Ed. note: Senior Editor of MAKE magazine Phil Torrone joins us to celebrate more modern-day MacGyvers as we continue DIY week at Lifehacker. Today's maker: entrepreneur and self-taught computer chip designer Jeri Ellsworth.
Pictured above, MacGyver of the Day: Jeri Ellsworth - Electronics hacker, chip maker, race car builder, pin ball machine maker, blowing-stuff-up'er...
Hi Lifehackers! MAKE is best known for sharing all the goodness of making things for yourself, learning new skills and many times, voiding warranties... Marcus Chan of the San Francisco Chronicle said we're the "The kind of magazine that would impress MacGyver" - and that's what this week is about. It's a little known fact, but MAKE even has the creator of MacGyver writing at MAKE: Lee D. Zlotoff! Lee is a writer/producer/director among whose numerous credits is creator of MacGyver (you can see his articles here). Let's dive in and meet today's MacGyver - Jeri!
Jeri Ellsworth is an American entrepreneur and self-taught computer chip designer. She is best known for, in 2004, creating a Commodore 64 emulator within a joystick, called Commodore 30-in-1 Direct to TV. The "computer in a joystick" could run 30 video games from the early 1980s, and was very popular during the 2004 Christmas season, at peak selling over 70,000 units in a single day via the QVC shopping channel. She is a pinball machine aficionado and owns over 60 full-sized pinball arcade games.
Before we continue...
I live in an actual electronics factory and let me tell you, what Jeri made was really, really incredible. She reverse engineered and designed the entire Commodore 64 audio and video system on a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) and then managed to get it made cheap enough so it could sold on QVC. A FPGA allows you to design circuits after a chip was made - "an integrated circuit designed to be configured by the customer or designer after manufacturing". She went from prototype to a top-selling product, 70k in one day!
Just to be clear for the super-geeks out there, here's the photo she *looked at* to reverse engineer the chip; then in her head, she visualised the transistor layout and converted it to a FPGA. Thousands of transistors, weird tricks, dealing with skew timing and delays, process variability, sneaky chip stuff, NTSC video generation - this was an amazing feat. We could probably wrap up this article now, but this volume dial goes to 11. Let's roll.
The chassis picture to the right is from Jeri's late teens and early 20s when she hand-built a race car chassis from a piles of tubular steel.
Jeri recently put up photos of her "chip fab". She writes, "It took me 2 years to achieve my dream of making transistors and simple IC's at home."
Jeri recently said in an email: "Of course I love fire and blowing stuff up. Then, there's my addiction to pinball". I've included some more photos, videos from her show and other odds and ends. Jeri inspires me to be more Macgyver-ish every day, and I'm sure she'll inspire you too! Take a look at the many videos and projects she has online and make something!
The 52-Inch Etch A Sketch
Jeri builds a 52-inch Etch A Sketch from a HD projection TV, tent poles, golf tee and gear reduced motors.
Pictured above: Jeri Ellsworth showing her homemade (working) Nintendo purse at a semiconductor show the same day as a roller derby event she skated in.http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/4/2010/02/160x120_foto_7-600x400.jpg
And here's the video about the Nintendo on a chip and C64 that Jeri installed into a purse. It used a LCD from a portable DVD player and an 8-amp hour battery, which lasts for nine hours.
DIY Pinball Machine
Homemade pinball machine she is working on...
Phil Torrone is Senior Editor of MAKE magazine, contributing editor to Popular Science, and creative director of Adafruit Industries, where they make educational electronics and kits like the TV-B-Gone and some "other" hacky projects that sometimes make the rounds in these parts of the web. You may have seen MAKE in bookstores, public television, online, or been to one of their Maker Faires (there will be 3 this year, they are expecting over 100k attendees!). His personal site is http://www.braincraft.com.