Thinking back on the special magic of Make: and Maker Faire

As you may have heard by now, news began to break Friday night that Maker Media, home to Make: magazine, Maker Faire, and Maker Shed, was folding up their big top and calling it quits (though founder Dale Dougherty has vowed to attempt a resurrection in some form). As the sad news began to thread its way through social media, the sense of shock, grief, and confusion was palpable. As when a beloved artist, entertainer, or other famous figure dies, people began posting pictures of themselves with the deceased, sharing peak experiences at Maker Faire, and sharing stories of the impact that Make:, Maker Faire, and the maker movement has had on their lives. Many of these have been quite inspiring and moving.

As someone who worked with or at Make: since its inception in 2005, my inboxes began filling up with people asking me if I was OK, if they could do anything to help (bring over cake and whiskey?), and they too began pouring out their feelings to me. Several people shared stories on social media and asked me to share some of mine. This made me immediately think of an essay I wrote for my 2014 memoir, Borg Like Me. Called "Make vs. The Blob," in it, I attempted to capture some of the magic and inspired sense of wonder I experienced while working at Maker Media and attending nearly all of the Bay Area, New York, and the two Austin Maker Faires. As part of that piece, I shared three particularly enchanting tableaux from the 2007 Austin Maker Faire. Read the rest

Epic Twitter thread uses classic art to illustrate the everyday sexism that women endure

Writer Nicole Tersigni posted this amazing meme thread on Twitter where she juxtaposed well-known classic art images with the sort of common and clichéd sexism that modern women are all too familiar with.

"Calm down"

"There probably just weren't any qualified women for the job."

"Thanks, I'm gay now" by Norman Rockwell.

"Let me explain your lived experience to you."

See the entire thread here. Read the rest

Kevin Kelly, Adam Savage, Norm Chan discuss continuous learning, knowledge sharing, and how tools open up possibilities

I love it when really smart people, especially those well-versed in science, technology, and DIY, sit down and ramble on about whatever's currently tickling their proverbial fancies. In this video, Adam and Norm from Tested.com chat with the always-informative Kevin Kelly. While the conversation is free-ranging, there is a loose theme about learning-on-demand, knowledge sharing, and the power of tools to inspire possibilities.

Here are a few useful take-aways from the discussion:

Being your own signal-to-noise ratio – Kevin and Adam chuckle over instances of searching on a subject online and mainly scooping up what they’ve written about that subject. E.g. Kevin looking up “superorganism” for a talk he was giving and finding out that the Wikipedia definition was taken from him. Adam talks about the joys of lifelong curiosity and the time that Richard Feynman and Danny Hillis were trying to have dinner together but got sidetracked when the two of them became fixated on the physics of breaking dry spaghetti (i.e., how the pieces never break cleanly in two; there's are always multiple fractures). BTW: You can find out more about this here. To learn more about a product your are interested in, search for the highest price of that object on eBay to find out the broad landscape of the object, from the most expensive, feature-rich, highest quality expressions of it, on down. Use the Incognito Mode on Google to experience something you are searching for without your previous interactions influencing the search algorithms. The trio talks about how great it would be if YouTube’s algorithms were better at taking you to new places with suggested videos (rather than the same “murder’s row” of channels that you already know about). Read the rest

Stephen Colbert plays D&D with Matt Mercer for Red Nose Day

There are so many things to love about Stephen Colbert. For me, his unapologetic nerdiness is high on that list. His obviously large and tender heart is, too. These two impulses come together in this Critcal Role video, done as a fundraiser for Red Nose Day, dedicated to the fight against childhood poverty in America.

In the 52-minute one-on-one D&D adventure, Matt Mercer does a masterful job of taking Stephen, as the half-elf bard, Capo, and his bee sidekick, Eric, on a harrowing adventure in search of the Crimson Sphere of Generosity.

Besides the fun D&D adventure and the do-gooder intent of the episode, we also get to see Stephen play D&D for the first time in some 30 years. His joy and sense of wonder are palpable. He even has to stop to tell Matt how much he's freaking out as childhood memories of playing with friends overwhelm him. "I can feel the chest hairs growing as we speak," he jokes. At one point, Stephen laughs at one of Matt's colorful descriptions of a gory encounter with an undead beast. "I haven't heard the word ichor in over 30 years."

