Inputs Of Interest: X-Bows Ergo-Mechanical Keyboard

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way up front, shall we? This ergonomic mechanical keyboard was a free sample offered to me by X-Bows. They contacted me after I expressed interest in trying one in the comments of my post about the Kinesis Advantage. I had my doubts about this keyboard as far as my own personal ergonomic needs go, which are admittedly on the extreme side. TL;DR: I won’t be abandoning my curvy girls anytime soon. But I will say that I’m definitely impressed by the X-Bows.

X-Bows was founded by a doctor who saw a lot of RSI issues in programmers and writers and decided to take matters into his own hands. The keyboard was born on Kickstarter in 2017 and now comes in three models. They sent me the mid-range model called The Knight, which retails for $249, but seems to be on permanent sale for $199. The top-of-the-line Knight Plus has a magnetic, detachable 10-key that can attach to either side. Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: X-Bows Ergo-Mechanical Keyboard”

Vintage Keyboard Gets The QMK Treatment

While nobody could deny that computing technology has some a long way in the last few decades, there are many out there who believe peak keyboard was sometime before the turn of the new millennium. They prefer the look, feel, and especially the sounds, of those classic keyboards to what passes for an input device these days. So much so that it’s not uncommon to see one of these old mammoths get freshened up and pushed into service with a modern computer.

Which is exactly what [Juan Pablo Kutianski] has done with his Compaq MX-11800. This keyboard, which is actually a branded version of the Cherry G80-11800, really stands out in a crowd. With an integrated trackball and a two-row arrangement for the function keys, it’s not hard to see why he’d want to show it off. But while the hardware itself was solid, the features and capabilities of this old school keyboard left something to be desired.

The solution was to replace the keyboard’s original electronics with a Teensy++2.0 running the popular QMK firmware. This not only made the keyboard USB, but allowed [Juan] to tweak things such as the trackball sensitivity and add in support for layers and macros. All of which can be managed through VIA, a graphical configuration tool for QMK.

As we’ve seen in so many projects, the combination of QMK running on the Teensy is a powerful tool for getting the most out of your keyboard. Whether breathing new life into a vintage piece of hardware or creating something truly custom like our very own [Kristina Panos] recently did, it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re considering any keyboard hacking.

Inputs Of Interest: ErgoDox Post-Mortem

In the last installment, I told you I was building an open-source, split, ortholinear keyboard called the ErgoDox. I’m doing this because although I totally love my Kinesis Advantage, it has made me want to crack my knuckles and explore the world of split keyboards. Apparently there are several of you who want to do the same, as evidenced by your interest in the I’m Building an ErgoDox! project on IO. Thank you!

Well boys and girls, the dust has settled, the soldering iron has cooled, and the keycaps are in place. The ErgoDox is built and working. Now that it’s all said and done, let me tell you how it went. Spoiler alert: not great. But I got through it, and it keyboards just like it’s supposed to. I’m gonna lay this journey out as it happened, step by step, so you can live vicariously through my experience.

Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: ErgoDox Post-Mortem”

Bluetooth Takes Keyboard From DIY To Super Fly

They say you should never cheap out on anything that comes between you and the ground, like tires, shoes, and mattresses. We would take that a little further into the 21st century and extend it to anything between you and work. In our case, ‘buy nice or buy twice’ includes keyboards and mice.

[Marcus Young] is a fan of ortholinear ergonomic comfort, but not of cables. He gave [adereth]’s dactyl keyboard some wings by using a Bluetooth micro, and the Pterodactyl was born. Of course, the two halves still use a TRRS cable to communicate, and wires are required to charge batteries, but it’s the principle of the thing.

That’s not all [Marcus] did to make the dactyl his own — it also has a modified full-fat base that gives him all the room in the world to wire up the keyswitch matrix compared to the original streamlined design.

Instead of the usual Teensy, Pro Micro, or Proton-C, the pterodactyl has a Feather 32u4 in its belly. [Marcus] is clacking on Holy Panda switches which we’ve been meaning to try, and individual PCBs for each switch, which seems like it might negate gluing the switches in place so they survive through keycap changes. Check out [Marcus]’ write-up to see what he learned during this build.

