Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment (ExtremeTech Series) / Edition 1

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* Christopher Negus is the bestselling author of Red Hat Linux 8 Bible (0-7645-4968-5) and earlier versions, with more than 125,000 copies sold
* Readers learn to build sixteen fun and useful devices for home and office, using spare parts and free software
* Projects include transforming an answering machine into an e-mail converter, building an MP3 music jukebox, building a car entertainment center, and creating a TV video recorder/player
* Projects work with any version of Linux
* Companion Web site includes specialized hardware drivers and software interfaces, plus music and game software

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Have an old PC lying around -- say, a Pentium or PII? You can make it do some pretty amazing tricks. All you need is Red Hat Linux and Linux Toys.

The Red Hat Linux part is easy; if you choose not to buy it retail, download it from Red Hat. Or get it with a book, like Chris Negus’s Red Hat Linux Bible, Fedora and Enterprise Edition.) Then, crack open this nifty project book, and get rolling.

The aforementioned Chris Negus walks you through 13 different projects in this book. Home entertainment projects. Home management projects. Two small-business projects. And three projects intended purely for fun.

First, you’ll build a music jukebox that automatically rips and compresses music CDs to your hard disk, then plays them continuously, at random, or from one of your personal playlists. Next, you’ll transform your Linux PC into a home video archive, making digital backup copies of your home videos, then compressing them, and burning them to CD or DVD. (No more worrying about losing your old videos as your old camcorder tapes degrade!)

One of the book’s neatest projects: building a TiVo-style PVR device that automatically records, organizes, and plays back your favorite television shows, all through an easy web interface.

The Linux community is developing several full-fledged, open-source PVR systems. But, say Negus and project contributor Chuck Wolber, these systems aren’t quite ready for primetime yet. So this project pieces together several more mature packages.

You’ll use nvrec and avifile to grab and encode your TV programs. You’ll retrieve television listings delivered in XML formats through the XmlTV project. Your front end: the WebVCRplus interface. And you’ll use xawtv, bundled with Red Hat, for opening a window to view live programs. Negus and Wolber have integrated these packages for you, providing startup scripts and whatever else is necessary to make sure they work together. (You will need a relatively inexpensive TV card; the authors help you choose the right one.)

What else is in this book? How about a home broadcast center that lets you send streaming video to other computers on your network, or even across the Internet? Or a home/small-business network without the expense of, say, Windows Server 2003? Or an emulator that’ll let you play ancient arcade games? Or a temperature monitor that’ll gather, store, chart, and Web-publish temperatures? Or an answering machine with multiple voice mail boxes -- one that even lets you email recorded messages? Or a remote control system for toy cars?

Got an old laptop gathering dust? Why not transform it into a digital picture frame that’ll display family photos at Grandma’s?

Your Red Hat disks much of the software you’ll need to do all this; Linux Toys provides the rest on CD-ROM, along with scrupulously detailed directions.

Along the way, you’ll pick up Linux skills you’d never learn by puttering around GNOME or KDE. You’ll also imbibe the spirit of exploration that has always informed the Linux community. You might even find new ways to extend these projects...ideas you’ll want to share -- for everyone’s benefit. Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764525087
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 10/6/2003
  • Series: ExtremeTech Series, #19
  • Edition description: BK&CD-ROM
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Negus is the author of all editions of the bestselling Red Hat Linux Bible as well as several other computer books. A Linux aficionado, Chris recently wired his house with coax and Cat 5e wiring so he could build more toys.

Chuck Wolber is an experienced Linux system administrator, programmer, and founder of Quantum Linux Laboratories. He's president of the Tacoma Linux Users Group and a devout hardware tinkerer.

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Table of Contents



Part I: The Basics.

Chapter 1: Exploring Linux Toys.

Chapter 2: Finding Hardware and Software.

Part II: Entertainment Projects.

Chapter 3: Making a Music Jukebox.

Chapter 4: Building a Digital Home Video Archive.

Chapter 5: Building a Television Recorder/Player.

Chapter 6: Creating an Arcade Game Player.

Part III: Projects for the Home.

Chapter 7: Creating a Home Network.

Chapter 8: Making a Home Broadcast Center.

Chapter 9: Building a Temperature Monitor.

