Mucking About with the Raspberry Pi

2021-09-12
4 min read

I treated myself to a Raspberry Pi during lockdown in the summer of 2020. As you probably know it’s a tiny little cheap computer, only like the size of a credit card really, but with the release of the latest version it’s started to approach daily-driver levels of computing power for a lot of people. I never really used my laptop for anything particularly intensive - just writing documents, browsing the internet, watching Netflix, making presentation slides - so decided to take the plunge. After all, all my work is done on supercomputer clusters so they take the load rather than my personal machine.

My first attempt at a case for the thing was just a matchbox with holes cut for the power supply, USB, and HDMI connectors. It was pretty cool to be fair and would recommend that as a fun little solution to anyone looking for a quick Raspberry Pi case.

My next change was to something a bit more sturdy, an old tobacco tin. I love the design of these things; they’re so neat and compact and rusty-looking, and it was just the right size for the pi. Well, sort of. Because the tin has those curved corners and the pi doesn’t, I had to cut some small holes for the corners to poke through, but it didn’t ruin the look much at all. The final product looked great and was almost perfect, it’s just that the metal of the tin seemed to interfere with the HDMI connection or the power supply or something, and would occasionally cause the pi to cut out. Really annoying because I loved the look of this case. Still, it was good fun using the dremel to cut the holes in the sides of the tin and making all the adjustments.

As satisfyingly compact as the pi is, the need for an external monitor kind of takes some of the fun out of that whole aspect. Sure it’s portable and small and whatever but you need to plug it in to a screen to use it. Now I’ve tried out some of the little screens you can buy for the pi and they’re fine I guess, but when you’re trying to navigate a full desktop that’s clearly intended for bigger screens it all feels pretty cramped. I spent a couple of weeks searching around for any ways to have a bigger screen without having a bigger screen if you see what I mean (maybe use a couple of small screens with a hinge in the middle or something?), settling on the idea of a projector.

You see these crappy little ‘phone projectors’ advertised around right? Maybe they’re rubbish but good enough for my purposes. But no it turns out they really are shite. Still, that search pointed me towards proper projectors. There’s small ones of them, and there’s even super tiny ones that use lasers and don’t require lenses or focusing or massive cooling fans or anything. It’s not really a technology that’s taken off surprisingly but there is one product available. It’s just expensive at a couple of hundred pounds for something I only want as a bit of fun. But ten years earlier there was a similar product and I managed to pick one up for about a tenth of that price.

Now this thing is about the size of a small phone, but about ⅔ of that is taken up by a rechargeable battery. As I wanted to hook this up to the pi as a monitor, which itself will always need to be powered, I figured I could always power it directly from the pi itself and so wouldn’t need the battery. So I cut it off the back to make this projector really tiny. It worked great! It’s so small! And it still works!

I honestly can’t believe this hasn’t taken off more than it has. I guess partly it’s down to the way phones no longer permit the output of a video signal over their USB connections in the way that (some of them) used to. Essentially this comes down to copyright concerns and the prevalance of casting to smart TVs and Google Chromecasts pretty much eliminating the need for physical external display connections.

So yep there you go, I’ve got my monitor, I bought and trimmed down a crappy little keyring speaker to keep plugged in (it’s nice and small - functional even if not very good quality), and built a nice little case myself around it to keep it all together. This was just some thick cardboard covered in some faux-leather I had lying about from the inside of an old suitcase, and then lined the edges with some brass right-angle lengths. Where the speaker sits I put a little brass grille and mesh just for the look more than anything, and kept the top and bottom separated using some brass spacers I bought off the internet.

Update: We used this at the wedding reception to play videos of our trips together over the years on a loop.