New how-to book from Make: ‘Props and Costume Armor’-#bookreview

It’s not easy to create realistic-looking costumes, weapons and accessories for fantasy and science-fiction characters. Nonetheless, many people do it, some as part of movie and play productions and others for everything from comic and anime conventions to costume parties, live-action role-playing events and holidays such as Halloween.

Props and Costume Armor , written by Shawn Thorsson, focuses on how to “Create Realistic Science Fiction and Fantasy Weapons, Armor, and Accessories.” And the author clearly knows his subjects. He operates a “custom production shop specializing in costume, prop, and set fabrication services,” based in Petaluma, Calif.

His new book brings together an impressive array of how-to steps, photographs, cautions and encouragements for readers who want to learn the art and craft of creating costume armor, fake but impressive-looking weapons, and assorted accessories for fantasy and sci-fi characters. He also provides information on tools, materials, techniques and safety tips.

It is not enough, of course, to create shiny new armor, swords, axes or laser rifles. To really get into character and play a role, you want your creations to appear somewhat weathered and battle-scarred, as well. After all, you don’t want to look as if you are fresh out of a Barnard’s Star boot camp.

“Verisimilitude [the quality of seeming real] is where a prop maker really proves their worth,” Thorsson writes. And: “In order to add the element of verisimilitude, you must embrace the general state of filth that is reality.”

In other words: Use the filth, Luke! Or: May the filth be with you.

Thorsson gives excellent, well-illustrated tips for how to add scorch marks. scratches, wear marks, rust and other combat blemishes to your creations.

Very importantly, he includes a chapter on how to make costumes stay strapped on and wearable (without falling apart), as well as accessible (when inconvenient calls of nature strike). And his final chapter, “Showing Off,” has excellent suggestions for how to behave when going out in public in full costume. You may be dressed as a superhero, but you should have at least one civilian friend along who can stop little kids from attacking you or help you get up and down stairs, or assist with crowd control.

People likely will want to take pictures and pose with you. So  you will need to rehearse “at least one or two iconic poses that show up in the comic, game, or show” associated with your character, Thorsson advises.

Props and Costume Armor is an excellent guide that can help you set up your own workshop and create fanciful, realistic-looking sci-fi and fantasy gear, using a variety of techniques, tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Props and Costume Armor

Create Realistic Science Fiction and Fantasy Weapons, Armor, and Accessories

Shawn Thorsson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

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New book ‘Tools’ shows how to cut, shape and assemble wood or plastic projects – #bookreview

Maker Media’s new book Tools is subtitled “How They Work and How to Use Them.” But the Tools title seems a little too broad for what is covered. Most of the tools described in the book’s pages are associated mainly with working with wood or ABS plastic, not with metal or other materials.

That is a minor criticism, however. The book is well written and nicely illustrated with photographs and other graphics that show how to use particular tools and how to avoid creating splits, ragged edges or bad cuts across wood grain.

Even readers who have some experience with do-it-yourself projects can learn some helpful techniques and information from this book. And younger readers who have grown up playing video games and tinkering with cell phone apps rather than making things may be able to learn many useful tool-handling skills from these pages.

Tools presents more than 20 “hands-on projects that don’t require a big investment in time and materials.” The projects range from puzzles and bookcases to picture frames and a Swanee whistle (a slide whistle from 19th century England), as well as an adjustable paper towel dispenser.

Meanwhile, the promise that you won’t need a workshop may be true, because “everything can be done on a kitchen table.” Yet, you might prefer to not risk a good kitchen table while learning tools and building things. One slip of a screwdriver, file or glue pot could permanently damage the table. As the book suggests, however, you can cover part of the kitchen table with a large piece of plywood or Masonite and use that as the work surface.

You start off slow, making a Soma cube puzzle with just a handsaw, a square dowel and some carpenter’s glue. In each chapter, new tools and new challenges are introduced, and the importance of having some mathematical skills quickly becomes apparent as measurements are taken, angles are marked, and various shapes are marked and cut from rectangular pieces of wood or plastic.

