The big book of hacks : 264 amazing DIY tech projects

Much can be written about the popularity and permeation of DIY (do-it-yourself) culture into our everyday lives. The emphasis on self-sufficiency and learning to do things without paying someone, or relying on an expert, has encouraged many to become modern-day homemakers and handypersons by learning to knit, install drywall, bake bread and start a vegetable garden. The library, if anything, is an incubator for DIY with its multitude of programs and books that encourage self education.

A subset of this DIY culture is the Maker Movement that takes the DIY ethic and employs engineering acumen and technology into solving everyday and whimsical problems. Some Makers change household objects into better, more advanced products. Who would not want a motorized easy chair? Others build one-of-a-kind engineering feats that are solely limited by the dreams of the individual and current technology. One development from the Maker Movement is the Arduino, a circuit board that can be programmed using a basic computer language to act as a controller with limitless configurations. As an example, one can use Arduino to create and control a t-shirt outfitted with LEDs that mimics a television.

The 264 projects included in the book vary in both cost and difficulty. The brief introductory section explains basic soldering and circuit building techniques and rudimentary hints on welding, woodworking and programming an Arduino. The projects are divided into overarching themes: geek toys, home improvements, gadget upgrades and things that go. Some notable home projects are a greenhouse made out of CD cases, a Zen fountain controlled by one’s toilet, a foot-operated mouse made from a sheet of PVC, removing a stripped screw with a rubber band, and making a solar charger for a cell phone. The book also include brief bios of creators of completed spectacular projects such as the amphibious vehicle for an Alaskan hunter, a bartending robot, and a snowblower built out of a V8 engine.

A good deal can be said about the failures of the United States public school system in instilling STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in students. However, there is a culture of Yankee ingenuity (and arguably, every culture has this ethos) of making things fit one’s own needs, and books such as this help encourage readers to modify and experiment with objects from everyday life. Science teachers, DIY-ers, teenagers and people with sizable toolkits should relish the modified objects and the process described in this book. This reviewer showed this book to a group of teenagers and they were instantaneously hooked and marveled over the creativity of these engineers.