Simple, Portable, Ad-Hoc Computational Engine for Communication, Amusement, and Additional Distinctly Everyday Tasks

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A fairly pedestrian (for me) cyberdeck build, with a name that's a ridiculously pretentious homage a legendary keyboard... oh hey this one has a battery! *That's* kind of different, right...? Right...? Guys?

So "Steampunkish Too" (aka the project here titled "The Steampunk Laptop v2") is not really useful in its originally-intended capacity. I wanted a portable writing box. It's not portable for me, not really -- tl;dr it's too freaking big in ways I didn't think about during the build or otherwise properly anticipate :(

Right now it also just doesn't work. Literally -- there's no functioning OS on it right now. What's on there is broken and I can't find a good reinstall candidate. Since there's some hardware-level changes I'd like to make anyways, I'm temporarily sidelining it while I decide what I want to do with it.

Meanwhile, I need a machine, because right now I'm limping along on an HP Mini 5102 with 2gb RAM, an Atom N450, and Windows 7... and I'm pretty sure that if I dropped a copy of MS DOS 4.0 Multitasking on a Crest SpinBrush from Wal*Mart, I'd have a better box by half. This thing is so slow it's almost literally physically painful to use. Get me Bearded Spock and an Agonizer Booth, it's more fun than this.

So, gonna build a thing. Let's get started! ...and be sure to give it a stupid name that absolutely nobody will get the intended reference to unless they're so "White And Nerdy" that one could convincingly claim Weird Al legit wrote that song specifically about them... or they're willing to sit through a half-hour-plus impromptu lecture course on AI in the 1980s, focusing on how the use of the long-forgotten (well, mostly) Lisp programming language was at the time such a critical component that someone tried to sell extremely expensive workstations specifically designed for writing Lisp code, and how the keyboard on the early models is something of a "Holy Grail" for collectors of hacker paraphernalia of that era.


    Starhawk07/31/2020 at 20:19 0 comments

    OF COURSE I spent last night making significant progress on SPACE CAADET only to check this afternoon, remembering the noon PST deadline correctly and the day on which it occurred wrongly. I could've sworn it was today, not yesterday >_<

    Oh well. I never win anything like this anyways... not a whine, nor a complaint nor a "woe is me" moan, just a simple, observant fact of my life as it is, and the goings-on within.

    This seems an appropriate graphic for the occasion...

    Well, I hope whoever *does* win the contest enjoys the prize, and I will gladly cheer them on for that accomplishment and for the (we hope) bigger, better things they use that $500 of parts for.

    Best to everyone else who participated. We all did our best, I'm sure... I know I did! A pity it wasn't enough in my case, I'm sure -- but at least I'm well aware of it, and well prepared by previous similar experiences to deal with it.

    I'll put up another log late tonight with whatever progress I make later today, along with last night's work as well, since the timing doesn't actually matter after all.

  • News Flash!

    Starhawk07/30/2020 at 19:20 0 comments

    Two quick things here...

    One, I effed up last night in the last project log. I've already edited it, but I believe in being responsible and calling out people not only for doing bad but for doing good -- and for holding myself to the same standards as everyone else. So I wanted to make sure that I called attention to the error I made last night and explained properly how it'd happened.

    I had contacted "budgetsavers" on eBay for a potential upcoming purchase, to do with a project that is in absolutely no way related to this. They've got a small LCD screen up that I'm possibly interested in for a portable computer build. I'd sent them a request for any information not in the listing, because what they'd posted -- while probably fine for 90%+ of the sorts of customers they normally get -- omitted one piece of information that was mission-critical for me. Turns out they don't have that info, and the LCD is very likely one of those throwaway Chinese "brands" that happens because the people at the factory feel like they have to put *something* there, but there's really nothing to put.

    The debacle with the seller who *IS* involved, a user with the handle "isellparts2u" (lol) happened prior to the conversation with "budgetsavers". When I was writing up the log last night, I was fairly sleepy, and annoyed not only by "isellparts2u"'s conduct, but by the fact that, although my mobile phone is my only camera right now, which makes picture transfer to anything else kind of a pain -- the SIM card and the MicroSD card are in a little pull-tray and you have to cut the phone off and stick a straight-pin or "mobile phone SIM card tool" in there to get at 'em... and then find your card reader (which always takes forever because I hardly ever use it!) or just email yourself lol but that takes just as long -- so I've actually been composing all of the project logs (this specific one here, that you're reading now, is the sole exception in this project) on my phone and touchscreen typing, to be diplomatic, sucks.

