Recreating Lord Nikon’s Laptop From Hackers

The outlandish computers from 1995’s Hackers are easily one of the most memorable elements of the iconic cult classic. In the film, each machine is customized to reflect the individual hacker that operates it, and feature everything from spray painted camouflage paint schemes to themed boot animations based on the owner’s personal iconography. But what might not so obvious is that the real-life props took a considerable amount of hardware hacking before they were ready for their big-screen debut.

A group of dedicated Hackers fans have created a website to document, and ideally recreate, all the custom work that went into the various pieces of tech featured in the film. As explained by [Nandemoguy], the group’s latest triumph is a screen-accurate build of Lord Nikon’s laptop. The final product not only looks just like the machine used in the film, but thanks to the internal Raspberry Pi, is far more powerful than the original computer would have been.

Unless you’re on the team over at HackersCurator.com, you might not know that the laptops in the film were handmade chimeras that combined the external cases of various PCs with (usually) the internals of an Apple Powerbook 180c. Why the prop masters of the film would have gone through so much trouble to create the character’s computers is not immediately clear, but if we had to guess, presumably it was due to the requirements of the over-the-top graphical interfaces that are featured so heavily in the film.

At any rate, the replica created by [Nandemoguy] is built in much the same way. At least for the parts you can see on the outside, anyway. He goes through the considerable case modifications required to replace the original keyboard on the Toshiba Satellite T1850 with a Powerbook keyboard, which as you might have guessed, has been converted into a USB HID device with a Teensy microcontroller. He even cuts the ports off the back of the Mac’s motherboard and glues them in place around the backside of the machine. But everything else, including the LCD, is all new hardware. After all, who really wants to go through all that trouble just to have a fancy Powerbook 180c in 2019?

Even if you weren’t a fan of Hackers, the level of detail and effort put into this build it absolutely phenomenal. It’s interesting to see the parallels between this replica and the burgeoning cyberdeck scene; it seems like with a Teensy, a Raspberry Pi, and enough Bondo, anything can be turned into a functional computer.

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The GENIAC Lives Again

[Mike Gardi] credits his professional successes in the world of software development on the fact that he had access to logic-based educational games of a sort that simply don’t exist anymore. Back in the 1960s, kids who were interested in electronics or the burgeoning world of computers couldn’t just pick up a microcontroller or Raspberry Pi. They had to build their “computers” themselves from a kit.

One of those kits was the GENIus Almost-automatic Computer (GENIAC), a product which today is rare enough to essentially be unobtainable. Using images and documentation he was able to collect online, [Mike] not only managed to create a functioning replica of the GENIAC, but he even took the liberty of fixing some of the issues with the original 60-odd year old design.

Fundamentally, the GENIAC is composed of rotary switches which feed into each other to perform rudimentary logical functions. With banks of incandescent bulbs serving as the output, users could watch how placing the switches in different positions would influence the result.

This might seem a little silly to modern audiences, but thanks to a well written manual that featured a collection of compelling projects, the GENIAC managed to get a lot of mileage out of a couple light bulbs and some wire. In fact, [Mike] says that the GENIAC is often considered one of the first examples of an interactive electronic narrative, as the carefully crafted stories from the manual allowed players to go on virtual adventures long before the average kid had ever heard of a “video game”. A video about how one of these stories, “The Uranium Shipment and the Space Pirates“, can be seen after the break. Even today it would be an interesting enough toy, but back in 1955 it would have been mind-blowing.

Construction of this replica will require access to a laser cutter so you can approximate the original’s drilled Masonite backing and rotors. From there, [Mike] has produced an array of 3D printable components which are attached to the board to serve as contacts, spacers, and various other pieces of bric-a-brac. Some of the parts he couldn’t find pictures of, so he was forced to come up with his own designs. But considering the finicky nature of the original, he thinks his printed parts may actually be better than what the toy shipped with.

If you like his work with GENIAC, be sure to check out the 3D printed replica of “The Amazing Dr. Nim” that [Mike] made last year, or his breathtaking recreation of the Minivac 601.

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Project Egress: The Hinges

A door’s hinges are arguably its most important pieces. After all, a door without hinges is just, well, a wall. Or a bulkhead, if we’re talking about a hingeless hatch on a spacecraft.

And so the assignment for creating hinges for Progress Egress, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing by creating a replica of the command module hatch, went to [Jimmy DiResta]. The hinges were complex linkages that were designed to not only handle the 225 pound (102 kg) hatch on the launch pad, but to allow extended extravehicular activity (EVA) while en route to the Moon. [Jimmy], a multimedia maker, is just as likely to turn metal as he is to work in wood, and his hinges are a study of 1960s aerospace engineering rendered in ipe, and extremely hard and dense tropical hardwood, and brass.

