Neat! A Whole New Angle on Consumer-Grade 3D Printing

As we were working on putting together our Printrbot kit the other day, one of the guys mentioned this whole new tack on consumer-grade desktop 3D printing. Instead of building up parts via fused deposition modeling (which, in this case, means running ABS plastic feedstock–which looks like weedwhacker line–through a hot point that layers up your form using a rig that’s a lot like a pen-plotter), it uses stereolithography: Your part is super-quickly cured out of a bath of liquid, ultraviolet-sensitive resin by a UV laser beam. Very high resolution, crazy-slick tech–but well out of our price range. Anyway, he followed up with a link today, which I thought was worth sharing just to show that there’s more than one way to skin this cat. I’m increasingly wary of product-based Kickstarter projects, but this seemed too neat to ignore.
FORM 1: An affordable, professional 3D printer by Formlabs — Kickstarter

(*thx Phil!*)

Your #FridayReads: Get THE SILENT HISTORY on your iPhone, enter the STEAMPUNK III sweepstakes, and more #scifi

Fiction news!
First off, The Silent History–and app-based serialized fiction project–launched for iPad/iPhone this week. I’m one of the “Advance Reporters” contributing to the geolocated “Field Reports” (as of right now half the stories located in Michigan are mine–all centered around Ann Arbor). There’s a nice concise description of the project over on Contents Magazine:

The Silent History is a serialized electronic novel that debuted this week on iOS devices. The story at its heart is big: beginning right around now, some of our children stop developing language, and no one knows why. The novel is an archive of first-person accounts told by parents, doctors, teachers, and neighbors, and they’re released on a schedule, one at a time, from the beginning of the epidemic through to 2043.
Orbiting the body of the novel are dozens of “field reports”—stories written by readers and connected to specific physical locations. To read them, you have to show up, device in hand, at just the right spot on the built-in map.

That’s actually the lead-in to an interesting interview with the project editor Eli Horowitz, e.g.,:

Once you start thinking about it, the project is full of semi-comprehensible little resonances like that. I mean, it’s a lengthy book about the failures of language. It’s an oral history about people who can’t talk. It’s a digital book that is dependent upon engagement with the physical world. Etc.

If you want details (or to get the app), check out the official Silent History website and Tumblr blog. There’s also a video trailer with voice work by Ira Glass (!!!):

The Silent History from Richard Parks on Vimeo.

Also, along with Morgan Johnson and Fritz Swanson
I also have a story in Ann VanderMeer’s upcoming anthology Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution, co-written with long-time co-conspirators Morgan Johnson and Fritz Swanson in the guise of our dear Giant Squid. The antho is sort of a post-steampunk re-imagining/re-examination of steampunk’s blind spots. You can buy it come Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday time, or enter the Sweepstakes and win one pronto. Check out an excerpt from the antho’s intro and see what you think. FYI, I’ve got a story in the second antho in this series, too:
Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded
Finally, we’ve dropped the price on my novella Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate–you know, to celebrate Sukkoth, or something. Happy October, everyone!

My Latest Column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle, on School Busing and Its Ramifications

I continue to write a column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. It’s a small-town kinda column, ’cause we’re sort of a small town, but it’s also got an egregious deployment of number theory and nested footnotes, ’cause it’s a small town with a big damn university crammed into it. Anyway, this month we meditate on America, austerity, education, efficiency, transience, transportation, and the Traveling Salesman Problem–but, you know, it’s all *for the kids* and their *FUTURES!!!*
The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In it for the Money: School Transportation

. . .
If you’re looking to so weaken a society that you can drown it in a bathtub, I suppose you have two options: You can hammer on it with artillery and air raids until it is too shattered and skittish to get out of bed and get anything done, or you can slowly bleed it dry with a million little, seemingly insignificant mosquito bites.
No one flees their homeland over mosquitoes. No one takes up arms against a sea of mosquitoes. We just slap and scratch and kvetch and toss and turn and keep on keeping on.
Until one day we collapse, probably while carrying our kindergartners to school.
. . .

