Last Friday I had the great privilege of giving a keynote talk at the ApacheCon Europe conference in Amsterdam. My topic was the new possibilities for software hackers coming from cheap, scriptable hardware prototyping. I illustrated the path from the desktop via my work in Second Life, and showed how it translates into physical computing.
Here’s a video demonstration (people reading the feed, start your web browsers). On the left you’ll see an Arduino reading analogue values from a potentiometer and feeding the results in via the USB-serial interface to my Mac. On the right, you’ll see a modified version of Second Life that is feeding those values in via my avatar’s chat channel. An object in the Second Life world is reacting, with perhaps a half-second lag.
Last year I bought a Dell Latitude X200 laptop, which was a wonderful machine. In October it was stolen from my flat in a break-in. I made do with a refurbished HP Omnibook 500 but I wasn’t happy with it. When a 2nd-hand X200 came up on ebay last week at a good price, I couldn’t resist snapping it up. In the time since I last installed linux on one of these machines, there have been a few developments and new releases that make installation and configuration easier.
My new laptop arrived this week – a Dell Latitude x200. And it’s marvellous. Wonderfully lightweight, good battery life for such a small box, good keyboard and a really clear bright screen. After a quick look at Windows XP, which I’d never seen properly before, I set about installing Linux on it. The Linux on Laptops Dell page has links to some useful bootstrapping information, but there were a few things I found pretty hard to work out. Here are my notes on those things.
One thing I’d like to do with a silent PC is make a homebrew TiVo-alike. Well, I would if I watched any TV. Which I don’t. But still, the idea interests me beyond any use I’d actually make of it. Anyway…
In the past, this idea has been beyond my means since recording analogue TV to MPEG on a hard disk in realtime requires a great deal of CPU (or dedicated encoder hardware). The general availability of digital TV in the UK now means that the MPEG encoding is already done for you by the broadcasters; you just need a way to get it out of the airwaves or cables and into a PC. Happily, there’s now a range of cheap digital WinTV cards for cable, terrestrial and satellite. I’ve been checking out a NOVA-t (terrestrial) card on a linux box this week.
For a while I’ve wanted a home PC that I can leave on all the time without the noise bugging me – I’ve become quite sensitive to machine noise over years of working with computers. I’d use it to play MP3s off my network, then I’d think up other projects. It wouldn’t need a monitor or a keyboard. It would just sit attached to the network, appliance-style, in the manner of a slimp3 but with the flexibility of a full linux system. Now the off-the-shelf hardware I need to make such a thing is available.