Hit a Wall…

Well… Everything was moving along just great until I realized that something’s wrong with some of the hardware on my system. I believe it has something to do with my hard drive which was salvaged from an IBM ThinkPad. I can boot into Windows (the operating system installation that was installed on the hard disk before) but it
just reboots silently at a certain point. My first thought was that this was a problem with some hardware that Windows expected to see since the last time it started up it was running on a different hardware platform. So… I stick the WinXP installation disk in and…! yeah, it reboots again part way through the Setup process. So I’m not sure… It’s not something that’s terribly easy to diagnose,
so I’ll see what happens. I may try my Fedora Core 3 install CD and see if that crashes as well. If so, it’s most likely the stupid hard drive.

Who knows… I have a 3.5″ hard drive that I can test it with and see if that works any better. If that works, I’ll assume it’s the IBM hard drive and maybe order another one.

I’ve been busy with a lot of other things so I may put some of this on hold for a little bit until I can sort it out. Any ideas for why this is happening are welcome. You can respond using the Comments feature on this site.

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Empty Case (picture)

Here’s the empty case mounted nicely…

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Storage Compartment (picture)

Here’s the storage compartment that used to be in my Corolla. This storage compartment used to fit where the aluminum case in the picture above now fits.

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Touchscreen (picture)

Here’s the 8 inch Lilliput touchscreen display.

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Lots of wiring and tidying up…

I worked a bit more on the car computer this weekend… Everything seemed to work alright except that my hard drive wasn’t mounted very firmly (mainly the cable connection in the back). It was sort of popping in and out once I crammed the case shut (which causes all sorts of problems… 🙂

I *think* that everything else is working. I’ve powered it on and hit the Windows loading screen so I’m happy. Also, I finally wired the car stuff and confirmed that the sequencer works. Now I need to do some initial installation stuff (still haven’t decided whether I’ll use Linux or Windows). The USB ports seem to not be working as expected but hopefully that’s just a BIOS setting or something. I got a nicer 4 pin plug (very similar to the hard drive power plugs) from RadioShack and wired that in so that I can easily plug the whole system in without worrying about individual wires in the back. I also picked up a toggle switch that I’m going to use for manually overriding the power to the system (in case I don’t want it to run all the time when
the car’s on). For fun, I also got a cooler looking blue LED to use for the power indicator on the front panel. I also ended up getting those round IDE cables since the ribbon ones were being a huge pain.

I cheated on the wiring… the cigarette lighter input is ignition controlled… So, what I did was just tapped both the battery 12V+ and the ignition 12V+ into the cigarette lighter slot. This works when you start it up, but it also completely kills the computer when you take the key out (instead of gracefully shutting down using the car battery like it should). I’ll probably fix that when I feel like taking more of the dash out and finding what wire has a 12V+ signal when the car’s off…

Anyway — that’s my progress so far…

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Case is built!

Well, I got all the parts (finally) and I assembled it all together (finally). I have pictures — really I do — that I’ll be posting soon. Overall I’m pretty pleased… The storage area in my vehicle that I yanked out of the dash to make room for this was EXACTLY the same size (7x7x4). So all I needed to do was drill some holes in the
two aluminum cases that I got, screw them firmly into the metal bracket that used to hold the storage area on my dash, and it’s a perfect fit. I even retained the cup holder unit on the bottom (see the upcoming pictures for more detail on that).

Now… I have just a few issues:
1) Connecting the wiring into the vehicle… I am NOT excited about this since I barely know what I’m doing.
2) Making the face plate. This should be fun… it’s just cosmetic so I can take my time and it’s not really a big deal. Hopefully it works as expected.

Anyhow — I’ve got some wiring diagrams and I’ll be figuring out the wiring as soon as I have time this weekend. I’ll try to get those pictures up too!

Until then….

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Car Computer components…

Okay, not a lot new since last time. I’ve finished ordering all the parts and I’m waiting for them to arrive. I ended up splurging and getting an 8″ touchscreen instead of the 7″ one I was looking at. The one I had priced at $249 wasn’t actually the Lilliput brand that I wanted and since the price wasn’t that different between the 7″ and 8″ Lilliput, I got the 8″ one for $330 with shipping. Not too bad. This brings the final price to $794.

