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This is a question DIY Techno-hacks

Old hard drive platters make wonderfully good drinks coasters - they look dead smart and expensive and you've stopped people reading your old data into the bargain.

Have you taped all your remotes together, peep-show-style? Have you wired your doorbell to the toilet? What enterprising DIY have you done with technology?

Extra points for using sellotape rather than solder.

(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 12:30)
Pages: Popular, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This question is now closed.

In the year 2008
I showed my office how to format a 3.5" floppy disk to stop them just buying a new one every single time they needed to save a file (yes, out computers still have floppy drives and we still use them).

Then I introduced them to teh wonders of CDR's and flash drives. They really were amazed. Perform a backup without having to change floppy disks 7 or 8 times? Wow.

Cleaning out the compacting file cabinets out the back I even found system backups saved onto tapes. I was soooo excited and wanted to take one home to show MrKitty, but they wouldn't let the sensitive data leave the office. Even though it was at least 20 years out of date and no-one had the equipment to read it in any case. Oh well.

I know it's not DIY but a functioning office using floppy's and with an electric typewriter (FFS!) in this day and age deserves a mention.
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 3:36, 8 replies)
Three ancient hacks
(Besides Harlan Ellison, Michael Crichton, and Clive Cussler.)

In the late seventies, the only thing of any use I ever learned from my estranged father was the joy of "mute."

Younger folks may not remember, but the time was that there were no remote controls (unless you counted an external tuner with a long wire attached as a "remote control") and when commercials interrupted the programs, people just endured the mindless jibber-jabber raping them in the ears.

My father's elegant solution to this was to splice a toggle switch located beside his armchair into one of the leads on the TV's speaker. The term "mute button" was unknown at the time -- this was a "Bullshit switch." I modified every livingroom set we had to incorporate a "bullshit switch," right up until the mid-eighties, when IR remotes with mute buttons became ubiquitous. I'm not sure I would let a ten-year old hack a TV today, and back then they had some monster capacitors in them. My mum was pretty relaxed.

Also, in 1986, before residential conference calling was available, and when it was necessary for young nerds to have a separate phone line for BBS, I made Prankenstein. Prankenstein was born from an old answering machine, a guitar amplifier, two phone lines, two massive rotory phones (one of which figures prominently in the next hack,) a bunch of wire, and a common light switch. It was used to simultaneously call take-away places with similar names, connect them together, and then record the confusion as they each thought they were dealing with some drunken or retarded idiot who couldn't quite work out how to place an order. Good times.

The only ancient hack that I'm really proud of is the device I used to compensate for the sad fact that the 300 baud modem I used for my BBS (running on a computer with a 2.5MHZ Z80 CPU and 128kb of RAM) didn't have an "auto answer" feature. I took apart one of those old analog phones (with a ringer mechanism like this, insulated the clapper from the rest of the mechanism, attached a wire to it and then fixed some aluminum foil over it. I attached another wire to the screw that held one of the bells in place, and connected these wires to the black and orange wires on the cable from a busted Atari 2600 joystick, which was plugged into the nine-pin D-SUB port on my computer. The code (BASIC, natch) for my BBS ("Grandfather's Alligator Farm," since you ask,) included a bit to initiate a handshake if the "Fire" button on the joystick was pressed.

These are all from before I turned 16 - most of the twenty-three years that have followed (especially in my professional life) are built on a solid foundation of kludge.
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 3:26, Reply)
Alarm clock from hell
I used to sleep through all alarm clocks while in college. They'd work for a few days and then I wouldn't hear them.

For a while I used a clock radio but in the beeping mode. When it stopped waking me up, I opened it up, cut the speaker wire and hooked the cables directly to my amplifier. The amplifier was hooked up to two giant speakers that wouldn't look out of place at a dance club. I set the alarm and went to bed.

In the morning it went off. It woke me up. It woke up everyone in my house. I'm pretty sure it woke up the neighbours. As I jumped out of bed wide-eyed and heart pounding, I realized I shouldn't have set the volume to 11. It sounded like a debilitating air raid siren and probably could have been used as a torture device.

