Restoring The Coolest Laptop Ever

Well-seasoned readers will no doubt remember GRiD laptops, the once and always tacti-cool computers that dominated the military market for decades. GRiDs were the first laptops to go to space, and they were coveted for their sleek (for the time) good looks and reputation as indestructible machines.

The GRiDs went through many iterations, and even though their military roots make them nearly unobtanium, [Simon] scored a GRiD laptop and set about restoring it. His theme was the 1986 movie Aliens, which featured a few GRiD Compass computers as props. [Simon]’s 1550SX came a little later than the Compass 2, but documents with the machine reveal it was a Royal Air Force machine that had been deemed unserviceable for reasons unknown.

[Simon] carefully tore it down – pay close attention to the video below and you’ll hear the telltale plink of the magnesium case parts rather than the dull thud of plastic; they don’t make them like that anymore – and cleaned it up. He replaced the original display with a PiMoroni 10″ retro game display to keep the original 4:3 aspect ratio. A Raspberry Pi 4 went inside, along with a Teensy to take care of adapting the GRiD keyboard to USB and lighting up some front-panel LEDs. A second Teeny allows the original IsoPoint mouse to be used, which is a real gem. With the addition of appropriate graphics, the machine looks like it would be at home on a Colonial Marines dropship.

We love the retro feel of [Simon]’s build, and the movie nostalgia. We’re just glad he didn’t include a LiPo battery, which might not get along with the magnesium case. Game over, man!

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Sherbet Custom Game Pad Is Smooth And Sweet

When [Billiam]’s beloved Logitech G13 game pad went to that great spectate room in the sky, he decided to pay homage by designing a custom, more ergonomic replacement from the desk up. Grab a spoon and dig into the story of [Billiam]’s journey toward Sherbet, because it’s a sweet ride.

Here’s the scoop: like a lot of DIY game pads and keyboards, Sherbet is based on the Teensy. We often see the micro USB coming straight off the Teensy, especially in clear acrylic builds, but [Billiam] added a USB breakout board so there’s no direct stress on the Teensy itself.

One of [Billiam]’s design challenges comes from the game pad placement — he has a tall desk and uses a keyboard tray, so it has to fit the space and leave enough room for his hand. Fortunately, there are low-profile mechanical switches out there, although the keycap options are strongly limited. We love that [Billiam] embedded a tiny ceramic bearing into one of them to use as a homing bump, because that’s a great idea.

If you want to take a crack at this project, [Billiam] has all the goodies laid out. [Billiam] wanted to use QMK firmware, but they didn’t have joystick support yet, so he’s got an Arduino sketch running in the meantime.

We love a good custom game pad around here, especially if they can reprogram themselves.

Watch Your Life Tick Away With This Lifetime Countdown Clock

Good news, everyone! Now you can have an ongoing existential crisis, every second of your ever-dwindling life with this personal life countdown timer.

Why would anyone want to be confronted by a count of the number of seconds left until you’ve made 80 trips around the sun? We can think of plenty of reasons not to, but creator [Jia Xun Chai] thought it would be somehow motivating to see the seconds tick irretrievably by while going about his life. Thus the idea for “Lifeclocc” came to be, with its ten seven-segment displays and Teensy to tally up and display the number of seconds left in a nominal 80-year life. A DS3231 RTC module keeps it on track between power-offs. It’s not clear what happens when you hit your 80th birthday; we assume it rolls over and starts counting up as you start playing in the bonus round. No word either on what happens should you croak with time left on the clock. Answer these questions and many more by building one yourself, or you can just wait for the Kickstarter.

It took [Jia Xun] three years to develop Lifeclocc, during which time his personal life clock decreased by 94,608,000 seconds. We will say that the finished product, with its matte-finish PCB, makes a handsome timepiece. Circuit sculptor [Mohit Bhoite] took a less-angsty stab at a similar clock, the cute appearance of which is no doubt intended to blunt the pain of impending doom.

Altair 8800 Again Project

[Dirk] posted a video (you can see below) titled, “Mystery Retro Project Start.” That turned out to be the first of a multipart series on his Altair 8800 Again simulator. The front panel appears to be laser cut and in some future video episodes, we expect to see him simulate the CPU with a Teensy.

There have been plenty of 8800 clones ranging from projects that recreate the original PCBs, to those that just run a Raspberry Pi inside. The middle ground will use an Arduino or some other small CPU to simulate the 8080 CPU.

