Blog: Paul Nielsen

Paul Nielsen is that rare breed of person who knows all, sees all, and tells very little – unlike most of your friends who know very little and are more than willing to tell you so.  He holds a doctorate, but he's not the kind of doctor who will make you feel any better, unless your problem somehow involves a lack of amazement and wonder. He's kind to children and animals; though if you ask his cats they'll tell you he starves them. If only he used his powers for good.

He is an avid magic performer, collector, and owner of Wunderground Magic, Inc. in downtown Clawson.  He has been performing magic since he was nine, but took a short hiatus to get a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois, serve on the faculty at the University of Michigan, and found a software company that builds massive-scale simulations for battlefield training, speech interaction with simulated entities, and command and control of unmanned vehicles.  Paul is a specialist in academic, industrial and research environments, as well as aerospace and defense. He works with start-up companies embarking on software projects, business plans, and proposal development.
Paul has authored over fifty papers, articles, and book chapters on topics such as human behavior modeling, expert systems, human factors, intelligence, smart relays, supervisory controls, qualitative physics, and the history of magic.  Lately he finds time to write a blog for Metromode, though if you ask the assistant editor she will deny everything.  He's also available for children's shows, school assemblies, and corporate events.  

Paul Nielsen - Most Recent Posts:

Post 5: Transitions

It's a sad day here in Clawson.  After what seems like only a week as a guest blogger for Metromode, I'm being let go.  I'd really like to thank both of you for reading these blogs, but they've only allowed me one phone call.

Hello, I'm Paul Nielsen from Wunderground Magic, Inc., and today we're going to be talking about moving on.  Transitions in our lives are the moments we remember.  They are the most difficult to accomplish, but potentially the most rewarding too.  It is easy to go with what you already know, keep performing the same tasks, and hope that one day you can retire with a good pension.  That's not going to work in today's economy.

There's a little town in southwestern Michigan called Colon, which bills itself as "The Magic Capital of the World." In a town hidden by cornfields, that's less than one mile square, there are three magic shops.  In August of every year magicians from all over the world descend on Colon in an extravagant Get-Together where there is magic in the streets, at the restaurants, and in the schools.  Famous celebrities rub elbows with aspiring stars scaling cards across the street to try to land them on top of the tallest building in town, which towers over Main Street at three stories.  Colon was the summer home of Blackstone as he prepared his magical show of wonders to travel across the country.

Now, Colon is in danger of losing its title as the Magic Capital of the World.  There is no reigning king of magicians who calls it a summer home.  The theater where magicians would rehearse burned to the ground and was not replaced.  The large magic companies that sold equipment through catalogs rivaling anything Sears ever published are being overtaken by dealers with flashier websites.  Each year the attendance at the Get-Together grows smaller and smaller.  The industry is moving out of state and overseas.  Like metro Detroit, the town is in crisis, and in that crisis opportunities lie.

If you wanted to launch yourself as a magic performer, what better place to start than in Colon?  Use the existing prestige of "From the World's Magic Capital" as publicity to help your career grow.  Gain access to the insights of the greatest minds in the industry.  Discover long forgotten libraries filled with the wisdom of generations.  Build a better web site to replace the catalog sales.  Invest in cheap real estate and build a theater.  Create a tourist destination with quaint shops, museums, chicken dinners, and maybe a magic show.   People come to see a show, and they leave disappointed.  They need a place to go.
The opportunities in Colon could make you millions.  The opportunities in metro Detroit could make you billions.  We have the greatest labor force in the world, the best engineers, outstanding manufacturing facilities, shipping lanes, raw materials, fresh water, great universities, and bargain real estate.  What we lack is an individual with the vision to create the magic to transform this nexus of opportunity into a financial beacon of the world.  Business consultants like Fulcrum Edge can take your vision and create the plan you need to make it a reality.   Who will be the next Henry Ford?  Is it you?


Post 4: The Clown Index

There are a number of indices that purport to track our economic health, such as the "underwear index," which is based on the belief that when times are tough people tend to make intimate items last longer. Personally though, I still have underwear from grad school that I have to keep rescuing from the garbage whenever my girlfriend does my laundry.  I'm guessing the indicator is based on the patterns of the holes, kind of like reading tea leaves.

Hello, I'm Paul Nielsen from Wunderground Magic, Inc. in Clawson, Michigan, the economic hub of the known universe.  (Please make checks out to "Clawson is America's Sales Hub" and slide them under the door at 16 S. Main Street.  It's okay to abbreviate the name.)

