Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

Keebin’ With Kristina: The One Where Shift (Really) Happens

Hooray, the system works! [Sasha K.] wrote to let me know about their Thumbs Up! keyboard, which is the culmination of a long journey down the DIY rabbit hole to end game. (Seriously, it’s kind of a wild ride, and there’s a ton of pictures).

Thumbs Up! comes in both monoblock and full split versions, but both are designed for Kailh chocs. Fans of the Kinesis Advantage will dig the key wells and possibly the thumb cluster, which in this case is raised up a bit from the mainlands. I’m pretty fond of the naked PCB approach to keyboard building, especially when they’re stacked and look as good as these do.

While the full split only comes in RP2040 (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the monoblock split is available in Pro Micro, ATmega Mini, and RP2040 versions. You can find the STL for the tilt stand and other goodies on Thingiverse.

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NASA Help Wanted: Ham Radio Operators Please Apply

NASA’s been recruiting citizen scientists lately, and their latest call is looking for help from ham radio operators. They want you to make and report radio contacts during the 2023 and 2024 North American eclipses. From their website:

Communication is possible due to interactions between our Sun and the ionosphere, the ionized region of the Earth’s atmosphere located roughly 80 to 1000 km overhead. The upcoming eclipses (October 14, 2023, and April 8, 2024) provide unique opportunities to study these interactions. As you and other HamSCI members transmit, receive, and record signals across the radio spectrum during the eclipse, you will create valuable data to test computer models of the ionosphere.

The upcoming eclipses are in October of this year and in April 2024, so you have some time to get your station in order. According to NASA, “It will be a fun, friendly event with a competitive element.” So if you like science, space, or contesting, it sounds like you’ll be interested. Right now, the big event is the Solar Eclipse QSO Party. There will also be a signal spotting challenge and some measurements of WWV, CHU, AM broadcast stations, and measurements of the ionosphere height. There will also be some sort of very low-frequency event. Details on many of these events are still pending.

Hams, of course, have a long history of experimenting with space. They routinely bounce signals off the moon. They also let radio signals bounce off the trails of ionized gas behind meteors using special computer programs.

A Linux Distro For All Your Ham Needs

For anyone new to the world of ham radio, one of the things that takes a little getting used to is visiting the websites of authoritative experts in various fields and feeling like you’ve traveled back to the Internet of 1999. As a hobby that lends itself to extremely utilitarian amateurs, the software side can feel a little left behind like that. [Andy] aka [KB1OIQ], on the other hand, is also a Linux enthusiast and has been putting together a complete Linux distribution with everything needed to operate a radio in the modern era.

While most ham radio software seems to be developed for Windows, there is a lot available for Linux. It just takes a bit of tinkering and experimentation to get everything configured just right. Andy’s Ham Radio Linux, or AHRL, takes a lot of the guesswork out of this. The distribution includes everything from contact logging software to antenna modeling, propagation forecasting, and electronic design. While tools like this are largely optional for operating radios themselves, there are also tools included to allow the user to operate various digital modes as well, which require some sort of computer interface to use.

The other design consideration [Andy] made was something that most hams consider when choosing software, which is that it should be able to run on extremely modest hardware. To that end, the distribution is based around Xubuntu and can run on ten-year-old machines with as little as 2 GB of RAM. And, for those interested more in software-defined radio specifically, there is another Debian-based Linux distribution called DragonOS that we’ve featured a few other times as well which is also worth checking out.

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