So I hereby challenge myself to learn new things. I must learn how to build hardware solutions. From my perspective of near-complete ignorance, it’s not much more than a bit of electronics applied to electrical components with some intricate wiring. Add a bit of casing, a bit of cooling if need be, and then interfacing it all through software. Done.
How hard can it be to learn at least the basics of hardware construction for a jack of all trades? Let’s find out. In fact, I’ll even invite you to join me on this learning expedition, if you want.
To get started, I decided to buy an inexpensive and extremely cool single-card computer called Raspberry Pi. It’s small, about the size of a credit card. It’s cheap, just a handful of $. It’s powerful enough to carry out complex software tasks. And, crucial for this challenge, it has interfaces to connect with the physical world. Sounds just about perfect for my adventure.
If you want to grab a Raspberry Pi from Amazon right now, use this link.
Before we begin…
I intend to get acquainted with this piece of magic over the next few months, and use it as a vehicle towards understanding hardware construction. However, it turns out there are a couple of additional things I need to learn before digging into the hardware…
After opening up the box, marveling at the coolness of the Raspberry, it was time to fire it up for the first time. Got out my memory card, formatted it, downloaded Noobs, copied it to the card, and powered it. I followed the on-screen instructions, and ten minutes later I had a fully working little computer running a Linux-type operating system called Raspbian. Made me feel as excited as back in the pre-PC days of home computers!
No problems so far, but again, there are a couple of things I need to learn before getting to the hardware stuff. First of all, I’m new to Linux-type operating systems. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but there you have it. Second, I have absolutely no experience with programming in Python, which I think will be the best way for me to get going with the hardware-software communication. I’ll need to sort out those two topics as soon as possible.
When connecting the nice little Raspberry Pi with a keyboard, a mouse, a HDMI cable, a network cable, and a power cable, it didn’t look so nice anymore. In fact, my desk was cluttered with cables. So I thought for a moment about the environment I’ll want to use for working with the Raspberry. A straightforward way would be to hook it up to the network, install xrdp, leave it in a closet somewhere, and use remote desktop from my laptop. Hm. Where’s the fun in that?
And then I thought about an old laptop I have that’s barely working anymore. It’s been running Windows for so long that it’s lost the will to boot. What if…
…I would make this one of my hardware construction projects?
Imagine if I ripped out the internals of an old discarded laptop, added a couple of USB connections to hook up the keyboard and mouse/pad to the Raspberry, added a HDMI in for video, borrowed a bit of power (perhaps directly from USB if it’s got enough juice), and added a holder for the Raspberry on or in the laptop. How cool would that setup be? (And also, did you note that I tried to use electronics slang to sound somewhat competent?)
It would be very cool indeed, because it would be the first working prototype of the great invention Recyclops, the recycled laptop shell used for single-card computer enthusiasts. Take it with you on the road, work with your Raspberry Pi (or similar device) on a plane — the choice is yours.
As a stand-alone business idea, Recyclops has a limited addressable market and slim chances of making anyone (me) rich. So I probably won’t pursue that. However, as a do-it-yourself project for an aspiring hardware constructor, it feels absolutely solid. Unfortunately, I have a couple of more good project candidates, so we’ll see if this one makes the cut or not.
Either way, I hereby nominate Recyclops as a candidate to The Mayor’s After Work Hardware Project.
Stay tuned for the next episode of this nail-biting hardware experience. And if you aspire at becoming a Geek of the Week in Cortex City, I suggest you get in touch to let me know that you just can’t wait to be part of this initiative.
Thank you for reading,
Bjorn “The Mayor” Karlsson