzer thumb drive to use as my bootable recovery disk--and wrestling with it for several hours as my Mac repeatedly failed to be able to finish writing the disk image to the drive--that, for reasons unknown, Cruzer thumb drives are notoriously janky in this application.

Thoroughly frustrated and hopelessly googline, I stumbled across the freeware Lion DiskMaker. It's really just a shiny wrapper around a few AppleScripts, but it totally automates the process of creating one of these bootable thumb drives *and* can do so even with the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Cruzer thumb drives.

So, consider this lil bundle of magic *Recommended*:

Serial Serveur -- Lion DiskMaker (US)

On Getting Schooled

Sorry that the posting has been light here for the last week; I've been struggling with a Basement Plumbing Disaster, which I'll fully report next weekishly. For now, I'd like to point you to my latest column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. This piece feels especially salient this week as I'm spending Wed-Fri doing a teen workshop at the Henry Ford Museum on DIY, making, and innovation, more-or-less coordinated with my participation in this year's Detroit Maker Faire.

This column is the first in a series on education, and broadly covers how we measure outcomes in our schools, and why being overly focused on test scores and "career readiness" might be a pretty hollow goal. I also talk about my boy's first year at kindergarten, Super Mario Brothers, the Jewish People, KRS-One, and decision fatigue. Consider this the loose framing of Dave Nelson's Totally Impractical Education Plan.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In it for the Money: Getting Schooled

Last Friday my son finished his kindergarten year at Bryant Elementary – an excellent public primary school in Ann Arbor, Mich., conveniently located near our municipal airport and impressive town dump [1]. He learned a shocking amount this year – e.g., he’s now functionally literate and has a solid grip on mathematical concepts I vividly remember my middle school class puzzling over – and I really appreciate everything his teachers and school administrators have done.

But, frankly, it’s hard to be super shocked by these academic achievements. I’m a former English teacher, my wife has taught for at least a decade, and the only consistent forms of entertainment in our house are books – it would be a little weird if he didn’t know how to read yet.

No, what impresses me about my son’s education at Bryant is this: Midway through his school year my blond, Jewish five-year-old told me he wants to be like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . .

June 15, 2012

FATHER'S DAY STEAL: Save 40% on No Starch Press books with the coupon code DADROCKS! @nostarch

Just a quick note. My publisher, No Starch Press, is having an across-the-board sale for Father's Day. You'll save 40% on *everything* if you use the coupon code "DADROCKS" ADDED BONUS: Most of their hardcopy books include the DRM-free digital version for FREE (usually in PDF, ePub, and Kindle format--so that's basically another $10 to $30 of value right there).

My book is obviously a pretty good fit for dads, but since most blog readers likely already have a copy, I also suggest these titles:




FYI, I've reviewed a few of these titles in detail here.

(Sorry that the "Generic Nerdery" is sorta thin. I've seen pages for a few really exciting programming books No Starch has coming out aimed at kids, but those are still in pre-order, so I'll leave them for later.)

June 12, 2012

Breeding and Harnessing Piezo-electric Viruses for Greater Good!

A Virus That Helps Charge Your Cellphone - NYTimes.com

Scientists at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory say they have created a virus that generates electricity . The research is described as a first step toward using genetically engineered viruses to build devices that convert the body’s motion into electricity. . . .

The article is actually surprisingly detailed, and even includes a short (and possibly somewhat cryptic) video:

WHAT I'VE LEARNED FROM THE ISS ALPHA MISSION (a brief essay by Dave Nelson) @fritzswanson

About a decade ago Fritz and I were *really* geeked about the International Space Station--which, as you'll recall from my last post, fundamentally fails to impress my mom. Back then the ISS had just finished the first round of continuous human habitation (it's now in round 31--a fact that complete blows my mind. Our space station is fully operational, and has been for more than a decade!) Sometime in late 2001 or early 2002 NASA quietly released the captain's log kept by Bill Shepherd, who was Commander for the Alpha mission (i.e., that first team of long-term space stationers). The full complement for that mission was three guys, including Shep.

These logs--which are more than a little janky, with weird gremlin characters, extensive redactions, and large chunks set in Comic Sans--fascinated Fritz and me. During this period I was working at a school, teaching 1/4 of the time and doing office-drone stuff for the other 3/4, and lots of those office-drone hours ended up being spent pouring over these logs and imagining the awful wonder of living on a damn orbital space station.

