The Zen Of Mechanical Keyboard Wiring

Mechanical keyboards are all the rage right now, but the vast majority of them are purchased commercially. Only the most dedicated people are willing to put in the time and effort required to design and assemble their own custom board, and as you might imagine, we’ve featured a number of such projects here on Hackaday in the past.

But what makes this particular mechanical keyboard build from [kentlamh] so special isn’t the final product (though it’s certainly quite nice), but the care he took when hand-wiring all of the switches to the Teensy 2.0 microcontroller that serves as its controller. There’s no PCB inside this custom board, it’s all rainbow colored wires, individual diodes, and the patience to put it all together with tweezers.

[kentlamh] takes the reader through every step of the wiring process, and drops a number of very helpful hints which are sure to be of interest to anyone who might be looking to embark on a similar journey. Such as bending the diode legs en masse on the edge of a table, or twisting them around a toothpick to create a neat loop that will fit over the pin on the back of the switch.

He also uses a soldering iron to melt away the insulation in the middle of the wires instead of suffering through hundreds of individual jumpers. We’ve seen this trick before with custom keyboards, and it’s one of those things we just can’t get enough of.

Some will no doubt argue that the correct way to do this would be to use an automatic wire stripper, and we don’t necessarily disagree. But there’s something undeniably appealing about the speed and convenience of just tapping the wire with the iron at each junction to give yourself a bit of bare copper to work with.

Even if you aren’t enough of a mechanical keyboard aficionado to travel all the way to Japan to attend the official meetup or discuss the finer points of their design at the Hackaday Superconference, there’s an undeniable beauty to this custom board. With a little guidance from [kentlamh], perhaps it will be your own handwired masterpiece that’s next to grace these pages.

[Thanks to Psybird for the tip.]

Custom Game Pad Can Reprogram Itself

In the heat of the moment, gamers live and die by the speed and user-friendliness of their input mechanisms. If you’re team PC, you have two controllers to worry about. Lots of times, players will choose a separate gaming keyboard over the all-purpose 104-banger type.

When [John Silvia]’s beloved Fang game pad went to that LAN party in the sky, he saw the opportunity to create a custom replacement exactly as he wanted it. Also, he couldn’t find one with his desired layout. Mechanical switches were a must, and he went with those Cherry MX-like Gaterons we keep seeing lately.

This 37-key game pad, which [John] named Eyetooth in homage to the Fang, has a couple of standout features. For one, any key can be reprogrammed key directly from the keypad itself, thanks to built-in macro commands. It’s keyboard-ception!

One of the macros toggles an optional auto-repeat feature. [John] says this is not for cheating, though you could totally use it for that if you were so inclined. He is physically unable to spam keys fast enough to satisfy some single-player games, so he designed this as a workaround. The auto-repeat’s frequency is adjustable in 5-millisecond increments using the up /down macros. There’s a lot more information about the macros on the project’s GitHub.

Eyetooth runs on an Arduino Pro Micro, so you can either use [John]’s code or something like QMK firmware. This baby is so open source that [John] even has a hot tip for getting quality grippy feet on the cheap: go to the dollar store and look for rubber heel grippers meant to keep feet from sliding around inside shoes.

If [John] finds himself doing a lot of reprogramming, adding a screen with a layout map could help him keep track of the key assignments.

Hands-On: Queercon 16 Hardware Badge Shows Off Custom Membrane Keyboard

Year over year, the Queercon badge is consistently impressive. I think what’s most impressive about these badges is that they seemingly throw out all design ideas from the previous year and start anew, yet manage to discover a unique and addictive aesthetic every single time.

This year, there are two hardware badges produced by the team composed of Evan Mackay, George Louthan, Tara Scape, and Subterfuge. The one shown here is nicknamed the “Q” badge for its resemblance to the letter. Both get you into the conference, both are electronically interactive, but this one is like a control panel for an alternate reality game (ARG) that encourages interactivity and meaningful conversations. The other badge is the “C” badge. It’s more passive, yet acts as a key in the ARG — you cannot progress by interacting with only one type of badge, you must work with people sporting both badge types so that Queercon attendees who didn’t purchase the Q badge still get in on the fun.

The most striking feature on this badge is a custom membrane keyboard tailored to playing the interactive game across all badges at the conference. But I find that the eInk screen, RJ12 jack for connectivity, and the LED and bezel arrangements all came together for a perfect balance of function and art. Join me after the break for a closer look at what makes this hardware so special.

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KVM Foot Switch In A Few Steps

[Radishmouse], despite the handle, is not a mouse guy. Give him a keyboard and he will get around just fine in any OS or program. As it is, he’s got a handful of ThinkPads, each running a different OS. He wanted to be able to switch his nice mechanical keyboard between two laptops without the hassle of unplugging and replugging the thing. His solution: a DIY KVM foot switch.

