Building An Ergonomic Keyboard

Despite the passing of several decades since that scene in Star Trek IV, the Voyage Home in which Mr. Scott remarks “A keyboard! How quaint!“, here on earth, they remain a central plank of our user interface experience. A plank is an appropriate metaphor, for the traditional keyboard with its layout derived from typewriters and intended to minimize type bar collisions has remained the same flat and un-ergonomic device for well over a century. If like [Tom Arrell] you suffer from repetitive strain injury to your hands and wrists from using a keyboard then a more ergonomic alternative is a must. His solution was to build his own keyboard in two halves.

He was inspired by a colleague’s Ergodox, but balked at the price. Then he found the Dactyl, an open source 3D printed keyboard in two halves, and resolved to build his own. Unlike the Dactyl, however, he wanted his ‘board to be able to operate as either a linked pair operating as one or a pair of separate keyboards. In went a pair of Sparkfun Pro Micro boards to his slightly modified Dactyl, along with a full complement of Cherry MX Brown switches.

The final product lacks key labels so is not for the faint-hearted. But he persevered with it and after a couple of weeks was able to use it without a crib sheet. It’s a bit higher than its commercial equivalent so it needs some improvised wrist rests, but for the price, he’s not complaining.

This isn’t the first keyboard with two halves we’ve shown you, here’s one from 2017.

Via Hacker News.

Recovering Data From Floppies With Errors

Those of us of advancing years will remember the era of the floppy disc. Maybe not that of the 8-inch drive, but probably its 5.25-inch and certainly its 3.5-inch cousins. Some will remember the floppy disc fondly, while for others there will be recollections of slow and unreliable media with inadequate capacity, whose ability to hold data for any length of time was severely questionable. Add three decades to the time a disc has spent in storage, and those data errors become frequent. The life of a retrocomputing enthusiast hoping to preserve aged software is made extremely difficult by them, and [] has a few tips to help with recovery.

It’s written with specific reference to Commodore 5.25-inch floppies, but aside from some of the specific software, the techniques could be applied to any discs. Most interesting is his explanation of the mechanisms that lead to bad discs or bad sectors, before he looks at some of the mitigations that might be employed. Cleaning the disc or the drive head with alcohol is explored, then taking a dump of the raw data for detailed inspection and disassembly in search of checksum errors. If in your youth a floppy disc was just something you put in a drive and you never investigated further, perhaps this piece will fill in some of the gaps.

If the thought of a stack of Commodore 64 floppies fills you with dread, how about using an emulator?

Header image: PrixeH [CC BY-SA 3.0].

The Multi Pass Def Con Indie Badge Has A European Flavour

It has been fascinating to watch the rise of the #BadgeLife community in North America, and a little sad when viewed from a European perspective that their creative vibrancy has not quite fully made it across the Atlantic. It’s pleasing therefore to report on something traveling in the opposite direction. We’ve found a #BadgeLife creation that’s as American as they come, but which hides a bit of European flavor under its shell.

The DC27 Multi Pass is a Def Con indie badge themed as a prop from the film The Fifth Element. That is not its only trick though, because under the hood it runs the ESP32-based, the badge software platform created by the team from the Netherlands who brought us the SHA 2017 and Hacker Hotel 2019 badges. Like those two it sports an e-ink screen and a set of touch buttons, which they’ve very neatly incorporated into the Multi Pass design. The ecosystem brings with it a fully-functional and stable hackable badge platform with MicroPython apps and an app library (We won’t call it a store, it’s all free!) referred to as the hatchery. There is even a Hackaday logo nickname, should you have one of these badges and wish to identify yourself as a reader.

The launch of a new #BadgeLife badge is always cool, but with the best will in the world it is not in itself news. Where this one does, however, get interesting is that it proves that is a viable route to getting full event badge functionality into an indie badge without the heartache of creating a software platform. It also serves as a fascinating perspective on why the USA has spawned its artistic badge scene while Europe has less diversity. The whole Def Con experience is extremely expensive, while European hacker camps are relatively not so. There is no need for a European hacker to finance their trip to EMF Camp by selling badges, so for many people, the impetus to create finds its outlet in other directions. It would be nice to think that European badge scene will in time evolve as far as the US one, but meanwhile, it’s good to see the Netherlands community supplying their platform to what we think will be a very interesting Def Con indie badge.

So, You Want To Buy A Mainframe

The computers we are used to working with are more likely to be at the smaller end of the computational spectrum. Sometimes they are very small indeed, such as tiny microcontrollers with only a few GPIOs. Others are single board machines such as a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino, and often a desktop or laptop PC. Of course, while these can be very capable machines, they don’t cut the mustard in the upper echelons of corporate computing. There the mainframe still rules, sitting in air-conditioned machine rooms and providing some of the glue that cements our economy together.

Most of us will never own a mainframe, even if sometimes we marvel at people who rescue ancient ones for museums. But it’s not impossible to run one yourself even if it isn’t cheap, and  [Christian Svensson] has written a guide for the potential purchaser of a more recent IBM model.