I haven't used a clock radio since.
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 3:04, Reply)
dead ringers
The joyful simplicity of I Have Ran Out Of Coke’s ‘Wank Alarm’ post reminded me of a tale of mischief from my youth derived from something as simple and mundane as bell wire. Mooching around in my room one day as a sullen teenager I must have been quite staggeringly bored – so bored I decided to pull back the carpet just inside the door of my room. There I spotted some bell wire running along the strip of wood that separated my bedroom from the rest of the known universe. Being an odd child it was only natural I had a chisel in my bedroom. With nothing better to occupy my curiosity I pushed the point of the chisel onto the newly found wire. I suppose I did get a bit of a start when the doorbell immediately rang. A few more tries and I had worked out the metal of the chisel was contacting with the wires, closing the circuit and ringing the doorbell. It was at this point I also noticed my mum’s footsteps along the hall. She opened the front door with me listening intently behind my bedroom door, after a brief pause and probably some head scratching the door closed. I gave her probably just enough time to get back to the sofa before I rang again – this time she shot along the hallway and flung the door open.

Fast forward an hour or so. Dads on point peeking out the window looking for ‘the wee bastards’ and Mum is alternately crouching behind the front door for 5 minutes at a stretch – each time she gave up her vigil and stomped back along the hallway I would ring again which would prompt another frantic dash along the hallway the front door being flung open. The hardest thing was trying to keep a straight face when she would charge into my bedroom asking if I had ‘heard them running away’. Soon enough my frantic parents were at each others throats, cursing each other for their inability to catch ‘them’. Fair ruined their Sunday afternoon.

I think it was the only time I have ever heard my Mum swear.

I kept this up on and off for months to come – just when my mum thought ‘they’ had left her alone another ‘campaign’ would begin. Any time my parents pissed me off, any time I stomped off to my room in a teenage strop: 'The Ringers' would return. Nasty little bastard i was.
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 1:57, 6 replies)
one I found.

(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 1:53, Reply)
My grandpa..
My Grandpa is the king of these stories..
He once bought a full set of snooker balls from a charity shop - just because it was a bargain.
Of course, he didn't have a snooker table, so what to do? Simple - he built one out of an old bed base, a blanket, a couple of old garden hoses for the sides and a pair of my gran's tights cut up and tied for the pockets.
Christmas at my Grandpa's was much more fun after that. If only he'd found a full set of beer glasses and decided to build a pub as well..
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 1:15, 2 replies)
Having recently put a pool table in the garage...
My dad decided to pick up a couple of metal sign type things from TK Maxx, almost like little steel posters. One with a nice Jack Daniels motif and another with a 'Dubble Bubble' logo.

Having put up the JD sign with screws and hard work my dad decided to take a different approach with the second sign.

He ripped a few magnets out of an old CD Drive and stuck 'em on the wall with 'No More Nails'. A perfect anchor for the 'Dubble Bubble' sign.

Clever, eh?
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 1:05, 2 replies)
Not something I've made (yet)
But I swear that before I die, I will fit my car with a device that causes it to make the TARDIS sound when I pull away.
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 0:33, 4 replies)
You know how
the red light on the front of KITT the Knightrider Car swooshed form side to side?

I made a handbag that has one of them circuits on it, well actually, I made the handbag and my friend Carla (an ex Navy Techno type) made the Electronics. She was most amused when I had sown it all together and it actually worked. However the roots of this device lay in my dark and gothic past.

While still a youngling Goth, I discovered red LED's (light emitting Diodes for you non geeks) and parallel circuits. I also discovered Death metal and wired said LED's to light up in a red Inverted Cross pattern on the front of my old record player's speakers. Seventh Angel never sounded the same after that! It was so crass, but my youngling Goth mates thought it was cool too. The early Nineties were so out there...
(, Fri 21 Aug 2009, 0:10, Reply)
Anyone can play guitar
When I was 17, my parents got me a Squier electric guitar. It was white, like Jimi Hendrix's. I loved that guitar. There was one slight problem though: I couldn't play the fucking thing. I've got a tin ear, no rhythm, and trying to bend my fingers around the neck was like trying to perform a heart bypass via someone's anus.

