MAKE Asks: Hardware Hacks

MAKE Asks: Hardware Hacks

MAKE Asks: is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: One of the most fun ways to get your feet wet in both electronics and light fabrication is through hardware hacking. What are some favorite hardware hacking projects you’ve done?

I had a first generation Macintosh mouse lying around for years. Though some may call it sacrilege, I gutted the thing and converted it into a working USB enabled optical mouse.

Post your responses in the comments section.

14 thoughts on “MAKE Asks: Hardware Hacks

  1. Bob Alexander says:

    I haven’t done it yet, but it’ll probably be my next project: I have a Heathkit digital clock I built in the 70s. I’m going to retrofit it with a WWVB receiver and a microcontroller that will sense the displayed time (by probing the signals that illuminate the VFD segments) and simulate button presses to set the clock. I plan to do it in a way that is reversible, since I don’t want to commit “sacrilege” (as you call it).

  2. Eric says:

    Last year after Halloween, I bought one of those thin plastic sheet door covers from the bargain bin at Walmart. It had LEDs and sound, activated by a proximity sensor. But it also had a wired “try me” button. I thought it would be perfect to hack into lights and sound for my 12-foot PVC skeleton. I ventured to my local Makerspace,, and started to work on it. I cut up the plastic and removed the module. The LEDs got rewired into some clip-on bicycle reflectors, which became the eyes of my skeleton. The try me button was removed and a better connector was added. Then 100′ of thermostat wire was added, with a momentary switch on the end. And a headphone jack was added near the base of the skull, for easier disconnect. The whole thing will now reside in my driveway on Halloween night, with the remote fished through the bushes to my seat on the porch. And when the kiddos walk up the driveway, “Mr. Bones” will come to life to greet them!

  3. Andy Rawson says:

    I hacked a talking birthday card to use with an arduino for a Mario Bros. costume for my kids. I used a Wii nunchuck as the controller so when they jumped the accelerometer in the nunchuck triggered the jump sound. They could also use the controller buttons to play the fireball, powerup and coin sounds. They had tons of fun with it.

  4. Randy F says:

    Mini-sumo robots are fun, easy to build, lots of kits on the market, or a great project to go it alone. Combine locomotion, electronics, sensors, etc, in an affordable package. Find a local club, and compete against others with it, which I find really helps to take a project from something that just works to learning the next level.

  5. adcurtin says:

    I had something very similar to yours!

    I have a couple Depraz computer mice. The Depraz mouse is very old. It’s the first mouse ever sold by Logitech (though mine are not logitech branded).

    It is a 3 button ball mouse. However, this is the best damn ball mouse I’ve ever used. I would even take this mouse over some of the crappier optical mice. It’s very responsive and smooth.

    The mouse output is kinda strange, and very platform specific. It outputs quadrature, and has a pin that it shorts to ground for each button. What I did in my hack was I started with a regular old ball mouse and disconnected the sensors (all ball mice use quadrature encoding for reading the ball movement. It’s got an IR LED and 2 offset recievers. I simply desoldered the recievers and connected the quadrature output of the mouse to those. I did something similar with the buttons. I basically used a generic ball mouse as a pass through from quadrature to PS2 (in my testing). I also wanted a better mouse for my old power mac (pre g3), and I had a super crappy generic mouse. I took that apart and did the same thing, wiring a db9 connector on that board, so I could easily swap between the two “adapters” (one PS2, and ADB). The ADB board had the logic for the mouse button inverted, so I used an npn transistor to fix that, and everything works great.

    I also found a USB ball mouse (it was a freebie at a conference) and gutted that, and I took apart one of the depraz mice and fitting the USB board in there, removed the old cable (it used a 0.1″ connector! super convenient), and hooked up the board to that connector and then sealed up the mouse. Now I’ve got a sweet 3 button USB mouse that’s super retro. (I never use it ;) )

  6. Karl says:

    I took an old 286 ibm clone (this was back when pentiums were running at 150Mhz) and used the case to make a “monster” face with eyes poping out of the top of the case and legs that burst out of the sides. The whole thing sat on top of a R/C truck and a set of chair casters. The idea came from the movie “The Thing” if you have seen the movie you know the scene I am talking about. Just now typing this I wonder what happened to it…

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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