This is a fascinating piece as an uninformed spectator because it reveals something about the marketing of these machines. A fridge-sized rack may contain much more hardware than expected because all machines ship with high specifications installed but not enabled by licensing software. In some IBM machines this software comes on an attached laptop which goes missing when the mainframe is decommissioned, we’re told without this essential component the machine is junk. The practicalities are also considered, such things as whether the appropriate interface modules are present, or how to assess how much RAM has been installed. Powering the beast is less of a problem than you might expect as they ship with PSUs able to take a wide variety of DC or AC sources.

Once upon a time the chance to own one of the earlier DEC VAX minicomputers came the way of your scribe, the passing up on which has ever since been the source of alternate regret and thankfulness at a lucky escape. The ownership of second-hand Big Iron is not for everyone, but it’s nevertheless interesting to learn about it from those who have taken the plunge. There’s a tale unfolding about the ownership of a much older IBM room-sized computer at the moment.

IBM mainframes header image: Agiorgio [CC BY-SA 4.0]

This Solar-Powered Ear Ring Turns With The Sun

Jewelry making offers many opportunities for the electronics tinkerer, and on these pages we’ve seen some eye-catching creations using LEDs to great effect. They all have the same limitation though, it’s difficult to power something that tiny without a cumbersome battery. In seeking to solve that problem there have been a variety of inventive solutions tried, but they haven’t matched the approach of [Lloyd Konneker] who has turned the whole premise of most electronic jewelry on its head.

Instead of LEDs, the party trick of his earring is an electric motor that makes it spin, and instead of giving out light it takes it in as solar power.  The motor is a pager alert device, the solar cells are repurposed photodiodes, and the power is stored in a capacitor until there is enough to drive the motor, at which point a MOSFET is triggered to do the work. It’s all made possible by a Texas Instruments TPS3839 supply voltage supervisor chip, and it works well enough to turn from time to time in bright sunlight. The prototype uses a conventional PCB, but a better version is in the works with a flexible board.

His write-up should be of interest to anyone with a need to learn about micropower circuits, as it goes into significant detail on their tuning and operation. Last year’s Hackaday Prize had an entire section devoted to energy harvesting which is well worth searching the site for, a typical example was this solar powered microcontroller board.

This Commodore 16 Is An NTSC One… No, Wait, It’s A PAL One!

We’re used to our computers being powerful enough in both peripheral and processing terms to be almost infinitely configurable under the control of software, but there was a time when that was not the case. The 8-bit generation of home computers were working towards the limits of their capability just to place an image on a TV screen, and every component would have been set up to do just the job it was intended for. Thus when different countries had different TV standards such as the mostly-European PAL and the mostly-American NTSC, there would have been different models of the same machine for each market. The Commodore 16 was just such a machine, and [Adrian Black] has modified his NTSC model with a custom ROM, an Arduino and an Si5351 clock generator to be switchable between the two.

The differences between a PAL and NTSC C16 are two-fold. The clock for the video chip is of a different frequency, and the ROM contents differ too. [Adrian]’s machine therefore has a larger ROM containing both versions which are switchable via one of the upper address lines. A couple of tracks cut in the crystal oscillator circuit allow him to inject a new clock from the Si5351 module, and and Arduino controls everything. The appropriate ROM and clock are selected via a very simple interface, the reset button is captured and while a short press still resets the computer a long one switches the mode.

Despite having its principal engineer, [Bil Herd] as a colleague here at Hackaday, it’s sad that we don’t see as many Commodore 16s as we should. A recent feature showed a 64k C16, but didn’t make it into a C64.

Continue reading “This Commodore 16 Is An NTSC One… No, Wait, It’s A PAL One!”

Paper Strandbeest Is Strong Enough To Walk

Most readers will be familiar with the work of the Dutch artist Theo Jansen, whose Strandbeest wind-powered mechanical walking sculptures prowl the beaches of the Netherlands. The Jansen linkage provides a method of making machines with a curious but efficient walking gait from a rotational input, and has been enthusiastically copied on everything from desktop toys to bicycles.

One might think that a Jansen linkage would be beyond some materials, and you might be surprised to see a paper one. Step forward [Luis Craft] then, with a paper walking Strandbeest. Designed in Blender, cut on a desktop CNC paper cutter, and driven by a pair of small robots linked to an Arduino and controlled by a Bluetooth link, it has four sets of legs and can push around desktop items. We wouldn’t have thought it possible, but there it is.

He claims that it’s an origami Strandbeest, but we’re not so sure. We’re not papercraft experts here at Hackaday, but when we put on our pedantic hat, we insist that origami must be made of folded paper in the Japanese style rather than the cut-and-glue used here. This doesn’t detract from the quality of the work though, as you can see in the video below.

We think this is the first paper Strandbeest we’ve seen, but we’ve brought you countless others over the years. Here’s [Jansen]’s latest, wave-like take on the idea.

Continue reading “Paper Strandbeest Is Strong Enough To Walk”