If the Internet is good at one thing, it's making you feel dumb. The things that some people can do with a few simple repurposed tools and a soldering gun are nothing short of incredible, and can leave you feeling less than smart.
But even geniuses like Ben Heck (www.benheck.com) had to start somewhere, and really there are a lot of things that almost anybody can do if they can follow instructions. Here's a short list of Do It Yourself technology hacks to break out on a rainy day.
Hack your Canon Camera into a much better camera
This isn't a new hack, but a lot of people haven't taken the time to install the Canon Hacker's Development Kit firmware onto their camera. What this hack does is turn your little point and shoot into a powerhouse, adding professional features risk-free (it doesn't overwrite the existing firmware) like the ability to shoot in RAW image formats, colour histograms, greater manual control, time lapse technology, motion sensing technology and more.
This is a simple thing to do. Go to http://chdk.wikia.com and do a search for your camera model number to get the right version of CHDK. There's an installation guide (you just have to get it onto your SD card), a user manual, a guide to features, user tips and more. There's also a pretty comprehensive guide to the process and features at Lifehacker (www.lifehacker.com).
Jailbreak an iPhone
Chances are you already have an iPhone and you're happy with it — and the last thing you'd want to do is void the warranty or disable updates by jailbreaking it (overwriting core operating system hardware to circumvent Apple's user conditions). But with Apple making every previous generation of its phones obsolete, older phones are cheap — and there are a lot of reasons to get a second phone and jailbreak it. I'm not going to list all of the reasons, there's a pretty good list at http://thebigboss.org/why-jailbreak-iphone-4s-4-3-3gs. You can use a hacked phone as your internet hub, to take advantage of upgrades that Apple hasn't certified or switch carriers at will, even to prepaid/pay-as-you-go service. Once again, Lifehacker can help you get started with their "How to Jailbreak your iPhone" series.
Make a solar cell phone charger
You can buy a solar charger, but what's the fun in that? Ars Technica recently posted a first time hackers guide to making a solar charger in about three hours for $90. Visit www.arstechnica.com and do a search for "DIY newbie iPhone" to find the story.
Set up a home net work/backup
There are a lot of different ways to back up your data or to create a home server to store all of your media files, but the simplest solution I've found so far is to get yourself a Pogoplug (www.Pogoplug.com), a device that connects your modem to any external hard drive and then lets you access that information from anywhere. They also offer cloud storage for pretty low rates, but what you want is a Pogoplug device. If it's for yourself I'd go with the cheapest option (US$50 U.S.) but if it's a family network I'd go with the highest end model (US$150) that allows multiple users at once. Once you've bought your plug and a hard drive — and you can stack multiple drives if you choose — you can download the free software and apps to have access to your files from anywhere.
Hack Your Bike
Not that any of us would hack our mountain bikes and road bikes, but there are a lot of commuter bikes around town that could benefit from some of the hacks listed at www.bikehacks.com — making your own plastic fenders, attaching night strobes and lights (I like the lights at Monkeylectric, http://store.monkeylectric.com, myself, making your own bike trailer or repair stand, suction rack from the roof of your car, etc.
Make your own standing desk
I've been standing at work for over a year and so far, so good. I've lost weight, my chronic back pain is gone and I have more energy at the end of the day. It's also good for my heart and circulatory system, and could help to stave off a lot of health problems that affect desk jockeys later in life.
There are a lot of ways to make your own DIY standing desk, but one of the best roundups is at, yep, Lifehacker. Do a search for "Standing desks on the cheap: the IKEA guide" for a selection of easy hacks that range in price from $139 to $245. They range from simple surfaces to put your laptop on to a desk made of Expedit shelves and coffee tables clamped together to include drawers, shelves and boxes.
Arduino projects are cropping up almost everywhere, and especially among the DIY community. Arduino is an open source electronics prototyping system that makes small motherboards and controllers that can be programmed to do a huge range of things. For a look at projects, visit www.ardiuno.corn or www.instructables.com.