Thursday, May 12, 2016

From joy to despair on 28 March 1954

Can you see the plane in the picture? It is a Royal Norwegian Air Force Catalina about to drop mail for Hopen Radio meteorological station on Sunday 28 March 1954. My father took this picture. As far as I can remember from reading his diary they had been waiting for this mail drop for a long time. Bad weather had delayed the flight, and it would never return. The fact is that the plane crashed later on its round to Norwegian outposts in the Arctic. You can read more about the disaster in Wikipedia´s article called 1954 Bjørnøya Consolidated PBY Catalina crash. Eight people died and one survived.   

I found the picture in a photo album back in 2006 or so when I gave a presentation at my kids´ school. Parents were challenged to come to tell about the world outside school. My angle was weather forecasting, and I based my presentation around my father´s photos. If you are versed in Norwegian or just want to see more pictures from 1953-1954, then you can find my presentation here.    

It is hard to imagine how the joy of the arrival of mail was replaced with despair once the plane went missing. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Poor man's smart mirror

By covering a computer display with a mirror foil or a two way mirror you can make a smart mirror - a mirror where you can both look at yourself and get an update from the attached computer. This is typically used to give updates on weather, news, calendar and so on. I have wanted to have one for some time, but the obvious location in the main bathroom has a mirror that is glued to the wall.

Since I am not about to remodel the bathroom or move to a new one, I thought I should look into other ways of achieving a similar effect, while leaving the mirror unharmed. My solution was to combine a unused 4:3 Dell display and a Raspberry Pi single-board computer, and place this so that I could see the computer display's mirror image when I stood in front of the regular mirror.

The application I tried was Michael Teeuw's Magic Mirror. It turned out that my myopia meant that I needed big letters to be able to read easily via the mirror, so some playing around with the configuration was needed. And of course I needed to force the computer to render a mirrored image on the display. The Raspberry Pi can do that, although not as easily as one could hope!

The result is shown in the image on the right. Due partly to WAF the installation did not become permanent. But I am intrigued by the prospect of adding some software for facial recognition and make the display switch dynamically between the mirrored and the normal display, depending on which way the viewer is looking. But since the Rapberry Pi needs a reboot to switch display configuration, I will need computer that implements the RandR protocol to do this.

Actually, there are a number of features that can be designed around such a platform, and an important angle is so called welfare technology - technology that is aimed at helping for example elderly stay at home instead of being taken into care. When I get older I expect that such solutions can help me take my medication, monitor my physical fitness, remind me about appointments and so on.