One of the saddest indices I read about recently is the "clown index."  NPR carried the story titled "Clowns Want to Get Paid Too" about poor Mandy Dalton who was not being paid for a gig because the company who hired her filed for bankruptcy.  There's nothing sadder than a clown, battered hat in hand, driving to the bankruptcy in her clown car with two or three dozen of her closest clown friends, banging her squeaker fist on the table for emphasis as the drooping flowers squirt water like a rain of tears.  You know, come to think of it, there are quite a few things sadder than that, but I digress.

 In my line of business I've worked with a number of clowns.  (The ones involved in government contracting tend not to wear as much makeup, but they also tend to be a whole lot sillier.)  Clowns are hurting.  I know one clown who just lost his clown house.  He had to pack up all his clown furniture, deflate his balloon dogs, and pack everything in his clown car for the long trip to a clown apartment.  Another clown is working three jobs, driving cross-state for low paying gigs, and wants to train to be a police officer.  ("Stop, or I’ll unfurl a banner that says 'Bang' from the nozzle of my gun.")

When times are good, clowns tend to upgrade their props.  They like bright flashy colors and tend to be hard on their equipment, with a lot of physical comedy.  (Have you ever tried getting meringue pie out of a twelve-foot silk streamer?)  The last clown prop I sold was a sponge brick, which I assume, the clown was going to try to throw through a plate glass window to abscond with the size 30 shoes that provide the only lasting relief a clown can have after a high speed chase from a band of bungling cops unfurling their 'Bang' guns.

 When times are tough, clowns are one of the first entertainers to be let go.  No one needs to have a clown when Uncle Harry can cover his face in magic marker and wear that old shirt his girlfriend keeps trying to throw away whenever she does his laundry.  Okay, so maybe that's not a good example, and if you met Uncle Harry you'd probably keep him away from your kids too.

Another thing I see is that even when clowns are hired, it is only for the bare minimum show.  There are no upgrades for candy or balloons or actual entertainment.  People hire the clown to show up, tell a joke, and go.  (And don't get me started on the market for joke writers.  Can you believe Metromode still hasn't paid me for this comedy gold?)

Post 3: Wunderground Magic's Answer to the Economic Situation

In case you haven't heard, Southeast Michigan is going through a bit of an economic setback.  I know, it came as a surprise to me when I heard it too.  (I almost spilled caviar down my new tux.)  All I know is I'm not getting any bailout money from the government and neither are you.

While I can't give away free cash, like the people in Washington, I can help you find ways to save money, assuming you have any of it to begin with.

My favorite method is purchasing the inventories of the stores that are collapsing all around me.  I've gotten stock, furniture, signage, and even half a dozen rabbit suits, which you'll see put to good use as part of the "great rabbit picket line" in a previous episode of Metromode.  (It helps if you have a spark of creativity too.)

We've opened a new, special area in our store selling previously owned props and equipment.  Our creative division (Marie) was considering calling this the "flee market," but I kind of wanted people to actually, you know, come into the store, not run away.  Then we tried a "garage sale," but Ron bought the garage and hauled it off (which was a problem because it was attached.)  "Fire sale" had obvious problems with the neighbors, once the smoke cleared.  "Bargain basement" seemed close, but not quite there.  So after extensive consultation we dug up (literally) the name "Discount Dungeon."
We've stocked the Discount Dungeon with rare, collectable, and bizarre treasures that would be worth at least a dollar eighty-six if bought new.  It's an enormous lot of stuff, including illusions, stage props, close-up apparatus, and everything in between; and with prices so low they'd almost have to lend themselves to some kind of lame joke if this writer didn't go out of his way to avoid bad puns like that. There's almost as much stuff below ground as there is above in the main store.  I would name a few, but almost all are one-of-a-kind, and unless you're in the store right now, anything I'd name would be gone by the time you arrive.

The Discount Dungeon gives shoppers a way to save on purchases while still getting quality apparatus, because let's face it, if it hasn't fallen apart by now, it's unlikely to in the near future.  Anyone who has been to see a Whitesnake concert knows the importance of buying good quality special effects.

Magic lends itself to offbeat and unusual treasures.  Magicians love the bizarre, unique, and ancient.(That's why we never get tired of the joke about the magician who was walking down the street and turned into a bar.) Businesses like produce stores, probably not so much so.  Look for ways you can reuse and repurpose items to enrich the lives of those around you.

Post 2: Houdini, Halloween, and the Importance of Wonder

It's Halloween.  I was going to regale you with scary stories about ghosts and monsters, but I decided to creep you out even more by discussing the Southeast Michigan region and its economic future.  Sorry about that.

