Friday, November 17, 2006

Cringely's Thai-build Linux powered auto video server

Cringely is a true hacker. I've no idea how he learns This stuff. The Thai Linux box is driveless, which is why he chose it. Now every auto stereo installer will know how to put in a 50-tv show capacity auto video server (emphasis mine):
I, Cringely . The Pulpit . Keeping the Peace | PBS

...Cars are hostile environments for computers. I wrote an entire column once on why we don't have hard drives in cars (it's in this week's links), so I knew that for a server I'd need a hardened, yet cheap, box, which I found in the Norhtec MicroClient Jr. from Thailand. Because of enlightened government computing policy, Thailand has the cheapest non-Microsoft PCs in the world and the MicroClient Jr. is among the least expensive. [jf: Thailand also has a government at least as corrupt as ours, their attitude to open source has recently changed.] In volume it sells for $90, but I paid $120 plus an extra $70 for WiFi capability. I might have saved the $70 and used a USB WiFi adapter I had lying around, but the box has only one USB port and I wanted that for storage.

For $190 I had a diskless, fanless, completely silent PC with a Via processor and 128 megs of RAM. To this I added a copy of Puppy Linux, which is a very good lightweight distribution you can boot from a CD, though in the MicroClient Jr. I used a CompactFlash card from an old digital camera as the boot drive. For the data drive I used a huge four-gig USB flash drive that came from who knows where: I don't recall buying it, but it was sitting on the shelf.

This is not a very ambitious project, really. The MicroClient Jr. is a little smaller than a Mac Mini and can run on 12 volt DC, so I mounted it under the driver's seat, stealing power from the seat motors. The USB flash drive is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, if you remember what that looks like, and I used Velcro to stick it to the side of the MicroClient Jr. The little PC runs fine as a server, and there are many open source programs for transcoding almost any video into the H.264 or MPEG-4 formats preferred by the PSP. The PSP already has WiFi capability and the components are never more than four feet apart. Best of all, I was able to put 53 shows on the data drive.
I want one. Of course the PSP is not cheap ...

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