We also learn more about the origins of Stephen's gaming past. He was a Metamorphosis Alpha player before D&D and he got in on D&D early. He even says that he went to GenCon the year that the first AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide was released. And he admits that he still has his friend's copy (they got switched at the con) which was signed by Gary Gygax. Read the rest

What's new in tabletop gaming (April 2019 edition)

Battletech: A Game of Armored Combat BattleTech Beginner Box Catalyst Games, $60 (core set), $20 (Beginner's Box)

Catalyst Games was kind enough to send me a bundle o' new BattleTech goodies. They sent the new BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat (the core game), the BattleTech Beginner Box, the BattleMech Manual, and the Map Pack expansion.

The Beginner Box is positioned as a convenient and cheap way of getting people into the game at a third the price of the new core box. In the Beginner Box, you get 2 Mech miniatures and 8 cardboard standee Mechs. The stater rules are somewhat streamlined with no heat management/Heat Phase, no Internal Structure Diagram (ISD), and no torso movement. All of the movement and attack modifiers are retained from the original game. The rules still have those clunky and crunchy old-school mechanics under the hood, but like OGRE and Car Wars, for those of us with fond memories of this game, however cumbersome, that's maybe now part of its old-school charm.

The hardbound Mech Manual is lovely, well-designed, and laid out for easy reference. The Core Box comes with 8 beautifully sculpted Mech miniatures, a 56-page rule book, a 16-page Universe Primer, Pilot stat cards, a pad of Mech record sheets, two terrain maps, dice, and additional standees and terrain markers. The core system does retain the ISD, heat manangement, and torso movement rules. Both boxed sets also include novellas, which is kind of a nice way of immersing oneself, especially newbies, in the BattleTech universe before play. Read the rest

My guide to building a personal makerspace/workshop at home

I have a new piece on Better Humans exploring some of the main considerations when planning, designing, and outfitting your own home shop or personal makerspace. In the piece, I talk about the benefits of a public makerspace/hackerspace, namely high-end and cutting edge tools that many consumers still can't afford (3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, electronics equipment) and the learning and community aspects of joining such a space. But for those who would rather work alone, many of these technologies are now reaching price-points for more widespread adoption. For this reason, I use the term "personal makerspace" to refer to this type of high-tech home workshop. And I talk about setting up home workshops in general. I cover planning and design, basic tools, specialty tools, "maker tech" (3DP, CNC, etc.), storage, workbenches and carts, lighting and power, workshop as sanctuary, and more. Here is a brief excerpt:

Don’t Hate on the Harbor Freight

In the maker community, it is something of a sport to make fun of the cheap tools found at Harbor Freight. While it is true that a lot of Harbor Freight products are on the cheaply-made side, if you’re careful, discriminating, and do your homework, you can get perfectly fine workbenches, storage tech, hand tools, and even some respectable shop machinery and equipment for hundreds less than higher-end brands.

For starters, Harbor Freight workbenches, work carts, and storage systems are perfectly fine, especially for a home makerspace on a budget. I just bought their multipurpose sheet-steel workbench for $99.

Read the rest

The Polygonia Design Suite, a web app for easily creating symmetrical, repeating patterns and designs

David Kaufman wanted to create a design tool that would make it easy to create repeating patterns that could be used in laser-cut (or other CNC or 3D printable) designs. The result is the Polygonia Design Suite. This free web-based app allows you to draw a few lines, and the Polygonia software clones and mirrors those lines to create your design. You can then save your design to your desktop as an image or vector drawing. From there, the design is ready to use or you can continue working on it within your favorite design software.

On the development of the project, David writes:

I have been working on a project to make it easy to create symmetrical patterns for laser cutting. It all started in May 2017 when I visited the Smithsonian Museum, in Washington, DC, where I saw an exhibit by an artisan from Afghanistan who made wood panels or screens of triangles, hexagons, and squares. I wanted to make my own using the laser cutter at my local makerspace, Nova Labs. So I got out a pad of paper, brushed off my high school math skills, and got to work. My goal was to create an online app that generates a symmetrical pattern based on the lines I draw, calculates the intersections of the lines, connects the lines, and generates a vector output file that I could use on a laser cutter.

