Senior Editor of MAKE magazine Phil Torrone joins us to celebrate more modern-day MacGyvers as we continue DIY week at Lifehacker. Today he celebrates mischief maker and non-lethal weapons engineer (her flashlight can make you throw up) Limor "Ladyada" Fried.
Video above: An episode of MAKE television where Ladyada shows how she developed, designed, and engineered a homemade mobile phone jammer.
Lifehacker readers, you're in luck today; if you've ever wondered what a real life Macgvyer does for a living, I'm about to show you. I work with Limor at my "other" job designing educational electronics. It's a dream come true. Ladyada is perhaps the smartest person I've met on the planet. I've always called her "Lex Luthor smart" or "MacGyver clever", and most people seem to understand those analogies. She uses her smarts for mostly "good" and of course some mischief, which I would say is also good on a long enough timeline. That said, her work speaks for itself, so let's take a look and listen...
Here's what Ladyada's research page says:
I spent the two years of my Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering at the Computing Culture Group in the Media Lab at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). During that time, I did some engineering, and a little thinking. You can download the 14M PDF here. In contemporary Western society, electronic devices are becoming so prevalent that many people find themselves surrounded by technologies they find frustrating or annoying. The electronics industry has little incentive to address this complaint; I designed two counter-technologies to help people defend their personal space from unwanted electronic intrusion. Both devices were designed and prototyped with reference to the culture-jamming "Design Noir" philosophy. The first is a pair of glasses that darken whenever a television is in view. The second is low-power RF jammer capable of preventing cell phones or similarly intrusive wireless devices from operating within a user's personal space. By building functional prototypes that reflect equal consideration of technical and social issues, I identify three attributes of Noir products: Personal empowerment, participation in a critical discourse, and subversion.
She updated and released this project on Christmas day of 2006. It can also jam Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more — perfect for schools, prisons, and coffee shops! The video above has the segment from Make: television Episode 10, public television.
Wave Bubble: a self-tuning, wide-bandwidth portable RF jammer. The device is lightweight and small for easy camouflaging: it is the size of a pack of cigarettes. An internal lithium-ion battery provides up to 2 hours of jamming (two bands, such as cell) or 4 hours (single band, such as cordless phone, GPS, WiFi, bluetooth, etc). The battery is rechargeable via a mini-USB connector or 4mm DC jack (a common size). Alternately, 3 AAA batteries may also be used. Output power is .1W (high bands) and .3W (low bands). Effective range is approximately 20' radius with well-tuned antennas. Less so with the internal antennas or poorly matched antennas. Self-tuning is provided via dual PLL, therefore, no spectrum analyzer is necessary to build this jammer and a single Wave Bubble can jam many different frequency bands - unlike any other design currently available! To reconfigure the RF bands, simply plug it into the USB port of your PC and type in the new frequencies when prompted. Multiple frequency ranges can be programmed in, each time the device is power cycled it will advance to the next program in memory. While the documentation here is both accurate and complete (as much as possible), the construction of such a device is still an advanced project. I would not suggest this as even an 'intermediate' skill project, considering the large amount of difficult SMT soldering (multiple TSSOP and SOT chips, 0603 RC's), obscure parts, and equiptment necessary to properly construct and debug. This design is not for sale or available as a kit and never will be due to FCC regulations. Please do not ask me to assist you in such matters. All original content for this project is distributed open source under Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution / Share-Alike.
Next up, Ladyada teamed up with Mitch Altman to develop and design the high powered TV-B-Gone kit. This allows anyone to turn off any TV in public, or in private if you were so inclined. The project is used in workshops around the world to teach electronics, it's fun to use and Mitch has some good thoughts on why this might be a good idea...
How much of the TV that you watch do you really like a lot? If you could choose whatever it is that you'd like to be doing right now, anything at all, what would it be? Was your answer, "Watch TV!"? Whatever your answer was, my wish for you is that you have time in your life to do it. Please make time in your life for what you really like. Better yet, please make time to do what you love. Wouldn't that be great? Don't know what you love? Try out a few things, see what happens.
Like all things, from chainsaws to credit cards, the TV-B-Gone can be abused. So with the mighty power of TV-turning-off-IR-LEDs, please be responsible folks — and CES is not a good place for testing these, okay?
Moving along, you know all those old pagers from 1990s everyone uses? Turns out they're still around, and Ladyada demonstrates how to take a $US10 pager and make "pager scanner" so it can see all the pages and pager data on the pager networks. Surprisingly it's still used for a lot of interesting things and for transmitting data to many devices. (Breadboarding diagram for 2-fsk decoding hereand& download PDW here.) If you want to see how she got it to work check out part one first (reverse engineering a pager).
And last but not least, a flashlight that makes you vomit (and yes, that's me in the video). The Bedazzler DIY non-lethal weaponry. She writes:
Our first open source Homeland Security non-lethal weapon project - The "THE BEDAZZLER: A Do-it-yourself Handheld LED-Incapacitator". After attending a conference where the $US1 million "sea-sick flashlight" (named "THE DAZZLER") was demonstrated by the US Dept. of Homeland Security, we decided to create our own version. For under $US250, you can build your own dazzler and we've released the source code, schematics and PCB files to make it easy. A great Arduino project for people who really like blinking LEDs. We also added in a mode selection so you can put it into some pretty color-swirl modes, great for raves and parties! Yes this project does indeed cause: Nausea, dizziness, headache, flashblindness, eye pain and (occasional?) vomiting! So don't use it on your friends or pets
Ladyada spends her time designing educational electronics; you can visit her project site Ladyada.net or her online store if you want to look at the kits she sells. In the video above, you can see her latest creation, a retro arcade style table tennis for two clock.
All of her kits are "open source hardware", meaning she gives away all the designs. You don't need to buy anything — you can make your own kits and even start a business selling them if you wanted (some have!). If you check the Maker Faire site you can see if and when a Maker Faire is in your area. Ladyada is usually at each fair and doing some type of electronics workshop. She also has a weekly video show called "Ask an engineer" if you need engineering questions answered, too.
Throughout the week I picked my favourite makers &mdash ;I've got more than five, of course — but what I wanted to say in closing is that we're all makers, we all start out making things. Somewhere along the way many of us lose that feeling of creating something and sharing it. My hope is that you've been inspired by one or all of these makers, and I'm looking forward to seeing your projects here on Lifehacker. I'd like to thank the Lifehacker gang and all of the great discussions, comments and support. The makers profiled really appreciate it and I really enjoyed doing this. See you soon, and keep making!
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.