    So when I was composing the log, I simply popped into my email and pulled the most recent communication with an eBay seller. I didn't open it, I just looked at the name of the sender (i.e., the seller). That email chain happened to be my communication with "budgetsavers" and I was too ticked off from the earlier debacle, and too sleepy from life in general, to actually notice that I'd screwed up. It was only in reporting the idiot to eBay via Twitter (because eBay won't bother with making the phones work, even though that does NOT require call centers! I had a friend who was struggling so bad she had to do telemarketing once, and she'd gone and gotten a cheap Tracphone for it, they required a second separate line, and she'd get calls pretty much literally whenever -- but it wasn't a call center, it was her and a gas-station-grade mobile phone) that I realized I'd mixed up which seller did what when.

    My apologies to "budgetsavers" and to the Hackaday[dot]io community for the mixup. I hope nobody made a decision based on my error.

    The other thing I want to mention is that I have a (lousy!) solution to the cable problem. I have the previously-mentioned USB-A-to-C connector adapters, two of them. They're a little hard plastic block with a flush-mount USB-A female connector for USB3.0 (the blue tongue and the extra... 5 pins, I think? at the back) set into one side, and the opposite side has a USB-C male plug sticking out. I also have a burnt-out USB WiFi "card" with a male USB2.0 connector, and several USB-A male half-cables that are bare wires hanging out at the other end for various reasons. I'm going to cut the connector and just a lil bit of PCB off the WiFi adapter and tack on one of the half-cables, and use it with one of the connector adapters to make this all work. It's the sort of hack you do late at night and never tell anyone about out of shame (lol) but it gets the job done so I guess it's okay...

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  • On Fasteners, Euphemisms, and Uncomfortable Circumstances Which Require Their Invocation and Use

    Starhawk07/29/2020 at 23:07 2 comments

    ...or, put more simply...

    So... the battery subsystem for SPACE CAADET relies on an accessible SMBus connection, which is to be provided by the Adafruit FT323H breakout... so far so good. But that breakout uses a USB-C connector. That means I need an adapter. Two choices... one, I can get (somehow...?) or *make* (LOL, nearly 100% guaranteed to NOT work!) a USB3.0-compliant USB-A to USB-A cable with both ends male, which lets me use an existing USB-A female to USB-C male adapter I have... mind you, such cables are near-mythical as far as availability/etc goes... or I can get a USB-C cable from somewhere, or I can get a USB-C to MicroUSB adapter that lets me use more normal cables.

    Wait, Dollar Tree sells USB-C to MicroUSB adapters... or, rather, they did at one time. I've not had a chance to go there in a goodly while, and they discontinued those adapters during that time.


    Pulled up eBay, bought one for a buck fitty. Great!

    ...except that was 15 July and it never arrived because the seller, operating under the name "isellparts2u", doesn't want to be bothered with providing actual customer support.

    eBay gives buyers the option of including a message with their purchase, in case they need to specify additional information or the like, for the seller to be aware of. A lot of HK/CN international listings use this feature instead of a drop-down menu to allow customers to specify eg color preferences on listed items where that's a thing.

    Having had shipping issues before, I used the option to ask the seller to use First Class Parcel shipping (can take a week ish, so it's slower than Priority Mail, but it's dort cheap, comes with tracking, and generally gets more respect/etc than a lumpy envelope by Postal workers).

    Next thing I know, I get a shipping notification, which means the guy's already printed the label. This is around midnight on a Saturday and he(?) is USA-based.

    Ohhhhh boy.

    I wait till Monday to see if a tracking number shows up. I'm nice, and I always try to assume good intent. I also want to guve the seller a chance to show that he(?)'s not effed up after all, before I start lecturing.

    No tracking.

    I write him(?) and get a near-immediate botspew answer that is entirely useless. A second attempt at communication has identical results.