Today we're going to delve into Southeast Michigan's past.  We have a case study of one man who began with nothing, then went on to die, of course.  In between that time, though, he became the most famous name in magic and in show business – Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini's rise to fame graphically demonstrated that nothing could hold us down and no restraints were too confining. No obstacles, even solid walls, could hold us back; nothing was impossible, even the production of a live elephant.  At 5'5", he was bigger than life, a superhero, if you will, that nothing on earth could hold prisoner.

Houdini was a master of marketing and promoted himself through spectacular publicity stunts, like escaping from a strait jacket while hanging upside down over a crowd of people.  More recently, local magician Jasen Magic has recreated this stunt with equally spectacular results, but in an entirely different way.  You’ll have to see the video for yourself.  Such publicity stunts are a great way to draw massive crowds to your establishment.  Everyone wants to see some idiot risk their life for your entertainment.

During one such stunt Houdini was bound in chains and lowered by a rope from the Belle Isle Bridge into the Detroit River.  To hear him tell the story, the river was frozen over that day, so they had to cut a hole in the ice to lower him through.  Even though he managed to free himself from his chains, the swift current carried him far downriver away from his hole in the ice and the only chance of escape.  He survived for hours by breathing air trapped in the small gaps between the water and the ice until he could find his safety rope that lead to the hole to free himself.  Of course, the Detroit News, which covered the story that day, reported the weather was above freezing.  Houdini wasn't above using embellishment to market his ability.

The reason I'm telling you this is that Houdini died right here in Detroit at Grace Hospital.  He died on Halloween, October 31, 1926, from peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix.  This may or may not have been aggravated by a blow to the stomach he received from a student, but don't let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Every year on October 31 séances are conducted to try to contact the spirit of Houdini.  His wife, Bess, was given a secret code, and Houdini said that if it were possible he would send a message to her from beyond.

What are you doing to create a sense of wonder?  Will people still remember you long after you are gone?  How can you ignite that excitement and sense of empowerment that inspires those around you to believe all things are possible and that together we will turn these tough times in Detroit around?

Post 1: Out of Desperation Comes Magic

Hi, I'm Paul Nielsen from Wunderground Magic, Inc. When the good people at Metromode asked me to comment about the southeast Michigan region and its economic future, I thought, "Great, I'll just give them a blank sheet of paper," because, let's face it, right now the future here seems pretty bleak.  That should just about cover everything.  I've got a mortgage to pay, a son to put through college, a car that's dying, no real job, and I own a magic shop - not really an economic powerhouse there.  Then they told me it was an electronic submission, and my scanner got confused when I tried to scan a blank piece of paper, so I colored it black.  That just made it dark and bleak and it still wouldn't scan.  But hey, they're paying me in free copies of the magazine, so life is looking up!

This week we'll be digging through our bag of tricks to try to produce a miracle that will save metro Detroit.  And who better to turn to for miracles than a magic dealer? Alright, don't answer that, there are probably a thousand people out there who are better qualified, but they all took an early buyout and moved to Florida, so you're stuck here with me.  I'll try to keep this short so you can read it while you're waiting for the next flight.

If I were a real magician, I could just spend my days plucking money out of the air, which I often do, but then consider, "What would a real magician want with money anyway?"  The answer: "All the stuff I’m too lazy to conjure from the air" because it's easier for me to make money that it is to make food out of the air, and unless it comes out of a chip bag, I'm a lousy cook.

On the upside, the magic business is almost recession proof.  We don't make money in a bad economy or a good economy, and in a mixed economy we're still the ones standing out on the street corners, hat in hand, doing tricks for change.  (Hey, buddy, can you spare $25,000 for the tuition at Michigan?)

Some of the best magical effects rose from desperate situations.
For example, the most famous magical trick (despite the fact that no magician actually performs it anymore) arose at a time when traveling magicians, and other undesirables, would often catch small animals for a meal if the day's donations didn't pan out.  On this particular day, the local equivalent of the ASPCA stepped in and said, "You're not going to hurt that rabbit, are you?"  Being a magician, the performer lied through his teeth and said "Of course not. It's part of the act." He pulled out the hat that was obviously empty after asking for spare change, and the rest is history.

Of course there are rare exceptions, like David Copperfield, who just bought an island in the Bahamas to store all the money he makes.  David Blaine, despite not having any actual personality, is able to win over network executives to give him a special almost every year.  Criss Angel does even better by putting together an entirely new show every week.  And then there's that masked guy who is on entirely too often.

When finances are tight, magic is a great way to earn extra income.  Performers earn several hundred dollars an hour and can do several shows a day, primarily on evenings and weekends.  Learning the props isn't as difficult as learning to sing or dance, and let's face it, if it took a lot of talent would they let me do it?
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