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« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

PopSci 5-Minute Project: Disposable Cam-Belt

Doug explains how to build perhaps the world's most fashionable high-tech belt using only leather straps, a disposable camera and some elbow grease. Oh, and a belt, of course. Far more complex than it sounds—launch the video for in-depth instruction and proceed at your own risk.

If you haven't yet, subscribe to our 5-Minute Projects video podcast via iTunes or our RSS feed.

DIY Built-In Cable-Free Network


Or, how to hide all that wire junk and still enjoy your home entertainment system.

Do you hate cable clutter? Do you have wires, cables, plugs, and power strips laying around your home collecting more dust than compliments? Armed with a hole saw and a couple computer grommets, you can easily and safely tuck away power cords, stereo wiring, and coax cables in less than 15 minutes.

Typical Parts List

Computer grommets 2” (Lowe’s #144590; $4.46)
Cable covers 5’ (Lowe’s #73617; $5.97)
Cable cover accessory pack (Lowe’s #73627; $5.69)

2-inch Hole saw (Milwaukee #49-22-4050; $66.53)

H2WHOA! Watch that hole saw. A hole saw can pack as much kick as an NFL linebacker. Take your time and exercise extreme caution drilling into any wooden surface. Finally, always practice the old carpenter’s adage: measure twice, cut once.


Step 1. Determine where you want to install your home entertainment system. Don’t forget to factor viewing angles, distances to acoustic dampening materials, and placement of furniture into your selection process. Also, if possible, establish a central cable hub or home base for holding all power strips, secondary equipment, and communication outlets.


Step 2. Measure and mark the center for each computer grommet. Chuck the 2-inch hole saw cutter into your electric drill and make a hole. Remove any wood chips and burrs from the hole. Slip the grommet into place.

Step 3. Install the home entertainment system using the grommet for routing all connection wire and power cables between the system and your home base.

Step 4. Speakers and coax cable outlets never seem to be in the right place when installing a home entertainment system. Therefore, use cable covers for holding and hiding the connection wires running from these outlying outlets back to your home base. Use baseboards, bookcases, and fireplaces for camouflaging your cable covers.


Power everything up and sit back and enjoy your cable-free home entertainment system.

Roll Your Own... Keyboard, That Is!


Those big surfboard keyboards are quickly going the way of beige boxes. A recent product addition at All Electronics Corporation features a flexible keyboard that can be rolled up into a cylinder. Priced at $14.95 this input device would be a great option for building that oatmeal container computer that you’ve always dreamed about. One great “extra” included with this keyboard is a USB female-to-PS/2 keyboard converter plug. A nice adapter for making newer keyboards work with older PCs. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: All Electronics)



You can pick your friends and you can pick your components, but you can’t pick your friend’s components. Unless you have the new digital tweezers from Spark Fun Electronics.

Actually, these tweezers are a full-function multimeter that has been specially packaged for measuring those hard-to-see surface mount components. Got a micro SMD resistor that you can’t ID; no problem, just pinch it with these digital tweezers and you’ll know it’s value from .1 to 5M ohms. Likewise, you can measure capacitors, inductors, voltage, frequency, and continuity with just a teensy pinch. Dubbed “Smart Tweezers” this versatile multimeter is manufactured by Siborg. The Smart Tweezers are priced at $299.95. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: Siborg)

5-Minute Project Video: A Musical Stash For Your Cash

Jake demonstrates how to keep prying coworkers out of your secret stuff with this Altoids-tin storage box, complete with an "alarm" fashioned out of the guts of one of those musical greeting cards. Ah, the "sound of punishment." Enjoy.

If you haven't yet, subscribe to our 5-Minute Projects video podcast via iTunes or our RSS feed.

Living in a Micro World


Yup, things are getting tight. Lots of people, lots of stuff, and not enough space to hold everything. This encroachment on our space is apparent in the growing number of “small footprint,” “zero-lot” houses that are being built. This reduction in square footage is epitomized in Richard Horden’s micro compact home (m-ch). Now that’s cozy.

If you happen to own or live in such cramp quarters, then you’ll appreciate methods for maximizing your usable space. One such utilization is the “zero-space” ironing board. Most of these ironing board are housed in smooth-finished cabinets that are fastened between a home’s wall studs. Unfortunately, this installation method doesn’t work for homes that are already built and finished. In this case, the wall-mounted ironing board by Hide-Away is a usable option.

