November 6, 2022

Cyberdeck Brainstorming

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty tired of picking around in my own head for post fodder.  So today I’m going to do some brainstorming about a project I’ve been loosely sketching out in my head for the past year or so.

If you follow me on social media, first of all you deserve what you get.  And if you don’t and have somehow tripped over this some other way, well, then you deserve what you get anyway.  So basically what I’m saying here is that none of this shit is my fault.

The last half of that sentence was supposed to be “…you’ll know I’ve listened to the audio version of Neuromancer no less than 16 times in the past 18 months.  I’ve listened to there rest of the Sprawl trilogy 14 times.  But a couple weeks ago when I finished Neuromancer for iteration 15 I just figured “fuck it” and started it over from scratch. 

I’m about done for now though.

As someone who’s been writing software for about 45 years it’s not in my power to read Neuromancer and come away from it without a near obsessive lust for the Cyberdeck.  It’s like what would happen if Gandalf got ahold of The One Ring.  You just can’t put someone of this temperament in front of that kind of an idea and not expect it to go anyplace.

Of course that’s what happened with Cyberspace to begin with.  Gibson is in no small part responsible for the Web.  If you were to read Neuromancer for the first time today you’d be hard pressed to keep in mind the fact that it was written in 1984, a decade before the web existed in any real measure.

But enough of that.  That whole point is made really well in the essay tacked at the back of the audio version, called Some Dark Holler by Jack Womack.  Find it and read it.

No.  My point here is that I need to build a fucking cyberdeck.  It has no practicality to speak of, the notion coming from Gibson some time before the advent of the modern convenient laptop computer, which in practical terms fills that niche pretty well.

Nope.  Don’t care.

I want to get a big pelican style gun case (I have several of different form factors) and put in it a small format computer, a full sized keyboard, ports and attachments, screens and peripherals and all manner of things that serve no purpose other than the straight up coolness factor.  I want RGB leds strewn throughout the thing and a crisp plastic or aluminum faceplate holding everything together.

It’ll have its own little network of devices, hidden behind that lucite faceplate.  Within the DMZ it’ll have a pihole to keep ads and tracking well away from all the little devices sniffing around.  The primary computer, a couple esp8266s and esp32s that are powered independently, with their own sneaky little wifi antennae and battery pack.

It’ll have its own gps module and data loggers of all kinds, so it knows not only what’s going on around it, but where it is when that all happens.

Add a few usb and ethernet on the bottom panel, next to the full sized keyboard and an extra monitor or two.

Using RFID as a makeshift proximity sensor, the battery powered wardriving peripherals will be able to figure out if the deck, in this sense a base station and server, is within range and dump its data back down to it, having been collecting hashes since last connect.

I don’t expect to battery power the thing, instead to use a normal computer power cable that stores inside but can be attached to the side of the thing. 

The guts I expect will be an absolute mess, requiring usb hubs for power management (most devices being powered over usb-c) and a fan or three to vent the accumulated heat.  So it’ll be a glue-gunned epoxied mess, leaving it all to be pretty damned heavy.  Hell, I may end up deciding that the right thing to do is to build the frame from scratch from sheet plastic and/or aluminum.  No idea.  I doubt it. I just don’t have that level of skill in fabrication yet.

But the sketch is there in my head.  I can see it in my mind’s eye, a little too big, the keyboard inside the lid (as the electronics will be bulky enough that I’ll have to use the case flipped upside-down) will be a little bit awkward trying to reach over the lip.  I suspect the resulting keyboard position will be too high given any reasonable surface I’d be using the thing on, unless I used it at a low table like a coffee table rather than my traditional high-top at the cigar lounge or something of the kind.

That’s the thing though, I swear I can see the thing. Yeah a lot of the details are a little vague, like the cloud drawn on the whiteboard when designing a complicated software component interaction and data flow.  But I’m pretty convinced I’ll be able to put it all together easily enough.  Nothing seems like rocket surgery.

So the task from here becomes to start putting the thing together on a workbench, case be damned.  Get all the parts and programming, the network interfaces and monitors all physically put together and programmed, THEN I can start worrying about the actual form factor of the resulting chassis.  Hell, I may find out that I can put the thing in a much tighter space than I’d otherwise planned.  It’s certainly easy enough to swap out something like a monitor or a keyboard for something a little smaller (though I’m not sacrificing a full keyboard.  Those guys who pretend that a 40% is usable are just kidding themselves.)

I’m sure I’ve got almost everything I’m going to need already.  I’ve been buying little arduino boards and lcd screens forever.  I’ve got the routers and cables, just need a couple funky jacks for mounting.

Now I just have to clean off the damned desk.