More updates: The weather clock project

The verdict is still out on the old laptop being converted into a wall clock and weather map, although I did have a full day to work with it this week, and I have a little more news to share.

First of all, it’s completely disassembled now and I have most of the parts and components working together, in a way that I like. Mostly.


For a hard drive for the system, I have the old 2.2Gb 4200rpm drive that I scalped from the Mebius (its original system drive, now that it is running with a CF card in it.

That drive, of course, is a horrid invention — it sounds like a dental drill every time it spins up, generates a wicked amount of heat and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Lucky for me, I did a lot of work with hdparm a long time ago, so I can avoid prolonged sessions of ear-splitting whining with this command:

hdparm -S2 /dev/sda

which, when added to rc.local, causes the drive to sink into suspend state after 10 seconds. Yes, it takes almost as long for it to spin up again, but my ears thank me.

Next issue: I almost forgot that this video card has a hard time remembering its terminal settings after shifting to X, which meant that the tty sessions were invisible once X took over.

Lucky for me I have a blog that reminds me of all the obscure commands and modules that solve all these issues for me ๐Ÿ™„ and after a few minutes of searching, I found this post that reminded me of the vga16fb module.

Adding that to /etc/modprobe means I can bounce between terminal sessions, if necessary. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Also, after rolling around with wicd-curses for a little bit, I managed to pinpoint some of my router issues and got the machine online with an Atheros-based card I got as a gift (some gift … ๐Ÿ™„ ).

If you’re in the same boat and running Debian Squeeze, you’ll need to enable the non-free repositories and install firmware-atheros. Ta-da! Like magic, it works.

So I’ve moved from wired to wireless, I put an old hard drive to use without torturing my ears, and I can manage the machine without the need for an external keyboard or ssh. These are good things.

The bad things are still around, but appear less daunting these days.

For one thing, I keep running into system freeze-ups, usually after a long period of inactivity. The first few times I’m sure it was faulty memory because pulling it made them go away.

However, there might also be a heat issue at work here, at that’s a little harder to circumvent. (Get it? Circum-vent! A pun! Ha! ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ™„ )

They seemed to appear when I finally got the processor and heat sink separated (yes, the problem was crusty thermal paste), but again, it might be untested, old memory.

I pulled the original case fan because it was noisy and ran continually. I’m wondering now if perhaps I should put it back on, and see if the freezeups go away.

I’m also able to set the machine in the BIOS to ignore the floppy drive — which is good because it means I can detach it completely as well as the extender arm, and run without both.

The problem is that the CMOS battery is dead, which means any time the power is cut the BIOS reverts to its defaults … and tries to find the floppy drive again.

Which means each time I boot I have to reattach the keyboard, acknowledge the error message and then detach.

Which finally leads me to the final issue: The power bracket, where the plug meets the motherboard, is a little loose now that it has been pulled from the casing.

Apparently the case offered a little support for it, and now that the case is gone it tends to rock a little and lose contact with the plug.

So occasionally — usually when I’m attaching or detaching the keyboard to acknowledge the boot error message — I get a full power drop, the machine clicks off, and I’m back to square one.

It’s a little comical, so feel free to laugh. Once I figured out what was going on, I laughed. ๐Ÿ™„

Right now, the plan is to make a few more forays and see if it’s really going to work, in the long run, for this machine. That’s because the next step involves buying things.

First of all, I want a no-frills plain-Jane picture frame to serve as the basis for the entire clock. And since it’s going to hang on the wall, it’ll need some grit.

If that will work, I will clearly need a new CMOS battery — it’s a CR1225, if you’re interested — to keep the BIOS settings between powerdowns.

And really, if I’m going to invest that much in it, I might as well pick up another CF card and adapter, which will probably be less than US$20 if I don’t need a full 8Gb of space.

I feel good keeping a hard drive out of China’s vast garbage fields, but really, I would probably save a little in weight and heat by going this route.

Like I said, this is the investigative part of the experiment. Things are more or less working as I would like, and in it’s transitory state it’s quite interesting.

But it still has the potential to go south, so I’m still holding my breath. Give me another week and I should have more to tell. ๐Ÿ™‚


6 thoughts on “More updates: The weather clock project

  1. evidex

    It’s very similar to something I’ve wanted to do myself, but seeing as I tend not to come across laptops the way you do, havn’t been able.

    I can’t wait to see how it turns out ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Benjamin Cahill

    As I previously mentioned, I’ve done something very similarโ€”converted an old laptop into a digital picture frame.

    The frame doesn’t need to be that sturdy, actually. The one I used was an 8.5×11 document frame bought a WalMart for a few dollars, and it has been stellar.

    I’ll see if I can take a few pictures of it and send them to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

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