Father of hobby robotics, Gordon McComb, has died

I woke up this morning to the sad news that maker-pal and pioneering hobby roboticist, Gordon McComb, had passed away. I wrote a brief eulogy on Make:

It is with a heavy heart that we here at Make: announce the passing of hobby robotics pioneer, Gordon McComb. He died on Monday, Sept 10th, apparently of a heart attack. Gordon was a great friend to Make: and to makers and robotics hobbyists from around the world.

Gordon’s Robot Builder’s Bonanza book, first published in 1987, arguably marks the beginning of hobby robotics as a significant maker category. It was the book that I bought in the late 80s that got me into robot building, and by extension, all forms of hardware hacking...

Gordon was an encyclopedist, a collector of useful information and ideas. His Robot Builder’s Sourcebook, an outsized, sort of Whole Earth Catalog for robot builders, was an absolute treasure trove of access to most every tool and component available at the time (2002). Most recently, Gordon created the book and kit, How to Make a Robot, for Make:.

Fellow hobby robotics pioneer, Mark Tilden, once said: “A human is a way that a robot builds a better robot.” Few humans have done more to build better robots and advance robotkind than Gordon McComb.

Godspeed, Gordon. Your numerous friends and fans, both organic and mechanic, will miss you very much.

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Newly completed Ramones song, S.L.U.G., released ahead of Road to Ruin reissue

I was so thrilled to discover this last night. Ahead of the forthcoming release of the remastered, expanded edition of the Ramones' iconic 1978 album, Road to Ruin, KEXP premiered a "fully-realized" version of S.L.U.G., a rare Ramones track that previous only appeared in demo and bootleg form.

Rhino Records is preparing to release a new deluxe edition of the Queens, New York outfit’s landmark fourth album Road To Ruin on Sept. 21, featuring a remastered version of the original album, a new stereo mix, and a disc of newly unearthed recordings – primarily outtakes and alternate versions of the classic tracklist. Fans will be particularly excited about two two previously unreleased tracks “S.L.U.G.” and “I Walk Out.” Fans can now stream the former below ahead of the deluxe edition release.

Savvy Ramones die-hards will be quick to point out that a demo of “S.L.U.G.” previously appeared on a 2001 expanded edition of Rocket to Russia as well as the Weird Tales of the Ramones compilation (and some bootlegs), but the version we’re hearing today is the first time we’re hearing a fully-realized version of the long lost track.

[H/t Ryan Zellman] Read the rest

Fantastic thematic wall displays for your gaming miniatures

On Game Terrain Engineering, Jim Kelly posted this great tutorial on building a wall-mounted display for your lovingly-painted fantasy miniatures collection. The display, while looking quite elaborate and substantial, is little more than a cheap wooden picture frame, some foam board, and lots of time and hot glue. The Archdevil Moloch statue in the middle was 3D printed. That is, of course, optional.

Months ago, well-known dungeon crafter, DM Scotty, posted some similar wall displays on Facebook that used a printed image on their back walls (relevant to the theme of the minis on display) and simpler shelving. Scotty's might be an overall better solution for displaying your minis in a less busy but still thematic way. Jim admits that the lighting/viewability of some of the miniatures on his dungeon-themed display is not the best. He’s considering adding LED lighting.

I am definitely going to build some of these displays. With all of the time I’m putting into painting minis these days, I don’t want to hide my hard work away in cases when it could be enjoyed by others. I think this is a really fun way to do it. I can’t wait to plan out and create thematic frame-displays for my Frostgrave, Gaslands, Blood Bowl, and All Quiet on the Martian Front minis. For displaying years of collected Warhammer 40,000 armies? We’re going to need a bigger boat.

BTW: The latest D&D game book, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, includes the exiled Archdevil Moloch in its bestiary, with great artwork, background, and stat block. Read the rest

Great advice for those getting started in miniature painting

I have been a tabletop/roleplaying gamer, off and on, for most of my life. Miniature modeling, painting, and terrain building have always been my favorite aspects of this wide-ranging and very maker-friendly hobby. As I've given in even more completely to my game-related obsessions these past few years (I may be in line for an intervention), painting minis has become my daily go-to activity for relaxation, creative expression, and escapism. I pretty much live for my painting and modeling sessions each night.

