Mac Toys: 12 Cool Projects for Home, Business, and Entertainment (ExtremeTech Series)

Overview

How many cool things can you do with your Mac? Well, add 12 more to that list.

If you're one of the millions of Mac owners who like to tinker with their machines and do what their PC brethren can only dream about, this is the book for you.

Mac gurus John Rizzo and Scott Knaster will open your eyes to a dozen cool new tricks you can do with your Mac. Create a Harry Potter style picture frame that puts on a continuous slide show; teach your house...

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Overview

How many cool things can you do with your Mac? Well, add 12 more to that list.

If you're one of the millions of Mac owners who like to tinker with their machines and do what their PC brethren can only dream about, this is the book for you.

Mac gurus John Rizzo and Scott Knaster will open your eyes to a dozen cool new tricks you can do with your Mac. Create a Harry Potter style picture frame that puts on a continuous slide show; teach your house to turn on the lights, adjust the thermostat, and water the lawn by itself; edit and record live TV while you watch; and more.

With a dozen new things to do with your Mac, your PC pals are going to envy you more than ever.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Can you make your Mac even more fun? Heck, yes. Get Mac Toys, and see how.

John Rizzo and Scott Knaster walk you through 12 great projects that transform your Mac into...well, just about anything. OK, they’ve skipped the old “Mac SE-into-Aquarium” trick. But just about everything else is here. Easy stuff. Hard stuff. Cheap stuff. Slightly-more-costly stuff. One thing it’s all got in common: fun.

You’ll start out simple, with X10 home automation -- for lighting, security, sprinklers, whatever. (No new wiring required. You can get started for just $40, and there are plenty of cheap software options, too. Plus, this is one project you can even handle with your ancient Mac OS 7 system.)

Next, set up your own personal Internet radio station -- “much easier than you might think.” Compare your options for watching, recording, and even editing TV on your Mac (skipping commercials is just the start). Got an old PowerBook hanging around? Transform it into a digital picture frame, then hang it on the wall.

The authors show how to transform your Mac into a complete music studio -- covering everything from MIDI and synthesizers to music notation software. Or, turn your Mac into a real-life video arcade game console (we’re not just talking software here). You’ll learn how to convert your old vinyl LPs to MP3, and your old videos to DVD (whereupon you can spruce 'em up with iMovie).

Mac Toys: It’s Macs to the max. Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2003 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764543517
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Series: ExtremeTech Series, #2
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 0.80 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 9.25 (d)

Meet the Author

John Rizzo began his love affair with the Mac in 1984. A former staff editor for MacUser magazine, John now covers the Mac front for CNET.com. His Web site, MacWindows.com, is devoted to helping Mac users survive in a Windows world.
Scott Knaster is the author of How to Write Macintosh Software and Macintosh Programming Secrets, long required reading for Mac programmers. Scott owns every issue of Mad Magazine, which offers some insight into his personal philosophy.
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Table of Contents

Foreword.

Acknowledgments.

Introduction.

Chapter 1: Control Your Lights and Appliances.

Chapter 2: Broadcast Your Own Radio Show.

Chapter 3: Watch, Record, and Edit TV on Your Mac.

Chapter 4: Enhance Your iPod.

Chapter 5: Make a Digital Picture Frame.

Chapter 6:Wireless Networking: Around the Room, Around Your House.

Chapter 7: Make and Mix Your Own Music: Synthesizers, MIDI, and Mix Software.

Chapter 8: Turn Your Mac into a Classic Video Game Machine.

Chapter 9: Convert Your Old Vinyl LPs to CDs.

Chapter 10: Convert Your Home Video and Film to DVDs.

Chapter 11: Make a Killer Video.

Chapter 12: Use Your Mac as a Wireless Jukebox.

Index.

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First Chapter

Mac Toys

12 Cool Projects for Home, Office, and Entertainment
By John Rizzo Scott Knaster

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-4351-2


Chapter One

Control Your Lights and Appliances

Lights that go on and off, dim and brighten, all by themselves. Appliances that respond to the time of day and the presence or lack of daylight. Coffee makers that turn themselves on and off. You still can't order an "Earl Grey" (as Star Trek's Captain Picard does), but you can have your house obey voice commands.

