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Rockets and Robots and AJAX, Oh My

Shawn Powers

Issue #181, May 2009

I won't even pretend the Cool Projects issue isn't my favorite of the year. This year is particularly neat for me, because although I'm on the editorial staff, before seeing the layout, I wasn't sure what content was going into it. So my first impressions were very similar to what yours are about to be. And, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Ever since I was a kid, my definition of “something cool” almost always has included a robot. That includes books, movies and even science projects. Zach Banks proves this is the Cool Projects issue by showing us how to interface an iRobot with Linux. The iRobot isn't exactly as advanced as a Terminator robot from SkyNet, but it's also less likely to kill you. I think that's a fair trade-off.

Frank Pirz shows us his creation for digitizing old 8mm videotapes. Sure, there are services out there that will convert the old reel-to-reel tapes for you, but they're terribly expensive, and you have little control over the end product. Building a converter yourself solves all those problems. Yes, it's cool. Yes, it's homemade. And yes, it runs Linux. With all that new digital footage around, wouldn't it be nice to have an open-source method to play it on your television? Again, you're in luck. James Gray interviews Neuros Technology's CEO this month. There's not a more “open” company when it comes to video recording and playback, so you'll want to hear what he has to say.

You'll also need a place to store all that video you digitize, and Bill Childers shows us an open-source storage appliance solution called OpenFiler. Many of the devices you can buy already are running Linux of some sort, so why not build your own with an old PC you have lying around? Repurposing old hardware to act as a file server is always cool, so be sure to check it out. And while you're at it, check out what Bill and Kyle are arguing about this month. Bill thinks AJAX is a great way to interface people with applications, but Kyle seems to think AJAX is more useful as a toilet cleaner. You be the judge of who makes the better argument.

Speaking of arguments, if you're like me, you have a hard time remembering to shut off the lights when you leave a room. In my house, this causes arguments that rival Bill and Kyle. Thankfully, Daniel Bartholomew shows us Vera, a home-automation device that can save you time and money—with Linux. It might be a gadget I can convince my wife to buy.

Not cool enough? Wow, tough crowd. Okay, we'll pull out the big guns. Well, maybe not actual guns, but the Cambridge Autonomous Underwater Vehicle sort of looks like a torpedo. Andy Pritchard tells us all about it. And, even bigger than that—rockets. No, really. Sarah Sharp shows us a rocket with a USB interface. If you think a USB interface means it's a tiny rocket, you'll be surprised. Be sure to look for pictures, because the scale will surprise you.

On the off chance your personality isn't similar to mine, fear not. This issue is focused on cool projects, but the coolest project of all is Linux. And, that is the focus every issue. This month, Mick Bauer continues his security series on Squid. Kyle Rankin shows us that even rm -rf can't keep a sysadmin down, and Reuven Lerner demonstrates running Rails applications with Phusion Passenger. Add Dave Taylor's article on special variables and Doc Searls' EOF article on Privacy, and this issue will keep you in Linux bliss all month. Unless SkyNet really does send killer robots from the future, in which case, this issue might actually save your life.

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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