Neil Armstrong, My Grandmother, Moonwalking, and the Only Game in Town

The death of Neil Armstrong occasioned a lot of interesting reflections out in the geekosphere; the most unexpectedly enlightening was this from Charles Apple, the visual journalism columnist for the American Copy Editors Society [sic]:
Keep in mind as you put together your Neil Armstrong packages tonight… — Charles Apple —

The problem as Apple sees it? We don’t have any good pics of Armstrong on the Moon, for the same reason that we don’t have many pics of me on vacation: Armstrong was holding the camera. For example, the pic at the left–which you saw all over the place attached to Armstrong obits–is Buzz Aldrin, not Neil Armstrong, and is a primitive photoshop job, to boot.
Once Apple pointed this out, I realized that I’d actually seen the undoctored photo (shown to the right) on plenty of occasions, but the framing of the two is so different that I actually had always thought they were two distinct photos.
As Apple works through the scant selection of legit photos of Armstrong on the Moon, what we find are a tiny handful of candid shots that, in many ways, are more wonderful than the iconic posed photo of Aldrin. This unconventional view of Armstrong, focused on his work and so far from anything remotely like home, is really poignant:

And this one–where we can see an actual human face in a little super-bathyspheric bubble in that dead gunpowder landscape–absolutely gives me shivers:

Anyway, it all reminded me of my favorite portrait of Armstrong on the Moon–which, in fact, is embedded in that iconic picture of Aldrin that Apple was so annoyed to see palmed off as a pic of Armstrong. Check out the reflection in Aldrin’s golden face-shield:

At first I thought what so touched me about this picture was the work ethic it highlighted: Armstrong was the first human to touch the moon, and was perfectly happy to let the other guy be in all the pics, because that was Armstrong’s job. A guy like Armstrong is called “hero” all the time, usually because of his willingness to face down death, but I’ve gotta level with you: that’s never impressed me much. I’ve known plenty of totally pieces of human garbage that would face down death. Frankly, it’s sorta what the male animal excels at. What *I’ve* always admired about astronauts–about scientists like Aldrin and Armstrong in general–is how many names appear at the top of those academic papers; I’m impressed by their willingness to work in teams and share credit and share findings and help the whole of humanity pull itself up by its bootstraps, even if it means forgoing some small sliver–or some giant chunk–of personal fame or riches or glory. To me, Armstrong is a hero not because he got all Quixote on the Moon, but because he understood how important that Sancho Panzas and Dulcineas are to executing the Impossible Dream.

I like Armstrong because he was willing to accept the possibility that he’d end up as history’s footnote, he’d hold the camera instead of standing in front of it.

But that’s not all of it. I also love this self-portrait because of the pose. The viewfinder on the Hasselblad Armstrong used (and evidently left) on the Moon was on the camera’s top, often called a “waist-level viewfinder.” Here’s a pic of the rig mounted to his EVA suit:

When I was little my grandma always favored a goofy old Brownie box camera–something quite similar to this Brownie Reflex Synchro–which also had a waist-level viewfinder. Since her vision was a touch presbyopic, “waist-level” actually was more like “sternum level.” My point being, Grandma’s photo-shooting posture–head sagging, shoulders slumped and folded in around her camera, hands cradling a magic box topped with a glowing, misty vision of the world we were in–and Armstrong’s were the same.
All of which is to say, in my heart of hearts, I love this portrait of Armstrong because I love my grandmother, who is also dead, and who we will likewise never see again.
Welcome to the only game in town. Amen

Get “Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate” for Just 99 Cents!

Just a reminder that my steampunk novella (with new, original illustrations from the fantabulous Chad Sell) will be available on AMazon for just 99 cents (!!!) for about another week. Act fast, Kindle-wielding, steampunk-tolerant, literary-cowboy sex-book readers!

Utah Territory, 1874: The long American Civil War is finally over, and the Union restored thanks to the tireless service of the Chinese-built clockwork soldiers of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Terrible Mechanical Corps. Discharged ‘clockies,’ feared and reviled for their efficiency on the battlefield, have moved West to live peacefully alongside an often suspicious citizenry. Peacefully, that is, until Dickie Tucker–a crippled, alcoholic Confederate veteran living in Utah Territory–teaches these machines the art and craft of being, or at least seeming, human.

(SNEAK PEEK: Amazon will give you a free sample for Kindle, or get the same sample chunk as a pretty slick DRM-free PDF right here.)

