Especially over the last year and a half, most of us have gotten the feeling that there’s precious little distinction between our computers and ourselves. We seem welded together, inseparable even, attached as we are day and night to our machines as work life and home life blend into one gray, featureless landscape where time passes unmarked except by the accumulation of food wrappers and drink cans around our work areas. Or maybe it just seems that way.
Regardless, there actually is a fine line between machine and operator, and in most instances it’s that electromechanical accessory that we all love to hate: the keyboard. If you buy off the shelf, it’s never quite right — too clicky, not clicky enough, wrong spacing, bad ergonomics, or just plain ugly design. The only real way around these limitations is to join the DIY keyboard crowd and roll your own, specifically customized to your fingers and your needs — at least until you realize that it’s not quite perfect, and need to modify it again.
Hitting this moving target is often as much a software problem as it is a hardware issue, but as is increasingly the case these days, Python is ready to help. To go into depth on how Python can be leveraged for the custom keyboard builder, our good friends at Adafruit, including Limor “Ladyada” Fried, Phillip Torrone, Dan Halbert, Kattni Rembor, and Scott Shawcroft will stop by the Hack Chat. We suspect they’ll have some cool stuff to show off, in addition to sharing their tips and tricks for making DIY keyboards just right. If you’re building custom keebs, or even if you’re just “keyboard curious”, you won’t want to miss this one.
Samsung is causing much angst among its SmartThings customers by shutting down support for its original SmartThings home automation hub as of the end of June. These are network-connected home automation routers providing Zigbee and Z-Wave connectivity to your sensors and actuators. It’s not entirely unreasonable for manufacturers to replace aging hardware with new models. But in this case the original hubs, otherwise fully functional and up to the task, have intentionally been bricked.
Users were offered a chance to upgrade to a newer version of the hub at a discount. But the hardware isn’t being made by Samsung anymore, after they redirected their SmartThings group to focus entirely on software. With this new dedication to software, you’d be forgiven for thinking the team implemented a seamless transition plan for its loyal user base — customers who supported and built up a thriving community since the young Colorado-based SmartThings company bootstrapped itself by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Instead, Samsung seems to leave many of those users in the lurch.
There is no upgrade path for switching to a new hub, meaning that the user has to manually reconnect each sensor in the house which often involves a cryptic sequence of button presses and flashing lights (the modern equivalent of setting the time on your VCR). Soon after you re-pair all your devices, you will discover that the level of software customization and tools that you’ve relied upon for home automation has, or is about to, disappear. They’ve replaced the original SmartThings app with a new in-house app, which by all accounts significantly dumbs down the features and isn’t being well-received by the community. Another very popular tool called Groovy IDE, which allowed users to add support for third-party devices and complex automation tasks, is about to be discontinued, as well.
Just a few weeks before Atlantis embarked on the final flight of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, a small Mexican company by the name of Squad quietly released Kerbal Space Program (KSP) onto an unsuspecting world. Until that point the company had only developed websites and multi-media installations. Kerbal wasn’t even an official company initiative, it started as a side project by one of their employees, Felipe Falanghe. The sandbox game allowed players to cobble together rockets from an inventory of modular components and attempt to put them into orbit around the planet Kerbin. It was immediately addictive.
There was no story to follow, or enemies to battle. The closest thing to a score counter was the altimeter that showed how far your craft was above the planet’s surface, and the only way to “win” was to put its little green occupant, the titular Kerbal, back on the ground in one piece. The game’s challenge came not from puzzles or scripted events, but from the game’s accurate (if slightly simplified) application of orbital mechanics and Newtonian dynamics. Building a rocket and getting it into orbit in KSP isn’t difficult because the developers baked some arbitrary limitations into their virtual world; the game is hard for the same reasons putting a rocket into orbit around the Earth is hard.
Over the years official updates added new components for players to build with and planets to explore, and an incredible array of community developed add-ons and modifications expanded the scope of the game even further. KSP would go on to be played by millions, and seeing a valuable opportunity to connect with future engineers, both NASA and the ESA helped develop expansions for the game that allowed players to recreate their real-world vehicles and missions.
But now after a decade of continuous development, with ports to multiple operating systems and game consoles, Squad is bringing this chapter of the KSP adventure to a close. To celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary on June 24th, they released “On Final Approach”, the game’s last official update. Attention will now be focused on the game’s ambitious sequel, which will expand the basic formula with the addition of interstellar travel and planetary colonies, currently slated for release in 2022.
Of course, this isn’t the end. Millions of “classic” KSP players will still be slinging their Kerbals into Hohmann transfer orbits for years to come, and the talented community of mod developers will undoubtedly help keep the game fresh with unofficial updates. But the end of official support is a major turning point, and it seems a perfect time to reminisce on the impact this revolutionary game has had on the engineering and space communities.
We all love 3D printing, but printing anything that has an overhang requires support, right? Maybe not. [Create Inc] has a video showing some 3D prints that seem to hang impossibly in the air — not bridges, but loops just floating in the air. You can see the effect in the video below.
The point of these tools is to make it easier to create gcode directly instead of using a slicer. You can think of it as assembly language for 3D printing — you can do almost everything in the high-level language — 3D models — but if you want ultimate control you use assembly language, or, in this case, gcode.
The original tool uses Excel which didn’t visualize the output directly and could not provide proper error checking. The new tool solves those problems and is much easier to use.
[VK3YE] knows there are at least two things wrong with the cheap antennas you get with most SDR dongles. First, they are too short. You’d like to have enough to pull out a quarter wavelength on the longest frequency you want to operate. The second problem is there’s no real ground. He fixed both of these problems, as you can see in the video below.
The result might be called an ugly duckling rather than a rubber ducky. But it does seem to work. You could probably come up with something nicer to reseal the base, but the tape does work. A nice 3D printed housing would work, too, and might improve the appearance. We also thought about the goop you use on tool handles.
We actually have simply cut these antennas off and reused the cable and connector to hook up a better antenna. You might get more mileage out of that approach. On the other hand, the magnetic base and reasonably small form factor is pretty attractive.