Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 28

Author: Mark Frauenfelder
Publisher: Make
Pages: 176
ISBN:978-1449309930
Aimed at: DIY and electronics enthusiasts
Rating: 4.5
Pros: A mix of projects
Cons: Ignores software aspects and nothing ambitious this issue
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead

This issue focuses on Toys and Games with an eclectic mix of hardware and craft-based games.

Author: Mark Frauenfelder
Publisher: Make, 2011
Pages: 176
ISBN:978-1449309930
Aimed at: DIY and electronics enthusiasts
Rating: 4.5
Pros: A mix of projects
Cons: Ignores software aspects and nothing ambitious this issue
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead

This issue of Make focuses on Toys and Games. If you have any past experience of Make you will probably expect an eclectic mix of hardware and craft-based games and you would be right.

The big problem is that despite the obvious fact that software is a craft and its practitioners are makers this is mostly ignored. Right at the start there is an explanation of why games are educational, as if you needed an excuse to play games. It goes over all of the physical skills that games encourage but the only mention of the software side is math and logic. Well logic leads on to programming and there is a lot of fun stuff to find out about and there is some software even if it downplayed.


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The first project is about making a coffee table MAME - Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. The basic electronics is an Arduino plus a Game Shield. There is a reasonable amount of discussion about putting the system together but when it comes to the software you just download it. Still it's a fun project.

Then we have a short two-pager on putting a camera on an RC helicopter. Most of the article is about picking your model; there's surprisingly little about the spy cam used. A nice motivational article but light on detail. Next we have some traditional games: Chinese Checkers, 3D viewer, toys from trash, clothesline racers, pop-pop steamboat and a mini-football game. All will appeal to the craft maker, but they are not exactly high tech.

The main Make:Projects section is full of fun things that could almost have been in the games and toys section. The gravity catapult is just an accident waiting to happen, but I bet there are lots of grown ups who really want to build one. The Gigantic Bubble generator is impressive and surprisingly high tech with an Arduino controller moving the bubble blowing device and switching on and off the bubble blowing fan. Again though the software is just download and use. No discussion of how it was written or how to get started with programming the device.

The star of the entire magazine has to be Charlie's Bear. Before you switch off and conclude that teddy bears are not for you - this is about RFID. The basic idea is that you put RFID tags around the place and from this the "bear" can detect where it is and say sensible things. It uses an Arduino, a WaveShield and an RFID detector/reader. If you have been thinking that RFID was just for shopping and product tagging then this is a real revelation. Once you have the idea of using them as location tags, the number of ideas that start to flow is amazing. The speech synthesis part is also interesting but once again the software is an afterthought - download, install and forget it.

There are some other non-electronic projects that might entice any techie to at least dream about making something. What can you say about the soda can Van de Graaff Generator? It looks about the easiest to build that I have ever seen and, while it might not look as good as one with a sphere, it still looks impressive.

There are lots of other minor items of interest that might tickle your maker sense but over all this is a good issue with enough diversity to cover almost everyone's interest.The star of the show from the electronics/software angle has to be, unlikely as it might seem, the teddy bear with the built in RFID detector.

Have a look at the video for a promotional view of what's in the issue:

 

 

Let's hope that software gets more of a look-in sometime in the future.


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Head First Python

Author: Paul Barry
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2010
Pages: 496
ISBN: 978-1449382674
Aimed at: Programmers in another language
Rating: 4
Pros: Covers a great deal
Cons: Need to be familiar with another language
Reviewed by: Alex Armstrong

Keen to learn Python 3 - could this be the book to help you?



Pro PHP Application Performance

Author: Armando Padilla & Tim Hawkins
Publisher: Apress, 2011
Pages: 350
ISBN: 978-1430228981
Aimed at: PHP web developers
Rating: 3
Pros: Contains some useful ideas
Cons: Doesn't really deal with PHP optimization
Reviewed by: Mike James

Show me the programmer who wouldn't like their PHP, or any langua [ ... ]


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