Having a vague knowledge of electrical stuff, I decided it would be a good idea to stick a cut-out switch in it. Y'know, like Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame. It was simple wiring really, just a question of sticking a button on the line out, so when you hit it it muted all sound. It sounded amazing. I still couldn't play the guitar though.

Years passed, and that guitar followed me round wherever I went, getting more bruised and battered as time went by. The paint was flaking off, so I had the bright idea of spraying it. Spraying it with horrible lime-green plasti-cote. I bodged it up properly. There were massive bubbles of paint on the back where it had dripped off. It was a totally uneven coat, as well. Cut-out switch still worked though.

Couple of years later, I have to sell a load of shite so I can afford the deposit on a place to move in with my then-girlfriend. I sold my beloved Hi-Fi separates for about a tenth of what I paid for them, and I stuck the guitar on eBay, expecting to get about £20 for it.

In the description I put: with RADIOHEAD-STYLE CUTOUT SWITCH. I posted a couple of photos where I might have Photoshopped out the horrible bubbles and cracks in my abysmal paint job.

I watched the bids go up, and up, and up, and up. It sold for pretty much what my parents paid for it, enough to make up a major chunk of the deposit.

To whoever bought my guitar: I'm really sorry. I sold you utter shite. To be fair to the guy, he paid up and never complained, maybe he was happy with it.

I miss that guitar.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 23:00, 1 reply)
We've all been there
Well, if you smoke you have. I had fags (so no need for teabags), papers (no bible pages), and I even had filters (no hobbit tampons). But my lighter was empty. It was one of those non-refillable types, but I did have a can of lighter gas (so no need to syphon petrol out of the nearest automobile).

So I bodged together a lighter. I grabbed an empty beer bottle (I was right classy back then), and filled it with the noxious miasma from the can. This is sounding like a Monkey Island game.

Then, I diligently held my cigarette over the top of the bottle, and struck sparks from the lighter. Nothing. More lighter gas. Still nothing. A bit more lighter gas. BOOM!

I managed to set fire to my thumb, my hair and a bit of my face. I happily wandered down to casualty with a lit fag in my mouth.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 22:44, 6 replies)
TV bodge
When I was a kid and we were poor we had a 10 year old 14" TV (they really don't make them like that anymore). One day the power button stopped working but I realised that if you held the power button in then the TV would stay on. A few 2p pieces, a bit of blue tack and some sellotape later we had a working TV that had to be turned on and off at the socket. The thing lasted us a good few years after that too and since I'd ingeniously fixed it I got it for my room when my mum eventually upgraded.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 21:51, 1 reply)
Oh no....
I said I had hundreds of these:

Another post just reminded me of this.

I used to have an old MK1 Cavalier - bloody horrible thing it was too. One day I somehow managed to snap the ignition key off in the barrel. Even at this point the car was too old to find a replacement, and so I simply drilled the barrel out and then any key would fit, luckily my door key (Yale) would do the job so I only had to carry one key with me. The door lock, by some fluke would also open with that key, or lolly stick or sometimes by just looking at it in a funny way.

The problem was, once I'd drilled the barrel out it wouldn't turn back once the started motor was engaged creating one hell of a noise as the teeth on the cogs would grind in displeasure.

So, I bought a doorbell and mounted it under the steering column - I had to turn the ignition on (and thus undo the steering lock as well), then press the doorbell until the motor had done it's work and then let it go.

This provided much mirth to my colleagues and friends at the time, but after a while I was getting very pissed off with having to search for my car after work in the car park (3 bloody floors) as they moved it around the car park. After three months, thankfully the car became financially unviable to get through an MOT and it was gracefully retired.

Just as well, whilst I was growing tired of the 'find the car' game, it seems my colleagues never did.

I never did find out who the culprits were either!
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 21:51, Reply)
Some moons ago....
I was doing some work for a company that needed face recognition software written from scratch. Their language of choice was Microsofts Visual Basic, and whilst it's quite nice (especially since the advent of .net), it was not really the right tool for the job; however, I was but a mere programmer and the tools of my trade at that time were not my choice to make.