Pressed for Space

2 Hours


(1) Hide-Away surface mount ironing board (Lowe’s #251693; $189.88)


  • drill
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • level
  • tape measure
  • screwdriver (both straight & Phillips head)
  • pencil

  • Wall stud locator


Although the surface-mounted ironing board can be mounted flush on a wall, you will need to find a wall stud for hanging the Hide-Away cabinet. Accurately finding wall studs is the bane of the home DIYer. One of the easiest methods for finding a wall stud is to look for “signs” of a wall stud. Electrical outlet plates (i.e., the electrical junction box is usually nailed into an adjacent wall stud), nails in baseboard trim, and wall openings (e.g., corners, doors, windows, etc.) are all earmarks of likely stud locations. When you think that you’ve located a possible wall stud, use your knuckle to knock on the wall’s drywall and listen for changes in sound: hollow sounds are generally open wall areas, while denser sounds might indicate a wall stud. If all else fails, confirm your wall stud location suspicion with a commercial wall stud locator.



In order to ensure that the cabinet’s door hangs plumb, temporarily install the door hinges prior to hanging the ironing board unit. It’s far easier to attach these hinges while the unit is laying flat on the floor rather than hanging on the wall. When you are satisfied with the door’s fit, remove the hinges. Finally, drill two 1/4-inch holes (e.g., cabinet top and cabinet bottom) which will serve as attachment points to the wall stud.



Determine how high you want your ironing board. A comfortable height for the surface-mounted cabinet is 27-inches off the floor (i.e., as measured from the cabinet’s bottom side). Now align the pre-drilled holes with the wall stud and attach two of the supplied 3-inch lag screws. Finally, reattach the door, using the previously installed hinges.

You are now living in a wrinkle-free world.


Thrifting Without Leaving Your Chair

Stylistic_1000Are you looking for a unique, odd, outdated, or antique component for a special DIY project? Then make a quick trip to Surplus Sales of Nebraska. Claiming to stock over 20,000 “individual items,” Surplus Sales of Nebraska has lots of interesting bargains including:

NEW, in the box, Fujitsu Stylistic 1000 computers for $39 - $65.
Like new, Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera with flash and two bulbs for $75.

Furthermore, there is a monthly sales flier (PDF) that contains an occasional gem like Nixie displays B6036 and NL50318, for $55 and $75, respectively.

Finally, as you spend all night looking through the seemingly endless list of surplus goodies, you can quench your case of the munchies with a NEW, in-the-box, Art Deco Manning Bowman “The Debutante” waffle maker complete with fabric power cord for $350.

Bon appetit! —Dave Prochnow

Our New Instructables Contest: DIY Halloween!


Halloween might be more than a month away, but we all know a successful 'Ween requires planning; and, occasionally, incentive. Just in time for the holiday, we're joining forces with our friends at Make and Instructables to bring you a Halloween contest with enough prizes to rival a night's worth of candy-stuffed pillowcases.

Pencils ready? Here's the deal. Throw us your most ghoulish trick or ingenious costume or gruesome treat, via Instructables. A skinned chimp? Yes please! A jellyfish hat? Perfect! Conjoined twin mice? Um, ok.

Since there are four categories to excel in, there's plenty of opportunity to wow the judges. Handy with a knife? Enter the Hack-o-Lantern Contest. Brandish a mean sewing needle? Try the Costume Contest. There's a category for food and another for decorations, gadgets, and more.

In return for your efforts, you'll be handsomely rewarded with yet-to-be-decided (but undoubtedly fantastic) prizes.

Best get a move on, though. The contest ends 11:59pm Sunday, 4 November 2007 (a full weekend after Halloween, for you procrastinators). To see the full details and entry instructions, check out the official contest page at instructables.com.

You're still reading this? What are you waiting for!? Go! Make! Instruct! See you on Halloween. We'll be the ones downing witches' brew in the corner. Bwahahaha!

Bargain Basement Tuesday


Here are two bargain-priced products that are worth an extra look:

First up, All Electronics Corp has a digital multimeter that could be a great backup testing tool for the garage, basement, or shop. It’s a Craftsman Model No. 82061 (Cat # DMM-61) auto-ranging digital LCD meter. It comes with a carrying case and two 1.5V LR-44 batteries. This meter can measure: AC voltage, DC voltage, resistance, and capacitance. The Craftsman 82061 meter is priced at $10.65.

