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Travels with a Pi (2018) (petergarner.net)
168 points by FerretFred 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

Thanks for sharing this.

So you don't run Xorg at all, right? And you don't carry around any persistent video output?

I am running Raspbian Desktop on RPi0w, using Vufine+ head-mounted display and Twiddler 3 as a keyboard.

It is cool, it can even run heavyweight web stuff like Slack in Chromium, and VLC with 720p video. Has some reliability issues with graphical stuff - have to restart lightdm sometimes after such heavy exercises. I wouldn't imagine RPi Zero could do that much with so little, but the man always want more, so I am considering more powerful computing core for my wearable computer. Trimming down use of GUI apps is another venue for progress, of course.

> I am running Raspbian Desktop on RPi0w, using Vufine+ head-mounted display and Twiddler 3 as a keyboard.

Wow! I had no idea you could get something like that. Can I ask what's your use-case? Do you us it when on the move, commuting maybe? Do you get a lot of stares? Can you realistically type on the Twiddler or is it more of a remote control for accessing some predefined shortcuts?

Thanks for your interest.

Yes, this is mind-blowing that you can do this today with affordable off-the-shelf devices. I did this after reading https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/circuitbreaker/2017/7/...

Use-case... Original idea was to do whatever I like to do on my Linux laptops, carrying less weight on the go.

I try it out on different things, like working on my calendar in web UI, writing a diary, being on Slack and Jabber, navigating with maps app (Marble), watching conference talks... I expect it will be pretty good for terminal apps like vim and mutt, but unfortunately I haven't found time to try out working with mail this way yet, and I am still slowly getting better at speed typing on the Twiddler, so I haven't wrote much text. By the way, there are great opportunities for text to speech and speech to text applications, just use a bluetooth earpiece.

It is a nice ultra-portable general purpose computer, but I haven't found a strong "killer app" where such configuration beats both laptop and a smartphone. But I'm still exploring what I can do with it.

One solid usecase for carrying RPi0W on me or in my backpack is getting calendar events notifications to my MiBand3. But this doesn't involve keyboard and HMD.

There are constraints of all sorts - RPi performance, limited clearly visible area, level of brightness is not adaptable (unusable in darkness and in bright sunlight). It's hard to use this stuff, but it's fun to learn and master it. I hope this kind of computing grows its niche and we see new generations of hardware and software with this usecase in mind.

A correction to those The Verge articles: the Remembrance Agent was actually by Bradley Rhodes, not Thad Starner.

It's interesting that people are still using Twiddlers. At the time that Starner, Rhodes, and others at MIT were first experimenting with what happens when computer technology is always head-up, a typical kit was a Twiddler, Private Eye (mounted on eyeglasses/goggles or hat), and a computer that was hefty by today's standards. Steve Mann had some earlier, unique gear.

Rhodes had the hefty computer in a soft cube-shaped shoulder bag that looked like maybe it was a insulated lunchbox, with cables/tubes coming out of it, and going into clothing. He said it took a while to learn that some people were afraid to ask about it or say anything, because they thought it was a medical device.

It's great that the computer part can now be done with a tiny $5 Raspi0w. Or with smartphone hardware. (For the smartphone, preferably reflashed with PostmarketOS GNU/Linux, and adding HUD and some kind of discreet command input. Maybe you could do the input with finger on smartphone touchscreen in your pocket, and then you only need to add a HUD on BT/USB. Maybe more battery.)

It's pretty neat what you can do these days off-the-shelf. I've got a Twiddler 3 although I haven't used it much. The Vufine looks like quite a display for $200 compared to what you could get 10 years ago (when I last played with wearable computing).

I vacillate between wanting a wearable computer and wanting absolutely nothing to do with a wearable computer. In my most optimistic moments, I envision a useful note-taking device and (given a camera) a way to document interesting things. In my less optimistic moods, I consider how I already waste so much time reading bullshit on my phone! I think the best way to do it would be to script up particular activities (take a picture and tag it, make a text / dictated note, refer to a wikipedia article) and make those easy, while making it as hard as possible to bring up Firefox :)

How often do you wear it?