The hardest part (at least I think) from this point will be wiring into the battery and ignition wires in the car. I think I can do this using wire-tap connectors that connect into the radio wiring. Hopefully that works as easily as I just describe it. The rest of the difficulty is successfully mounting all the hardware in the rather clunky boxes that I have. I’m sure that my solution is a lot cheaper than buying a nice case (like the Casetronic 134 or 138) and also there’s the fact that neither of those cases will fit in my car dash. I’m concerned about heat in the cases (I’m planning on picking up another fan but I don’t know if that’ll be enough) and also [oddly] I’m concerned about it being too cold. It’s quite cold this time of year in northern Virginia and although I’ve always heard that a computer can never be too cold, the motherboard does mention that it shouldn’t be operated below freezing temperatures — perhaps moving parts and possible condensation? We’ll see how it goes. Worst case, I could probably wire in a temperature gauge that shuts off the main power if the temperature is too low — or too high. The front of the case (the part you’ll be able to see while sitting in the car) shouldn’t be too hard. I think that a sheet of plastic with the appropriate holes will do the trick nicely. Slap some paint on and mount it flush with the dash-casing and I think it will work fine.

We’ll see…. I’ll post more as I get the rest of the parts and finish assembling the case. Also, I’ll include some pictures of the project. (I’ve just been too lazy to post any pictures yet).

Until then….

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Car Computer (update)

Well, I got the aluminum cases that I ordered as well as the motherboard. The memory, and some power equipment are on the way, and I’m waiting on the DVD drive and Touchscreen until I get to that phase. I ordered a power converter that didn’t really include the features I wanted so I reordered something a little better. This includes a timer type deal (waits 5 seconds after you start the ignition, waits 45 seconds after ignition is off before it “unplugs” the computer, etc.) I think the total waste of money was $65 which isn’t bad. Also, it gives me a perfectly functional power supply to blow up the first time around when I don’t know what I’m doing. 🙂

Total cost so far:
$158 — Mini-ITX M-10000 motherboard
$25 — Two aluminum cases (7″x7″x2″)
$65 — Morex 80W Car Power Kit (includes power supply and regulator)
$80 — 200W Power Supply and ITPS regulator with time sequencer
Subtotal: $328

Further expenses:
$249 — Lilliput 7″ touchscreen
$76 — Panasonic slot-loading slim CD-RW/DVD drive
Subtotal: $325

Throw in another $40 or so for shipping costs…

Also, go ahead and throw in $20 for odds and ends (front plate, tap connections for power, and wiring stuff)

Total: $713 plus 40+ hours of research and assembly 🙂

Also, I had a 120GB ATA hard drive lying around — I don’t think they’re too expensive and furthermore, it’s a LOT of overkill for what I’ll need in this machine (I bet a 10GB would do the trick and still provide a fair amount of extra storage for applications, music, etc.) Some of the motherboards (not the one I got) include a Compact Flash slot on the back that you can interface with your IDE cable (they sell little convertor hookups dirt cheap). If you’re running a compact operating system like Linux, you can fit everything on a 1GB compact flash card (which is fast, really low on power consumption, and has no moving parts). This could easily allow for a 1 DIN car computer. Mine right now is 2 DIN mainly because of the large hard drive and the fact that I have the space in my current setup.

Not too bad I guess… Considering that raw car computers (with no touch screen — just the box with components) usually cost at least $1000 (for a very basic model) and $3000 for the advanced stuff, this seems like a decent price. I could probably redo this solution for $750 and make it a bit better.

I’ve estimated that for features like GPS, WiFi, bluetooth and more, I could get it for about $250 more. Most of the equipment is cheap and can run via USB (so connecting them is almost trivial. They even sell massive WiFi antennas that you can mount externally.

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Alrighty then — we need an objective for this blog. Perhaps I can merely send updates every day describing my life. The joy, the sorrow, the happiness, the misery, the ups and downs. Considering that I bore myself just thinking about this, I doubt that a blog designed to be read by others will benefit from a running commentary on my life. Also, it takes too long.

I think instead I’ll chronicle my hobbies on this page. This will allow me to have a site that I myself can reference regarding past experience and others might be able to gain a scrap of knowledge (or at least be amused) from my jaunts into the unknown. In case you’re wondering my main interests are in computers and generally geeky hi-tech gadgets. This includes things such as PDAs, cell phones, linux, home automation, car computers, linux, new ideas in software, any hardware you can hack, linux, and penguins. Yes, I know this is not original, but then again not many people are interested if your hobby is photographing sumo wrestlers.

In the spirit of good humor, I will also post items that I find amusing particularly if they intersect with the set of gadgety topics that I’ve mentioned above. I will attempt to make it interesting, and I will also try my best to reply to emails that are sent to me.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site is of any real value and things that I post here may in fact contain malicious content. But at least it’s more interesting than finding out what Suzy ate for dinner last night. At least I hope…


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Illegal shmop at count_cash — now withdrawing $129,731,092,812.31.

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Oh well — I’ll work the bugs out later…

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