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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Posted inHackaday Columns Tagged cyberdeck, luggable, mechanical keyboard, newsletter, portable computer


37 THOUGHTS ON “BURNING CHROME”


Jan says: June 6, 2020 at 7:15 am“If you’ve got a 3D printer, and maybe a willingness to spray paint, the world is your oyster here.” Funny expression, though I’m not sure what it means. My experience with oysters is that I don’t like the taste nor the feeling in my mouth while eating, that is if I was able to get them open, the ones that did open also had no pearl inside (so that was a dream shattered), because they weren’t cheap. and oh… if one goes bad and you don’t know it, but still eat it, you can feel very sick some time later. And finally, the next day the trash bin has a really funny awkward smell that seemed to attract all sorts of unwanted animals and insects. So when people say “the world is your oyster” I have very mixed feelings. On the other hand, I have bad experiences with 3D printing and spray paint as well, fortunately many good ones too.

RW ver 0.0.1 says: June 6, 2020 at 7:45 amAnd then there’s people who are deathly allergic to them. I haven’t actually tried them, but given I don’t like mussels, cockles, whelks, shrimp etc, I can’t say I’m exactly eager to.

Foldi-One says: June 6, 2020 at 8:33 amUnless you are allergic much like mushrooms you might be surprised if you try the right one prepared correctly – its hit and miss but if its cooked right even somebody who thinks they dislike em might find some varieties and cooking methods delightful. Know I did. Still wouldn’t go out of my way to eat them often. But as a change from your usual meals… (Does have to be said though finding out you like one style could take some time and be a less than pleasant experience so why bother?)

RW ver 0.0.1 says: June 6, 2020 at 11:11 am” much like mushrooms you might be surprised if you try the right one prepared correctly” We won’t be winning many “Funghi:- Master Eukaryote” converts with the tasteless styrofoam they sell in North American supermarkets these days that’s for sure.



Mbc says: June 6, 2020 at 8:33 amOyster taste varies greatly depending on where they’re from. Try to find somewhere that offers multiple varieties and try one of each. The texture doesn’t change though, so if that’s a deal breaker for you then maybe you shouldn’t…

D says: June 6, 2020 at 10:36 amThe expression is meant to refer to how easy it is to open an oyster, though yes the pearl inside works quite differently between fairy tail and reality. So it means you have easy access to all the world has to offer vs the down trodden who must work for it. Your experience finding them difficult to open may very well confuse the meaning. I do hope the symbolic analogy there doesn’t hold true for other aspects in your life! All of the other details you mention weren’t really part of what Shakespeare was referring, aka that’s taking the analogy too far. Although the oyster being likened to the world, it is certainly true there are bad things in the world as well.

Elliot Williams says: June 6, 2020 at 11:53 amI think this is _the_ most random comment thread in Hackaday history. (Oh who am I kidding?!)

Comedicles says: June 6, 2020 at 12:05 pmHow about some examples of “Since we’re already living in the era where large portions of the world are controlled by vast corporations”. Is that in terms of cyberspace? Or real estate? Maybe considering Putin and Xi as corporate bosses?

Elliot Williams says: June 8, 2020 at 12:09 amYeah, like what? I write that we’re already living in the Neuromancer/Bladerunner/Matrix dystopian future, and people go on about oysters… Which I enjoy tremendously, honestly. Particularly those from the Pacific NW.



Old Guy says: June 6, 2020 at 2:21 pmI know nothing of fairy tail but live and let live I say. I hope Black Peter doesn’t stuff me in a sack and take me to Spain because I still need to tend my own garden.

benchly says: June 7, 2020 at 7:15 amIt’s funny, because if we trace the expression back to Shakespear, it had violent connotation, the oyster, in that case, being forced open with a sword to give up its treasure.

Elliot Williams says: June 8, 2020 at 12:13 amThanks. The idea that anything is as easy as opening/shucking an oyster is slightly disheartening, actually. You cut yourself on the knife or the shell half the damn time. Why do the pros wear chainmail gloves again?