The program is fun to play around with, doodling designs, whether you plan to render them out in the real world or not. Read the rest

Donald Bell reports on the DIY game goodness from the alt.ctrl showcase at GDC

Our friend Donald Bell put together an excellent little tour of some of the game designs from the alt.ctrl showcase at last week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

And here's a handy link list that Donald provides to the game projects covered:

HELLCOUCH: A Couch Co-op Game (Carol Mertz, Francesca Carletto-Leon) Continuum Bacterium (HNRY) Machinaria (Black Mamba Studio) HOT SWAP: All Hands On Deck (Peter Gyory, Clement Zheng) More details on Mechamagnets More on Alt.Ctrl Game highlights of Alt.Ctrl 2018 Make: Coverage of Alt.Ctrl 2019 Read the rest

Ten year old son of the late, great drummer, Dennis Davis, interviews Tony Visconti about his father's work with Bowie

This is so wonderful. Hikaru Davis is the son of the late session drummer, Dennis Davis, who died in 2016. Among many others, Davis played with Stevie Wonder, George Benson, Roy Ayers, and Iggy Pop. But he is most famously remembered as one of David Bowie's drummers, playing on Bowie's 70s records, from Young Americans to Scary Monsters.

When Davis died, his son, then ten (now 13) decided that he wanted to know more about his father and what made him a great drummer by interviewing friends and fellow musicians who'd worked with his dad. The result is HD Projects, a YouTube channel presenting these interview videos as they're finished.

In the most recent upload, Hikaru interviews producer and longtime Bowie collaborator, Tony Visconti. In the video, Tony breaks down Davis' drumming on Bowie's Lodger track, "Look Back in Anger."

Here is Hikaru's statement about his documentary project and interviewing Tony Visconti:

After my father’s passing, I didn’t want to hear anybody say his name. It was not because I wanted to forget about him. It was my way of mourning. It made me sad, angry, and depressed to hear his name from someone. I wanted to keep him only inside of me. Maybe I was too selfish. But I was only 10 years old.

After a while, I started looking at social media to see what people were saying about my father. And I saw an article in Rolling Stone Magazine about Dad’s death. That’s when I saw Mr.

Read the rest

Review: What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book

Two years ago, I reviewed Andy Partridge and Todd Bernhardt's highly-recommended Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC, a collection of deep-nerding conversations between these two musicians about beloved XTC tracks. While that book was a wonder, it understandably focused on Andy and his contributions to the band. While deepening my admiration and appreciation for the band, it left me hungry for more.

Enter What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book. I didn't think I could love an XTC book more than Complicated Game, but this book just keeps inspiring and surprising me every time I poke my nose into it. This is a delightful and dizzying collection of XTC exploration, analysis, and devotion that should stoke the soul coal of any hardcore fan of the band.

Put together by Mark Fisher, editor of Limelight, the 80s XTC zine, this book is a collected conversation between dozens of musicians deconstructing XTC songs, interviews with ALL of the band members (including their Spinal Tap-worthy causality list of drummers), kids and young music students reacting to XTC music, home studio recording tips from Andy Partridge, Andy on music theory (or lack thereof) and songwriting. Contributors include Rick Buckler (The Jam), Chris Difford (Squeeze), Debbi Peterson (The Bangles), Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies), Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa), Peter Gabriel, and many more.

Also included are a piece on drummers breaking down some of Terry Chambers more brilliant moments, members of XTC tribute bands around the world talking about their music, a cultural studies professor on the genius of Colin Moulding's lyrics, a piece about a German YouTuber who's covering his way through the XTC catalog, and the (apparently) obligatory photo tour of Swindon, England (the band's beloved home town). Read the rest

Barb Noren makes soldering iron unicorns

Barb Noren, of the highly-recommended YouTube maker channel, Barb Makes Things, has a fun and easy new project video. In it, she turns a Rainbow Dash My Little Pony toy into Rainbow Flux, the soldering unicorn. Read the rest

Stephen Wolfram explains his "personal infrastructure"

Rudy Rucker shared a link to this wonderful and idea-rich piece from Stephen Wolfram's blog. In the article, entitled "Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure," mathenaut and "undisputed king of the computerites" (Rucker) shares some really useful tips and ideas on personal workspace hacks and his ideas on productivity and workflow.