This is the automated house, and your Mac is in control of it. Amazing as it sounds, the automated house isn't that difficult to create. It doesn't require ripping up anything in your house-there are no new wires. It just requires some simple, inexpensive modules plugged into your power outlets and some software on your Mac. For less than the cost of Microsoft Office, you can automate an entire home. This chapter looks at the scope of what's possible. How is any of this possible? Read on.

Home Automation and X10

Most of the home automation projects described in this chapter revolve around a technology called X10. You can find automation products that use infrared and radio frequency technologies, but they don't have low cost, ease of installing, and versatility of X10. With this technology, you don't have to build an infrastructure, so you can automate your rented apartment and take it all with you when you leave.

You can startwith an initial investment of $40, and build little by little as you automate more functions. There are two basic steps to automating your home: putting in the X10 equipment (small devices that plug into AC outlets) and adding software to your Mac to control and respond to the devices. You can purchase X10 modules at RadioShack and other stores, and on the Internet.

First, a taste of what you can do with X10 technology.

The Automated Home

The automated home makes events happen without you having to think about it-lights and appliances turn on and off, complicated TV and stereo systems become simple, and energy conservation saves you money. You can automatically open your drapes in the morning or shut off the coffee pot after you leave for work. You can also control items manually from anywhere in the house, and sometimes from outside of the house, from a phone or the Web. You can also set up the Mac to react to sensor readings and send out commands.

These are some of the main areas that you can automate:

* Lighting. Lights are the most common item automated and are probably where you will start your automation efforts. Lights will turn on just before you get home or just after you go to bed. Or, while you are out of town, have lights go on and off as if you were still in town. You also can dim lights. You can control individual lamps, as well as in-wall and ceiling-mounted lights. And because you can control lights from anywhere in the house, you can light a dark room before you step into it. * TV and stereo. Complex home entertainment are, well, complex to use. You have TV, a satellite receiver, DVD player, VCR, stereo receiver/amplifier, and perhaps multiple speakers in different rooms. The automated house can simplify all of this. You can have a single button set to turn on multiple entertainment units, or have the house do it for you. * Security. You can save a lot of money on traditional security services by creating your own with your automated home. You can connect door, window, and motion sensors, as well as cameras and alarms to the system. The automated home can call you or send you an email if some event is triggered, such as a smoke detector going off-this lets you call the fire department before the fire gets big enough for the neighbors to see it. * Water your yard only when it needs it. You may have an automatic sprinkler system that turns on at certain times, whether you need it or not. In the automated house, your sprinklers will turn off when it starts raining. And if it has already rained, a sensor will detect if the ground is already soaked and prevent the sprinklers from starting. * Phone systems. You can use a phone as a remote control from in your house or outside of it. You can use the keypads on the phone, or use voice recognition to issue voice commands. You can also screen calls so totally that the phone won't even ring if it's from someone not on your list. You can also have your home phone call you at different numbers to alert you to various conditions, including a flood in your basement, a fire, a house that's too hot, or maybe that your tropical fish tank heater is on the fritz. * Regulate temperature. An automated house can regulate temperature in different ways. You can save on energy costs by keeping the heating or cooling systems to a minimum while you're out. They would only kick in 30 minutes before you got home, so you would walk into a comfortable climate. While you're away, you can have your house contact you if it gets too hot or too cold for your pets. You can then turn on the air conditioning or heating from your remote location. But temperature regulation isn't just a matter of controlling thermostats. The house can close the draperies at certain times of the day to block the sun.

Although there are wireless add-ons (both infrared and radio frequency), the bulk of this automation is accomplished through X10 technology. This chapter will tell you what you need to know to get started on any of these projects.

