Better Kid Days
I’ve written before about how it was kind of tough for me to bond with Christopher when he was younger, so I’m happy to say that recently I’ve been doing a little better in that regard. I took the day off from work on Thursday to give Sara a parenting break, so I had the kids ALL DAY and aside from a few expected hiccups, we had a lot of fun and they didn’t manage to stress me out as much as they sometimes do. It’s neat seeing David and Matthew each developing their own unique personalities because it gives me a way to relate to them one-on-one, which was a big part of how my relationship improved with Christopher.

Relics & Espers
The last couple of days I’ve really been yearning for some video games, so last night after I got all of the kids to bed instead of doing anything productive, I curled up in bed and fired up the SNES Classic and blew about three hours playing games! Specifically I landed on Final Fantasy 3 (VI in Japan) which was probably my second favorite behind FF2 (IV), and even though I knew it wasn’t the kind of game that I could just play a little and then walk away, it was fun to revisit because I couldn’t even tell you the last time I played it!

Plus, unlike FF2 that I could likely beat with my eyes closed, I don’t remember a lot of the nuances from FF3 so I’m getting to relive those all over again, which is cool. I finally turned it off around 3am at the part where you play through the three mini-quests after Sabin disappears in the river on your way back to Narshe … should be interesting to see how much of a time sink it ends up being in the weeks to come… 😛

Coding Revisited
Right now I’m working on kind of a unique task at work in that I’m basically rewriting a bunch of scripts that I originally wrote ten years ago. I mentioned this briefly the other day on my micro-blog – it’s really weird to look at code that I wrote in PHP and MySQL because at the time they were all that I knew, and now I’m porting them into Visual Studio to use the Microsoft tools that the system I currently develop on is based around. None of it was necessarily wrong the way I did it a decade ago – it’s just different because I literally wrote everything in Notepad whereas now I have much better tools and an actual framework to do the job under!

Case in point – I’m sure that I spent weeks writing the first version, whereas I maybe spent six hours total this week and I’m about half done already? I suppose that’s what experience will do for you. 😀

Fighting Cynicism

July 14, 2018 1:58pm
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I honestly don’t want to be negative all of the time, but sometimes when I look around at the things that affect me the most, it’s hard not to be at least a little cynical.

My therapist and I had a good conversation yesterday talking about this and she suggested that in some aspects as I’ve gotten older it’s almost like I’ve opened my eyes to some parts of reality that were easier to gloss over when I was a little younger, a little less informed, and probably a little more naive…

A couple of examples:

  • Work has me increasingly frustrated because I’ve been up for a promotion for months that I was told has to wait until this fall due to new HR policies, yet the company has been hiring like crazy and promoting executive positions that apparently don’t have to adhere to the same policies that a peon like me does.
  • And frankly, I’m more worried than ever that one day the company is just going to dissolve altogether and I’m going to be screwed because I didn’t read enough of the warning signs and look for better opportunities like so many of my friends and other co-workers have done over the years.
  • Disney has had me surprisingly frustrated – a lot I think because our finances have been incredibly tight – because right now all of the revenue chasing and greed feels like it’s overshadowing “the Disney magic” that I’ve come to love after all of these years. Plus, it pains me to think that as my own family gets larger, they might actually be pricing us out of their market as they continue to press the limits of what they’re able to charge for a trip to Disney World.

In a way, capitalism in general has really kind of got me down lately because I see more and more scenarios where companies disregard their own workers to squeeze out a little more value for their shareholders. Last week Disney had a global computer outage that killed the apps that drive reservations, FastPasses, and a bunch of other features at all of the parks and resorts, and even on their cruise ships. This was a few years after they outsourced most of their infrastructure support in Orlando to a company in India, with modest severance packages dependent on training their replacements.

Or in reading into the demise of Toys ‘R Us to learn that despite some 30,000 retail workers being denied severance packages, the CEO was approved to receive a $3 million “retention bonus” in order for him to stay on through the liquidations.

