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The Mad Scientist Starter Kit

Shawn Powers

Issue #196, August 2010

There's something about the Cool Projects issue that always makes me think of science fiction. In my youth, I used to tape electric motors to popsicle sticks to form makeshift propellers on fanciful airplanes. Of course, I also used to make shocking devices from the ignition coils of old abandoned cars, so it's not as if I were terribly innocent in my tomfoolery. This month, although we don't have any stun guns to fend off bully attacks, we do have some extremely fun and interesting projects bound to inspire those creative juices of youth.

Anton Borisov starts off the issue with an interview with Alberto Broggi. Alberto is designing a car that will drive from Italy to China. That may sound insignificant, but it's important to realize I'm being literal. The car itself will be driving from Italy to China. The best my car does on its own is veer left of center if I start to fall asleep. Alberto is hoping to create computer systems to stop needless accidents by putting tireless computers behind the wheel. One part terrifying and one part awesome, it's a project I'm excited to read about.

If the thought of computer-controlled vehicles stresses you out, you might want to speak with Kyle Rankin. This month, he shows off his Linux-powered refrigerator, which he happens to use to brew beer. I've never had Kyle's beer, but knowing Kyle, the recipe is probably open sourced. He most likely would give us all the gruesome details if we asked.

Although Kyle may be using Linux to take over his fridge, the mad scientist in me thinks he might be setting his scope too small. Perhaps taking over the world with killer robots is more your line of thinking. If so, read Bob Smith's article on controlling robotic peripherals with Linux. It seems clear to me that criminal masterminds would want to use Linux for their killer robot army, and with Bob's article, your world takeover will be a bit easier.

Perhaps world domination and computer-driven cars are little more than you're up for this month. That's fine, we need to save something for next year's Cool Projects issue. Check out Mark Teel's article on wview, a Linux-based program for communicating with weather station devices. Although wview won't necessarily enable you to control the weather, it might help a bit with predicting it. Maybe if the local weatherman used Linux, he'd be correct about the weather here in Michigan more often.

Do you like tinkering with Arduino boards? If so, Rob Reilly's article on kst might tickle your fancy. Rob shows how to make data plots with kst and a Linux machine. Or, perhaps you want to roll your own firmware. If you have a compatible router (there are quite a few), you can turn your off-the-shelf router into a full-fledged server with OpenWrt. Mike Petullo shows how.

Finally, we have OSWALD. Don't confuse the cute name for WALL-E; rather, the OSWALD unit is an open computing device developed at Oregon State University. It was designed to get computer science students excited about developing. With its unique open nature, students are able to bend OSWALD to their whims and come up with creative new programming in an era when students often feel all the cool innovations already have been invented. Hopefully, OSWALD will change that.

If all this talk of gadgets, robots and death rays isn't really your cup of tea, that's okay. We have our full lineup of columns focusing on the things that keep us excited about Linux month after month. Reuven M. Lerner continues telling us about using CouchDB. Mick Bauer discusses transparent firewalls. Dave Taylor shows how to use signals in shell scripts. Dirk Elmendorf has a few pages on smaller projects you'll want to check out. And, of course, Bill and Kyle are at it again. Whether you prefer rotating magnetic media or the newer solid-state devices, it's always fun to see them battle out their opinions in the Point/Counterpoint column.

As always, we have new product announcements, tech tips, and all the other things you look forward to in Linux Journal. In my part of the world, summertime is well underway now, so perhaps I'll avoid that hot sun by building a few projects at home. Hopefully, unlike in my youth, I won't do dumb things like fill my basement with chlorine gas. But, that's a story for another issue.

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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