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monthly service. Others use built-in memory card reader to read cards directly from the
camera. A few have a wired Ethernet connection. Even fewer have a wireless connection, the
ultimate in convenience. Figure 15-2 shows some of these products.
This market is rapidly changing, but you can jump ahead with a dismembered, fully functional
laptop acting as a digital frame. And with Wi-Fi, your frame will be simple to use and manage.


Choosing a Digiframe Computer
Three features will come forth in your quest for a suitable laptop:

Price
Size
Hackability
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Obviously, a sweet new $1000 laptop would be more cost-effective as a war driving computer
than as cannibalized picture frame. And a tablet computer, while perfectly capable of filling this
position, would cost more than the best manufactured frames on the market.
The size factor is more flexible. A modest, Windows-capable laptop with a 12-inch LCD
screen goes for less than $300 on eBay. Twelve inches on an LCD screen is very close to a tra-
ditional 8 10 photograph. And it will fit well in a smallish 12 15 box frame.
Hackability will determine how easy or complicated it will be to convert the laptop to its new
purpose. Ideally, the laptop will be easily disassembled and will require a minimum of wire
management and re-routing.
Figure 15-3 shows the basic configuration used in this project. The laptop is split in two and the
screen is unscrewed from the hinge and rotated all the way back until it is flat against the bot-
tom of the laptop. The essential cables are re-routed or extended to keep the screen working.
The laptop is still fully functional, and can be used while still mounted in the frame, although
it can be really hard to see the screen and the keyboard at the same time.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to tell how hackable a computer is until you take it apart,
and internal pictures are often hard to come by. On the other hand, computers were made to be
worked on when they are broken.




FIGURE 15-3: Laptop screen bending all the way back.
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With this simple screen-folding method of creating a digiframe, most laptops should be pretty
easy to convert.

Carefully disassemble the laptop as a computer technician would to change a broken part. You
should be able to get inside without doing anything destructive. Once inside, search for a way to
remove the LCD panel and run the cables the slightly longer distance to the bottom of the lap-
top.



Preparing the Computer
Before you make any irreversible decisions like cutting, twisting, or pulling, install the software
your laptop will be running. It™s a lot easier to get the laptop ready before mounting it in the
frame, than afterwards.
Perform the following on the laptop before any physical modifications:

1. Install the Wi-Fi card and device drivers.
2. Configure the laptop for your wireless network.
3. Set up a shared folder on the laptop (for example, C:\digipix).
4. Install picture display software (like a slideshow screen saver)
5. Optionally install a remote control program (like PC Anywhere or RealVNC).
6. Set up Windows to enable the digiframe.

These procedures are covered in the following sections.


Step 1: Installing Your Wireless Card
Chances are, the laptop you are using does not have a built-in Wi-Fi adapter, so you™ll need to
give it a wireless card. Figure 15-4 shows the laptop installed in a picture frame. There is
clearly limited space in the frame. Choose a wireless card that allows enough clearance for the
style of frame.

USB dongle adapters can extend up to 2.5 inches from the USB port on the laptop. Use a USB
extension cable to drop that distance down by an inch or so to about 1.5 inches (the length of
the USB plug) and reposition the dongle. Or, use a PCMCIA card. PC cards with external anten-
nas, like the DLink DWL-650 in Figure 15-4, extend out about 1 inch.



Step 2: Configuring the Network Adapter
By this time, you probably have an access point and a wireless network set up at home. The
digiframe computer will need to become a member of the network to be able to transfer files
from a desktop computer in the same network.
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FIGURE 15-4: Laptop mounted in the frame with a PCMCIA Wi-Fi card.


Set up the digiframe laptop as you would set up any other computer on the same wireless
LAN. Use the correct SSID, channel, WEP key, and so on. Make sure the laptop will be able
to get on the network automatically when booted and logged in. For example, if the card man-
agement software needs to be running, make sure it™s set to start automatically.
Regardless of the wireless network mode (infrastructure or ad-hoc) the goal is to have the com-
puter boot up to the desktop with fully operational wireless without any mouse-clicks or key-
board entries.


Step 3: Setting Up a Shared Digipix Folder
You will copy files from your desktop to the laptop by dropping them into a shared folder. The
exact mechanics of setting up a network share will differ for each operating system. But most
versions of Windows have this feature.
Ensure that File sharing is enabled for the wireless adapter (see Figure 15-5). In Windows
2000, the steps are as follows (other Windows platforms will use very similar steps):

1. Click Start ➪ Control Panel ➪ Network Connections ➪ Wireless Adapter.
2. Click Properties.
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FIGURE 15-5: The file sharing service is installed and enabled for the Wi-Fi
adapter.


3. On the wireless adapter properties “This connection uses the following items:”, ensure
that “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” is installed and enabled (the
checkbox should be checked).
4. If the entry isn™t there, click the Install button and add the service, “File and Printer sharing.”
5. Click OK to close the window and save changes.

