Keyboard Switch Is Really A Transformer

We don’t know why [TubeTime] decided to show off this oddball keyboard switch as a series of Twitter posts, but we were glad to see them somewhere. At first, the switch looks pretty conventional. But as the pictures reveal the insides, you’ll notice something unusual: a ferrite toroid! These switches operate as a transformer and are known as magnetic valve switches.

The switches have two sets of two pins — one set for the primary and one for the secondary of the transformer wound around the ferrite core. That transformer remains stationary, but a pair of permanent magnets move. When the key is up, the magnets are close to the core and cause the transformer to saturate, so there is little or no output at the secondary. When you depress the key, the magnet moves away from the core, allowing the signal to pass through the transformer. What that means is there is no mechanical contact, which is good for switch life. It is also important in environments where a small spark could cause an explosion. You can watch a video about a keyboard that used those switches, below.

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Defense Department Funds Wearables To Detect COVID-19

As many countries across the globe begin loosening their stay-at-home orders, we’re seeing government agencies and large companies prepare for the lasting effects of the pandemic. A recent solicitation from the United States Department of Defense (DoD) indicates they are investing $25 million into wearable devices that can detect early signs of COVID-19.

Based on a few details from the request for project proposals, it looks like the DoD is targeting mostly companies in this particular solicitation, but have left the door open for academic institutions as well. That makes intuitive sense. Companies can generally operate at a faster pace than most academic research labs. Given the urgency of the matter, faster turnarounds in technological development are imperative. Nonetheless, we have seen quite a bit of important COVID-19 work coming from academic research labs and we imagine that battling this pandemic will take all the brilliant minds we can muster together.

It’s good to see the DoD join the fight in what could be a lengthy battle with the coronavirus.

Please feel free to read through the request for project proposals for more details.

Hackaday Links: May 17, 2020

Consider it the “Scarlet Letter” of our time. An MIT lab is developing a face mask that lights up to alert others when the wearer has COVID-19. The detection technology is based on sensors that were developed for the Ebola virus scare and uses fluorescently tagged DNA fragments freeze-dried onto absorbent strips built into the mask. The chemistry is activated by the moisture in the sputum expelled when the wearer coughs or sneezes while wearing the mask; any SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the sputum bind to the strips, when then light up under UV. The list of problems a scheme like this entails is long and varied, not least of which is what would possess someone to willingly don one of these things. Still, it’s an interesting technology.

Speaking of intrusive expansions of the surveillance state, Singapore is apparently now using a Boston Dynamics Spot robot to enforce social-distancing rules in its public parks and gardens. The familiar four-legged, bright yellow dog-bot is carrying cameras that are relaying images of park attendees to some sort of image analysis program and are totally not capturing facial or personal data, pinky swear. If people are found to be violating the two-meter rule, Spot will bark out a prerecorded reminder to spread out a bit. How the system differentiates between people who live together who are out getting some fresh air and strangers who should be staying apart, and whether the operators of this have ever seen how this story turns out are open questions.

Those who lived through 9/11 in the United States no doubt remember the deafening silence that descended over the country for three days while every plane in the civil aviation fleet was grounded. One had no idea how much planes contributed to the noise floor of life until they were silenced. So too with the lockdown implemented worldwide to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, except with the sometimes dramatic reduction in pollution levels. We’ve all seen pictures where people suddenly realize that Los Angeles isn’t necessarily covered by an orange cloud of smog, and that certain mountain ranges are actually visible if you care to look. But getting some hard data is always useful, and these charts show just how much the pollution situation improved in a number of countries throughout the world after their respective lockdowns. For some cities, the official lockdown was a clear demarcation between the old pollution regime and the new, but for some, there was an obvious period before the lockdown was announced where people were obviously curtailing their activity. It’s always interesting pore over data like this and speculated what it all means.

While the in-person aspects of almost every conference under the sun have been canceled, many of them have switched to a virtual meeting that can at least partially make up for the full experience. And coming up next weekend is Virtually Maker Faire, in the slot where Bay Area Maker Faire would normally be offered. The call for makers ends today, so get your proposals in and sign up to attend.

