Ask Hackaday: Are we close to reinventing the keyboard for touchscreens?

minuum-keyboard

We mourn the loss of the physical keyboard with the advent of tablets. After all, we do a bit of typing getting all of these features posted throughout the week. And we kind of blame tablets for the decline of the netbook industry (we still use a Dell Vostro A90 when not at home). But we’re trying to keep an open mind that we may not need a physical keyboard anymore. If someone can come up with an innovative alternative to the Qwerty layout that we are able to learn and can use with speed and without physical strain we’ll be on board. Our question is,  do you think we are close to a screen typing breakthrough?

This question came to mind after seeing the Minuum keyboard shown above. It compresses all of the rows of a Qwerty into a single row, monopolizing less screen space than conventional smartphone input methods. The demo video (embedded after the break) even shows them hacking the concept into a distance sensor and using a graphite-on-paper resistor. Pretty cool. But what happens when you type a word not in the dictionary, like this author’s last name?

You can actually try out the Minuum style thanks to [Zack's] in-browser demo hack. He’s not affiliated with Minuum, but has done quite a bit of alternative keyboard input work already with his ASETNIOP chorded typing project. It’s another contender for changing how we do things.

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DVD power supply repair tips

bridge-rectifier-repair

This demonstration fixes the power supply of a DVD player, but the skills transcend this one application. [Alan] walks us through the process of repairing a power supply (translated) on a simple consumer electronics unit.

Obviously this starts by cracking open the dead device and verifying that the culprit is the power supply. [Alan] then removes that board from the chassis and gets down to work with a visual inspection. He’s got several images which illustrate things to look for; blistered electrolytic capacitors, cracked solder joins, scorch marks, etc. In his case there’s obviously a burnt out fuse, but that merely protects the hardware from further damage, it’s not the cause. Next he examines the diodes of the bridge rectifier. These need to be removed from the system to do so, which he accomplishes by clipping one end of each as seen above. He found that two diodes on one side of the bridge had broken down. After replacing them he tries a new fuse which immediately burns out. But a quick swap of the capacitors and he gets the thing back up and running.

We perk up every time we see this type of repair hack. We figure if we can build our own hobby electronics we should be able to fix the cheap devices like this one.

Wooden teeth for your USB keyboard

wooden-keyboard

We just got an ergonomic keyboard for the first time and absolutely love it. But the look of this keyboard hack has us second guessing ourselves. [Will Pretend] pulled off an absolutely stunning wooden retrofit for his USB keyboard. Be warned, his project log includes 175 photos, and most of them have captions.

He started off by taking apart the original USB keyboard to see what he was working with. Before digging in to the valuable wood stock he cut test pieces using some thin MDF. But once he had a clear plan to get to the end of the project it was full stem ahead.

The keys are not simple Chicklet style overlays, they have depth like you would expect to find on low-grade plastic peripherals. This was accomplished by milling each key, then sending them through the laser cutter to each the letter on top.

Take some time to make your way through the entire project (here’s a thumbnail layout if you get frustrated). Unfortunately [Will] says he doesn’t actually use the keyboard because of grains catching and the keys move around a bit too much. But it does work.

Oil feed retrofit for a CNC mill starting to come together

oil-feed-retrofit-for-cnc-mill

Here is the first real fruit of [Joel's] labor on his oiling system for a CNC mill. Regular readers will remember hearing about his quest to go from a manual mill to a CNC version. As part of the overhaul he decided to add a system that can dispense oil to the different wear parts on the machine. We first looked in on the project when he showed off the pipe bender he built for the task. Now that he has that at his disposal he was able to route tubing to many of the parts.

The system starts with a central brass manifold which is pictured in the foreground. Each pipe was bent and cut to reach its destination with a minimum of wasted space. After a test fit showed good results he brazed the pieces together using silver solder. Each of the ball nuts have been drilled out so that oil will be injected onto the threads of the ball rod. Three input ports on the manifold will eventually let [Joel] connect the oil injection system via flexible tubing.

Reverse engineering challenge starts off simple

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We love seeing hard-core firmware reverse engineering projects, but the number of hackers who can pull those off is relatively small. It’s possible to grow the ranks of the hacker elite though. A hackerspace is a great place to have a little challenge like this one. [Nicolas Oberli] put together a capture the flag game that requires the contestants to reverse engineer Teensy 3.0 firmware.

He developed this piece of hardware for the Insomni’hack 2013 event. It uses the Teensy 3.0 capacitive touch capabilities to form a nine-digit keypad with a character LCD screen for feedback. When the correct code is entered the screen will display instructions on how to retrieve the ‘flag’.

To the right you can see the disassembly of the .elf file generated by the Arduino IDE. This is what [Nicolas] gave to the contestants, which gets them past the barrier of figuring out how to dump the code from the chip itself. But it does get them thinking in assembly and eventually leads to figuring out what the secret code is for the device. This may be just enough of a shove in the right direction that one needs to get elbow deep into picking apart embedded hardware as a hobby.

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Hammond Organ sends messages which can be decoded by a Spectrogram

hammond-organ-encodes-messages-spectrogram

Here’s an interesting use for an old organ. Let it get in on your Ham radio action. [Forrest Cook]  is showing off his project which uses a Hammond Organ to encode messages which can be displayed by a Spectrogram. We’ve seen this type of message encoding before (just not involving a musical instrument). It’s rather popular with Hams in the form of the fldigi program.

An Arduino was connected to the organ via a UNL2003 darlington array chip. This chip is driving some reed relays which make the organ connections to create the sine wave tones. With that hardware in place it’s a matter of formatting data to generate the target audio. [Forrest] wrote his own Arduino sketch which takes characters from the serial port (pushed over USB by the laptop), maps then to a stored 5×7 character font set, then drives the pins to produce the tones. As you can see in the clip after the break the resulting audio can be turned into quite readable text.

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Hacking VM for peak performance

vm-tweaking

[Cyber Explorer] recently ditched his collection of physical computers acting as servers by virtualizing the lot of them. But with every change there’s a drawback. Although it wasn’t too hard for him to set up the virtual machines, he did end up spending quite a bit of time trying to improve the bandwidth. Luckily he posted an article chronicling all of the VM tweaks he used to improve the system.

The experience involves both a Windows 8 machine, as well as a some Linux boxes meaning there’s something here for everybody. At each step in the process he performs some throughput tests to see how the boxes are performing. Tweaks are numerous, but include trying out different Ethernet drivers, making sure all modules are up to date, squashing at least one bug, and giving jumbo-frames a try.

[Thanks Omri]

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