Always wanted to do a do-it-yourself tech project? This holiday weekend is the perfect time. Besides, 60 Minutes recently weighed in on e-waste, so now it's official: where and how we recycle our used and useless gadgets has hit the pop radar. So don't be surprised when Girl Scouts come a-knocking, requesting that you fork over that broken NES in your closet.
There's other stuff you can do with it, though. E-cycling — the practice of taking your e-junk and hacking, tweaking, rewiring, and reappropriating it to put it to use again — isn't just a politically correct-sounding way to be green; it's fun, too!
So let's say you've got a VCR collecting dust in your closet, even though you switched to DVD a decade ago. We combed the interwebs and found, miraculously, that it's possible to reprogram that sucker… into an automatic cat feeder! And that's just the tip of the ever-melting iceberg. Follow the Continue link to read about 11 fun projects for reviving and rediscovering obsolete tech gear.
11. CD Clock
PROJECT SITE: Kaboose
WHY IT'S COOL: Sales of compact discs have been dwindling for years (down 13% alone in 2008!). But we probably didn't need to tell you that. Chances are you've already dumped all your tunes onto a hard drive and don't even own a proper CD player, right? You know what time it is. So why not celebrate the format's long march to 8-trackville by transforming an old album or CD-ROM into a custom timepiece? Simply pick up a clockworks and a metal washer and you're basically done. Or grab some paint markers and spruce up the disc face with an original design.
10. VHS Cassette Race Car
PROJECT SITE: Creative Kids at Home
WHY IT'S COOL: Face it. You're never going to watch that Howard the Duck VHS ever again, especially once it's released on Blu-ray (seriously, we're counting the days). Be forewarned. You'll need some real tools and spare parts (namely, four roller blade or skate wheels) to fashion this 3.335-centimeters-per-second speed racer out of said tape. But provided you've got access to a drill, a 15/64-inch drill bit, Phillips screwdriver, bolts, screws, and, most importantly, patience and a steady hand, well, then you're all set for a life in the fast lane.
DIFFICULTY: Eagle Scout
9. Book Safe
PROJECT SITE: Lifehacker
WHY IT'S COOL: Anyone with a Kindle understands why the dead-tree book's days are numbered (excluding graphic novels, of course). Seriously, who totes a heavy, 1,472-page printed volume of War & Peace when you can download the 1927-kilobyte version for roughly one-fifth the cost?! We're not saying you should eliminate your printed library altogether, though. Choose a title you've got no attachment to and nobody's likely to crack (like an OChem textbook). Next, bust out an X-acto. After some precision cutting and gluing, your hollowed-out book is the perfect stash for pretty much whatever needs safekeeping: house keys, passport, launch codes and — if you used a big OChem book — even your Kindle.
8. Nintendo Lunchbox
PROJECT SITE: Instructables
WHY IT'S COOL: OK, so your ol' Nintendo isn't exactly dead in the water. (Who doesn't love a dose of Mike Tyson's Punch Out every once in a while?). Then again, you can port old games to your desktop, so you might as well use that OG NES to do something a bit meatier like, say, carry some sustenance. All you gotta do is strip out the guts, grind up the inside ridges with a rotary, glue on the Reset and Power buttons, and you're ready to dine and dash with a retro '80s grub box that'll be tougher to destroy than Bowser (World 8-4).
DIFFICULTY: Boy Scout
7. Retro Cellphone Handset
PROJECT SITE: i-Hacked
WHY IT'S COOL: Not all e-junk is busted. In fact, the rotary telephone might just be the most robust gadget ever. Hit up any garage sale and nine times out of ten, that ol' fashioned puppy will still make calls. Rather than shell out $30 for a kitschy cellphone handset, build your own — and boost your street cred in the process. After you remove the handset (gently), get your hands on a right-angle 2.5mm phone plug and prepare to do some meticulous soldering and wire snipping. Just be sure you wire the red, white and black lines correctly… otherwise the handset will explode! Just kidding. No, seriously. OK, not really.