He’s been learning about electronics and 3D design, and this problem was the perfect opportunity to dig in and get his hands dirty. After learning enough about the USB protocol and switches to figure out what had to happen, he made a prototype from a pâte tub. Though undeniably classy, this vessel would never survive the rigors of foot-stomping in feline territory. Fortunately, [radishmouse] has also been learning about 3D design. After some trial and error, he came up with a sturdy, curvy 3D-printed two-piece enclosure. We particularly like the blocks built into the bottom piece that shore up the USB ports.

There are lots of reasons to build input controls for those under-utilized appendages at the ends of your legs. You could control your ‘scope with a probe in each hand, or use a foot switch to relocate an inconvenient power button.

Via [r/functionalprint]

A Keyboard Interface For Your SInclair ZX

The SInclair ZX 8-bit computers of the early 1980s were masterpieces of economy, getting the most out of minimal hardware. The cassette tape interface was a one-bit port, the video was (on the first two models anyway) created by the processor itself rather than a CRT controller, and the keyboard? No fancy keyboard controllers here, just a key matrix and some diodes between a set of address lines and some data lines. The ZX80 and ZX81 were not very fast as a result of their processors being tied up with all this work, but it ensured that their retail price could break the magic £100 barrier in the British market, something of a feat in 1980.

A host of hackers still devote their time to these machines, and among them [Danjovic] has updated that ZX keyboard by producing an interface between that matrix and a PS/2 keyboard. As you might expect it uses a modern microcontroller board, in this case an Arduino Nano but it doesn’t stretch the imagination to think that a USB equipped board might perform the same task. It sits upon the relevant lines, and performs the necessary logical connection between them depending upon the serial input from an attached PS/2 keyboard. The project goes into some detail on PS/2 to ZX mappings, but perhaps of most interest is its explanation of the bus timings involved. The Arduino makes use of the ZX WAIT line to hold the Z80 and ensure that there is enough time for it to perform its task, it would be interesting to note whether or not this has a visible impact on BASIC program timing.

We are more used to seeing ZX keyboards being attached to PCs, rather than this way round.

ZX Spectrum image: Bill Bertram [CC BY-SA 2.5].

A Macro Keyboard In A Micro Package

Remember back in the early-to-mid 2000s when pretty much every cheap USB keyboard you could find started including an abundance of media keys in its layout? Nowadays, especially if you have a customized or reduced-sized mechanical keyboard, those are nowhere to be seen. Whenever our modern selves need those extra keys, we have to turn to external peripherals, and [Gary’s] Knobo is one that looks like it could’ve come straight out of a fancy retail package.

The Knobo is a small macro keypad with 8 mechanical Cherry-style keys and a clickable rotary encoder knob as its main feature. Each key and knob gesture can be customized to any macro, and with five gestures possible with the knob, that gives you a total of thirteen inputs. On top of that, the build and presentation look so sleek and clean we’d swear this was a product straight off of Teenage Engineering’s money-printing machine.

The actions you can do with those inputs range from simple media controls with a volume knob all the way to shortcuts to make a Photoshop artist’s life easier. Right now you can only reprogram the Knobo’s Arduino-based firmware with an In-Circuit Serial Programmer to change what the inputs do, but [Gary] is currently working on configuration software so that users without any programming knowledge will be able to customize it too.

Knobs are just one of those things that everyone wants to use to control their computers, much like giant red buttons. Alternative input devices can range from accessibility-designed to just downright playful. Whatever the inspiration is for them, it’s always nice to see the creativity of these projects.

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A PDP Laptop, For Various Definitions Of A Laptop

Digital Equipment Corp.’s PDP-11 is one of the most important computers in history. It’s the home of Unix, although that’s arguable, and it’s still being used in every application, from handling nuclear control rods to selling Ed Sheeran tickets on Ticketmaster. As the timeline of PDP-11 machines progressed, the hardware did as well, and by the time the PDP was eclipsed by the VAXxen, there were PDP-11s on a single chip. The Eastern Bloc took notice and produced their own PDP-11 on a chip. This is the 1801-series CPU, and like most soviet electronics from the Cold War, they’re readily available on eBay.

[SHAOS] has an interesting project in mind for this PDP-on-a-chip. It’s a standalone computer built around the Soviet re-implementation of the PDP-11, built into a form factor that could be described as a single board computer.

This project is the outgrowth of [SHAOS]’ project for last year’s Hackaday Prize, the PDPii. This was a computer built around a backplane that replicated the PDP-11 using a KR1801VM2 CPU, the Soviet not-a-clone clone of the PDP-11. This project is basically a PDP-11/03 system, except it was made in this century, and you can put it in any computer case, with bonus points awarded for RGB lighting and liquid cooling.

This year’s project, the PDPjr, eschews standardization to something that is far more unique. This build is more or less a single board computer with a character LCD display and a real keyboard. Think of this as the PDP-11 equivalent of the TRS-80 Model 100, a machine widely regarded as being the first laptop.

There’s still a lot of work to go, but [SHAOS] has written a ‘Hello World’ for this chip, and is getting those words to display on the character LCD. That’s a great first step and we can’t wait to see where this project ends up.