A Passion for the Best is in Mechanical Keyboards

There is an entire subculture of people fascinated by computer keyboards. While the majority of the population is content with whatever keyboard came with their computer or is supplied by their employer — usually the bottom basement squishy membrane keyboards — there are a small group of keyboard enthusiasts diving into custom keycaps, switch mods, diode matrices, and full-blown ground-up creations.

Ariane Nazemi is one of these mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. At the 2017 Hackaday Superconference, he quite literally lugged out a Compaq with its beautiful brominated keycaps, and brought out the IBM Model M buckling spring keyboard.

Inspired by these beautiful tools of wordcraft, [Ariane] set out to build his own mechanical keyboard and came up with something amazing. It’s the Dark Matter keyboard, a custom, split, ergonomic, staggered-columnar, RGB backlit mechanical keyboard, and at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference, he told everyone how and why he made it.

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Acetone Smoothing Results in Working Motor

Here’s something only ’90s kids will remember. In 1998, the Air Hogs Sky Shark, a free-flying model airplane powered by compressed air was released. This plane featured foam stabilizers, wings, a molded fuselage that served as a reservoir, and a novel engine powered by compressed air. The complete Sky Shark setup included an air pump. All you had to do was plug the plane into the pump, try to break the pressure gauge, and let the plane fly off into a tree or a neighbor’s rooftop. It’s still a relatively interesting mechanism, and although we’re not going to see compressed air drones anytime soon it’s still a cool toy.

Since [Tom Stanton] is working at the intersection of small-scale aeronautics and 3D printing, he thought he would take a swing at building his own 3D printed air motor. This is an interesting challenge — the engine needs to be air-tight, and it needs to produce some sort of usable power. Is a standard printer up to the task? Somewhat surprisingly, yes.

The design of [Tom]’s motor is more or less the same as what is found in the Air Hogs motor from twenty years ago. A piston is attached to a crank, which is attached to a flywheel, in this case a propeller. Above the cylinder, a ball valve keeps the air from rushing in. A spring is mounted to the top of the piston which pushes the ball out of the way, allowing air into the cylinder. At the bottom of the stroke, the ball closes the valve and air escapes out of the bottom of the cylinder. Simple stuff, really, but can it be printed?

Instead of the usual printer [Tom] uses for his builds, he pulled out an old delta slightly modified for higher quality prints. Really, this is just a 0.2 mm nozzle and a few tweaks to the print settings, but the air motor [Tom] designed came out pretty well and was smoothed to a fine finish with acetone.

After assembling the motor, [Tom] hooked it up to a soda bottle serving as a compressed air reservoir. The motor worked, although it’s doubtful a plane powered with this motor would fly for very long. You can check out [Tom]’s video below.

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The Database of the Time Lords

Time zones have been a necessity since humans could travel faster than a horse, but with computers, interconnected over a vast hive of information, a larger problem has emerged. How do you keep track of time zones? Moreover, how do you keep track of time zones throughout history?

Quick question. If it’s noon in Boston, what time is it in Phoenix? Well, Boston is in the Eastern time zone, there’s the Central time zone, and Phoenix is in the Mountain time zone; noon, eleven, ten. If it’s noon in Boston, it’s ten o’clock AM in Phoenix. Here’s a slightly harder question: if it’s noon in Boston, what time is it in Phoenix during Daylight Savings Time? Most of Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so if it’s noon in Boston, it’s 9 AM in Phoenix. What about the Navajo Nation in the northwestern part of Arizona? Here, Daylight Savings Time is observed. You can’t even make a rule that all of Arizona is always on Mountain Standard Time.

Indiana is another example of bizarre time zones. For most of the 20th century, Indiana was firmly in the Central time zone. Starting in the 1960s, the line between Eastern and Central time slowly moved west from the Ohio border. Some countries opted not to observe Daylight Savings Time. In 2006, the entire state started to observe DST, but the northwest and southwest corners of the state remained firmly in the Central time zone. The odd geographic boundaries of time zones aren’t limited to the United States, either; Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia is thirty minutes behind the rest of New South Wales.

Working out reliable answers to all of these questions is the domain of the Time Zone Database, a catalog of every time zone, time zone change, and every strange time-related political argument. It records Alaska’s transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. It describes an argument in a small Michigan town in 1900. It’s used in Java, nearly every kind of Linux, hundreds of software packages, and at least a dozen of the servers and routers you’re using to read this right now.

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Hackaday Links: November 19, 2017

[Peter]’s homebuilt ultralight is actually flying now and not in ground effect, much to the chagrin of YouTube commenters. [Peter Sripol] built a Part 103 ultralight (no license required, any moron can jump in one and fly) in his basement out of foam board from Lowes. Now, he’s actually doing flight testing, and he managed to build a good plane. Someone gifted him a ballistic parachute so the GoFundMe for the parachute is unneeded right now, but this gift parachute is a bit too big for the airframe. Not a problem; he’ll just sell it and buy the smaller model.

Last week, rumors circulated of Broadcom acquiring Qualcomm for the sum of One… Hundred… Billion Dollars. It looks like that’s not happening now. Qualcomm rejected a deal for $103B, saying the offer, ‘undervalued the company and would face regulatory hurdles.’ Does this mean the deal is off? No, there are 80s guys out there who put the dollar signs in Busine$$, and there’s politicking going on.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out there were some very fancy LED panels available on eBay for very cheap. The Barco NX-4 LED panels are a 32×36 panels of RGB LEDs, driven very quickly by some FPGA goodness. The reverse engineering of these panels is well underway, and [Ian] and his team almost have everything figured out. Glad I got my ten panels…

TechShop is gone. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to a business with a whole bunch of tools anyone can use. This leaves a lot of people with TechShop memberships out in the cold, and to ease the pain, Glowforge, Inventables, Formlabs, and littleBits are offering some discounts so you can build a hackerspace in your garage or basement. In other TechShop news, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what are they going to do with all the machines?’. Nobody knows, but the smart money is a liquidation/auction. Yes, in a few months, you’ll probably be renting a U-Haul and driving to TechShop one last time.

