Wherein The Mechanical Keyboard Community Discovers Motorized Linear Potentiometers

Deep in the bowels of the Digikey and Mouser databases, you’ll find the coolest component ever. Motorized linear potentiometers are a rare, exotic, and just plain neat input device most commonly found on gigantic audio mixing boards and other equipment that costs as much as a car. They’re slider potentiometers with a trick up their sleeve: there’s a motor inside that can set the slider to any position.

The mechanical keyboard community has been pushing the boundaries of input devices for the last few years, and it looks like they just discovered motorized linear pots. [Jack] created a motorized sliding keycap for his keyboard. It’s like a scroll wheel, but for a keyboard. It’s beautiful, functional, and awesome.

The hardware for this build is just about what you would expect. A 60 mm motorized linear pot for the side-mount, or 100 mm mounted to the top of the keyboard, is controlled by an Arduino clone and a small motor driver. That’s just the hardware; the real trick here is the software. So far, [Jack] has implemented a plugin system, configuration software, and force feedback. Now, messing with the timeline in any Adobe product is easy and intuitive. This device also has a ‘not quite vibration’ mode for whenever [Jack] gets a notification on his desktop.

Right now, [Jack] is running a group buy for this in a reddit thread, with the cost somewhere between $55 and $75, depending on how many people want one. This is a really awesome product, and we can’t wait for Corsair to come out with a version sporting innumerable RGB LEDs. Until then, we’ll just have to drool over the video [Jack] posted below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: HID Dial

Microsoft has introduced a few interesting bits of hardware recently, and the most drool worthy by far is the Microsoft Surface Dial. What is this magical input device that will revolutionize creative work on a computer? Basically, it’s a Griffin PowerMate — a rotary encoder and button — an interface that really hasn’t changed in a decade and a half.

[K.C. Lee] figures a device this simple would make for a great Hackaday Prize entry, so he built a USB HID multimedia dial. It’s a rotary encoder and a button. This one lights up, though, making this a gamer USB HID multimedia dial.

The electronics for this build are based around the STM8S003, an extraordinarily cheap microcontroller that will work well enough in this application. The mechanical part of this build is a little more interesting; [K.C.] says not everyone has access to fancy CNC or 3D printing equipment, so he built this model out of bits of plastic, metal, and superglue. This enclosure is literally an old superglue bottle cap, an empty dental floss spool, and bits of metal. It works, and took less time to build than it would take to design in a CAD program.

Right now, [K.C.] is working through some USB issues with the STM8 microcontroller. Once those issues are behind him, he’ll have a very cool and very useful input device sitting on his desk. It might look like parts waiting for the recycling bin, but it will be at least as useful as the fancy Microsoft version.

Juicero: A Lesson On When To Engineer Less

Ben Einstein, a product designer and founder at Bolt, a hardware-based VC, recently got his hands on a Juicero press. This desktop juice press that only works with proprietary pouches filled with chopped fruits and vegetables is currently bandied in the tech press as evidence Silicon Valley has gone mad, there is no future in building hardware, and the Internet of Things is a pox on civilization. Hey, at least they got the last one right.

This iFixit-style tear down digs into the Juicero mixer in all its gory details. It’s beautiful, it’s a marvel of technology, and given the engineering that went into this machine, it was doomed to fail. Not because it didn’t accomplish the task at hand, but because it does so with a level of engineering overkill that’s delightful to look at but devastating to the production cost.

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Old Part Day: Voltage Controlled Filters

For thirty years, the classic synths of the late 70s and early 80s could not be reproduced. Part of the reason for this is market forces — the synth heads of the 80s didn’t want last year’s gear. The other part for the impossibility to build new versions of these synths was the lack of parts. Synths such as the Prophet 5, Fairlight CMI, and Korg Mono/Poly relied on voltage controlled filter ICs — the SSM2044 — that you can’t buy new anymore. If you can source a used one, be prepared to pay $30. New old stock costs about $100.

Now, these chips are being remade. A new hardware revision for this voltage controlled filter has been taped out by the original hardware designer, and these chips are being produced in huge quantities. Instead of $100 for a new old stock chip, this chip will cost about $1.60 in 1000 unit quantities.

The list of synths and music boxes sporting an SSM2044 reads like a Who’s Who of classic electronic music machines. E-Mu Drumulators, Korg polyphonic synths, Crumars, and even a Doepfer module use this chip in the filter section. The new chip — the SSI2144 — supposedly provides the same classic tone but adds a few improvements such as improved pin layouts, an SSOP package, and more consistent operation from device to device.

This news follows the somewhat recent trend of chip fabs digging into classic analog designs of the 70s, realizing the chips are being sold for big bucks on eBay, and releasing it makes sense to spin up a new production line. Last year, the Curtis CEM3340 voltage controlled oscillator was rereleased, giving the Oberheim OB, Roland SH and Jupiter, and the Memory Moog a new lease on life. These chips aren’t only meant to repair broken, vintage equipment; there are a few builders out there who are making new devices with these rereleased classic synths.

