I’VE BEEN READING TWO BOOKS THAT SEEM,
at least on the surface, to be unrelated. One is
called Thoughtless Acts (Chronicle Books, 2005),
written by Jane Fulton Suri, who runs the human
factors R&D department at the design consultancy
IDEO. (The book also happens to have been handsomely designed by MAKE’s own creative director,
David Alberston.) It’s collection of 160 candid street
photographs taken of people adapting to, reacting to, and making use of things in the natural and
designed world. The book’s title describes the way
people come up with clever solutions to everyday
problems without really thinking about them.
Examples include winding a tea bag string through
a cup handle to keep the tag from falling in the cup, on their copyrights. It’s fine for a company to protect
sticking a pencil in your hair for easy access, and its intellectual property, but there are already plenty
covering a broken parking meter with a paper bag. of laws to protect them and punish the guilty. In
The other book is called Democratizing addition to the draconian penalties it’s seduced
Innovation (MIT Press, 2005) by Eric von Hippel, Congress into legislating, Hollywood is also threat-
a professor and head of the Innovation and ening hardware manufacturers into crippling the
Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School functionality of game, video, and music players.
of Management. Von Hippel argues that individuals Why can’t you back up a DVD to your hard drive or
have stopped becoming mere consumers of mass- copy it to your handheld computer? It’s because
produced products and are now contributing to Hollywood won’t allow it.
the development of new products. We’ve seen this Yankee Ingenuity — that is, improvising with
happen with open source software; open source technology, taking ownership of it, and being self-
hardware is the next phase. reliant and creative with it — is a proud American
Extreme sports equipment is a good example tradition that has spread to every corner of the free
of the democratizing of innovation. “Lead users” world. Hollywood’s efforts to impose Soviet-style
in windsurfing, mountain biking, and board sports centralized control on technology are a huge step
lead the way in improving equipment, sometimes backwards for innovation. As security consultant
using the open source software model to develop Bruce Schneier so aptly put it, the entertainment
and refine their innovations. companies are “willing to destroy your privacy, have
These two books are related because they general-purpose computers declared illegal, and
represent opposite ends of the same spectrum. exercise special vigilante police powers that no one
Both explore people’s natural urge to make things, else has, just to make sure that no one watches The
whether it’s a doorstop from a wine bottle cork, Little Mermaid without paying for it.”
or a special chemical etchant that a rock climber In this issue, we look at the restrictions the enter-
can use to cut a trapped rope. tainment industry has imposed on equipment, and
Innovation isn’t only about making your own we show you some ways to uncripple your video
products from scratch; it’s also about customizing recorder, your music player, and your game console.
the technology you already own to suit your needs. It’s not that we’re in favor of breaking laws or
The theme of this issue is “home entertainment,” stealing other people’s property. We’re not. But we
and if ever a category of technology were in need of are interested in finding ways to make the technology
customizing, this is it. Sadly, consumer electronics we own better. We suspect you are, too.
manufacturers have kowtowed to the overreaching
demands of entertainment companies to lock up Mark Frauenfelder ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor-in-chief
their products and prevent people from infringing of MAKE.