Journal Entries By Year: 2023

Assorted journal entries from 2023.

My Cyberdeck

TL;DR — My custom "computer" from a future that never was...

👓 6 minutes

Posted: August 14, 2043

After spending the last few months collecting parts, I was finally able to piece together my new cyberdeck over this weekend, and I must say, I’m pretty pleased with the result. Most of the equipment I used is vintage (or, as some might call it, “outdated junk”), but it supports a number of different data formats and interaction modes, making it handy for a variety of uses.

The main unit is a Tec<Net Walkabout T4 portable terminal with an upgraded Sino-Logic 16 processor (replacing the original 12-core version). Additionally, I ripped out the old port interface module and replaced it with a new one from OdaCom that supports USB-6X, SimStims, about 12 different kinds of ISO-chips, TriD, and even HDMI-Classic (so I can plug it in to any of the old displays in my workshop). Unfortunately, the original display on the Walkabout was cracked, and since I wanted it to be portable, I had to replace the screen with a 20-year-old (pre-merger) Samsung Android that I hardwired into the display adapter. I mean, it’s only a Super AMOLED screen (so, only 2D content), but it’ll work for now (maybe I’ll have better luck the next time I go to the E-Cyc center).

The cyberdeck, running a shell.

Software-wise, I decided to stick with what I know, and that was EncomOS. I’ve been using that particular flavor of GNU/Linux since the Meta / Microsoft merger and the Zuckerberg Affair, and since I already had root access to the Walkabout, it was an easy update to make.

As I said, I’m very happy with the end result, but I honestly I don’t know if I’m finished yet. I was going to put a GPL Stealth Module in it, But I may wait until I actually need it (especially since the crypto-cops tend to hassle anyone carrying one anymore). Likewise, I could replace the display with a short-throw holoview, or even plug a set of Thompson Eye-Phones in to the Hub, but I’m comfortable enough in both shell and 2D GUI to get by without VR for most activities (plus, since the optical data cord is hot swappable, I can always plug in the Eye-Phones in when I want the full XR experience).

I’ve embedded some more images below, in case you want to see more. As I said, I’m quite happy with the finished product, and have already started thinking about what to add to the next version.

I’ll keep sharing updates on any future improvements I make to it.

The cyberdeck, booted into self-test mode.

OK, it obviously isn’t 2043 (yet), but the images above are real, and I really did “build” a cyberdeck (several years ago, in fact).

At present, the “brains” of the device is a Samsung Galaxy s23 smartphone, connected via USB-C to a hub. The hub, in turn, is connected to a TeckNet Heavy Duty back-lit keyboard via a USB cable and is physically attached to it via silicon and Sugru. A 2600 mAh power bank that I picked up cheap a few years ago is also glued to the keyboard, and a metal brace is attached to both the keyboard and power bank, giving it some stability, as well as a place for the phone mount to attach (via magnets).

Middle view showing power bank and USB modem.
Left side-view showing the modem’s phone jack.

The hub has 2 USB-3 ports (one of which is dedicated to the keyboard, but that’s OK), a TF card slot, an SD card slot, a USB-C charging port, and an HDMI port. Overall, the device is lighter than a notebook but more tactile than a glass screen, and sits very easily on my lap.

Right side-view showing USB hubs, one with an HDMI out, and the other with an ethernet port.

I had originally intended to attach both the USB hub and phone mount to the keyboard via some kind of tab-and-slot sliding mechanism (not unlike how Joy-Cons attach to the Nintendo Switch), but I couldn’t find the hardware I would need to implement it. Still, if I do another one, I’d like to explore that as an option, making the whole device more modular (being able to swap out different USB hubs for different needs, and maybe alternate mounts, so I could use a tablet instead of my phone).

I built it over the past couple of years, and actually went through several updates along the way (improving the hubs and phone holster).

Early prototype build.
WIP on the 'deck.

I’m sharing it now because I’m entering the Hackaday Cyberdeck contest (my entry). This post is mostly the same info that’s over there.

Of course, it’s not perfect - it’s not as durable as I’d like it to be, and it’s not exactly easy to carry. My hope had been to mount the whole thing to either some kind of metal frame or plate (a la a hiking backpack, but smaller), providing some much need structural support (and stable grips to hold on to), but I could never find what I was looking for. Plus, I built it before my current obsession with mechanical keyboards, so while the keyboard is nice, it doesn’t have quite the desired click.

But, all-in-all, it was a fun project to put together, and it’s come in handy more thana few times (when I was between machines, or waiting on repairs).

How well does it work?

Overall, I think it works well. Although the small screen limits some of its functionality, the relative simplicity of a phone-based system does lend itself to certain tasks, like journaling and shell-based interfaces (like MOSH), two things I like to use it for. A previous iteration of this design was powered by an S9 which even ran a web server (a virtual machine running nginx and nodeJS), and the keyboard was useful for direct access to the shell.

At the end of the day, the phone is a very powerful device in-and-of-itself, and the added functionality that comes fromt he hubs (whether for extra memory, peripherals, or even an external monitor

Plus, because it’s a Samsung phone, plugging it into a monitor activates DEX mode, a Desktop-like EXperience (see what they did there?) with multiple windows, background apps, and touchscreen controls (or support for an external mouse, if that’s your thing).

[picture of the keyboard hooked up to an external monitor, running dex]

Running DEX on the 'deck.

Of course, it still has some practical issues - running the external monitor drains the battery from the phone, even when plugged in.

