Looks like I have to learn Eagle too

My first version of the cyberdeck will probably be a chunky mess of different parts and boards inside. But I’d like to start making my own boards eventually to make things cleaner and take up less space inside the deck. From the looks of it, this would also allow me to trade my time for the cost of premade boards. But that’s going to be the complicated part.

I’ve been searching for the past few days for a chip that can run lcd or oled displays and the supporting components for powering them. But unsurprisingly not much info is out there for easy finding. I have managed to find a few lcd driver/controller chips on digikey, and they are pretty cheep too! But they don’t support the resolutions I’m looking for.

Then I realized, “the Raspberry Pi 4 can support 4k!” It’s also open source so I can look at the components used. I’m not even a novice at reading datasheets, but it looks to me like the controller for lcd displays is actually managed in the SOC (System On a Chip) where the cpu lives. Of course power to drive the display would come from elsewhere on the board, but the controlling the pixels looks like it’s done on the SOC.

So I started looking for SOCs on Digikey that I could get for cheep (I’m probably going to kill one or two on the way getting the cyberdeck v2 done) and could manage a display at the resolution I want. Turns out that Texas Instruments makes an Arm Cortex-A9. I did actually start by searching for the chip that the Raspberry Pi 4 uses, BCM2711, but all I got back were results for the Raspberry Pi 4. Not helpful. So after going through all the different chips that TI offers, I settled on the AM4379. These chips aren’t as cheep as I was hoping, seeing as a good number of ARM chips of lower speed can cost less than $10. Still, I can set aside about the cost of a grubhub order and get one of these a pay check.

But since this is a ball grid surface mount component, I had to learn how that is attached. Of course the first place I looked was youtube. I found this video, this video, and this video to give me ideas of what I’d be in for. It doesn’t seem too hard, but only by doing it will I know for sure.

Okay, so now I have an idea of the chip and an idea of how to solder it, I need to learn how to design for it. I opened KiCad and started looking for the chip in the list of components. It was not there, so I figured it may be too new for the KiCad library. I looked up on digikey how to get their library and downloaded the git repo (git comes installed on Macs, and I think most versions of Linux. Installing it on Windows isn’t difficult either) and imported the component library and footprints into my project. When I searched for the chip it still wasn’t there. What the hell?

I started looking around the digikey page to see if there was some kind of individual download for the library for just this one component and I did find a page that allowed me to download the compent for my library but before registering and downloading that I had already begun looking into the differences between KiCad and Eagle, which is another pcb design software that I’ve seen mentioned a lot while doing my research. I’d avoided it because it’s not completely free. While this is only one source, it does mention that KiCad does not support designing for BGA (ball grid array) chips, but Eagle does. I’ll have to look around a bit more; I don’t like going off the word of one source. I’m also certain that there is a plugin somewhere that adds BGA design to KiCad. But it’s worth taking a look at Eagle because of it’s integrated support for BGA design and routing.

When I searched for “Eagle pcb design” and found the link for Autodesk, I found that you can only get Eagle bundled with another tool called Fusion360. I then went to look at the pricing because I hate time limited, feature limited, or ad serving “free” trials. When I saw the price I almost Noped the hell out right there. Autodesk software has always been expensive. That’s why anyone I knew that learned 3DStudio Max in the 90s did it on a cracked version. But Adobe software used to be crazy expensive too, and they’ve dropped the sub for every one of their products to about $50 now, making it more accessable. Not Autodesk. A monthly sub for just Fusion360 and Eagle is $60! And that’s their cheepest bundle. If you get any of the more professional bundles, you’re looking at $500+ a month!

Still, I looked around a little bit, and by going to the Fusion360 page and instead of clicking subscribe, I clicked on the plans & pricing link I found out that the free download was not a trial (like it says everwhere else). It’s a full product, though nerfed in some ways that may not affect me. No collab in the software (that’s fine, I’ll use git), only 2 pcb layers (this may become a problem in the future, something I’ll keep an eye out for), 2 schematics (I’m not sure what this will end up doing), and only 80cm2 pcb size. That last one could also be a problem. 80cm2 is 8.94cm a side. I went back to the chip data sheet and after scrolling though the pdf for 260 pages, I found that the chip is 17.1mm on each side, or 1.71 cm. That’s small enough to fit on the board but takes up almost 1/4 of my space for other components. I don’t want to breaking things up into different boards. That’s the whole reason for making my own board.

