If you’re like me and collected all things new and digital during the ’90s, then you have at least one old, ridiculously low-resolution webcam lying around. About a year ago, when I was living in a high-rise with great views across a large nature preserve, I figured out how to turn one of these things into a surprisingly good daytime telescope. By feeding the webcam’s CCD with a telephoto lens from my 35mm camera, I got a video scope that could observe wildlife and identify license plates from quite a distance.

Any type of wood will do, but it must be thick enough to screw into the edges.

For inside the box. These can be found fairly easily; try a camera repair shop. I got mine used for $15, and they cost about $30 new. Be sure to get one with screw mounts.

Any webcam you can disassemble is fine. I used a Logitech QuickCam «eyeball” I had.

This hack works with any format and type of lens. I recommend a 35mm zoom telephoto. (You can even use a microscope, if you’re interested in seeing really small rather than really far.)

First, measure out your wood for the box. The dimensions you want depend on two factors: it must be wide and high enough in front to mount the bayonet adapter, and deep enough to accommodate the focal length of the lens you’re using.

The webcam’s CCD chip will be on the rear panel, so your box must be deep enough to put adequate distance between it and your lens. The unattached rear panel will slide backward and for¬ward inside the box, allowing you to fine-tune the distance between bayonet and CCD for the best image quality distance (see diagram above). If you’re working with a 35mm camera lens, then a box about three inches deep should be sufficient.

Cut the panels. On the box’s front panel, sketch the place where the bayonet will be mounted, and then drill it out and mount the bayonet. Test your mount with a lens, to verify that the lens has enough space to slip in.

Then screw the box together, making sure the rear panel slides into the back. Add a small nick on one side of the rear panel, for the webcam’s USB cable to exit out of. Then sink a couple of screws partway into the outside, to give you something to hold when you adjust the panel’s position. Once you have your box mostly assembled, paint the inside flat black. This is called “flocking,” and it minimizes internal reflections, increasing contrast and image quality.

Now disassemble your webcam, and take out the board with the CCD. (Don’t you dare do this with your real digital camera.)

Center and mount the CCD onto the rear panel with screws and standoffs, making sure it’s completely level. Attach your I ens, and you’re done!

Now that your box is finished, it’s time to align the CCD with the lens. The best way to find the proper distance is to take your camera and measure the forward distance between its film-plane indicator (marked on top) and lens mount. This is the distance you’ll want to replicate. Move the back panel to about the right depth for this.

Finally, aim the telescope at something far away, focus the lens to infinity, connect the webcam board to your computer, and jigger the panel back and forth until the image you’re getting onscreen is sharp. To get the entire image field in focus, you’ll also need to make sure that the CCD is parallel to the lens. This can be difficult when you’re working with wood and screws. But try your best, and wiggle it around until you have image quality you feel satisfied with. Then have fun! Pretty cool, eh? Hey — no peeping into bedrooms!

Current estimates put the iPod population around 10 million. With that many brains banging on the same platform, a lot of weird mutations and modifications can crawl out of the muck, especially because the iPod is one of the more hackable players out there.

Here’s a roundup of just some of the benefits when you Linuxify your Pod.

Future civilizations will judge us by how many devices we had that ran Linux. Until recently, getting Linux on an iPod was fairly complicated and, at best, the resulting penguin Ed iPod wasn’t very useful. Things have changed. Installing Podzilla can give your iPod even more features (such as viewing black and white photos, recording high- quality audio, and running new applications and games) while preserving the original iPod operating system.

At this time, supports only first, second, and third generation iPods. That means the mini, iPod photo. Click Wheel 4G, and Shuffle are out of luck, but support for these models is expected to happen fairly soon.

Before you download the installer, it’s a good idea to consider that what you’re doing could damage your iPod. It’s unlikely, but read the documentation and decide for yourself.

If you go ahead with the installation and something goes wrong or you’d like to roll back to regular ol’ iPod, you can use Apple’s restore utility to return to the factory settings. It will, of course, erase all the data on the iPod.

