How did you first find Instructables and what convinced you to post your first project?
That's a long story, loaded with connections. In 2007, my literary agent was telling another author about me. That author suggested, "Mike sounds like he would be interested in Make magazine." (Two connections) I went online, liked what I saw and decided to enter the 2007 Austin Maker Faire. My wife's college sorority sister and her husband (an engineer) lived in Austin. (Three more connections). The couple provided housing, worked at the "Faire" and taught us how to ride Segways in Austin. As part of the launch of my book, "Amazing Rubber Band Cars," we gave rides to hundreds of people on a life sized cardboard car.
After Austin, a lady from Make magazine wanted to connect with an engineer from the Austin business where my wife's friend's husband worked. (One more connection). She remembered that he assisted at the "Rubber Band Car" booth-so she contacted me. I made the connection and asked her if she knew anyone who could write a "blurb" for my upcoming book, "Haywired." She connected me with Eric Wilhelm of Instructables. (One more connection). Eric wrote a nice blurb and asked if I would post a project from the book. I posted "Flashlight Without Batteries," which is still my most popular Instructable.
Of all the projects that you have posted, which is your favorite?
I like the "Rigsby Machine," because it represents a lot of technology working hard to accomplish nothing. I think the Candy Tossin Coffin" represents my best acting and theatrical presentation. "Smiling Santa" is still a personal favorite-smile at Santa and he smiles back.
If you could give one piece of advice to all of the other authors on Instructables, what would it be?
Photograph everything. When you pick up a tool or a bit of wood, grab the camera and shoot. The photos will remind you of what was done and in what sequence.
Is there anyone who has been particularly influential towards your work?
Definitely my wife. Whether it is the arrival on our doorstep of 2000 pink plastic Easter eggs, a robot dog or a MakerBot 3D printer; she is always accepting and supportive.
You mention in your profile that you make apps - how is that going? How did you get started making them?
My literary agent brought "apps" to my attention, but I wasn't sure what could be done with them. Then, an engineering friend was laid off and she needed something to help fill her hours while searching for another job. Using a book, we "self taught" ourselves enough to produce an app. With the artistic help of my wife, Annelle (she and another lady coauthored "Kidnapped in Key West," "Escape to the Everglades," and "Race to Kitty Hawk"), we put together the "How to Make a Science Fair" app. We also produced free "sample chapter apps" for three of my books. My friend (she did all the tedious code production) still didn't have a job, so she asked Annelle if there was anything else we could do. Annelle brought out an old picture book manuscript featuring two frogs and we turned it into "Phil and Freddy's Picnic." We had so much fun creating this (drawing, singing, coding, making noises), that we wrote three more apps in the series. They are gradually catching on and we can't wait to see what the future brings.
I've also noticed that you write books and would love to hear more about them! What made you want to write books? How long is the process of writing a book and getting it published?
I am an electrical engineer by training (graduate of Vanderbilt University), yet I have always enjoyed writing. I was editor of my high school paper and wrote for an "alternative" newspaper at Vanderbilt. Although I had won writing and poetry contests, my first "break" came when I tore apart the Texas Instruments "Speak and Spell" toy and described how I thought it worked for Byte magazine. When the article came out in Byte, a publisher contacted me and asked if I would like to write a book, so "Verbal Control With Microcomputers" was born. Off and on I wrote for several magazines. One of my favorite articles was "Raccoon Buster" for Robotics Age. This was a "hacked" Big Trak toy (and a Polaroid sonar camera) used to guard my trash cans by detecting movement then charging forward with flashing lights and sounds.
The Raccoon Buster!
I've written a couple of "How To" articles for Popular Science magazine and my most recent work was technical editing of "The Big Book of Hacks" for Popular Science (Oct. 2012).
The process for writing a book is long and involved. For nonfiction, you write a proposal (three sample chapters and an outline). Either you sell the book yourself to a publisher (that's still possible at some smaller publishers) or you acquire a literary agent to submit to large publishers. Large publishers only accept material through agents (they don't have time to sort through the submissions). Agents (because their earnings are based on a percentage of the earnings of their authors) only accept writers that they can successfully represent. I've seen figures indicating that many, many authors are turned down for every one who is represented. Paper book publishing is changing and it's probably getting more difficult.
Once I have a contract signed with a publisher, generally there is 12 months to complete the manuscript and then it will be 12 to 18 more months before the book appears in print.
One word of caution-"real" publishers and "real" agents send checks to you-never do you send money to them; your writing is the product and they assume all financial risks (their share of successful books keeps them solvent).
You seem to be a true jack-of-all-trades - ÂÂany other fancy extracurricular activities we should know about? What are you working on now?
I've signed up with Dale Dougherty at Make and Saul Griffith at Otherlab on the Makerspace project-so I'll spend some volunteer time if a Makerspace project opens up in my area.
I like to bake and frequently do so for the social table at our church (thus my peanut butter fudge and chocolate chip cookies have each been made 200 to 300 times during the last couple of years). I'm planning an update to my chocolate chip cookie recipe soon-I keep "tweaking" it.
At this instant, I'm 3d printing a sturdy end table (expect to see an Instructable within two weeks). Although I've "milked" the ultracapacitor flashlight concept as an Instructable two or three times; it's coming again as a 3d printed, voltage regulated, quick charge light with a real reflector and real lamp. I toyed with making this a "Kickstarter" project, but my real interest lies in creating things-not chasing them down a possible commercial trail. I'm working on an AA battery powered 60 watt equivalent lamp (using a 10 watt, 120 volt led bulb) that will run for a couple of hours and can be recharged with a solar panel.
The ultracapacitor flashlight
The next few months will be devoted to creating six to eight projects that link together (Rube Goldberg style) to create a large continuously running "accomplish nothing much" device. If all goes well, this will be displayed at the San Mateo Maker Faire in 2013.
I'll also be writing a book (paper book or iBook-who knows?) about "Mike the Maker." This will be a cartoon/text style book designed to encourage kids to leave virtual/entertainment worlds to create real things.