It’s fair to say that many Hackaday readers will have a propensity for hoarding electronic or tech junk. Who hasn’t hung on to something because “It might be useful someday”? Spare a thought for [Mike Drew], who in his own words is “buried alive by tablets”. In this case the tablets are Intel-based ones that look as though they ran one of those cut-down Windows versions, and they appear to be rejects from a repair shop processing customer returns that he saved from the dumpster. They are missing their backs, and not all of their screens work, but they amount to a tidy pile of Stuff That’s Too Good To Throw Away.
The exact spec is a 1.4 GHz quad-core Atom with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of Flash, and appear from the photos to have HDMI and USB 3 interfaces. Happily they run Linux Mint 20 so they have plenty of potential, but there is only so much that one person can do with them before running out of ideas. He tells us he’s made a Folding@Home cluster, but beyond that he’s open to suggestions. Depending on the age of the commenter no doubt he’ll be exhorted to run Beowulf or mine Bitcoin, but we’d suggest more sensible ideas.
So, what would you do with them? They lack the handy GPIO port of a Raspberry Pi, but with suitable USB peripherals could you use them in any lowish-power distributed node project where the popular SBC would be the usual choice? Perhaps something like WeeWX, or OpenEnergyMonitor. Or how about distributed mesh network nodes, after all there’s an x86 port of LibreMesh. It’s obvious that there’s plenty of potential to be found, so help [Mike] with his problematic bounty in the comments.
If you’re looking to rid your day to day life of dead trees, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the reMarkable tablet. The sleek device aims to replace the traditional notebook. To that end, remarkable was designed to mimic the feeling of writing on actual paper as closely as possible. But like so many modern gadgets, it’s unfortunately encumbered by proprietary code with a dash of vendor lock-in. Or at least, it was.
[Davis Remmel] has been hard at work porting Parabola, a completely free and open source GNU/Linux distribution, to the reMarkable. Developers will appreciate the opportunity to audit and modify the OS, but even from an end-user perspective, Parabola greatly opens up what you can do on the device. Before you were limited to a tablet UI and a select number of applications, but with this replacement OS installed, you’ll have a full-blown Linux desktop to play with.
You still won’t be watching videos or gaming on the reMarkable (though technically, you would be able to), but you could certainly use it to read and edit documents the original OS didn’t support. You could even use it for light software development. Since USB serial adapters are supported, microcontroller work isn’t out of the question either. All while reaping the considerable benefits of electronic paper.
The only downside is that the WiFi hardware is not currently supported as it requires proprietary firmware to operate. No word on whether or not [Davis] is willing to make some concession there for users who aren’t quite so strict about their software freedoms.
Long ago, before smartphones were ubiquitous and children in restaurants were quieted with awful games on iPads, there was a beautiful moment. A moment in which the end user could purchase, at a bargain price, an x86 computer in a compact, portable shell. In 2007, the netbook was born, and took the world by storm – only to suddenly vanish a few years later. What exactly was it that made netbooks so great, and where did they go?
A Beautiful Combination
The first machine to kick off the craze was the Asus EEE PC 701, inspired by the One Laptop Per Child project. Packing a 700Mhz Celeron processor, a small 7″ LCD screen, and a 4 GB SSD, it was available with Linux or Windows XP installed from the factory. With this model, Asus seemed to find a market that Toshiba never quite hit with their Libretto machines a decade earlier. The advent of the wireless network and an ever-more exciting Internet suddenly made a tiny, toteable laptop attractive, whereas previously it would have just been a painful machine to do work on. The name “netbook” was no accident, highlighting the popular use case — a lightweight, portable machine that’s perfect for web browsing and casual tasks.
