MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

Adventures from the Technology Underground

To find out what happens at Teslathon, LDRS (Large Dangerous Rocket Ships), Burning Man, or the World Championship Punkin Chunkin, you wouldn't want to rely on mainstream media. A typical reporter struggles not only to understand these technophiles but to explain how things work, trusting that few people actually care. Not Bill Gurstelle.

In his new book, Adventures from the Technology Underground, Gurstelle takes us inside the communities of amatuer inventors and science enthusiasts. He spent two years researching what he calls the "Technology Underground," a counter-culture based on "self-directed science and technology." Gurstelle told me that "the media usually portrayed these people as either beer-drinking sods with a welding torch or uber-geek technology freaks. Of course, mostly they were just people who enjoyed technology."

Like Brian Basura, who built a very large electro-static discharge machine, designed to shrink quaters in his garage. Gurstelle writes that high-voltage tinkerers also know "how to make a big-time, lethally dangerous high-voltage capacitor in an unfinished basement; and they can make it from a 12-pack of empty Rolling Rock beer bottles wrapped in aluminum foil and immersed in brine."

The author of Backyard Balistics, a mix of history and know-how, Gurstelle not only introduces us to facsinating people and the places they gather, but offers straightforward explanations for the technologies that obsess them, such as high-power amateur rocketry, pulsejets, tesla coils, catapults, and flamethrowers. He helps us see these technophiles as they see themselves.