New Software Gives Purpose to Old Hardware
Wednesday, November 26, 2008, by Sebastian Dwornik

With the focus on the environment and a suffering economy these days, the best way to adapt is by becoming more resourceful.  Old PDA hardware, for example that would normally be viewed as obsolete, can gain a resurgence with the right new software.  This is how PocketCRON was born.


PDA Controlled Christmas Tree Lights

I enjoy the glitter and sparkle of holiday lighting that decorates houses, banisters, and trees.  What I do not particularly enjoy is the added maintenance of turning ON and OFF those lights when the house goes to sleep.

So in comes home automation.

A few years ago I purchased an Insteon PowerLinc serial controller with a single LampLinc plug-in module to control my Christmas tree lights.  I also happen to have a spare Dell Axim X50 PDA that wasn't doing anything; until now.

PDA_controlled_Christmas_lights


By using PocketDAQ Pro to communicate over a serial connection with the PowerLinc controller, I was able to transmit the commands to turn the lights ON and OFF.  The development of PocketCRON then enabled me to set the schedule of controlling those lights.


Taskconfig_walkthrough


This is done by configuring tasks with the time and days that will automatically execute PocketDAQ Pro with a script parameter that transmits the appropriate commands to the PowerLinc controller.  It also provides an intuitive GUI for manual control of the lighting as well.

I have always believed that such mobile devices are an excellent form factor for the purpose of being stand-alone controllers.  They are essentially a full computer with a touch screen and built-in UPS.  Their size and power efficiency compared to a full PC - or even a laptop doing the same thing - is unmatched and the price is far less than any industrial version.

The end result adds convenience to controlling my holiday lights and puts to good use an old PDA that was otherwise ignored.  Saving me money for new hardware and opening more possibilities for other home automation projects.

With the lights done I think I'll move on to the sprinkler system .  But that won't be until the summer season comes around.


 

You talk + I listen = Better Software
Monday, November 17, 2008, by Sebastian Dwornik

dogfooding

I have said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, “user feedback is the single most important driver behind new features and improvements in my products”.  It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Most of the software I develop for Applied PDA is primarily for my own initial use.  Why build something that I won’t directly benefit from?

As the software gets used internally more each day though, various designs and features change.  It quickly becomes apparent that it is not enough to create something that only I can use, but that others can intuitively utilize as well.

So before anything gets released, it has to pass what I call I.B.U.T, “inside the building usability test”.   This is a hack title for a process which simply means that until everyone in the building can intuitively understand the software and are not afraid (or annoyed) to use it, it does not leave the building.

This enforces an active role to get local user feedback and in a way, requires an approval from everyone who might potentially be supporting the software.  A common software term for this is called “dogfooding”.

Such a process can delay the release of software for a short while.  But it also ingrains an attitude that the product is open to suggestions from its users, and that real people stand behind its virtual skin to provide a service in supporting its growth and maturity.

The formula is simple:  You talk + I listen = Better Software.


 

The New PDA
Sunday, November 02, 2008, by Sebastian Dwornik


HTC Diamond phone Many years ago there existed a gap between mobile PDA's and cellular phones.  The phone was essentially a mobile radio, and the PDA was a little computer that held all of your data, calendars, contacts, etc.

Then as time went on, the mobile phone absorbed most of these PDA functions.  The evolution of the phone turned it into a PDA with a cellular radio.  The PDA became a phone, and the phone became a PDA.  They are both the same thing now, branded as the new PDA.

No matter what you call it though, the point is that it is a versatile handheld instrument, used for communication with other people and machines (e.g. The internet).  This is the platform which will open access to computing in every corner of the world, and with it also, bring a piece of our software to empower people and their imaginations.


 

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My name is Sebastian Dwornik and I am an entrepreneur located near Toronto, Canada.

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