And finally, there aren’t too many times in life you’ll get a chance to get to visualize a number so large that an Evil Empire was named for it. The googol, or 10100, was a term coined by the nine-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner when he asked the child for a good name for a really big number. To put the immensity of that number into perspective, The Brick Experiment Channel on YouTube put together an improbably long gear train using Lego pieces we’ve never seen before with a reduction ratio of 10103.4:1. The gear train has a ton of different power transmission elements in it, from plain spur gears to worm drives and even planetary gears. We found the 2608.5:1 harmonic gear particularly fascinating. There’s enough going on to keep even a serious gearhead entertained, but perhaps not for the 5.2×1091 years it’ll take to revolve the final gear once.┬áSomething, something, heat-death of the universe. [Ed note: prior art, which we were oddly enough thinking of fondly just a few days ago. Synchronicity!]

Look Ma, No Support For My Floating Holes!

Do you find supports to be annoying, when you use a 3D printer? A lot of time breaking away surplus pieces of plastic and then cleaning up the resulting ragged edges on your prints is certainly an unwelcome chore. But printing in free space is beyond the capabilities of even the most expensive printer, so it seems we’re stuck with supports for the foreseeable future. [Adam Haile] may have a solution to some support woes though, in the form of a clever technique for printing inset holes without support. His designs have a significant quantity of screw holes with inset heads, too far for the printer to bridge over so his technique breaks down the bridge into manageable smaller distances.

In the video below the break he shows how its done, with successive single layers that contain polygons bridging chords across the circle, with each layer approximating further to the final hole and the last holding the hole itself. Over a few layers the hole is created, without any support but with the minor inconvenience of a not perfectly flat inset. It’s a very clever idea, and one that we’d be interested to see further expanded upon by others.

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60’s Natural Gas Pipeline Computer Retires To Play Games

Computer gaming has come a very long way since the 1960s. While computers of that era may not run Doom or anything even close to it, many of us had our first exposure to computers playing Hunt the Wumpus, Adventure, or Star Trek over a clackety old TeleType machine. If you missed those days, or if you simply miss them, you might enjoy the video from [somecomputerguy] who fires up an old retired gas pipeline computer and loads enough paper tape into it to play Lunar Lander. (Video embedded below.)

We don’t miss the days of toggling in a bootloader so you could load the paper tape for a second bootloader before you could enter the actual program you wanted to run.

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Mitigating Con Deprivation: Disobey 2020

While the Coronavirus-induced lockdown surely makes life easier for the socially anxious and awkward ones among us, it also takes away the one thing that provides a feeling of belonging and home: conferences. Luckily, there are plenty of videos of past events available online, helping to bypass the time until we can mingle among like-minded folks again. To put one additional option on the list, one event you probably never even heard of is Disobey, Finland’s annual security conference that took place for its fifth time in Helsinki earlier this year, and they recently published the playlist of this year’s talks on their YouTube channel.

With slightly under 1500 hackers, makers, and generally curious people attending this year, Disobey is still on the smaller side of conferences, but comes with everything you’d expect: talks, workshops, CTF challenges, and a puzzle-ridden badge. Labeling itself as “The Nordic Security Event”, its main focus is indeed on computer and network security, and most of the talks are presented by professional security researchers, oftentimes Red Teamers, telling about some of their real-world work.

In general, every talk that teaches something new, discusses important matters, or simply provides food for thought and new insight is worth watching, but we also don’t want to give everything away here either. The conference’s program page offers some outline of all the talks if you want to check some more information up front. But still, we can’t just mention a random conference and not give at least some examples with few details on what to expect from it either, so let’s do that.

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Force Feedback Mouse Really Shakes Things Up

This is a very exciting time for those who like to spend their downtime exploring virtual worlds. The graphics in some big-budget titles are easily approaching photorealism, and immersive multi-channel sound can really make you believe you’ve been transported to another place or time. With another generation or two of GPU development and VR hardware, the line between gaming and reality is bound to get awful blurry.

That said, we’re still a far way off from the holodeck aboard the Enterprise. A high-end PC and the latest in VR can fool your eyes and ears, but that still leaves your other senses out of the fun. That’s why [Jatin Patel] has developed this clever force-feedback mouse using an array of solenoids.

The idea is pretty simple: a Python program on the computer listens for mouse click events, and tells an attached Arduino to fire off the solenoids when the player pulls the virtual trigger. It’s naturally not a perfect system, as it would seem that clicking in the game’s menus would also start your “gun” firing. But as you can see in the video after the break, when it works, it works very well. The moving solenoids don’t just vibrate the mouse around, the metallic clacking actually accentuates the gun sound effects from the game.

With this kind of tactile feedback and an omnidirectional treadmill to keep us moving, we’d be pretty close to fooling our senses into thinking we’re actually somewhere else. Which frankly, sounds quite appealing right about now.

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