Monday, August 26, 2013

Raspberry Pi Journal #11

The Making of Cigar Box Computer

It was a long time ago where I saw a smallish motherboard computer that somebody suggest would make a great cigar box computer. I passed on that kit, but I always wondered if I should have it someday. Computer processing power is just such a tremendous amount, that most of it is wasted. I've always wanted a small, cheap and rather underpowered computer to do my daily web surfing and working.

For a time, I use a Kindle Fire HD with bluetooth keyboard. It's just such a neat little device, and I've used that successfully for my Nanowrimo activities. Enter the Raspberry Pi. After waiting for a great while, I finally managed to locate a Raspberry Pi and proceeded to go to the local thriftshop and look for some empty boxes.

I picked up a wooden cigar box for $1.49. It comes complete with wax paper and a square wooden rod. Perfect! Well, not really. I needed some holes for cables on the back. Out comes the drill. I drilled a series of holes in the approximate shape, followed by some shavings with my trusty swiss army knife. Done.

I got my Raspberry Pi from element14. This was before sparkfun got a massive dose of Raspberry Pi. As I write this, I saw some kit, along with the new camera at Microcenter. I will have to revisit the store and get another one. I'll be running headless on that one. 

You can see the cigar box in the back, along with my $250 32inch HDMI flat screen.

You can see the holes on the back. A big one for USB cables on the left, and a small round one on the right. At one time, the drill slipped and I drilled my hand. Ouchie. That's when I decided pulling out my knife would be better. The sharp swiss army knife turned out to be an easy way to make holes.

I'm using Gigaware USB 2.0 Desktop Hub. I also have a USB 3 Hub, but that one didn't work. I routed the power cable through the small hole. That power cable comes from my old multi switch device. I connected it on the "computer" switch.

I connected one of the USB output from the hub into the micro USB to power the Raspberry Pi. It's okay to do this because the power micro USB connector does not contain data pin. Only power pins. This way, whenever I turn on the USB hub, I turn on the Pi. Very convenient.

For data, I still need to connect the USB data cable from Raspberry Pi to the hub. I used the bottom USB connector and into the hub.

I use Logitech n400 Wireless keyboard with Pad. It's really light and convenient. It takes some practice, though. Took me two weeks to get comfortable with it. The dongle has some kind of USB extension. I simply put it in. It has quite a nice range. I'm really happy with it, especially since it works right out of the box.

I plugged in male to female USB cable. I knew I will put the box in out of the way place, so in order to conveniently plug in memory card/flash drive, I use this extension.

This is Belkin n150 USB Wifi Adapter. I simply pick one off the shelf, the cheapest kind I could find. I probably should have visited microcenter store, because the last time I was there, I saw some really tiny ones that would not crowd the USB plug.

And there it is, the final box incarnation. Everything fits in perfectly, with the wooden rod placed so that the Pi does not shift in the box. Plenty of space to wound the cables in. The micro USB power connector eventually broke off, leaving just a bare wire. I managed to squeeze the plastic together, but I will have to watch out for it. It happens every time I replace the SD card.

This is my SD card to USB converter. It's very convenient to use. I also have USB flash drive with lots of capacity. I don't know about the transfer rate, but for medium movie files, it works great.

Speaking of movie files, I have an old Flip video recorder. Remember those? It was a cute way to record movies. I plugged in the Flip into USB connector, and the Pi autodetect the device. For a time, I use this:

lxterminal -e omxplayer -o hdmi filename

but later on, the sound went all out. I never did managed to fix it without it blanking the screen, and I don't want to have to reset the frame buffer every time. So, eventually, I gave up and used media player instead. mplayer works great with framedrop feature. I'm pretty happy with it.

So there you have it: My very own cigar box computer. I love it so much, especially considering that the Pi does not draw much power, and neither does the TV. The TV was rated to cost $6 per year. Interesting, eh? I wonder how they come up with that?

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