In this first edition of Feature Friday, we are going to forego the boring old bat cave and million dollar living room in favor of a wee bit of creativity. Brilliant user Oliver Owen, of the UK, has been using various versions of XBMC since 2003. He has had XBMC installed on at least one box in nearly every room in his flat.  Recently, he decided to add another room to the XBMC fold by building a custom touchscreen version of XBMC in his kitchen, primarily for music playback and easy access to the weather application.

XBMC Touch Screen

The XBMC Touchscreen... that ISN'T an iPad

XBMC on the iPad, of course, would not do, because Oli’s twin goals were minimal expenses and girlfriend approval.  As such, portability wasn’t a major concern, but cost was.

Cost is the biggest problem for nearly all modern tablets. They look nice. You can attach them to a refrigerator. You can create a kitchen stand out of chopsticks. You can even equip them with meat thermometers!

But you can’t get a tablet cheap. XBMC is free and can run on relatively simple minimal equipment. There’s really no reason to get fancy on the hardware, when XBMC can handle fancy all on its own. And that’s doubly true when you have no need or interest in playing HD content.

So Mr. Owen picked up an Acer Travelmate C110 off of ebay for 40 pounds sterling and a touchscreen kit for another £35.  If you’re counting at home, that’s £75, a savings of about £325 off the £399 price of the cheapest iPad.

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You know how sometimes you find yourself doing a job for free, but you don’t mind because you love the job, you love the ideas behind the job, and you love the community associated with the job?

I spent three years at law school, and the only time I ever felt happy doing work during those years was when I was working entirely for free on something that had absolutely nothing to do with being a lawyer.

A Brief History

In 2005/6, I visited my friend Paul’s house.  He had “modded” his xbox so that it could play movies.  Being something of a geek myself, I thought this was awesome, and I resolved to do it immediately.  Being something of a not-very-awesome geek, I discovered that modding an Xbox required soldering tools, which sounded like WAY too much work.

The Unbearable Nerdiness of Being

A year or two passed, and the idea of turning an Xbox into an entire home Media Center became ever more increasingly irresistible. I stayed up late at night, reading xb0x scene, scanning lifehacker stories, and doing all sorts of intensely irresponsible things, when I probably should have been studying law.

Finally, I took matters into my own hands. I knew I would never willingly use a soldering iron myself on an Xbox.  Certainly, I wouldn’t on my very first attempt at using a soldering iron, so I found a person in the KC community that did Xbox modification, not because he got paid to do it (he didn’t), but because he really liked soldering. These were back in the bad old days when it was possibly illegal to modify Xboxes. Microsoft didn’t especially care, but there was still an element of danger. These days, the fear is mostly gone thanks to an opinion put out by the Library of Congress, but it’s still pretty exciting to think back on the crazy times of those days.

So I got my Xbox modded, loaded up Xbox Media Center, and was happy as a clam.

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In the early 1960s, the United States invaded Cuba in what later came to be known as the Bay of Pigs Fiasco. This was intensely embarrassing for the United States, and, worse, it led to one of the most terrifying moments in the history of the planet Earth.

Russia decided to send nuclear missiles to Cuba so that Cuba would be better equipped to defend itself against future U.S. military strikes (which is to say, so it could prevent all future military strikes by threatening to blow us the hell up).  The U.S. set up a naval blockade to prevent these missiles from reaching Cuba. Russia threatened to launch an all out nuclear attack on the U.S. And the U.S. prepared for the worst case scenario of Mutually Assured Destruction.  The world was about to be eradicated, leaving only cockroaches and mutated fish behind.

In 2008, XBMC suffered a near cataclysmic event in its development history. Continue reading

A primary goal of Team XBMC has always been to make the user experience as straightforward as possible.  The theory goes that I should be able to accomplish nearly everything I want from within the XBMC interface.With that focus in mind, as some of you may know if you troll the message boards enough, the team has been seeking to improve and streamline the way additional applications and skins are installed into the XBMC system. While it isn’t exactly painful for a user of Windows Vista to figure out how to get to the appdata folder, forcing her to do so for the sake of installing a prettier skin or a method of viewing trailers just doesn’t seem to fit the XBMC mantra.

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