There’s got to be a balance between corporate profitability and just excessive greed while so many people on the other end of the spectrum are struggling. I can’t roll my eyes hard enough every time someone insists that companies like Walmart and McDonald’s that make billions in profits each year can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage because I feel that if you can’t afford to pay your employees a living wage, you don’t deserve to be in business.

If anything is killing the American spirit right now, it’s greed because in no reality should the richest country on earth be home to both the wealthiest people and those who can’t find a meal and a warm place to sleep at night. We have a federal government right now whose god is money to the point that regulations are passed to protect corporate interests instead of the people, and they pit the peasants against each other to distract them from what’s really going on…

Quite literally – “Watch out – that guy’s trying to steal your cookie!” while wolfing down the other eleven that were on the plate.

I guess I didn’t realize just how important something as simple as loyalty is to me because it’s such a basic, ingrained part of my own life. Just like being loyal in a romantic relationship, to me that same level of respect should exist in all relationships including those between employers and employees. If someone is willing to dedicate their time and efforts toward executing your dream, whether they’re writing code or animating pictures or flipping burgers, not only do they deserve to get paid well for the job, but if they’re good at it they should be able to sleep at night knowing that their job is still going to be there tomorrow, too.

I’d much rather see a company that operates lean and hires conservatively, but doesn’t fire people every year when it comes time to announce their annual profits only to rehire at lower wages the following quarter.

One theory I have as to why this is all bothering me so much right now is because it feels like everything is kind of crashing down right now, whereas when a few things are going wrong but more are going right it’s easier to look on the sunny side of life. The worst part is, it’s hard to make positive changes in your life when everything feels negative, making it feel all the more impossible to try to wriggle my way out of this funk, and even with cynicism aside I think it’s safe to say that most of these societal problems aren’t going to fix themselves on their own anytime soon!

How does one steer an entire culture away from excess and greed to something more kind and supportive, anyways???

I get that you can’t just cap profits or salaries, and even if you did the powers that be would no doubt carve out loopholes for themselves anyways (i.e. “My salary was only $1 million – the other $20 was an incentive package!”).

I want people to be rewarded for the work that they contribute to society – right now it just feels like 99% of that reward is stagnant amongst the very rich and the rest are left grabbing for scraps, and then they’re villainized for it, and then the very rich make a new proposal about how they’d like to squeeze just a little more.

That’s what I’m bitter about right now, and I don’t know how to make it better.

No Parking, Please?

July 7, 2018 11:41am
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Am I being petty that I don’t like people parking in front of my house?

And to be clear, I’m not talking about overflow when someone is having a party and their driveway is already full.

With my neighbor, their driveway can be completely empty and people will pull up and just park in front of my house, even though they’re visiting the house next door. It just feels weird to look outside and see a car sitting out there, only to look to the house they actually went to and see plenty of space either in the driveway or even in front of that house.

Side note – the current car out front has literally been there for three days now … like they parked here and then went on vacation or something…

The thing is, it bugs the hell out of me every time I walk out the door, and I know it’s a pain for our mailman because they’re only parked a few feet from our mailbox, so she can’t just zip by. And yet I don’t want to complain and be forever after labeled as The Cranky Parking Neighbor.

Plus, it’s technically a public street, although there’s a sign out front that says No Parking at Any Time.

If I was a different person, I’d love to have the mystery car towed but then heaven forbid any of my guests ever actually park there … which people do on occasion … when there’s room, anyways. 😛

P.S. A few months ago, I actually got a complaint from our HOA about parking in front of the house when it wasn’t my car! I tried to tell them that I had no control over strangers parking in front of my house, but they didn’t really care. So I guess let’s hope it doesn’t devolve to that again?

Dream Journal : I Was Supposed to Die Today…

July 7, 2018 10:45am
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It wasn’t clear exactly how I knew, but somehow doctors had pinpointed that my heart was going to give up and I was going to die that day.

My mood, I suppose, could be best described as quiet and nervous.

I walked around mostly in a stupor, trying my best to interact with all of the people I saw on a daily basis who didn’t know, yet with this sunken feeling that any moment … any footstep or spoken word … could easily be my last.