[Jimmy]’s build started with a full-size 3D-printed model of the hinge, a move that paid off as the prints acted both as templates for machining the wood components and as test jigs to make sure everything would articulate properly. Sheet brass was bent and soldered into the hinge brackets, while brass rod stock was turned on the lathe to simulate the hydraulic cylinder hinge stays of the original. The dark ipe and the brass work really well together, and should go nicely with [Fran Blanche]’s walnut and brass latch on the assembled hatch.

With [Adam Savage]’s final assembly of all the parts scheduled for Thursday the 18th, we’re down to the wire on this celebration of both Apollo and the maker movement that was at least in part born from it.

Note: the assembly started at 11:00 Eastern time, and there’s a live stream at https://airandspace.si.edu/events/project-egress-build.

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Forty Four Hackers And A Hatch: Progress Egress Takes Off

The 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing is rapidly approaching, and uber space-nerd Adam Savage is in the thick of the celebration of all the amazing feats of engineering that made humanity’s first steps out of the cradle possible. And in a grand and very hacker-friendly style, we might add, as his Project Egress aims to build a full-scale replica of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia’s hatch.

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Rey’s Blaster Shoots Glow-in-the-Dark Bullets

Youtuber and rubber band enthusiast [JoergSprave] is a big fan of Star Wars, and he loved the look of the blaster that Han Solo gave to Rey. He’d seen a few replicas of Rey NN-14 gun, but hadn’t seen any that actually fired anything, so he set out to make one that did.

The build itself is from plywood, with a paint job to make it look like an old blaster. What makes the build really cool is the bullets used: glow sticks! [Joerg] created space in the magazine for three glow sticks, so you’ve got a couple of shots before you have to reload. Crack ’em, load them up and then fire away!

The glow sticks give the blaster fire a great look (especially in the dark!) and it’s really easy to find the shots after you’ve fired them. We’ve featured [Joerg]’s builds a few times on the site, and his build videos are a lot of fun. Check out his compressed air crossbow bolt gatling gun, or his machete shooting slingshot.

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Start Your Apollo Collection With An Open Source DSKY

Given that there have been only six manned moon landings, and that almost all of the hardware that started on the launch pad was discarded along the way, getting your hands on flown hardware is not generally the business of mere mortals. Such artifacts are mostly in museums or in the hands of very rich private collectors. Enthusiasts have to settle for replicas like this open source Apollo Guidance Computer DSKY.

The DSKY, or Display and Keyboard, was the user interface for the Apollo Guidance Computer, that marvel of 1960s computer engineering that was purpose-built to control the guidance and navigation of the Command and Lunar Excursion modules. [ST-Geotronics] has made a decent replica of the DSKY using 3D-printed parts for the housing and bezel. There’s a custom PCB inside that houses a matrix of Neopixels for the indicator light panel and seven-segment LEDs for the numeric displays. Sadly but understandably, the original electroluminescent display could not be reproduced, but luckily [Fran Blanche] is working on just that project these days. The three-segment displays for the plus and minus signs in the numeric displays proved impossible to source commercially, so the team had to roll their own for that authentic look. With laser cut and engraved overlays for the displays and keycaps, the look is very realistic, and the software even implements a few AGC-like functions.

We like this a lot, although we could do without the sound clips, inspirational though Kennedy’s speech was. Everything is open source so you can roll your own, or you can buy parts or even a complete kit too.

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A Lightsaber, With Rave Mode

How often after being exposed to Star Wars did you dream of having your own working lightsaber? These days — well, we don’t quite have the technology to build crystal-based weapons, but tailor-made lightsabers like redditor [interweber]’s are very much real.

Piggybacking off the Korbanth Graflex 2.0 kit — a sort of bare-bones lightsaber ready to personalize — [interweber] is using a Teensy 3.5 to handle things under the hilt. Instead of taking the easy route and cramming everything into said handle, a 3D printed a cradle for the electronics and speaker keep things secure. The blade is made up of two meters of APA102 LEDs.

As well as all the sound effects appropriate to ‘an elegant weapon for a more civilized age’, a cluster of buttons handle the various functions; , playing and cycling through music(more on that in a second), changing the color of the lightsaber — Jedi today, Sith tomorrow — enabling a flickering effect that mimics Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, color cycling, and a…. rave mode?

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