This isn’t the first modified dactyl we’ve seen flying around here, and it won’t be the last. Here’s one with a dual personality — both halves can work together or alone.

Via r/mk

Breathing New Life Into Old School ThinkPad Keyboards

The ThinkPad is generally considered the unofficial laptop of hackerdom, so it’s no surprise that we see plenty of projects focused on repairing and modifying these reliable workhorses. But while we usually see folks working on relatively modern incarnations of this iconic line of computers, this project by [Frank Adams] and [Brian Chan] shows that the hacker’s love affair with the ThinkPad stretches back farther than many might realize.

As explained on the project’s Hackaday.io page, the duo have produced an open hardware board that will allow you to take the keyboard and trackpoint from a late ’90s ThinkPad 380ED and use it as a standard USB input device on a modern computer. According to [Frank], the keyboards on these machines are notable for having full-size keys rather than the “chicklet” boards that are so common today.

Now you may be wondering why this is significant. After all, we’ve seen plenty of projects that hook up an old keyboard to a USB-equipped microcontroller to get them speaking the lingua franca. Well, the trick here is that the trackpoint on these older ThinkPads actually required additional circuitry on the motherboard to function. The keyboard features three separate FPC connections for the matrix, the trackpoint buttons, and the analog strain gauges in the trackpoint itself.

After a considerable amount of reverse engineering, [Frank] and [Brian] have developed a board that uses the Teensy 3.2 to turn this plethora of pins into something useful. In the video after the break, you can see the new composite USB device working perfectly on a modern Windows computer.

It will probably come as little surprise to find that [Frank] is no stranger to hacking ThinkPad keyboards. In 2018 we covered a similar adapter he built for the far more modern T61, which was an absolute cakewalk by comparison.

Continue reading “Breathing New Life Into Old School ThinkPad Keyboards”

Adding MIDI To An Old Casio Keyboard

Not content to rule the world of digital watches, Casio also dominated the home musical keyboard market in decades past. If you wanted an instrument to make noises that sounded approximately nothing like what they were supposed to be, you couldn’t go past a Casio. [Marwan] had just such a keyboard, and wanted to use it with their PC, but the low-end instrumented lacked MIDI. Of course, such functionality is but a simple hack away.

The hack involved opening up the instrument and wiring the original keyboard matrix to the digital inputs of an Arduino Uno. The keys are read as a simple multiplexed array, and with a little work, [Marwan] had the scheme figured out. With the Arduino now capable of detecting keypresses, [Marwan] whipped up some code to turn this into relevant MIDI data. Then, it was simply a case of reprogramming the Arduino Uno’s ATMega 16U2 USB interface chip to act as a USB-MIDI device, and the hack was complete.

Now, featuring a USB-MIDI interface, it’s easy to use the keyboard to play virtual instruments on any modern PC DAW. As it’s a popular standard, it should work with most tablets and smartphones too, if you’re that way inclined. Of course, if you’re more into modular synthesizers, you might want to think about working with CV instead!

More Terrible Keyboards That Nonetheless Work

For most of computing history, keyboards have featured at least one key per letter one may wish to type – as far as the Latin alphabet goes, anyway. Mobile phones of the 90s and 2000s showed us that basic typing could be accomplished with less. [foone], however, likes to go way out into left field when designing text entry methods, and post them up on Twitter.

The most elegant, in our opinion, is this binary-based design. 7 flip switches are used to set the binary value of the key you wish to press, at which point hitting the button will send the keypress. It’s painfully slow for just about anything except backspace – set all the switches on for keycode 127, and mash away.

This breadboard design is an excercise in frustration. A keycode is randomly generated approximately once every second. Press the button if this keycode is the one you wish to send. Reportedly, it took ten minutes to type “Hello!”. An analog dial design speeds things up a little, but not by much.

While these may not be useful, they’re fun experiments which we could imagine making an excellent contest at a future hacker con. If you’re a big fan of the esoteric and insane when it comes to input devices, consider this typewriter simulation design.