About X10 Technology

X10 is a standard for controlling home automation devices over your building's existing electrical wiring. X10 transmits low-power digital pulses (representing 1s and 0s) through a building's AC power lines. The information transmitted usually consists of simple commands telling a module to switch, off, or to dim.

X10 equipment is easy to install-you often just plug a module into an AC socket and then plug your lamp or appliance into the module. The modules are inexpensive, starting at just over $10. (There are also X10-enabled light switches and wall sockets, which we'll get into later in the section on lighting.)

The X10 modules can be receivers, transmitters, or both. (See Figure 1-1.) X10 receivers accept commands and respond by turning on or off. A lamp module could receive an "On" command through the AC power socket it is plugged into. The module contains a little switch, which opens when the On command is received, providing juice to the lamp and thus turning it on.

An X10 transmitter sends the command to the receiver connected to the lamp or appliance. A transmitter can be a hand-held keypad plugged into an AC outlet-you punch in a command, and a light goes on in another room. A transmitter can also be a sensor, such as thermostat or a motion detector.

Your Mac can also be an X10 transmitter, running X10 software and connected through a USB or serial port to an X10 interface box. Your Mac acts as a type of X10 transmitter called a controller, which means that you can program it with software. Some devices, including your Mac, can be both receivers and transmitters of X10 commands. These devices will respond to X10 commands by issuing other X10 commands.

Of course, you can have more than one transmitter and one receiver in your house. But when an X10 transmitter sends an On command, you don't have to have all of the lights and appliances in the house go on. The reason is that each X10 module has a unique address that identifies it as the recipient of a command. The address consists of a number from 1 through 16 and a letter from A through P (the first 16 letters of the alphabet). This gives you 16 times 16 addresses, or 256, in the form of 1A, 1B, 1C ... 16N, 16O, 16P. Therefore, you can have a maximum of 256 x 10 devices in your house. The letters are called the house code; the numbers are the unit code.

For most X10 devices, you set the address manually. This is often in the form of two dials you can set with a screwdriver, one for the letter, one for the number (Figure 1-2).

Because X10 signals depend on the electrical characteristics of your home's wiring, some houses can see problems with communications between devices. Fortunately, these problems (such as electrical interference) are well known and easily fixed by plugging in inexpensive devices into a wall socket. These are described in the "Troubleshooting" section later in the chapter.

What You Need

The great thing about home automation is that it is fairly simple and inexpensive. Unlike some of the other Mac Toys projects, you don't need a fast Mac or a lot of hard disk space or memory. The pieces are inexpensive and easy to find. Here's what you need:

* A Mac. You have a choice of running the software on the modern Mac you use every day or dedicating an old Mac to the task. To get the most out of home automation, you'll want to leave the Mac running all the time. * Software. Beside the Mac itself, the software is the only Macintosh-specific item on this list, and probably your most important decision. You can choose from among five X10 automation applications. * Computer-to-X10 interface. You can find these for as little as $35. However, check with your software first-each X10 application supports a certain set of specific interfaces. (See Figure 1-3.) * Cable converter. If you're using a newer Mac and an X10 interface box with USB, you don't need a converter cable. You do need a converter if your interface box has the standard X10 serial connector. You also need a converter if your Mac is an older (pre-iMac) model without USB. * X10 modules and sensors. These are the X10 receivers you'll use to control lights and appliances, and the thermometers, light sensors, motion detector, and other hardware you'll use to input data into the system. * X10 filters. You may need between two and five noise filters for appliances that create electrical noise. These are small boxes that plug into the wall. (See the "Troubleshooting" section later in the chapter.) * X10 coupler. You may need a phase coupler device to enable devices on opposite ends of the house to communicate. (See the "Troubleshooting" section later in the chapter.)

Where to Buy X10 Gadgets

You can find X10 hardware in certain retail stores. RadioShack is probably the biggest retailer carrying X10 hardware. The company carries products from several manufacturers, and has its own branded hardware. RadioShack's Web site (radioshack.com) has an online catalog in the Security & Home Automation section, but you may need to use Internet Explorer to access it, as Safari didn't work to well with the site at publishing time.

