The Project List

You have been hearing about this Geek Ranch for a couple of months. I have been talking about computer things I have done. There is so much more to do that will involve Linux that I have decided it is time to ask you some questions. That is, ask you what approaches you would take to do various things.

I confess that I have been a Geek too long and it is easy for me to find geek solutions when there may be a perfectly good solution that a non-Geek can understand and use. KPhotoAlbum is a good example. I decided writing code was the answer when a bit more study would have offered me an existing solution which, while a bit different, addressed the need.

Let me present a list of some of the things we will need to do to get the Geek Ranch up and running and see if you have any suggestions. As you look at these items, think about the audience. These are systems to be installed in a rural location in Nicaragua. Most of our future staff has probably never used a computer. Thus, non-geek interfaces are a must for systems that require user interaction—the music system, for example.


Once the business has a defined opening date we get into the world of software needed to run a hotel, restaurant and such. That means room reservations, Point of Sale, credit card processing and accounting. Now, I hate this "paperwork" so the easier all this stuff can be automated and work together, the better.

To help point you in the right direction, on the "sales" side, here are the type of things that we will be dealing with.

  • Room reservations, any payments
  • Restaurant and bar sales
  • Cabina rentals (month-to-month contracts)
  • Services such as horse rental, guides and transportation
  • Ancillary products (t-shirts, coffee mugs and convenience store items)
  • Farm products (coffee is obvious but we expect to be selling other items such as fruit leather once we get production developed)
  • Leases and "association fees" (we will likely offer small plots of land for private homes on a 99-year lease basis)

Restaurant Management

This sounds very generic but I have some specific ideas in mind. What I ultimately would want includes the following:

  • Recipe system where we can select what will be on the menu and the system will at least produce the text needed for making menus and show us what ingredients we will need. Ingredient and labor costs are a plus.
  • Ingredient inventory with re-order points.
  • Supplies tracking. (This should include a way to track "lost" plates, coffee cups, ... I want this for a profit sharing idea with the staff.)
  • Staffing levels and times.

I doubt there is one piece of software that does all this but it clearly would be useful if there was. So, this could start with a standard recipe format and become a software development project producing a product.

Music System

Background music for the restaurant. The standard approach in this area is a stack of (bootleg) CDs piled on top of a player. I would like to upload the (non-bootleg) CDs we have to a system and be able to pick play-lists and such.


Nothing fancy here—basically just a system to feed video into either a large-screen TV or projector. This would be used in the conference room during presentations and, at times, to show movies in the same area.

Video Stream

It is unlikely that cable TV will be available anytime soon in the area. We will have a satellite TV system for the restaurant/conference room and you can receive broadcast TV from Managua with no problem. I was thinking, however, that if we end up doing a broadband wireless link from town to get Internet connectivity, why not stream one or two cable channels over that link.

The question then becomes what do we put in town to grab them, what sort of processing to we do to compress them before sending them over the link and what do we need on the Geek Ranch end to make those streams available to televisions.

Public Access Computer Systems

The business center will have computer systems that guests and conference attendees can use. It is safe to assume that if they want to use a computer that they have experience. But, I have no interest in having any Windoze systems available.

The issue here then becomes one of compatibility. What user interface do we offer them, what software do we need and what can we do to minimize surprises? With the typical Internet cafe running Windows 98 around here, a clean, easy-to-use Linux installation could actually produce some converts so it really needs to be done right.

Telephone System

A PBX for the hotel. There are no local phone lines available in the area yet but I see at least one over a radio link in our future. VoIP, of course and the possibility of additional POTS connections over the broadband link. Room-to-room calling. You get the idea.

Web Cam

Within the property is Cerro Apaguaji, a well-known tourist attraction complete with its own cave. Another photo is here on the NicaLiving site. On a clear day you can see Lake Nicaragua (60km to the south), at least the Gulf of Fonseca and probably El Salvador (120km to the west).

This seems like an ideal web camera location. That probably means remote control to point the camera, solar power and a wireless link back to the buildings. We need a low-power solution that makes sense.