Beyond its nonspecific title, Tools nicely meets its goal of helping readers have fun while learning the fundamentals of using numerous workshop tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Tools

How They Work and How to Use Them

Charles Platt

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

 

 

 

‘Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments’: Good projects for the new or experienced amateur scientist

You don’t need science degrees and big grants to perform useful, meaningful research, says one of America’s foremost amateur scientists, Forrest W. Mims III.

In his well-written new book, Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments: DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:, Mims notes that amateur scientists are continuing to do “what they’ve done for centuries. They’ve discovered significant dinosaur fossils, found new species of plants, and identified many new comets and asteroids. Their discoveries have been published in scientific journals and books. Likewise, thousands of websites detail an enormous variety of amateur science tips, projects, activities, and discoveries.”

He adds: “Today’s amateur scientists have access to sophisticated components, instruments, computers, and software that could not even be imagined back in 1962 when I built my first computer, a primitive analog device….”

His new book shows how to use simple, homemade or purchased devices to study and gather data on a wide array of subjects: heat islands, sunlight, twilight, ultraviolet light, infrared light, airborne particles, vibrations from earth tremors, and more. He even shows how to convert tree ring patterns into musical notes.

Generally, the do-it-yourself hardware and projects he describes are inexpensive and do not require fancy tools. Some are as simple as making a basic pinhole camera and using a small piece of blueprint paper to capture an image, and others require a few inexpensive electronic components or devices. For example, in one chapter, he writes: “For  as little as $20, you can begin tracking the atmosphere’s most important greenhouse gas, water vapor. And you can do so at any time, day or night, so long as the sky directly above you is cloud-free.”

Sometimes, you need a personal computer, too, plus some software and a digital camera. Depending on which experiments you choose to pursue, you may need other items, as well, such as a hobby knife, glue gun, clamps, sandpaper and more.

Mims’ book also contains interesting stories from his own career in electronics, inventing and doing amateur science. And he includes a brief but entertaining look at Thomas Jefferson’s life and accomplishments as an “amateur scientist…who made improvements in the design of clocks, instruments, and the polygraph copying machines that duplicated his letters as he wrote them.”

Si Dunn

Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments

DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:

Forrest M. Mims III

Maker Media, Inc., paperback  (Kindle ebook also available)

 

 

 

 

‘The Heavens May Fall’ – A Minneapolis mystery-thriller – #bookreview

The Heavens May Fall

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books, paperback, Kindle

In his third novel, The Heavens May Fall, Allen Eskens has created an engrossing tale built around two Minneapolis police investigations and a high-profile murder trial.

In this book, fans of Eskens’s writing will be pleased to see that he has brought along three characters from his previous works: Minneapolis police detective Max Rupert, retired law professor Boady Sanden, and Ben Pruitt, a highly successful criminal defense attorney who is now on trial, charged with murdering his wife.

All three have had dealings in the past–some better than others. This adds more twists and turns to Eskens’s well-written new mystery-thriller. Meanwhile, Eskens’s own courtroom experience brings depth and believability to his fiction. (He is a veteran criminal defense attorney.)

Still, there is one moment in an intense trial scene when I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, how could a crack defense attorney being tried for murder not recall hearing a key bit of testimony in his own trial?”

That awkward moment aside, this novel flows well. The two police investigations begin to intertwine while the courtroom drama plays out. And, the ending unfolds with some startling surprises.

Allen Eskens’s previous books are The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another.

Si Dunn

Learn how to use sensors: ‘Family Projects for Smart Objects’ – #bookreview

Family Projects for Smart Objects

Tabletop Projects That Respond to Your World

John Keefe

Maker Media – paperback, Kindle

Written for parents, teachers and students (including homeschoolers), this nicely presented how-to book shows beginners how to connect a variety of sensors such as thermometers, distance sensors, and light-sensing photo cells to a computer through an Arduino microcontroller and a USB cable.

The Arduino website defines its device as:

“…an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs – light on a sensor, a finger on a button, or a Twitter message – and turn it into an output – activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online. You can tell your board what to do by sending a set of instructions to the microcontroller on the board.”

The book’s “smart objects” projects require a few additional electronic parts found online, plus some free programming software to use with the Arduino. (Arduino programs are called “sketches.”)

