Jamming TVs in Austin

Using an open-source kit called the TV-B-Gone, it's possible for anyone to build a device that they can use to turn off annoying televisions.

AUSTIN, TEXAS--I'm sitting in the lobby of the Radisson hotel downtown with a bunch of the folks putting on Maker Faire.

One of them is Make magazine editor Phil Torrone, who, among other crazy ventures, was the co-genius behind Roomba Frogger, when he and fellow hacker Limor Fried modified a Roomba vacuum cleaner and wirelessly directed it to run back and forth across an Austin street like the iconic classic video game during South by Southwest 2006.

This morning, however, Torrone is tired, as it's only 8 a.m. But he's got a goal, and it's not one that would be generally accepted by society at large.

'Make' magazine editor Phil Torrone holding the TV-B-Gone, an open-source kit for turning off televisions Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

And that is to show off his brand new TV-B-Gone kit, an open-source, build-it-yourself device for turning off almost any television created by Fried in conjunction with Mitch Altman, the designer of the original TV-B-Gone.

And while Altman sold his device, people couldn't build it themselves. Now, anyone can in about 20 minutes with some rudimentary soldering skills, Torrone tells me. This is much more in the spirit of Maker Faire and general DIY culture.

So, we're sitting in the lobby and Torrone shows me the device, which is small, with several LEDs and some circuitry. I would never have known what it is.

A big flat-screen TV on the wall is showing CNN and Torrone is bemoaning the fact that television tends to suck people's attention away from conversation. So he looks over at the set, surreptitiously pushes the button on his TV-B-Gone, and it flickers off.

We smile, because it's nice that it's off, but a minute later, someone walks over and turns it on again.

That's no good, clearly, and so Torrone clicks it off again using his tool.

Torrone turning off the television in the lobby of the Austin Radisson hotel using his TV-B-Gone kit. Someone turned it on a minute later, so Torrone turned it back off. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

"I feel really bad about this," Torrone says, "totally bad about that. I'm not a good person."

I don't believe him.

 

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