It's pretty much impossible to waste time reading bullshit on Vufine. Focusing on the display and moving the eyeball takes some effort. So it's tiresome to read on it for long time uninterrupted. But it is good for occasional glancing. Basically, it is a bad fit for content consumption (watching optimised videos from local disk is ok experience, tho), but is promising for other uses including writing text. Which is compelling to many HN people!

I use it as rarely as 1-2 times a week, just so I explore the possibilities and practice a bit. Not much time to work on perfecting wearable workflows, but I have some plans.

Interesting, I'm rather glad to hear the Vufine isn't suitable for reddit/youtube/other bullshit! Makes me more likely to buy one :)

One more quick question, what do you use to power the RPi and the display? USB power bank?

Yes. Look for one which sustains stable uninterrupted power output during charging and charger plugging and unplugging.

Can the Vufine be used for left eye rather than right? Not seen anything that clearly states so. I’m extremely left eye dominant and almost all the wearable displays I’ve owned or tried are right eye only and I really struggle to focus on them.

Yes, you just need to set rotation in your software. For RPi it is trivial to do so.

I have done this in practice, wires go up rather than down, which could be argued to be even better as it can't rub against your cheek. I use Vufine's Pro mount, which has clips/ties for wires holding, so it doesn't matter which way wires go out of the device, forces balance doesn't change as you turn your head.

No, I tried Xorg but on the Zero is was a no-hoper, and I must say that the lack of persistent display was a major bugbear to me. However, I kept reminding myself that this was a bare-bones machine that I could take anywhere, so as long as there's a display I can plug into, it works for me. So now I run everything text/character. I did a follow-up at https://petergarner.net/notes/index.php?thisnote=20190205-Tr... in which I added an e-Ink display, for status rather than a terminal. All good fun, and still under 2Gb...

My corporate firewall blocked the OP's link. Tried looking up this gear combo online and found this: https://twitter.com/taisuke_fukuno/status/856009704350203904

Seems like this is setup has a small measure of popularity.

I like this idea, but not the idea of having to find a TV with HDMI to use it.

What’s a good small netbook with HDMI out, for when you do you have a TV/monitor available?

The Pinebook is $100 https://www.pine64.org/pinebook/

On the higher end there’s GPD mini laptops https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MMSQ9ZM/

I wonder if a tablet with attachable keyboard could get around the laptop in carry-on bans.

There’s also the Cosmo https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cosmo-communicator

It’s expensive and in prototype stage, but looks like a promising project.

If we're allowed to list products in the prototype stage, the Pyra Handheld deserves a mention. Of course it's been in prototype stage for a lot longer than Cosmo, and its raw specs look a wee bit dated for a premium device (although still quite generous for a mobile device), but at the current point in time it's the closest mainline-Linux mobile device to production, in a race with PinePhone and Librem 5 (both of which are very exciting, but compared to Pyra have inferior specs and no keyboard).


For those who didn't notice, there are two follow-on posts that I also found interesting:



Please excuse the slowness of my site - it's running on a Raspberry Pi... ;-)

Really? Do you have static IP?

I do indeed - I'm guarding that IP address carefully :)

If you haven't, there are colocation services :-)

It's fast for being on a Pi. Any trick that's worth to share?

It's a static site served by NGINX. I don't think there are any tricks.

I love this kind of stuff! I don't travel for work, so I never had a good excuse to set something like this up.

Not having a screen is a bit of a downside, you could use your phone as a screen but that would defeat the purpose as you can SSH into a box at home/work from your phone.

I personally have a cheap (200 euro) 11" Acer ES1 laptop with Linux installed that I leave in my car or suitcase for those moments that I am not willing/able to take my work laptop. It runs for about 14 hours on a charge and can be charged directly from my car's 12V outlet. It can boot from a SD-card or even boot straight from the internet. The keyboard is actually really nice.

