Friday, August 20, 2010

Conversion Details and Final Specs

The base unit is an Acer one AO531h netbook with WWAN modem and the 6 cell extended battery. This is the same unit sold with a data contract at AT&T although this particular unit was a refurb that most likely only had a bad webcam which is why they were returned to AT&T and Acer. So the basic specs are the same except for a few subtractions and additions.

Items Removed:

1. Webcam assembly
2. Keyboard (Which can be replaced if needed)
3.  Touchpad and controller (Like the keyboard it's not accessible in normal use)
4. VGA connector (Replaced with an SMA jack)
5. Ethernet connector  (Replaced with SMA jack

Items added:

1. Touchscreen Kit
2. Bluetooth transceiver (USB Bluetooth dongle stripped and mounted in the provided mount and hardwired to the Bluetooth Port on the motherboard)
3. Wireless Mouse receiver (Another stripped out USB dongle mounted where the touchpad controller used to be)
4. Antenna Jack (SMA) for GPS antennas
5. Antenna Jack (SMA) for Cellular WWAN modem
6. Memory upgraded to 2 GB
7. Windows 7 OS (Without a keyboard with the hardwired Fn key there was no way to control the backlight in XP even with the Tablet PC extensions so Win7 was my best option and properly set up seems just as fast as XP )
8. Power supply circuit modified to run off 12-13.8 VDC **without** battery installed, no noisy auto adapter needed lowering average power consumption to 10 watts or less
9. Four switches added to the front bezel, Power, Bluetooth, WWAN, WLAN wired in parallel with the existing switches which are all still functional

Outboard items mainly wired into my boat:

1. USB Hub in console
2. Rubber industrial grade USB keyboard in console
3. Serial to USB converter in console for serial NMEA depth output of the Garmin 300C fishfinder
4. GPS antenna(s)
5. Cellular 1900MHz Edge band antenna(s)
6 USB port mount in front of console
7. Tough Tray II and Ram Mount mounting hardware
8. PC Shade hood for better daylight visability of the LCD screen
9. Bluetooth headset for Voice Control

GPS related software:

1. Ozi Explorer v 3.95.5k
2. Map Merge for OziExplorer
3. Depths2Ozi
4. Fugawi Marine ENC v 4.5
5. Dr Depth v4.5

Next up some pictures of the unit in the boat and the boat electrical setup

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Netbook To Chartplotter V 1.0

First a few pictures then I'll go into the final details

They don't make a touchscreen kit for this particular Acer One model (AO531h) and it is so slim there was really no place to put the touchscreen controller. Since the keyboard was essentially worthless now with the screen flipped like a Tablet PC I removed it and put the touchscreen controller in there. I got a 3-in-1 screen protector, microfiber cloth and mousepad to cushion the LCD screen and chassis when it's in the boat Ram Mount.

The Tough Tray II Ram Mount, wireless mouse and Bluetooth headset for voice control

I was able to just flip the screen and wiring to get it to convert to a Tablet PC for use in my boat without the battery but the battery would bind a bit on the LCD screen when fully closed stressing it so I had to remove a little unnecessary plastic and then covered with quality electrical tape (3M Temflex 1700)

For field GIS type of work like mapping a yet to be flooded lake they are building north of Davenport I can pop in the battery pack, flip the screen 180 degrees and add my custom Cellular data modem and GPS antennas (which I'll detail in a later post along with the antennas I've made for my boat) and I can walk the area and map out all the manmade and natural structure that will eventually be underwater. If I need to I can access Google Earth, Bing and other online map services or any other information I might need after I get into the field

Here's a couple of pics with the unit in the Ram Mount like how I use it in my boat. It's running OziExplorer and Depths2Ozi showing some depth readings I took on a photomap I made at the outlet end of the Lake Odessa wildlife preserve in late July when I couldn't get on the river due to a late season flood

That should be enough to chew on for one post, I'll detail the system in my next post and then have some pictures of the setup in the boat along with the boat's electrical/electronics package

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Both projects have been completed since late June, I've just been too busy with other projects and trying to enjoy the summer (despite the record levels of rainfall and heat) to gather everything together and do an update. But since all this rain has kept me off the river lately I've had a chance to catch up and get my home improvement projects done.

