Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

The Mac Jedi’s Homebrew Mobile Commander

There are few people alive (or who have ever lived) who combine the passion for education, the digital saavy, and an amazing (and) beautiful geekiness together the way Lance Ford does. Without a doubt, Lance IS the Oklahoma Mac Jedi. I, along with a chorus of others attending the Oklahoma Distance Learning Association (ODLA) spring meeting in Oklahoma City today, are ready to pledge ourselves as Lance’s Padawan Learner. (Technically today, I think we would all be most accurately classified as “Younglings.” Sadly, I think true Jedis are only permitted a single Padawan at one time. Here is the Mac Jedi himself, standing this morning behind his customized Honda Element. (AKA “The X-Wing of the Oklahoma Mac Jedi.)

Lance Ford, THE Mac Jedi

Tandberg’s mobile commander trailer solution costs around $75,000, and includes the capability to use H.323 videoconference equipment anywhere on the planet.

Tandberg Mobile Commander

Unfortunately, the price point of that solution is slightly beyond the “normal” edtech budget of most K-12 teachers. Functionality: Great. Price point: Not realistic.

Enter Lance Ford, the Oklahoma Mac Jedi. Lance has reconfigured his own Honda Element for a total cost of about $1000 with a Mac Mini, a Xenarc touchscreen car stereo, and an AT&T 3G (USB) wireless data card. Here is Dawn Danker, another of Lance’s “Younglings,” speechless after this morning’s demo:

Dawn Danker: "I don't have the words!"

This next image shows the car-mounted Xenarc touchscreen car stereo, where Lance has clicked (using is finger, of course, not a mouse, since this IS a touch screen) to connect to the local AT&T 3G network:

Connecting to AT&T 3G network

The computing heart of this system is a Mac Mini which Lance purchased off eBay for about $300, which is mounted in the car’s ceiling just above the rearview mirror. Notice Lance’s winning smile in the mirror! 🙂

Lance smiling in the mirror, Mac Mini mounted above

Lance does not yet have his USB webcam mounted within his vehicle, but that mounting system should be worked out soon. This image shows his webcam on the dashboard, prior to an iChat AV videoconference. Lance’s iTunes library (synced to his .Mac account) is open in the following image:

USB webcam not mounted yet

Lance has installed VGA and audio input and output ports to his Mac Mini both in the front of his Honda Element inside the glove box…

Dashboard solution, showing VGA and audio in and out ports in glove box

…as well as in the back of his vehicle, so he’s ready for a mobile presentation via a data projector sitting on his tailgate:

Video in and out ports in Lance's Honday Element

No word yet on Lance’s plan for powering the projector on the tailgate, however…..

If Lance has a co-pilot or navigator in his car and the need to enter text onto the screen, he has a Bluetooth keyboard connected and configured for the Mac Mini. Here is Youngling James Deaton in the back seat of Lance’s Honda Element, trying out the keyboard:

James Deaton with Lance's bluetooth Mac keyboard in his car

To cap off the demo of his homebrew mobile commander, Lance connected via iChat to videoconference with a friend. (The quality of this image is poor, and I apologize, but you get the idea.)

Videoconferencing via iChat from Lance's car

Lance Ford continues to redefine and literally reinvent the concepts of mobile learning and distributed learning. WOW!

Lance shares his $1000 mobile commander solution

We asked Lance if he’s available for a road trip to NECC. Could there be a more powerful vehicle for a group of geeks to use driving to the National Education Computing Conference? 😉

I’ll try and conduct an audio interview with Lance later in the day for a podcast.

Lance Ford is the technology director for Howe Public Schools, in Howe, Oklahoma. Lance was recognized last week at the USDLA conference in St Louis with an Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the Field of Distance Learning award. Go Lance!

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5 responses to “The Mac Jedi’s Homebrew Mobile Commander”

  1. Darren Draper Avatar

    I hope Kevin Honeycutt reads this post. I have visions of _Driving Questions_ taken to a whole new level. 🙂

  2. Kevin Honeycutt Avatar

    I AM reading this and wow..any corporate sponsors anywhere? Coolness!

  3. Jan Zanetis Avatar

    I will buy a ticket for a ride to San Antonio…I can do video meetings the whole way! Seriously, this is so Lance, except I wish he had worn his Hannah Montanna outfit for the photo-op.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I haven’t seen Lance in his Hannah Montanna outfit– I’ll have to ask him if photos are available! I think his superman suit would have been appropriate as well! 🙂

    Lance Ford in a Superman

  5. Lance Ford Avatar

    Thanks for the great write up. The Element has become my work in progress. I’m always on the the lookout for more mods. The Mobile Commander is an amazing piece of innovative technology and my “home brew” project doesn’t come close in ability, but it sure has been fun. I’ll post more pics as we get the camera and secondary USB ports.