But the overall experience, as far as I’m concerned, is quite #cromulent.

I even wrote most of this post on it.

Cyberdeck as writing machine.
WIP on this blog entry.

Does it support VR?

It does, or it did, sort of, but not for long.

Given that the phone is the brain of the “device”, any USB-C compatible phone can be plugged into it. The previous brains for the device were a Samsung Galaxy S9 and S10, each of which could plug into a Samsung Gear VR.

Unfortunately, Samsung discontinued it, so it doesn’t work with the s20 (the current brain) or later. I keep hoping that these devices will somehow get “opened up” with later non-standard firmwares and enable something like the failed Project DayDream to live up to it’s full potential.


In the end, I haven’t used it much - it’s too unwieldy to take anywhere, and if I’m honest, I don’t do alot of mobile computing where it would be useful. I had planned to address the first issue by mounting the device on a metal frame, and maybe I will if I ever work on a v2, but for now, it remains sans handle or reinforcing structure.

And so it mostly sits, collecting dust… just a souvenir from a future that never was.

Atari BASIC Colleen (an 8-Bit emulator) running on the cyberdeck.
Termux (a shell emulator) running on the cyberdeck.

Case In Point

TL;DR — A short post about the recent site outage and the new fan I acquired for the server.

👓 2 minutes

Last Sunday evening, quite out of the blue, the web server that hosts this site started making a horrible whining noise. A quick finger-check determined it was the fan making the noise. I tried to clean the unit (and the Pi4 beneath it) with some compressed air, but alas, the damage to the fan had been done.

My Pi4 webserver, heimdallr, in its original glory.
Top view of heimdallr, so you can see both the pins and the fan that would fail.
A slightly-blurry bottom view of heimdallr, from back when it had 4 screws AND 4 little rubber feet.

Thanks to the magical delivery gnomes, a replacement case arrived the very next day (well, technically it was the following night, which was unfortunately about 2 hours too late for Monday Night’s session of Planar Vagabond, but close enough). So, Tuesday morning, I started swapping the old case for the new one, and 15 minutes later, it was back online.

After some looking around, I went with a “ICE Tower Cooler” by GeeekPi. It was relatively inexpensive, easy enough to put together, and the LED in the fan adds a distinctive, #cyberpunk vibe to the machine (particularly compared to the somewhat professional-but-pedestrian original case).

The updated heimdallr, showing off its new LED powers.
Another view of the updated heimdallr and its color-changing fan.
Rear-view of the updated heimdallr, proving it looks just as cool from the back.
Video of the updated heimdallr booting up.

I'm Officially Licensed!

TL;DR — I've started hosting my own licenses on this very website.

👓 2 minutes

For the past few years, I’ve been releasing content under various licenses, usually linking to the “official” website for each one. But starting today, I’m looking towards the future, as I’ve finally added web-friendly versions of several of these licenses to this very website.

Right now, there’s only 3 (which makes sense, since that’s all I’m using at the moment), but with all of them excitement over the ORC license (and some other OGL alternatives), who knows what this brave, licensed future will hold?

Why Host Them Here?

Two simple reasons.

  1. I like having a simple, permanent link[1] to each license’s text (ideally, with my name on said licenses).
  2. If I’m going to have a simple, permanent link to each license’s text, it’s going to be hosted on my website.

See? Simple.

Where Are They Being Used?

I’m working on a few other fun projects right now, and I figure that having these links will be increasingly useful if and when I get them to launch.

Until next time, here’s to the future!

  1. Links updated 2024-01-26 to use directory URLs rather than direct file URLs. The old links still work and will continue to until they get replaced with “301 moved permanently” redirects to the new links. I also added the GPL to the list (in preparation for a super-secret project that I’m currently working on). ↩︎

The Planar Vagabond's Guide to the Multiverse Has Arrived!

TL;DR — I launched a whole-new site, collecting my custom OSR homebrew (and other content) into a single interplanar space.

👓 2 minutes

Announcing the arrival of the most important interplanar publication since the great Encyclopedia of the University Eternal; a wholly remarkable tome, more popular than the Idiot’s Guide to Running an Astral Business, better selling than Fifty More Things to do in Subjective Gravity, and more controversial than Balyx Balator’s trilogy of metaphysical blockbusters: Where the Gods Went Wrong, Infernus: Fairy-tale or Fiction?, and The Lie of Alignment

It’s The Planar Vagabond’s Guide to the Multiverse!

This incredible (but exceedingly portable) guide includes everything you might want to know about the various planes of existence, the creatures that inhabit them, and the strange (but potent) magic items that one can encounter while traveling among them.

If you want to know how to get around the astral plane on less than 5 silver pieces a day, this is your guide!


OK… Truth be told, the PVGttM is a new website that I recently launched which serves as a dumping ground for all of my OSR RPG homebrew (including classes, races, creatures, and magic items), as well as a place for documenting the rules that my friends and I use in our Monday night astral RPG[1] and the multiverse we’re building together.

From a technical standpoint, the site uses more-or-less the same engine that this site does, combining a custom markdown-based parser with some EJS templates to render static HTML, served with a smile by the same Pi4 + nginx combination that this site runs on.

There’s already a fair amount of content published there, and I plan to start posting here about some of my favorite things from the site, so stay tuned!

And until next time, Feare Naught!

  1. Now available via a truly libre license thanks to WotC’s shenanigans, but that’s a post for another day. ↩︎