I'm a non-geek, a non-Linux user and a non-male. I had never hacked anything in my life. And I had no plans -- or foreseeable need -- to do so.
Then, I discovered PureData. When an audio engineer friend mentioned the open-source programming language that uses rectangular boxes to build audio, video and graphics, I was intrigued. After an hour-long workshop, I got the basic idea and was able to create my first patch (a script), which made my computer emit sounds and let me regulate the frequency of those sounds. Fun stuff. PureData (those in the know call it Pd) was amusing and habit-forming.
I was eager to join -- or rather, infiltrate -- the ranks of Pd experts, but I wasn't convinced a writer/radio-producer type like me would have any immediate use for such a tool on my computer. Then I found out the program could run on an iPod. An old, resuscitated, iPod.
My audio expert friend, Belfast-based Florian Hollerweger, referred me to a local New York City Pd master, Hans-Christoph Steiner, who was leading a "Frankenstein your iPod" workshop at Eyebeam, Manhattan's art-meets-technology mecca.
Entering the world of open-source software seemed revolutionary. And daunting. For me, it was a chance to experiment with PureData and Linux on a small scale. Or, at least to be in the presence of people who were experimenting -- and willing to share their curiosity and know-how.
There are other reasons for my interest, too. I like the idea of reusing outmoded technology, keeping it out of the landfill and turning it into a vehicle for exploration. And, on another note, I haven't engaged with a musical instrument since junior high school band class, when braces forced me to give up the trumpet for the glockenspiel. So Pd was a non-threatening, if unorthodox, way to slink into musical composition, in an "I don't want to work, I just want to bang on my drums all day" kind of way.
Thanks to the wizardry of Steiner and his trusty co-conspirator Chris "the Widget" DiMauro, I can now make drum-like noises on my palm-sized third generation iPod:single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.