I hadn’t told anyone because I didn’t want them to worry, and yet myself I was completely petrified at my fate. I wanted to tell the people that I loved, but how does a conversation like that even start?

As the day grew on and I grew wearier, I began to mention my results to a few people, who walked around announcing it more like an interesting factoid than something so personal.

“You know, Scott was supposed to die today, but he hasn’t yet.”

Though at first I just went about my day, eventually I slipped away and just quietly walked around, with each step almost feeling my heart rate increase and being deathly aware of not wanting to provoke it in any way.

Then I began to wonder how my life would change if it didn’t happen like it was supposed to.

I wanted to talk to my doctor for answers, and I wanted to talk to my wife.

At one point I ran into a guy who was like a knock off version of one of my old supervisors at work, which was kind of weird. He made a joke that wasn’t really funny, but was almost immediately forgotten.

I didn’t end up dying, and yet by the end of the dream it didn’t really feel like I was alive anymore, either.

Archiving Fun

July 3, 2018 10:00pm
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Now that I’ve more or less got my server upgrades under control, the last couple of weeks I’ve been really enjoying making use of that new computing power and filling up my array of hard drives with all sorts of neat, random things that I’ve stumbled across online.

Stuff like PDFs of Interaction magazine – published by Sierra Online at the height of their rule of the adventure gaming genre, I used to read this thing from cover to cover and ordered a lot of my favorite games from the 3-for-1 sales that they’d feature.

Or old videos of Welcome Freshmen – this weird, sketch comedy about high school that Nickelodeon aired when I was like 12 years old that helped prepare me for all of the girl angst and bully encounters that my own high school experience would come to offer!

Or even very old videos of the very first season of Sesame Street from 1969 – did you know that not only did Oscar the Grouch start out being orange, but that the Muppet characters actually played a fairly small role in the initial episodes of the show???

The last couple of years I’ve found myself becoming more cognizant of the temporary nature of the Internet – simply put, knowing that a site or article or video you enjoyed six months ago could very well not be there if you wanted to go back and check it out again today. And that can be for any number of reasons…

  • the website went out of business
  • the person maintaining it passed away
  • the host got a DMCA notice and took it down
  • the creator changed their mind and took it down themselves

I’ve lost access to some great works over the years, and others I still have only because I had the foresight to save a copy for myself, so now that I’ve got servers sitting in my closet with disk space to spare, the thought has occurred to me that maybe it’s worth personally archiving some of my own favorite content so that it’s still around 20 years from now regardless of whatever happens to the originals on the Internet itself.

I’ve always really liked what the Internet Archive does, particularly with their Wayback Machine, just because it’s super cool to be able to look back at websites from when the Internet was still at its infancy … even sites that I put together myself! Right now they’re storing something like 30 petabytes of data covering everything from websites to books, TV shows, YouTube channels, software, photos – you name it!

And while I’ve got a long ways to go before hitting my first petabyte of storage, it’s also neat that the same tools that they use to archive things are available to me to run on a much smaller scale.

I remember always having sort of a love-hate relationship with my DVR once I finally got one because although I loved the idea of recording my own shows digitally and having them accessible whenever, I hated the limits of the small hard drive that they included and having to pick and choose what to keep and what to delete … because what if I do want to watch episode #68 of The Simpsons at 3am without fishing through a box of DVDs???

Mr. Plow, BTW! 😉

The On-Demand channels of digital cable were cool, but as content began to grow, channels themselves would have to pick and choose what to offer – here’s season 2 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but if you want season 1, you’ll have to buy the DVDs…

And even streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and iTunes today have their limits because they’re constantly negotiating licenses with all of the studios – there are entire blogs dedicated to what’s coming and going on Netflix in a given month.

Although I’ve never really hit the level of a hoarder in real life, although I do hate to throw away things that I think I might be nostalgic for later, I’m very much a digital hoarder because hard drives are cheap, it’s a fun way to look back at the past, and it’s surprisingly convenient to access these days when I’ve got entire Christmas tree boxes of DVDs and CDs sitting on a few hard drives in my servers that can then be accessed from any TV or device that I own, 24 hours a day.