    /big sigh

    Yesterday, having only just realized (after extricating myself from a massive IRL drama-pile, at least partially) that the part never came, I write the seller again and pretty well rip him up.

    Same botspew.

    "Please actually read my message!"

    Immediate refund.

    I'd asked specifically, IN ALL CAPS so he(?) essentially couldn't miss it, for a replacement, shipped properly.

    No part, no time, and on top of the rest, he blocked me from responding further.

    "isellparts2u"... well... technically, I suppose, although it's a bit dubious since apparently the parts may or may not ever arrive and you don't really have any proper recourse if that happens, since he(?)'s got a big ol wall of code between him and his customers. I know this much, next time I need something I'm sure as heck gonna save time and effort and buy what I need from a seller that isn't nearly so worthlessly uncaring, unreliable, and downright stupid.

    EDIT: "isellparts2u" is the *CORRECT* seller handle -- the other one, previously named, is someone I was communicating with but haven't yet bought from. Last night was late and I'd been struggling all day and I simply scrolled through my email to the last seller I'd exchanged words with (of *any* sort lol) -- and hit them instead of the right one, because the *un*involved seller and I had been talking afterwards.

    Apologies to that seller and to anyone who might have made a decision in between then and now based on my remarks.

  • Approaching Lightspeed

    Starhawk07/26/2020 at 05:12 1 comment


    ...I kind of want one of those airships now. Not the type to play the games tho -- I've tried a few -- I don't do too well :-/

    Whatever. So... having established that...

    Last night I started work on the support structure for the system unit. This started off as a pop-in drive cover for a computer case I no longer possess, if indeed I ever did -- a lot of this stuff came from a friend of mine who right now is extremely upset with me because he misinterpreted some things I said than went off the deep end big-time.


    Work went like this...

    OK... great. (Actually, not so much so but I didn't know about that yet ;) )

    So... onto finishing the pill bottle, right...

    Notice the problem...? great, in cartoon shows. Notably, however, real life is not a part of that genre.

    So that doesn't work, then.

    Well darn :-/

    Did a test of cutting the corners off the scrap piece of drive bsy cover I'd generated shortening it to fit... works great (I do not have photos of this). The final version works just as well except that I sliced through one of the WiFi antennas' cables.

    Not wires -- cables. That stuff is subminiature coax, not kidding. Once it's dead, it's dead... had a different spare I could bodge with, and did.

    That's *almost* better, LOL...

    Let's see if we can figure out how to fix that...

    That's better! Let's cap it off then, shall we? :D

    Okay... well... only one thing left :D

    "Let there be lights!" :P

    ...yay Dollar Tree "fairy lights", (i.e. SMT/D LEDs + magnet wires), or rather: not... they suck, and are a remarkable pain in the a** to deal with... especially since they depend on the internal resistance of super cheap batteries, rather than being engineered properly. (Before anyone asks: yes, obviously I know where I bought it; but even at Dollar Tree, I expect things to be worth more than  1/4 MSRP.

    All done for now :D

  • Progress Is Being Made!

    Starhawk07/21/2020 at 08:52 0 comments

    Tonight (about an hour ago, actually, as I begin to type this at 4:30am, lol, so maybe not, depending on your definition of "night" etc), I finished cutting the slots in the pill bottle for the HDMI port and the vent on that end. I also marked the spots for the USB port cutouts and the power-button hole that I need to drill.


    So uhm notice anything different...? ;)

    New system unit! I had picked it up for a different build, but that has been definitively canceled for reasons that are rather personal and absolutely will not be publicly discussed here. This is not, in my opinion, the appropriate time or the appropriate place for such a discussion... I'll let you know if I change my mind at some point.


    The new unit is a MinisForum S40 stick PC. (Lordy, who comes _up_ with these brand names...?!) It's the usual 2gb RAM / 32gb EMMC (UGH! [puking smiley icon here plz] ) but this time the Intel SoC of choice is a Celeron N4000. I'm pretty sure it thoroughly outstrips everything I've generally worked with in the past -- and by quite a margin -- although I've not yet confirmed that.

    I will be putting some sort of cover-stuff over the underside, and a cowl over the heatsink. Speaking of which, the design of this wee beastie reverses the airflow direction entirely. The cap-grill is now the intake, and the slot over the HDMI port is the exhaust. It was the other way 'round with the Compute Stick.

