Wednesday, 12 June 2013

DIY Digital Staff In/Out Board

Following on from my DIY Digital Signage project, I thought I'd share a Digital In/Out Board that I created for the staff at the college where I work. I've changed the names to protect the innocent :)
It's an Excel file that runs off a laptop connected to a flat screen TV. You can get a copy of my Excel file from here
To use it, you double-click the In/Out cell next to a name.
I managed to find a clever bit of code (don't remember where), that makes a cell change between two states when you double-click it. To see the code, right-click on Sheet1 at the bottom of the screen and select View Code.

In case of a fire, you can use the Print Fire List button at the bottom of the screen to print a checklist to take to your muster point.

DIY Digital Signage

 Digital signage is a form of electronic display that shows video, menus, information, advertising and other messages. Digital signs (frequently using devices such as LCD, LED, plasma screens or projected images to display content) can be found in both public and private environments, including retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and corporate buildings, amongst other locations.
I work for a small college and I thought it would be interesting to set myself the goal of creating a digital sign that could display information about the college, amongst other things. As always, when I do something like this, it has to be free (Open Source) or as free as possible. I managed to achieve my goal AND I did it for free. I thought I'd share what I did so that others can duplicate or build on it.
What do you need:
A display, preferably flatscreen (I was lucky and we had one going spare).
A laptop or PC to run/control the display (being the college IT guy, I had a spare laptop lying about).
Some software to run the whole thing.
I did some research and whilst there are plenty of software solutions to create digital signage, it was either very expensive or too complicated for me or my needs. Then I discovered that the humble web browser Firefox, with a couple of plug-ins, does exactly what I want.
What does it do:
Firefox runs in full-screen mode and cycles through a series of tabs, showing each tab for 30 seconds to a minute. I have six tabs, each displaying a different webpage. Every 30 minutes, each tab refreshes so that the web pages are kept up to date. My tabs currently display:
  • The college web page.
  • The college Twitter page.
  • The college Facebook page.
  • The BBC News website.
  • The BBC weather page for my area.
  • Lastly, a custom information page (I'll come back to this later).
So how do you do it?:
Download Firefox from here. Install and run.
Open Firefox options and select Add-ons.
In the Search box type: ReloadEvery. Install it.
In the Search box type: Session Manager. Install it.
In the Search box type: Tab Slideshow. Install it.
Firefox may force you to restart between each one. If it does, just go back into the browser and install the next plug-in.
On your first tab, go to the first web page that you want to display.
Open another tab and load the second web page.
And so on until you have a tab for each web page.
If you were to close Firefox now, you would have to manually set up all those tabs again. So now we use the Session Manager plug-in to allow Firefox to remember your tab setup.
To do this, click on the orange Firefox button in the top left of the screen (you may need to do this differently if you have an older version of Firefox).
Select Session Manager and then Save Session. Make sure you click on the Select All button so that all tabs will be saved to the session.
Now, right-click on each tab, select ReloadEvery and select how often you want that tab to reload i.e. every 5, 10, 15 minutes or select Custom.
Next, we configure Tab Slideshow to cycle through the tabs at a rate we can set.
Click on the orange Firefox button in the top left of the screen, go to Add-ons. Click on the Options button for Tab Slideshow. Make sure Cycle Within Current Tab Group is ticked and enter the amount of time you want each tab to display.You're now ready to test it.
Click on the orange Firefox button in the top left of the screen, select Start Tab Slideshow.
Press the F11 key to put Firefox into Full Screen mode.
Stand back and watch.
How to set up a tab that displays a custom information page:
Create a simple HTML web page using either Microsoft Word, LibreOffice or Kompozer. I use Kompozer which you can get from here. You don't need to know how to code HTML. It's as easy as creating a document. With a little searching, you can find free web page templates online and tailor this to suit your needs.
Save your HTML file to a folder on the laptop.
Go back to Firefox and add a new tab (don't forget, when you're done, go back to Session Manager and save the session as above or your new information tab won't load next time you open Firefox).
On the address line of the new tab, enter the full path to your HTML file and press Enter.
(The address path should look something like c:\Users\bob\desktop\information.html
And that's it. Let me know if you find this useful.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Raspberry Pi

 I'm looking forward to receiving my Raspberry Pi in June. For those that haven't heard of it, it's a computer on a single printed-circuit board about the size of a credit card. Once fitted into a case, it will be a portable PC to carry between home and the office or just as a home PC that takes up no space at all on your desk. Initially the Operating System will be a Fedora flavor of Linux which you download from the Raspberry Pi website. However, as more people purchase and play with them, I'm sure developers will tailor other Linux flavors to get the most out of the hardware.

Here's the official blurb:

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of stimulating the teaching of basic computer science in schools.

The design is based on a Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip, which includes an ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz processor, VideoCore IV GPU, and 256 megabytes of RAM. The design does not include a built-in hard disk or solid-state drive, instead relying on an SD card for booting the Linux operating System and long-term storage.

The Foundation plans to support Fedora Linux as the initial system software package/distribution, with support for Debian and Arch Linux as well. Also planned are tools for supporting Python as the main programming language, with support for BBC BASIC (as "Brandy Basic", the BBC BASIC clone), and Perl.


Raspberry Pi Linux Specs
  • SoC Broadcom BCM2835 (CPU, GPU, DSP, and SDRAM)
  • CPU: 700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S core (ARM11 family)
  • GPU: Broadcom VideoCore IV, OpenGL ES 2.0, 1080p30 h.264/MPEG-4 AVC high-profile decoder
  • Memory (SDRAM): 256 Megabytes (MiB)
  • Video outputs: Composite RCA, HDMI
  • Audio outputs: 3.5 mm jack, HDMI
  • Onboard storage: SD, MMC, SDIO card slot
  • 10/100 Ethernet RJ45 onboard network
  • Storage via SD/ MMC/ SDIO card slot.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Paracord Globe Knot

Finally managed to tie a Globe Knot. Up to now I've never been able to get the hang of the tightening and it all goes wrong. After following the video over at TIAT (Tying It All Together), I cracked it.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Paracord Projects

 For my first post and to get the handle on blogging again, I just want to post a link to an old blog of mine.
For some time I have been interested in decorative knotting. I've knotted with a variety of types of cord and rope but my favourite has to be paracord. It's very easy to work with, relatively inexpensive and with the wide range of colours now available, can produce some rather nice looking items.

You can see some of my previous work at The Big Bight.