But the netbook was more than the sum of its parts. Battery life was in excess of 3 hours, and the CPU was a full-fat x86 processor. This wasn’t a machine that required users to run special cut-down software or compromise on usage. Anything you could run on an average, low-spec PC, you could run on this, too. USB and VGA out were available, along with WiFi, so presentations were easy and getting files on and off was a cinch. It bears remembering, too, that back in the Windows XP days, it was easy to share files across a network without clicking through 7 different permissions tabs and typing in your password 19 times.
ePaper is an interesting thing, providing a non-backlit viewing experience that is much more akin to reading a book than staring at a screen. The reMarkable tablet is a device designed around just such a display, and [Davis Remmel] has been hacking away at the platform. His latest work brings full-fat Linux to the fore.
The work builds upon [Davis]’s earlier work, installing a microSD slot in the tablet to make development easier. Getting Linux running required a custom kernel, but once sorted, working with the reMarkable is easy. apt is available for easy software installs, and the tablet is demonstrated using several different pieces of software, like mtPaint and Xournal.
The golden part of all this has been getting automated partial screen refreshes working. ePaper displays take a long time to refresh the whole screen. Being able to do faster partial writes makes for a much faster interface, which is evident when some of the drawing software is demonstrated. Even Doom runs, but remains largely unplayable, sadly – the ePaper is still a long way off hitting 25 fps.
We look forward to seeing where [Davis] takes this project, and how display performance improves with newer reMarkable tablets. With the reMarkable 2 out for pre-order, there could be a step change in display speed on the horizon. We’re betting that there’s big things to come yet for ePaper – 2020 may finally be its year.
With social distancing it can be harder to stay in touch with our relatives, especially those who are elderly and not particularly tech-savvy. Looking for a solution to that end for his own grandmother, [Steve] came up with the idea of using an inexpensive used tablet and a mobile data plan in order to mail her a “video phone” that works out of the box.
Since the tablet is configured to use cellular networks rather than WiFi, it requires no setup process at all to the recipient. And with the Android version of Skype, it’s possible to configure it so that calls are automatically picked up and video chat enabled. That way, whoever gets the tablet after it’s prepared doesn’t have to tap a single button on the screen in order to receive a call.
[Steve] has also developed the simple idea into a full-fledged easy-to-follow tutorial so that just about anyone is able to replicate the process for their own loved ones. And if you’re still having any trouble with it, there’s a team of volunteers right on the website who can help you with tech support. Just remember to disinfect whatever device you’re sending, since viruses can typically stick to surfaces like plastic and glass for longer.
Now, if showing up to your relatives as a disembodied video screen doesn’t cut it for you, then you might want to send them something more substantial like this cute little telepresence robot that can drive around on a desk.
In the time since the Hackaday Prize was first run it has nurtured an astonishing array of projects from around the world, and brought to the fore some truly exceptional winners that have demonstrated world-changing possibilities. This year it has been extended to a new frontier with the launch of the Hackaday Prize China (Chinese language, here’s a Google Translate link), allowing engineers, makers, and inventors from that country to join the fun. We’re pleased to announce the finalists, from which a winner will be announced in Shenzhen, China on November 23rd. If you’re in Shenzen area, you’re invited to attend the award ceremony!
All six of these final project entries have been translated into English to help share information about projects across the language barrier. On the left sidebar of each project page you can find a link back to the original Chinese language project entry. Each presents a fascinating look into what people in our global community can produce when they live at the source of the component supply chain. Among them are a healthy cross-section of projects which we’ll visit in no particular order. Let’s dig in and see what these are all about!
There’s been a marked trend towards modern tablets and phones having fewer expansion options. It’s becoming rarer to find a microSD slot available, which can be particularly frustrating. For [davisr], this simply wouldn’t do, and they set about hacking their ReMarkable tablet.
The ReMarkable already has a set of pads for an SDHC interface on the main board, ready to go. Despite this, both hardware and software modifications are required to get things up and running. [davisr] started by soldering some wires to the main board, feeding them to a microSD socket, which was mounted on the edge of the tablet in a convenient nook. The case was then delicately modified to make a slot for cards to be inserted and removed. With this done, the kernel was then recompiled to enable support for the SDHC interface, and everything was up and running.