posts tagged with the keyword ‘raspberrypi’

2016.01.25

Video Installation

Last summer Ray Chi got in touch with me about an installation he was doing for the Milwaukee Art Museum. He wanted a video screen that could be activated to play a video by touching a metal plate. Well, actually six videos and six video screens and six metal plates.

I told him I’d figure out how to get it all to work the way he wanted. I came up with a few ideas, one of which was using Processing, which I did get working, but at the time Processing wasn’t really running on the Raspberry Pi, at least not officially (or very well) and since the Pi was what we ended up choosing, I needed another solution.

For an installation that’s going to be running for years, simplicity and reliability are key. I had used Pis in the past many times for video players using omxplayer. Typically I’d just launch omxplayer on boot and have it play a video, looping, forever. For this application we wanted the video to play only when the metal plate was touched by a human hand (and then stop playing when someone stopped touching it) which meant capacitive touch.

Rather than spend a lot of time coming up with something that might work, I went with something that I was 98% sure would work. I used Adafruit’s Standalone Momentary Capacitive Touch Sensor Breakout attached to a Teensy LC. Why a Teensy LC? Because it’s a low-cost (LC!) Arduino-compatible microcontroller and it can emulate a keyboard.

Yes, a keyboard! If you have a USB keyboard connected to a Raspberry Pi computer while omxplayer is playing a video, you can just hit the space bar to play the video, and then hit it again to pause the video. Those are the two things we needed to do.

Video Player Controls

So, Raspberry Pi, running omxplayer to play the video, with a Teensy LC attached programmed to work as a USB keyboard, and triggered by a capacitive touch sensor, which was then connected to the metal plate. Simple!

There was this issue of……. timing.

So in theory, the Teensy would just need to send a space character to play the video, and it would do this when you touched the metal plate. But! (And it’s a Big But) the issue was that we wanted the video to start playing at boot and then pause at the beginning and sit there waiting… for someone to touch the metal to start the video playing. Rather than fire up the video via the typical Linux methods, we ended up just starting up the Pis, auto-logging in, and having them wait at the command line… yes, just sit their waiting, doing nothing… Sort of.

When the Pi booted up, it provided power to the Teensy, which then started running its sketch. The sketch would start at boot, wait 45 seconds to ensure the Pi was booted up and sitting there waiting at the command line, and then it would type:

/bin/bash /boot/video.sh

So we actually used the Teensy to send the text to the Pi (just as if a human typed it) which then fired up the script and started the video playing. The sketch would then wait 2.4 seconds and type a space character, which would pause the video. This set the state of things exactly where we wanted them. The video way paused, just waiting for the next command from the Teensy, which was… space, of course!

Now, there’s the concept of “rising edge” and “falling edge” when it comes to pressing buttons. A rising edge is the transition from low to high, and a falling edge is the transition from high to low. That’s a fancy way of saying we can tell when the button is being pressed, and when it’s being released. It’s best to use debouncing for this, and there’s a library for that.

Video Players Mounted

So with everything mounted in place we still had to deal with one issue. The HDMI displays worked find as long as they were turned on before the Raspberry Pi computers. If they were turned on at the same time the resolution wouldn’t set right, and the video would be letter-boxed. There were two options, one would be using two different power strips to get power to everything, with instructions for museum staff to follow a specific order. This wasn’t ideal, so we went with option two. I used a time delay relay so that one single power strip could be turned on, which would turn on the HDMI displays, and then a few seconds later turn on the computers. It worked. (And yes, I found out later I probably could have fixed the issue in software. Duly noted.)

Are there things we could have done better? Yes. Did we get the project done on time, and within (or under) budget? Yes. Was it fun and challenging? Yes and Yes. You may read this and think “Hey, you totally could have solved problem X by doing Y!” and you’d probably be right. I’ve found a number of things I’d do slightly differently if I were to do something like this again. That’s all part of experience, and learning, and sharing… right?

Video Player

When the installation was all done and tested, I got photos of everything, and then set to work on documenting it all. I delivered a 14 page manual on the construction and operation of the video players, along with the code and instructions on how to use one of the backup SD cards that was prepared in case of failure.

Besides, now I can (sort of) say that my work is in the Milwaukee Art Museum. ;)

2016.01.04

*nix

Hey there… Dan Gillmor moved to Linux and it’s even better than he expected!

As for me, I’ve been using Mac OS X pretty much since it came out, and before that I used System 9, 8, 7, etc… Operating systems created by Apple. I’ve also used FreeBSD in the past (though mainly on servers) and I’ve been using Linux in some form or another for close to 20 years. Along the way I’ve also used Windows, though always for work, never for fun.

I’m going to call out a few things Dan mentions, just so I can comment on them.

…here I am, writing this piece on a laptop computer running the Linux* operating system and LibreOffice Writer, not on a Mac or Windows machine using Microsoft Word. All is well.

Luckily you can use LibreOffice on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. You can also use OpenOffice on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. And hey, you can also run NeoOffice on Mac OS X (sorry Windows and Linux users) which is what I did years ago before OpenOffice ran on Mac OS X.

This brings up a point I’d like to expand on, that even if you run Mac OS X (or Windows) you can almost always lean towards the open alternative that is available. This might mean LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, and it may mean Thunderbird instead of Mail.app, or Firefox instead of Safari.

