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Entry 761, on 2008-05-04 at 16:23:25 (Rating 1, Activities)
For a while now I have had an idea I wanted to explore. The idea was to create an electronic photo frame. These are (usually small) LCD screens which can display photos stored in memory or on flash cards. The smaller ones are quite cheap to buy but they do tend to have lesser quality, smaller screens, lower capacity, and less functionality. So my challenge was to create something with a bigger screen, high capacity, and heaps of functionality. Oh yes, and it had to be free!
My first thought was to use a computer driving an LCD screen but there were two problems: the free computers were all too big and noisy, and I couldn't get a reasonable quality screen for free. Recently I solved these two problems. I have acquired an old 15" LCD monitor (most people want bigger ones now) and an old, broken PowerBook G4 laptop computer.
The computer has been given a rough time but its a Mac so it still mostly works, except the cracked case has destroyed the optical drive and cracked the built-in screen. But the Ethernet and external video are still fine so I just connected the screen and my local network and I can operate the computer with the case closed through screen sharing remotely from my main laptop. The old machine is currently running Mac OS X 10.2.8 but I will upgrade it to 10.3.9 once I get an external CD drive.
In the picture above you can see the screen sitting on my AV amplifier (eventually it will hang on the wall and then it won't block the amp's vents because the amp gets hot when I wind it up!) Between the amp and TV (at left) you can just see the cables sticking out of the old laptop which is just sitting sideways against the TV cabinet. The mouse won't be necessary once the remote screen sharing software is updated.
Currently the screen makes a high pitched whine when its cold and the computer makes a slight ticking sound as the hard disk operates, but these are usually almost inaudible, in fact the loudest noise in the room is a clock on the wall. I demand silence when listening to music (modern digital audio has huge dynamic range) so I will replace the screen, maybe use a flash drive instead of the hard disk, and lose the clock eventually.
So the whole thing is very simple but its stage two, which will be the software phase, where it should get more interesting (I'm mainly a software person - a programmer - so software is always the major part of the solution to me). Currently the photos reside on the PowerBook's local hard disk and just display using the built-in screen saver. There's plenty of space and I currently have 300 photos but I could easily expand this to 3000 or even 30,000 if I wanted to.
So the next step is to build a scripted system which displays photos based on a priority system, for a customisable time period, and also displays information like the date, time, temperature, weather forecast, latest news and sport headlines, etc, at certain intervals.
So that's the plan. I think it will be a useful information device because, unlike TV and computers, the screen will always be displaying information so it will be more a "push" system than a "pull" system like web browsers and TV. I'll report back in this blog when the next stage is complete!
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