I'm really enjoying focusing on painting and trying to get as good at it as possible. I am currently painting up a bunch of Frostgrave wizard warbands, adversaries, and terrain, several teams for Gaslands (and suitably Mad Max-ian terrain), and the recent plastic OGRE miniatures.

After several years of nearly daily painting, I can now look back on my experience with some sense of what I did wrong. I was struck when I saw this video on Miniac because Scott touches on most of the key tips and cautions that I would share at this point.

Besides what he listed, I would add a few of my own.

You really only need one good brush There is a trap that new or inexperienced painters fall into of thinking that they need a different size brush for each type of painting operation (e.g., a size 1 or 2 for base coating, a 0 for highlighting, a 00 – or ridiculous sizes like 5/0 or 18/0 – for painting eyeballs and super-detailing). Read the rest

What's new in the world of tabletop gaming? (Early August Edition)

Here are some recent game releases of note and some of what I've been up to in hobby gaming over the past month or so.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about my favorite gaming magazine, UK's Tabletop Gaming. Another gaming mag I subscribe to and enjoy is Casual Game Insider. Where Tabletop Gaming covers all manner of tabletop, miniature, roleplaying, card, and board games, Casual Game Insider focuses on family games, party games, and palate cleansers, games to be played between longer games during a gaming night. In a word, casual games. CSI has something of a fanzine flavor (in a good way). It's obviously a passion and labor of love for those who produce it. They crowdfund the effort and just successfully finished their 7th round of funding. CSI covers every aspect of gaming, from creating, funding, and producing them, to the psychology and sociology of gaming, to gaming history, gaming types, you name it. And they have plenty of reviews and features on currently popular games. A free digital edition of the current issue is available for download (PDF).

The Ricks Must Be Crazy Cryptozoic Entertainment, $17, 2-4 Players, Ages: 17+ Cryptozoic has been killing it with their series of quick, fun, and suitably strange Rick and Morty games. They've released five games so far. Each game is based on an episode of the popular Adult Swim animated series. And each is done in a different style, mechanic, and look and feel, attempting to capture the flavor of the episode it's based upon. Read the rest

Reshuffling the epigrammatic phrases of Eno/Schmidt's Oblique Strategies into Grotesque Tables

Oblique Strategies (Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas), released in 1975 by Brian Eno and the late British multimedia artist Peter Schmidt, is a deck of 100+ cards with evocative statements designed for musicians, artists, and others who find their creative imaginations stuck in a ditch. The minimal, modern black and white cards, housed in an equally stark black box, present strange and evocative statements and directives that the querant agrees to follow and allow to inform the current phase of his or her work. Here, let me draw a couple of cards. I got: "Tidy up," "When is it for?," "Give way to your worst impulse," and "Look at the order in which you do things."

If you need any testament to the efficacy of these cards, they were used in the studio to aid in the composition and engineering of tracks on Eno's Another Green World and Before and After Science, Bowie's Berlin-period records (Low, "Heroes," Lodger), and again on Bowie's 1995 record, Outside (among many other records).

I fell in love with Oblique Strategies when I fell in love with all of the above records that were created with its assistance. Oblique Strategies was one of the first apps I installed on my first iPhone (and have had on every phone since). When I heard, in the early aughts, that the long out-of-print deck was back in print, I jumped at the chance to finally own a physical copy. In my world of hoodoo and woo-woo, oracular cards should be physical. Read the rest

Kubrick explains the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey in rare video clip

A rare 1980 clip of Stanley Kubrick talking on the phone about the ending of 2001 has surfaced by way of a Reddit thread. A piece on the Esquire website explains:

...In a bizarre video, which has appeared on Reddit this week, the director seems to provide a very simple and clear explanation of the 2001: A Space Odyssey ending. It comes from a Japanese paranormal documentary from TV personality Jun'ichi Yaio made during the filming of The Shining. The documentary was never released, but footage was sold on eBay in 2016 and conveniently appeared online this week timed with the movie's 50th anniversary.