Here's a couple of quick pictures of the netbook to chartplotter project,  the first is when I was roughing in the electrical system in my boat, the second picture is from late June on one of it's first trips out

I should have a bunch of pictures and details by the end of the weekend.  I'll stick mainly to the Netbook to Chartplotter but will throw in a few pics of the boat project since the two actually are part of one big project

Monday, April 26, 2010

Update To Livewell Timer Circuit

A slight update to the livewell timer circuit. I changed the value and way I switched the On Time resistors. The other way it was 32 and 64 seconds, this way it will be 30 and 60 seconds. I couldn't split 150K because they don't make a 75K resistor and it didn't dawn on me until this morning to just put another 150K in parallel to get my 75K ohms. I also moved the motor on indicator LED so it lights when on Manual Fill as well as when the timer turns on. It's nice to have so you don't accidently leave it running when it's too noisy to hear it running. I add the same 680 ohm resistor and red LED to every switch on the panel as an indicator. I get both in bulk and from grab bags and it costs me about a nickel per switch to add them.

Livewell Timer Circuit - Simple Recycle Timer

I updated my livewell timer design originally made in 2004 for my previous boat. I have yet to find another livewell timer circuit on the internet so I figured I'd put mine up on the blog. All the parts should be available at any Radio Shack. The circuit features a manual fill override, 30 or 60 second switched On Time and 1-8 Minutes infinitely variable Off Time. The 555 timer must be a CMOS low power version to get these long of delays and the relay should be rated at 5 amp or better. The motor is only rated ar 2 amp but it's an *inductive load* while relays are rated for a resistive load necessitating a higher amperage relay to keep from burning the contacts from inductive kickback. The main difference between the new circuit and the old one is the addition of a selectable on time so this circuit has been field tested and proved 100% reliable over the last 6 years.

On my last boat I also added a Pulse Width Modulator motor speed control to control the water flow/pressure. The smallest livewell pump available is 500 gallons per minute which is way overkill for smaller livewells. The spray head restricts it somewhat and the common solution is to insert a valve in the line and choke it down which wastes a lot of electricity. So a 50% duty cycle from the PWM will cut your amp hour usage nearly in half ( There are circuit loses keeping us from a full 50% savings) Again the circuit is simple and the parts available at any Radio Shack. (I don't get my parts there all that often but I like to design with Radio Shack available parts so I can repair a circuit ASAP, there is always a Radio Shack fairly close by) If I do decide I need it I'll go dig out the schematic and post it on the blog.

It'll probably be a week yet before I get back to the Netbook to Chartplotter, getting my new boat on the water is a priority (This project isn't much good without a boat to test it in). I did get a Ram Mount and their Tough Tray II universal netbook/tablet PC mount which will give me the ability to rotate the computer to the front where I can see it while operating the trolling motor. Right now I'm putting the finishing touches on the design of the electronics package and I'll start pulling the wires and doing the 'rough in' so I can get the floors in and start the painting process.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Touchscreen Controller Problems But Back In Business Now

Sorry about no posts lately. The controller board for my touchscreen kit was bad and I had to spend several days trying to get a warranty replacement. Actually I damaged the controller board by hooking it up to 5V instead of the 3.3V that's at the camera port. For most of the kits for computers other than Acer Ones they grab 5V from a USB port but the internal ports (Camera, Bluetooth) on the Acers only supply 3.3V. So in order to save a few pennies on the controller they left out a 5V to 3.3V regulator for the USB hub chip. Problem is they didn't document this and one piece of documentation listed only 5V controllers. You can see on the controller PCB where the regulator and outboard components are supposed to be and also you will find a jumper across the input and output pads of the regulator.