I basically started by chopping up pictures of faces into triangles and to cut a long and extremely boring and mathmatical explanation short, I used pythagorus to determine a recognition pattern and had an internal 'score'. If the 'score' was over a certain number, then in all likelyhood the person you were looking for was the person in the picure. This has given me an idea for a new application, but that's not for here.

At the time and at home, I had two cats.

I had trouble with other cats in the neighbourhood coming into my back porch and eating my cats food. Of course, I could simply have moved their bowls into the kitchen and let the (our) cats in and out when they needed feeding; but...that wouldn't have been anywhere near techie enough now would it?

At the firm I was doing the work for I had a colleague who was heavily into robotics. Indeed, his house would be the winner of this QoTW hands down, however, he gave me a voltage regulator and a serial controller at some point as I was making a 'pan and tilt' camera mount. The cat problem however, had given me a new use for the servos and donated equipment:

Yes. An electronic cat flap.

Now, this may seem misguided, but it worked...kind of.

I rigged up a large wheel that I made from ply as a gearing for the cat flap. I had a small carbon rod that was attached to the top of the gear wheel and the other end to a servo. The wheel would turn and in turn pull another rod (well two rods) over the top of a pivot and the cat flap would lift. Once motion was detected on the inside, the servo would receive a signal through the serial port and close the flap, just so I knew the cat was inside and I wasn't about to attempt to cut it in half.

An old (although it wasn't old at the time) Tosh laptop was the controller for this and I made a shelf for it in the porch connected wirelessly to a hub - remember this was long ago, wireless was not only expensive but far worse than it is now, but it worked most of the time.

I had two cameras at the time, as my ISP had a 'special' on the old logitec cam - 45 quid for one! You find them at boot fairs now for around 20p. Getting two idential webcams setup in Windows 95 was no mean feat I can tell you. Conflicts? Let me tell you about conflicts.....(no, I'll spare you)

I figured that if I could only get the cat to look directly into the web cam I could use the same software I'd written for the firm I was working for and get it to recognise my cats only. To do this, I had a little flashing LED next to the camera which started when the cam (or the program) detected motion, and thus attracting the cats attention.

I told you this was misguided.

Suprisingly, it did actually work, and I have an old handycam vid of it in practice somewhere. The only problem was that even if I could get the cat to look at the camera for long enough...all bloody cats look the same. Or at least they have the same symetrical features to their faces!

I took the bowls indoors in the end and simply let the cats in to eat.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 21:35, 2 replies)
Shinigami has just reminded me of this
I'm pretty into my music and when I was a teenager I somehow ended up with three sets of speakers so I set about hooking them all up to the same stereo. In order to do this I used a toe nail clipper to strip back the rubber surround from the speaker wires and then wind the copper wire from the first speaker around those from the other two. It produced really nice sound quality actually because one set was particularly good for the high end, another was great for the middle range and the last one was brilliant for base.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 21:30, Reply)
once upon a time when floppy discs were of the 5.25 inch variety (and therefore indeed floppy)
I had a floppy drive that failed at reading discs (and they were goddam £100 a disc drive back in 1984 but fortunately dad got a replacement) so natrally I took it apart to try and fix it. Behold! the stepper motor that actually spun the disc in its square sheath.

*thinks* I can make the disc spin by booting the floppy with "shift-break" on the BBC micro keyboard. So if I attach the stepper motor to a bobbin, a string to the bobbin, the other end of the string to the door handle, I might be able to open the door remotely by hitting 'Shift-Break' on my keyboard, from my bed. Imagine the majesty, a knock at the door and 'ENTER!' followed by the door silently gliding open. (well, this was my bedroom and I was 15 but still....one can dream).

I hooked it up (without thinking that I'm using £500 worth of computer and defunct disk drive to avoid having to get up on the very rare occasions anyone would ever knock at my bedroom door, aged 15) and experimented with it several times. Wizard!