The second bargain is the Compaq Microcom TravelCard Fast PCMCIA modem from BG Micro (#COM 1176). This 33.6Kbps modem does not include manuals, drivers, or phone line cord, but it only costs ten cents! You can find these extra items from Wired World for $30.42 or TradeMoon for $6. NOTE: Make sure that these other vendors do, in fact, include the manuals, drivers, and phone line cord with the modem. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: All Electronics Corp.)

Make a High-Speed Flash

Katherine_balloon_4_2Capturing the most fleeting of moments—like the droplets formed by a splash of water or the ripping plastic from an exploding balloon—used to be expensive propositions. Fancy photo strobes with special voice- or sound-activated switches (called VOX) costing hundreds of dollars were the equipment of choice for high-speed photographers. Not so, anymore. By tapping into the powerful tools housed inside disposable flash cameras, you can build your own high-speed photography system for under $30.


Warning: Before you start working with the flash mechanism from a disposable camera, remove the battery and make sure that the onboard storage capacitor is completely discharged (hold a pair of insulated pliers across the + and - flash terminals and manually trigger the flash).

How to Build a DIY High-Speed Flash System


1 hour
Cost: $25.16

Parts List


(1) Disposable flash camera (The Electronic Goldmine #G16329; $1.29 or Fuji Photo Film QuickSnap; $5.99)
(1) Silicon Controlled Rectifier (SCR) sensitive gate 0.8A 400V (Digi-Key #EC103D-ND; .39)
(1) 3.5mm stereo cable (The Electronic Goldmine #G15449; .99)
(1) Cassette tape recorder (scavenged or Memorex® MB1055 @ Target; $19.99)
(1) Electret microphone (scavenged or All Electronics #MIKE-75; $2.50)


(2) AA & (2) AAA alkaline batteries
Camera capable of “B” (bulb) or prolonged (> 2 seconds) exposures



Step 1. The Anatomy of a Flasher.

Remove all of the exterior plastic, film advance system, and shutter assembly from the disposable flash camera. Locate the + and - flash terminals. These terminals are located near the shutter. Use a voltage meter for identifying which terminal is positive (+) and which one is negative (-). Some cameras (e.g., Fuji QuickSnap, as pictured) might require the flash on/off switch to be soldered in the “on” position.

Step 2. Becoming Flash Trigger-Happy

Snip off one jack of the 3.5mm stereo cable. Prep the snipped end exposing the red, white, and black wires. Solder the cathode pin of the SCR to the negative (-) flash terminal and solder the anode pin of the SCR to the positive (+) flash terminal. Solder the red and white wires from the 3.5mm stereo cable to the SCR’s gate pin. Finally, solder the stereo cable’s black wire to the negative (-) flash terminal (along with the SCR cathode pin).


Step 3. Void the Cassette Recorder’s Warranty

Remove the cassette tape door from the cassette recorder. Make sure that you have clear and easy access to the cassette recorder’s write-protection button. This is a small movable “finger” opposite the record head that determines whether or not a cassette tape can be recorded. This button must be depressed to turn the cassette recorder on in “record” mode. You will use the “record” mode for gathering sound and amplifying it enough for triggering the flash.

Step 4. Lights, Cameras, High-Speed Action

Find a darkened location for experimenting with high-speed photography—an area completely devoid of ambient lighting. Mount your camera on a tripod, set the shutter for a bulb or “B” exposure. Cameras that can deliver timed 1-4 second exposures can also work.

Insert fresh batteries into the disposable flash camera. Plug an inexpensive electret microphone into the recorder’s “MIC” input. Plug the jack of the 3.5mm stereo cable into the “PHONE” output. Hold down the recorder’s write-protection button and press the recorder’s red “RECORD” button. The flash should begin charging. [NOTE: some disposable cameras might require you to depress a flash activation button.] When the amber “ready” light glows steadily on the back of the disposable camera, the flash is ready to be triggered by sound.

Kill the lights, hold the flash trigger near your subject, open the camera’s shutter, and record some high-speed event that is triggered by its noise. Like the pop of a balloon, the kerplunk of water, or the smack of a head slap. Take your pick and take some pix.

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