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Team debuts electronic-hacking how-to videos at HOPE conference

Do-it-yourself hacker team creates video series to show people how to hack everyday electronics.

Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried have launched a series of videos that show people how to hack electronics.
Citizen Engineer

NEW YORK--Want to know how to build your own cell phone charger? How about putting an old-fashioned pay phone in your home to make voice over Internet calls?

A team of do-it-yourself technology gurus are creating a video series that will show you how to hack everyday gadgets to get more--and novel--uses out of them.

Limor Fried, who owns the Adafruit Industries electronics building business, and Phillip Torrone, senior editor at Make Magazine, are calling their series "Citizen Engineer." They debuted it at the Last HOPE conference here on Friday.

The video series demonstrates how to create the devices, from showing exactly what parts you need to how to solder them and build the final electronic item. The production is well done and the videography is creative, with shots from under a glass table and other interesting angles.

In the Citizen Engineer video series, Limor Fried explains exactly how to hack things like cell phone SIM cards and traditional pay telephones. She details exactly what parts are needed, how to solder, and all of the steps involved in creating and modifying the electronics. Citizen Engineer

The first two chapters in the series show how to create a SIM card reader and how to hack a pay phone. Like most everything this team does, the videos are open source and will be available online for free.

Exploring the technology you use everyday can increase and improve its uses as well as save millions of electronics from piling up in landfills, Torrone said in an interview with CNET News before the session.

"Once you understand your technology, you are more likely to repair it and do something useful with it, so there's a recycling aspect to this," he said.

Upcoming subjects being considered include a GPS music player that plays songs based on your location, a GPS jammer or tracker, and wearable accessories or clothes that block security cameras by shining a special light at them, they said.

Fried offers kits for hacking all sorts of things. For instance, she has kits for creating what she calls a "Minty Boost" MP3 and cell phone charger that fits in an Altoids mint tin, as well as a cell phone jammer that fits in a cigarette pack that blocks Wi-Fi or cell phone transmissions.

She also built a SIM card reader kit that lets you see what is on a SIM card, such as deleted SMS messages and phone book entries, and other information that can be used to clone the card.

Limor Fried in front of a projection of a SIM card in the new Citizen Engineer how-to hacking video series. Citizen Engineer

She also figured out how to hack a pay phone, connecting it to a computer so it can be used with Skype, modifying it so it requires quarters, or even making it so it requires a red box to simulate the sound of quarters dropping in.

The two also have a laser etching business, where they typically create designs on laptops, but can also etch sushi instructions on nori. They also have worked on the TV-B-Gone device, which shuts off televisions in the area and created a stir at CES, expanding the remote reach up to 200 feet.

Here are videos showing off some of the various hacks and tricks Torrone and Fried have worked up:

Phillip Torrone talks about how to hack a traditional pay phone, connecting it to a computer so it can be used with Skype, modifying it so it requires quarters, or even making it so it requires a red box to simulate the sound of quarters dropping in.

(Credit: Elinor Mills/CNET News)

Limor Fried shows off a homemade, open-source charger for iPods, cameras, and GPS devices.

(Credit: Elinor Mills/CNET News)

Limor Fried shows off a cell phone jammer that is designed to block Wi-Fi or cell phone transmissions and is small enough to be hidden inside a cigarette pack.

(Credit: Elinor Mills/CNET News)