Gifts for Someone Serious About Becoming a Magician

magic table

Several folks on Reddit and elsewhere have been asking about gift ideas for a teenager or adult who is serious about learning magic tricks. I’ve given some of this advice before, but thought it was time to do a serious write-up.

Magic is expensive if you’re buying one-off tricks. What I would suggest is getting the tried-and-true material that always gets recommended. It’s going to give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you think the person you’re shopping for would just want an easy trick, there’s plenty of that out there. With these books and props, they could learn hundreds of great tricks.

If I were to do this for someone on a budget, I would go with these three books:

If you want to spend a little more, there are DVD sets for both Modern Coin Magic and The Royal Road for Card Magic. They’re only $15 each. You can get them along with the books or on their own, and they’re made for beginners.

Coins and cards are the bread and butter of learning sleight of hand. If you know the person is interested in just cards or just coins, you could get them just the book or DVDs on that subject alone.

As for props, you want five fifty-cent pieces (assuming you’re in the US). You can get a roll of them at the bank for $20, take out five that match and deposit the rest back in. With five coins, you can do almost anything in the Bobo coin book or DVD.

Get a couple of decks of Bicycle playing cards from the store. If you want to get really fancy, Monarch playing cards are on Amazon for $8. They’re gorgeous, but totally unnecessary. If you’re practicing card tricks, you’ll wear out a few decks of cards anyway.

If the person you’re buying for decides magic is something they want to keep doing, they can always get fancy coins, special cards, and more expensive tricks later.

Amazon links:

If you want the bare minimum, just get a couple of decks of cards, the five fifty-cent coins, and Magic: The Complete Course. It has card tricks and coin tricks, so it would have plenty to get started.

One request: if you buy someone a book on magic, resist the urge to flip through it. There’s a good chance they’ll want to show you some tricks, and knowing how it’s done can ruin the fun for everybody. Plus, the Magic Police will round us all up. And I can’t go back to Magic Prison. I won’t go back.

I hope this is helpful. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments. I’m happy to help.

One Easy Trick to Improve Your Print-On-Demand Book: How to Get Better-Looking Text

Print-on-demand gives self-publishers enormous freedom to create and distribute books. But the process can be tricky, and the physical book can come out looking different than it did on your monitor.

This forum post shows some of the ways your letters can turn out. It’s easy for text to become blurry or pixelated. My problem was the Garamond font came out looking emaciated.

Here is the process that helped me to get the interior of my book looking great. All credit goes to Daniel Flavin, who posted his method in the Adobe forums. I’ve taken his process and created this step-by-step illustrated guide.
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Fix PS3 Backup Error “Connect storage media at the save destination”

now for something completely different

And now for something completely different.

EDIT 2: I finally gave up on the a full backup/restore. It kept freezing near the end of the restore process (the infamous Error 800283F0). Most of my files transferred, but not my save data, game data, or main profile. Fortunately I backed up my saves. If you attempt this, the fix below did help with the formatting problem, but you may be better off deleting EVERYTHING, in which case you may be better off just putting your saves on a thumb drive or Playstation Plus and signing into your account on the new device. But if you do want to try this mess of a process, read on…

I apologize to my regular readers, as this is something completely unrelated to my usual blog. But I’ve been bashing my head against the wall trying to solve this problem for hours, and I’m hoping to save other folks the trouble. Tune in early next week for a post about running a successful book launch event. But on to this mad business!

If you are attempting to use the Playstation 3 backup utility to replace or upgrade your hard drive, you may have run into “Connect storage media at the save destination” when you attempt to start the process from system settings.

You probably already know you have to format the 2.5″ hard drive to FAT32, and that Windows cannot do this without another program. You may also know that you might need a dock or enclosure that runs off of an AC adapter rather than just USB (although this might not be a problem at all).

If you’re like me, after taking all the proper steps, you plugged the dock or enclosure into the PS3 and the system did not recognize the drive. After trying a 100 different solutions, you–once again, if you’re like me–started pulling your hair out.

Everywhere I looked recommended the free gui version of the Ridgecrop Fat32 format program. However, this turned out to be the point of failure for me. The drive was supposedly formatted, but the drive remained unallocated. It wasn’t until I ran the equally free Fat32Formatter that the sectors were properly allocated and now my system is starting the 300-hour process of backing itself up.

It’s pretty sad that Sony doesn’t provide reliable tools built specifically for their system and its many quirks. I know the PS3 is on the way out, but I’m guessing we’re not the only family that streams our video entertainment through the console instead of a cable box.

If Google, in its infinite wisdom, brought you here, feel free to check out my book. It’s a great way to unwind after nearly destroying your entertainment console.

EDIT: Remember, you’ll need one more HDD than you think, because your replacement drive has to be formatted when it goes into the machine. You can’t just backup and then plug in the drive with your backup files.

TL;DR: Try using Fat32Formatter on your drive instead.

Ellipses . . . The Silent Killer

We all have our pet peeves. I know a woman that can’t stand the sound of someone rubbing a balloon. My dad has this thing about poor technique in the application of Elmer’s Glue. I’ve heard some great rants about inconsistent numbering in movie sequels.

I hate ellipses in dialogue.

My hatred for this punctuation borders on the irrational. If the third person narrator starts in with the ellipses, so help me, I will pull the eject lever.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to throw out the ellipsis altogether. It serves an important purpose in quoting sources, and the ellipses has a different effect when used in the word balloons of a comic book. My rant is directed only at the use of ellipses in a narrative.

Yes, there are even times an ellipsis is the perfect choice for character dialogue. But if you’re cramming the things into formal writing outside of a source quote, please, get help before it’s too late.

Here are three of my reasons you should leave out those hideous dot dot dots.

