Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog


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Giving my fuel economy in rods per hogheads.

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Return of the Car Computer!

Well, nearly 3 years ago, I started building a car computer using a Mini-ITX 1GHz motherboard, an 8" touchscreen LCD, some custom power components, and a bunch of spare parts. $794 later I still am pretty much where I was then.

I had trouble with:

  • Building my own case -- it looked terrible and was almost taped together. Absolutely horrid.
  • Some sort of weird Windows problem (that I still haven't resolved)
  • Trouble with setting the thing up since the LCD runs off a car cigarette-lighter outlet
  • Still a high cost for Bluetooth and 802.11/a/b/g/n -- which was important to having the thing be useful

Most of these hurdles have been beaten as of this week. Weird Windows problem is solved by not using it (I got the touchscreen drivers to work under Gentoo using Enlightenment as the DM). Good bye Billy Gates! Due to some car battery issues I purchased one of those massive backup car starters, AC/DC, monstrosities. This gives me the flexibility of working with the car component in the house in the office where I can make (and leave) a mess instead of having to set up / tear down everything in the car whenever I wanted to fiddle. The cost for Bluetooth and wireless has dramatically dropped (I have a spare Bluetooth dongle hanging around and a few wireless cards).

The one outstanding issue is a case. I really haven't been looking but I'm sure there are more options now. I've considered also storing the thing in the trunk and wiring display/USB/etc up to the front. If that's the case, I can leave the components in their junky case and not worry about it.

Some other cool developments:

  • You can now get very cheap IDE-Compact Flash solid state "hard drives" for these things. Gentoo will run just great on a 2GB card. It's fast, easy, and it saves even more room.
  • VIA has iterated twice since I purchased my motherboard and has both a Nano-ITX and now a Pico-ITX (about the size of a deck of cards) motherboard. These are cool, but I likely don't need them.
  • I'm smarter now than before and can actually successfully navigate through some tricky Linux configurations for "non-standard" hardware. Many, many kudos to Steve Huskey from work who helped me initially (and got me addicted to Gentoo) and then instilled me with enough curiosity to go nuts and play with the stuff. I'm not exactly sure what a kudos is, but Steve deserves a lot of them.
  • I have some free time... No! Stop laughing, really, I do! Or at least I plan to make some. I don't have any money any more (the government and the banks take care of that) so hopefully I'll mostly be able to finish this using free software and skill.
  • People read my blog now! So maybe when I run into trouble now I can get some help instead of yelling into the dark void that was my January, 2005 blog.

So, here it is:

Car Computer 2007-11-10

See! It's only missing:

1) A car

2) A functional computer

OK, so there's a lot of work to be done... I'll keep you posted as I move along.

(By the way, the blue box is my server which just happens to be serving as a roadblock to avoid pedestrian traffic from trampling on the sensitive electronics The smallish silver square containers are the car computer itself and the LCD screen is sitting on top of the server. The orange thing is the aforementioned, large, American, AC/DC power, car-starter, utility-light, air-inflater, super-multi-tool!)