Even the techs at Hoda Technology are unaware of this and I wasn't going to mention it to them in fear they'd deny me a warranty replacement. It's their fault not mine that their documentation is extremely weak and 'dumbed down' and their technicians aren't properly trained/supplemented with basic details (Like supply voltages). Unfortunately this is the Status Quo throughout the computer industry with most of the so-called Technical Support being $8/hr non skilled labor reading from a troubleshooting check list. The thing is a seasoned troubleshooter like myself knows the basic steps of troubleshooting by heart and have already performed these simple tests. If I'm calling for technical assistance you can be damn sure it's a problem not listed in their cheat sheets.

But I did finally get a replacement controller board in the mail Friday and tonight I got the touchscreen working, it needs some tweaking for edge compensation and my Cubed Desktop program didn't want to play nice with it (A problem with the buggy program and not the touchscreen) but given the quick calibration it worked pretty good. Now all I have to do is wire the switch array and power LED I added to the bezel and test them, then I can button up that part of the project. Then I can move on to removing the connectors for VGA output and wired network, a few of the surrounding components, and trimming the PCB to make room for the SMA jacks for the WWAN and GPS antenna inputs. Then I can add my other options, PCB from a Bluetooth USB dongle, PCB from a wireless mouse USB dongle, and my latest feature addition an FM transmitter since the boat I just got has an AM/FM CD system already (I was using a modified for line level input  car 'power booster' amp) That eliminates another wire to plug into the Netbook2Chartplotter leaving only Power and the two antenna inputs and all at the bottom.

On the bright side the delay allowed me to get started on my other project and I've completely stripped the boat down, finished the front decks, hatches and trolling motor mount (Built from a huge 1/4" thick 'L' shaped piece of aluminum that once doubled as the heatsink and sides to a old mainframe computer power supply I stripped years ago.) Rebuilt/beefed up the transom and am about half way through redoing the trailer bunks, loading guides and wiring/lights. Still a lot to do before I'm even ready for paint, much less flooring, carpeting and the final touches. I'm doing it right so I only have to do it once and it will be a fitting home for the Netbook2Chartplotter. I'm shooting for a 'launch date' for both projects of May 1. So although it may seem like nothing is going on, behind the scenes I'm working on these projects every free minute I have. I was hoping to have the hardware part of this project done by now (And would have easily) but the 2+ week delay caused by the controller board threw the schedule all out of whack. Although I don't foresee any other delays like this, now I'll have to juggle time between the boat project and this one so I don't expect to get anything more than the button array wired and bezel closed up until I get ready to paint the boat (7-10 days). I'll have plenty of time to work on it between coats of primer and paint

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Teaser Shot ... And My Next Project

I haven't done much on the project in the last week, I bought a used boat and motor on the 5th and brought it home Monday. But here is a shot of the LCD screen assembly with all the wiring run and ready to install and test. I just need to hardwire the touchscreen controller as soon as I finish this post.

And now my next project, gotta have something new to put this Netbook to Chartplotter project in. It's a 1974 MonArk (Now SeaArk) 1644 flatbottom with a 1998 Evinrude motor and control console with very little use as the owner had a cabin cruiser and only used this boat a couple of time a year for fishing. Other nice features are a custom fit cover, a fairly new bimini top, AM/FM CD player and a Marine Band radio. Going to be a lot of work done (I already have it completely stripped down) and my main goal is decks and floors but the only wood in the boat being a new transom. Anyway here are the 'before' pictures

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teaser Shot Of Bezel Mod

Just about finished, I had to make some minor adjustments on the plunger height of the switches with a file but all I have left is the wiring to the switches and LED.

Just a quickie

Monday, March 1, 2010

More Progress On the Bezel Mods

Things are really starting to come together now. I'll start out with a shot of the switch array ready for wiring. The way the LED is mounted may seem strange but the last thing I want when I'm out navigating the Mississippi River at night is an LED shining directly in my face. So it's mounted sideways which will give it a nice glow without being in your face. I just want something to indicate when it's powered up.


