About four years ago, my wife and I bought our first gas BBQ. We opted to save a little cash and assemble it ourselves — a process I was quite sure would only take a few minutes, requiring nothing more than a screwdriver.
I watched in utter amazement as my wife first took out the instructions and began to…actually read them! I was impatiently changing screwdriver bits to pass the time as she carefully laid out all the parts and, after suggesting that I go “do something” on the computer, constructed the device in a few hours.
To date, it’s functioned perfectly and, as opposed to the lawnmower I put together, it only bursts into flames when we want it to.
What does hacking have to do with BBQs and lawnmowers, you ask?
The term hacking (as applied to real life) can be used to describe pretty much any project where planning and procedure is minimal, non-existent or made up on the fly. I like to use the term “life hacking”, but, by strict definition, this might befuddle some of the iGeneration.
Call it what you will, you’ll find a great resource at instructables.com. It will appeal to typical garage hackers with insatiable curiosity and outrageously inconsistent attention spans who feel that a job is right on spec until the object being repaired or modified cracks, smokes or is otherwise destroyed in the valiant attempt of “improving” it. At this point, we “hackers” normally report that the device had a manufacturer’s flaw or was beyond saving, and suggest it was time to upgrade to a newer version anyway.
The Web site provides visitors with easy step-by-step instructions for creating all sorts of useful or just plain whacky inventions created by average people who, quite frankly, seem to have way too much time on their hands
A perfect example was this week’s step-by-step illustrated instructions on how to turn a $3 pen into a $200 Mont Blanc writing implement. Or, how about “LED Throwies”? These dollar-a-throw do-dads let you turn buildings into giant Light-Brite boards with a flick of the wrist.
Some of the other puzzlingly impressive projects showcased on this site include how to build a Lego printer which uses chocolate for ink or the dreaded marshmallow gun, which has surprising range and accuracy for something which fires globs of sprinkled gelatinous sugar.
But, if projects like these seem little more than a twelve-year-old’s dream toys to you, there is always the do-it-yourself one-person hovercraft, which can be built for under $200. In a nutshell, this site makes Home Improvement’s Tim Taylor look like a civil engineer. Drag racing riding mowers are hardly comparable to the perfect duct-tape wallet or a home-built semi-autonomous submersible robot for underwater research. Yes, people really do build these kinds of things in their garages.
But, if, unlike the good folks at instructables.com, you have achieved a level of rigid maturity where you can’t quite get away with being seen in public spending hours on a home-built semi-autonomous submersible, you can always visit Instructables.com with your kids and have just as much fun browsing over 500 posted projects. Some are very simple and make great rainy day undertakings. Others may take you a few weeks or longer.
Either way, though, you gotta love a Web site where you can get instructions on building a flute out of a turkey baster or turn an iPod shuffle into an Altoids mint dispenser.
— Ducharme is editor of PCWorld.ca. Contact him at email@example.com.