Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Long Road to the Cover of Make Magazine

Lots of the folks that write for Make Magazine are bona fide experts in their field and present very refined designs that have evolved from many prototypes. Unfortunately for Make readers, I am not one of those individuals. I am (or have been) an amateur mechanic, power transformer salesman, computer tech support expert, re-engineering consultant, corporate executive, welder, maker, small business owner, database programmer, real estate investor, stove restorer, graphic designer, photographer, author, web designer, tech advisory panel member, woodworker, public speaker, handyman and furniture restorer. I am professional at only two things: garage saling and being an amateur.

As an amateur in all things, I have found great commonalities to approaching subjects as a newbie. I think the greatest skill that could be taught in schools is how to be a professional amateur as that is the single skill set that unlocks everything. Nobody likes to assist a know-it-all, but there are lots of stone killer experts that get a kick out of sharing knowledge with thoughtful individuals that are deeply curious, respectful, have a firm handshake, don't interrupt and will meet your eye.

Glass door hinges seemed like such a clever way to allow the Fresnals to swing for keystone correction. Didn't work - the hinges extended too far in the image area.

As opposed to your vocation, an avocation tends to be a more quiet affair and your failures are mercifully private events. Building for the magazine is more complicated as you need to be able to undo your mistakes and present a cohesive, linear project. If I included all my missteps, the article would be 5 times as long and would make no sense as readers would follow me down so many dead ends that even I would forget where we were going.

  • Mister Jalopy's Axiom of Amateurism #1, Retrofixism: Provide a path back. Always build undo buttons. Recoverable mistakes are non-events.
  • Retrofixism Corollary #1a : Take 10x photos as you may need those "pre-mistake images" later.

One of 12 Chicken Scratchings Submitted to Make Art Department.
Poor Bastards. Hi Daniel!

The projector article turned out great largely due to the efforts of rockstar technical illustrator Tom Parker. Being that Tom is a maker himself, he was able to work from chicken scratchings to come up with my favorite Make illustration ever. The projector was a barely do-able project for the scope/space of a magazine and it is still not a step-by-step build guide as every projector is different. But, with the detail of the illustration, you can really get your head around how the projector works and how the build comes together. There is no replacement for the lumenlabs site.

Mark's Little Lioness Photo: Mark Frauenfelder

On a complicated project with Maker Faire deadline, I will build it so it works but it may not be refined, explainable, repeatable or article ready. When I got back from Maker Faire, I took it apart and rebuilt to deal with overheating, phantom shadow and light leak issue. That refined version is what appears in the magazine.

One of my two raffle prizes

The cover photo shoot was at Mark and Carla's house which included gracious hospitality, burritos, cold beers and an entertainment revue called Ye Olde Entertainment. The kid's death defying trampoline acrobatics was followed by a raffle in which I won a shiny rock and the button pictured above.