Steven Clark says: June 6, 2020 at 4:10 pmI think it’s about pearls instead of meat.

RW ver 0.0.1 says: June 6, 2020 at 4:49 pmBut we’re swine, so….


Osgeld says: June 6, 2020 at 9:07 pm honestly getting a respectable paint job out of a rattle can is 1000X harder than getting sick by snot wad on a shell. yea we all paint shit, it looks good in photo’s and its always crap IRL unless you have been painting cars for 3 generations at a dedicated shop (and even 50% of those look like an old suitcase) so maybe the expression should be changed to, the world is your marginally acceptable paint job cause its more expensive per ounce than a freaking oyster that generates perls

Foldi-One says: June 7, 2020 at 7:59 amSounds like you either get really garbage rattle cans or don’t know how to use them. With enough patience and keeping the layers very thin you can get great results – though with all painting its the prep that matters hugely. I do vastly prefer an airbrush to the rattle can though – you can tweak and control the process much more which does make for an easier time – you can even avoid stencils and large amounts of masking if you have really good airbrush control – I don’t have it nailed but can get away with out masking anything but the lines that want to be razor sharp or features too small for the nozzle (Do still tend to mask well however – as it makes the painting relaxing rather than high concentration required).



Foldi-One says: June 6, 2020 at 8:39 amI’m not sold on a cyberdeck the usual way – I think the portable decent keyboard is nice, Loved the idea of programming ports and decent speaker idea. However It all falls downs at the screen for me – seems like they are screaming out for a AR screen so its big enough to really see! Project Northstar the open source AR concept is in a box on my pile of to do’s at the moment.. Or failing that one of the really large Epaper displays (2 colour preferable) would be nice. Perhaps with the tiny LCD these things commonly have for video.

Elliot Williams says: June 6, 2020 at 11:54 amOne e-paper, one LCD? I could get behind that. Read PDFs on the one, browse the web on the other?

RW ver 0.0.3 says: June 6, 2020 at 11:59 amThere ought to be portable bluetooth ePaper slabs with battery in. Sitting on the stand it’s a monitor, now I’m just gonna carry it to the bench to compare stuff… BT would not present much of a latency issue beyond that of the displays themselves I would think. Could do wifi for higher rates, but thought you could do BT with less power.

Foldi-One says: June 6, 2020 at 1:28 pmI wasn’t thinking wireless but with epaper being relatively slow you are right it really shouldn’t matter how its fed data.. I guess you could saturate bluetooth links with framebuffer if pushing the screen near its limits using clever tricks to make it run faster than it really can. But best way to feed an epaper screen text would be as text strings and let its onboard controller sort the rest out(or so it seems to me).. I don’t know of any ePaper slab myself. But if somebody does I’d love to know. Its a good point though none of these decks have used Miracast type tech for the screen. And as I understand it lots of hotels etc have that in their rooms.. So give it the little working in the field onboard screen and access to a wide selection of other wifi screen options could work. Assuming wireless broadcasting your screen doesn’t fill you with security related nightmares – very much the opposite of Tempested…


Tom Nardi says: June 6, 2020 at 2:47 pmThat’s certainly an area where reality has had trouble keeping up with fiction. The “real” cyberdecks from Gibson’s work all had VR interfaces, so they didn’t need to have traditional displays outside of maybe some kind of status information.

But in practice, we aren’t quite there. Some of the build’s we’ve seen have used things like RC FPV goggles, but those aren’t exactly the ideal for getting any real work done. Neither is a 7 inch LCD, of course. But it’s an improvement at least.

Surely the display side of things is where we’re likely to see the most improvement over the next few years.

Bob says: June 6, 2020 at 9:13 amIf you’re trying to “wow the Muggles” you’re probably not going to have much in the way of actual human companionship until you’re maybe 60. If you’re already older than that, well, that’s just scary. Buy some oysters. Put them in a little tank. Listen carefully. They’re real quiet and maybe only you can hear them. Do whatever they tell you.

