Capacitive Sensing And Old IBM Keyboards

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The pen is mightier than the sword, but the IBM Model M keyboard, properly applied, can knock teeth in. There are a few more IBM keyboards even better suited to blunt force trauma – the extremely vintage beam spring keyboards made for terminals and desktop publishers. Being so very old, there’s no easy way to connect these keyboards to a modern system, so when [xwhatsit] wanted to make his work, he needed to build his own controller.

The beam spring keyboards use capacitive switches, and with 122 keys, the usual method of reading capacitance – putting a capacitor in an oscillator – would be far too slow to be of any use in a keyboard. There is another method of reading capacitance: measuring the current going through the capacitive switch. This can easily be accomplished with an LM339 comparator.

[xwhatsit]’s keyboard controller uses this capacitive sensing circuit to read the four rows of keys, with a few shift registers taking care of the columns. An ATMega32u2 is the brains of the outfit, running LUFA to translate the key presses to USB.

If you’re lucky enough to have one of these ancient keyboards, [xwhatsit] is selling a few over on the usual mechanical keyboard forums. There’s also a controller for the Model F keyboard using the same basic circuit. If you need one just drop him a line or grab the gerbers and roll your own.

 

 

Barobot Serves Cocktails While Using Open Design the Right Way

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Oh for the day when we can stop repeatedly looking up our favorite drink recipes on Wikipedia. Those may be just around the corner and you’ll have your choice of single-click delivery or toiling away in the workshop for a scratch build. That’s because Barobot is satisfying both the consumer market and our thirst for open hardware goodness. They’re running a Kickstarter but to our delight, the software and mechanical design files are already posted. Before you dig into the design files there’s a really good look at the constituent parts in the assembly manual (PDF) — that’s a lot of pieces! — and a tiny bit on the tech-stuff page.

This remind us of the Drinkmo we saw earlier in the year. That one cames complete with the high-pitched whine of stepper motors. We didn’t get to hear Barobot’s ambient noise in the promo vid after the break. But one place this desing really shines is a swiveling caddy that allows for a double-row of bottles in a similar footprint. One thing we’d be interesting in finding out is the cleaning procedure. If anyone know what goes into cleaning something like this let us know in the comments.

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Neo Geo Gets Line Doubled

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We love old video games, but we hate the way analog interlaced video looks on our new LCD monitors. [Michael] feels the same way, so he’s created NeoVGA, A Neo Geo Line Doubler in VHDL. Neo Geo, like many classic consoles, didn’t use the full resolution of an analog TV. In NTSC mode, it ran at 320×224 pixels. PAL users got an extra 32 vertical pixels for 320×256 pixels. The system ran with an approximately 15kHz horizontal sync and ~60Hz vertical sync.

This is not exactly a VGA compatible signal, so it would be relegated to composite or S-Video capable displays. The signals looked pretty good on a CRT, but on an LCD, they tend to look crummy. Modern LCDs don’t natively handle interlaced and/or low resolution input signals. The TV’s controller performs the magic of buffering, interpolating, and transforming the input signal to be compatible with the LCD panel. As [Michael] explains, most of these algorithms are optimized for TV video signals with lots of motion. They perform poorly on static high contrast images such as the background of a fighting game. TV controllers also add lag to the signal chain. Not much of a problem when watching movies, but it’s a big problem when you’re trying to pull off that triple hit combo.

Click past the break for more on [Michael’s] creation.

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Sealed-System Bucket Loader Cleans Messes in Dangerous Places

 

Cleaning up after a disaster is hard and dangerous. But the ROEBL project is trying to make it substantially safer by removing the human operator from harm’s way. The Remote Operated Electric Bucket Loader had a big double-fenced, cement barrier play area set up at Maker Faire and [Justin Gray] walked us through the project which concluded with a demonstration of the hardware.

For now the operator does need to be on site to see what the loader is doing, but a first-person video setup is planned for the future. Still, removing the operator from the jarring experience of riding inside is an improvement. And the sealed nature of the electric and hydraulic systems mean that it can operate in areas inundated with liquids like water or oil.

The video above has a 90 second demonstration at the end (while we all laugh like children at what really was a giddy display of power being thrown about by a handheld controller). The ROEBL website has a gallery where you can see the conversion process that started with a standard diesel machine.

