Mac Toys – 12 Cool Projects for Home, Office, and Entertainment
Book Review

Mac Toys
12 Cool Projects for Home, Office, and Entertainment
John Rizzo and Scott Knaster
Wiley Publishing

ISBN: 0-7645-4351-2
US $29.99

Mac Toys 12 Cool Projects for Home, Office, and Entertainment is just what it purports to be: 12 projects that will teach you to use your Mac in new and creative ways. Some of the projects are excellent, some aren’t.

Both of the authors have plenty of know-how to put together this collection. John Rizzo publishes, the premier web site for how to use Macs in a Windows world. Knaster wrote one of the first major works on programming the Macintosh, and continues to write regularly on Macintosh topics.

While I usually don’t care to simply regurgitate the Table of Contents, a list of the projects will show you how widely varied Mac Toys’ projects are:

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.

I’ve toyed (no pun intended) with home appliance control for a long time. The X-10 protocol has been around forever, but I’ve never found any good, easy to read instructions on how to make the whole shebang work. Rizzo and Knaster take you through the process step by step, with plenty of specifics. I have yet to find a better quick start for automating your house. All I need now is to convince the wife, then find the money and time.

Broadcast Your Own Radio Show is for those who can’t find enough people to listen to them! Want to show the world your DJ skills, or work on being the next Rush Limbaugh? You can use these procedures and tips to get on the Internet “air” in short order. It’s easy, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

Some of the hardware–oriented hacks, Make a Digital Picture Frame in particular, and Turn Your Mac into a Classic Video Machine, are more than the average reader may wish to undertake. The digital picture frame requires finding an old iBook, and time with a soldering iron and hand drill. If you, gentle reader, have a perfectly usable but-excess-iBook lying fallow, and know which end of a hot soldering iron not to pick up, jump right in. Rizzo and Knaster’s instructions are clear. Not being a do-it-yourself type, I’ll go the retail route (and not cut up an iBook) if I need a digital picture frame

Wireless Networking: Around the Room, Around Your House is not the reason to buy this book. Wi-Fi has gotten plenty of press, and loads of books will give you a more comprehensive boost if you want to go wireless. I’d recommend Adam Engst’s and Glenn Fleishman’s Wireless Internet Starter Kit 2nd Edition

But, Chapter 9 Convert Your Old Vinyl LPs to CDs is a great summary of getting your old analog recordings moved into the digital domain. This subject does not need a whole book, and Rizzo and Knaster cover this topic in fine style. Is digitizing old recordings using your Mac as a toy? Certainly not, but it does count as a cool project. Now, if the authors could figure out a way to speed up the process so you don’t have to spend hours playing back the original audio file, I can digitize my old recordings even faster.

Chapter 10 Convert Your Home Videos and Film to DVDs follow Chapter 9’s lead. If you can’t get your home videos into iMove after reading this chapter, then there’s no hope for you…

Mac Toys closes with a short discussion of using iTunes and Airport to make a wireless jukebox. Another cool project? Sure, but this is stretching it. The chapter’s not much more than a collection of info on topics available in any iTunes book.

Mac Toys 12 Cool Projects for Home, Office, and Entertainment is a bit scattershot. It’s got great coverage on Internet radio broadcasting, a somewhat obscure topic, X-10 home control, and a fine summary of how to digitize audiotapes, LP’s, and VHS tapes. The hardware hacks are limited in appeal, and a number of other topics are interesting, but get better coverage elsewhere.

MyMac rating: 3 out of 5


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