Teaching Is a Sales Position

I continue to write a column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. This month–for the third month running–I’m writing about the Venn diagram of Business Practices and Teaching Practices. SPOILER ALERT: I’m not of the opinion that this diagram is two primary color circles with no overlap. FURTHER SPOILER ALERT: The governor and I do not agree about what lies in that cross-hatched overlap zone.
The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In It For The Money: Classroom Sales

Kids in compulsory public schools often aren’t willing buyers; they need to be sold. And even Lee Iacocca couldn’t sell 40 reluctant buyers in a single group. That takes goddamn sales magic, and the only cats with that kind of voodoo are politicians and snake-oil gurus. And there isn’t a single such talent in this great nation who’s ever going to settle for $42,000 per year plus medical and a pension–not when his or her earning potential starts in the low six figures and only goes up, up, up.
The problem with education in America–to the degree that there is a problem–is that we’re putting fair-to-middlin’ sales staff into a nearly impossible sales situation. No shoe store owner in the world expects his or her staff to sell shoes forty pairs at a time; if there’s that many folks coming through the door, then they hire more sales staff. They don’t expect shoe buyers to sit in rows six deep and stare at the ceiling while someone yammers to them indiscriminately about chunky heels or high-performance cross-trainers, without regard for what kind of feet they have and what kinda walking they need to do.
. . .

The Worst Speech I Ever Gave (@makerfaire)

The Worst Speech I ever gave was at the 2011 Maker Faire Detroit.  I had an outdoor booth at the Faire, where I was making free upcycled water rockets with kids, showing off some of the projects from my book, and generally spreading the gospel of Making Something Rad Out of Rag and Bone.  I’d subsequently been invited to give a talk about toys and the sorts of things that were in my book.
It was a 90/90 day in a week of 90/90 days, and because of a misunderstanding during registration, my booth had no shade apart from some stunted ornamental cherry trees.  My primary assistant has basically the exact some species of social anxiety as I do–one that makes you a garrulous raconteur when you have an audience, but a total wreck in the solitary run-up to getting in *front* of that audience.  Neither of us had any stomach for food, and subsequently had only brought a couple liters of warm water and a jar of cashews as rations.  It was like we were on some misguided vision quest. I was slated to talk at 2pm, and by the time I made it onto the savagely refrigerated mini-stage in the Henry Ford museum, I had been standing in the blazing sun for seven unbroken hours and eaten about 200 calories.
My talk was set to run 30 minutes.  I had a PowerPoint presentation that consisted of maybe six slides, one of which was an antique photography of a man riding a wall-of-death with a lion in his sidecar. I haven’t the foggiest what that image was intended to convey.  The year before, in 2010, I’d given a small-scale presentation, but that was before the book was finished, and I’d ended up speaking in excruciating detail about the project I’d been working on at that time: electromagnetic pick-up design for cheap, easy, home-brew electric guitars (I mean “cheap”–under $10 in supplies–and I mean “easy”: It’s a 2 hour project at most, plus letting some glue dry overnight). This had actually gone over fairly well.
I was supposed to be talking about “toys” in 2011, but my conversations with the folks at MAKE had been sort of foggy in the run-up, and I’d decided I wanted to talk more generally about toys and toy making and why it’s a Good Idea to make toys out of junk with your kids. Meanwhile, a program was printed listing me as the author of such-and-such book, there to talk about toys. I did not see this program until I left the stage.
But, so, when I took the stage I was in front of about 40 people, many of them children.  I was reeling from the sudden shock of AC; all I could think of was Shackelton abandoning his whiskey at the Pole.  I had six slides, maybe, and although I’d written a book about making toys, and was spending two days making toys out in the fantastically beautiful Michigan summer, I wanted to talk about something abstract and neurosciencey and meta-analytic that occupied, literally, six sentences in the 340 page book that was my ticket on to that stage.
The speech was a disaster.  I opened my mouth, got about halfway through my first name, and then a steam-engine power plant exhibit started up, a banshee wail that made it impossible for me to hear my own amplified voice, which was fine, because it also drove every thought from my brain.
Things went off the rails from there: I said the word “toys” at some point near the start, but then found myself in a fugue, talking about Henry Ford and Edison and the “Great Man” theory of history and cellphones.  Audience members smiled faintly, in the manner of people slowly stepping away from a knife-wielding chimp. Five children in an Indian family in the third row fell asleep as their parents stared at me blankly, at least enjoying relief from the heat and the crowds.  At one point–and bear in mind that I was here because I make super-kid-friendly water rockets out of old bottles and tire stems–I found myself talking about the Arab Spring.  A bald white man with a droopy walrus mustache rose from his front-row seat and walked out.  Crickets sang during the Q&A, I left the stage to polite not-booing, then almost passed out in a *very* ornate men’s room.
A few weeks ago I was retelling this anecdote to a group of friends who, clearly, I’d regaled with this tale enough times already.  My dear friend Fritz Swanson interrupted me at the mustachioed-man-walkout to say “Yeah, yeah, we know, you activated a future domestic terrorist while giving a speech about toys. That guy’s gonna park a van in front of a federal building in a few years, and we’ll all know why.  Good work.”
Anyway, if you want to see something akin to the things I was trying to say that day, check out my next column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle (UPDATE: Here’s the direct link to my latest column on education, Great Men, cell phones, picking fights, swapping innovations, and so on. ).
See you at Maker Faire Detroit this year! We’ll be making water rockets, rocking out on electric diddley bows, and learning to make synthesizers you shove in your mouth (maybe)!