I don’t need to wait for FX to run another The Simpsons marathon or wonder if my cable provider offers access to their On Demand thingy because I’ve got 638 episodes sitting on 340 GB of space in a server that *I* control to watch whenever I want.

And of course, that’s the crux of digital hoarding – just because I could doesn’t mean that I ever will, but still…

Ultimately it’s hard to tell what will be “of value” decades into the future – sure, people still probably won’t get much out of the random pictures that we take of our lunches, but it’s one of those things that we don’t really know until it’s too late unless we think ahead and preserve copies of our history just in case. Right now historians are pouring through old books and VHS tapes for content from before the Internet ever existed that will essentially be lost in another twenty years if someone doesn’t take the time to digitize and archive that kind of stuff today.

The other day I stumbled upon this old post from the Internet Archive of a propaganda video created by the US government back in 1943 when they were rounding up Japanese Americans to send them to internment camps after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. It’s surreal to watch simply because of how positive the narrator talks about this horrific crime that our great grandparents committed in the name of national security, and it’s all the more relevant today as we see escalations around public perception and immigration, and yet with that video predating even VHS tapes, if a historian hadn’t taken the time to archive it, it would’ve just been lost in the annals of time.

I’m not saying that old podcasts and sitcoms will have the same relevancy as historical films, but there are many facets to historical value to a society.

I’ll be sure to post more as I collect more things and evolve my thoughts on this topic, as over time I think they might grow into a more formal effort, whether it’s working with the IA or who knows! 😉

Virtualization Fun

June 23, 2018 1:15am
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So after a handful of learning curves over the last couple of weeks, my Plex server officially has a new home!

Although my hope was to this summer be able to afford the new Synology NAS that I’ve been eyeballing for a couple of years now, I recently found myself in a position to instead upgrade pretty much everything else at a price far more affordable than that NAS, so here we are. 😉

Almost two weeks ago to this day, I discovered /r/homelabsales – a swell subreddit where fellow computer geeks are looking to offload old computers … particularly server-grade hardware that they themselves have acquired on the cheap to play around and learn on. Surprisingly enough, the same night I found the subreddit, I also found someone here in Tampa looking to get rid of a nice, little rackmount server – a Dell R10 with dual CPUs and a small amount of RAM that was still 6x what I was running in my old server!

The cost of $140 seemed pretty good at a glance, so the next day I met up with the guy and drove home with a new-to-me server whose box filled almost the entire trunk of my car… 😯

Since last week, I’ve given myself a bit of a crash course in virtualization – I’ve used plenty of VMs over the years myself, but I’ve never administered one, so I picked up a free copy of VMware’s free software and started tinkering with it. I definitely made a few mistakes along the way, mostly with regards to oversubscribing resources, but I think that’s mostly all behind us and as I type this now, I’ve migrated the Plex application itself over to its own new VM on my new server and I’m working on moving the various download tools that I use to get my media into their own VM as well.

The plan is basically to turn my old server into a de facto NAS – because its only role going forward will be to house hard drives – which will hopefully help to extend its life a bit longer by offloading all of the downloading and transcoding onto the newer and more robust machine, at least until I’m able to pickup that fancy NAS and retire my old desktop hardware turned home server altogether.

It’s crazy to see how far that thing has grown in only a couple of years! When I first started using Plex back in the fall of 2014, I think I had about 1.5 TB of media almost immediately. Six months later I was up to 20 TB, though things admittedly slowed down a bit from there … at least temporarily. Now 3.5 years later, that storage array is up to about 42 TB across 8 disks – two of which are external USB drives because I physically ran out of SATA ports in the box and the last time I messed with adding a new drive on an expansion card, it wiped out a 4 TB disk without a second glance, so I’m rightfully so a little nervous to touch anything else inside until I’ve started migrating data to a better solution!!!

But really, what I’ve got now has been serving me great – the few TB I still have free should last me until I’m ready to make that move and at this point there really isn’t that much more for me to add … or at least not stuff that can’t wait until space isn’t an issue again, anyways.