Now share the folder by following these steps:

1. Create the picture storage folder (such as C:\digipix).
2. Right-click the folder in Windows Explorer and select Sharing in the context-menu that
pops up.
3. Enable sharing and give proper permissions for the users that will connect. In this case,
only the Administrator account is configured for access to the folder (see Figure 15-6).

Finally, test the link by transferring some pictures over to the laptop. From the desktop computer,
use Network Neighborhood to find the digiframe computer and open the shared folder. For a
recently shared folder, you may need to repopulate the list of neighbor computers. The easiest way to
do that is to reboot. Drag and drop some JPEG files from the desktop computer over to the laptop.
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FIGURE 15-6: Sharing the digipix folder to the administrator account.


Step 4: Installing the Screen Saver Slideshow
The easiest way to handle picture rotation is to use screen saver software. That way, the laptop
can be configured to boot up to the desktop without logging on. The screen saver would be
configured to run a slideshow when activated.
Search the word “screen saver slideshow” in any search engine and you™ll find hundreds of
results. Although we didn™t test every program out there, we found one that seems to fit the bill
nicely. If you have a preference, by all means, try it out. It™s called “gPhotoShow,” available from
www.gphotoshow.com. It™s a free download. There is an upgraded shareware version, too.
The coolest feature of gPhotoShow that many other programs seemed to lack was dynamic
updating of the file list. That is, even while the screen saver is running, the file list is recreated and
displayed, so you don™t need to stop and start the screen saver when changing digital pictures.
Figure 15-7 shows the main setup screen for gPhotoShow. This simple interface allows selec-
tion of the digital picture folder and, optionally, sub-folders from which to pull images. The
Recursive Search option tells the program to check subdirectories.
The Advanced Options tab holds the selection for updating the directories on a continuous
basis. Place a check in the Slide Show option for “At the end of the show rebuilds the full file
list.” When the Digital picture directory is updated, the screen saver will begin showing those
new files immediately in the rotation.
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FIGURE 15-7: gPhotoShow screen saver settings dialog.


Step 5: The Case for a Remote Controller
While the computer is happily cycling through images, Windows is doing its thing in the
background. This invariably causes any number of popup windows, questioning dialogs, or
other nagging queries for your attention.
Using the computer while it™s mounted in the frame is quite difficult. So, for regular interaction
with Windows, your digital picture frame requires a remote control program.
PC Anywhere is a useful program to help manage the computer as if you are there using the
keyboard and mouse. There are several other remote control programs. If you don™t have access
to PC Anywhere, RealVNC (formerly WinVNC) is a free open source remote control program
that works with Windows.



Step 6: Configuring the Computer for the Role of Digiframe
Now that all of the network and picture settings are working, it™s time to automate the com-
puter. Remember that you are shooting for a hands-off boot-up to the desktop.
Exact details for a hands-off boot-up will vary by operating system. These are the requirements
for Windows 2000 and XP:
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Disable “Users must enter a password to use this computer”
Disable “Require users to press Ctrl Alt Delete before logging on”

For Windows 98 and ME, select the “Windows family logon.”

If you are going to use the picture frame in an insecure environment, keep security in mind and
use a local computer account, such as administrator. Do not use a domain or server account.
Even though the keyboard and mouse are inside the frame and are more difficult for snoops, it™s
good practice not to use a server account when logging on automatically.

Check the power saver settings and ensure the LCD stays on:

1. Right-click the Desktop and choose Properties.
2. Select the Screen Saver tab and click the energy-saver Power button.
3. Switch the Power Scheme to “Always On.”
4. In “Turn off monitor,” select “Never.”
5. In “System standby,” select “Never.”
6. Click OK to save the Power settings, and OK again to save the screen saver properties.

To have a sure way of turning on the frame without flipping the switch in the laptop, adjust the
power settings in the basic input/output system (BIOS). The method to enter the BIOS varies
widely by manufacturer. Look up the information for your computer, or try these keys during
the boot-up sequence (before Windows starts to load): Esc, Del, F1, F2, F3, F10, and some-
times Ctrl Alt Esc.
If there is an option for your laptop, the BIOS setting would look something like “Power state
when AC is applied: On, Off, Last-state.” Set this to “On” to make sure the computer turns on
when the AC is plugged in. In addition, if you™recontrolling power through the AC, remove the
battery before installing in the picture frame.

There is a Windows registry hack that will activate the screen saver of your choice. The hack
details are different for each version of Windows. If you feel comfortable modifying the
Windows registry, give it a try. More details can be found at support.microsoft.com; search
for “logon screen saver.”



Hacking the Laptop
Now that everything is installed and ready, it™s time to disassemble the laptop. Start by remov-
ing power and the main battery. (The complementary metal-oxide semiconductor [CMOS]
battery is safe to keep installed.)
To keep the electronics safe from bumping or jarring while working on the laptop, remove any
modular components, especially the hard drive. If the hard drive is not removable, you will
want to be just that extra bit more careful against bounces.
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FIGURE 15-8: Laptop internals.

