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Digital Picture Frame with Animated Gifs

The problem with old computers is trying to find a use for them after you have upgraded. I found myself owning four different laptops. Along with my tablet, phone, and desktop, I didn’t have use for so many laptops.

Initial Hardware  #

One of these was given to me for free by Google in 2010. A CR-48 chromebook. It served me well in high school and the first year of college. However, they have a hinge problem. Mine was being held together by three machine screws through a hinge.

CR48 with hinge repair in upper right

Although I had Ubuntu 13.10 installed and working, I still almost never used this laptop. When I got a newer chromebook, I decided I had to do something with the old one, so I did. 

My plan was simple: remove the hinges completely and turn the screen around, then hang it on the wall to use as a digital picture frame. Even though digital picture frames seem very 2005, my roommates liked the idea enough that I decided to go through with it.

Hinge screws removed

The CR48 is actually fairly easy to disassemble. There is a great guide on the CR48 wiki. Once I had it open I removed the hinges and unplugged the fan.  

Fan disconnected

Hinge removal

Then it was a simple matter of turning the screen the other way.

Screen turned around

 I needed some way to tape the screen to the back of the laptop, so I gathered up my adhesive supplies.

Different types of tape

Luckily I discovered some velcro strips! These were exactly what I was looking for.

Velcro applied to one side

Velcro on both sides

Now I had to figure out a way to hang this whole assembly on the wall. I looked through my dollar store picture hanging kit and pulled out some picture hanging wire. Then I tied it through the speaker holes on either side of the CR48.

Sorry Google hardware designers

It hangs!

When I tried to turn it on I discovered a problem. The computer goes to sleep when the lid is in hanging configuration because of a magnet in the lid. So I pulled the magnet out.

Lid magnet

No more lid magnet

Now it works! 

Software #

I knew the whole time that I wanted anyone to be able to add pictures. The easiest way to do this was by email. For awhile I figured I would set up some sort of POP3 email server with a script to put them on the laptop, but it’s even easier than that. 

I used Dropbox and Send to Dropbox to give my Dropbox account a special folder with its own email. Then I installed Dropbox on the picture frame and used selective sync to only sync the special folder.

Dropbox selective sync

Send to Dropbox is a nice free service, but it gives an ugly email. Instead of using that, I set up another gmail account for my domain and forwarded all the email to Send to Dropbox. Then I tested this out with a few pictures.

Email sending works!

Next, I had to pick out a slideshow program. I had several requirements for it:

  • Fullscreen all pictures
  • Animated gif support
  • Random slideshow order

After looking through the Ubuntu software center and trying about 10 programs, I was ready to give up. However, I discovered a plugin package for the default image viewer, Eye of Gnome (eog). Eog can already fullscreen all pictures and play animated gifs, but it lacks random slideshow order. The package eog-plugins gives it random slideshow order. 

Setting the slideshow duration to 100 seconds

Now pictures are sent to the email, added to Dropbox, and put in the random slideshow to be shown eventually. 

Final Hardware #

In this state, I hung the picture frame up on a wall in my living room for about three weeks. 

On the wall (ignore the ethernet cables)

I put the email address up on Facebook and on a note next to the frame. It worked and I quickly reached over 200 pictures in the slideshow! 

I was not done yet. Now I went back to the dollar store and picked up a picture frame and some black construction paper to make it look a little better. 

Fancied up

Another angle

One of the best features is animated gif support. I created a gif of a gif on the picture frame to show this.


Here’s a youtube video of the same thing

To put the frame to sleep, I simply put a large hard drive magnet next to the right side of the frame and leave it there. To shut it down, I ssh in and turn it off.