 

Error: LP0 On 🔥

You don’t need fancy ICs and DACs to build a sound card for a PC. As [serdef]’s build over on hackaday.io shows, all you really need is a bunch of resistors. [serdef] built a clone of a sound card released for PC in the 80s, but with a few improvements. This mess of resistors features the best 8-bit sound you can get with a low-pass filter, volume divider, and a handy DB-25 connector.

The design of this LPT0 sound card is pretty much the same as when it was introduced to the world as the Covox Speech Thing. This ‘sound card’ was designed to clip onto the parallel port of a computer and send the 8-bit I/O of this port through a resistor ladder. Plug a pair of speakers into this thing, and you have a sound card that is completely made out of resistors. It was cheap, and in the demoscene it was popular.

There are a lot of amazing demos out there using this resistor DAC thing, and [serdef] has videos of his project playing a lot of them. You can check that out below.

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Around the Globe on World Create Day

Last weekend was great for science and technology. While thousands of people took to the streets to protest anti-intellectualism, a few members of the Hackaday community dug their heels in, turned on the soldering iron, and actually did something about it. This was World Create Day, a community effort to come together and build something that matters. What did these people build? So much awesome stuff.

The Nest I/O in Karachi, Pakistan

The folks at The Nest I/O hackerspace in Karachi, Pakistan had a rather large meetup for World Create Day featuring the finest in laser cut, googly-eyed fighting robots. [Nasir Aziz] hosted a meetup at his favorite hackerspace for people to get together, discuss, and build something for the Hackaday Prize.

The highlight of the meetup was a discussion from EjaadTech, an industrial design firm that graduated from The Nest I/O accelerator. Among the projects invented during World Create Day were a ‘shopping helper drone’ and miniature fighting robots. Useful projects on one hand, awesome projects on the other, just like we like it.

MakerBay in Hong Kong

A solar oven found at MakerBay

MakerBay is a hackerspace located smack in the middle of Hong Kong. Like most hackerspaces, finding a place was a problem, but the folks at MakerBay found something spectacular. They’re zoned industrial, and only a five-minute walk from a train station.

There are quite a few projects sitting around MakerBay including a solar oven that would be pretty dangerous if it were outdoors on a sunny day. Also on deck are prototypes of small sailing vessels with a flexible hull designed to track and contain oil spills.  Highlights of World Create Day include upcycled wood construction and a spontaneous piano interlude. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more hackerspaces with a piano; they’re effectively free if you have a truck and a place to store it.

BlenderLab in Lille

While the World Create Day event at the BlenderLab hackerspace in Lille, France didn’t set out to change the world with a project, they did manage to come up with a really neat digital hourglass. The body of this hourglass is made out of laser cut plywood, with the display made out of two LED matrices oriented at a 45-degree angle.

Hackaday NYC

[Zach Freedman] reveals his devious plot
While World Create Day is a challenge for hackerspaces around the globe to come together and create something that solves a problem, that doesn’t mean there aren’t slightly more official events around the globe. Hackaday set up our own events in New York City, LA, and San Francisco.  The New York event was great thanks to our lovely East coast community manager [Shayna] and our hosts at Fat Cat Fab Lab.

[Zach Freedman], one of the regulars at our NYC meetups has an ulterior motive for getting the Fat Cat Fab Lab members to contribute their ideas to the Hackaday Prize: winning the Hackaday Prize would result in donating the winnings to the Fab Lab. It’s a brilliant and devious plot we very much recommend.

Tell us about your World Create Day

There were many more events going on around the globe last weekend, and we want to hear about how your World Create Day went. We’ll be covering more of the events of last weekend in the coming days, so make sure to add your pictures, stories, and links to the projects you started on your World Create Day event page on Hackaday.io. Event organizers are going to get some super awesome swag for making that effort.

Hackaday Links: April 23, 2017

‘Member StarCraft? Ooooh, I ‘member StarCraft. The original game and the Brood War expansion are now free. A new patch fixes most of the problems of getting a 20-year-old game working and vastly improves playing over LAN (‘member when you could play video games over a LAN?) And you thought you were going to have free time this week.

About a year ago, [Mark Chepurny] built a dust boot for his Shapeoko CNC router. The SuckIt (not the best possible name, by the way) is an easy, simple way to add dust collection to an X-Carve or Shapeoko 2. The folks at Inventables reached out to [Mark] and made a few improvements. Now, the renamed X-Carve Dust Control System. It’s a proper vacuum attachment for the X-Carve with grounding and a neat brush shoe.

I don’t know if this is a joke or not. It’s certainly possible, but I seriously doubt anyone would have the patience to turn PowerPoint into a Turing Machine. That’s what [Tom Wildenhain] did for a lightning talk at SIGBOVIK 2017 at CMU. There’s a paper (PDF), and the actual PowerPoint / Turing Machine file is available.

System76 builds computers. Their focus is on computers that run Linux well, and they’ve garnered a following in the Open Source world. System76 is moving manufacturing in-house. Previously, they’ve outsourced their design and hardware work to outside companies. They’re going to work on desktops first (laptops are much harder and will come later), but with any luck, we’ll see a good, serviceable, Open laptop in a few year’s time.

Remember last week when a company tried to trademark the word ‘makerspace’? That company quickly came to their senses after some feedback from the community. That’s not all, because they also had a trademark application for the word ‘FabLab’. No worries, because this was also sorted out in short order.