GeekKid Survival Tool: DIY Magstripe Reader

Geek Culture

I bought a beer at the Twins game the other day and the concession worker scanned my driver’s license into her computer to verify my age. But what else did she get? My social security number? My street address?

No idea.

The sad fact of the matter is that our personal info is being bandied about by all sorts of companies, and this is only going to get worse as our geekkids grow up.

The best thing we can do to prepare them to guard their privacy is to show them how to read what’s on their cards. That means a magstripe reader… basically the same thing as those little boxes that cashiers use to scan credit cards. But since we’re geekdads, let’s not buy one, let’s make one!

So, where to begin? Blogger Tim Matheson has step-by-step instructions on his site. Refined from a 2600 Magazine article, Matheson details how to create a magstripe reader from a cassette player head, a 3.5 mm mono phone plug and a soldering iron. Helping your geekkids with this project will teach basic electronic theory as well as keep them informed of what’s going on in those mysterious black strips.

Note that there may be laws in your area restricting “tampering” with magstripes, so do your research beforehand.

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