    I'm also swapping the USB hub I'd planned to use with a 4-port IOGear USB3.0 job -- a GUH304 with the housing, LED, and barrel-jack removed and wires soldered to the jack pads. The previously-intended hub was a Targus job that was uhm not impressive in a rather disconcertingly large number of ways, all of them significant.

    I haven't worked out the WiFi antenna arrangement yet, but it will almost certainly involve a similar construction to the one previously seen in use with the Compute Stick.

    More work tomorrow, if I can manage.

  • The Story So Far

    Starhawk07/21/2020 at 01:02 0 comments

    So... before I wrote any of the now (including this one) three project logs... heck, before this project's page went up, even, I'd done a couple days' work on it already.

    Here's what happened.

    I cut the pill bottle, kinda all at once... in retrospect, that was probably kinda dumb, lol.

    A little retrofit work on the system unit...

    Cut the pill bottle's cap, for a ventventlike cutting the bottle, this could have gone better. Oh well. Added the grill anyways.

    Tried a bottle + cap test fit... yeah, that's gonna need some help. Namely, cutting the bottle rim down. I did... it uhm sort of worked...

    The finished assembly, right before it uhm broke...

    ...and then I broke the bottle, in a way I couldn't fix :(

    Since then, I've acquired a replacement bottle, and made two design changes, one affecting Vyxen, down the line... stay tuned ;)

  • The Plan...

    Starhawk07/17/2020 at 21:10 0 comments

    I'm going to throw together something with (mostly) what I have. A lot of this pulls from the leftover debris that is the remains of the "SETEC Astronomy" project, and incorporates a few of the lesser goals of that project.

    I have an HP multimedia keyboard, a "standard" (102/104/etc-key full-size) PS/2 model, that my tech shop friend gave me. That's going to be a major part of this... it will serve as the main chassis, essentially, with the rest of the stuff mounted to it (or *in* it, in one particular case) -- an LCD, a USB 2.0 hub, a USB3.0 extension cable, a touchpad mouse, and the system unit in a rather *ahem* unusual and decorative casing ;) I'll also have a battery unit going here :D I've figured out an easy way to do that...

    The screen is one I impulse-bought on eBay for "SETEC" and didn't get a chance to show off -- I got it, entirely unopened and unused (heck, the shrinkwrap was still on it!) for a THIRD of what I'd have paid a CN/HK seller to send it via SpeedPAK or ePacket, simply because the guy who bought it never used it! It's a 10.1-inch "Ultra Thin" 1024x600 LCD monitor -- it's not just a panel and a board, it's got a housing and everything. It has capacitive-touch buttons for power and the OSD menu, right on the front of the thing, and it's got audio handling (unlike the 7-inch Waveshare and Waveshare-clone displays I've been using) and a speaker in the back. On top of the rest, it runs on 5vDC just fine, despite being rated (and labeled) for 12vDC operation. This mucks up the colors in anything other than HDMI mode, but I don't care -- I'm going to be using HDMI. I've removed the original barrel jack and will be hardwiring it.

    Unfortunately, the monitor's controller-board design shows the usual, er, "Chinese innovation" as far as BOM count and shameless simplification is concerned, ugh. The way the audio chip is wired, it only outputs audio on the righthand channel (!) -- the lefthand channel is not wired to a speaker -- and although the chip has the *ability* to auto-detect when headphones are inserted, this feature is not used and that pin is tied low (disabling that mode) with a pin that goes under the chip! The little stub of trace that sticks out from the chip pad is so small I can't cut it... and the line has to be pulled high to enable headphones mode :( Of course it's also a surface-mount chip, an SSOP-20. I'm going to pull the speaker off, it's on a connector so that's easy, and just use a USB headphone adapter I have already. The speaker looks like something from one of those awful birthday cards that sings to you, and even the really good ones of those always sound incredibly awful -- and this speaker didn't come from one of the good ones! ;) so it's guaranteed to sound criminally horrendous. Screw it, I've got a Plantronics audio dongle that will do much, much better!

