Gas station without pumps

2016 March 19

Make magazine

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:01
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It probably comes as no surprise to my readers that I’ve been a subscriber to Make magazine since 2007, and that I generally read it cover to cover, including many of the ads. I like the project descriptions and the attitude of the magazine—a combination of isn’t-this-cool? and you-can-do-it-too. I do sometimes get bothered by technical inaccuracies and sloppy editing in the magazine.

For example, in the latest issue (volume 50), I found four rather grating errors:

  • On page 25, where where Sean Cusak is giving characteristics of metals, they claim that stainless steel is “heavy” but steel is “medium”.  Carbon steels have a density of about 7850 kg/m3, while stainless steels are around 7480–8000 kg/m3 []. That does not strike me as substantially different.  My favorite stainless steel (316L) is 7990 kg/m3, only 2% denser than carbon steel. I don’t see that as a distinction between “medium” and “heavy”, particularly when they give copper (density 8960 kg/m3) as “medium”. Copper is heavier than stainless steel! If “weight” is supposed to mean something other than density, like mass/stiffness or mass/strength, copper fares much worse. I can’t believe that Cusak made such an obvious mistake—I suspect bad editing.
  • On page 53, Ben Krasnow writes “LEDs are still more expensive than T8, comparable or less energy-efficient in lumens per watt, and require a whole new fixture.”  That statement is about half true.  LEDs do require a different fixture than fluorescents, and LED fixtures are often more expensive than fluorescent ones (though the LED pucks I put in my kitchen cost very little for the fixtures—all the expense was the labor of patching and painting the ceiling and installing the pucks). But LEDs are now substantially more efficient than fluorescent lights, in part because they are more directional—half the light from fluorescent fixtures is lost in reflectors and diffusers. I get much more light from the 43.4W of LED lighting in my kitchen than from the previous 120W of fluorescent fixtures (granted, they were old T12 bulbs, but T8 would not have been much brighter). I think that Krasnow may be about 3 years out of date on LED lighting, and he should reexamine his information.
  • On page 81, where Charles Platt is describing making a capacitor from aluminum foil and plastic bags, it says “To check for short circuits, use a meter to measure the resistance between the 2 sheets of foil, which should be zero.”  That should say “should not be zero”.  You don’t want the two plates of the capacitor to be shorted together! This looks like a simple type-setting error that should have been caught by a technically literate copy editor (does Make have technically literate copy editors? does anyone?).
  • On page 86, in David Scheltema’s and Tyler Winegarner’s article on Pirate Radio Throwies, they say “Check local and federal laws first, of course” instead of saying, “Warning: these transmitters violate federal laws”. They don’t even point the reader to the relevant laws or where they can find out about them. “The FCC limit under Part 15 regulations is 250uV/m (48dBu) at 3 meters.” [] They also only suggest a bandpass filter “for a cleaner FM signal”, rather than insisting on one to avoid the interference inherent in using a square-wave carrier instead of a sine wave.  The bandpass filter is not given, only pointed to youtube video that has a simple RC filter (nowhere near enough to clean up the signal to legal levels, as pointed out in the youtube comments).  I believe that the readers of Make deserve (and need) better warnings before being encouraged to do illegal activities.

I usually find one or two such errors in each issue, so having (at least) four in this issue struck me as high. Is this just random variation, or are the Make editors getting sloppier?

As a stylistic matter, I found the “Over the Top” final-page item by James Burke particularly poorly written this time.  The picture would have been fine by itself, with a brief description, or with how-to instructions, but the badly written purple prose just detracted from it.


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