Burning Chrome

You want a good project that combines multiple disciplines, gives you something useful in the end, and will certainly wow the muggles? Or do you simply need a custom rig with which to “jack in” to “cyberspace”? How about building your own luggable, portable, computer with some style — your own cyberdeck?

Coming to you from the fertile world that William Gibson created in “Neuromancer”, “Count Zero”, and “Mona Lisa Overdrive”, cyberdecks were the portable computers that the heroes and anti-heroes roaming the Sprawl would use to connect to what was essentially the Internet. Since we’re already living in the era where large portions of the world are controlled by vast corporations, we spend our entire lives online, and machine intelligence is poised to become sentient, you might as well get building.

We’ve seen a number of great examples of cyberdeck builds, and they’re all special in their own way, but there are common features uniting them all. First, you’ll need a screen, a portable computer brain, some batteries, and a nice keyboard. The good news is that all of the above have become eminently available, even inexpensive, in the last few years.

Discipline #1 is that of the case modder. You’re designing your ideal portable computer, after all. It’s got to look good, and we don’t mean that black, boxy ThinkPad look. If you’ve got a 3D printer, and maybe a willingness to spray paint, the world is your oyster here.

Discipline #2 is that of the keyboard builder. You’re not going to want to enter the Matrix with anything less than a pleasant typing interface. Again, 3D printing, laser-cutting, or CNC milling your own keyplate and building yourself a keyboard from scratch is a viable option, but there are tons of Bluetooth and USB keyboard options if you want to cut corners, or find one you really like.

Discipline #3 is the software hacker. Putting together exactly the right set of software, setting up the system to do what you want, and getting that sweet background screen just right are the last steps to making yourself at home in Cyberspace.

With so much latitude to introduce your own design ideas into your bespoke luggable, no two will be alike. Mine’s going to have programming ports for every microcontroller I frequently use, a decent speaker, maybe a variable power supply, and probably some reasonable amount of LED bling. What’s going to be on yours?

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A Dual Screen Luggable With Integrated RTL-SDR

It’s been fascinating to watch the development of bespoke mobile computers go from a few sheets of foam board and a Raspberry Pi into hardware that looks like it’s actually been transported here from an alternate reality. Granted a Raspberry Pi is more often than not still onboard, but the overall design and construction techniques of these very personal computers has improved by leaps and bounds.

The latest of these cyberdecks, a dual screen “luggable” reminiscent of classic computers like the Compaq Portable or Kaypro, comes our way from [dapperrogue]. Powered by the Raspberry Pi 4 and featuring a scratch-built mechanical keyboard to perfectly fit the machines’s specific dimensions, this is easily one of the more practical builds we’ve seen. As visually striking as they may be, few would argue that the small offset display that seems characteristic of most decks are ideal from a usability standpoint.

While the keyboard plate was milled out on a CNC, [dapperrogue] says the design of the HDPE body panels and rear polycarbonate viewing window were simple enough they could be done by hand on a band saw. The PETG internal frame uses a Voronoi pattern that not only reduces the amount of time and material required to print it, but maximizes airflow. The fact that it looks like some kind of alien biological life form only helps the retro-futuristic aesthetics.

There’s still plenty of room inside the enclosure, which is good, as [dapperrogue] says there’s more goodies to come. Adding internal battery power is a logical next step, and now that the Pi 4 can boot to external drives, and SSD is also on the list of future upgrades.

For readers who might be getting a sense of déjà vu from this project, [dapperrogue] notes this design was inspired by the phenomenal Reviiser that [Dave Estes] released earlier this year.

CircuitPython Macro Pad Is One Build That Won’t Bite

Have you built a macro keypad yet? This is one of those projects where the need can materialize after the build is complete, because these things are made of wishes and upsides. A totally customized, fun build that streamlines processes for both work and play? Yes please. The only downside is that you actually have to like, know how to build them.

Suffer no more, because [Andy Warburton] can show you exactly how to put a macro pad together without worrying about wiring up a key switch matrix correctly. [Andy]’s keypad uses the very affordable Seeeduino Xiao, a tiny board that natively runs Arduino code. Since it has a SAMD21 processor, [Andy] chose to run CircuitPython on it instead. And lucky for you, he wrote a separate guide for that.

Practicalities aside, the next best thing about macro keyboards is that they can take nearly any shape or form. Print a case from Thingiverse as [Andy] did, or build it into anything you have lying around that’s sturdy enough to stand up to key presses and won’t slide around on your desk.

No room left on the desk? Build a macro foot stool and put those feet to work.

Via r/circuitpython

The ABCs Of Adding QMK To A WASD Keyboard

[Oleg] is a software engineer who appreciates a good keyboard, especially since coming over to the dark side of mechanical keebs. It’s true what they say — once you go clack, you never go back.

Anyway, before going full nerd with an ortholinear split ergo keyboard, [Oleg] had a nice little WASD with many upsides. Because the ErgoDox is oh so customizable, his use of the WASD had fallen by the wayside.

