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Actual chickens win Plat'Home's Linux contest

Linux is for more than just Webservers. People all over the country came up with new and innovative uses to win Plat'home's contest.

Plat'Home, the maker of small, tough, eco-friendly servers that I've blogged about before, ran a contest this summer about ideas.

It was dubbed the "Will Linux Work? Contest" and solicited ideas about how to use Linux, how to abuse Linux, how to push the limits.

Part of it was marketing, sure. But it focused on Linux users' ideas--with the best ones winning a free Plat'Home OpenMicroServer worth $600 to test their ideas.

So which ideas won and how did the actual testing go? On Tuesday, Plat'Home released the results of the experiments.

These chickens roost with Linux
These chickens roost with Linux. Gordon Smith

First, there was the "chicken sitter."

Gordon Smith of Lakewood, Colo., wanted to do a Linux project and also had a chicken coop. Obviously, they go together. His system is built around an inexpensive Webcam with infrared capability to see in the dark, along with a computer vision library to count the chickens.

To determine when nocturnal predators come out, the server runs simple network time protocol (SNTP). A stepper motor controller and power supply from a document scanner are used to open and close the coop door. The combination should make sure the door closes after all the chickens are home to roost. I love the image of raccoons trying to outsmart Linux.

Second, Colin Duplantis of Rough and Ready, Calif., is building a system to control his farm's irrigation system and has wanted to house the server out in a dusty, unheated shed. The system waters the lawns, provides drinking water for horses, and maintains the level of the man-made pond in the middle of the property. He has written his own version of irrigation control software.

It is still "in testing," but after porting his homemade irrigation control software to C++, and interfacing with the irrigation controller via its RS232 interface, Linux is now controlling his irrigation system. Duplantis mentioned that Plat'Home provided a Virtual Machine for the development environment, a nice touch and a major advantage.

Third, Martin Ewing of Branford, Conn., was looking for a way to build a Home Utility Support System and not worry about the environment in his basement where the whole system would be housed. Plat'Home's tough little server fit the bill. Software utilized during the project includes gcc, Python, vim, gnuplot, ssh, and Apache. Ewing said that software developed for the project will be made under the GPLv3.

Fourth, Steve Castellotti of El Cerrito, Calif., wanted an on-board computer for his trimaran as he sails between California and New Zealand. (Plat'Home says that if he needs something that can survive direct contact with salt walter, he'll have to look to some kind of special enclosure. The Plat'Home servers are tough but not that tough.)

Castellotti is using OpenVPN to connect to his private network; Apache for serving up custom software and content on his LAN; PostgreSQL for storing the data for collecting via RS232 from the Trimaran's engine and solar panel array; and Icecast for streaming MP3 via HTTP. He also connected a 1 terabyte external hard drive and an iPod as additional storage. The rest, you could say, was... smooth sailing.

The contest has made my head spin with interesting ideas and images of Linux being used throughout the "heartland." I am really impressed by how people are using Linux to improve systems around them and improve their lives. All of them state that it is only possible with the flexibility, stability, and low cost of Linux.