Shannon says: June 6, 2020 at 10:42 amIf you’re going to deliberately lack a sense of humour you’re probably not going to have much in the way of actual human companionship. Ever.

Agamemnon Triforce says: June 6, 2020 at 11:33 amWowing the muggles in a cyberpunk setting? Sounds like some kind of mixed metaphor to me.

RW ver 0.0.1 says: June 6, 2020 at 11:36 amNot to mention the Matrix lead graphic

Elliot Williams says: June 6, 2020 at 11:57 amI’d be willing to argue the Matrix’s heritage in the Neuromancer trilogy. Definitely mixed metaphors on the muggles, though. Sorry about that. :)

RW ver 0.0.3 says: June 6, 2020 at 12:17 pmMaybe, it’s inside out though, humans inside, machines outside, vs human world outside, machine world inside. I guess that more mystical stuff in Mona Lisa Overdrive definitely had parallels. I saw more resemblance to Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash metaverse, if the Terminator timeline came after it.

BrightBlueJim says: June 6, 2020 at 6:50 pmAs long as we’re mixing metaphors, there really should be mention that every Jedi disciple must make his own cyberdeck.

RW ver 0.0.1 says: June 7, 2020 at 7:27 amIndeed. By Grabthar’s hammer the spice must flow.

Elliot Williams says: June 8, 2020 at 12:16 amOK, I laughed.


benchly says: June 7, 2020 at 7:19 amHarry ‘Pewter and Linux Kernel

Agamemnon Triforce says: June 7, 2020 at 3:35 pmI might consider reading that.

RW ver 0.0.1 says: June 7, 2020 at 4:02 pmSomething like HP has to take his wand of kill -9 and cloak of hidepid=2 and prevent evil wizard Torvalds from embedding a portion of his soul in the kernel. Plus Hermione does the heavy thinking and Ron is kinda there.


Gregg Eshelman says: June 6, 2020 at 8:21 pmWhen is someone going to make a real version of Ed’s computer from “Cowboy Bebop”?

Shannon says: June 6, 2020 at 11:39 pmI never really thought her computer was all that portable, although it is iconic of course.

dbtx says: June 8, 2020 at 12:17 amI’ve been idly wondering– on the flip side, are there any canonical drawings of a cyberdeck?


Taper Wickel says: June 7, 2020 at 3:24 pmThe cyberdeck discussion reminded me that I have an old Fingerworks Touchstream keyboard in storage somewhere — I got it when a lab at the university I worked at got rid of it, shortly after the company was bought by Apple to get their multitouch tech.

A lot of the keyboards in the cyberdeck world are focusing on mechanical keys, and this guy’s sort of the opposite — if you’ve never seen one, imagine two paperback-sized trackpads with key outlines printed on them, joined at a Natural Keyboard-style angle. It’s typing on a flat plane, which takes some getting used to, but there’s some give to the surface and the thing does have some marvelous chording gestures — including an Emacs mode! — that made it a lot of fun to use. If I’m remembering right, the surfaces pop out of the frame and can fold up, so building a cyberdeck around it could be really interesting.

Meanwhile, my go-to portable Raspberry Pi solution for a few years has been the Motorola Atrix 4G Laptop Dock, which they intended as a way to make a smartphone into a laptop by snapping it into micro-USB and micro-HDMI plugs on the back of what’s basically a combined 12″ HDMI monitor, keyboard, touchpad, USB hub, and battery pack; with some adapter cable shenanigans, you can hook a Pi 2 or 3 up and velcro it to the back. (It’s not _quite_ enough amperage out on the battery to run a Pi 3B reliably, sadly.) The keyboard on mine is starting to go — certain keys take too much pressure to hit, so it’s difficult to, say, enter a password reliably — so maybe this is a good time to use those parts and build a new toy from them. Hmm…

Source: Paper.li