Holy Shit—Neither Kanye West nor Jay-Z are 1/10th the Artist of Donald Glover

There’re tracks by Kanye I like, and I have a great deal of respect and affection for Jay-Z (both because of and despite “The Story of O.J.“), but I’m sorry: As artists, neither have a patch on Donald Glover. The clarity and breadth of his thought and expression are dazzling and compact and searingly intense; it’s like getting hit in the chest with a frozen super-critical sphere of napalm.

Support Art and other Good Things™: Get $120 in DIY/Makerspace Books for $1!

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The Humble “Makerspace” Book Bundle from No Starch Press is live an insanely good deal!  Pay a buck, and get six rad DIY-ish books (including my first book—Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred—as well as a few of my No Starch favorites). Pay $8, and get another six books (including my second DIY book, Junkyard Jam Band).  Pay a bit more…well, you get the picture.  All in, you can drop $20 and get more than $400 worth of DIY while supporting excellent charities. HUMBLE-00ca3c278db017f39d002720c906997f81f5958d

There are so many books I love in this one! Yoshihito Isogawa’s LEGO Technic books are both amazing and agelessly inspiring, Carlos Bueno’s Lauren Ipsum has been huge for my son (he read it twice in a row when it first came out, and still hits it again a few times a year now—it’s like the Information Age’s Phantom Tollbooth), No Starch’s Scratch and Arduino books are rock solid, and Jason R. Briggs’s Python for Kids is an excellent intro to Python for everyone (i.e., it’s how I learned enough Python to work on a documentation project with a U-M roboticist last year).

Also, I’ll level with you: These bundles (and book/game bundles in general) are a huge boost to authors/creators, both in getting our names and ideas out there, and in getting money into our pockets.  When you buy a bundle like this, you’re doing a Good Thing™ for the dissemination of new art and human knowledge, in addition to getting a good deal.

Humble Book Bundle: Makerspace by No Starch Press (pay what you want and help charity)

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Freelancers: You’re Freaking Out too Much about Working too Little

Short version: Most office workers in the United States have a nearly 9-hour workday, but are only productive for about 3 hours.  I.e., if you are a freelancer doing work that an office worker might do, then you can almost certainly make a decent living on ~3 hours per day. 

Please stop beating yourself up and running yourself ragged.  Focus on doing good work for half of each day and you’ll be just fine.

The Last Selvedge Denim Mill in the U.S. is Closing #America

The Cone Mills plant in Greensboro, N.C. has been continuously weaving denim since 1905, and is currently the only U.S. plant producing selvedge denim.  They’re calling it quits at the end of this year.

Selvedge” is a specific style of denim produced in broad strips on relatively narrow shuttle looms using a continuous weft such that the edge is automatically finished—i.e., it produces a “self-edged” bolt of fabric that won’t unravel (if you’re looking at denim and the edge of the seam is white with a single thread of color—often red—then you’re looking at selvedge denim).  Because it’s produced in narrower strips on shuttle looms (and usually with un-dyed weft), the fabric has certain characteristics in how it breaks in and ages, both in terms of fit and coloration.  Some folks dig these.  Other folks just dig putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of “Buying American.”  I kinda like to do both, so I’m kinda bummed that Cone Mills is rolling up.  Certainly the generations of weavers in Greensboro are bummed.

By the end of this year, you’ll only be able to get this prototypically American fabric from Japan.  That’s still great selvedge (hell, it’s made on American machines: Japan bought them up in the 1980s when Levi’s et al. made the shift to larger looms), but it’s a bummer that this once uniquely American product is going extinct.

The only upside:  When you see some Stars-and-Bars waving asshole in blue jeans popping off about “foreign manufacturing” next year, you’ll know he’s wearing jeans from Vietnam, and thus can go fuck himself. He didn’t put his money where his mouth was, and subsequently American selvedge denim died.  That’s how economies work. Way to “Make America Great Again,” bro.

Anyway, if you’ve been thinking about getting into high-quality American-made denim, it’s sorta now or never.  Brave Star is my go-to company on this: Incredibly reasonable prices given the quality, nice cuts, excellent craftsmanship, solid customer service, 100% American made: The denim is from N.C., the hardware from KY, the cutting and sewing in California.

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First Days (or “To Hell with Mitch Albom and his Bullshit Flat-Earth Nostalgia”)

About to board the bus for her First Day
About to board the bus for her First Day

Tuesday was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. At 4:20, when her bus finally arrived, she didn’t get off.

The driver checked, first calling out from the front, then shushing all of the kids and calling out again, then finally going seat to seat down the length of the big yellow bus.