As for the new server, it’s admittedly pretty neat to watch 16 cores handle more Plex transcoding than I have kids and friends combined right now! The other day I did a test run and started streams on every device I could find in the house – three TVs, my phone, Christopher’s iPad, and my PC – and even with a couple of them transcoding, there was still plenty of overhead to spare, so that makes me happy. I’ve actually been able to use some of the new horsepower to convert 4k videos into encodings that my TV can actually handle, so it’s been neat actually getting to watch some 4k content for a change, too!

If anything, it gives me something new to play with while I save my pennies for the next upgrade.

…and figure out where I’m going to fit a server rack in my bedroom closet…

Her Story

June 19, 2018 2:17pm
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I discovered this last night and ended up binge-watching the entire thing because it was such a compelling story. It’s about a couple of trans women and the challenges they face, particularly in the dating world but also just in general as they try to co-exist with the rest of society.

I think one thing in particular that intrigued me was how well the writers did at introducing an issue that many people might be aware of on the surface, but then exposing some of the layers underneath to make you re-examine aspects that maybe aren’t as cut and dry as you might have thought. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the arc between Violet and Mark in the later half of the series really struck me because it seemed so simple to paint him with one brush, while she was more reluctant for complicated reasons that were more than you would expect.

The web series is only six episodes – less than an hour long in total – though it sounds like they’re still trying to get funding to make it into something bigger.

Either way, it’s not hard to see how they won an Emmy for this – it’s thoughtful and entertaining and challenging, and I think it’s worth watching for a lot of honest insight into the struggles that trans people go through.

*It’s Unlimited, But There Are Some Limits…

May 10, 2018 11:35am
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I’ve written about this topic before, but it bears repeating because right now it’s something that I’m a little frustrated about.

Simply put, whether we’re talking cellular or fixed line, I think that Internet access should be sold as a utility, not a service.

In layman’s terms, either bill me for usage or bill me for speed, but don’t double dip and bill me for both.

This issue resurfaced in my mind because last night we got a notification from Verizon that we’re almost at our plan’s limit for data for the month, though there are still 12 days left in the billing cycle. Our plan is for 8 GB, which is usually more than enough, but we did a lot of traveling in the last month and tethering the kids’ iPad in the car always eats up a lot of data.

So I look at my options to see that they’ve eliminated the rest of the buckets of data above ours – the next step is just an Unlimited Plan, or rather two unlimited plans…

  • The first plan is an extra $50/month and adds unlimited data … but they reserve the right to throttle you down to 3G speeds due to “network congestion” (i.e. “Hi, net neutrality! Somebody else paid more, so they get to go first!!!”). Also, mobile video is limited to DVD quality (480p). Also, mobile hotspot connectivity is limited to 3G speeds as well.
  • The second plan is an extra $80/month and this time your unlimited data can only be throttled if you exceed 22 GB/line in a given month. Mobile video is limited to 720p. Mobile hotspot comes with a 15 GB allowance at LTE speeds, after which it will be throttled down to 3G.

Just so that we’re all on the same page here:

So where do we start?!

I have an iPhone 7, my wife has an iPhone 8 Plus – mine supports 720p, hers with the larger screen is 1080p, so both are getting sub-optimal video quality on the lower unlimited plan. We won’t even muddy the waters by talking about iPads here.

Throttling speeds are a HUGE difference here – Verizon cites their 3G threshold at 600 Kbps, whereas I’ve done speed tests showing anywhere from 20 – 50 Mbps for LTE. The latter will easily support streaming audio and video, whereas 600 Kbps should support streaming music over Pandora (which requires 25-50% of that) but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about video, and frankly, tethering my laptop to those speeds would be like a trip back to 2001.

And lastly, the biggest point of all – what is unlimited if it is, in fact, capped or throttled?!?!?!?!?!

I find it appalling that Verizon sold off its FiOS business a few years ago so that they could focus on “mobile as the future of broadband” if their idea of that future isn’t bright and shiny, incredible pipes but instead these hack and slash toll booths that all of the carriers swore they wouldn’t do with net neutrality, but what do you know … now they’re doing it and the current FCC chair couldn’t care less!