If I left a laptop in my vehicle it'd turn into a taco in the Phoenix summertime...lol! Where do you live that you're able to do this?

Europe (Netherlands). The climate here is quite mild.

I drive a saloon car, so I can keep the laptop in the trunk, which is quite well insulated. I won't recommend keeping a laptop (or anything for that matter) in the cabin.

Very cool. I use RPis when I travel as gateways, device interfaces, and sometimes just for a remote shell. You've given me some good information and ideas to make my experience better.

One request, though, from your snippet of Python: print GetCPUserial()

C'mon, man... we've got to kill Python 2. Everywhere.

Yup! I'm using Python3 on all my systems now - except the Travelpi - I'll update it soon.

Get a gl router and put openwrt on it. Much better as a travel device. Add an RPi for pihole. Cracking little kit.

Why much better? More performance? Is OpenWRT on it a stable Linux with as good package support as I get with Raspbian?

A router probably isn't going to have HDMI on it, which is nice to have in a pinch.

I also use RPis for various GPIO needs.

There's something to be said for having one device that fills a bunch of needs. You get really familiar with that device (and its quirks) and then you can use it in many different contexts.

Because, iirc, USB and networking share the bus - it was impossible for me to create a private WiFi network with an RPi alone. Performance was horrendous.

Oh, okay, so you're talking about being able to use it as a "travel router". I normally don't need that, although I have a usb wifi stick on order just in case.

True, performance could be better. I wish it were more in line with the odroid family.

Yep, it's awful - they really do need to fix that issue on them. I've happily bought every revision of the RPi and use them in a multiple places for different tasks, so it's not like I'm too critical of them. I've had them monitoring my UPS, time servers, pi-hole, amateur radio, retro-gaming, etc. The GL AR150 is a smaller form factor than a standard RPi and compliments it brilliantly when travelling.

You don't need to add pihole - just use the adblock package on openwrt itself.

I know, but I also like pihole and what it offers, plus I can do other things on the RPi.

Is there a "laptop shell" type of product that one could put in a pi and be done with it?

Something like,

1. Buy laptop shell, pi, portable battery

2. Open the shell, put pi in, connect it to the laptop shell's keyboard, trackpad, display

3. Put in the battery, connect to battery

4. Close the shell

5. It's a laptop.

Pi-top (but has built-in battery).

A Pinebook is basically a dev board close in size to a RPi in a laptop style case.

It sure is. I love mine.

Get a Banana Pi M2 Zero for the same price and much faster. Yeah not as much support, but will still run a desktop.

SBC's are getting better and better. I am just waiting for better storage and usb3 on the tiny ones (some have it)

Agreed it's faster but it's not the same price in the UK. The Banana Pi M2 Zero costs ~£20 compared to ~£12.50 (delivered) for a Raspberry Pi Zero W.

My laptop (from 2012) might die soon and I'm thinking to replace it with Raspberry Pi 3B+. These kind of computers can be an option for light computing while traveling. I just wonder if it can run Sublime.

Probably not - I don't believe ARM is supported. See https://www.reddit.com/r/SublimeText/comments/9p7xxd/can_sub...

Those Intel Compute Sticks are pretty cool and can plug straight into a hotel room TV. Pair that with a bluetooth keyboard/mouse and it can be a solid experience. I don't know if they still update them...

I have an intel compute stick that came with Widnows 10. It has 32GB of internal storage, the issue is the newest windows update wont fit on the silly thing. I got around it buy attaching a usb drive for the update and that left very little romm for ANYTHING. I did put ubuntu on it and it is better. But still tight.

Still cheap and fun to play with.

You can supply your own 64 GB SD/eMMC card and set the bios to boot from that.