Other software I use includes jEdit, Arduino, Processing, Fritzing, Inkscape, Audacity, OpenSCAD, and yes… those are all available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. You might also notice that (almost) all of the websites listed end with .org, which is telling.

The applications you use all depend on what you do with a computer, and what you use a computer for. I tend to use computers to make things, and luckily the specific things I like to make fit in well with the software I use.

Some of the applications listed above rely on Java. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Java, but it does help a lot of software run on multiple platforms. One of the applications listed relies on an X11, or more specifically, XQuartz. X11.app used to be distributed by Apple, but they abandoned it, but that’s okay because XQuartz exists.

One application I use that is not available for Linux is Evernote. I should say “not officially available”, since there is Nevernote and Geeknote. Yeah, often you can find an unofficial client for Linux that might work.

Of course if your work demands you use specific software, you may not be able to exclusively run Linux. Oh well…

Now…

No one should ever have to open a command-line window and type “sudo apt-get update” or other such instructions.

I tend to cringe when I see things a computer user should never have to do. I mean, if you want to do X, you may have to learn Y, right? Now, personally, great power comes from being able to open a command line window and type commands. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, though sometimes it is the easier thing to do, if you have the knowledge. If you don’t want to open a command line window and type things, chances are good you won’t have to. (But you should anyway, if you really want to harness the power of your computer. As long as it’s running *nix, I mean. Sorry, Windows users!)

And then…

It’s almost certainly too late for Linux to be a hugely popular desktop/laptop operating system, at least in the developed world.

Maybe, I don’t know… I have seen Linux change over the last two decades, and I’m still excited about what I see.

Dan did say “desktop/laptop operating system”, but let’s look elsewhere. Linux is used on servers, and appliances, and things. What do I mean by “things”? Well, every Raspberry Pi project runs Linux. Here’s 400+ projects running Linux. Here’s a few more projects and some tutorials, all using Linux. I even use Linux computers at work (building exhibits) that just play sounds. Using Linux on a Raspberry Pi makes sense for this, and lots of other things.

Anyway, Dan’s post is good (though it’s strange it’s posted on Medium instead of his own web site, because, freedom and all that) and I’d urge anyone who is not familiar with Linux to take a look at it. It’s pretty awesome. So is open source, and freedom, and the command line.

2015.11.01

No Signal

“No Signal” was a project I wanted to do back in 2014, but never had time to. The idea was to have a projector set up in a space with a video playing that suggested the projector could not find the input source. For anyone who has done a presentation or had to deal with a data projector, you probably know the joy of changing the inputs, waiting for the signal to sync, and even “perfecting image” messages.

It’s 2015 and we still can’t plug a computer into a projector and have it “just work”.

No Signal

Since we needed some projects for the Dark Room at Maker Faire Milwaukee, I figured this would be a good fit. I quickly edited together a video (and I was suffering from a lack of sleep when I did it) that got more ridiculous as I kept adding things. I gave my projector to Bryan Cera for his “Entertainment System” project so I ended up using an old Apple Cinema Display I had on hand. The front looks very clean and stylish…

No Signal

…and for anyone brave enough to look at the back, I wanted it to look ridiculous. Insert comments here about how Apple products are clean and beautiful on the surface while hiding the ugly shit so you can’t see it. I used a lot of zip ties to secure the Apple Power Brick™ to the back of the display, and also added a Raspberry Pi to play the video. There’s also an DVI to HDMI converter in the mix.

No Signal

This is some very sophisticated last-minute rigging right here! (Note the masking tape that secures the SD card in place.) The video is below for you to enjoy.

No Signal

No Signal

No Signal

No Signal

Disclaimer: I may have been slightly inspired by Improv Everywhere.

2015.10.27

RPi Mounting Plate

I needed some Raspberry Pi mounting plates, and while I’ve used this 3D printed version before, I didn’t have time to print six of them (and I didn’t have a functional 3D printer at the time.)

Raspberry Pi Mounting Holes

I grabbed a hole pattern file from Raspberry Pi Spi and used to create a simple plate with holes to attach the Model 2 B+ Pi using 2.5mm x 12mm screws.

RPi Mounting Plate

RPi Mounting Plate

There are tiny spacers that go on the 2.5mm screws to prop the Pi up 3mm. As long as you’ve got a laser cutter, you may as well cut your own washers, right?

RPi Mounting Plate

The larger spacers should be placed under the plate when it is screwed into whatever you’re going to screw it into. I’ll be screwing six Raspberry Pi plates into a wooden cabinet.

RPi Mounting Plate

You can grab the files from YouMagine or Thingiverse, though neither of those sites really cater to laser cut files… oh well.

2015.10.17

Apple Watch

I presented a video piece at Maker Faire Milwaukee I called “Apple Watch” which consisted of a Raspberry Pi Model B connected to an Apple Monochrome Monitor from 1988.

The power of component video was harnessed to make a 2012 computer talk to a display that is 27 years old. (Also, Apple used to make solid hardware that lasted a long time!)

The video that plays (after the Raspberry Pi boots up Linux) is the old black & white wristwatch from early versions of the Apple Operating System. The video loops forever and just shows the cursor with the watch hands spinning around infinitely.

You can wait for something else to happen, but it won’t. You can imagine this would fit on your wrist, but it won’t. If the power goes out and comes back on, the Apple Watch will just start up and attempt to run (forever) again. That’s all it does. Really.

Wiring

Raspberry Pi

1988

Apple Watch

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