Here's a shot of the drilled bezel, followed by a picture of it in place over the switches


Now we get to the fun part, my technique for making professional looking labels for projects, making hamemade microwave touchpad style switch arrays or in this case individual switches. First I use a product for making your own indoor sign labels, it's basically photographic printer paper with a peel off back like an 8.5"x11" sticker. In this case it was just four labels printed on a laser printer using the white paper as the lettering and everything else solid black. The other product I'll use is self laminating pouches


I separate the two pieces and mainly use the sticky half but don't throw the other piece away, it makes a handy insulating material or for use in my switch array by punching out a circle with a hole punch

Which I then place on the back of my label just before I apply it to the panel which not only makes it wear better, it provides a little relief so you get a little bubble from the switch plunger without too much pressure  self activating the switch

Here is a picture of the bezel with the labels in place followed by a shot of the bezel with the laminating material applied


Normally I'd leave it as is although I would have made the lamanting one piece, but I need to deglare the bezel so I'll be painting it flat black. Flat black paint is the prototyper's/modifier's best friend. It's essentially a primer so it sticks well and because it doesn't contain so much plastisizer it doesn't react to surfaces or orange peel like regular gloss spray paint. It will build up layers real nice and is easy to touch up or repaint. It also hides small scratches and imperfections ... plus it looks industrial, rugged and IMO cool. So all I have left to do now is scuff up the gloss on the bezel with some fine wet/dry sandpaper so the paint adheres better and mask off the labels (I'll keep the 'Acer' at the bottom by the 'Aspire One' is getting painted over.)

Tomorrow I'll paint the bezel and wire the switch array and will have some more progress pictures in a couple of days ...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More Pics Of Bezel Mod

As I mentioned earlier I am adding 4 switches to the bezel, Power, WWAN, WLAN, and Bluetooth. The first picture is the two outside switches, as you can see I had to glue on some shims to level the board. The middle 2 switches go where the camera used to be and already have a little platform molded in.

Nothing fancy here, just thin PCB material with pads cut with a dremel

Here they are in place, I haven't soldered the middle 2 switches, I'll do that after I drill the holes in the bezel. The outside switches can be slide independently for final alignment. The extra pads I cut are in case I want to mount a power LED


Finally the bezel, I have the opening filed to just about the right size, I just need to knock down some slight high spots and make a groove for the flatcable so it doesn't get pinched. You can see I'm about ready to drill my holes
In a couple of more days I should have the bezel ready for preliminary testing of the touchscreen, then labeling and painting. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Modifying The Screen and Bezel

Here are a few progress pictures. The first shows the before and after views of the back of the LCD and the wiring harness

The original

Here is the modified LCD and wiring

I undid the shielding around the LCD wiring and pulled back the wiring for the digital mic and the webcam. The webcam wiring will eventually go to a stripped down wireless mouse USB dongle so I can use A1ctl to turn it off and on.Then I just folded the flat part of the harness back on itself and secured with some foil tape.

Next up is the back half of the screen casing, first the original


Here is the partially modified case

 As you can see I've removed both the WWAN antennas  since I'll be running the inputs to the modem and GPS to separate jacks for my external antennas and I need the space to add some switches. Also removed is the webcam which is space I'd like to use for switches also. The WLAN antennas were swapped side for side and the wiriing rerouted down the opposite side. Next comes the fun part, finding tactile switches with the right heights so plunger/button top sits even with the top of the bezel.

Here is the bezel, I've taped it off so I have an idea of how much I need to file off and something to go by to keep it all neat, straight, and square. I haven't got too much left to take off

Hopefully in a couple of days I'll have some more photos documenting the addition of the 4 switches and my way of making them look professionally done.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Preliminary Teardown And Planning

