Saturday, September 29, 2012

Just Because You Can

.... does not mean you should.

I feel like I invented that phrase. I probably didn't, but since it's nigh-onto-impossible to have a truly unique idea when you share a floating rock with 7 billion of your species, I kind of like to think that phrase is mine. And it's an important one, because it makes me remember that some things are worth doing and some are not. Case-in-point: anyone can jump of their roof wearing a cape and holding an umbrella, but it's a good bet that no sudden updrafts will break the laws of physics.

Keep that mind while I talk about technology and its usefulness when sitting on my workbench.

We'll get the GameCube Portable out of the way, first. Yes, we've worked on this thing off and on for well over 18 months. We've had a false starts, miscues, do-overs, ephipanies, modest successes, and have amassed what is probably the largest collection of dead GameCubes in the county. A few months back we got to the finish line and discovered it had been moved 10 feet further away. Completely assembled, our creation had a piece of electronics go bad ('go bad' is not an official engineering term, by the way).

So we've ripped the thing open and have been doing repairs - repairs that necessitated finding yet another used GameCube to harvest for parts. Finding our donor is a story in itself - one that took us to a rundown farmhouse on a remote rural intersection where business was quickly conducted with a wall of tattoos. The price we paid was far too cheap for the goods we bought. Take that however you want to.

So now we're in the process of getting the GameCube Portable back together. So far, so good - but we're not 100% positive all problems are solved. A couple of hours would get us to 'done', I suspect. I also suspect we're dragging our heels because, deep down, we fear another problem will stop us in our tracks - maybe for good.

So with one project on the go, we've started another (sort of).

The RaspberryPi is a Linux-based computer a little larger than a deck of cards - and it costs just $35. For that price you get a remarkable piece of tech with HDMI output, USB ports, an Ethernet jack, and 256Mb of RAM all running off a Linux stack stored on an SD card. These devices are made available through the non-profit RaspBerryPi Foundation, founded by a few Cambridge University students whose goal is to make cheap computing available for educational purposes.

It would be hyperbole to say the Foundation has been wildly successful beyond their dreams. But the fact is, getting your hands on one of these things has a wait time of 2 to 3 months these days. Geeks and Makers have been snapping these up and doing amazing things. We were lucky to get our hands on one these devices (shown below) and have really just been tinkering a little bit:

We haven't decided what we'll do with ours, yet, although JediBoy has been doing a lot of playing around with Python scripting. We actually have a second one on order and my plan is to turn it into a small, cheap appliance supporting XBMC (XBox Media Center) and Skype.

Like projects that have come before, we'll see what happens...