Figure 15-8 shows a laptop striped down to the bare minimum. So far everything has been removed
by using a screwdriver or pull-tabs. With this vantage point, scoping out cable runs is a lot easier.
Let™s look at the Compaq Armada M300 in detail, step-by-step. Use this as a guide for modi-
fying the lucky laptop in your project.

Be very gentle with all connectors. For example, the LCD panel is controlled by a complex matrix
of transistors which, in turn, are controlled by the tiny, flexible, and fragile cable attached to the
motherboard. Damaged cables or connectors are hard to replace. Remove all cables and connec-
tors with the utmost care.



Step 1: Removing the Necessary Coverings of the
Laptop Case
Since you won™t always know what you need to remove, go ahead and remove everything. Just
remember where it went so you can put it back. The plastic parts of the laptop case are usually
snapped together, then screwed in place. After removing the screws, you may need to pry apart
the two case halves. Do this carefully, always checking for any skipped screws or attached
cables. (For example, the mouse trackpad on this laptop has a very short-circuit cable attached
to the motherboard, as shown Figure 15-9.)
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FIGURE 15-9: Cables attached underneath the keyboard and mouse trackpad.



Step 2: Removing the LCD Panel From the Laptop
The LCD is attached with screws mounted to metal hinges. This can be as simple as unscrew-
ing the machine screws and lifting off the screen (see Figure 15-10).


Step 3: Checking for Cable Runs
Position the LCD panel on the back side of the keyboard and examine where the cables should
run. In this case, we decided to extend the power cable for the LCD panel, while keeping the
important LCD matrix control cable intact (see Figure 15-11).

Timing is often very important in the workings of an LCD panel. If you modify the matrix control
cable, it™s possible that the display will be adversely affected. It may stop working altogether.




Step 4: Removing Obstructions
By removing the metal back panel surrounding the VGA, parallel, and serial connectors, a large
enough gap was created to re-route the LCD matrix cable, as shown in Figure 15-12.
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FIGURE 15-10: LCD panel removed.




FIGURE 15-11: Examine cable runs.
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FIGURE 15-12: Creative cable routes.



Step 5: Modifying Cables
Different laptops will have unique circumstances for routing and extending the LCD control
and power cables. In our case, the LCD power cable was extremely short and needed to be
extended by about two inches.

1. Cut the cable in half.
2. Strip the cable ends.
3. Solder the extension wires, noting the following (see Figure 15-13):
Use the same or larger diameter wires than the original. The copper wire used inside
I

of a CAT-5 UTP cable is often a suitable replacement. When you cut up a CAT-5
cable, eight individually insulated and color-coded wires are available for you to use.
Make the extension no longer than necessary. Three inches is probably the limit,
I

but some experimenting could reveal longer connections for your laptop.
Keep the original connectors intact. The parts used inside of a laptop are often
I

proprietary and hard to replace. Be careful with the original parts while working
on them.
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FIGURE 15-13: LCD power and
backlight cable reconstruction.



4. Cover the bare solder connections with electrical insulation tape. The cable
modification should look similar to the apparatus in shown in Figure 15-14. Notice
the original connector is used and electrical tape insulation prevents wires from short-
circuiting. The microphone cable was left unattached because it will not be needed
anymore.




FIGURE 15-14: A modified cable with extended reach.
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FIGURE 15-15: Final configuration ready for mounting.



Step 6: Trimming Off the Lid Latch
The laptop will not be closing up anytime soon, so cut the latch to make the screen completely
flat for later mounting in the frame.


Step 7: Attaching the Bodies Together
Mighty Velcro adhesive strips are used to attach the back of the LCD panel to the “bottom” of
the laptop, as shown in Figure 15-15.



Mounting the Picture Frame
When you know the system works in its new form, it™s time to mount it in a suitable picture
frame. The art industry has provided us with the perfect laptop-ready enclosure, called a box
frame. It can also be called a keepsake frame. Measure the laptop dimensions and add any
additional clearance for the power plug and wireless adapter. A 12 15 box frame works well
with the laptop we™ve used in this chapter. Bring the laptop to a local art supply store and they
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FIGURE 15-16: Box frame ready for installation.

can help find the correct box for your project. (However, they will be very surprised to see what
you are working on!)
Once you™ve picked out the frame, you™ll need to cut matting to match the frame size and leave
an opening for the laptop screen. Make sure to cut the matting materials using the proper
tools. You can purchase these tools at the art store, or have the store cut the matting to the size
needed. Figure 15-16 shows the frame components with the matting already cut.
Again, you can use Velcro to mount the laptop to the matting inside the box frame. Velcro
may not be a permanent mounting solution, but for this purpose it works well. You could

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