Inspired by the now infamous TED Talk presentation by, I’ve set out to find my own “best approximation” of a futuristic yet simplistic controller interface for my Home Theatre.
In considering this home Do-It-Yourself (DIY) project, I wanted to cover the full spectrum of possibilities, from the most simplistic options to the most complex. Another major restriction I put on myself was budget. No single solution should cost more than $100 to implement, and in fact, the cheaper the better! Of course, I should also acknowledge that most of my intended use-cases could have been solved by purchasing a Smart TV (depending on the brand and software version of the unit) however again, due to budget limitations that’s out of my range and I’m assuming also out of the range of the majority of readers here, not to mention it really defeats the purpose of trying to get this all working on a 100+ inch projection screen, which is a screen size that’s definitely out of most people’s price range!
The projector I’m using is the Optoma EW1610, which I purchased for about $800 back in late 2009. Its four years old now but it has aged quite well, and the specs were the best I could afford at the time. The point was, I knew that it would come in far more affordable, not to mention handy (and be a heck of a lot lighter during my frequent moves) than a big-screen TV with similar specs.
Its specs are:
There are significantly more powerful projectors available for the same price-range today, or for even less.
Recently, I needed to switch away from SurveyMonkey, which, while still a useful free service for quickly collecting some basic Survey results, leaves much to be desired in terms of what they offer in their basic version. Of course the fully paid versions offer significantly more functionality, but the upper-end of the pricing schemes that do everything I needed are just way out of my price range for small individually-funded and/or non-budget independent projects.
Getting LimeSurvey installed on my own server was incredibly easy, just download the latest release version and upload the files via FTP. Then load the installation script and it will guide you through the remaining install steps (which are basically just setting a username/password for the administrator account, as well as database configurations such as connection info, table naming, etc). Pretty standard fare for a long-running open source PHP project with a solid development community in place.
I had initially started out with XML-RPC since I’m kind of a nerdcore “semantics” guy, and favour XML over JSON for most server-side integration use cases (unless I’m publishing data for client-side consumption, then I almost always favour JSON). The reason, well there simply are way more tools and methodologies already in place for XML than JSON and the reliability mechanisms built into XML such as well-defined schemas (DTD/XSD) which provide data validation, namespsaces (ns) which prevent conflicts in name/value label namings and help ensure you get the right values when parsing, stylesheets (XSL/XSLT) which allow for on-the-fly transformations, query languages (XPath and XQuery) which simplify data filtering and extraction tasks, and XML security mechanisms such as Digital Signatures which enable better security. However that’s all sure to start a debate on here.
The point is, I wanted to go XML-RPC, I really did! However I have to say, the simplicity of their JSON-RPC API which seems particularly well-implemented won me over.
So here’s what I made, a simple Survey response submission script that I call “limesurvey.collector.php“:
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In my industry of IT (and indeed all Technology jobs in general), it is extremely easy to develop unhealthy and border-line self-destructive habits. From staring at a screen for too long to bad posture slouching over a keyboard, and from tendonitis in the wrist due to bad hand/wrist joint alignment to forgetting to stand up regularly in order to keep the blood circulating; these are just some of the many common pitfalls of being a developer, engineer or technologist of any kind. Furthermore, in our digital society, these now also apply almost equally to the majority of other professions as almost everyone has to use a computer or electronic device of some sort in their line of work today. Compounding this even more is the fact that once we get home, we are often interacting with more and more computers and devices (interface in our cars, on mobile phones, TVs, personal computers, tablets, etc). It’s not too surprising that digital overload is a major trending health concern in the 21st century.
Recently, if only in the interest of self-preservation, I’ve become extremely interested in the growing Fitness movements online to take one’s health back from the digital distractions and electronic that seek to steal it away. What started out innocently enough (yet often times insulting/disgustingly/self-deprecatingly enough) with Reddit’s Fitness discussion thread has now grown into an experiment with several different Fitness Tracking, Calorie Counting and Nutrition Planning tools, as well as keeping track of any ailments or injuries that cropped up during my training using Patient-to-Patient Networks and related resources. At this point I had not yet gone full “Fit Geek” yet, as I wholeheartedly rejected one of the primary driving forces behind this so-called “Fit Geek movement”; namely, the “wearable gadgets” fitness technology category. I knew things were really starting to get out of hand though, when my own mother got into said technocratic gadgetry craze by purchasing a FitBit ONE which is basically a Pedometer, Heart Monitor, Sleep Analyzer and Watch/Timer/Stopwatch all in one, complete with a secured Web 2.0 style RESTful API to allow you to access your personal Fitness Activity data.
So, not to be outdone by my own mother, I finally decided to crack and give this fit tech thing a try (stubbornness and rejection of mainstream trends/agendas aside, I really do need to know about this health & fitness technology stuff at a deep level since I believe it will be tightly entwined with my career in Health IT). Not being exactly sure what I was looking for, and at the same knowing I didn’t want to put much time, money or effort into this investigation initially, I decided to take up Nintendo on their offer of a free downloadable copy of $59.99 Wii Fit Plus for people who already had the Wii Balance Board that came with previous versions of Wii Fit who purchased the WiiU FitMeter before January 31st, 2014. Sadly, if you’re reading this, you’ve missed that deal; but I can tell you that I’ve been pleasantly surprised about the ease of use and convenience of using the FitMeter to track your distance walked/jogged/run/skied/biked and a rough estimate of the total calories burned from that basic activity.
Open Source Software (and more recently, even Open Source Hardware) have become not just rising trends but the de fact standard for true technology innovation.
Here’s a quick summary table showing the top 20 of the biggest Open Source technology acquisitions of all-time (to date):
Mobile Phones have come a long way since the giant “Cell Phones” (sometimes called “Bricks” for their heavy weight and rectangular shape) of the late 80s and early 90s, to the modern “Smart Phones” with intelligence and computing capability that would have seemed like Science Fiction back then. Today’s handhelds are fully-functional Mobile Devices that perform a multitude of tasks.
The following infographic entitled “From Bricks to Brains” summarizes this evolution of the Cell Phone:
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BC$ = Behavior, Content, Money
The goal of the BC$ project is to raise awareness and make changes with respect to the three pillars of information freedom - Behavior (pursuit of interests and passions), Content (sharing/exchanging ideas in various formats), Money (fairness and accessibility) - bringing to light the fact that:
1. We regularly hand over our browser histories, search histories and daily online activities to companies that want our money, or, to benefit from our use of their services with lucrative ad deals or sales of personal information.
2. We create and/or consume interesting content on their services, but we aren't adequately rewarded for our creative efforts or loyalty.
3. We pay money to be connected online (and possibly also over mobile), yet we lose both time and money by allowing companies to market to us with unsolicited advertisements, irrelevant product offers and unfairly structured service pricing plans.