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.

Top 10 Nostalgic Episodes of The Twilight Zone

You fine folks enjoyed my countdown of the Top 13 Scariest Episodes of The Twilight Zone, so here are my picks of the best nostalgic episodes.

These trips to The Twilight Zone ruminate on the allure of the past. Escaping into memories of a simpler time might lead to dreams coming true, but just as often reveal that the good ol’ days hid nightmares of their own.

Nine of these episodes are available on Netflix, and all ten are available for free on Hulu.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers. But when most episodes feature a twist, just knowing the tone of a story can give away the ending. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience, but that’s all the warning you get.

10. Of Late I Think of Cliffordville (Season 4, Episode 14)

Twilight Zone - Of Late I Think of Cliffordville

Julie Newmar, the real reason this episode made the list.

William Feathersmith, an aging millionaire, decides the getting is better than the having. So he makes a deal with the demonic Miss Devlin to live his life over again.

This episode runs through most of my favorite Twilight Zone plots: nostalgia, time travel, and a Faustian bargain. It doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but it explores one of my favorite questions: if you could go back in time and relive your life, but with the knowledge you have now, could you live it better? Continue reading

Top 13 Scariest Episodes of The Twilight Zone

Following up on my “What I Learned About Storytelling From the Original Twilight Zone,” this is the first in a series of Twilight Zone lists I’ll be posting. I know I’m crazy, but since I’m making the lists anyway, I might as well share ’em with you fine folks.

The Twilight Zone is known for its twist endings and giving generations of folks the heebie-jeebies. I hate spoilers, so I won’t be posting a list of the Top 10 Twist Endings. But these are the episodes I feel are the heebie-jeebiest. I’ll do my best not to spoil the endings for you. Sure, I’ll describe the premise and why it’s great, but I won’t reveal anything that happens after the last commercial break.

13. The Arrival (Season 3, Episode 2)

Twilight Zone - The Arrival

Observe the fasten seat-belt signs and say goodbye to your sanity.

Flight 107 lands safely, but there’s no sign of the passengers or crew. The FAA sends Mr. Sheckly to investigate.

One of my greatest fears is “What if reality doesn’t line up with my perception?” It’s a theme I keep coming back to in my own writing, and this episode pulls it off.

Continue reading

So I Finally Finished Reading Cerebus

Cerebus is a 300-issue, independent comic book by Dave Sim and Gerhard, published from 1977 to 2004. It tells the story of Cerebus the Aardvark, who starts out as a parody of Conan the Barbarian. Through the course of the story, Cerebus becomes many things, including a prime minister and the Pope, and the massive 300-issue run comprises a single, complete story.

Cerebus Wallpaper (Barbarian 3)

Cerebus is © 2014 Dave Sim

Gerhard started doing his immaculate backgrounds with #65. Dave Sim wrote the book, drew the characters, did the mechanical tones, the layout, the balloons, and the lettering. Both artists inked their own stuff.

I first heard about Cerebus in Spawn #10–I know, I know–and I started reading the phone book-sized reprint volumes in high school. Like so many other, I was blown away by Dave Sim’s growth as an artist in the first twenty-five issues. I read and reread that first volume, laughing out loud at the brilliant humor each time.

Over the years, I slowly acquired new volumes in the series. High Society, Church & State, Jaka’s Story, Melmoth. Each one was special in its own way. I read up through Rick’s Story (issues 220-231) before taking a long break. This was about the time the series ended at issue 300. For years, with a mixture of excitement and hesitation, I’d looked forward to reading the entire series. You see, I have this weird thing about finishing a series I love. When I know it will be the end–that there will never be any more, not ever–I don’t want to finish it. There are several dead authors that I love, and I usually leave one of their books unread.

I know, it’s crazy.


So I decided to reread Cerebus and to finish it. I’d somehow avoided having the ending spoiled for ten years, but I knew, eventually, someone would give it away (don’t worry–I won’t spoil anything here). I’d never met anyone else that read the book (without my having introduced them to it), and I’d steered clear of any news about Cerebus since I started reading it in the late ’90s. I had no idea where the book was going in the final stretch.

Some of you, however, might see where this is going.