Chapter 10: Setting Up a Digital Receptionist.

Part IV: Small Business Opportunities.

Chapter 11: Be a Mini ISP.

Chapter 12: Be a Web-Hosting Service.

Part V: Just for Fun.

Chapter 13: Linux on a Floppy and BSD Games.

Chapter 14: Controlling Toy Cars.

Chapter 15: Creating a Digital Picture Frame.

Appendix A: Getting the Software.

Appendix B: ABCs of Using Linux.

Appendix C: Basics of Red Hat Linux Installation.


GNU General Public License.

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First Chapter

Linux Toys

13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment
By Christopher Negus Chuck Wolber

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-2508-5

Chapter One

in this chapter
  •   The spirit of Linux Toys
  •   The Linux Toys project
  •   What is Linux and open source software?
  •   The Linux Toys CD-ROM
  •   The Website

Exploring Linux Toys

With a spare PC, the Linux operating system, a few added hardware pieces, and this book, anyone from a handy do-it-yourselfer to a Linux guru can end up with some fun and useful home or office projects. Linux Toys takes you from start to finish through the process of building cool devices for entertainment, home automation, small business, or just plain fun.

Although Linux Toys focuses on building projects, it's really much more than that. At its heart, Linux Toys is meant to reflect the spirit of the Linux community. Build a project and then find new ways to expand it, extend it, and configure it. Share your ideas with others and before you know it, your "free" software could become something more powerful than you can buy from any single vendor.

To get started, you don't need the most recent and hottest computer hardware. Some of the projects will run great on that eight-year-old PC sitting in your closet (such as the Linux Home Network server in Chapter 7 or Web Hosting Service in Chapter 12). Other projects will do better by adding alarger hard disk, some RAM, or a new video card.

If you already have Red Hat Linux running on your hot new computer, you can pop in the software from the Linux Toys CD to get the best possible performance for the various video and audio projects (see Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 8). You'll rely on a combination of software that comes with Red Hat Linux and some neat software projects we dug up from the open source software community.

While the spirit of this book is one of fun and community, the technology we describe is quite serious and becoming more powerful each day. Some of the same software we describe is running the server computers for companies around the world. We just choose to not be stuffy in how we go about using it.

Taking the First Step ...

If the possibilities mentioned previously sound cool to you, we welcome you to Linux Toys. Your guides to the world of Linux Toys are Chris Negus (who wrote most of the words you see here) and Chuck Wolber (who built most of the projects).

Like Linux itself, the book was created in a spirit of fun and freedom, while still resulting in some serious, useful projects. Linux Toys acts as a "cook book" to step you through the process of building a number of projects. For each project, we list the hardware and software required. Then we go through installing, setting up, and running it. Finally, we give tips for enhancing the project or taking it in an all-new direction.

Has your computer got what it takes?

For each project, we lay out the requirements for the computer you need and tell you if you need some extra parts (such as a TV capture card or a modem). In Chapter 2, we step you through ways of evaluating how suitable a PC is for the projects.

In most cases, the minimum Pentium-class PC needed to install Red Hat Linux will work fine for our projects. When bigger iron is needed, we'll let you know. Unlike with some of the latest commercial operating systems, however, you won't need the hottest new PC to get into Linux Toys.

A lot of the fun of these projects can be to breathe new life into an old, ignored PC. For example, with the digital picture frame project (Chapter 15), we encourage you to hunt down a $25 laptop from a local surplus store and mount it in a real picture frame to display your digital images.

We'll do our best to guide you through the process. Think of us as you would Norm and Tom, walking you around a project in This Old House, or Rachel Ashwell, shopping for flea-market bargains in Shabby Chic television shows. Our own "This Old Computer" and "Shabby Geek" approach will help you sort through and put together the parts you need to get your projects up and running.

After you've done a project, we want you to come out with:

* Something useful (or at least fun)

* Something you can expand on your own as your spirit takes you

* Knowledge of what Linux is and ways to use it

* New friends at to share ideas and enhancements with (more on this later)

If everything works out the way we hope, your new project will fit seamlessly into the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed (see Figure 1-1).

Have you got what it takes?

When you hear that someone has set up his or her stereo, home security system, and toaster so that it can be operated by a single remote control, do you "Oooh and ahhh" out loud? When you and your friends start talking about your latest home projects, do your spouses discreetly move to the other side of the room? If so, then you are our people!