1. Ellipses make dialogue drag

Compare these two versions of a snippet of contrived speech:

“Abigail,” Ben said, “I love you. I’ve always loved you. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. My heart—my heart has burned for you since the moment we met.”

“Abigail . . . ,” Ben said, “I love you . . . . I’ve always loved you. I . . . can’t sleep. I can’t . . . eat. My heart . . . my heart has burned for you . . . since the moment we met . . . .”

This is an exaggeration, but it demonstrates how ellipses suck the momentum out of dialogue. It also, to my surprise, made it sound like I cast Christopher Walken for the part of Ben.

If I don’t hear it in my mind as Christopher Walken or William Shatner, my mind translates it as drawing out the letters. “‘Abigailllllll,’ Ben said. ‘I love youuuuuuu.'”

Ellipses rob dialogue of momentum and urgency. They kill flow faster than mom’s spaghetti.

2. The Ellipsis is the wrong tool for the job.

Don’t get me wrong—I love dialogue that feels real. For better or worse, my favorite dialogue comes from folks like Joss Whedon and Brian Michael Bendis. I want my repartee witty, and I love false starts, stutters, and interruptions. In a perfect world, my dialogue would sound like the conversation you had with a friend that was so brilliant and funny, you curse yourself for not recording it.

But it’s incorrect to use ellipses for false starts, stutters, and being cut off. The proper punctuation in these instances is an em dash. Compare:

“Wait!” Abigail sceamed. “Ben, don’t . . .”

“Wait!” Abigail screamed. “Ben, don’t—”

In the second example, it looks like something interrupted Abigail. In the first, it sounds like Abigail had an attack of narcolepsy.

Ellipses don’t make conversations sound organic; they make your characters sound sleepy or bored. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to talk to someone who constantly trails off?

Use em dashes sparingly, or they will lose their effect, like exclamation points in old comic books. Unless you’re the Riddler, most sentences should end in a period.

If your character is inebriated, drugged, cripplingly shy, totally indecisive, or falling asleep, maybe an ellipsis is the right choice. Otherwise, think twice.

3. Ellipses are easy to screw up

I rarely see ellipses used correctly, and I have to look up the rules every time I use them. Which of the following is correct?

“I just don’t know . . . .”

“I just don’t know…”

I just don’t know? . . .”

Here’s a quick rundown on proper ellipsis usage. and Grammar Girl has a lengthy post on the same subject. But you’ll see disagreements everywhere about best practices. Just be consistent, and let the designer of your book deal with whatever your editor doesn’t cut for being boring or incorrect.

But if you’re doing your own book design like I am, you’ll have to decide what to do about ellipses. Despite my disdain, Monsters All the Way Down has three of them. Do I put a space in front of the ellipsis? Do I type a short space between the periods? If I use the glyph will the design police come for me in the night?

It is so much easier to just leave them out.

Of course, you can take all this advice or leave it. But your writing is important, so please be deliberate in your choices.



The late, great Charles M. Schulz is the only creator I give a full pass on ellipses.

A nice write-up on the proper use of ellipses and em dashes in dialogue.


My Most Frustrating Time Suck–Songs I Can’t Remember but Can’t Get Out of my Head

I’ll mark this problem-solving post “Oddly Specific.” The moral is, if you have something standing in the way of your work, don’t just bang your head against the wall. Find a solution!

It never fails. I sit down at my desk to crank out a scene, and I start hearing a song in my head. I listen to music while I write, so it’s usually not a problem–I fire up YouTube or the turntable and listen to whatever is on my mind.

But sometimes I don’t know what song is on an endless loop in my head.

If I can remember enough to google a lyric, it’s still not a problem. I can fire up YouTurn or the tubetable and get it out of my system.

The disaster arises when I have enough song in my head to drive me insane, but not enough to figure out which song is slowly killing me. You’d think this wouldn’t be a big deal, and maybe it isn’t–for normal people, I mean. But I have lost entire writing sessions to this madness, because the band in my head will not stop playing until I hear the song.

Just writing about this is giving me a headache, like my head is in a Three Stooges vice. Let me go grab an analgesic

Whew. Okay.

If this ever happens to you, hold off a little longer on seeking professional help, because here is the solution: Reddit’s r/tipofmytongue, a place where people help you remember what’s just on the tip of your tongue. When several “What was the name of that book?” forums failed me, the people there helped me remember the name of a children’s book my grandma used to read me. They’ve also saved me from a padded cell with a few songs.

Revolt of the Darumas, The

Finding this book was harder than decoding the Zodiac Killer’s unsolved cipher.

Sometimes it takes some time for those geniuses to figure it out, but the act of asking can be enough to get the music out of my head so I can work.

So next time you need help remembering a random factoid, make a Reddit account if you need to and remember to follow the rules for posting a request.

One more tip if you share my stuck song problem: keep a list that is easily accessible. Wasting precious working time only to realize it’s the second time you’re tried to remember the song is enough to drive a man to drink

I know I’ve plugged Reddit once before, but I promise I’m unaffiliated.

As for the much worse time suck I may have introduced you to, avoid Reddit on a day you’re trying to work–unless you have a song stuck in your head.



Oh, you want to know some of the mystery songs I’ve had stuck in my head? Not all of these required a trip to TIPOFMYTONGUE.

That one song, it starts with organs and then the guitar comes in and goes DINEH DEH DINEH DEH. Not by The Postal Service!

That one song where a woman–at least I remember it being a woman–sings RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN…

That one (maybe?) creepy song where a man keeps yelling, “Who watches over you?”

That one song where the guy keeps repeating, “I could sleep. I could slee-eep. I could sleep. I could slee-eep.”

That one ’80s song that gets stuck in my head. I think it’s in heavy rotation at the supermarket?

That one ’90s song sung by the lady that looks a little like my aunt and played on VH1 all the time around 1995.