The first volumes were as amazing as I remember them. High Society and Church & State still floored me. Jaka’s Story was just as gripping, Melmoth just as unusual and interesting. The text pieces on creators’ rights and self-publishing, which I had never read before, were inspiring.

I’m not sure where I realized what was really going on. I’d heard it said “Dave Sim is a Misogynist,” but I assumed that was a reaction to the male light and female void symbolism. Alexander Adrock, a great guy I follow on Twitter, said he wasn’t planning to read the book because of Sim’s opinions on women. Folks are just oversensitive, I thought. I even signed the “I don’t believe Dave Sim in a misogynist” petition.

In the full read-through, Sim started making remarks about feminism in the letters pages, but they weren’t that offensive. There are a small minority of feminists that believe men are a waste of genetics, and he may have been sick of hearing about it. I could see a guy in the 1980s feeling that way.

Then he says in the letters page of #171 that “women and government don’t mix.” On the next page, he mentions the Feminist/Matriarchist agenda. Uh-oh, I thought.

Issue 186 is a watershed issue. In a lengthy text piece, Sim inserts himself into his work as Viktor Davis and says things you would have to read to believe. The fact that I did not catch it when I read through Reads in my early 20s shows how much I was willing to overlook. I must have thought that it wasn’t what Sim really believed, that this author surrogate was a parody of people’s perceptions.

But Sim defended those beliefs as his own, and it was all downhill from there. The comic and accompanying text pieces now exist to showcase his increasingly worrying views:

His fear of the feminist/homosexualist axis and the Marxist/feminist axis. Wishes he could just date teenagers. Men should spank their wives if they misbehave (and I don’t mean in a fun way). When SARS was a big thing, he claims it is God’s judgement on Canada. He mentions that, before doing interviews for Mothers & Daughters, he had never bothered to interact with women he didn’t want to sleep with. Near the end, he blames his mother’s poor health on her being an atheist.


Maybe it would be different if it stayed out of the story itself. But there’s the #186 text piece. And one of Sim’s strongest female characters–one he used to respect–is turned into “a spoiled, myopic, insensitive, self-absorbed and self-important harlot princess.” In #281, Cerebus states that the Jews bring the Holocaust on themselves. Cerebus parades women in front of a roomful of men in #277, and they vote if she is “a devil, a viper, or a scorpion.” If she’s found guilty, she gets her head blown off.

Cerebus 277 execution

Sim’s opinion of “Mr. Mom” makes it clear what he would think of me. Despite being a creator and a self-publisher, my stay-at-home dad status marks me as a victim of the feminist/homosexualist conspiracy.

The sad thing is, I really believe Dave Sim is the genius he wants to be remembered as. Tim Callahan puts him up there with Will Eisner, and I agree. I’m still glad I got to read the book. The experience was a valuable one.

I respect Sim for his art and for self-publishing when it seemed impossible, and it breaks my heart that his opinions overshadow his brilliant body of work. We all know H.P. Lovecraft was a racist and those opinions color his work, but his stories aren’t about the benefits of lynchings.

You see Sim in the old convention photographs, and you read his stories about Colleen Doran, Chester Brown, Jeff Smith, and all the others. Many have apparently severed ties. Diana Schutz, an acclaimed editor who served as his proofreader, was willing to overlook Sim’s opinions, but she resigned when Sim challenged Jeff Smith to a boxing match. Even Sim’s family, who I don’t think we hear about until his Mama’s Boy essay, seems to be estranged (going by the Chester Brown interview in #297).

Does Dave Sim have the right to voice his opinions? Of course he does. And if he wants to put them in a comic book, he has the right to do that, too. But that doesn’t shield him from the public’s reaction to those opinions. I sincerely hope Dave Sim isn’t forgotten and Cerebus isn’t totally dismissed by history as a consequence of his views.

So I recant my signature on the “I don’t believe Dave Sim is a misogynist” petition. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t have all the facts.

(For those interested in Dave Sim and Cerebus, the best blog on the subject is A Moment of Cerebus. Tim Callahan of Comic Book Resources also recorded his reaction to reading all 300 issues [part 1, part 2, part 3]).

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.