...I found out that by putting a gel strip at the correct pivot point under my wrists (and putting the mouse on a platform) I can comfortably type while I’m walking. I typically use a 5% incline and go at 2 mph—and I’m at least fit enough that I don’t think anyone can tell I’m walking while I’m talking in a meeting. (And, yes, I try to get potentially frustrating meetings scheduled during my walking time, so if I do in fact get frustrated I can just “walk it off” by making the treadmill go a little faster.)

I’d actually been thinking about walking and working for a long time. Twenty years ago I imagined doing it with an augmented reality display and a one-handed (chorded) keyboard. But the technology didn’t arrive, and I wasn’t even sure the ergonomics would work out (would it make me motion sick, for example?).

...Last spring, I was at a fancy tech event, and I happened to be just out of the frame of a photo op that involved Jeff Bezos walking with a robotic dog. I wasn’t personally so excited about the robotic dog. But what really interested me was the person walking out of the frame on the other side, intently controlling the dog—using a laptop that he had strapped on in front of him as if he were selling popcorn.

Read the rest

What's new in tabletop gaming (February 2019 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.

Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk Fantasy Flight Games, $60, Players, Ages: 12+ I have been looking forward to this book ever since it was announced by FFG following their retirement of the Netrunner card game, also set in the Android universe. Shadow of the Beanstalk is a 256-page sourcebook for use with the Genesys Roleplaying System. Two years ago, I got to talk to the creators of Genesys at NovaCon before they got scooped up by FFG. Genesys is a GURPS-like universal RPG system that allows you to roleplay any time period, setting, theme. Also like GURPS, it is designed to greatly encourage narrative play and DIY themes and settings. Shadow of the Beanstalk is a campaign setting for the Android universe centered on New Angeles, the city that is home to the beanstalk, the space elevator that has afforded humanity cheap and easy access to space (and has subsequently attracted every megacorp, criminal enterprise, and hacker/"runner" faction). When The Worlds of Android background book came out, many said it was so close to an RPG setting, they ached for the game mechanics to actually play it. These mechanics have arrived with Genesys and Shadow of the Beanstalk.

Cosmic Encounter Fantasy Flight Games, $60, 3-5 Players, Ages: 14+ The classic alien negotiation and conquest game, which many consider one of the greatest board games ever made, is back with a slightly tweaked "42nd anniversary" edition. Read the rest

Checking out Bexim's Bazaar, a wonderful new zine for tabletop game crafters

As we have written about before, the game crafting (or dungeon crafting) scene has exploded over the past few years. There are dozens of websites and YouTube channels devoted to every aspect of making and crafting for the tabletop and RPG gaming hobbies, from building custom gaming tables, to crafting terrain and miniature dungeons, to making DM screens, dice towers, modeling, converting, and painting miniatures, and much more.

One of my maker pals, James Floyd Kelly (a tech book author and long-time Make: contributor), jumped onto the game crafting bandwagon last year when he launched his Game Terrain Engineering YouTube channel. Jim's channel grew very quickly and he has now become one of the rising stars in that community. And with good reason. Jim is ambitious and clever. And relentless. By the end of the year, he had decided to go into producing game crafting media as a full-time job. He relaunched his YT channel as The Tabletop Engineer and announced that he was launching a new monthly magazine devoted to the gaming hobby, especially focusing on game crafting.

Called Bexim's Bazaar, the magazine will be monthly. It will mainly exist as a PDF publication, but on-demand print copies will also be available. The PDF version is yours after you become a Patreon sponsor of The Tabletop Engineer for US$2/month. Print copies of the issues (around 90 pages) are available on Blurb for $18.