Mine is a cheap one, it does not have an external sdcard slot. It just has the internal 32GB, 1 usb3 and 1 usb2 slot and the HDMI port (and wireless and bluetooth). So i could boot from an external USB, but that kinda kills the point of the computer stick :)

Expensive but they are pretty solid.

Is there a way to use an Android device as a PC by plugging in kb, mouse, and display?

Maybe something like the Kangaroo could do, since it runs an Intel CPU and would perform slightly better than the Intel ComputeStick.


I missed the screen part ... what is he / you using as a display? Am I missing something?

I use anything with an HDMI socket, or now that I have an HDMI-VGA adapter, VGA.

Ah. I once had a plan to make a train / coach laptop - keyboard on my lap, screen hung over the seat in front and commute time coding was a neck-pain-free idea

A TV he finds on site, I think.

This is a really interesting article. I'm going to take some of your ideas and use them at home. Thanks for sharing!

I should note that during the workweek I'm using a Raspberry Pi 3 as my primary PC. (just to save power, and keep internet tasks productive.) And, just as you guessed there are no problems with the GUI on the Pi3.

Nowhere near the price point, I know, but getting something like Intel's Compute Stick or its knock-off would result in much more pleasant experience - it's standard Atom CPU with 2GB of RAM plus enough storage, and 2 USB ports. They usually sell around $100, second hand.

I actually have this setup instead. I bought the original Intel Compute Stick with Windows for the 2GB of ram, threw Linux on it thanks to the efforts of one Ian Morrison[1], and I use a Logitech K400 plugged into the single USB port. It's a wonderful computer to take on trips, like the author noticed, HDMI is ubiquitous.

I still like the portable Pi idea more. I don't need Netflix or Steam installed on my Pis or Intel Compute Stick, but the ease of using flashy entertainment on the latter is detrimental to my productivity.

[1] http://linuxiumcomau.blogspot.com/2017/06/customizing-ubuntu...

I was going to say, the Pi Zero seems like an odd choice given there are many much more powerful SBCs for not that much mores or that much larger.

I considered quite a few SBCs when I was mooting this project, but I had a spare Zero in the drawer at the time. Battery life was a big driver too, and the Zero is great at this. Lastly, in its original configuration it cost about $10/£10. If something with a similar spec comes up, but is maybe smaller I'll look at the that as well.

For something smaller and lower power consumption, you might check out the Arietta board: https://www.acmesystems.it/arietta

It's about half the size of the Pi Zero, and can enter an ultra-low-power mode consuming only ~5 mA (and resume in 160 ms).

> I decided early on to edit the menus to remove a lot of the "junk" and replace it with my list of apps, so I fired up the Main Menu Editor app. Normally this is quite responsive, but on the resource-challenged Zero it had worrying lags and pauses as changes were made. Ultimately, it meant that my ad-hoc menus were corrupted and worse still, the default Pi menus had been reinstated.

If I understand Raspian’s portability correctly, this could be mitigated by preparing the system disk on a Pi w/ more resources, e.g. a Pi3– run Main Menu Editor w/ system disk in Pi3, then put system disk in Pi Zero W when menus are edited to satisfaction.

How do you achieve FDE on a Pi type device? The author states the companies strict data policies, but seems the solution is carrying unencrypted data, and a modifiable boot environment in their wallet?

Not trying to point out any shortcomings, I honestly want to know if people reading this have a solution. Many people are relying on Pi(s) to self host data to keep it secure, despite the Pi as a platform not offering any protection in this regard.

EDIT: (Forgot to mention the Microsoft folding keyboard as the "best" of the super portable keyboards, which is still not that great, but has saved me when my MacBook has developed stuck keys)

It runs Linux, you achieve FDE the same way as any normal Linux system with LUKS aside from a few minor complications.


Thanks! Wasn't sure if any of these solutions were easily achieved on all of these ARM devices. Would love to hear any experience on performance, although when you are on a Pi Zero, that doesn't seem too important. At least I can move my PiHole from docker to a fun little device that can display stats on an OLED screen!

