Electronic Picture Frame

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Electronic Picture Frame

This is an old project. For a while turning old laptops into "picture frames" was trendy. Usually this involved a lot of work making it look pretty. I had an old laptop and decided to just stick the whole damn thing on the wall. Some people remove the LCD display from a notebook computer and mount it in an attractive picture frame. That was too much work, so I just used epoxy to glue some picture hanging wire on the back of an old Toshiba 610CT computer and I hung the whole thing on the wall.

Picture Frame

At the moment the frame is displaying a handsome portrait of the Bash command-line prompt. The Toshiba 610CT is an old laptop, but I recommend it because it had a good display for its time. The resolution is only 640x480. The hard disk is 1.6 GB and the RAM is 48 MB. I didn't have a CD or floppy drive for the machine, so I removed the hard drive and installed it on a different machine. I installed Knoppix. Knoppix was chosen because it has excellent hardware detection. This is actually my favorite way to install Debian. It's easier and faster then installing Debian directly. Once Knoppix/Debian is installed you need to make sure it's up to date:

   apt-get update
   apt-get distupgrade 

I also edited the inittab to set the default runlevel to 2. This is because I wanted to boot to a command-line instead of X-windows. The machine does not have enough memory to run X properly. After I upgraded Knoppix/Debian I installed aptitude

   apt-get install aptitude 

Aptitude is a user interface front-end to apt, which is a lot easier to use. I also created a swap file and used swapon to get the system to use it. I couldn't get Knoppix/Debian to use the swap partition I created on the hard disk. The swap file works fine. You need the swap file in order to build any source packages. If you have too little memory then you will get cryptic make errors. Using Aptitude I selected the GCC development packages and the kernel source (use "uname -r" to see which kernel version number you have).

I run zgv as a slideshow picture viewer. It's simple and compiles without trouble. It does not require X-Windows. It does require svgalib. I installed version 1.9.19 plus some patches. See this MAMEWorld article for tips.

I get pictures onto the machine by loading Compact Flash cards into a CF-to-PCMIA card adpater. Then I just mount the card reader to /cf and point zgv to /cf.

I'm sure there are a few steps that I've forgotten. Building svgalib was the hardest part because it toom me a long time to figure out how to get Knoppix/Debian up to date with the latest kernel source and build tools. Basically you only need the kernel source so that svgalib can include some .h files while building the kernel module.

So after a couple of weeks are farting around with this ancient laptop I finally got it to work right. I decided that it was mostly useless since I hardly ever look at it in passing, so I built Bottle Rocket to control X-10 home automation modules. Now I got all my lights controlled by the little laptop hanging on the wall. I'm trying to hack into the thermostat next to the laptop so that I can control my heater too.

This project reminds me the the Dawson's Creek Trapper Keeper.