As for your expertise, I expect you to be computer literate, but not necessarily an expert in Linux. For example, if I were to point to a PC's mouse, keyboard, video card, serial port, parallel port, and monitor, you should be able to pipe up with what each of those things are. If I ask you if you know what text editors, application programs, and Web browsers are, you should nod at me knowingly. Beyond that level of information, you should be able to follow along (with the help of some Linux basics at the back of this book).

If you are a genius and our toys have set off a maelstrom in your brain of ways to improve on or take a new direction with any of our projects, we welcome you with open arms. Our projects are built on open source software and put back into the community as open source software. Read the GNU General Public License (described later); then extend, expand, and enhance to your heart's content. We have made the site as a gathering place for you and others who want to go beyond the boundaries of this book.

Checking Out the Projects

Linux Toys projects range from simple music and video players, to useful home and small-business tools, to some lighter projects that are just flat-out fun. The 13 Linux Toys projects include

* Music jukebox- Automatically rip and compress music CDs to your hard disk; then play them continuously at random or from a playlist you create. Music is stored by artist name, CD title, and track names.

* Home video archive- Make backup copies of your precious home videos, compress them, and burn them to CD or DVD.

* TV recorder/player- Set your Linux PC to automatically record and play back your favorite television shows by selecting shows from a Web-based interface.

* Arcade game player- Use the xmame game emulator to play old console games.

* Home network- Set up a network to share an Internet connection, do file and printer sharing, and act as a routing firewall (to protect from intruders on the Internet).

* Home broadcast center- Send streaming video to other computers on your network or the Internet. Use the project to watch home-surveillance cameras, do a mini video conference, or share broadcast television around your home.

* Temperature monitor-Gather, store, and chart temperatures; then add the output to a Web page, e-mail signature, or graph.

* Telephone answering center-Set up multiple voice-mail boxes in Linux so that audio telephone messages can be e-mailed to anyone you choose.

* Internet Service Provider-Become a small ISP for friends and family by using a Linux server to connect dial-in computer lines and provide support for multiple users for Web, FTP, and DNS service.

* Web-hosting service- Set up a virtual hosting DNS server, so the server can provide Web content form multiple domain names and allow your clients to add their own Web content.

* Linux on a Floppy and BSD Games- Play with some Linux commands and classic text-based games from a bootable floppy disk. * Remote control car- Control a remote control toy car from your Linux system.

* Digital picture frame- Have your digital pictures display randomly from laptop components installed in a picture frame.

Along with these projects are general information sections that will help support other projects. These include:

* Using Linux- Get the basics you need to know to use the Linux operating system, in particular Red Hat Linux. (See Appendix B.)

* Installing Linux- Learn to install Red Hat Linux and get started using it.

Some of these projects are designed to run as single-use devices. Some of the reasons for using only one project per machine are

* Some projects take over your computer. For example, the music jukebox assumes that every CD you put in is meant to be copied to the hard disk and takes over your sound card by playing music continuously.

* Minimal hardware requirements. To keep down the use of resources, we tried specifically to note the minimal software and hardware you need for each project. Different projects have different minimums.

Just because some projects can work well as single-use devices on less powerful PCs, don't let that limit you. Many of the projects will co-exist quite nicely on the same PC. Others can be turned off and on so as not to conflict with each other. Also, if you have a new, spiffed up PC you can certainly use that to build these projects. It's just tough for us to make a case, cost-wise, to use a new PC to operate a toy car.

This brings us to the question of costs.

Costs of building Linux Toys

Will it cost you a lot to build these projects? The short answer is "No, it doesn't have to." The longer answer is, "Have you ever heard the old story about stone soup?"

In one incarnation of the story, after an old woman refuses to give a hungry tramp some food, the tramp insists that he can make them both some wonderful soup from nothing but a stone and some water. In the process, he gets the woman to add a bit of flour, some carrots, a few potatoes, and so on until the cupboards are empty and the soup is, well, state of the art. And the woman, of course, is thrilled to have such a fine soup from nothing but a stone and water.