That’s because the ErgoDox can run QMK firmware, which allows the user to customize every key they see and add layers of functionality. Many people have converted all kinds of old keebs over to QMK by swapping out the native controller for a Teensy, and [Oleg] was sure it would work for the WASD.

[Oleg] got under the hood and found that the controller sits on a little removable board around the arrow keys and talks to the main PCB through two sets of double-row header pins. After some careful probing with a ‘scope, the controller board revealed its secrets and [Oleg] was able to set up a testing scheme to reverse engineer the keyboard matrix by connecting each row to an LED, and all the columns to ground. With next to no room for the Teensy, [Oleg] ended up strapping it to the back of the switch PCB and wiring it quite beautifully to the header pins.

With Teensy and QMK, it’s easy to make a keyboard any way you want, even if you’re all thumbs.

Greatest Keycaps And Where To Find Them

Look at your keyboard. Do the keycaps excite you? That’s what we thought. You pound on that thing day in and day out. Shouldn’t it at least be attractive? Or even happiness-inducing? You don’t necessarily have to replace every single keycap to spark joy. When it comes to artisan keycaps, the point is to have something that stands out.

How about an Escape key that looks like a tall stack of flapjacks or a tiny, intricate cream puff? From a practical standpoint, how about a spiky Escape key that makes you think twice about rage quitting?

If you’re into games or anime, chances are good that there are more than enough artisan keycaps out there to keep you cash-poor for a while. The same goes for scrumptious foodstuffs with Cherry MX-compatible stems.

In this day and age, you can get just about any type of keycap you want, especially those encapsulating pop culture phenomena and fads. Yes there’s a fidget spinner keycap, and it’s adorable.

Continue reading “Greatest Keycaps And Where To Find Them”

CherryPi Mechanical Keyboard Warrants A Long Look

[Gosse Adema] has been poking a Microsoft Natural Elite for the last 20 years, and the curvy old girl is about to give out. Looks like he got bit pretty hard by the DIY mechanical keyboard bug in his quest to replace her. Luckily for us, he documented his build.

Where do we start? A first keeb is decently-sized undertaking, but [Gosse] turned it up a notch and made it as low-profile as he could — it’s 2cm thick with the keycaps on. This ultimately meant designing the board such that the anti-ghosting diodes sit inside a cutout underneath their respective switches, which are low-profile Cherry MX Reds. There is no Eagle template for those yet, so [Gosse] whipped one up and milled a prototype PCB before deciding to go the fab route.

The Raspberry Pi Zero W that controls this keeb lives in a separate controller box in the name of slimness. If you are as-yet unimpressed by this build for some reason, [Gosse] even rolled his own firmware, which he explains as part of this epic journey. Seems the only thing he didn’t do was mold his own keycaps, but not everyone wants to type on blanks. We wonder if [Gosse] is aware of the terrifically low-slung Kailh choc switches, although prefab keycap options for those are even more limited.

Speaking of, here’s a tasty choc-filled game pad.

A Luggable Computer For The Raspberry Pi Era

Today, computers are separated into basically two categories: desktops and laptops. But back in the early 1980s, when this ideological line in the sand was still a bit blurry, consumer’s had a third choice. Known as “portable computers” at the time, and often lovingly referred to as luggables by modern collectors, these machines were technically small enough to take with you on a plane or in the car.

Improvements in miniaturization ultimately made the portable computer obsolete, but that doesn’t mean some people still don’t want one. [Dave Estes] has been working on his own modern take on idea that he calls Reviiser, and so far it looks like it checks off all the boxes. With the addition of a rather hefty battery pack, it even manages to be more practical than the vintage beasts that inspired it.

In the video after the break, [Dave] walks us through some of the highlights of his luggable build, such as the fold-down mechanical keyboard, gloriously clunky mechanical power switches, and the integrated touch screen. We also really like the side-mounted touch pad, which actually looks perfectly usable given the largely keyboard driven software environment [Dave] has going on the internal Raspberry Pi 4. With a removable 30,000 mAh battery pack slotted into the back of the machine, he’ll have plenty of juice for his faux-retro adventures.

[Dave] mentions that eventually he’s looking to add support for “cartridges” which will allow the user to easily slot in new hardware that connects to the Pi’s GPIO pins. This would allow for a lot of interesting expansion possibilities, and fits in perfectly with the Reviiser’s vintage aesthetic. It would also go a long way towards justifying the considerable bulk of the machine; perhaps even ushering in a revival of sorts for the luggable computer thanks to hardware hackers who want a mobile workstation with all the bells and whistles.

Right now there isn’t a lot of detail on how you can build your own Reviiser, but [Dave] says more info will be added to his site soon. In the meantime, you can check out some of the similar projects we’ve seen recently to get some inspiration for your own Luggable Pi.

Continue reading “A Luggable Computer For The Raspberry Pi Era”