While cleaning out my office this weekend (preparatory to the nice plumber with the jackhammer coming to totally wreck up the joint) I found the following essay. Now, at this point, I can't recall precisely *why* I wrote this. Clearly, in part, it was sort of a gag about high school composition assignments (I was a neophyte English teacher for that 1/4 of my workday, after all). But more than that, it's just a really honest expression of how much I loved those Captain's Logs--real, honest-to-God *Captain's Logs!!!*--which were the first really tangible evidence that I *was* living in a future that bore some resemblance to that OMNI magazine, matinee movies, and Scholastic books promised me when I was a boy.


a brief essay by Dave Nelson

I've learned that astronauts like action and war movies ("Apocalypse Now" and all four "Lethal Weapon" films)--not suspenseful dramas (e.g., "The Sixth Sense," which they only brought along because they mistakenly believed it was a sequel to the Fifth Element)/

If you lose anything, it'll turn up in the air filter sooner or later.

Shep loves tools--his perfect day involves using both tools and schematics in unison. Russian cosmonauts love sorting things.

Most of the time on a space station is spent building more space station.

Astronauts love laptops (they apparently have 9 running, and are complaining that they don't have enough table-space to accommodate the two more the'd like to get going). They are receiving email up there, using Outlook (considering the whole computer-virus situation with that mail program, I'd be nervous if I were them.)

Ham radio is still the most reliable form of communication with the earth.

Despite a dearth of tools and parts, Russians can fix or rig anything.

Even in space, folks celebrate Christmas.

June 11, 2012

Astronaut Don Pettit Plays Didgeridoo in SPAAAAAAACE!

And here's another really lovely orbital water experiment with Don Pettit:

Aside: My mom is here to watch my newish baby while a friendly giant crushes my basement floor in order to swap out a collapsed sewer line. Mom glanced at this video and exclaimed, "He's on the moon?!?" When I explained that, no, he was on the International Space Station, Mom was visibly let down. Guy standing on an inert hunk of rock and playing the digeridoo? *OMG!* Guy sitting in the crowning technological achievement of our species and playing a didgeridoo? *Menh.*

In a nutshell, this is everything that's wrong with the Baby Boom Generation, folks.

(via here and here)

Incidentally, Project 11 my book Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids is basically everything you'll ever need to know about building an ad hoc hardware store didgeridoo. Sadly, the publishers made me cut the chapter on building your own space station--for liability reasons--so I can only really get you half-way to Don Pettit territory right now.

June 07, 2012

M.C. Escher's "Relativity" litho as a Star Wars LEGO diorama

I'm not just posting this because geeks and LEGO and Star Wars and nostalgia-singularity and *neat!* {*squeeee*} FREAKOUT! Yes, all that's in the mix (plus, like most of you, I'm a depressingly unselfconscious Escher fanboy from small times), but I'm posting this because, simply as art in and of itself, this sculpture is lovely and worth meditating on. It is here to tell us something interesting about ourselves and our myths. For example, the artist's blithely stated intention to *dismantle* this.

Take a second to click through and look at the detailed images. Please. Trust me:

Star Wars Relativity V2: A LEGO-- creation by Paul Vermeesch : MOCpages.com

June 06, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion: Are You Prepared for Father's Day?

A gentle nudge: If you're looking for a Dad's Day gift for a fella with school-age children, you can do worse than my book SNIP, BURN, SOLDER, SHRED: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids. Fully certified dads have said stuff like:

This is the stuff that magic and dreams are made of in childhood, at least for those kids who have the idea that magic can be handmade. Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred is a seriously cool book.


This book is full of great innovative ideas to engage you and your kids for quite some time. What I loved most was that this book provided step-by-step directions that left nothing to chance. Instead it spelled everything out making it simple, even though your kids will simply think that you are cool! I mean how many dads can say that they built their own electric guitar? I don't know many that is for sure!


Seriously: order this soon.

(That last one's from Rob Malda, founder of Slashdot.org, and really nice cat.)

If you really want to stick it to The Man, you can always order directly from the publisher. You'll get the ebooks (including a Kindle version) *FREE*, and if you use the coupon code SHRED you'll save 35 percent.

Order soonishly from whoever and the book is sure to arrive in time for Father's Day.

Alternately, if your dad or hubby is into clockwork sex robots, maybe try this steampunk novella on Kindle--or the supercool, handmade print chapbook.

So, that's my pitch. Thank you, and goodnight!

June 05, 2012

Bilal Ghalib Rocks Veggies in his Wok using MakeyMakey

I've worked with Bilal Ghalib in the past (we hosted one of his "Pocket Factory" 3-D printing crash-course workshops at Workantile), so it was a delight to see him pop up out of the blue with something new and rad:

Yup: He's using the MakeyMakey USB keyboard interface (a Kickstarter project I geeked about a few weeks back; it's now funded at 1,700% [!!!] with 6 days to go!) to play with his food. Nice!