8 times and it bust. DOH!
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 21:16, Reply)
GCSE Physics win
The one thing I actually took away from GCSE-level Physics was how to wire a plug. For some reason, the knowledge has become deeply embedded in my psyche; for the most part it's fairly useless apart from as proof for my male friends that, despite being a girl, I have some uses. I can also change lightbulbs, but I digress.

A few years back, I had a friend whose family dynamic was best described as volatile. This friend's mum once gave her a video player, but only after she'd cut the plug off with a pair of nail scissors. No, I don't know why.

This is why, aged about 16, in a small council bedsit full of gerbils, I finally got to make full use of my plug-wiring expertise. As my friend - for reasons unfathomable - did not own even a small toolkit, I wired a plug using only a pair of kitchen scissors and a butterknife. It worked, too.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 21:08, 3 replies)
Lightbulbs: the key to magical cars
My first car was a Rover 100, a little rough around the edges, but a nice runner with a gearstick that had to be smacked into the passenger's leg every time you went into low gears. And one day, a headlight went out. My dad helped me open it up and pull the old bulb out; we didn't have a matching bulb, but there was one from a Toyota that fit pretty well, in the sense that a square peg fits snugly into a round hole if you apply enough force. It was also a lot better than the old bulb, in that it turned my Rover into a magical car that could be driven without the key in the ignition, so long as you left the lights on.

I was pretty thrilled about it, but since it took a fortnight or so before I discovered I suddenly had a low-rent Herbie I failed to cotton on, and took it to the local garage to see what was what. My dad and I both stood there sheepishly as the mechanic held out the offending bulb and said "Right, which one of you put this bloody bulb in your car"?
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:59, Reply)
isn't mine, but one of the highlights from a particular favourite of mine:

(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:50, Reply)
Oh, and in case you can't get enough of these things...
...here is an entire site full of awesome.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:49, 3 replies)
Marmalade or Butter sir?
Back in the sixties, yes I am that old. My father had a Philips 'reel to reel' tape recorder, Here's a pic I found of one

As it got older and older, the valves in it started to deteriorate. It used to take 10 mins to warm up. So he took to keeping it in our central heating system to keep it warm.

The problem with this is that the rubber belt on the motor stretched due to the high temperature.

So he rubbed marmalade on the belt to make it sticky. Oh, oh, he used too much and the machine stopped dead. Unperturbed he proceeded to add butter to it until the stickiness was just right.

It worked great for about another 5 years.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:47, 1 reply)
My ex-wife's father was infamous for this shit. He lost the cap on his brake fluid reservoir on his Saab- so he fitted it with a baby food jar lid. He broke the globe on the light by the driveway- so he painted the inside of a pickle jar white and stuck in on there. The little door that covered the headlight on his station wagon stopped raising because of a vacuum leak- so he propped it open with a stick.

My favorite? He had a Chrysler station wagon that kept blowing a fuse for the dashboard instruments. Since electrical problems in a car are notoriously difficult to fix, he wrapped the fuse in foil from a pack of cigarettes. Why is this my favorite? Because the next day it burned down to the axles in the front yard.


For years after he died I found these rigs all around the house. Bless his thick old skull...
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:44, 3 replies)
A story further down reminded me of this.
A good few years ago now, my fiance at the time and I went on a daytrip to blackpool. We did all the usual things, strolled along the beachfront, went to the pleasure beach and saw the sights. As the day wore on, we began to make our way back towards the bus and stopped in a few of the tat.... sorry "souvenir" shops. I bought the usual..... one of those little glass cases full of water and coloured sand that makes a new photo each time it's flipped, a mucky postcard and so on, then came across an item which I knew I had to buy, not for myself but for my cousin.

My cousin was a one-off. He's sadly no longer with us, having passed away at only 20, but when he was younger he had the craziest sense of humour I think I've ever come across. He found almost everything hugely hilarious and when I saw this thing there in front of me, I knew it would cause him to wet himself with glee (a feat which I managed to make happen once when he was about 10 by repeating his name over and over in a funny voice).

There it was. It was a small plastic figure, about eight inches high, of a man bent over goatse style. On his face was a cheeky grin, and between the cheeks of his little plastic bum was a perfect rendering of a ringpiece which was big enough to fit a finger in if that's your thing. It had on it a motion sensor which caused a massive fart noise to fly from the bumhole whenever someone passed in front of, or should I say behind it.