My daughter wasn’t there.

Don’t worry—this is an “all’s well that ends” situation: Due to a printing error her First Day of Kindergarten name tag didn’t have her bus number printed on it, and subsequently she’d gotten on the wrong bus.  She ultimately wound up exactly where she should have been, all smiles and in fine fettle—albeit about an hour and a half late, following two bus transfers, and thanks to the intercession of three bus drivers, two transpo office workers, four school admins across two buildings, and one teacher. (The second day went smoother—in part because a neighbor kindly took it upon themselves to assign their first grader the job of making sure my daughter always sits next to her.)

You’re probably thinking “You must have been terrified!“, but the thing is, my son (now 11) also never showed up at the end of his first day of kindergarten. I can’t even properly recall how that came to pass, now, just that he didn’t get on any bus at all.  This may have been due to some confusion about aftercare (which required he take a different bus to get to a different locale)—

Retrieving him up at the end of his First Day.
Retrieving him up at the end of his First Day.

but I seem to recall that the geodesic dome he’s on in the pic had something to do with it, too, being strategically located right next to the bus loading area, but on the far side of a hedge tall enough to block the play structure from view, but not thick enough to prevent a kindergartner from slipping through.  An attractive nuisance if there ever was one.

Incidentally, his fish—a beta named “Electric,” given to him by an older boy who’d won it at a Labor Day fair, decided he didn’t want some stupid fish, and had thus stood in a gazebo and called out “Who wants a fish?”—had died that day while my son was gone at his first day of school.  That would be lamely symbolic if it wasn’t just a fact.

Point being, the boy was fine, as you can see in the picture.  He was more upset about the fish, and even that didn’t last.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking “You must have been terrified!

But I don’t know that I was terrified then either, because I remembered the end of my first day of kindergarten.  I remember it clearly, because it occasioned what I now recognize to be the first truly adult thought of my life:

I was the only kindergartener that rode my bus.  The “safety” (one of a small cadre of fifth graders given fluorescent orange Sam Browne belts and tasked with holding doors, keeping the halls orderly, and making sure the little kids found their buses) led me down a long cinderblock-and-linoleum hall, where kids were other kindergarteners were lined up under construction-paper cut-outs of school buses.  He stopped me in front of a red paper bus, taped high above my head on the wall, and said: 

“This is your bus.”

He walked away.  I stood there, alone, staring up at the two-dimensional red paper school bus, and thought to myself:

“How the hell am I supposed to get home on a paper bus?”

I tried to puzzle this out, and had a brief, vivid moment where I imagined myself shrinking down and flattening out like a Shrinky Dink™, transforming into a big-nosed black-and-white cartoon character (basically the kid from that 1980s Tootsie Pop commercial).  Cartoon me moseyed up to the bus, the door accordioned open—just like the door of the real, steal, three-dimensional bus I’d ridden to school just after eating lunch with my mom (back then it was half-day kindergarten, and I had PMs)—and I climbed aboard. Then the paper bus chugged to life and cruised down the wall in a little Pig Pen-esuque swirl of penciled diesel fumes.

In that moment, and for a moment, I entirely believed in that scenario. It was the only thing that made sense. And then I recall thinking:

Nothat can’t be right.

Soon enough another safety came and lead us kindergarteners, lined up like ducks, down to the turnaround where the real steel yellow schoolhouses were similarly lined up, and I discovered that my bus was identified with a number (that I could not read) written on a sheet of red construction paper—hence the red paper bus on the wall.  So, sort of a semiotics lesson built into that first day of school to, I guess—although it was a bit above my head (pun? joke!

Point being, kindergarten was my first time out of the home place, in a meaningful way.  Going to kindergarten, among other things, meant my first brushes with anti-Semitism, with both the quiet, constant terror of bullying, and the quiet heroism of the few bigger kids who tried to stand up for you.  And it was my first taste of solitude, being left to think my own slow, long thoughts in the intervals between assigned activities—something that I still treasure very much.  I wasn’t me before I was finally left alone to be me.

But none of that was on the First Day.

On the First Day I had to grapple with staying calm when faced wth a seemingly impossible scenario: Here, kid, you’re six now; figure out how to ride a paper bus home.

In a lot of ways, my life has been a series of brief intervals separating moments of distorted, disconcerting reasoning–and in which the only thing that separated me from a Very Bad Turn of Events was that simple first adult thought: 

“No, that can’t be right.  Calm down and think this through.”

It’s the only useful response to the apparently endless string of Kobayashi Maru that make up our lives.

Not that I knew any of that then—for chrissakes, what do you expect?  I was six; it was My First goddamn Day.