Well after week and a half fighting software trying to get my new motherboard, processor and video working with Windows and even worse getting a 64 bit Linux Studio back up and running I've finally gotten into the hardware part of this project. The good news is the hinges and screen case are symmetrical and all you have to do is unbolt them at the hinge and swap them and it folds down perfectly into a tablet. Swapping sides for the wiring harness wasn't a problem either since I was removing the webcam and the microphone both of which I'll use in other projects. BTW the microphone is truly a digital unit (It has a nano technology 1-bit A/D converter built into the electret element, very cool) and I was surprised to see this relatively new technology filter down into the low end market so quickly. The bad news is since there is no touchscreen kit made for my model (AO531h) the closest was one was for a D150 so as I suspected a little soldering would be necessary, no big deal. The problem is the 531's are a slimline model and everything is packed in pretty tight including the LCD screen. The touchscreen I'm using is simply too thick and you can't get the bezel to snap down over it like on other models. I used a rigid one made by Hoda but the flexible models may be thinner and fit (If anyone knows chime in please). So i have to file the bezel opening down about a 1/16" on all sides. I have other work I need to do to the bezel too like add 4 switches for Power, WLAN, WWAN/GPS and Bluetooth. so I can power down unneeded devices to conserve power and I also want to paint the bezel flat black so it doesn't reflect when I'm navigating the river at night.

Anyways here are a few photos that show the insides and also how the hinges make it the perfect candidate for making into a tablet. Having to take a little off around the bezel is a piece of cake compared to having to cut a new hole in the back of the case like I've seen some guys do to make a tablet PC from a netbook.



I'll post some photos of the mods I'm doing to the bezel and display wiring in the next day or two and explain some of the mods I'll be doing like moving several switches to the front panel, adding Bluetooth, adding SMA jacks for the WWAN and GPS external antennas.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Catastrophe Strikes .... and a Fishing Database

Catastrophe strikes, my main computer's motherboard gave up the ghost and died. Well actually not the entire motherboard but the CPU socket is toast. The top (plastic of course) stud where you clip the heatsink two broke loose and when the fan and heatsink fell the suction created by the thermal paste pulled the CPU out bending some pins and apparently damaged the AM2 socket as a new CPU I had but hadn't put in yet wouldn't work either. So I got an upgrade motherboard that can handle AM2, AM2+ and AM3 CPUs so I can use my new Athlon X2 6400+ and 800Mhz DDR2 RAM now and upgrade to a quad core and 1066Mhz DDR2 RAM in a year or so when I feel the need to pep the system up again. I also upgraded my video card so it has more game performance as well as the HDTV/Blue Ray performance I already had.

So although I haven't gotten the 3D and depth maps together yet I did get my fishing database ready for others to download and use or modify or whatever. You need to have Open Office with Base and Writer installed (Everything else is optional for this case) You can download the Fishing Database here. Place it where you like, probably your My Documents folder. I also made a shortcut to it and placed it on my desktop so I can just click it and Open Office Base opens with it loaded. It should look something like this


 Make sure Forms is highlighted on the left and double click Fish Log to open the database. It should look something like this

Many of the entry boxes have drop down lists you can choose data or numbers from, making entry a lot easier. The form is set up in such a way that if something isn't on the list you can add it by manually typing it in and the new word (or number) will automatically be added to the list. Be aware that removing an entry from the list is a little harder as you have to do it in the Form Editor. Those who have some experience in Open Office or Microsoft Office probably won't have much problem modifying the lists or the basic database form.

Once you get some data into the database you can start doing Queries to look for patterns. You do this from the opening window and I added a few simple queries to get you started. To make you own queries you can just use the 'Wizard' to make your own queries, it's fairly self explanatory. 

 There are a couple of more things I would like to do to improve it. First (and undoubtedly the toughest) is make the GPS coordinate entry automatic or at least a lot easier. I'd also like to be able to link a database record to a waypoint on a GPS map. An easier addition would be adding an entry for Water Level Trend so I could note if the river/lake/reservoir is rising, falling or steady. Here's a couple of more screen shots of some entries in my personal database



Actually I had planned on having the netbook apart by now and having started on the hardware mods like touchscreen, adding wireless mouse and Bluetooth, and jacks for 3G and GPS antennas, etc. That still looks to be a week away as I'm doing a major cleaning and rerouting of cables and power lines for the rest of my stuff (I have 4 radios that are all controlled from this computer as well as recording gear). In the next couple of days I'll finally finish the 3D and depth maps and get them posted and hopefully late next week have some photos (and tales) of a dissected Acer 531h netbook.