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Tracking Wasted Time With A Ferrofluid Clock

We know this project is supposed to be about developing a fine-looking ferrofluid clock, and not about the value of procrastination. But after watching the video below, see if you don’t think that procrastination has taken these two students further than expected.

We first ran into [Simen] and [Amund] several months ago when they launched their ferrofluid project in a fit of “There’s got to be more to life than studying.” It seemed then that building a good-looking, functional ferrofluid display would be a temporary distraction, but the problems posed proved to be far deeper and thornier than either of the electrical engineering students expected. The idea is simple: contain a magnetic fluid between two transparent panels and create pixels using an array of electromagnets to move dots of the fluid around. The implementation, however, was another matter, with the ferrofluid itself proved to be the biggest obstacle. All the formulas they tried seemed to coagulate or degrade over time and tended to stain the glass. While the degradation was never fully sorted, they managed to work around the staining by careful cleaning of the glass and using a saturated brine solution to fill the container.

Backed by 252 electromagnets and drivers on ten custom PCBs, the video below shows the (mostly) finished panel in action as a clock. We’re impressed by the smoothness of the movements of each pixel, even if there’s a bit of drooping at the bottom thanks to gravity. As for the future of the project, that’s unclear since [Simen] is headed off for a NASA internship. We’re not sure if that was despite or because of this procrastination-driven project, but we congratulate him either way and look forward to hearing more from both of them in the future.

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SiCK Mechanical Keyboard Is 3D Printed

We’ve noticed a rash of builds of [ FedorSosnin’s] do-it-yourself 3D-printed mechanical keyboard, SiCK-68 lately. The cost is pretty low — SiCK stands for Super, Inexpensive, Cheap, Keyboard. According to the bill of materials, the original cost about $50. Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of the 3D printer and soldering gear, but who doesn’t have all that already?

The brains behind this is a Teensy that scans the hand-wired key matrix. So the only electronics here are the switches, each with a companion diode, and the Teensy. The EasyAVR software does all the logical work both as firmware and a configuration GUI.

If you look at the many different builds, each has its own character. Yet they look overwhelmingly professional — like something you might buy at a store. This is the kind of project that would have been extremely difficult to pull off a decade ago. You could build the keyboard, of course, but making it look like a finished product was beyond most of us unless we were willing to make enough copies to justify having special tooling made to mold the cases.

PCBs are cheap now and we might be tempted to use one here. There are quite a few methods for using a 3D printer to create a board, so that would be another option. The hand wiring seems like it would be a drag, although manageable. If you need wiring inspiration, we can help.

For ultimate geek cred, combine this with Ploopy.

Adding Sensors To Improve Your Curling Game? Turns Out It’s Really Hard

Sometimes, a project turns out to be harder than expected at every turn and the plug gets pulled. That was the case with [Chris Fenton]’s efforts to gain insight into his curling game by adding sensors to monitor the movement of curling stones as well as the broom action. Luckily, [Chris] documented his efforts and provided us all with an opportunity to learn. After all, failure is (or should be) an excellent source of learning.

The first piece of hardware was intended to log curling stone motion and use it as a way to measure the performance of the sweepers. [Chris] wanted to stick a simple sensor brick made from a Teensy 3.0 and IMU to a stone and log all the motion-related data. The concept is straightforward, but in practice it wasn’t nearly as simple. The gyro, which measures angular velocity, did a good job of keeping track of the stone’s spin but the accelerometer was a different story. An accelerometer measures how much something is speeding up or slowing down, but it simply wasn’t able to properly sense the gentle and gradual changes in speed that the stone underwent as the ice ahead of it was swept or not swept. In theory a good idea, but in practice it ended up being the wrong tool for the job.

The other approach [Chris] attempted was to make a curling broom with a handle that lit up differently based on how hard one was sweeping. It wasn’t hard to put an LED strip on a broom and light it up based on a load sensor reading, but what ended up sinking this project was the need to do it in a way that didn’t interfere with the broom’s primary function and purpose. Even a mediocre curler applies extremely high forces to a broom when sweeping in a curling game, so not only do the electronics need to be extremely rugged, but the broom’s shaft needs to be able to withstand considerable force. The ideal shaft would be a clear and hollow plastic holding an LED strip with an attachment for the load sensor, but no plastic was up to the task. [Chris] made an aluminum-reinforced shaft, but even that only barely worked.

We’re glad [Chris] shared his findings, and he said the project deserves a more detailed report. We’re looking forward to that, because failure is a great teacher, and we’ve celebrated its learning potential time and again.