A blogging compatriot, Biff Sock Pow on WordPress issued an invitation to write about “Whatnot” this Wednesday. And being a big believer in blogging, I thought “why not” include a project that I have been working on? Some might find projects to home-school their children or grandchildren, or possibly irritate their spouse. If you cannot do something worthwhile during a pandemic “shelter in place”, some might end up doing laundry, the dishes, or “rotating” their stock in the liquor cabinet to pass the time.
As anyone who came lately to the “working from home” party – you will know that acquiring a webcam with, or without a microphone – to prepare a desktop PC, or even to buy a simple laptop – became impossible early in the second week of March. And as a self-employed (and soon un-employed) entrepreneur, three or four thousand dollars, for a professional system was ludicrous.
That being said, I had a box of components, cables and AC adapters in my office closet for a Raspberry Pi single board computer kit. Which was easy to overlook, and had not generated a recent “what are you planning to do with that?” from my spouse. A few years ago, when I was constantly tinkering with projects both at work and at home, I had various motherboards, hard drives, power supplies, and computers in the office, the garage, and even a few things in the car. Most were recycled through Goodwill.
A Raspberry Pi was useful to an engineer who needed a small server for a test network. But there are many applications for a programming student, a hobbyist, or for guy needing a video-conferencing tool. For less than $70 US, I acquired the board, power supply, cables, case, a camera module, and a micro-SD card. Should you want to experiment, there is a website , and from Googling other contributors to the Raspberry Pi operating system (it is a variant of Debian Linux), you may find any number of modifications for your purposes.
Tinkering around with settings, writing and modifying programs might seem daunting to those unfamiliar with programming. I used the nano script editor and versions of Python scripting language to do what I needed. As a now retired-developer and test person, the cables, duct tape, multiple monitors, keyboards and mice that cover my desk, were too much for my spouse. “Why do you need all that?!” and “Can’t you just buy a webcam and plug it in?”
Empty store shelves and “backordered” online retailers, is exactly why I built one. It was not, in John F. Kennedy’s immortal words, “”We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” (cit). It was because I needed one, and figured why not just put my experience to use. What I knew from past experience was making the jump from different operating systems and applications, would be a little complicated. But Navy Chiefs are not one to shy away from challenge. And an electronics technician for many years has enough hubris to tackle a project with a short timeline. It was relatively easy to assemble, modify the program and then port the video capture to my Windows desktop. Where it got a little challenging was making the video feed available to the Zoom teleconferencing app. There are a number of applications that are easier to work with, for programmers and hobbyists, but my audience – participants, and my production team (spouse) wanted the promised Zoom conference. So …
A Samsung tablet with built-in camera and speaker, with the Zoom application installed was last night’s solution. As for my Raspberry Pi? I will take down my workstation and put it back in the closet for now. Some may shoot for the Moon, when others just want your project not to blow up on the launchpad. (Or when the camera falls over not to knock everything on her desk onto the floor.)
I wonder if Robert Goddard’s started this way?