letter13_r

Thanks for making the MAKE video podcast. Your enthusiasm and love for making is inspiring. I’ve been a crafty person all my life; I actually co-own a yarn store (raesyarnboutique.com) in Lansing, Mich. I’ve always been interested in electronics, but thought the task of learning how to make something would be too daunting.

Then last summer someone suggested the MAKE podcast to me and I was inspired. I picked up a RadioShack electronics learning lab from eBay, which came with a great collection of extra ICs, relays, switches, resistors, etc. A little while later I picked up my first PIC microcontroller, a PICAXE-08M. It’s a great, cheap chip and as a bonus, it is programmed with BASIC, which I know already. I still have a lot to learn, but because of the MAKE videocast and makezine.com, I am learning electronics instead of dreaming I could.

—Nick Blacklege

It might seem gracious of Mitch Altman not to have patented his TV-B-Gone remote control, but the fact is that this device isn’t patentable.

For a device or process to be patentable, it must be non-trivial and non-obvious. TV-B-Gone is neither. The statement of the problem, “I want to be able to shut off an annoying television,” instantly defines the solution: build a remote control that automatically transmits every known TV power-cycling code.

Of course, had Mr. Altman applied for a patent, he would likely have received one, simply because patent analysts no longer pay attention to the rules they’re supposed to apply.

—William Sommerwerck

It was with a fair amount of concern that I read the most recent Heirloom Technology column about cutting down a tree [MAKE, Volume 12, page 152, “The Widowmaker: Cutting Down A Tree”].

I know that part of the fun of MAKE is the element of surprise and learning lessons by doing, but I suspect the surprise of a tree kicking back and seriously injuring or killing the reader is not one that most would welcome.

In Step 2, the second cut is described as “just a single cut straight toward the big notch.” It is vital that the second cut be above the initial cut by a few inches — this piece of information is missing from the article. This will create a backstop for the tree to press against when the hinge snaps, preventing the tree from kicking back at the base and falling in a completely random direction.

I’m pretty sure that the advice in Step 1, to create the first notch “more than halfway through the tree” is bad as well, although I don’t know that it’s as dangerous as leaving out the different heights of the two cuts.

I encourage anyone interested in felling trees to check out The Ax Book by Dudley Cook, or watch the series of videos at expertvillage.com/interviews/felling-trees.htm.

—Josh Larios, great-grandson of an old-school lumberjack

Tim Anderson responds: Josh, you’re mostly right about the second cut, and I’m doing it that way in the photos. But if you make the second cut too high, it can kick back the other way and fall the wrong direction. Experiments with bananas will reveal how it works.

There’s certainly a lot that can be said about felling trees, and even the people who know how to do it get killed pretty regularly.

I’d like to start by saying how much I love MAKE magazine and its website. I just launched an environmental site that tries to capitalize on the same DIY spirit that you folks incite in your audience. I liked the blog piece about energy vampires (makezine.com/go/vampire) and I am glad you brought it up for your readers. I am linking on my site as well.

I would like to make a request. Could you do more to emphasize the use of rechargeable batteries in your electronics projects? I notice in the photos of most of the electronics tutorials that you use standard batteries. Getting the tech and DIY communities to use non-throwaway batteries in their projects would be a welcome victory against electronic waste and pollution.

Keep up the good work and inspiration!

—Ian Gunsolley, ecoevolution.org

Mister Jalopy’s article “Orange Crate Racer” [MAKE, Volume 11, page 172] was most nostalgic for me; my friends and I built a number of these back in the 50s. Mister Jalopy may rest easy regarding the use of cable for the steering; it works very well. We used both cable and clothesline rope at various times, and the cable worked best; rope tends to stretch over time and needs to be tensioned. The cable, once properly tensioned, winds evenly on the steering column and rarely needs readjustment during the life of the vehicle.

By the way, these are the first plans I’ve ever seen for one; we based our designs on intuition and experience. There were never any drawings.

—John Ward

Thanks for your unbelievable publication. I hadn’t been moved to subscribe to a periodical since my subscription to The Amazing Spider-Man lapsed in 1995. For the record, I get waaay more use out of my MAKE back issues than my Spider-Man ones.

I was particularly inspired by “The $5 Cracker Box Amplifier” [MAKE, Volume 09, page 105] and ended up making an installation spiraling out from that project. When I made my first one of these amps (the day that Volume 9 arrived in my mailbox, incidentally), I didn’t have a cracker box handy to house the amp, so I hollowed out a 1945 copy of The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore that I happened to pick up at a local thrift store.

From that one amp I was inspired to create a series of sound books that eventually grew into an installation. The books were presented in a makeshift library that was lit with throwie-sized LEDs built into arrays and housed in other books. The Noise Library, as I titled it, was part of a larger installation show that happens every year on Peaks Island, Maine, called The Sacred and Profane.

Anyway, I just wanted to take the time to thank you guys for your wonderful publication and the initial spark for this project.

—Galen Richmond

Portland, Maine

My meter information station (meterproject.googlepages.com) is an implementation and expansion of the “Net Data Meter” project from Tom Igoe [MAKE, Volume 11, page 133]. I will admit … this is shameless self-promotion. :)

—Leland Sindt