Here is the transcript of Kubrick's comments:

I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I’ll try.

The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.

They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure.

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Pagan Kennedy's NY Times piece on collective vs. personal health becomes "New Rule" on Real Time

Imagine my surprise to see my old friend, Pagan Kennedy, being talked about Friday night in a "New Rules" segment on Real Time with Bill Maher. Pagan's opinion piece in the Times, and Maher's Real Time bit about it, make the rather obvious, but still important, point that you can obsess all you want over your own personal health, but if the environment around you and the public policy that governs it are diseased, your health is still in jeopardy. As Kennedy puts it in the Times: "It’s the decisions that we make as a collective that matter more than any choice we make on our own."

In the article, Pagan catalogs many of the paragons of health nuttery (Pritikin, Rodale, Euell Gibbons, Adelle Davis, Clive McKay) and how they didn't even live an average lifespan. Maher makes funny work of this, and the rest of piece, while making sobering points about the health perils we all face. Maher: "No matter what you do for yourself, how right you eat, if the air is full of lead and the bug populations are out of control and your city is under water, it doesn't matter. You can eat kale until it comes out of your ears. You can stay hydrated, slather on sunblock, steam your vagina, eat your placenta, work at a standing desk, and put a healing crystal up your ass, but there is no escaping the environment we all live in.

(My favorite line from the bit: "Back [in the 1970s] when Scientific American was the name of a magazine. Read the rest

"Girls and boys like to play witches, don't they?" Mr. Rogers interviews Margaret Hamilton, aka the Wicked Witch of the West

Here is a clip from a 1975 episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood where Mister Rogers interviews Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.

Looking at this video, it's hard not to pine for a time when you could talk so sweetly and innocently about witches on a children's program and not risk fundie villagers showing up at the neighborhood's gates with pitch forks and threats of a boycott.

[H/t Susan Jamison] Read the rest

Celebrities destroy their pie holes with hot sauce while being interviewed

Hello. My name is Gareth Branwyn and I am a hot food addict. As I type this, I am horking my way through a can of tuna iced with a generous layer of Sriracha sauce. But as my mouth and tongue are ablaze with the beloved rooster sauce, I know this level of heat is kid's play. Sriracha is a paltry 2,2000 SHU on the Scoville scale (a measure of capsaicin concentration in hot foods).

What might it be like to eat food in the 500,000-600,000 SHU range? And then answer provocative interview questions? That is the premise of the hit YouTube show, Hot Ones, now in its 6th season.

When I first happened upon this show a few years ago, I wanted to hate it. I thought it was a goofy premise and I'm generally not a fan of shows that create fear, pain, or deep embarrassment in other humans for my cheap entertainment. But as Stephen Colbert says below (he's a fan and had Hot Ones host Sean Evans on as a Late Night guest last year), the whole spicy interview process is fascinating and lends itself to some funny, strange, and sometimes quite insightful interviews.

Anyone who's ever eaten peppers in this heat range knows how darn-near consciousness-altering it can be. I'm always amazed at how composed and physiologically unaffected many guests of the show are. Colbert's obvious struggle, as over a million SHUs of capsaicin light up the sensor neurons in his head, is more of how I imagine handling it. Read the rest

What's new in tabletop gaming (June edition)

Here are some recent game releases of note and some of what I've been up to in hobby gaming over the past month or so.

The Grimoire Osprey Games, $20, 2-4 Players, 12+

One of the hallmarks of the highly-successful miniatures skirmish game Frostgrave is that it has a fairly simple, elegant rule set. But like all games that become this popular, Osprey has been cranking out the supplements, accessories, and even a spin-off game (Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago). With such rapid expansion, it quickly becomes difficult to keep track of all of the new magic spells, monsters, treasures, new characters, and the like. Because the game is basically about dueling wizards and their warbands fighting over treasure, there were already a lot of magic spells to choose from in the core rulebook. But after four major supplements, the spell lists were getting a little unwieldy. Enter The Grimoire, a lovely boxed set of 122 magic spells cards which includes all of the spells, from all of the wizard schools, from the core rules and all supplements to date. This includes the just-released Maze of Malcor.

