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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Old PCs are a hassle to recycle, and they don’t belong in landfills. So what are you going to do with yours? Get PC Toys and find out.
Barry and Marcia Press have brought together 14 full-fledged projects (and several more mini-projects) for tuning that old hunk of silicon into something useful. (Maybe more useful than it was in its prime!)
For example, what if your PC could monitor your workout for you? Or make sure there’s hot, fresh coffee brewing when you get up in the morning? Or automatically keep track of your fridge, your freezer, even your fish tank?
How about building your own automotive diagnostics system -- giving you access to the secret data that was previously locked inside your car’s computers? Great for do-it-yourselfers. Great, too, for giving data to your repair shop. Even better for double-checking what the repair guys are telling you. (Do you really need to change that O2 sensor?)
Maybe you missed the news that your car’s computer interfaces have been standardized by the EPA. So have the error codes for most of what can go wrong in your engine. (The code P0505 means Idle Control System Malfunction, whether you’re driving a Hyundai or a BMW.) And, for codes that are vehicle-specific, there are web sites where you can look up what you need to know.
All this has created a market for cheap, universal data access and logging equipment. The authors like Davis Instruments’ CarChip: you clip it into your car’s OBD II socket for days or weeks, then download its contents to your PC, via serial port. Since networking your car and your PC isn’t something you do every day, the authors offer scrupulously detailed instructions.
You say the last thing on earth you want to do is your own auto repair? OK, couch potato: How about transforming your PC into a TiVo-like personal video recorder? This is our favorite project in the book, simply because of how much we’ve learned even if we never actually build our own PVR.
The authors explain how “real” PVRs work, showing how much of the equipment you probably already have in your PC. This chapter also offers the best explanation of TV video compression we’ve ever read. You’ll learn all you need to know about splitters, amplifiers, and other Radio Shack goodies. Not on cable or satellite? They’ll point you to a web site that tells you how big an antenna you’ll need...even which way to point it.
Or maybe you’d like to build a complete remote surveilliance system that will show you what’s going on at home from anywhere on earth, across the Internet? (And do it for a fraction of the price of the prefabricated alternatives!)
Or how about building a complete weather station, with weather simulation software that can generate your own personal forecast for your precise location, by combining general data from the Internet with the local data you’re capturing outside?
Or how about throwing a LAN party, with step-by-step instructions on everything from setting up game servers to providing camera views for spectators?
Home stereo jukeboxes. Telescope tracking stations. Robots. Screensavers for the grandparents. You name it, your old PC can do it. You’ll never look at that old box the same way again. 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.