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Portable phones - MtnVwPilot

Aug. 13th, 2005 05:29 pm Portable phones

Last year, Brad Templeton and I put together a free working no-pay phone at Burning Man. The phone was totally self-contained; we ripped out the coin-counting guts, crammed in a VoIP adapter, an Ethernet-to-WiFi adapter (to piggyback on another camps), and a battery, and then planted it on the edge of the Esplanade for folks to use, which they did, to make free calls all over the world.

This year, I've been toying with the idea of making the phone portable... ;-) Brad hates the idea, because he thinks it ruins the esthetic effect of "a working phone in the middle of the desert", but I think it just adds to the surealism. I've gotten him to agree to let me steal the phone from its fixed location on at least some days, and we'll see how it goes.

Today, just to see how well it might work, and after ritually sacrificing the requisite 2 hours at Minton's and Home Depot pondering methods and getting parts, I bolted the phone onto a wagon, hooked it to the back of the FrankenTrike, and took it for a spin through my usual testing ground (the empty parking lot of the high school across the street):

Surprisingly enough, it handles pretty well. It's heavy, but not too heavy; certainly no worse than using the trike to carry 50 pounds of ice every morning during Burning Man last year (hey, I do 30 minutes thrice weekly on the exercycle at the gym; my legs are in great shape!) . If I'm going to be pedalling the trike's rather than using the electric motor, though, I probably ought to readjust the trike's shifter cable so that I can have 1st and 2nd gears, rather than the current 2nd and 3rd. The turning radius of the whole rig is even decent; I can turn it in the width of my one-car driveway (so, what, 12 feet?). So, I think it ought to be lots of fun to go wandering around the Esplanade, Center Camp, and so forth with it, wherever we can get a WiFi signal... I didn't get around to testing it with the new FrankenTrike electric motor yet (testing got interrupted by an accident, see below)

As expected, the phone is pretty top-heavy on the wagon. Unfortunately, while experimenting to see just how well I could turn while pedaling, I found out the hard way how far is "too far"... The wagon tipped over (but the trike didn't; I'm glad I went for a flexible connection between the trike and the wagon), and the phone fell apart when it hit the ground:

However, since it's a real, honest-to-god, Western Electric payphone (just with the coin counting guts removed), it's built like a tank, and went back together without any trouble. The wagon was slightly bent, but easily fixed, and the only lasting reminder is some roadrash on the phone enclosure. I think that just gives it character, though ("oooh, how'd you get that scar?"):

The Playa is a lot more level than the parking lot where I was testing, which is crowned for drainage, so I think rollover will be less of a risk at Burning Man than here. And even just pulling the phone around by hand, without hooking it to the trike, would be fun and easy, as well as likely more interactive with the crowd.

I still need to test the phone again, to make sure it works; it hasn't been used since a month or so after Burning Man last year, at the post-BM "Decompression" street festival in San Francisco.

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Date:August 14th, 2005 01:59 am (UTC)
That's pretty cool. Thanks for putting this together - now I see why you added the motor to the trike. Nicely done!