Family Projects for Smart Objects contains many how-to steps, photographs and illustrations to help make the projects easy to put together and get running. The Arduino sketches can be downloaded or even hand-typed from code listings in an appendix. Near the front of the book, instructions are provided for loading the Arduino software onto Windows, Linux and Mac computers.

Younger children likely will need close assistance with the projects in this  book. But technically adept older children, working alone or in groups, likely will need only minimal supervision.

Si Dunn

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Get Better with Golang: ‘Go in Practice’

Go in Practice

Matt Butcher and Matt Farina

Manning, paperback

Considerable planning, effort and care have gone into writing Go in Practice, a new Golang programming book from Manning and also available from Amazon.

The book’s structure and approach are both geared toward helping Go newbies move beyond the basics. The writing is clear, and the code examples are focused and not overly long.

Go in Practice opens with a concise refresher on the history, advantages and key features of Go. From there, the 11-chapter book moves into areas that include:

  • Well-rounded applications
  • An interface for your applications
  • Taking your applications to the cloud

In each of these major sections, the authors present some 70 useful and practical techniques, such as:

  • Avoiding CLI boilerplate code
  • Using multiple channels
  • Serving subdirectories
  • Incrementally saving a file
  • Custom HTTP error passing
  • Using protocol buffers

These and the other practical techniques are presented in Problem, Solution and Discussion format. And code examples illustrate (and allow you to try out) what is supposed to happen.

If you are still learning the Golang basics, make this one your next book. Stick with Go in Action or some other starter book, for now. But if you know the basics and are now eager to get more serious about learning and applying this versatile programming language, definitely check out Go in Practice.

If you already are using Go as a development language, it can’t hurt you to take a look at this how-to guide, as well. You may pick up some new and useful techniques.

The two authors, by the way, have been described as”key contributors in the Go ecosystem for years.”

— Si Dunn

 

 

‘Introducing Data Science’ – A good doorway into the world of processing, analyzing & displaying Big Data – #bookreview

Introducing Data Science

Davy Cielen, Arno D. B. Meysman, and Mohamed Ali

Manning – paperback

The three authors of this book note that “[d]ata science is a very wide field, so wide indeed that a book ten times the size of this one wouldn’t be able to cover it all. For each chapter, we picked a different aspect we find interesting. Some hard decisions had to be made to keep this book from collapsing your bookshelf!”

In their decisions and selections, they have made some good choices. Introducing Data Science is well written and generally well-organized (unless you are overly impatient to get to hands-on tasks).

The book appears to be aimed primarily at individual computer users and persons contemplating possible careers in data science–not those already working in, or heading, big data centers. The book also could be good for managers and others trying to wrap their heads around some data science techniques that could help them cope with swelling mountains of business data.

With this book in hand, you may be impatient to open it to the first chapter and dive headfirst into slicing, dicing, and graphing data. Try to curb your enthusiasm for a little while. Books from Manning generally avoid the “jump in now, swim later” approach. Instead, you get some overviews, explanations and theory first. Then you start getting to the heart of the matter. Some like this approach, while others get impatient with it.

In Introducing Data Science, your “First steps in big data” start happening in chapter five, after you’ve first delved into the data science process: 1. Setting the research goal; 2. Retrieving data; 3. Data preparation, 4. Data exploration; 5. Data modeling; and 6. Presentation and automation.

The “First steps” chapter also is preceded by chapters on machine learning and how to handle large data files on a single computer.

Once you get to Chapter 5, however, your “First steps” start moving pretty quickly. You are shown how to work (at the sandbox level) with two big data applications, Hadoop and Spark. And you get examples of how even Python can be used to write big data jobs.

From there, you march on to (1) the use of NoSQL databases and graph databases, (2) text mining and text analytics, and (3) data visualization and creating a small data science application.

It should be noted and emphasized, however, that the concluding pages of chapter 1 do present “An introductory working example of Hadoop.” The authors explain how to run “a small [Hadoop] application in a big data context,” using a Hortonworks Sandbox image inside a VirtualBox.

It’s not grand, but it is a start in a book that otherwise would take four chapters to get to the first hands-on part.

Near the beginning of their book, the authors also include a worthy quote from Morpheus in “The Matrix”: “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

This book can be a good entry door to the huge and rapidly changing field of data science,  if you are willing to go through it and do the work it presents.

Si Dunn