If you ever visit my grandparents house, you will see a cool little digital picture frame with photos cycling through on it. It’s quite large – a 14-inch screen. And if you look closer, you will see that a mouse runs out in front of it, and you can browse the internet on it. And if you bend over to inspect the back, you discover that it’s not a digital picture frame at all… it’s a laptop with the base pointed backward and stuck to the LCD screen, nicely enclosed by a homemade wooden frame I assembled in my dad’s woodshop across the street.
There is a USB extension poking out the front as well, which you might assume is how the photos got on there. Well, that is how the first batch of photos got on there. But if you know the internet address of the computer and the name and password, you can upload your own photos right onto her computer, from anywhere in the world.
That’s right – members of our family, from wherever they now live, can send photos from our computers straight into hers so that the picture cycle is always kept fresh and active. And here’s the kicker… my brother and I can now take photos with our iPhones, and upload them immediately into the queue.
I’m quite proud of this little digital picture frame I made my grandparents. I think I gave it to them on their anniversary three years ago before I left for Costa Rica. I remember it quite well, because I got the satisfaction of having given a gift so special it made my grandmother cry she was so excited. Which to me, evidences a total success. Without even knowing the ridiculous amount of work I’d put into installing Ubuntu over the network and fine-tuning it to receive files by FTP, and without knowing how many hours and careful calculations I’d put in across the street with my dad helping me in the workshop, she was still so impressed with the end result that she couldn’t keep back the tears. The first batch of photos I loaded was scanned slides of her and my grandfather when they were engaged and during their first year of marriage. That may have been part of the shock… I don’t know if she’d seen those scanned into a computer yet.
So the project was a total success. It challenged my server-side programming capabilities. It got me into some remedial woodworking classes with my dad in the shop. It squeezed some tears of joy from my grandmother’s eyes. She even says she catches my grandfather up late at night with all the lights off, sitting there watching the photos roll by on the screen. And now, as her grandsons and great-granddaughters are heading to all parts of the world, we can send them surprise photos to show up in the picture frame. Total success, on all counts.
The big losers, in this story, are the huge commercial corporations that screwed me over and treated me with utter disdain and contempt throughout the long, tedious process of trying to get them to honor the guarantee and pathetic product they sold me. It may seem like I’m extrapolating too much here, but it gave me a great feeling of pride to wield the impotent bundle of malfunctioning circuits that the smiling, lying salesmen had dumped on me, craft a piece of machinery that was better than what they’d sold me, and rub the final product in their faces. I know he’s not programming any digital picture frames for his grandparents, because he was to dumb to know a single technical detail about the products he was selling. After countless confrontations pleading with them to fix it, replace it, or honor their warranty, I was beginning to feel helpless. Now, I was not no longer the one getting shafted. Buya best buy!