This is precisely the reason I jumped on the MakeyMakey funding bandwagon: Obtuse interfaces for musical instruments inspire all sorts of crazy new ways to rock out, and I *love* that. Here's another great MakeyMakey ad hoc instrument:

FYI, I'm just now starting in on my second DIY book with No Starch Press. This time around it's going to be all musical instruments, mostly electronic; expect lots of janky little synths with nary an equal-tempered keyboard in sight, and inappropriate uses of conventional technologies. Also at least one ukulele.

June 01, 2012

Steampunk and DIY

I came to steampunk writing fiction, so when I started occasionally going to cons and speaking on panels, I was caught flat-footed by the whole dress-up end of the movement--which actually seems to be the genre's dominant facet (which was news to me, which is why it's sorta shocking that people invite me to speak on panels). I'm not a huge dress-up guy myself (although I've got a childhood soft-spot for Ren Festivals, and am as impressed by bodiced/corseted decolletage as the next human that's into ladies), but the handy-craftsmanship folks bring to their steampunk garb is eye-catching. Beyond sewing (little of which is simple), there's a whole universe of leather-working, woodworking, metalworking, soldering, tinkering, and scavenging necessary to make these costumes. And, man, then there's the *hats and goggles!*

I'm sort of inclined to write off the dress-up end of any artistic movement as foppish preening, but it's been interesting to see elements that start out just being costume-ball frippery filter back into the literature. For example, you see that breather mask? As near as I can tell, these came into steampunk fashion from some backwater tribal-industrial post-Burning Man rave-scene affectation. I find them creepy, and kind of assume they have Mad Max sexual overtones. Whatever your opinion, they aren't abundant--or even notable--in canonical steampunk lit. But I'm now seeing breathers like these show up in *stories*, the rationale being that *if* you had the Industrial Revolution lead directly into high-level computation, then you'd have exponentially increased the consumption of fuel--which was all wood and coal--and thus brought on the complete blighting of London, for example, much, much more quickly.

I spent a lot of time kicking around the merchant hall at the World Steam Expo last week, pawing fancy hats and generally making a pest of myself. Now, maybe I'm jaded, but when I'm looking at a huge display of hundreds of funky leather hats, my inclination is to say "Man, there's some crazy Upton Sinclair nightmare of a factory in Shenzhen where 10-year-olds crank these out for nickels!" But then I ended up talking with the sales folk--who it turned out were *actual* milliners--and I was just gobsmacked: They crank these out from scratch in Fremont, OH. The company that made the pith helmets in those pics is Blonde Swan, and their janky website doesn't even come close to doing justice to the variety of their hats, or the craftsmanship of those lids. The Universe where I'd pay $150 for a hat that *can't* save my life or grant wishes is far, far away from here, but I'm gonna level with you: These hats are *cheap* at that price. The gal I was talking to (not pictured, sadly) was a cutter--whole days spent cutting leather to make top hats, twenty at a time. And they've got seamstresses there that can crank out those hats as fast as she can cut the leather. This is an all above-board, all-American operation. That there is this kind of demand for leather top-hats with brass gewgaws stitched to them, in this economy, simply boggles the mind.

Likewise, I spent a goodly amount of time talking to Abbey Manalli of Altered History, from whom I bought these patches:

(my boy claimed the monocled lion, but I get to keep the Navy squid)

First glance: they're nice designs competently wrought; a solid buy. But then you pick them up, and discover that they're not your standard-issue glue-backed embroidered patches (which are sort of a post-WWII technique), but rather an embroidered design on wool felt. Why'd Manalli bother? Because that's how insignia were made in the late 19th and early 20th Century. She wanted to be period to a period that doesn't exist, so she tracked down the only wool felt producer in the US (located in rural Massachusetts) to source the material, and then hooked up with a crazy embroiderer in Milwaukee who was into the aesthetic, and thus willing to futz around with a material no one had used in mass producing patches since my *grandfather* (now of blessed memory) was born.

So, there's no big point here, except for to say that there isn't a Hot Topic for steampunk fashion yet; even if someone's togs are strictly store-bought, there's still a helluva lot of good ole American elbow grease[*] in the making.

[*]. Unfortunately, the last American elbow grease distillery went under in 1987, and so we're now entirely dependent on Burmese elbow grease for all our gumption.

Artist? Freelancer? Neil Gaiman Has Some Advice for You

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 on Vimeo

Gaiman offers *excellent* advice for *any* sort of freelancer at the 14-minute mark. The rest is good if you like Gaiman, or writing, or fiction, or comix, or art, or English accents, but the minute starting around 14:00 is *vital* of you roll freelance. The bit at around 18:40 hits me in the right place as well, because I've been pretending like I am what I am for a solid 20 years, and it's more-or-less working.

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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