In Praise Of “Just Because” Hacks

Sometimes you pick a project because the world needs it to be done. Or maybe you or a friend need it. Or maybe you don’t really need it, but it fulfills a longstanding dream. In my mind, the last stop before you reach “why am I doing this” is the “just because” hack.

The ideal “just because” hack is limited in scope. You don’t want to spend years on a whimsical project, and because of this a “just because” hack isn’t usually motivating enough to keep you going that long anyway, except for the tenacious few. A “just because” doesn’t necessarily have to be an easy win, but it makes sense for you to see your way out before you get in too deep.

I’m not sure if it’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or not, but in the last week or so in the Hackaday universe, a lot of people have been singing the praises of “just because” hacks. (Check out this one discussion, for instance.) Mostly, it’s a combination of them turning out better than initially thought, or it’s about the learning that came along for the ride. Of course, many of them spin off into longer, serious projects even if they didn’t start that way.

Not everything in life can be frivolous, of course. But that makes the “just because” hack that much sweeter, and you should try to make mental room for them if you can. When the stakes are low, creativity can be high. You might still want to impose a deadline, lest you fall into eternal yak shaving, but take it easy. You don’t need a justification all the time: the journey can be the destination.

Honor Your Hacker Heroes

We recently ran an article on a sweet percussion device made by minimal-hardware-synth-madman [Gijs Gieskes]. Basically, it amplifies up an analog meter movement and plays it by slamming it into the end stops. Rhythmically, and in stereo. It’s got that lovely thud, plus the ringing of the springs. It takes what is normally a sign that something’s horribly wrong and makes a soundtrack out of it. I love it.

[Gijs] has been making electro-mechanical musical hacks for about as long as I’ve been reading Hackaday, if not longer. We’ve written up no fewer than 22 of his projects, and the first one on record is from 2005: an LSDJ-based hardware sequencer. All of his projects are simple, but each one has a tremendously clever idea at its core that comes from a deep appreciation of everything going on around us. Have you noticed that VU meters make a particular twang when they hit the walls? Sure you have. Have you built a percussion instrument out of it? [Gijs] has!

Maybe it’s a small realization, and it’s not going to change the world by itself, but I’ve rebuilt more than a couple projects from [Gijs]’ repertoire, and each one has made my life more fun. And if you’re a regular Hackaday reader, you’ve probably seen hundreds or thousands of similar little awesome ideas played out, and maybe even taken some of them on as your own as well. When they accumulate up, I believe they can change the world, at least in the sense of filling up a geek’s life. I hope that feeling comes across when we write up a project. Those of you out there hacking, we salute you!