Since then, I’ve used Linux at work and at home in a wide variety array of devices. Even today, now that I’m older and never have enough time for fiddling around with software constantly, I have Linux in my car, as an mp3 player. Any Empeg Rio Car users out there? With no DRM, Linux in your car is a far better solution that connecting your iPod through your car stereo.
But like always, the Linux community is a vast store of fascinating information and ideas. I’ve worked with a Japanese company called Plat’Home, maker of small, tough, eco-friendly servers, for the past nine months or so. They ran a contest this summer about ideas. They called it the “Will Linux Work? Contest.” They collected ideas from Linux lovers on how they would use Linux in interesting and sometimes challenging ways.
Plat’Home must have had a lot of fun digging through all the submissions trying to decide on the winners.
The contest is over, but it got me excited about Linux being used in novel and interesting ways. I’d like to hear your stories about how you use Linux. How have you customized your Linux PC? Do you use Linux as a media center? A security system? In your car? It doesn’t need to be fancy. Most people that can really make Linux do interesting things started small.
Back to the Plat’Home contest. It’s worth sifting back through their blog. 20-25 cool ideas. It might spark some ideas for you. Of all those, what ideas won? They ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, and I mean that with no disrespect. What an interesting range of possibilities.
The most outrageously great was the “chicken sitter.” Gordon Smith of Lakewood, CO, wanted to do a “useful project.” Save the chickens! In his own words:
As a practitioner of the software arts, my lack of electronics knowledge has always bothered me. I’ve browsed a few books and tinkered a bit, but aside from that could I find a useful project to bring on some learning fun?
I pondered that question one night while gazing at the moon. It was bright enough to see raccoons high in a tree next door, which sent me briefly into a panic trying to remember if I had shut the door on the chicken coop. Four small spring chickens have little to protect them at night – aside from someone or something remembering to close the coop door. Perhaps something could remember better than someone to close the door? Would a silicon “Chicken Sitter” be a feasible project?
The plan is to use an inexpensive webcam with IR capability to see in the dark, along with a computer vision library to count the chickens. To determine when dusk occurs, the server will run SNTP (simple network time protocol) and query another server to determine when sundown occurs each day. A document scanner has been sacrificed to provide a stepper motor controller and power supply to open and close the coop door.
The software required includes the Linux drivers for the webcam and the network adapter, the SNTP client, the OpenCV computer vision library and an application to tie everything together.
Martin Ewing Branford, CT, had an extremely timely idea, looking for a way to increase the efficiency of various home heating systems. He calls it the Home Utility Support System and defined the Scope of Project as:
Prototype development of a system to monitor and control home heating and hot water systems with the objective of providing engineering and economic analysis to allow the homeowner to minimize costs and increase the effectiveness of the home’s utility systems. The system is to be based on the Linux-based Plat’Home Open Micro Server to be supported by additional open-source software solutions.
Software utilized during the project included gcc, Python, vim, gnuplot, ssh, and Apache. Ewing says that software developed for the project will be made available under the GPLv3.
Colin Duplantis of Rough and Ready, CA, (I add the link just to show that it is a legitimate place name!) is building an irrigation monitoring system. His ranch covers five acres, and the system waters the lawns, provides drinking water for horses and maintains the level of the man-made pond in the middle of the property.
And, finally, any sailors out there? Need a brain for your boat? Steve Castellotti of El Cerrito, CA, wanted an on-board computer for his trimaran making trips back and forth between California and New Zealand. On top of Linux he uses OpenVPN to link up to his private network, Apache for serving up custom software and content on his LAN, PostgreSQL for storing the data collected from the Trimaran’s engine and solar panel array, and Icecast for streaming mp3s via HTTP. He uses a 1 TB external hard drive and an iPod as additional storage.
Ideas are powerful. I’d like to hear from you. How you use Linux? How have you customized Linux? If your story is interesting and applicable to others, we can blog about your project here.