I enjoyed putting together the last write-up so much -- and got so much positive feedback -- that I'd like to follow up with another one. This is something I built a couple of years ago and has been gathering dust since then. Here it is:
Once again, completion of the hack depends upon a trip to a coffee shop, and once again that's the part I haven't finished yet. Booting this again after a long hiatus has gotten me motivated, so I promise I'll follow up. Eventually. Maybe.
The project: to make a digital picture frame to snatch pictures from a public wi-fi connection. Many coffee shops in Vancouver feature both local art and wi-fi, so why not combine the two? Imagine toting your laptop down for a latte, plugging in, and discovering that your Facebook pictures are on display on the wall. That's what this picture frame does.
Obviously this project a tremendous violation of privacy, which is kind of the point. Using a coffee shop wireless connection is a huge risk, unless you take care to use some kind of extra encryption; one project called Firesheep recently made the news for allowing tremendously simplistic theft of Facebook sessions, among other things. If you're logging into a website that doesn't use HTTPS encryption, and most don't, you're giving your credentials away. This is a nice visual demonstration of that.
The ingredients: I rescued a to-be-scrapped laptop from Free Geek Vancouver (a Pentium II-450mhz Dell, if I remember) to provide most of the guts. We get these machines in all the time, and unfortunately there's just no market for them -- we could run Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux, but since we already stock faster laptops for < $100, there's not much point. We occasionally get someone's ancient purple Vaio in immaculate condition, complete with all software and accessories (external floppy drive anyone?), looking like it's just rolled out of the showroom. These were top of the heap subcompacts at the time, and all we can do is shake our heads over them -- what good are they now? Well, hobbyist weirdness to the rescue -- here's one old laptop rescued from destruction.
So I've done a few projects with old laptops, generally because it's easier to get my hands on an obsolete but working laptop than it is to do the same with an external LCD panel, and many of my projects require LCD displays. The trickiest part is always figuring out how to change the shape of the device so that the panel can be mounted the way I want it to be -- the ribbon cables connecting the laptop's motherboard to its display are always murderously short, fragile, and generally disagreeable.
I gutted the laptop totally -- there's not an inch of chassis left -- and measured the remaining parts in order to get a custom picture frame built by Artrageous, a local framing shop. Then I dremelled out part of the frame to allow for mounting and drilled a few holes for mounting screws.
Here's how the whole thing looks from the back, fully assembled:
Luckily I was able to flip the computer guts above the LCD without too much fuss, but I did have to extend these two wires to get the proper reach. These probably supply the backlight, and I've done an ugly job of it and probably voided the warranty, but give me a break. I didn't think I was going to be showing this to anyone.
Here it is, booting up:
Splashy" boot logo theme using a picture of an F-21 KGB spy camera -- it seemed appropriate. And now that I think about it, I probably stole the picture without giving credit.
It's running Debian, with most of the boot scripts neutered and a custom script dropped in to start X, run Driftnet, and hide the mouse. I'm not even running a window manager.
Here it is in action:
Around this time one of the neighbouring buildings had a proposal to add some cellular towers to the roof, and several residents distributed petitions warning of the dangers of RF radiation, starting with "You probably aren't aware that radio frequency radiation is passing through your body all the time." I felt like responding: "Yes, and much of it is pornography."
So the next step is to find a brave local coffee shop with a wireless connection, and put it up on the wall. Oh, and to insure it first -- I predict a prompt smashing.