- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

LOS ANGELES | Some may say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but a do-it-yourself guru known only as Mr. Jalopy puts a new spin on the worn-out phrase as he heads up an unlikely phenomenon called the Maker Movement.

If it is broke, do fix it, that’s Mr. Jalopy’s credo. And he does just that, repairing everything from old clocks and radios to broken bicycles and stereos to the rusted-out carcasses of the old automobiles from which he takes his name.

More than just repairs, he also makes new things out of old products, such as a tricycle-mounted film projector and an iPod-modified vinyl record player.

Mr. Jalopy wrote a bill of rights that unites a disparate collection of fixer-uppers with such lines as: “Ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought.” The list gained popularity online and has been published in Make magazine, elevating Mr. Jalopy to something of an iconic figure among readers.

The Maker Movement includes computer geeks, hobbyists, backyard mechanics, tinkerers and just about anybody else with an idea about how to take something rapidly becoming obsolete, like a VCR, and turn it into something useful, like an automated cat feeder - something one Maker Movement member actually did.

“You find stuff that is either broken or represents some kind of an opportunity if you’re handy,” Mr. Jalopy said.

More than 20,000 people came to the first annual Makers Faire in 2006, and it drew 65,000 people to the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of San Mateo, Calif., this year. A second fair, in Austin, Texas, was added last year. The idea will soon be spreading to television with “Make TV,” to begin airing on PBS stations across the country in January, said Richard Hudson, producer of the television program.

Both environmentally responsible and financially sound, the practice reflects a change in the American culture from years of being a throwaway society, supporters say.

“We can’t keep buying a new blender every three years or an alarm clock or a TV set or a vacuum cleaner just because some serviceable part gives out,” Mr. Jalopy said.

Mr. Jalopy himself is a retired music executive, who admits that he got out of the music business because he preferred staying at home making cool stuff. Although not exactly a recluse, he declines to give his full name because he doesn’t want the recognition.

Deep in the bowels of his musty gadget workshop, he is surrounded by shelves filled with literally tens of thousands of nuts, bolts, washers, springs, hand tools and gizmos.

He needs them all, he said, for everything from repair jobs to more esoteric projects, such as the drive-in movie theater projector he built out of a light bulb, old bookshelves, junked electrical parts and a kitchen table he found abandoned by the side of a road.

He mounted the finished product onto the back of an adult-sized tricycle, and now when he’s in the mood for a movie, he can simply pedal the thing up to a building and project his film onto the wall.

“Rather than moan and groan about the death of the drive-in movie theater, I decided to build my own,” he said.

His coolest creation is likely the “world’s biggest iPod.”

Created by melding a conventional, teeny-tiny iPod with a hulking, Depression-era family radio and a 1970s stereo, it allows him to digitize his treasured Dinah Washington jazz songs straight from their vinyl discs, then blast them through the stereo’s speakers by using the radio’s controls. And it works perfectly.

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