Sunday, June 07, 2009

Baby's First Hack

Even before Kimberley and I knew we were having a baby, I knew I was looking forward to being that "cool dad" who can build anything for his Kids. Science projects and Halloween costumes are going to be epic in our household in the years to come. I've always enjoyed hacking for myself, and I always knew I'd end up hacking for my kids, but this little project sort of sneaked up on me. Its appropriate that this "Baby's First Hack" fits perfectly in the nature of most good hacks: It was a simple fix for a problem that needed solving only because of limitations in the original design of a product.

As Kimberley and I were starting to move into the nursery after all the paint and wainscoting was finished, she ran into a problem installing her preferred mobile, the Tiny Love "Sweet Island Dreams". She preferred this one because it played real classical music, recorded with a real orchestra, not dumbed down MIDI or electronic noise. However, our new crib has a very wide cap rail (click first pic to see), and there wasn't enough "bite" in the mounting system to attach the mobile. Examining the mount, I could immediately see where the manufacturer could have solved this problem for us by making the mount for the threaded post more adjustable (a few more molded in slots for the "lock" in the back of the plate would have sufficed), but as is so often the case, this was apparently designed as a "one size fits some" solution.

Enter Baby's First hack. I cut a mounting plate from some 3/16" aluminum sheet I had in my shop that allowed me to drop down the mounting spindle to allow the mobile to fit over our wide crib rail. The resulting mount and its clearly Autobot-logo outline was purely a bonus. At least my daughter will grow up to fight Decepticons.

The most complicated part of this whole mini-project was getting the mounting flange off the back of the mobile. Everything in this toy is secured with a weird triangular anti-tamper screw that I've never seen before. It gave me an excuse to finally buy the 100piece anti-tamper bit set I've been eyeballing, and fortunately one of the tri-wing bits included gave me enough leverage to remove the screws, even though it wasn't the correct bit.

After that, it was simply a matter of screwing the mounting spindle to my new mount, then attaching that where the locking flange used to be on the back of the mobile. Since this mount covers the battery compartment (and will thus need to be removed for battery changes), I replaced the tamper proof screws with some Phillips-head screws from my collection of parts removed during previous hacks. In a rare move, I went ahead and discarded the tamper screws rather than save them, as they're a subtle affront from the manufacturer. Remember the Hacker's creed: If you can't open it, you don't own it. Anti-tamper fasteners are just another way that manufacturers try to trap you as a consumer. Devices are designed to be hard to repair or modify so that you have to buy another one as soon as it ceases to meet your needs.

As you can see from this side shot, I've increased the vertical bite of the mount by about 1-1/4". In case it isn't obvious, the threaded spindle passes between two vertical slats in the crib, and is then secured with the giant plastic wingnut. Combined with the flange at the top, this provides a surprisingly secure yet easy to install mounting system. What probably isn't obvious in the first photo (mounted on the crib) is that I've chamfered the edges on the plate and sized the mounting screws for the spindle so that they're flush to the plate, so this is nice and smooth and baby-safe!