A finished product: The weather clock project

I have to say up front that this wasn’t originally what I envisaged, but I do like the way this has turned out.

There it is, ladies and gentlemen: the finished combination weather map and wall clock, or as close to finished as I anticipate getting.

I wouldn’t want to be boring or mundane πŸ™„ , so I’ll jump straight in and explain the details of how and why.

First, I have to say that everything seems to be working as I intended, with a minimum of compromise. The machine synchronizes itself against the Internet on a regular basis, downloads a weather map whenever possible, updates the rotation of the earth to show sunsets and sunrises, and powers off the backlight during night hours.

So I don’t have much to add to my previous post, when I gave all the nitty-gritty of setting it up. I will add one thing though: My mysterious lockups seemed to be happening when I performed a dist-upgrade, and so while it will update itself against the repositories automatically, I leave the actual upgrading to be done manually.

A proper, working CR1220-model wristwatch battery turned the entire system from near garbage to a dream come true. No more clutching the keyboard to adjust the BIOS after every boot, no more manually adjusting the network to pick up the wireless signal, I can yank the extender arm and the whole thing is working just dandy.

What a difference a battery can make.

Now to be honest, the original image I had in my head three weeks ago was of an actual frame around the screen, with the guts suspended underneath, in some sort of casing to hide their ickyness.

However, I had difficulty finding a frame that would fit that size. This screen is 29cm x 21cm, with the actual LCD measuring 27.25cm x 20.5cm.

I did find a couple of frames that would fit those dimensions, but one was going to leave a gap of about 2cm top-to-bottom, and I doubted the width of the panel would have fit into the other.

Price was also an issue here. I got the CMOS battery for a meager 168 yen with free shipping (thanks Amazon.co.jp), so paying upwards of US$12 for a frame, plus an additional amount for some sort of case … well, that seemed extravagant.

At the same time, the motherboard and remaining guts are a good five centimeters wider when the PCMCIA card is included, which means if the bottom part would need to be affixed to the wall independently, or the weight would pull it cockeyed.

The last consideration was heat. The processor runs warmer than I anticipated, and I feared trapping the motherboard in some sort of box would cause heat problems.

I found this wire frame at a 100 yen store and realized that this would solve 90 percent of my problems — it would hang straight, there was a means to suspend the screen and motherboard independently, the frame keeps it away from the wall, there is no heat issue. …

And it looks pretty cool, in a geeky kind of way. It’s like one of those visible human projects or see-through phones: Yeah, it’s not intended to be in plain sight, but it’s interesting once it’s up there.

The screen and motherboard hang from the wire rack by means of steel hooks backed with heavy-duty adhesive.

I gave these a test-run before actually putting it up on the wall, and although the motherboard is slightly heavy (I blame the hard drive), it hasn’t slipped and seems to be holding firm. With any luck, it will continue to do so.

I did try to use a CF card and adapter on this machine, but ran into difficulty because the computer uses an L-shaped adapter to connect from the IDE pin array to the motherboard.

The depth of the adapter was lifting the connector away from its contacts, and the system couldn’t sense the drive. A minor inconvenience, since the old drive I have on here works fine.

And so once or twice an hour, it will spin up, check for a weather map, then spin down again. Otherwise for probably 58 minutes out of every hour, it’s silent.

The LCD inverter board, which hangs horizontally between the panel and the motherboard, needed its wires massaged before it would hang level; in the pictures it’s laying sideways like a drunk sailor. I just needed to stretch out the cords a little.

And for once, the screwball behavior of the ath5k driver in recent kernels is actually a blessing — the power and link lights on the card blink at roughly a one-second pace. How convenient: a bug that keeps time.

The only real unforeseen difficulty, and one I really chide myself for not noticing, was that the power cord between the connector and the AC adapter box is rather short — about 1m, which means it hangs off the floor by a good 45cm or so.

That’s not good, but not anything that can be helped, either. For now I have a stool with a couple of boxes on it, supporting the adapter. Later I’ll actually affix the adapter to the wall.

The only other tight spot was the cable between the motherboard and the screen, which you can see is drawn rather tight. The cable coils into a metal tube, and then exits out the other side.