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. . . .

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.

A Lil Bit More On Voice, Sauce, and Gravy

A few weeks ago I guest blogged about “voice in writing” for Shimmer. That essay starts something like this:

I want to talk about voice–about your capital-V Voice as a writer, and the little voice of each specific piece you write–but first I want to tell you about how this guy I know makes steaks.
He goes to the butcher and buys a few good cuts of beef. Back home, while these steaks drain on the cutting board, he makes his “sauce.” This sauce consists of Worcestershire sauce, malt vinegar, salt, pepper, brown sugar, ketchup, maybe barbecue sauce, whiskey (or whatever he finds in the cupboard), beer (maybe), wine (why not?), soy sauce, and season salt. He marinates the steaks in this sauce for an indeterminate period, then sears them briefly on a high-BTU gas grill.
If you’ve spent any quality time in the kitchen, then you see how absurd this “sauce” is . . .

and ends like this:

Voice is the economical result of not throwing anything away, but instead boiling and scrapping until what you have left is as concentrated as possible, a half-once of liquid with more flavor than the chops you started with. Every good story will make its own gravy.
And your Voice emerges from the process of cooking up story after story after story in the same iron skillet, until that skillet is so seasoned that you don’t need oil to fry an egg, and any steak seared on it comes off tasting like it put you back $50 at a necktie establishment, even though you didn’t even bother to sprinkle salt on the pan prior to sizzling.

In the middle I specifically cite David Foster Wallace and Stephen King as examples of how a Voice–even a very ornate one–arises from a process of reduction. So, I was interested to come across this note DFW sent Harper’s magazine regarding this nifty lil piece he wrote about Kafka for that magazine in 1998. The note reads, in part:

The deal is this. You’re welcome to this for READINGS if you wish. What I’d ask is that you (or Ms. Rosenbush, whom I respect but fear) not copyedit this like a freshman essay. Idiosyncracies of ital, punctuation, and syntax (“stuff,” “lightbulb” as one word, “i.e.”/”e.g.” without commas after, the colon 4 words after ellipses at the end, etc.) need to be stetted. (A big reason for this is that I want to preserve an oralish, out-loud feel to the remarks so as to protect me from people’s ire at stuff that isn’t expanded on more; for you, the big reason is that I’m not especially psyched to have this run at all, much less to take a blue-skyed 75-degree afternoon futzing with it to bring it into line with your specs, and you should feel obliged and borderline guilty, and I will find a way to harm you or cause you suffering* if you fuck with the mechanics of this piece.)

I share this, because DFW was fundamentally wrong. I was a UofM comp lit student with a subscription to Harper’s when that essay was first published, not to mention an embarrassingly enthusiastic fan of DFW’s, and I remember reading that piece–feeling how breezy and conversational it was–and I’ve gotta say that this sense of the piece’s voice wouldn’t have been at all affected if DFW had elected to use Chicago Manual of Style-compliant punctuation after his abbreviated Latin introductory clauses, instead of being a royal prick.
The takeaway: Don’t do this; don’t squander even a few minutes from your limited store of earthly hours fussing over pinches of pepper on what is already a really damn good steak.