So, I’m going to have to learn Eagle well enough to design my board in the free version, and then subscribe for a month, long enough to do the actual design, I hope. SO, after my current electronics course, I guess I’ll be hunting for a good Eagle course on Udemy.


Update:

So, after writing this, I was doing some more searching (I can’t remember what for) but found the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. Right now I can’t find a way to get ahold of one of these other than to tear apart a $1300 phone, but I’m looking forward to using one in a future iteration of the cyberdeck.

I also started looking into the Arm Cortex A78 and how to get a soc chip running on this core. No luck yet, but it’s only been a few hours.

Why hunt down these flagship (and expensive) chips? Because who doesn’t want the best? New generations of technology usually bring better performance, lower power usage, or both.

Trying to convince my wife I’ll stick with this one

So, one of the challenges I have with my interests is my own interest in learning so many things. I.E. I jump from interest to interest without much followup. Part of this has been because of how excited about ideas while I’m in a hypomanic/manic phase. Well, maybe a lot of it has to do with this.

Another part is the time from interest to opportunity. When I become interested in learning a new skill, cost usually keeps me from jumping into it with both feet. For example, with building my cyberdeck I am unable to gather the tools I need to experiment and learn hands on. I almost almost get my first few tools for an intrest about the time I drop into a depression and they go unused for a long time.

I’m hoping this time is different.

I’m on medication now, and maybe that will help me stay interested through the ups and downs. Now I just have to convince my wife I’m not just going though a passing phase. I’ve already gone past the point of driving her nuts with my excited evangelism for all the things I want to do. I’ve spent hours each night making wishlist after wishlist, reorganizing, resorting, and revising them. I’ve sacrificed my normal game time to take Udemy courses on electronics, circuit design, and how to set up a workbench.

But I have a long history of jumping from interest to interest to overcome. I don’t have a history of making good decisions with money either, so I have to convince her.

What do you think? What would you do next to convince someone you had a serious interest in a hobby that was going to cost money to get started in?

Sourcing a display

In line with my desire to make this cyberdeck a build it myself adventure, I looked into what it would take to build my own LCD display. But after seeing this video, I decided this was going to require more time and equipment that I was willing to work with, and would have been to simplistic to meet my needs.

Which means, I’m going to have to buy a pre-made display.

For the past few months (actually years, as the cyberdeck has been floating around in my mind for a long time), I’ve been browsing Amazon for LCD displays that I could use, something mountable in the range of 7 to 15 inches. There are quite a few of these available on Amazon, but the problem I began running into was resolution. Finding even a 1080p (that is 1920px by 1080px) in this size of display was difficult.

But as luck would have it I was searching for how to build my own vr headset yesterday and came upon this open source project: https://github.com/relativty/Relativty . Specifically, the project team linked to their chosen displays, a pair of 120hz 2k displays with a single controler (bookmarked for later). But at the top of the page, there is a link to the vendor’s store, and what did I see? 2k and 4k displays at sizes I had difficulty finding 1080p for on amazon. And at similar prices unless I can figure out a cheeper way to control them. The only downside is the delivery time. It looks like if I bought one from Aliexpress, I will have to wait a few weeks. But at this point, it looks like the cyberdeck is going to be a summer long project with all the parts and skills I must acquire.

My Current Obsession: Building a Cyberdeck

When it comes to learning new things, my interests never come as healthy curiosity. I Obsess over whatever it is that popped into my head. Right now, and for the past month or so I’ve been obsessed with learning how to build my own custom built cyberdeck.

For the unitiated, a cyberdeck is a computer that hackers in cyberpunk worlds based on William Gibson’s worlds use. Traditionally that were pretty big and full of features, ports, and radio circuitry for traversing cyberspace and hacking computer systems. As time has progressed and technology has advanced (and we’ve reached the years that some of these cyberpunk futures take place in), cyberdecks have shrunk and basically become iPads and cell phones. I’ve even named my iPhone, “Ye Olde Cyberdeck.”

But that’s not what I want my cyberdeck to be. I want a DIY style modern retro computer that I build completely myself. Problem is, I have no experience in electronics design. But as with my past interests/obsessions, I won’t let that stop me.

I’m simultaniously trying to identify the skills and tools I need to put the project together, identify the features I want included and how much I need to learn about them, find sources for the parts I need, settle on a style and layout that will make using my cyberdeck enjoyable and not a pain in the butt just to say I have one.

Featurewise there are some obvious needs, some kind of computer, an operating system, input from the user, and output to the user. I’d also like wifi and more. Below are a list of some of uses I’ve considered.