Airfix Battles Introductory Wargame Modiphius, (as low as) $23 1-4 Players, Ages 10+

Airfix Battles Introductory Wargame is not a new game, only new to me. It was recommended by my friend Rodney Orpheus when I started asking around for a modern version of an old school map and chits wargame. And that's exactly what this game is. It's also an amazing reminder of just how far wargaming design has come--at least in terms of playability and quality of components--from the Avalon Hill/SPI games of yore. Read the rest

Pam Grossman talks "waking the witch," empowerment, and the magic of art on Ultraculture

My favorite witch, Pamela Grossman (who runs the art/occult blog, Phantasmaphile, the podcast, The Witch Wave, and is the author of What is a Witch) recently sat down with Jason Louv of Ultraculture to talk all things witchy.

On the podcast they discuss (among other things):

What being an “out” magician was like growing up and in the working world, and what the reaction has been like How the archetype of the witch can help empower us, evolve us and move us forward as a culture The resurgence of the toxic right How hope for the future is shining through, even in our dark present moment

For those of us interested in such things, it's a smart, far-ranging, and fascinating conversation. You can read more about Pam and listen to the podcast here.

Image: Sylvie Rosokoff Read the rest

Rosemary's Baby and the era of Satanic panic

Inspired by the 50th anniversary this month of the release of Rosemary's Baby, my friend Peg Kay Aloi has written a piece on Crooked Marque on how the iconic occult horror film helped set the stage for the Satanic panic that was to follow.

And therein lies an unusual irony: The clear message of Rosemary’s Baby was that the devil-worshiping witches live right next door, on the other side of the wall of your charming flat on Central Park West. They’re like family: They act as surrogate parents by giving you healthy herbal drinks and silver pendants to protect you, but they’re actually planning to consecrate your baby to the devil. Even your doctor is in on it; heck, your own husband signed his firstborn over to Beelzebub so he could get a juicy part on Broadway! You try to convince people of the plot you’ve uncovered, but they just cluck their tongues (poor thing, you’re just exhausted) and tranquilize you. Even when you’re proven right, that they were there all along, the witches next door who contrived to make you give birth to Satan’s spawn, no one helps you.

Despite overwhelming evidence that most acts of violence against children are perpetrated by family members, the tendency is to look beyond the home, to suspect a shadowy outsider, someone with a taste for heavy metal music and black T-shirts, or a penchant for goddess worship and tarot cards. Rosemary’s Baby masterfully other-ized the evil that lies within (and without), making us hide our children away from any and all possible dangers, including public schools, the internet, the outdoors.

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Muttnchop Piper explains Netrunner, the cyberpunk card game

It's always a treat to see someone unexpected embrace tabletop gaming. I just got the Netrunner: Revised Core Set, the latest edition of the popular and surprisingly immersive cyberpunk card game originally designed by Richard Garfield (who also designed of Magic: The Gathering). I decided to watch some videos on playing the game using the new set, as I haven't played in a while. I happened upon a series of videos by Muttnchop Piper, a YouTuber who runs a channel on pipe smoking and tobacco.

I was surprised by how good, and charming, these videos are. He talks about how the game brought him and his grown son closer together. His son is an artist, and growing up, wasn't into the typical things, like "hunting and fishing." His son introduced him to the game, and as you can clearly tell from the videos, Muttnchop Piper has really taken to it. He and his son play the game every Thursday.

In the videos, he describes the world of Netrunner, how to play one of the Corporations, how to play a Runner, and he runs through a sample game. There are a lot of how-to-play Netrunner videos out there, but I don't think there's a better intro series than the one from this unlikely of sources.

I also like this brief video explaining why you should play Netrunner. I love this game and think it evokes a cyberpunk world better than just about anything short of reading a novel in the genre. Read the rest

Touch Me Not, a surreal 18th century manual on how to raise the Devil, and then send him treasure hunting

Last year, the UK occult arts publisher, Fulgur Limited , celebrated its 25th anniversary. Initially focused on the work of the early 20th century British occult artist, Austin Spare, over the years, the imprint has published some of the most beautiful and significant books at the confluence of art and magic and has been the leader in the modern so-called talismanic publishing scene. What the Devil is talismanic publishing? It's an approach to publishing that incorporates magical practice into the act of publishing itself.