When my ex had picked me off the floor and calmed me down, I held in my immature guffawing long enough to pay for the item and we went back to the bus.

Suffice to say he loved his present, even if his mum was horrified at the monstrosity which I handed him through howls of laughter. He was around eleven at the time, and shortly after that I lost touch with him as he went off to high school, met new friends and stopped visiting.

Several years later, we got jobs working with each other and I discovered to my joy his sense of humour hadn't changed at all. One day I mentioned the old present I'd got him all those years ago and he immediately began thanking me for it, saying it was one of the most useful things he'd ever had. Useful? It was a farting model! How could it be "useful"?

As it turned out, shortly after I lost touch with him, he discovered the joy of wanking, but quickly found that the lack of creaky floorboards outside his room led to a few near misses as his mum would burst in unannounced to find him scrambling for the remote in his pants. So, being the resourceful little bugger he was, he began placing the farting man at his door, ring pointing towards the stairs, giving him an amusing warning of his mum's approach with the added bonus of disgusting his mum every time.

Class act all the way :)
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:33, 2 replies)
I heard this one too late...
This one could have gone in for last weeks (sort of), but I only heard about it this morning.

And friend of a friend was in an exam in June, and he was extremely nervous. To calm himself, he took prozac... Lots of it.

He was sat in the exam, and throughout the whole exam he was climaxing. Constantly.

He was sat near the middle of the hall, among all of the fit girls in his psychology group, constantly jizzing.

He failed the exam with a 3/200 score (he got his name on it) and had to write to the exam board explaining what had happened. He was then allowed to re-sit the exam for free!!

As for this QOTW... I'll have to get back to you...
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:27, 10 replies)
i give you.......the light switcher offer!

1. take a mop, a brush or a hockey stick
2. if using a mop or brush detatch the head of the mop/brush and take the stick.
3. find a scarf, an old pair of tights, sock or a tie (any of these will do)
4. tie the stick loosley to the bed post or the headboard (so you can easily remove it when its needed)

how to use:
ever got in to bed only to realise that you have to walk to the light switch?
not only is this annoying but you usually trip over every object on the bedroom floor on your way back to the bed in the dark.

simply detatch the stick from its storage place, and poke the light switch with the end of the stick until it switches off.
doesnt require you to leave the bed.

(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 20:05, 1 reply)
Geriatric techno-hack
Not my Mum, but a good friend's.
She didn't know how to set the clock on her vcr, and it was one of the ones that flashed 0.00 when it wasn't set. This drove her as insane as the world's biggest, itchiest haemorrhoid.
So she coloured in a post-it note with a black permanent marker, and stuck it over the offending flashing digits.


My Mum doesn't do technology either. She falls asleep reading audio books on her CD walkman, has done ever since my old man died, and after hearing me rave about my iPod she bought one for herself (getting me to create the playlist, natch). Only problem was, she bought a shuffle. So now she gets chapter 11 of whatever book, then 6, then 2, etc. Thank God she knows how Murder on the Orient Express finishes from seeing the film coz she wouldn't have a fucking chance listening to it.
Mums. Know your limits.
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 19:52, 3 replies)
Sat watching TV with a mate in the arse end of nowhere in New Zealand

he asked me to pass the remote.

"Where is it" I replied

"There" he insisted

"There's nothing there" I cried

"It's lent against your leg" he persisted


"There, shoved behind the pillow, there!" he shouted.

"What this?"

"Yeah that."

"But,it's just a stick with a fork sellotaped to the end?!"

And with that he took said fork-stick and leant forward to push the channel button on the TV.

And he called ME a moron!
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 19:10, Reply)
Good old NES
Sellotaped the d-pad down so I'd keep running through portals to get a high score... I think it was Digger T Rock or something.

I'm not really that good with DIY :(

I have a friend who cooled his PC with a radiator from a LADA?
(, Thu 20 Aug 2009, 19:09, Reply)

This question is now closed.

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