  1. Wardriving, and wifi hacking, ip and packet sniffing
  2. Wifi spoofing
  3. Ethernet communication interception
  4. IR signal copy and repeat
  5. RFID read, write, & copy
  6. Usb communication interception
  7. Police scanner
  8. Camera, 3d Camera, IR camera
  9. NFC
  10. VR hub
  11. Cellular & 5g hacking (is this even a thing?) (SIM copy, write?)
  12. Satcom
  13. OBD2 reader/programmer

And I’ve had other ideas, that flitter in and out of my mind so that I can’t remember them right now.

Now, I know this all sounds very malicious, and I agree it could be. But I’m curious and just finding out if I can do these things is reward enough. There isn’t anyone I’m looking to hurt with these capabilities.

And to be honest, it is more likely that I kill myself with a charged capacitor than there is of me getting 1/3 of the above working. I’m smart, but not that smart.

Yet another new site

So, here I go again. I’ve started and stopped many sites/blogs over the past 20ish years, because I’ve always made them specialized and I just can’t keep a focus on an interest for that long. Like, I had an aquarium blog for dwarf shrimp in the early 2000s and it’s still just sitting there. I’ve also started blogs about gaming, crypto currency, critiquing indipendently published horror novels, writing angry letters to people I run into in my daily life, and driving. Obviously, for me, the specialized blog doesn’t work.

So, now I’ve started another site and this time I’m just going to follow my shifting interests. If I’m feeling English nerdy, I’ll do that. If I’m stuck on a new game, that’s where I’ll go. Programming, boom. Electronics, bam. Comics, bang. Etc.

I’ve been a nerd my whole life. I was born in 1978, so being a nerd when I was a kid wasnn’t nearly as cool as it is made out to be now. I’ve always had an instinctual feel for the mechanical workins of machines, and was already able to fix the moving parts of VCRs and tape decks by the time I was 8. I started programming in C64 basic (following guides, not my own logic) when I was 7 so that I could put swear words into Moon Lander and Lemonade. And I was obsessed with sharks, learning everything I could about them all through elementary school. I checked out every shark book in the school library at least twice.

In fifth grade I was tested for and accepted into the “Gifted and Talented Education” (G.A.T.E.) program and started playing with simple electronics, aerodynamics, lasers, spectrums, and other nerdy toys. In eighth grade I received 2 awards for the S.A.T. test for receiving the highest grade in the school, and for being in the top 5% in the state. I still have the awards somewhere. I dropped out of highschool to work but took the G.E.D. and scored in the top 90th percentile for most categories (85 percentile for maths) and 98th percentile in language comprehension, and 99th in scientific understaning. I tried the join the military for the money to go to college after 9/11, and I have the certificate of my scores around here somewhere, and scored high enough to into any MOS I wated, with the exception of pioloting because of my eyesight, but unfortunately I was not able to gather enough medical waivers (even after I lied and said I didn’t have asthma) to join. So then I took the A.C.T. to try to get into college and got a composite score of 32, which impressed the admissions department, but not enough for me to get any kind of scholarship so I waited. 10 years later I went back and started working on a degree in creative writing (my obsession at the time). I graduated with high honors, and as a founding member and historian of my school’s ΣΤΔ (Sigma Tau Delta) honor society chapter.

Now, I know this sounds like a lot of bragging. But these are the high points. I’ve also been undiagnosed bipolar for who knows how long. I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble and gone to long term juvenile detention, been placed in foster (proctor) homes, had long periods of depression, unpredictable violent outbursts, made major stupid decisions (like running my car head on into another car for no reason), gone on drinking binges for months, had a lot fun with drugs, been fired, been demoted, been in soooo many fights. I’ve hurt my family, I’ve hurt my friends, I’ve hurt strangers, I’ve been violent to myself. I’ve bankrupted myself and ruined my credit more than once. But I’m on a drug cocktail of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers now that mostly keeps me in check and my wife makes sure I take it every day.

So, you can see I’m not bragging. For every up there is to me being a nerd, there I am to destroy it. But I’ve been doing well for the past 1/2 year on my medications and I’m looking to be more positive and constructive. Even through the medications I can feel periods of mania slipping through and it makes me feel creative and that’s what I want this blog to be about. I also set up a youtube channel to show you the projects as I work on them, but this blog is where you can see my ideas start to take shape, and be worked out.

All in all, I hope you are able to gain inspiration, learn something, or make a friend, and be a nerd with me.