Weather Station

Much like the web cam, this is more information for our web site. Capture of data, building a basic "current weather" block for the site and the ability to look at historical data. This, of course, also includes what type of weather station to buy.

Project Management

As you can see, the Geek Ranch project is, well, a lot of projects. Many are construction (road, auxiliary building, main hotel/restaurant building, new caretaker's house, Geek cabinas) with dependencies on other projects (electricity, water, septic system) and some inter-dependencies.

Once that construction is complete there are a whole host of geeky things to be added. That includes Internet access, a telephone system, music system for the restaurant, point of sale and accounting system, and a lot more.

I have been playing with options but have yet to find what I see as the right combination of being able to handle what we are doing and being able to have a non-Geek use it. Extra credit if you find something that "speaks" Spanish as well.

Your Turn

While there certainly will be more items to add to the list, that's a good start. I have some ideas and continue to play but I welcome your suggestions. If you come up with something brilliant that requires some programming time we will probably offer you an internship. That means room and board in the Geek Ranch while you do the work.

If you have some suggestions, you can post them as comments to this article or email them to phil at linuxjournal dot com. Future articles are going to address each of these specific issues and I will include your ideas as appropriate.


Phil Hughes


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Nica Stuff

Mike Taht's picture

Just a few comments:

Music System: CDs are so 90s. Most of the travelers around SJDS I have met are packing an mp3 player, and are generally quite happy to share and plug it into a good stereo Anonymoussystem. A suitable linux based mp3 player that can be controlled remotely might be a nokia 770 or 800 series, perhaps backed by some OTG USB hard disk storage - or lots and lots of flash.

Finding a good stereo in Managua seems to be tough, nearly everything is boom box based. Try finding a sp/dif input! (not that it matters for the above idea)

You could go higher end (a pc or olc) and transmit a set of local internet radio streams.

Video - I note that you could have satellite (tivo, perhaps) - and stream the results of that over your local network, thus having the advantage of many more shows available day or night, including the all important SF channels....

Why have TV's at all? It's a geek ranch, just do it on laptops or some nice 22 inch monitors....

Project Management - dotproject is the closest thing to useful out there so far for me.

Telephone system - Since I infer that power consumption and heat management are issues, David Rowe's blackfin uclinux asterisk based ip04 or the related ip08 might be part of an answer - - sips less than 3w...

The IP04 PBX

Netsecur's picture

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Music and video

Michael R's picture

amaroK would fit your music requirements. I've ripped my entire music collection (and many items from the local library) and access it through amaroK. Playlists are simple to create and access. You can have it display the cover art (looked up through Amazon or submitted by yourself) for a "What's Playing Now?" If you're not into KDE then the Gnome or ____ desktop folks are sure to suggest an equivalent.

As to video - get a projector. My sister spent thousands on a 42" screen. I spent a few hundred on a projector and nearly knocked her over when I mentioned my 72" screen. It could be larger but that's the biggest space of blank wall I have. It is also dead simple to move a projector to wherever the image is needed. You can even toss the image up on a spray of water at night for some fun. Invite the community over for movie night under the stars.

The "standard" way of having background music in a restaurant.

Bill Palmer's picture

The "standard" way of having background music in a restaurant is not to have a stack of bootleg CD's. This is one of the fastest ways to have NO background music in a restaurant. ASCAP regularly sends its representatives around to restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and other gathering places to make sure that they are compliant with music regulations. In fact, if you do have background music in ANY restaurant, public or private or any hotel, public or private, you will be charged a fee by ASCAP. There is no way of getting around this.

Standard for Nicaragua

Phil Hughes's picture

I just haven't see any ASCAP dudes around here. Also, the only place I have seen any non-bootleg CDs and DVDs is my house. So, let's just say that my intent is to be "more compliant" than the norm.

An alternative would be just to play music from live Grateful Dead concerts but I am guessing that would get old for some.

Phil Hughes