3D Hubs has come out with a 3D Printing Handbook. There’s a lot in the world of filament-based 3D printing that isn’t written down. It’s all based on experience, passed on from person to person. How much of an overhang can you really get away with? How do you orient a part correctly? God damned stringing. How do you design a friction-fit between two parts? All of these techniques are learned by experience. Is it possible to put this knowledge in a book? I have no idea, so look for that review in a week or two.

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Adam] is a collector of vintage computers. Instead of letting them sit in the attic, he’s taking gorgeous pictures of them. The collection includes most of the big-time Atari and Commodore 8-bitters, your requisite Apples, all of the case designs of the all-in-one Macs, some Pentium-era PCs, and even a few of the post-97 Macs. Is that Bondi Blue? Bonus points: all of these images are free to use with attribution.

Nvidia is blowing out their TX1 development kits. You can grab one for $200. What’s the TX1? It’s a really, really fast ARM computer stuffed into a heat sink that’s about the size of a deck of cards. You can attach it to a MiniITX breakout board that provides you with Ethernet, WiFi, and a bunch of other goodies. It’s a step above the Raspberry Pi for sure and is capable enough to run as a normal desktop computer.

Real-Life Electronic Neurons

All the kids down at Stanford are talking about neural nets. Whether this is due to the actual utility of neural nets or because all those kids were born after AI’s last death in the mid-80s is anyone’s guess, but there is one significant drawback to this tiny subset of machine intelligence: it’s a complete abstraction. Nothing called a ‘neural net’ is actually like a nervous system, there are no dendrites or axions and you can’t learn how to do logic by connecting neurons together.

NeruroBytes is not a strange platform for neural nets. It’s physical neurons, rendered in PCBs and Molex connectors. Now, finally, it’s a Kickstarter project, and one of the more exciting educational electronic projects we’ve ever seen.

Regular Hackaday readers should be very familiar with NeuroBytes. It began as a project for the Hackaday Prize all the way back in 2015. There, it was recognized as a finalist for the Best Product, Since then, the team behind NeuroBytes have received an NHS grant, they’re certified Open Source Hardware through OSHWA, and there are now enough NeuroBytes to recreate the connectome of a flatworm. It’s doubtful the team actually has enough patience to recreate the brain of even the simplest organism, but is already an impressive feat.

The highlights of the NeuroBytes Kickstarter include seven different types of neurons for different sensory systems, kits to test the patellar reflex, and what is probably most interesting to the Hackaday crowd, a Braitenberg Vehicle chassis, meant to test the ideas set forth in Valentino Braitenberg’s book, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. If that book doesn’t sound familiar, BEAM robots probably do; that’s where the idea for BEAM robots came from.

It’s been a long, long journey for [Zach] and the other creators of NeuroBytes to get to this point. It’s great that this project is now finally in the wild, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it. Hopefully a full flatworm connectome.

What Actually Happens At A Hardware Hacking Con

The Hackaday Superconference was last weekend, and it was the greatest hardware con on the planet. What can you build out of a conference badge? If you answered “a resin-based 3D printer” you would have won a prize. If you decided to put your badge in a conference water bottle and make a stun gun you’d receive adoration of all in attendance. Yeah, it got that crazy.

Yes, there’s a Supercon badge in that bottle and it’s now a stun gun.

At other tech conferences, you’ll find gaggles of nerds sitting around a table with MacBooks and Thinkpads. The Superconference is different. Here, you’ll find soldering irons, tackle boxes filled with components, and loose WS2812s scattered about the floor. The smell of solder flux wafts through the air. You detect a hint of ozone.

The depth and breadth of hacks that came out of this were simply stunning. We a binocular virtual reality hack, an internet trolling badge, blinky add-on boards, audio add-on boards, a film festival was shot on the badge, and much more which you’ll find below.

We have started a Badge Hacks list and want to see details of all of the hacks. So if you were at Supercon be sure to publish them on Hackaday.io and send a DM to be added to the list.

Starting Up An Extra Day of Hacking

To get all of this creativity rolling we did something a bit different for this year’s Superconference. Instead of opening the doors up on Saturday morning, we set up a badge hacking area and party on Friday afternoon. The drinks flowed like the meniscus on a properly soldered lead, and by 2pm on Friday, everyone was hacking firmware on the incredible camera badge for this year’s con.

We didn’t stop on Friday. The Superconference is a hardware hacking conference, and that meant we brought out the soldering irons, experimented with melting aluminum with gallium, reflowed a few boards, and created a few deadbug LED cubes. This went on all weekend.

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The Perils of Developing the Hackaday Superconference Badge

In case you haven’t heard, the best hardware conference in the world was last weekend. The Hackaday Superconference was three days of hardware hacking, soldering irons, and an epic hardware badge. Throw in two stages for talk, two workshop areas, the amazing hallwaycon and the best, most chill attendees you can imagine, and you have the ultimate hardware conference.

Already we’ve gone over the gory details of what this badge does, and now it’s time to talk about the perils of building large numbers of an electronic conference badge. This is the hardware demoscene, artisanal manufacturing, badgelife, and an exploration of exactly how far you can push a development schedule to get these badges out the door and into the hands of eager badge hackers and con attendees.

The good news is that we succeeded, and did so in time to put a completed badge in the hand of everyone who attended the conference (and we do have a few available if you didn’t make it to the con). Join me after the break to learn what it took to make it all happen and see the time lapse of the final kitting process.

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