There are some great Web sites where you can buy X10 products. SmartHome (smarthome.com) is a large site that focuses on X10 and related home automation products. In addition to offering a lot of X10 hardware and two different Mac software applications, SmartHome.com has a good deal of information about X10 technology, as well as ideas for home automation projects. SmartHome.com also sells books and videos on home automation topics.

X10, Ltd. (X10.com), the company that started it all, doesn't offer much in the way of Mac software, but does have a large assortment of every type of X10 module and peripheral that you could think of.

Marrick Ltd. (marrickltd.com) is another manufacturer of X10 and other electronic equipment, which is available for sale at the company Web site as well as other places. Marrick doesn't sell Mac software, but has links to a few software sites. You'll also find X10 products at HomeAutomation (homeautomationnet.com).

A good way to get started is with one of the "starter kits" that most X10 vendors offer. These are bundles an X10 computer interface, some X10 appliance modules, and software. For instance, SmartHome offers several starter kits focused in different areas, such as lighting or security, as well as general-purpose kits. In addition to the convenience of getting everything you need to start, the starter kits are usually pretty good deals, offering a discount over the cost of buying everything separately. If you're paying for software as part of a bundle, just make sure you get Mac software. You can also buy software and software/hardware starter kits directly from some software manufacturers. (But before you do, read the section on X10 software for the Mac later in this chapter.)

Controller Hardware

We discuss the various X10 modules throughout this chapter, but first we want to describe the hardware that will be used to control the modules. These devices can issue the standard X10 commands: On, Off, Dim (for lights), Bright (the opposite of Dim), PreDim, All Lights ON, and All Units OFF.

First up is the X10-computer interface, followed by optional hand-manipulated X10 controllers. After that, some thoughts on the Mac itself, which will be the main controller in automated home.

X10-Computer Interfaces

The basic function of an X10-computer interface is to transmit and receive X10 commands and signals, and to accept and pass along commands from and to the Mac. There is nothing Mac-specific about any X10-computer interface-they will also work with PCs. The exact model of X10-computer interface you use depends on the Mac software you want to run. Each application will work with certain pieces of hardware.

SmartHome's PowerLinc USB ($35, smarthome.com/1132U.html) is the first X10- computer interface with a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port. (Figure 1-3 shows the USB port at bottom.) USB means you don't have to bother with converter cables, which can cost more than the PowerLinc. Another handy feature of the PowerLinc is that it preserves an AC outlet by providing an AC plug as a "pass-through," which you can use for any electrical device, including your Mac. The PowerLinc USB comes bundled with software for Windows-ignore it. If you want to buy the PowerLinc USB bundled with Mac software, try Perceptive Automation's Web site (perceptiveautomation.com/indigo/). This is the maker of Indigo, the only X10 software for Mac OS X that supported the PowerLinc USB at the time of publication. Perceptive Automation often offers discounts on the PowerLinc USB when you purchase it with Indigo.

At the time of publication, all other X10-computer interfaces used a serial connection. If you're using a Mac with a USB port, you will need two converter cables-one that converts USB to the old Mac 8-pin serial standard, and another to convert the Mac serial to a 9-pin X10 connector. The serial-to-serial cables are inexpensive (under $20), but the USB converters are not.

Continues...


Excerpted from Mac Toys by John Rizzo Scott Knaster 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 August 20, 2004

    Versatile fun

    A book that revels in the sheer number of playful possibilities of a Mac. Rizzo and Knaster put together a set of projects that should appeal to any creative types that frequently use a Mac. Like being able to be an Internet radio station. Or being able to record and edit TV. Just a few years ago, the disk and RAM requirements for this would have been totally prohibitive. Apple has been strongly pushing wireless networking, so it should be no surprise that the authors show how to easily implement this inside a home. For over a decade, Macs have been prevalent in the music industry. So you get an extensive tour of MIDI and how it is actually easy to build a synthesiser around a Mac. The only discordant note is that the authors never really point out that probably everything they describe can also be done on a PC.

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