Maybe it’s an “undesirable business model,” but I just want access to data.

You sell me a pipe. Bill me either by how much data I use (like the electric or water company) or what capacity I have access to use (like my home broadband), and that’s it.

I shouldn’t have to consider the screen resolution of each of my devices or what tethering speeds I need to be able to do mobile work from my laptop – not when you’ve got an LTE network capable of speeds faster than the majority of residential broadband.

I spent about an hour looking into this last night and getting more and more riled up as I learned about the details, until I finally wondered if maybe I should finally consider switching to another provider, but they’re all pretty much doing the same thing!

This is exactly the kind of thing that the FCC is supposed to be protecting consumers against.

For a while now, I’ve said that time is my most precious resource.

I have a young family, a stressful job, and more ambitions than I have the time I’d like to fully indulge in, so often I find myself watching the clock even more so than I do my checking account balance. I can always make more money (sort of!), but no matter how hard I try, there are still only so many hours in a day at my disposal.

So for the last four years – specifically since the day that Christopher was born – I’ve been a telecommuter, working out of my home office and only going in for meetings that couldn’t be handled over the phone … which let’s be honest, in this day and age were few and far between!

I found that working from home was a good fit for me because it kept me in close proximity if Sara needed any help with the boys during the day. She still handled most of their daily care, but if she needed a hand changing a particularly messy diaper or wanted to share something adorable that they were doing, I could take a short break and come help.

It also made it so much more convenient that she could run to the store or go pickup Christopher from school while the twins were napping because I was still in the house with them doing my work.

It was a great system that came crashing to an end recently when my employer announced that they were ending our telecommuting policy. No discussion, no exceptions – they just wanted everyone back in the office to facilitate collaborations, despite the fact that we’re a global company and most of the people who I collaborate with are located in other countries… 🙁

I’m not going to rant and rave about that because this isn’t the time or the place, but what I can say is that over the years I’ve definitely learned that office life really isn’t for me. At least not right now it isn’t – the fixed schedules aren’t conducive to my life with three young kids, the commute is a giant waste of precious time, and in the end I know that I’m personally far more productive working privately at home without all of the distractions that come from working in the same building as 500 other people.

Sometimes other workers have a negative opinion towards telecommuters because they think that they’re just sitting at home, goofing off all day long.

I know because for a while I was one of those people who hated hearing that somebody was working from home that day because often times it was tough to get a hold of them, and frankly there was probably a bit of jealousy in wishing that *I* was sitting at home on my couch with my laptop instead of stuck in a stuffy cubicle for 10 hours a day, slowly watching my life flash before my eyes, too!

But the thing that I realized once I started enjoying the comforts of telecommuting regularly for myself is this – just because someone is physically in the office doesn’t mean that they’re actually doing anything productive with their time.

You can screw around at the office just as easily as you can at home – wandering from one co-worker’s desk to another for just a few minutes of idle chat, meetings that are booked for far longer time than they actually require, aimless web surfing and social media browsing, or even just taking an hour for a task that should take any reasonable person five minutes … don’t let anyone claim credit for being busier than you are just because they did it wearing pants. 😉

So needless to say, my world is even a bit more chaotic than normal right now because I feel like my precious time is even more constrained than ever. Not being able to throw up a load of laundry or wash a few dishes to help reduce the pile in the sink on my lunch break is already starting to take its toll and tensions within the family are higher because we don’t see each other nearly as much as we used to.

In a way, it really makes me think about work and why it is that we work the way that we do because it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Some jobs, of course, require a physical presence – retail, dining, hospitality, shipping – but for jobs that put us sitting at desks for 50 hours a week and with so many online tools to allow people to work together from all corners of the globe, the reasons are few and far between why people should be tethered to one certain desk to put in their time and it’s hard to see how the positives could possibly outweigh the negatives when you consider how freeing it can be for an employee to have more control over how they spend their day.

Right now I’m struggling to adjust – I’ll get by, but I’m not really happy about it. The upside is that it’s forcing me to reconsider some things that I’ve let slide for far too long out of a sense of just being comfortable. I’ve got a few ideas for ways to change things up, and I’m getting to the point in my life where I’m less willing to take no for an answer – 2,400 hours a year is just too much time to spend discontent.

