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You got mail
22 aprile 2009


Do you suffer from an obsessive-compulsive urge to check your e-mail every couple of seconds?
Do you feel uneasy at using a whole computer just to know how long your e-mail backlog is?
Do you think that an analog VU meter is way more expressive and unobtrusive than a digital display?
At the same time, do you mourn the good old days when men were real men and computer front panels were real computer front panels sparkling with blinkenlichten?
Do you have a spare Arduino board with an Ethernet shield and a few electronic parts?
Do you always look for new ways of wasting your time with apparently creative but hopelessly childish results?

I expect no more than .0000001% of this page's visitors to answer β€œYes” to all questions (including my own visits in the count), but if this is the case here's what you should do.

Meet the ArduInboxMeter!

Take an Arduino Duemilanove board with an Ethernet shield, an old analog VU-meter, a few LEDs and 100-ohm resistors, a prototyping PCB, stick them together with your favorite soldering alloy. You can leave all parts exposed, maybe just securing them with duct tape and toothpicks, or take some Fimo Soft PVC and flatten and bake and pierce and cut it (as in the photo). Add some software and plug the box into your network.

Features and specs

The box displays the number of messages in your mailbox, it lets you turn a knob to disclose your mood to the world with an unheard-of 10-bit precision, it allows your friends to offer you a coffee (see below) and allows you to accept or reject such offer.

The LEDs on the front panel have the following meanings:

X10The reading of the VU-meter must be multiplied by 10 (i.e., you are in deep trouble).
NEWYou have new mail.
CHKChecking mail.
RX Receiving characters via telnet.
COFCoffee invitation pending, please respond by slightly turning knob CW (yes) or CCW (no).
ERRAn error occurred during the last mail check.

In the photo above, I have 7 messages in my inbox, some of which are unread, and nobody is willing to offer me a coffee. If the leftmost LED were lit up, it would be much worse.

Should a friend want to have a coffee with me, he will telnet my ArduInboxMeter, enter β€œcoffee”, and wait for my response before quitting:

Note that my friend also receives a high-precision account of my state of mind. To accept the offer, I would have slightly turned the mood knob clockwise; in this case I moved it counterclockwise just a bit.

Here is how the ArduInboxMeter looks like from the other sides:

If you want to play with a microcontroller board with lots of I/O pins, ridiculously low cost and Open Source licenses on hardware, software and development tools, have a look at Arduino boards, and have your PayPal account ready!

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