Playing with Lego,
the developer way
4 mins read
Published on Monday 9th May 2016
Sure, one large screen is enough for most things and people have laptops, so that’s two. But what if you had three? On the internet of things there are various articles about the optimum number of monitors for working and if you add “for developers” into that search term there’s even more http://bfy.tw/5cCH. So being a curious developer I decided to give three screens a go, here’s what I learned.
Laptops are awesome
Seriously. Laptops are so awesome. I often forget about just how amazing technology is and have the need to take something apart to remind myself so I went to town on an old netbook (yes I partook in that craze) and ripped it apart, in a very organised and typically anal developer way. After a couple of hours I had all the components laid out in front of me. One thing that really piqued my interest was just how thin the screen was, I know I know it’s obvious, but really it is quite remarkable. At this point I decided that rather than reassembling and letting the netbook gather dust I’d use the screen for something.
My first thought was to create a magic mirror ’cause I thought it’d be fun to pretend to be in a Sci-Fi movie. These things keep popping up on tech blogs, like this one My Bathroom Mirror is Smarter Than Yours and more advanced ones like this with proper touch interfaces Smart Mirror Touchscreen. As an intermediary point in the development of my own future gazing device I decided I’d just do the repurposing an old laptop screen bit for now and use it as a third screen to see if it improved my productivity (read: increased my usage of Spotify and Slack).
Making it do monitor
The first step in making a laptop screen usable is to find the serial number. Once you’ve got that in hand you need to find a controller board that’s compatible with your screen, I’d suggest looking on eBay because you can buy anything on eBay and it’s easy to find reputable buyers who won’t screw you over. Some of the boards will have a list of all the serial numbers that it supports but it could be the case, as it was for me, that your serial number is not listed. The easiest thing to do if this happens is to send messages to various sellers asking if they have a board supporting your screen. You’ll also want to think about what inputs you want on your control board, things like HDMI, USB, so on, once you find one purchase it and give them the serial number they need this to load the board with the correct firmware.
Wait two weeks after you realise you bought one from China
Once your board arrives you’ll need a power adapter (listing on eBay should say voltage etc), a video cable and something that outputs a signal. Coming out of the board will be a cable you can connect to your laptop screen and most likely a control interface for things like turning it on, TV/AV, menu, channel, volume, all those good things, an IR receiver and an indication LED. Connect all the required cables, make sure a signal is going to the board then turn it on and watch as things appear. Et voila, you have a third monitor.
It’s flat on my desk, how am I supposed to use this?!
…prop it up.
I’ve now got to a point where I have a platform for both control board and screen made out of Lego with hinges to change the angle the screen sits at. It took up a lot of free time and more financial investment than I’d care to divulge to get to this point but it’s pretty sweet and totally worth it. Others build frames for their screens out of wood, plastic, carbon fibre, scalps of their enemies but I must say I think Lego is a fantastic choice and looks awesome on a desk. My build consists of a base box for the control board, on top of this are three hinges a third of the way up a base plate the screen sits on with some 4×2 blocks using gravity to keep it in place.
As is often the case the journey was a large part of the fun and while it is really nice having a third screen I enjoyed building it so much that I’d recommend giving it a go even if you’re not bothered about screen real estate.