    The USB2.0 hub will be integrated into the keyboard housing. It has four ports... one I'll need for the USB audio dongle, one for a PS/2-to-USB adapter for keyboard and mouse (more on that later), and one for a nifty little adapter I got from Adafruit (eBay would have been cheaper but it would not have gotten here in time unless I paid $20+ for EMS service -- which of course would make it *more* expensive than Adafruit) that works part of the battery subsystem (again, more on that later...). A single port is left for other uses... we'll see if I need it. Probably it will get a WiFi card if the onboard decides not to behave, which is all-too-often indeed the case (for shame!).

    The USB3.0 cable simply breaks that port out (the system unit has one USB2.0 port and one USB3.0 port) to a convenient location so that I can stick a flash drive in it.

    The touchpad mouse is an ooooold model. It's the one thing (so far) I purchased purposefully for this build other than a little bit of hardware (hinges and such). It's a "Cirque" brand model, a "Smart Cat Pro" touchpad -- the one with the scroll...

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  • A Bit of Background

    Starhawk07/16/2020 at 05:09 0 comments

    Right now, Steampunkish Too, my steampunk-y "DIY laptop" aka cyberdeck, is down for the count. This issue is explained in proper detail elsewhere, go look if you're interested -- you want to look at the most recent project logs in "SETEC Astronomy" and in "The Steampunk Laptop v2", the latter of which is the build log for Steampunkish Too. I see no need to duplicate that information here, and therefore I'm not going to.

    However, what *is* relevant is what Steampunkish Too was meant to achieve, by way of roles, and how it's failed in most of those respects, as well as what I plan to do about that... and that has *not* been discussed previously in any real depth, at least not publicly, so that I will put here.

    Steampunkish Too was meant to be a portable main computer, basically. I like to write, which mostly involves a computer running LibreOffice and a keyboard mouse and screen with which to use it. I also like to draw, which involves reference images of various sorts being displayed on a screen -- often a gaggle of them, in fact, that I can [ALT] + [TAB] between. Further, every Monday when my life isn't a flaming bag of hot mess like it is right now, I tend to do my grocery shopping -- it's a simple routine, catch a bus at roughly noon over to the local Walmart, do my shopping, relax in the Subway restaurant inside for a few hours (grabbing lunch as well as doing either some writing or some drawing) and then catch the bus back home at roughly 4pm.

    Steampunkish Too was meant to be hauled along on these Monday sojourns so that I could write or draw in the Subway on the same system that I use for everything else. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons that result from unfortunate design decisions (some of which were involuntary), it cannot fulfill this role. For one, it's too large -- the copier drum and encoder knobs, which form an important aesthetic point, make it too wide to fit in my little personal grocery cart, which I use because the public transit system here quite understandably requests that their drivers not have to assist with loading and unloading riders' groceries. I have a little plastic bin that I put in the top of that cart for personal effects such as the computer, and it sticks out badly when I try to fit it in. The screen is too dark, and the way the cables are run, and the resulting orientation of the control board, there's no way to access the buttons that fix that without partially disassembling the system. Lastly, because most of the hardware wound up in the lid... it's top-heavy in a *very* inconvenient way.

    It has further become apparent that I really need three computers --
    1) a portable system to carry with me on errands and longer trips / vacations / etc
    (2) a stationary computer, primarily for writing
    (3) a second stationary machine, primarily for viewing reference images and Internet content, and possibly doing some gaming and programming

    The first spot, I plan to fulfill with a new cyberdeck (not this one) that "pulls out all the stops". It's going to be named 'Vyxen' and will be a proper laptop, complete with a power system that not only includes a battery but the ability to charge the battery while the computer is running (if I can make that work lol). If I can pull off the build, Vyxen is going to be *amazing*, trust me... ;)

    The second and third machines, upon contemplation, have essentially been swapped in my mind, at least in part -- the writing system was originally going to be Steampunkish Too, and then it was going to be the one that did gaming and programming -- but I want a writing box that's actually for *writing*... and maaaybeee a little 'Net surfing for research. This will be a relatively simple box, almost certainly around a MeeGoPad T02 board. The third machine is another "pull out all the stops" build -- a sixteen inch wood-and-brass cube, resting on one corner somehow, with lights and all sorts of gadgetry, based on a Socket 1150 Mini-ITX...

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