Wednesday, February 11, 2009
A magazine on the Make
No lengthy preamble to this one, no long and involved story of my days as a bookseller cleaning up the magazine section after it had been torn apart by high school kids every day during lunch period (well, I guess that's the whole story there), just a simple recommendation for a magazine so cool it makes me honestly wish I were a teen again.
Make: technology on your time is a quarterly offering chock full of all sorts of things one can... make. There's a lot of re-purposed technology here, a lot of recycling, a bit of hacking, a bit of robots and a touch of whimsy, all of it sort of like a 21st century Popular Mechanics but with cooler graphics and more satisfying results.
The current issue centers around the theme Spy Tech and features projects on how to make a chess set with a secret drawer that uses strategically placed (and magnetic) playing pieces to open; how to turn a handful of cheap parts into a listening device placed in a hollowed out book; and how to turn a cell phone camera into a long-range digital spy scope. This beats the heck out of those craft projects in magazines from back in the day that had us carving out boats that were powered by a copper tube heated by a candle!
This is why the magazine makes me wish I was a teen again: because instead of lounging around whining about having nothing to do, I'd like to believe I would have spent all my free time (and a sizable chunk of my homework time) and all my expendable income making stuff. In the process I would have learned about electronics, tools, computers, laws of physics, pranks I would never have dreamed of, and who knows what other doors would have been opened to me.
Water rockets! Electric cars! A million and one uses for Altoids tins, including the Minty Boost battery charger that gives your iPod 10 extra hours of play and will get you flagged as a possible terrorist threat at airport security! It's about all the things I loved doing as a boy (like I don't enjoy these things now?): tearing stuff apart, figuring out how it works, building something new out of the parts your cannot put back together. In fact, one of the Make mantras is "If you can't open it, you don't own it" which is in reference to this idea that you void your warranty on your electronics if you "tamper" with something you paid for. Wanna take a dead cell phone and turn the battery and it's vibrating motor into a robot? Wanna learn how to carve the coolest pumpkins come Halloween? How about a bird feeder with a remote control for taking pictures of the birds that come for a visit? Yup, all inside this little magazine here.
That said, there is something of a spoiler to all this: there's a lot of content available online at their website. Not all of it, but a lot, and it spawned interest in another website called Instructables where people post their own home-brewed projects online, free for the taking.
But in the end, is it reading? Of course it's reading! Magazines are one of the areas never covered in all those surveys of teen reading habits. Or if there is a magazine question, it's usually about Sports Illustrated, Time, People, and the like. I feel like magazines have been given short shrift and, despite wringing of hands and wolf cries over the end of publishing as we know it, I don't think magazines are going to be leaving us anytime soon. Certainly Make seems to be doing well.
I don't remember how I originally discovered Make, but I got tired of never finding copies at the library (because they're always checked out) and begged for a subscription for my birthday. I suspect that if you are or know a teen boy who hasn't encountered Make that they're sure to find at least one project in every issue that makes them want to hustle up the gear and get down to the nitty gritty of following the directions.
Make: technology on your time
published quarterly by O'Reilly