Don't Want to Throw Out Your Old Mac Computer? You Aren't Alone.

Macs are so cool that people are discovering innovative ways of reusing them when they upgrade to a new computer because they're too attached to let the machines rot in a landfill.

For some people, deconstructing a computer can lead to a tangled mess of wires. Yet others are finding that by rewiring or recycling their Macs they're stumbling upon some very creative projects.

More than just information storage facilities, computers also function as brains. A group consisting of more than a dozen students from the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabruck set up an Artificial emotion Project part of artificial intelligence, to study how to create emotion in machines. One aspect of the project was to create a WALL-E-type robot, whose "brain" consisted of a Mac mini.

MiniPsi
The MiniPsi thinks with its Mac mini brain as it scoots around while navigating its path and detecing light sources.

Joscha Bach, PhD, who is currently working in a technology startup company in Berlin, Germany, was part of the project. "We had developed components for a so-called cognitive architecture, called a 'MicroPsi'. This is a computer model of how humans perceive, act, have emotions and make plans. We looked for ways to test our software. And we came upon the idea of a fleet of little robots," he says. " MiniPsi was the logical title for the Mac mini version."

The Mac mini was a small enough computer that the group could use it to create a small robot that ran on wheels. However, the downside was its demanding power supply, Bach says.

Yet in the end, the Mac mini-based robot completed its task. "Our little robot navigated the lab floor, could build maps of its environment and search for light sources," Bach says. "We have learned quite a few things about adapting our software to the demands of real-time, real-world navigation."

Not every Mac mini ends up being a research project's robot brain. Some are turned into the masterminds behind car stereo systems.

Though there are plenty of mp3 player options for car stereos out there, Mike Welch, director of Technical Services at Emblemax, wasn't satisfied by their two to three hours of music life.

Mac mini Car Radio
This car radio system does more than just hold music, it's a full fledged Mac mini computer that handles GPS and entertainment capabilities.

Welch wanted a small case computer and two years ago a Mac mini was his only option for a computer this compact. The rest of the parts came from eBay, Home Depot, MP3Car and a nearby junkyard. Welch used his experience from a former University of Maryland class called "Future Truck", through which students upgraded a Ford Explorer to run on alternative fuel and electricity. The rest of Welch's knowledge came from online research, particularly at MP3Car, where he found information about building car stereos with Mac minis.

Though some rewiring was involved, like linking the Mac mini's power supply to the automatic locks and ignition, Welch says that the hardest part of the project was modifying his junkyard found bezel— a radio's front that hides the internal parts. Unfortunately, getting the bezel to fit the Mac mini took three weeks—of alternatively applying epoxy and sanding to get the bezel's dimensions just right—so the completed project looked generic enough to deter thievery.

Although he's enjoying his car's Mac mini—which holds 220 to 230 albums, a GPS system, and is set up for both television/movie watching and video game use—Welch says he won't install a similar system for anyone else for less than $3,000. Nobody said technology comes without a price though, especially the most innovative designs.

Although not part of first generation tablet computers, Axiotron's Modbook was unveiled at the January 2007 Macworld Conference & Expo and released a year later. The Modbook is Axiotron's combination of Apple's MacBook, with Wacom's digitized pen technology.

The Modbooks don't have a hard keyboard, but do have a software keypad for those who can't give up their keyboards. Though there aren't any shortcut keys on the keypad, the Modbook does offer InkWell software that allows users' handwriting to be converted into text via its handwriting recognition capability.

The Modbook is great option for tight spaces, like on airplanes, and for artists who want to draw with a more "traditional" tool. And MacBook owners have the option of having their existing computers converted into Modbooks.

The tablet computers Modbook and Modbook Pro have been updated for 2009. Still made sans hard covers, like traditional laptops have, the Modbooks have to be treated very carefully to protect the screen from damage that could perhaps ruin the entire machine.

But what does a person do when a computer is so badly deteriorated or out of date that even reformatting isn't worth it? Recycle. Even if a Mac can't be used in its entirety anymore, at least its parts can be.

iMacquarium
iMacquarium

Jake Harms, a well known iMacquarium creator from Nebraska, has shipped his creations all over the world. Harms runs a wedding photography and videography business and claims that he's always been creative. "I've always built things," he says.

But just how did Harms get into the hobby of making iMacquariums? Harms saw potential for a non-working iMac he knew someone was throwing away. He did a Google search for information on making unique aquariums and came across aquariums made from televisions and other types of computers, but no specifications on how to create one. After he made his first one last February, a lot of people became interested in it so he made 50. Harms fulfilled his goal to sell out within the year, having sold his last iMacquarium just three weeks ago.

He was commissioned to make a one-of-a-kind aquarium for a hospital raffle aimed at child cancer patients. Harms created a tank complete with a light that shone up through translucent gem gravel, an iPod charger on the side of the Mac and a matching keyboard and mouse set. Harms created two prototypes; the second became the model for all of his tanks. He did all the work himself, aside from using a local plastic manufacturer to create the specially shaped tanks to fit the not-quite-square shape of the iMac. He got his iMacs from local recyclers for under $10, removed or sealed the electrical parts, added a mount for the water tank and carved out extra plastic to fit the tank. After putting extra silicone around the tank joints, he set up the tanks in his bathtub for a few days to test leakage. Another key step was to polish each iMac to make it look like new.

Harms has received numerous e-mails asking for advice, and he's willing to give away just about any of his tips and tricks—except for the dimensions of his water tanks. "It was a lot of extra work to get that thing set up!" he says.

There's currently a waiting list for his iMacquariums.

More alternative uses for Mac computers are popular these days. Apple fans have turned pieces of their old Macs into items like furniture and accessories, such as jewelry and backpacks. Mac usage has never been so outragous.

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