Once installed, you’ll need to reboot. Press and hold Menu and Play at the same time for about three seconds. I installed mine so it would boot right into Podzilla, unless I press Menu (reverse) at the same time. Now that we’re kicking it style, let’s have some fun. When the iPod is booting into mode, you’ll see the familiar Linux boot screen whiz by and you’ll be presented with a new iPod menu.

Most of the functions are self-explanatory: Music browses music, and Settings configures the backlight, contracts, wheel sensitivity, button debounce, and clicker. There is a Calendar and a Calculator as well.

With Podzilla, you can view 160×128 grayscale (four shades) photos in JPG, GIF, or BMP.

To make a photo you can view on your iPod, first create an image in your favorite image editing application and save it as a four-shade grayscale image. With the iPod in normal iPod OS mode, I made a folder call «pics” on the iPod drive. Then, reboot the iPod into Podzilla and use the File Browser to browse to the file and view.

Apple limits recording with a microphone to 8kHz, 16-bit mono files, while the actual hardware is capable of a far higher sampling rate (up to 96kHz mono). Rumors abound as to why Apple does this, but no matter — breaks the limitation.

Once you install Linux on your 3G iPod (audio recording works only with this model), you’ll be able to record directly to the iPod using any microphone (or the included headphones).

Press Menu to reach the main menu, and then press Extras. Select Recordings and scroll down to the Sample rate and choose 8, 32, 44.1, 88.2, or 96kHz. I generally choose 44.1kHz, as it seems to work the best in most recordings.

From here you can record using a microphone (I use a cheap powered one from RadioShack) or line in from another audio source. If you have the headphones plugged in, you can record by using the left earphone. Once you’re finished recording, you can listen to the recordings (in WAV format) or boot back to the normal iPod operating system and grab them from the recordings folder. WAV files can be imported and converted in your favorite sound editing applications: I like to use the cross-platform and open recently picked up a Wireless Phone Recording Controller from RadioShack for about $20, which allows you to route the audio from your cell or portable phone through a recorder. If you’re into podcasting (see the project or just want to record conference calls and interviews to transcribe later, this is a good addition to your portable citizen journalist setup.

There’s a budding community of iPod Linux hackers. Be sure to check out the applications listing from time to time to see what’s brewing. Some of the current projects in process include web servers and text editors.

If you’ve ever restored your iPod to its factory settings, you’ve used Apple’s restore utility. It’s basically a copy of the firmware that resides on your iPod. This firmware contains all the graphics, text, and smarts that make an iPod work, but it’s also quite modifiable using a free application called iPodWizard for Windows users. iPodWizard can modify all the graphics and text displayed on your iPod as well as add new display fonts. I changed the annoying «Do Not Disconnect” flashing image, as well as the legal section of my iPod.

It’s a good idea to download the Essentials Pack, which includes the iPodWizard, along with tools to make it easier to modify text strings (the words you see on the iPod).

After you download and install iPodWizard, you’ll need to find the iPod Updater firmware file on your system. If you don’t have it, go to apple.

Open iPodWizard and click Open Updater.

Click Open. Depending on what iPod you have, you’ll need to select the firmware revision from the list. Once you select the proper firmware, click Load. You now have access to all the changeable items for your iPod! A quick tour of iPodWizard will reveal all the images in the user interface by clicking the buttons, battery indicators, card faces for Solitaire, even the Apple logo. The buttons on the side allow you to load a new bitmap or save the current bitmap.

To change the «Do Not Disconnect” graphic, choose the 89th image from the pull-down list. Save the bitmap by clicking Save Bitmap.

The image is a 100×100 pixel image that can be edited with any bitmap editor on your PC. I pasted in the MAKE logo and saved it. In iPodWizard, click Load Bitmap and import the bitmap you saved. From here you can click the Write button and you’re finished.

For Mac users, two tools are available to edit graphics. By using alterPod and iPodlcons, you can extract, edit, and restore the iPod with the new iPod graphics you create.

Of course, you can do a lot more. (Give your daughter’s iPod a Hello Kitty theme!) Check the iPodWizard forums to learn about mod ideas and to get new versions of iPodWizard Essentials.

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