Python Your Keyboard Hack Chat With Adafruit

Join us on Wednesday, July 21 at noon Pacific for the Python Your Keyboard Hack Chat with the Adafruit crew!

Especially over the last year and a half, most of us have gotten the feeling that there’s precious little distinction between our computers and ourselves. We seem welded together, inseparable even, attached as we are day and night to our machines as work life and home life blend into one gray, featureless landscape where time passes unmarked except by the accumulation of food wrappers and drink cans around our work areas. Or maybe it just seems that way.

Regardless, there actually is a fine line between machine and operator, and in most instances it’s that electromechanical accessory that we all love to hate: the keyboard. If you buy off the shelf, it’s never quite right — too clicky, not clicky enough, wrong spacing, bad ergonomics, or just plain ugly design. The only real way around these limitations is to join the DIY keyboard crowd and roll your own, specifically customized to your fingers and your needs — at least until you realize that it’s not quite perfect, and need to modify it again.

Hitting this moving target is often as much a software problem as it is a hardware issue, but as is increasingly the case these days, Python is ready to help. To go into depth on how Python can be leveraged for the custom keyboard builder, our good friends at Adafruit, including Limor “Ladyada” Fried, Phillip Torrone, Dan HalbertKattni Rembor, and Scott Shawcroft will stop by the Hack Chat. We suspect they’ll have some cool stuff to show off, in addition to sharing their tips and tricks for making DIY keyboards just right. If you’re building custom keebs, or even if you’re just “keyboard curious”, you won’t want to miss this one.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 21 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Retro Recreations Hack Chat With Tube Time

Join us on Wednesday, March 17 at noon Pacific for the Retro Recreations Hack Chat with Tube Time!

join-hack-chatNostalgia seems to be an inevitable consequence of progress. Advance any field far enough into the future, and eventually someone will look back with misty eyes and fond memories of the good old days and start the process of turning what would qualify as junk under normal conditions into highly desirable collectibles.

In some ways, those who have been bitten by the computer nostalgia bug are lucky, since the sheer number of artifacts produced during their period of interest is likely to be pretty high, making getting gear to lovingly restore relatively easy. But even products produced in their millions can eventually get difficult to find, especially once they get snapped up by eager collectors, leaving the rest to make do or do without.

Of course, if you’re as resourceful as Tube Time is, there’s another alternative: build your own retro recreations. He has embarked on some pretty intense builds to recapture a little of what early computer enthusiasts went through trying to build useful machines. He has built replicas of early PC sound cards, like an ISA-bus AdLib card, its MCA equivalent, and the “Snark Barker”— or is it the “Snood Bloober”? — which bears an uncanny resemblance to the classic Sound Blaster card from the 1980s.

Tube Time will join us for the Hack Chat this week to answer questions about all his retro recreations, including his newest work on a retro video card. Be sure to bring your questions on retro rebuilds, reverse engineering, and general computer nostalgia to the chat.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 17 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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Peripheral Doesn’t Need Deskspace

Some of us are suckers for new hardware. There’s absolutely nothing shameful about a drawer overflowing with gamepads, roll-up keyboards, and those funny-shaped ergonomic mice. MyTeleTouch won’t sate your itch for new hardware because [Dimitar Danailov] didn’t design hardware you hold, because it uses your phone as a catch-all Human Interface Device, HID. A dongle plugs into a standard USB port, and your Android phone can emulate a USB keyboard, mouse, or gamepad over Bluetooth.

Chances are high that you already set up your primary computer with your favorite hardware, but we think we’ve found a practical slant for a minimalist accessory. Remember the last time you booted an obsolete Windows desktop and dug out an old mouse with a questionable USB plug? How long have you poked around the bottom of a moving box trying to find a proprietary wireless keyboard dongle, when you just wanted to type a password on your smart TV? What about RetroPi and a game controller? MyTeleTouch isn’t going to transform your daily experience, but it’ll be there when you don’t want to carry a full-size keyboard down three flights of stairs to press {ENTER} on a machine that spontaneously forgot it has a touch screen. If you don’t have opportunities to play the hero very often, you can choose to play the villain. Hide this in a coworker’s USB port, and while they think you’re sending a text message, you could be fiddling with their cursor.

We enjoy a good prank that everyone can laugh off, and we love little keyboards and this one raises the (space) bar.

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This Thermal Printer Has Serious Game

[Dhole], like the fox, isn’t the first to connect his computer to a Game Boy printer but he has done a remarkable job of documenting the process so well that anyone can follow. The operation is described well enough that it isn’t necessary to scrutinize his code, so don’t be put off if C and Rust are not your first choices. The whole thing is written like a story in three chapters.