Retrotechtacular: Once Upon A Punched Card

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Ah, the heady days of the early 60s, where companies gave their salesmen exquisitely produced documentaries, filled with incidental music written by the best composers of the era, and a voice actor that is so unabashedly ordinary you would swear you’ve heard him a hundred times before. It’s a lot better than any PowerPoint presentation anyone could come up, and lucky for us, these 16mm films are preserved on YouTube for everyone to enjoy. This one was sent out to IBM sales reps pushing a strange technology called a ‘punched card’, a system so efficient it will save your company tens of thousands of dollars in just a few short years.

Like most explanations of what a punched card does, this IBM documercial begins with the history of the Jacquard loom that used punched cards for storing patterns for textile weaving. In a rare bit of historical context befitting IBM, this film also covers the 1880 US census, an important part in the evolution of punched cards being used not as instructions for a loom, but data that could be tabulated and calculated.

The United States takes a census every ten years. The tenth census of 1880 took so long to compile into the data – seven years – it was feared the next census of 1890 wouldn’t be complete until the turn of the century. This problem was solved by [Herman Hollerith] and his system of encoding census data onto punched cards for tabulation. [Hollerith] would later go on to found the Tabulating Machine Company that would later merge with two other companies to form IBM. Isn’t it great that IBM chose to include that little nugget in their film.

As a point of interest, the film does contain a short pitch for IBM punched card writers, sorters, and calculators – the backbone of IBM’s medium to large size business sales. At the time this film was produced (1964) IBM was ready to announce the System/360, what would become the de facto mainframe for businesses of all sizes.  Yes, the /360 also used punched cards, but we wonder how many angry phone calls the sales reps received months after showing this film.

Oh, the People You’ll Meet! (at Maker Faire)

 

I might argue that the best thing about Maker Faire isn’t the booths at all, but the people you’ll run into. To that end, I spliced together a series of these impromptu run-ins that I thoroughly enjoyed. What’s remarkable to me is that these people of not weren’t themselves attracting a crowd. If you want to meet the hackers who you respect in the hacking world, you can still have a casual and friendly conversation with them!

First up is [Jeremy Blum] who is a long-time friend of Hackaday, author Exploring Arduino, and one-year member of the Google[x] team. We ran into him along with [Marcus Schappi], CEO of Little Bird Electronics in Australia. [Marcus’] crew recently saw a successful crowd-funding run with the Micro-view.

Next up is [Ben Heck] of The Ben Heck Show. He talks a bit about his recent hack of a pair of texting radios using the eRIC radio modules and he riffed on his past robotic luggage project as well.

The rest of the video is devoted to Hackaday alum. I ran into [Caleb Kraft] who recently started as Community Editor over at MAKE, and [Phil Burgess] who now builds gnarly projects for Adafruit. The clip wraps up with [Ian] from Dangerous Prototypes. He’s fresh off of his Hacker Camp in Shenzhen which covered everything from reballing BGA components by hand, to finding good deals on custom wardrobe, and making sound gastronomic choices while in China.

We talked to a horde of people over two days. Perhaps it was the foam Jolly Wrencher that I wore around? But the point is that everyone at an event like this is interesting to talk to, approachable, and well worth the cost of entry. If you haven’t been to a hacking convention it’s time to start looking around for the one nearest you!

Turning Lego Into A Groove Machine

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Last weekend wasn’t just about Maker Faire; in Stockholm there was another DIY festival celebrating the protocols that make electronic music possible. It’s MIDI Hack 2014, and [Kristian], [Michael], [Bram], and [Tobias] put together something really cool: a Lego sequencer

The system is set up on a translucent Lego base plate, suspended above a webcam that feeds into some OpenCV and Python goodness. From there, data is sent to Native Instruments Maschine. There’s a step sequencer using normal Lego bricks, a fader controlling beat delay, and a rotary encoder for reverb.

Despite being limited to studs and pegs, the short demo in the video below actually sounds good, with a lot of precision found in the faders and block-based rotary encoder. [Kristian] will be putting up the code and a few more details shortly. Hopefully there will be enough information to use different colored blocks in the step sequencer part of the build for different notes.

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