I don’t know if there’s any slack inside there, but if the spacing on the wire rack were a little narrower, it wouldn’t be a problem. As it is, it’s just a little taut.

One small note about system resources: Running the clock constantly and supporting Xorg puts RAM usage at around 24 percent of 128Mb, with CPU strain at under 10 percent when idle. Naturally, rendering the map and cloud pattern pushes it upward, at regular intervals.

So for a 450Mhz machine with a lowly 128Mb in it, that’s almost nothing. It would be feasible to halve the system resources and get away with the same setup … provided your disk space is still around 2Gb.

But there it is, folks. I’m going to call this a success, mostly because I find myself rather addicted to it. It’s quite clear and easy to read, even from an angle, and as a result I already have a tendency to look up at it, rather than check the clock on the computer in front of my face.

And so: for as long as it lasts, I think this machine has finally come to a good end. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think that a computer I beat up for so many years glides smoothly into retirement, and is still fulfilling a purpose.

Like I said above, it’s not exactly what I had in mind when I started — but I’m glad it went the direction it did. I hope it’s a small inspiration in your own projects.

Cheers and good luck. πŸ™‚

P.S.: Bonus points if you do this on your own, and make it (a) tick through the internal speaker, and/or (b) chime on the hour. Let’s see you out-geek me. … 😈


22 thoughts on “A finished product: The weather clock project

  1. Adrian

    You do know that you just made a movie screen, right?

    Hang the thing on the front board of your bed and voila, you can watch movies before you can go nighty night.

  2. RandyNose

    Awesome. – I’ve got a couple of older laptops that have issues that won’t let them stay on for long periods of time, but it would be fun to find some cheap laptops, and make up some wall clock weather maps for them.

  3. Ivica

    Nice work but it gets me creeps to see all that electronics on metal construction.
    Why not try drywall boards, nice easy to mold an most important non conductive.
    And it mixes nice with wall enterier.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      If it’s something you can add my page to, feel free. I had a bad experience with an Ubuntu user planet a long time ago, and so I generally don’t go looking for trouble. Go ahead and tack mine on there, if you want.

      1. RandyNose

        What the Linux Planet Blog is, is just basically an RSS feed with a bunch of Linuxy blogs mashed up with in the stream. A lot of good stuff can be found in their stream. It’s put together by The Linux Link Tech Show (TLLTS) Guys. I’ll let them know that it’s cool to add your blog to their feed. We’ll see what happens. They’re all low key. πŸ™‚

  4. bmc5311

    excellent, much better way to use it then to throw it in a landfill.

    i did something similar with a laptop that was run over by a car – the motherboard was intact although the screen was destroyed. i use it to stream music in my garage .. i mounted mine on a piece of plywood and screwed it to the wall. the tinfoil is to keep sawdust off the top of it


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  6. Benjamin Cahill

    And so once or twice an hour, it will spin up, check for a weather map, then spin down again.

    Hmm…I tried to do this (hdparm /dev/bla -S2) with the digital picture frame I made (wouldn’t boot from a flash drive), but it would either never spin down, or only for a few seconds, because it’s always reading (mounting / as ro did not help), for some reason…not swap, or the pictures, as they are located on a USB flash drive.

    Any idea why it might need to read all the time? I suppose it could be because it’s running Ubuntu (cli install from alternate cd), and perhaps is running unneeded processes/daemons. If I build it again, I’ll probably use Arch.

    1. Chubby Checker

      are you sure it is reading? could also very well be that some logging is going on there. Also mount option ‘noatime’ could help if the file system supports it…

      1. K.Mandla Post author

        I used ext2 with noatime here, and I’ve disabled the few logging services that I know of. I think it’s okay, and it doesn’t bother me, so it’s fine as it is.

  7. skralljt

    That is pretty neat, would be cool if you made an iso or a config file for mere mortals/lazy bastards that have old broken laptops lying around. For a more utilitarian display I could see a traffic map of the nearest freeway being very useful too, or a realtime bus schedule.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Hey, I wouldn’t want to deprive all those mortals/lazy bastards of the educational experience of installing Debian and modifying a few configuration files. 😈

  8. Mrreality13

    Nice way to keep more stuff outa a land fill.
    i snickered at you leaving the “warranty void if seal broken” sticker

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