Graphic Make: technology on your timeMake 06

Make: technology on your time
Publisher: O’Reilly Media, Inc. — MakeZine.com
Retail Price: $34.95 (4 issues)

At a recent user group meeting, I found myself volunteering to do voiceover for a cool podcasting demo by Jack Herrington. As a thank you for helping out, I was to get a copy of his book, Podcasting Hacks. I told the O’Reilly Publishing rep I already had it, so I would pass. Instead she gave me Volume 4 of a quarterly magazine O’Reilly publishes, called Make: technology on your time. Ten minutes later, I had become an instant fan.

On the cover is a photo of a young Asian woman playing an electric guitar made from a cigar box. “Make this smokin’ axe for $13” stated the subtitle. Whoa, how cool! I read further. “Webcam music machine. Turn toys into musical instruments”. Without opening a page, I was transported back to the days when I regularly read The Mother Earth News magazine (a back-to-the-land self-sufficiency mag popular in the late 70’s, early 80’s). Make: (yes the colon is part of the name, depending on who you talk to) impressed me as a modern urban Mother Earth News crossed with Popular Mechanics.

Inside Make: I experienced technology demystified and twisted to fit the wishes of the user. The hefty 190 page plus quarterly is divided nicely into three main sections: Makers, Projects, and DIY. The Makers section highlights brainiacs such as scientist Ed Storms, who is working with cold fusion and hopes someday to bring it to a garage near you. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, is profiled in another issue. There’s plenty of tech for the rest of us, such as Swamp Tech, living off the grid in a canoe in the bayou. Ever distill water using a rice cooker?

My favorite hack is an article by Daniel Jolliffe who described how in a couple of hours you can make an anonymous megaphone using a cell phone, a paper cone, and about $10 in electronics parts. Just think of the possibilities… I could set one of these up hidden in my front yard and wait by my window for the dogwalker who lets her pooch deposit nature’s call on my front yard. Before you can say ‘Squat’, I dial in the call and bellow at her for all the neighbors to hear “Lady, don’t let your dog poop on me!!” “Help, I’m being pooped on!!”. That should make her day. Alan Funt (Candid Camera legend) would be proud. Maybe I could just hack it into my Walkie-Talkie? Hack the hack, that’s what it’s I’m talkin’ about.

There is a section of all sorts of ready-made kits, electronic, robotic, beermaking, cheesemaking, even hot sauce making, that you can order by mail.

IMHO, some of the best substance in the quarterly comes in the Maker section. One of the featured Makers in Volume 3 is “Mister Jalopy”, who turns a vintage LP cabinet into the world’s biggest MP3 player. You gotta see this! The lid on the big beautiful wood veneer cabinet opens up to show an LCD screen with iTunes and a slot for the iPod. The record changer and vintage radio knobs are still in place. What makes it happen is under the hood, of course. Mr. Jalopy shares in detail, with great photos of each stage, how the conversion is made. Yes, there’s a computer inside (a Mac mini) and lots of other ‘hacks’. Obviously, this is not something you just throw together in an afternoon.

Mr. Jalopy exudes the flavor of the magazine which is, take technology and use it for yourself. In his article, “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it” he shares a Maker’s bill of rights. It promotes buying and building products that can be opened and fixed (or hacked). After all, he writes, “When your covered wagon broke a wood spoke, did you throw away the whole wheel?”.

You don’t have to know how to solder to find cool stuff in Make:. Volume 3 has a primer on making biodiesel, the basics of welding, and step-by-step directions for a super spud cannon with a stun gun at its core.

Make:’s DIY section is packed with cool treats. How about a headphone amp that fits in a mint tin? Hack an old toaster mechanism and create a mod that will lift your tea bag from your cup in a timely fashion to prevent overdone tea. All of the how-to’s are loaded with excellent color photos along with step-by-step directions.

Get really heady in the Makeshift challenge. This competition often has a MacGyver-like survival angle, that lays out a scenario and a supply list. Readers send in their solutions and the best ones are chosen for publication at makezine.com/makeshift.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here. However, I must share the philosophical impact of Make: that has literally had me sharing it with everyone I think might remotely have an interest. This publication gives me great hope about our future. It shows me communities of men and women who are not afraid to open up the products of our disposable society and put them to use in innovative ways. They are not satisfied with just sitting back and consuming. They are making fun things and practical things. A worthwhile challenge is extended to hackers in Volume 3. Create a $200 computer that could be used by millions of blind kids in developing countries around the world. A cheap Linux device, keyboard, speech synthesizer, and speakers or earphones required.

I don’t have the skills for that last challenge, but my nephew or next door neighbor might. Spread the word.

I’m off to the garage to find my soldering iron, my old Radio Shack circuitry book and make a large paper cone.

Quarterly issues of Make: are $14.99 on the cover, but you can subscribe for a year of four issues for $34.95. The four 2005 volumes are available as a set. With over 190 pages per issue, detailed DIY’s, lots of inspiration, and very few ads, it’s worth every penny. O’Reilly is on to something here. You can check out more hacks and mods at the companion website, http://www.makezine.com. Go out and Make: something fun.


Review by NCMUG member Veda Lewis