The first chapter is about hacking a link cable between two Game Boys. First, he explains the necessity and process of setting the speed of his microcontroller, a NUCLEO-F411RE development board by STMicroelectronics. Once the rate is set, he builds a sniffer by observing the traffic on the cable and listens in on two Game Boys playing Tetris in competition mode. We can’t help but think that some 8-bit cheating would be possible if Tetris thought your opponent instantly had a screen overflowing with tetrominoes. Spying on a couple of Game Boys meant that no undue stress was put on the printer.

Chapter two built on the first chapter by using the protocol to understand how the printer expects to be spoken to. There is plenty of documentation about this already, and it is thoughtfully referenced. It becomes possible to convince a Game Boy that the connected microcontroller is a printer so it will oblige by sending an image. Since there isn’t a reason to wait for printing hardware, the transfer is nearly instantaneous. In the image above, you can see a picture of [Dhole] taken by a Game Boy camera.

The final chapter, now that all the protocols are understood, is also the climax where the computer and microcontroller convince the printer they are a Game Boy that wants to print an image. In the finale, we get another lesson about measuring controller frequency without an oscilloscope. If you are looking for the hack, there it is. There is a handful of success in the form of old receipts with superimposed grayscale images since virgin thermal printer paper by Nintendo costs as much as a used printer.

This story had a happy ending but grab your reading glasses for the smallest Game Boy and here’s someone who wrote their own Game Boy color game.

Turn Your $10 Dollar Mouse Into A Fancy $10 Dollar Mouse With CNC

We feel it’s healthy to cultivate a general desire for more neat tools. That’s just one of the reasons we like [doublecloverleaf]’s retro PC mouse. It certainly meets the requirement, the first computer mouse was wooden, and the mouse he used as the guts for this is so retro it belongs in the dollar bin at the thrift store.

To begin with, [doublecloverleaf] took a picture of the footprint of his aged, but trustworthy laser mouse. Using the photo in SolidWorks he built a model of the circuit board, and with that digitized, a mouse that suited his aesthetics around it. The final model is available on GrabCAD.

Edit: Woops, looks like we accidentally slandered a great Slovenian community CNC project. Check out the comments for more info. Original text in italics. 

Next came the CNC. It looks like he’s using one of those Chinese 3040 mills that are popular right now. The electronics are no good, but if you luck out you can get a decent set of mechanics out of one. He did a two side milling operation on a wood block, using four small holes to align the gcode before each step, and then milled the bottom out of aluminum. Lastly, he milled the buttons out of aluminum as well, and turned a knurled scroll wheel on his lathe.
The end result looks exceedingly high end, and it would be a hard first guess to assume the internals were equivalent to a $10 Amazon house brand mouse.

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Remove Security Issues From Untrusted USB Connections

USB has become pretty “universal” nowadays, handling everything from high-speed data transfer to charging phones. There are even USB-powered lava lamps. This ubiquity doesn’t come without some costs, though. There have been many attacks on smartphones and computers which exploit the fact that USB is found pretty much everywhere, and if you want to avoid these attacks you can either give up using USB or do what [Jason] did and block the data lines on the USB port.

USB typically uses four wires: two for power and two for data. If you simply disconnect the data lines, though, the peripheral can’t negotiate with the host for more power and will limp along at 0.5 watts. However, [Jason] discovered that this negotiation takes place at a much lower data rate than normal data transfer, and was able to put a type of filter in between the host and the peripheral. The filter allows the low-frequency data transfer pass through but when a high-frequency data transfer occurs the filter blocks the communication.

[Jason] now has a device that can allow his peripherals to charge at the increased rate without having to worry about untrusted USB ports (at an airport or coffee shop, for example). This simple device could stop things like BadUSB from doing their dirty work, although whether or not it could stop something this nasty is still up in the air.

Overengineering A USB Hub

hub

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Nick] doesn’t like digging around behind his computer case for a spare USB port and ended up buying a small USB hub for his desk. The hub worked perfectly, but then [Nick] realized an Ethernet port would be a nice addition. And a DC power supply. Then feature creep set in.

What [Nick] ended up building is a monstrosity of a desk hub with two 24V,  5V, 3.3V 50 Watt DC outputs on banana plugs, a five-port USB hub, four-port Ethernet switch, three mains sockets, 32 digital I/Os, UART, SPI, and I2C ports, a 24×4 LCD or displaying DC current usage and serial input, cooling fans, and a buzzer just or kicks.

The case is constructed out of 6mm laser cut acrylic, and the electronics are admittedly a bit messy. That said, this box does seem very useful and even plays the theme from Mario Brothers, as seen in  the video below.

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