Cool DIY Technology projects for new apartment?
April 2, 2008 2:01 PM   Subscribe

ApartmentTechnologyFilter: What sorts of fun DIY technology projects can I use to improve the apartment-living experience for my roommates and I?

Hi all, I've moved into a new apartment with a couple new roommates and I'd like to come up with a technology project to give the place a cool nerdish feel and to start forming bonds with the new roommates. Ideally this would be a useful do-it-yourself type project along the lines of MakeZine or something similar. I'm a web developer/tech geek and anything I don't already know I'd be excited to learn. I'm hoping the project would be something that everyone could use overtly or at least benefit from in a non-overt manner.

If needed my roommates are in their twenties, one male, one female, both smart professionals, and athletic/outdoorsy. There will also be a dog living there. We have a large living room, outside deck area, Palo Alto, CA.

Ideas that I came up with so far:
- Creating a web site such as to showcase pictures from all our illustrious parties we intend to throw
- Setting up a file/music server that everyone can use
- Building a DVR/Tivo system to save TV shows, etc
- Building a PVC bike rack to organize our numerous bicycles
- Putting together a wall to have LED throwies to toss on.
- Setting up an X10 power control system
- Stringing Xmas lights around
- Hanging a monitor connected to a computer to display information such as news, events (maybe even connect it up with a DB/admin to have an electronics whiteboard to post bill notices or grocery lists?)

What else? I need some cool ideas!
posted by rlef98 to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Airport Express.

Random Christmas lights are very dorm-y. Just don't do it.
posted by rhizome at 2:24 PM on April 2, 2008

Build a loft for more efficent space usage (and someone gets a cool up-high bed).

PS Keep the lights (I like 'em.)

posted by Rash at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2008

Best answer: - Combine your first and last ideas - make a LAN-enabled digital picture-frame to have on the wall, with a shared folder in which everyone can dump their pics.
- Remote lock/unlocking of front door, like a car. (Impress your friends and dates)
- Recycle old solar panels/cells into a 12V wall supply for recharging your gadgets.
- Room lights and dimming levels controlled by voice command in whatever room has the DVD player.
- Ditch watching DVDs on a tiny 30" CRT and build a DIY projector from old LCD screen. (heaps of info and instructions for doing this is online)
- imitation fireflies flying around your deck. (one approach that apparently looks good is LEDs on near-invisible flexible wires, with the wires blown in unpredictable motions by little computer cooling fans. Add naturalistic oscillations in brightness and the effect should be magical.
- Give the DVD/media room the option of flickering candlelight, done via LEDs. With remote control.
- Build this awesome interactive coffee table kit. Plenty of repetitive boring soldering involved, but you have lots of people to pitch in!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:52 PM on April 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your apartment really needs an intranet - a local wiki / messageboard / fileshare system and possibly terminals to access it made out of decrepit laptops attached to the walls.
posted by thedaniel at 2:55 PM on April 2, 2008

My girlfriend and I love our Xbox modded to run Xbox Media Center. It reads movies/TV off a couple of shared 500gb's in an old PC we have tucked away in a corner. That server also runs:

-uTorrent with the webui - allows either of us to log in check out what's downloaded recently and see what's in the queue. I also have it set up to watch a shared folder so anyone can add something by just a torrent file in the "Torrent Dropbox" share. (also if you use private torrent sites like I do, having a computer seed things 24/7 will do wonders for your ratio)

-Quake 3 Arena server running Rocket Arena - surprisingly useful for settling arguments or killing a few minutes (Rocket Arena is one on one matches that only take a minute or two tops per round, perfect for casual gamers like us)

-Apache - mostly this serves a wiki I use to store recipes (I use phptiddlywiki), but it also has links to things like a Java VNC client, file upload form (for sending myself files while out and about), the uTorrent WebUI, instructions for how to install Q3A for when our friends come over, etc.

I'll second Airport Expresses... they rule. Stick one in all of your main rooms attached to speakers/TVs and have full house audio.
posted by bradbane at 3:41 PM on April 2, 2008

This may date me a bit, but some friends back in college set up a multi-screen TV wall for ULTIMATE GOLDENEYE ACTION.


Anyways, if you are a bunch of folks who are eager to throw some mad crazy parties or need to stay loose for whatever the modern friends-hanging-out equivalent of Goldeneye is your own kegerator. Or, if you don't like beer, try out a programable drink mixer.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is, everyone appreciates DIY booze tech!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:52 PM on April 2, 2008

Air conditioner.
posted by eritain at 10:32 PM on April 2, 2008

Best answer: Here's info on how to build your own projector (YT) (Instructables)to watch those TIVO'ed shows (and apparently lots of Star Trek) on.

If you've got a good-sized TV, one thing you can do for parties, or really any downtime, is make the Magical LiteBrite-Like Mod. Now, I just made up that title because I have long forgotten where I first saw this idea and what they called it. Basically get a piece of black construction paper (or cardboard or even thin plastic) big enough to cover the entire TV screen. Poke many , many holes in it. The holes should be big enough to let light pass through, so try to avoid those which close back up with the hanging chads. (However, I think that the holes should be smaller than the standard hole puncher-formed holes. I used something like an awl) Then attach it to the TV. Turn the TV on and mute it. Voila! magical changing color pixel show. Obviously this is less impressive than your standard screen saver, but in a party atmosphere where your TV is just taking up space, it's pretty cool. It's kind of a waste of energy (on various levels) in non-party situations.

That's maybe not too teched out, and neither is my next idea; Find ways to hide all of this tech stuff when not in use. I'm thinking that if you could conceal your server in the body of an old school radio or make it into a bookshelf, it would not only make the place look nicer, but would increase the "wow" factor on all of your improvements. You should definitely try to hide all of the cables and cords and go wireless wherever possible.

Multiple motion-sensors activating leds with a very briefly would give the effect of being followed around by the lights. I'm thinking about walking down a hallway and having the lights sort of follow you; coming on as you move into new motion sensor areas and winking out as you leave the others. Think Billie Jean but not so rectilinear.

Really, though, if I had the time and the resources, I'd build a wooden mirror. Or, you know, a robot.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

A MAME cabinet would be my first instinct. Some people have build MAME cabinets into cocktail tables like in the old days.
posted by chairface at 1:29 PM on April 3, 2008

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