6. PC Monitor Fish Tank
PROJECT SITE: Legit Reviews
WHY IT'S COOL: Why stare at a circa-1993 screensaver of fishes "swimming" on your monitor when you can peep the real thing? Besides, if your work station is still sporting a whale of a monitor, you've got bigger fish to fry, like talking your boss into buying you a 30-inch flatscreen! This project's deceptively simple. Instead of shoving a premade aquarium into a gutted monitor, you're actually fashioning sheets of clear acryilic into a makeshift tank that's capable of holding up to 40 pounds of water. After you've checked for leaks, add in a couple cold-cathode neon tubes and your fish-monitor's gentle glow will be enough to forget how much Minesweeper you played during all those dull workdays.
DIFFICULTY: Eagle Scout
5. Walkman iPod Case
PROJECT SITE: DVICE
WHY IT'S COOL: Just cause vinyl's back in fashion, doesn't mean all your old cassette tapes are on the verge of a comeback. It's time to let go of the Walkman that's been banging around your desk drawer since the last time Guns 'N Roses released an album. Fact is cassette players made of metal or hard plastic can take a decent lickin'. They're also pocket-size and slim. Plus, what jackass wants to steal a portable tape player? So beyond being a reliable hard case, your new Walkcase is a genius way to conceal the $400 32GB iPod Touch you just upgraded to. Crank some Sugar Hill Gang or White Snake every now and again, and no one will know the difference.
4. Scanner Lamp
PROJECT SITE: Lifehacker
WHY IT'S COOL: Ever since the all-in-one fax/phone/copier/scanner/printer took over every office space from Boston to Bangalore, the single-purpose flatbed has become about as outmoded as an Apple IIe. The hardware may be weaker than a sixer of O'Doul's, but the lamp inside can still generate ample amperage. What better way is there to brighten up your cubicle (and dazzle your co-workers) but with a scanner not-so-darkly fluorescent lamp? Beware: you'll need steady hands on this one. Apart from the glass screen, the lamp itself is as fragile as, well, a light bulb. After you remove the lamp and inverter, you gotta prep the housing and AC adapter. Bad news: that requires a bit of rewiring and soldering. Good news: you'll have a sweet, homemade task light when you're done.
3. Light Bulb Sea Monkey Tank
PROJECT SITE: DIY Life
WHY IT'S COOL: Energy-efficiency is smart, which is why your whole apartment is tricked out with CFLs and LEDs galore. But here's an even brighter idea: convert that box of incandescents into mini sea monkey farms! All you need is needle-nose pliers and 10 minutes. Warning: once you get going and remove the glass insulator (the black part encased in the bulb's metal screw base), there will likely be glass shards. Translation: don't attempt this one on the bus. Once you pick out all the shards and the bulb is hollow, you're next hurdle is removing the white power coating. Pour in some water and shake it around. Repeat until the glass is clear. Even a sea monkey can figure out the rest.
DIFFICULTY: Boy Scout
2. VCR Cat Feeder
PROJECT SITE: MAKE
WHY IT'S COOL: Contrary to popular belief, cats aren't all that self-reliant. They can bathe themselves, sure. But unless your apartment's got a mean rat infestation, said puss will be hard-pressed to scrounge up a decent meal on his own. Enter the videocassette recorder. Even if the heads are dirty and you haven't cleaned 'em since you ditched Betamax, there's a good chance the motors inside still work. Once you identify which motor operates the video drum head, you're well on your way. Hook up a food mill or sausage grinder to hold the food and, after a bit of tidy rewiring, all you'll have to do is program the timer on the VCR. When the "recording" begins, the motor rotates the mill and dumps food out. Bonus points: attach a bell to the mill so your thoroughly impressed kitty knows when dinner's being served.
1. Brick Cell Phone Bluetooth Headset
PROJECT SITE: Gooveking
WHY IT'S COOL: With the Wall Street bust in full effect, traders, brokers and speculators alike are wishing they could turn back the clock. Still, that doesn't mean all of us can't travel back in time. And what better moment is there than now to celebrate the gilded age of '80s investment excess? Get your Gordon Gekko on with this brick phone turned Bluetooth headset. Best part: since you're wiring a contemporary headset into the brick's AC adapter, you're also capitalizing on the ol' school phone's massive battery supply. If only we could pump some of that juice back into the market.