We believe that these Linux Toys projects will each bear something greater than the stone and water you put into them. If, however, you decide to empty your cupboards to add an expensive stereo on the back end of our jukebox or buy a 120GB hard disk to store your home videos, that is entirely up to you. Go for it.

Our goal at the onset is to make each project worth the price of the book in what it adds to your old PC. If it turned out that a project only seemed worth about $19.95, we tried to add $9.05 worth of enhancement suggestions and links to related projects that might interest you.

Finding hardware

Most of the projects can start with an inexpensive PC at their base. However, not just any PC will be appropriate for every project. Some might require larger hard disks, more RAM, or a better processor than the PC you stumble upon. We'll give you some guidelines for finding the hardware that will work for these projects.

For some of the trickier pieces of hardware, such as voice modems or TV capture cards, we recommend exact models that worked well for us. Other hardware you might be able to find in a used computer store or even in your own basement (see Figure 1-2).

Getting Started with Linux Toys

The basic recipe for our projects is:

PC + Linux + Linux Toys CD + (bits of hardware) = Cool Projects!

I have an old circa-1994 computer that would need some enhancements to work effectively for some of the projects. For example, my 1GB hard drive (which was large at the time) won't hold the full music jukebox as we describe it. It will, however, hold a minimal Red Hat Linux installation and run a temperature monitor quite nicely.

Each project lists the hardware and software you need, so you can be sure to have them ready before you begin. In fact, you might want to go through those lists before you buy the book.

The ingredients for our Linux Toys recipes are described in the following paragraphs.

The PC

Because we are using Red Hat Linux, our minimum PC requirements are set by Red Hat's minimum. For that reason, a Pentium or compatible processor is the least powerful CPU allowed for our projects. So, we don't support these projects on 386 or 486 processors. (The one exception is the Linux on a floppy disk project described in Chapter 13, which will run on most computers that have a floppy disk drive.)

Earlier versions of Red Hat Linux did support 486 processors. If you want to take the source code of our projects and compile them on an earlier Red Hat Linux distribution (or some other Linux distribution), give it a try. Let us know if it works and we'll let others know.

Despite the fact that we don't support pre-Pentium PCs, you can find plenty of usable computers for only a few dollars ... if you know where and how to look. We'll help you with some tips in Chapter 2 for shopping for Linux Toys hardware.

The operating system: Red Hat Linux

Linux is a free operating system based on an operating system called UNIX and includes software created by thousands of programmers around the world. There are different distributions of Linux, from which we have chosen to use Red Hat Linux.

In particular, we built Linux Toys to run on Red Hat Linux 9 and the following release. However, we also tested many of the Linux Toys packages on Red Hat versions 7.3 and 8 and found that they worked well.

If you are not familiar with Linux (or not exactly sure what an operating system is), here are a few questions and answers to help you.

* What is an operating system? An operating system is software that lets your computer software talk to your computer hardware. It can:

* Manage access to the computer's processor by the programs you run.

* Provide a structure to the files and directories that contain your programs and data.

* Include drivers for different hardware devices, so your programs can talk to your CD drive, sound card, Webcam, or other computer hardware (without having to be burdened with the details of each hardware device).

Advanced operating systems such as Linux were also designed to manage multiple users, multiple running programs (called processes), and multiple processors (CPUs) at the same time.

* What are other examples of operating systems? Microsoft Windows (95, 98, 2000, NT, ME, and XP) and Mac OS are other operating systems.

* Do I need a commercial operating system, such as Microsoft Windows, on my PC? You don't. No commercial software is needed with our projects; you can erase your hard disk and use only free software.


Excerpted from Linux Toys by Christopher Negus Chuck Wolber Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2003

    Great Idea, but not for linux newbies.

    I received this book for xmas. I've been toying around with linux for the last few months and finally got to the point were I'm comfortable in the OS and might consider myself 1 step above complete linux neophyte. Anyway, I found this book to be written for near linux experts by linux experts. It is more of a project template, rather than step by step guide. It tells you what you need and gives an order of steps, but it seems to count heavily on the fact that you either know a lot about linux, or are willing to spend days/weeks researching various README's and guides on the net to figure things out. If you are new to linux and are hoping to find a fun 3-4 hour project, this may not be the book for you. If you have tons of time to commit to learning linux or know alot already, then I think you'll like it alot.

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