Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Present Your Tech Talk on a $9 CHIP Computer

19 Nov 2016 3:26am, by

I like to speak at conferences. Crazy, right? Sharing a piece of bleeding-edge hardware and interacting with an enthusiastic audience is a lot of fun for me. With any luck, attendees are moved enough by my ramblings to challenge themselves to new projects and build awesome stuff.

While playing around with the $9 CHIP computer, it dawned on me that a presentation machine, built on that platform might be interesting. I wrote a TNS story about the CHIP, using the CHIP as a desktop machine (and LibreOffice Write), in a previous article.

Why would I ever use a $9 CHIP computer for tech talks, in front of hundreds of conference attendees?

  • I’m a hacker who likes to share my projects, sometimes in dramatic fashion.
  • Everybody likes to see one-off ideas, in-person.
  • To provoke thought and motivate attendees to explore the very latest technology.
  • Because I can.

Get the CHIP Ready for the Show

The Next Thing has made updating the CHIP a no-brainer with an easy-to-use Web-based, online firmware flasher that you use with your laptop. Simply go to the CHIP Flasher page and follow the directions.

Current CHIP Firmware Selection

Current CHIP Firmware Selection

It’s important to use a high-quality USB cable to connect the CHIP to your notebook. If firmware flashing doesn’t work with one USB cable, try a different one. If that doesn’t work, plug the cable from the CHIP into a powered USB hub and then plug the hub into your Linux notebook running the Chrome browser. Don’t forget the jumper wire from the FEL pin to ground.

CHIP Flasher Screen

CHIP Flasher Screen

I downloaded the latest CHIP GUI 4.4 3D+MLC version for this project.

After the firmware flashing completes, disconnect the CHIP from the notebook. Use the audio/video cable to connect the CHIP to the composite input on a TV. I used a wireless Logitech keyboard/mousepad for input and powered the CHIP with a 5-volt (2 Amp) wall wart.

After a couple of minutes, the desktop appeared, and I connected the CHIP to my home network using the “Network Connection” icon at the top of the screen. With the wireless working, I then used the Synaptic Application Manager (main menu → System drop down menus) to update all the software to the latest versions and install LibreOffice Impress.

Follow this process. First, hit the ‘Reload’ button to update all the repositories. Then, ‘Mark All Upgrades’, to queue up all the files to update. Next, input ‘LibreOffice Impress’ into the Search window and mark its checkbox for installation. Lastly, hit ‘Apply’ to execute the updates. It will take about 5 minutes for the process to complete.

Once Synaptic does it’s installation thing, you can exit the application and again travel to the main CHIP drop-down menu on the desktop. LibreOffice should now show up under the Office menu.

At this point, you can shut down the CHIP and connect it to your projector. Start the projector and then power up the CHIP. In short order, you should see the familiar CHIP logo and desktop appear on the projector screen.

Using the CHIP Presentation Machine

I’ve edited a couple of slide stacks on the Raspberry Pi desktop (aka my “Steampunk Conference Presentation Manipulation Apparatus”), and it was a bit tedious. It’s much easier to design presentations on the old ASUS Xubuntu notebook and then just transfer the file over to the CHIP. Just use the CHIP for the show.

Make sure the CHIP computer and your notebook are on the same network, then use rcp to move the file between machines.

Fill in the password and hit return to send the file to the CHIP.

Next, start LibreOffice Impress and open your tech talk slide file. Click ‘Slide Show’ and then ‘Start From First Slide’ to put the first slide on the screen. Move back and forth through the slides with the up and down arrow keys.

Projection Of A Slide On My Dining Room Wall From The CHIP.

Projection Of A Slide On My Dining Room Wall From The CHIP.

Tips and Tricks

Using the 640 x 480 composite video resolution for slides is completely adequate, both on a 37-inch big screen or a standalone projector. The colors, text and spacing seemed fine, right out of the box. Of course, your mileage may vary, depending on the versions of LibreOffice, your projector and other factors. My setup had LibreOffice version on the CHIP and on the Xubuntu notebook.

As with the Raspberry Pi, be sure to size your graphics to no larger than 1024 x 800. And, crunch the file down as much as you can before inserting it into the slide. I’ve successfully used PNG and JPG files in my slides. If the graphics are huge (like the 3.7 MB, 5312 x 2988 pixel JPGs that come off from my Samsung Galaxy 5s Active super-phone), changing slides could take up to a minute or more. Crunch the graphics down for reasonable performance.

Another idea is that you could easily substitute a compact keyboard/mousepad for the full-sized Logitech device, that I use.

While the Raspberry Pi supports composite video, the CHIP does it by default. And, the CHIP is $9 compared to $30 for a model 2 B+ or $40 for a model 3.

When I speak at a conference, I always have ‘projector connection anxiety’ until I’m able to verify that my equipment works properly with the projector, in my assigned presentation room.

I showed up to one, fairly well-known conference and found that they didn’t have any HDMI-capable projectors. And, that was the keynote venue! I had to scrounge around and borrow an HDMI-to-VGA adapter so that I could plug in the Raspberry Pi presentation machine. Those projectors had composite video, and admittedly, I should have brought a composite video cable with me. Since I’ll be using a CHIP for my next talk, that won’t be a concern in the future.

Pushing Further

The CHIP computer is a very capable nano-Linux machine. You can certainly run LibreOffice Writer and Impress, without issue. I like the idea of using a very small device for my presentation slides. I should wake up a few imaginations.

There are a few new features I’m thinking about for version 2.0 and beyond.

  • I need to put the CHIP in an interesting case. Might we’ll stay with the Steampunk theme.
  • I’ve successfully used the LibreOffice Remote app on my Galaxy phone with the CHIP. Maybe this can be a topic for a future article.
  • Does it make sense to try using a Li-Po battery for an hour long tech talk? We’ll have to see.
  • Maybe I should add some UP/DOWN buttons to the device (using the GPIO pins and a Python script), attach a long composite video cable to the CHIP, plug in the battery and use the device as a clicker. Won’t the audience be surprised when I reveal that I’d been holding the presentation machine in my hand…the whole time.


What will you do with a CHIP computer?

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