The Best Ways to Tinker, 2007

John Baichtal, contributor to the blog Geekdad, details the best do-it-yourself projects from Make magazine.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Make magazine gives people involved in the DIY movement: guidance, encouragement and a lot of directions on how to make stuff out of their other stuff. So if you know your way around the tool box and you have a little pack rat in you, our next segment is for you.

Make magazine compiled a book of its best articles. For example, turn your VCR into a cat feeder, manipulate the machine to dispense kitty food at a certain time. Voila. One fan of the magazine wheeled down the best of the best of those articles, which makes him the perfect guest for our year-end series, The Best of The Best of 2007.

(Soundbite of song, "Simply the Best")

Ms. TINA TURNER (Singer): (Singing) You're simply the best, better than all the rest.

STEWART: John Baichtal, the contributor to the blog GeekDad, which is part of the Wired blog network.

Hi, John.

Mr. JOHN BAICHTAL (Contributor, GeekDad): Hello.

STEWART: So why do you think - before we start talking about these lists specifically - why do you think the DIY movement has gained in popularity? What's led to the DIY spirit, as you call it on your blog?

Mr. BAICHTAL: Well, I think that for every reaction there is, you know, an opposite reaction, and for so long, we've been given all of these things -whether they're electronic gadgets or something else - that basically you can't do anything to it. They're glued shut or they're screwed shut with some kind of screw but you don't have a screw driver for, and you basically have to just accept this item as it is. And when it dies, you throw it out and buy another one. But I think people have started to say, wait a second, you know, I've got a soldering gun. I can open this thing up and see what makes it tick and I can make it do other things.

And that's kind of a metaphor for a lot of the other DIY things, including things as (unintelligible) different as knitting. Like, people buy their clothes at stores and when they, you know, tear or something, they throw it out and buy more, but some people said I want to make my own clothes. And that's why you're seeing people get back into knitting after so many years of not to doing it.

STEWART: Well, Make magazine certainly encourages that DIY spirit. Now there were 75 projects in their best of. When you whittled it down to your favorite list, what did you look for when compiling that list?

Mr. BAICHTAL: I just think that they had a very wide range of things. And the projects that appealed to me were one that seemed the most successful to your average person. Some of them are extremely difficult, you know, still entertaining to read, but beyond the capabilities of most people, but the ones that I appreciated were the ones that pretty much anyone who could read directions and had some patience and some time could sit down and do.

STEWART: All right, so let's dive into your list from Make magazine - the gun-operated alarm clock. That sounds like trouble, I'll be honest. So explain to me what exactly is involved.

Mr. BAICHTAL: Basically, you take a light gun from a video game and you wire it to the snooze button of your alarm clock. It's not as simple as just grabbing the gun and pulling the trigger. The gun itself has sensors that know which direction you're pointing it at. And you have to point it at your clock from a very specific angle in order to snooze it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: So no more of the bear paw where you just hit your alarm clock with your arm. You have to actually have someā€¦

Mr. BAICHTAL: Yup. You've got to time your (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAICHTAL: You put them on and aim it right, otherwise that alarm is staying on. And also, if you point it from different directions, you can change the time and do other things. So it's not quite simple as just the snooze button. And that's pretty slick and it also looks really cool on your bedside table.

STEWART: There's a project to make your own biodiesel. Obviously, that's renewable fuel made from chemical reactions of alcohol and vegetable or animal oil, fats, greases. I'm afraid to ask about this one. If you're doing this yourself, where do they suggest you get the grease?

Mr. BAICHTAL: Well, first of all, they don't suggest animal oils because it tends to congeal in cold weather. You'd have shortening in your engine. But they - say any kind of vegetable oil refined. It can even be used oil like out of the bottom of your French fry fryer.

STEWART: Yeah, they suggested French fry oil, right?

Mr. BAICHTAL: Yeah.

STEWART: Yeah, you say that like it's normal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAICHTAL: Of course, you have to filter all the little, you know, shriveled up black onion rings and stuff. And then you pour it into a jar and you add lye and basically methanol, which is the same as that heat stuff that you put in your gas tanks so it doesn't freeze. And that breaks down the oil so it's much more - less dense and a lot of the engines just spray it, which is how diesel engines work. And after you go through this process, you can just pour it right in your engine.

STEWART: Just like that.

Mr. BAICHTAL: Well, you guessed it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: On your list is also a starter kit for DIY wannabees, which made me wonder, do you already have to be a little bit of a Handy Andy to make the things that are on this list?

Mr. BAICHTAL: I don't think so. I think as long as you're willing to tolerate the chance of failure, which a lot of people aren't, and willing to learn from their mistakes, they think that pretty much anyone could do these things. Yes, you do need tools, and every one of these projects has a list of tools required at the beginning of it. So you pretty much know what you're getting into before you start.

STEWART: Have you been brave enough to attempt any of these in your own home?

Mr. BAICHTAL: Well, I have three kids so unfortunately I haven't had much time to do these projects. It's kind of like a vicarious thing where I can flip through the books and imagine what it's like to not have toddlers at home. So I guess it's going to be a few years before I get to actually delve into any of these.

STEWART: John Baichtal is a contributor to the blog Geekdad, which is part of the Wired Blog network.

Thanks, John.

Mr. BAICHTAL: Thank you.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

Geekdad, I love it.

STEWART: I know.

SMITH: I want to be one of those.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Are you a Handy Andy?

SMITH: I am not a Handy Andy. I do have some tools I keep under the sink, but that's about it.

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