Book Review - Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment

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A book review of this guide on how to use Linux to build an arcade game player, a toy car controller and more.

John Wiley & Sons, 2003

ISBN: 0-7645-2508-5

$29.99 US

Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment could borrow the old Linux Gazette slogan, “Making Linux just a little more fun”. This book's target audience is novice users, and it makes a good gift for a friend entering the penguin world from the easiest and more playful side. The toys covered include a music jukebox, television recorder/player, arcade game player, home broadcast center, telephone answering center and toy car controller.

The chapters on toys that require hardware tinkering all are illustrated with plenty of pictures and include suggestions on how to not hurt yourself and your toy. The authors explain each step clearly, and their support continues with a companion Web site, www.linuxtoys.net.

The most interesting section of the Web site is the one where new Linux toys are proposed and built. They go from combining two or more of the book projects to entirely new stuff, such as home automation or timeshifting radio.

All toys are built using Red Hat 9 (not included) as the base system. The extra programs needed by each project are in the attached CD-ROM, all packaged in RPM format.

The thing I liked most is also the one thing that might provide the most frustration to the inexperienced user. The authors do their best to hide the complexity behind each project and to provide a software set-up procedure as quick and painless as possible. This includes, for each chapter, custom-made RPMs and one single script to install all of them from the CD-ROM. Unfortunately, the script invokes RPM in such a way, rpm -i --quiet $pkg --nodeps --force, that if something goes wrong the user is left without a clue. This almost is never a problem on a new system built only with vanilla Red Hat 9 and the book packages. On a box previously submitted to the tiniest bit of customization, however, all kinds of problems may be masked. We therefore recommend modifying the enclosed install scripts to save error messages in a log file; see man rpm for details. With this precaution, the book surely is a lot of fun.

______________________

Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com

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Its not as bad as you say!

Brian C. Lane's picture

The goal of Linux Toys was to take some older hardware you may have laying around and putting it to work doing something useful. Blindly running their rpms on your desktop machine wasn't their goal (it was hard enough to get some of this stuff to work on a plain RedHat 9 machine). Many of the projects are meant as stand-alone machines (the video server, arcade game player, digital picture frame, etc.

I think they did an excellent job of balancing the details needed to get something working and ease of use for someone new to Linux wanting to build a 'toy'. I have used their video server chapter several times in setting up cameras on my LAN, and while I didn't use their rpms I did use their chapter as a guide and it got me up and running quickly.

(full disclosure -- Chris and Chuck are friends of mine and they wrote Chapter 9 about my DigiTemp software)

From the author

Marco F.'s picture

Greetings,

I submitted this review some months ago, and right now I haven't
the book handy, so I'm going by memory.

Of course, in the single-purpose case it doesn't matter if some
dependency is broken, because we know that the authors have
tried themselves first everything they suggest, have tested those
single purpose appliance, and made sure that they do their job even if
rpm complains.

My comment (IIRC) came exactly from the fact that not all the projects where for separate boxes, and that the book itself is meant to show to
a Linux novice how much he or she can do with this operating system. That's why I think that it would have been better to add warning messages, or leave the procedure as is and add a note in the
book.

And, of course, Linux Toys remains a fine gift/resource for experienced and novice hackers alike.

Thanks,

Marco
procedure

This book is targeted at any

Jeff Schroeder's picture

This book is targeted at any geek who enjoys tinkering with and building your not so average projects such as a digital picture frame or a linux based automated answering machine. It is clear and concise with an easy on the eyes reading style. I enjoyed it, you will too.

Disclaimer: I am a personal friend of one of the authors (Chuck) and am the guy who suggested using VOCP for the Digital Receptionist

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