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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Ask Hackaday: What movies have the best/worst hacking scenes

best-and-worst-movie-hacking

It’s time to do your best impression of [Comic Book Guy] as you make your case for trash or triumph in big screen hacking scenes. We watch a lot of movies, and it’s hard not to groan when the filmmakers cut corners by doing zero research into what using a computer actually looks like. But then once in a great while you have a team that does its due diligence and puts up a scene that makes sense to those of us in the know. So we’re wondering, what movies do you think have the best hacking scenes, and which ones are the worst offenders? Leave your opinion on the topic in the comments section.

We realize that you can come up with tons of poorly done ones, what we would really like to hear about is who did it right. We’ll get you started with a couple of examples. The image on the upper left is a scene from Tron: Legacy which we think did a fantastic job of portraying actual computer usage. You can read more about the huge amount of work that went into it in this article (via Reddit).

In the lower right is one of the most shady movies scenes that comes to mind. [Hugh Jackman] is compelled to do some ‘hacking’ by [John Travolta] in the movie Swordfish. The caption at the top of the screen is “COMPILER”, and who the heck knows what the rest of that is supposed to be?

On the hardware hacking side, it gets a little more difficult, we would LOVE some examples of hardware hacks or mods done right.

Ask Hackaday: What’s an easy way to build a potentiometer for a soldering iron?

diy-potentiometer-2

[Lee] wrote in to share the work he’s done in building a controller for his soldering iron. The idea started when he was working with an ATX power supply. He figured if it works as a makeshift bench supply perhaps he could use it as the source for an adjustable iron. To get around the built-in short-circuit protection he needed a potentiometer to limit the current while allowing for adjustments. His first circuit used a resistor salvaged from an AT supply and a trimpot from some computer speakers. That melted rather quickly as the pot was not power rated.

This is a picture of his next attempt. He built his own potentiometer. It uses the center conductor from some coaxial cable wrapped around the plastic frame of an old cooling fan. Once the wire was in place he sanded down the insulation on top to expose the conductor. The sweeper is a piece of solid core wire which pivots to connect to the coil in different places. It works, and so far he’s managed to adjust a 5V rail between 5A and 20A.

How would you make this system more robust? Short of buying a trimpot with a higher power rating, do you think this is the easy way to build a soldering iron controller? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

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Ask Hackaday: What to do with a home intercom system?

intercom

[Kyle] just moved into a new home, a 1970s abode that was very modern for its time. When the house was built, a home intercom system was installed. Of course this intercom system was eventually disconnected, but now [Kyle] would like to find a use for it.

The intercom system is a wonderful piece of engineering from the late 60s and early 70s. The base station has an FM radio, a mono input (for plugging in a turntable, we suppose), and a huge speaker. The satellite units – one for each room in the house – are much simpler with just a push to talk switch and a volume control. Yes, in classic minimalist style, the engineers for this intercom system used the speaker as a microphone.

[Kyle] would like to keep the wonderful plastic fantastic aesthetic of the intercom system, but he’s looking for something cool to do with this hardware.  This could be the beginnings of a very cool, very strange house-wide artificial intelligence build, kind of like a consumer version of HAL 9000. We’re interested in hearing what you’d do with [Kyle]‘s hardware, so leave your ideas in the comments.

Ask Hackaday: We might have some FPGAs to hack

rear

[Chris] is an IT guy for a medical clinic up in Alaska, and until very recently the systems he monitored, fixed, and beat with a wrench included over 100 Pano Logic “Zero Client” thin clients. Pano Logic just went out of business and all support for these little boxes have been cut off, leaving [Chris] with a hundred or so very interesting pieces of hardware.

The idea behind these “zero clients” is the ideal of a thin client – take all the storage, processing, RAM, and other goodies and move them to a server. Pano Logic took this one step further than other thin clients, removing the CPU, memory, and basically everything you’d find in a thin client. What was left was a Spartan-6 FPGA, a few chips to drive the USB ports, a pair of HDMI chips, and a few DDR2 modules. Basically, [Chris] has about 150 FPGA dev boards just sitting in a storage room. The only thing that is needed is a bunch of software and an extreme amount of cleverness.

After opening one of these zero clients, [Chris] found a Spartan-6 FPGA right next to what he thinks is a 6-pin programming port. Along with the FPGA are a few other chips that would make any FPGA dev board a very neat tool:

We’re going to agree with [Chris] these Pano Logic zero clients show a lot of potential. If you’re up to the challenge of creating a very, very cheap FPGA dev board out of some discarded hardware, head on over to ebay or chat up your local IT guy.

Ask Hackaday: How do you give a project away?

lcr

A few weeks ago, we caught wind of a DIY version of ‘smart tweezers’ from [Kai]‘s workbench that are able to measure SMD resistors, caps, and inductors. At that time, [Kai] hadn’t quite finished the software portion of his build, leaving him with a pile of parts and non-working PCBs. The code is finished now, meaning [Kai] has a very capable and very inexpensive version of LCR meter tweezers. He’d like to give back to the open source community and figure out a way to get his tweezers into the hands of makers the world over now. The only problem is he doesn’t know quite how to do that.

We’ve seen smart tweezers before, and they’re still available commercially for about $300. [Kai]‘s version brings down the price significantly, so there is a market for these LCR tweezers. The problem, it seems, is getting these tweezers manufactured.

We’re assuming that soldering hundreds of thousand of SMD parts isn’t what [Kai] thinks is a good time; this leaves a Kickstarter as a non-starter, unless he can contract out the manufacturing. Seeed Studio might be a good place for [Kai] to sell his wares, but we’re wondering what Hackaday readers would do in [Kai]‘s situation. Obviously he deserves to compensated for his work either through licensing or royalties, but as far as actual advice and recommendations we’re turning to Hackaday readers.

Hackaday’s official Kickstarter policy

we don’t have one… yet.

We’re getting inundated with campaigns on crowdfunding sites like kickstarter and indiegogo. Sometimes they’re really cool projects, sometimes they’re not. Unfortunately, they are all basically appeals for coverage on hackaday so they can get money. That immediately puts a negative taste in our mouths. Then again, if a hacker legitimately makes something really awesome, why wouldn’t we want to help spread the word?

We don’t want to stop a really cool project from being shared with you just because it is on kickstarter, but we also don’t want to serve as a crowdfunding advertising platform. It ends up being complicated, especially if the idea is really cool, but the details are sparse.

So, what do you think? Share your thoughts on how hackaday should handle crowdfunding in projects.

p.s. This started as a rant about how sick of the constant pleas for kickstarter coverage we’re getting. We’re trying to stay positive and constructive here, please do the same in the comments.