The concept originated with occultist Aleister Crowley in the late 19th century. He sought to treat his small press published books on magic and poetry as talismanic objects. Where any book nerd might argue that a finely designed, high-quality printed and bound book is already a magical object, talismanic publishing takes this to another level, with the selection of papers, inks, colors, fonts, and dates and times of publishing often being chosen with magical intent and a special level of consideration being given to the "out of box" experience and initial opening of the book. I have had talismanic books arrive with hand-calligraphied addresses, special perfumed paper wrappings, wax-seals, hand-drawn sigils, and more. Some may roll their eyes at all of this as woo-woo marketing gimmickry, but when this treatment is done well, it lends itself to a unique and elevated experience for anyone who loves bewitching books.

A great case in point is Fulgur's gorgeous new tome, Touch Me Not, their full-color facsimile of the infamous late 18th century grimoire, A Most Rare Compendium of the Whole Magical Art. Read the rest

Fantastic new promo video for this season's Power Racing Series

One of the great joys of being involved with Make:, Maker Faire, and the maker movement over the years has been watching the creation, growth, and evolution of the Power Racing Series. For those who don't know, the Power Racing Series was started by Jim Burke (who was, for a time Make:'s lead designer) when he was at the Chicago hackerspace, Pumping Station: One. The first race was in 2009 and was all PS: One members. The second race, at the 2010 Detroit Maker Faire, was the start of the PRS and Maker Faire's partnership which continues today. Now, the US-spanning PRS circuit includes races at Maker Faires across the country.

Basically, the Power Racing Series is teams of adult kiddie car hackers modifying Power Wheels (and other powered kid vehicles) and racing them in a LeMons-style race. The hacker teams can only spend up to $500 to modify and upgrade their car. It's all in good fun and basically an excuse to collaborate with other makers to try and push your tiny ride to the limit. And to have a crackin' good time in the process. Prizes are given out for things like the most Moxie Points, your ability to take risks, swerve into your weirdness, and pander to the crowd.

There are 9 races taking place this season, starting at Maker Faire Bay Area this month (May 18-20) and ending at the Maker Faire Orlando in November (Nov 10-11). Check out this wonderful video that Jim Burke posted to his YouTube channel a few days ago to promote Season 9. Read the rest

What Jack Kirby proposed for the plaques on the Pioneer space probes

By way of the Daily Grail comes this fascinating bit of Pioneer spacecraft history. Kirby was among the artist asked to submit ideas for the plaques to be flown on the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, launched in the early 1970s. Kirby's submission was vastly different than the very literal pictogram designed by Frank Drake, Carl Sagan, and Linda Salzman-Sagan and flown on the missions. Jack was not comfortable with the idea of giving some future Galactus GPS directions to our house.

I would have included no further information than a rough image of the Earth and its one moon. I see no wisdom in the eagerness to be found and approached by any intelligence with the ability to accomplish it from any sector of space. In the meetings between ‘discoverers’ and ‘discoverees,’ history has always given the advantage to the finders. In the case of the Jupiter (Pioneer) plaque, I feel that a tremendous issue was thoughtlessly taken out of the world forum by a few individuals who have marked a clear trail to our door.

My point is, who will come a-knocking – the trader or the tiger?

In describing his approach to the art he submitted, he wrote:

It appears to me that man’s self image has always spoken far more about him than does his reality-figure. My vision of the plaque would have revealed the exuberant, self-confident super visions with which we’ve clothed ourselves since time immemorial. The comic strip super-heroes and heroines, in my belief, personify humanity’s innate idealism and drive

Personally, I don't think we want "underwear perverts" (as Warren Ellis has called spandex supers) representing us, but you've got to love the idea of communicating "exuberant, self-confident super visions" of ourselves. Read the rest

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