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Steve Anderson (a.k.a. Irregular Shed) has a lovely set of instructions for carving melons this Halloween. And he’s got a point: why stick with boring old pumpkins when melons are easier to carve and the insides make such great eyeballs, too?… – Interview by Arwen O’Reilly, Staff Editor.Arwen: How would you describe yourself?
Steve: I am a fulltime geek dad. By day I write educational games for kids in Flash (and sometimes win awards for them). By night I juggle a young
family and my need to tinker, hack and void warranties. At this very moment in time I’m installing Linux on an iPod; the other day I made a film for a friend’s birthday. I play a variety of instruments equally badly — in my dream world, I’m a bona fide Renaissance man, but in reality I’m just a hardcore tinkerer!

Arwen: How on earth did you come up with the idea to carve melons instead of pumpkins? Was it to extend the gourd-carving season or for aesthetic reasons?
Steve: Necessity and budget! Whereas pumpkins are commonplace in the US, in the UK they have two purposes: to be carved for Halloween and to go
into baby food. Nobody knows what to do with the flesh once they’re carved, so it rots. Several years ago, when my partner and I were very hard up, we were having a Halloween party but couldn’t justify wasting money on a pumpkin, so I decided to carve out the large Honeydew melon that we had in the fridge instead. Everyone knows what to do with melon – even my cat – so we had a carved lantern and the flesh, balled out, made seriously excellent eyeballs to drop into people’s drinks!

The upside of melon carving is the smell of the candle roasting the inside, and the glorious yellow glow that permeates the whole skin.
The downside is the skin is thinner than a pumpkin’s so there’s less to carve, and it doesn’t last so long.

Arwen: What interesting projects are you working on right now?
Steve: I’ve recently been forced to give up on my Linux-powered alarm clock project. I was given a Mini-ITX board for my 30th birthday by a friend
and I was trying to build a stupidly over-powered alarm clock with it — running Linux, because then people would be dashing around, writing
articles about this man who’d made an alarm clock running open-source software. The problem is, I hadn’t factored in the massive amount of
heat being generated by a full-blown x86 processor, so I had to give up before I wasted more time and money on it when I could be playing
with my son. Sad but true.

The display I hooked up for it made it to the Make blog … and will be hooked up to my server soon, unless I decide to hook the serial port up to a Palm Pilot or something equally silly. (EVERYTHING should have serial ports. It should be law!) A previous hack I did was my TV mod.

Anyway, those are things I’m moving away from. Here’s the projects I’m considering right now…

I was looking the other day at the pile of USB things I’m using on my work PC (phone charger, Bluetooth dongle, iPod lead, etc.), and thinking about how I could just run them off a hub. A hub in a translucent plastic skull! My plan is to ditch the cases for everything and extend the LEDs to strategic points, maybe swap some colours … The thought of pushing a thumb-drive into an eye socket makes me warm.

Next: optical mouse in an Altoids tin. A cheap PC at work yielded an even cheaper-feeling mouse that nobody can bear to use — but it’s
optical and its circuit board is tiny. I’m thinking of a transplant to an Altoids tin…

MP3 player in an Altoids tin. I picked up a no-name MP3 player for £10 last Christmas with the express intention of hacking it to do something. My plan is to replace the single AAA battery with a pair of AAs to improve battery life, and improve the controls and microphone, so that I can use it for recording audio for work.

Atari Flashback 2.0 hack – seeing as you can attach a cartridge port to an Atari Flashback 2.0, and seeing as I’ve got a junked Atari VCS in my attic, I’ve been pondering marrying the two together. Use the original case, switches and cartridge port to make the feel of the Flashback more genuine, and use a switch in the cartridge port to switch off the built-in games. Then you get the benefits of the new (composite video, built-in games) with the benefits of the old (working cartirdges, looks SWEET!).

Arwen: Whoa. Sounds like you’re pretty busy! What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
Steve: Electric cars! If I had the money, time and space, my little Fiat Seicento (a tiny car that weighs very little) would be tricked out for electric running. I’ve been enjoying the coverage in MAKE and the MAKE blog. A British company recently built a hybrid Mini that outperforms a stock Mini — that’s AWESOME.

Arwen: What are your favorite tools/books/websites?
Steve: Tools – I picked up a tiny toolbox from Woolworths, years ago, for about £3 and I’ve used it virtually weekly ever since. It’s got tiny screwdrivers, wire cutters, pliers — cheap and incredibly useful. I also got a hot glue gun a while back, and that rocks. We had really cheap ones at school where you pushed the glue stick, but now I’ve got a nice trigger-pulling one and my life has changed.

I should also like to draw your attention to this — my list of the universe’s finest adhesives.

Books – without sucking-up, Make =) I subscribed to it without ever having seen an issue because I knew it was going to be right up my alley. Sadly the transatlantic shipping is incredibly unreliable and only two issues arrived without me chasing them up, so I gave up and rely on Amazon now.

Apart from the staples of my kind — the hacking books and things — my partner bought me a book called “Dad Stuff” which is great, and “The Dangerous Book for Boys” is also full of great things everyone should know (although trapping, killing and eating a rabbit is a little
outside my jurisdiction). In fiction, “House of Leaves” is a wonderfully complex novel-within-a-novel, and the only books I get really excited about these days are Lemony Snicket’s “Series of Unfortunate Events”.

Websites – I live in Bloglines and forget about things that don’t have RSS. Google’s online apps are, for the most part, completely wonderful as well (my company recently moved to Google Apps on Your Domain, as they call it). Treemo.com shows promise and has a nice community feel. TwinDX.com is my own, often neglected website.

Arwen: How do you feel about Halloween?
Steve: Love it =) We haven’t done anything special for it for a few years now, but we still love it. I don’t care so much for really sinister-looking things, but I’m a sucker for creepy things. The year of the party that produced the first Halloween Melon saw us watching a load of Buffy series 3 (the best one) on a video projector I borrowed from work, and I rigged up a Heather Donahue camera in a spare room, so people had to go there, don the hat and be scared in earie Black and White, like in Blair Witch. Something good and unnerving is far, far better than in-your-face scares and gore — probably why I like “House of Leaves” so much.

Arwen: What’s one tip you’d give to other makers or users of Instructables?
Steve: Heat-shrink tubing cures all ills. (See the aforementioned list of adhesives!)