I suppose we’ll see what happens! 😉

Digital Calendar Fun!

May 3, 2018 6:13pm
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This is a project that I’ve been looking forward to working on for a long time! Thankfully by the time I finally got around to it, most of the messy stuff has been worked out by other people and throwing this together was actually pretty easy… 😉

Ever since I realized that my wife and I could share a calendar via Google, it seemed like a no-brainer to help keep me on the same page because I’m the one who can never keep track of doctor’s appointments and all of the random stuff that we’ve got going on for the family throughout the month. The thing is, Google Calendar is great when I’m on the go and just want to check something on my phone real quick, but when I’m at home, I still like the simplicity of a wall calendar hanging in the kitchen or my office to be able to see at a glance if we’ve got anything going on that week.

The solution is actually pretty simple:

  • one old computer display (I picked this 22″ Dell up at a used monitor sale for $10)
  • one Raspberry Pi (I’m using the zero model because barely any CPU is needed here)
  • one free account on DAKboard.com

What’s cool is when I originally thought about doing this, I figured I’d have to create a custom page and embed the calendar from Google in it, and then host that locally on the Pi along with any photos that I wanted to incorporate into some sort of slideshow, but instead the DAKboard folks have done all of that heavy lifting for me by creating a web service that pulls in calendar info using iCal, as well as weather data, news via RSS feeds, even a to-do list from Todoist, plus background images from sites like Instagram and Flickr!

I literally fought with my Raspberry Pi for two days because I got a bad USB dongle in my order and couldn’t get it to recognize a keyboard/mouse, and then setup the calendar itself using DAKboard’s features in about 20 minutes.

The display is just a full screen Chromium browser pointed at the Private URL that DAKboard gives you.

I added one line of code to the Pi’s config.txt file to rotate the screen to better resemble a wall calendar.

Now pretty much all I have left is to modify the startup script to have it automatically load Chromium and go right to that URL, install a script to make the cursor disappear on inactive, and then figure out how to hang the thing on the wall!

(and luckily, DAKboard has a neat-o blog post that details pretty much all of this stuff!)

It’s kind of surprising how quickly this much came together once I actually started – I do have a wishlist, but it’s admittedly pretty small…

  • Incorporate a motion sensor that will put the screen to sleep once everyone goes to bed (no idea how to do this)
  • Incorporate some sort of controls to allow flipping between months (my wife insists that this is vital to completely replace our paper calendar)
  • Create a separate photo account specifically for calendar photos (because it’s neat to link to Instagram, but I take pictures of dumb stuff sometimes that doesn’t belong on our family calendar!)
  • Support for more than one screen (I think DAKboard right now only supports one and I can see having different layouts for kitchen vs office, etc…)
  • Hide the power cords once this is mounted to the wall (it’s going to be a pain, but I basically just need to install a new outlet wherever the calendar will go)

I suppose I should point out that DAKboard’s business is actually in selling a retail version of this where everything is done for you, though they didn’t pay me to write this post … but I’d be happy to write a review if they want to send me a free unit to try out! 😉

Theirs is still a little pricey – $299 for a 24-inch display, whereas mine will likely still be less than $75 even after I pick up a wall mount for it.

Hopefully the price will come down, though, as displays continue to get cheaper. I see it as an alternative to the digital picture frame craze that we had a few years ago, but thankfully with a much larger display! With everything else so dynamic and connected around us, it seems weird to still be penciling in appointments on a piece of paper hanging on the wall, and at least this is still cheaper than hanging a full-fledged iPad to fulfill that coveted touch capability. 😀

If I was buying a monitor specifically for this, I’d aim for a slightly newer one with built-in USB (to eliminate a power cable for the Pi) and HDMI (to avoid an extra adapter from DVI to HDMI to micro HDMI), but you really don’t need much … I’m pretty sure you can still get displays like that in the neighborhood of $100.

I’ll be sure to post something else if/when I figure out all of that trickier stuff, but for now I’m pretty satisfied!

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