In this recent video from Jeremy of Black Magic Craft, he discusses the import of this new hobby zine and does a page-by-page flick-through of a print copy of Issue #1. Read the rest

LEGO Bowie contemplates post-Ziggy Stardust character ideas: Cobbler Bob? A Mad Deus? Viscount Jizzmark?

Yesterday, we paid tribute to the 42nd anniversary of David Bowie's iconic album Low by featuring The Brothers McLeod animation of comedian Adam Buxton's hysterical radio tribute to Bowie from 2013. We follow it up with another animation done from Buxton's radio show, this time with Chris Salt of Oblong Pictures using LEGO stop-motion to lovingly lampoon our favorite alien rock god.

In the video, David pitches his wife, Angie Bowie, on new character ideas after deciding to "kill off Ziggy." After running through a series of candidates: Cobbler Bob ("I could have giant shoes, with massive platforms big enough for the band to fit inside of"), A Mad Deus ("A composer of classical music who comes to believe that he's God"), The Groovy Gardener, Viscount Jizzmark, finally, he shows Angie Aladdin Sane. "Who is Aladdin Sane?," she coos. "Well, he's like Ziggy, but with a different name, and some sort of strange fluid leaking out of his collarbone," David replies.

This cute little bit does make you wonder what other characters David may have contemplated but ultimately rejected. Read the rest

David Bowie's 11th studio album, "Low," is 42 today

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the release of David Bowie's mid-70s masterpiece, Low, the first album of his so-called Berlin Trilogy (later joined by "Heroes" and Lodger). Working with the increasingly experimental Brian Eno, this album was a dramatic departure for Bowie and much has been made over the music, the strange (and strangely inspiring) milieu of the West Berlin recording studio up against the Berlin wall, Bowie's continuing battles with the coke monster, the highly experimental nature of the sessions, and the studio use of Eno's Oblique Strategies cards.

To celebrate this happy day, and some of the strangeness around this record, here is a hilarious animated piece done in 2014 by The Brothers McLeod. The McLeod piece is actually an animation for a radio bit done by UK comedian Adam Buxton. It is a loving lampoon of Bowie, Eno, and long-time Bowie collaborator and co-producer, Tony Visconti, in the studio recording "Warszawa," one of the more haunting and inscrutable tracks on the album. You can hear Buxton's original here (though most of it ended up in the McLeod Bros animation).

This video mini-doc, done several years ago by the Polish culture portal, Cultural.pl, retraces the train trip that Bowie took through Poland, with a stop-over in Warsaw, that inspired the song. On their website, you can read more about the trip, the song, and the Polish folk tune (Helokanie) that inspired some of the vocalization on the track.

Below is Bowie performing Warszawa in Tokyo, Japan on Dec 12, 1978. Read the rest

Deborah Ann Woll and Joe Manganiello talk about acting, roleplaying, and D&D's unique form of storytelling

I really enjoyed these two interviews on the D&D Beyond channel with actors Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood, Daredevil) and Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Justice League, Magic Mike), both D&D fanatics. In Deborah's interview, she talks about how she got started in the hobby, what kind of characters she likes to play (fighters, surprisingly enough), and her thoughts on the current D&D renaissance.

One interesting observation she makes about RPGs as a unique form of acting/theater: When a party saves a character or survives an ordeal, or otherwise experiences a dramatic moment, there's often an intense, visceral response from the players that she says she doesn't experience in any other type of acting. As an actor, she longs to evoke this kind of response in people, so that's one of the things that draws her to D&D.

In the Joe Manganiello video, we get a tour of his E. Gary Gygax Memorial Dungeon (think: MTV Cribs for nerds) and hear about how he got back into the hobby after a long hiatus and how he went about converting his basement wine cellar into this enviable game space. The large dragon, beholder, and mind flayer sculptures are very cool. Joe also talks about the impact that D&D had on him as a kid and how he learned foundational skills in storytelling, world-building, and acting that he later employed as a professional actor. D&D was his gateway drug.

In mid-December of 2018, Geek & Sundry announced a new D&D-themed show, coming in February, starring Deborah Woll. Read the rest

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