Tinkering With Torrone


segway torrone Contacting gadget lovers is always difficult – the simple option of email, lost in a forest of communication possibilities. Do you chat to them on aim, ichat, msn or irc? Dive into a VOIP phone chat? Get their encryption key for truly private ping-pong, drop a line to one of their many sites, or just send a message to their watch? All of these options are available on Phil Torrone’s www.flashenabled.com, which is both a companion site for his book about using Flash for multimedia devices, as well as a depository for his lon-n-n-ng list of gadget hackery, optimisation and remixing. Fresh on the job at the new makezine.com, he took time to beam us these answers using nothing but a can-opener, a hello kitty vibrator and one of McGyver’s shoelaces:

What’s the thrust behind MAKE magazine?
MAKE looks at the world with do-it-yourself lenses. We have tons of projects, hacks, mods and articles – from everyday technology to incredibly insane inventions. We celebrate your right to tweak, hack, and bend any technology to your own will. Dan Bricklin described Make Magazine quite nicely “This is a dream publication for an engineer or an engineer at heart”.

Why do you enjoy gadget tinkering so much?
As a child I didn’t care for toys – I was far more interested in taking electronics apart. My dad had to hide the tools at one point, I of course fashioned my own out of utensils, that wasn’t exactly well received. I need to know how something works in order to use it, and usually try and find ways to make it do something else, like a robot army.

Have you ever been troubled by companies about publicising hacks to their products?
Not directly, but I recently wrote an article about unlocking the new T-Mobile Sidekick II and putting “developer” applications on it. After the article hit, T-Mobile added a new requirement of faxing a request to unlock your phone, and the fax machine isn’t working. Apparently tons of people were unlocking their phones and installing RSS readers, other IM clients and other stuff T-Mobile didn’t really dig.

What do you really do with your shower webcam and ipod?
The shower cam was a project I was pitching to a high end hotel. I thought it’d be interesting to have an “opt-in” shower cam, so after all the party people hit the showers at 3am they could “tune” in to others folks doing the same thing. I needed to test the sound and waterproofing, no iPods were injured in this experiment.

Segway madness! What are those beasts like to ride?
It’s pretty much as close as you can get to a machine reading your mind and moving based on thought. For most people, if they “think” about moving forward, their center of gravity move a little forward and that’s what causes the Segway gyroscopes to move the transporter forward. When you’re going down a steep hill, at 12.5 mph, standing, it’s pretty close to flying on a magic carpet I suspect.

Can you describe that self-balancing ‘ibot mobility device’ a little more?
At Dean Kamen‘s house I was able to sit in it and use it. It’s perhaps the most incredible piece of technology I’ve ever tried – like two invisible hands are holding you safely and firmly in the air, just waiting for your command to move. For a disabled person this technology changes your world, stairs, mobility, you can go and do just about anything. After I chatted with this fellow, I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed- it’s rare to see such a lifechanging technology actually in use.

Upcoming issues on the technology battlefield?
The battles will have many names, DRM, broadcast flag, p2p, fair use…In the end, it’s all about the content cartels being able to legislate how and what technology is created. We can’t let that happen. For the first time, everyone can create, share, mix, remix and create- in parallel the movie, tv and music industries are trying to take our rights away on a daily basis. If you haven’t visited the EFF, go there now, and support them- they’re fighting the good fight.

Why haven’t we seen you shoes that ‘spell words in the air as u walk’ everywhere?
When it happens, people will never forgive me. Actually, a couple shoe companies have approached me- but nothing really came out of it. The latest version I’m working on spelling the miles and pace (for runners) when you look down. We’ll see, it usually take 100 or so bad ideas to get the one good one.

In your opinion the best mp3 player out there is ?
3G iPod, you can install Linux and record high quality audio. I use it all the time, it’s the one that has the 4 buttons that Apple discontinued and the most hackable one out there.

Desert island, you and 3 devices?
I suppose I could get tactical and assemble devices in order to get saved from the island, but I’d be quite content with a solar panel, my 15″ Powerbook g4 and an Aibo – man’s best friend and all…

PS ( check www.segway.com – you know you want to )

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