The original Pi and Zero can only hit about 3MB/s with LUKS. The newer models can do around 10. Might be usable if you only encrypt your home folder.

>My hatred for Bluetooth grows...

Same. It was completely missing from the device manager on my laptop for 4 days. Now it's back. Nothing bloody changed??

And now I've got a BT dongle in the post which apparently I no longer need. wth

I find it rather cute he knows of gopher, but doesn’t seem to know about running multiple consoles on separate ttys at once and using the function keys to toggle between them. Sure, tmux arguably is better, but still ironic to me.

Strange for the author to say about gopher. But it is an important step. Sadly I think the forward and backward are hard to use.

This seems like an annoying bodge to carry around. I would prefer an Android phone with some kind of Linux solution[0]. Built in display and battery, and you can use video out if you need a bigger display. Built in cell modem too, you could SSH to a server somewhere and not even need to download the SD card image.

[0] https://maruos.com/

I think my travel setup would be something like this:

* Android tablet plus stand, running Termux+SSH+Tmux. * SIM card of some description * USB Hub * Big Ol' Battery >=20,000mAh * Small Mechanical Keyboard * Wired Mouse

That would also allow me to connect to my Amazon Workspace for work email, but mostly I'd be VPN+SSH to a dev VM somewhere.

While it wouldn't be quite as useful as my work Macbook, it would be much safer since no work information would be traveling with me, nor would TSA be able to do me any significant harm by searching through those devices.

This is kind of where I am. My job requires I carry an iPad around. I have a keyboard and mouse and use Jump Desktop to remote into a Windows 10 VM and Mosh, Blink, and tmux to remote into the Linux server itself.

I still find I’m wanting more though. Having a locally available machine would solve a lot of issues with bandwidth. For example, iOS is capable of using Cryptomator but using it with WebDAV on my server at home means every file needs to download each time it’s opened. Or say I capture some great video and want to move it to the VM for editing or download content from server for local editing. This takes forever on LTE or WiFi.

I’ve been looking at the WD My Passport Wireless but I think longer term a better choice may be an ODROID-HC1 with a large SSD. Think of it as like a mobile cloud. It could act as the WiFi gateway for all devices, run through a VPN, provide local storage via SMB, SFTP, or WebDAV, run a Plex server without needing connectivity, and provide a local Linux environment for or the times you don’t have connectivity. Additionally nearly any tablet or phone like device could be setup to access it.

It seems like a neat hack but for an actual computer to travel with, getting a real ultrabook (or better yet a nice 2-in-1) will make your life immeasurably more pleasant. Maybe I'm becoming less of a hacker. :/

Aha! Look at it this way - I can afford for my "computer" to be lost, stolen or confiscated by Border Guards at whatever territory I happen to be in, safe in the knowledge I can put my microSDHC card into any Raspberry Pi I can lay my hands on. Another Zero is okay, but it will work in any of the other models. My job doesn't require the luxury of a GUI, so it's ideal. Now, where to hide that microSDHC card...

Fair enough, but if the secret sauce is your micro-SD card then there's no reason to stop people looking at your computer, so it's not at risk of being mugged by a customs agent and so it might as well be a nice one.

I can definitely see other scenarios (staying in ultra poor areas with high crime, maybe?) where having an ultra-cheap and easily replaceable device would be good though.

It seems like it would be a lot easier to just get an old Thinkpad with an easily removable 2.5" disk, such as an X201. It only takes a minute to install/remove the drive. They're super cheap and you don't need to carry a keyboard and find a TV to plug in to.

You can get two drives, one is the real drive with full disk encryption, and then other is a decoy running Windows XP or something. When you check the laptop, just swap the drives and carry the real one in your carry-on.

exactly, ultrabook or netbook will be nicer, at least they carry a little screen, without LCD nearby this kit is not very useful.

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