Bonanza of Keyswitch Datasheets Fills Our Decks with Clack

Mechanical keyboards use switches of a few different types. But even those types include myriad variations. How’s a hacker to know just exactly what equipment is out there?

For example, if you grab a fellow cube-farmer’s mechanical keyboard (possibly because they clacked on their Cherry Blue’s just one too many times) and angrily rip off a few keycaps to show you’re serious, what do you see? In most cases you expect to see the familiar color and stem shape of a Cherry MX switch or one of its various clones. But you may find a square box around it like a Kailh Box switch. Or the entire stem is a box (with no +) like a Matias switch. Or sometimes it looks like a little pig snout, making it a Kailh Choc.

There is a fairly wide variety of companies which make key switches suitable for use in a keyboard. Many hew to the electrical and mechanical standards implicitly created by the dominant Cherry GmbH’s common switches but not all. So if you’re designing a PCB for such a keyboard and want to use odd switches, you need to check out the Keyboardio keyswitch_documentation repo!

The keyswitch_documentation repo is an absolute treasure trove of hard to find keyswitch datasheets. Finding official information on Cherry MX switches isn’t too hard (keyswitch_documentation has 22 data sheets for MX series switches, and four for ML). But those Kailh Choc’s? Good luck (here it is in keyswitch_documentation). Did you know Tai-Hao made Matias-esque switches as well as weird rubber keycaps? Well they do, and here’s the datasheet.

We’re keeping this one handy until the next time we need data sheets for weird switches. Make sure to send a note if you find something interesting in here that’s worth noting!

Which Wireless is Right Wireless?

Back in the early days of Arduino proliferation (and before you ask, yes we realize there was a time before that too), wireless was a strange and foreign beast. IR communication was definitely a thing. And if you had the funds there was this cool technology called ZigBee that was available, often in funny blue house-shaped XBee boards. With even more funds and a stomach for AT commands you could even bolt on a 2G cell radio for unlimited range. WiFi existed too, but connecting it to a hobbyist ecosystem of boards was a little hairier (though maybe not for our readership).

But as cell phones pushed demand for low power wireless forward and the progression of what would become the Internet of marking Terms (the IoT, of course) began, a proliferation of options appeared for wireless communication. Earlier this week we came across a great primer on some of the major wireless technologies which was put together by Digikey earlier in the year. Let’s not bury the lede. This table is the crux of the piece:

There are some neat entries here that are a little less common (and our old friend, the oft-maligned and never market-penetrating ZigBee). It’s actually even missing some entries. Let’s break it down:

  • Extremely short range: Just NFC. Very useful for transferring small amount of sensitive information slowly, or things with high location-relevance (like between phones that are touching).
  • Short range: BLE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc. Handy for so-called Personal Area Networks and home-scale systems.
  • Medium/long range: Wifi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, LoRaWAN: Sometimes stretching for a kilometer or more in open spaces. Useful for everything from emitting tweets to stitching together a mesh network across a forrest, as long as there are enough nodes. Some of these are also useful at shorter range.
  • Very Long range/rangeless: Sigfox, NB-IoT, LTE Category-0. Connect anywhere, usually with some sort of subscription for network access. Rangeless in the sense that range is so long you use infrastructure instead of hooking a radio up to a Raspberry Pi under your desk. Though LoRa can be a fun exception to that.

You’re unlikely to go from zero to custom wireless solution without getting down into the mud with the available dev boards for a few different common protocols, but which ones? The landscape has changed so rapidly over the years, it’s easy to get stuck in one comfortable technology and miss the appearance of the next big thing (like how LoRaWAN is becoming new cool kid these days). This guide is a good overview to help catch you up and help decide which dev kits are worth a further look. But of course we still want to hear from you below about your favorite wireless gems — past, present, and future — that didn’t make it into the list (we’re looking at you 433 MHz).

Interactive KiCAD BOMs Make Hand Assembly a Breeze

We’ve all been there; you finally get the last DigiKey box and now your desk is covered in parts to stuff into a shiny new PCB you’ve been working on. First stop? Passive town, population endless waves of 1uF capacitors. The first one goes in the upper left, then a little below that, then… once you get to C157 it’s getting pretty hard to remember exactly which parts go where. Enter the literally named InteractiveHtmlBom (IHB) to smooth this process out.

IHB makes the frustrating task of mapping lines in a BOM to a physical position on a board easy. The classic method is of course, to look at the BOM, then search the board for that designator and place the component. (You left the designators in the silk, right?) Or to look at the BOM, ask your CAD package to search for that part in the layout, then place. IHB generates a document that does this automagically.

A sample file from a familiar project

Run the tool, either standalone or as a plugin for KiCAD 5.0, and you get a folder with the new interactive BOM in it. There are a few view options but generally it presents a view of the BOM with designators and value in one pane and a wonderful render of the top and/or bottom of the board in another pane. When you hover over a BOM line it highlights the relevant parts in the board view! There are toggles for filtering by top and bottom of board, marking which parts have been placed, light and dark mode, etc. Plus the ability to filter and sort by designator and value. We would have been impressed if it was just a generator/viewer for those slick scrollable/pannable board renders!

Check out a very long GIF demo after the break, or explore one of many pre-created demo BOMs here. We’re partial to the OSPx201.

Thanks [GregDavill] for the tip!

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Hardware Store White Balance Reference

We live in a time in which taking pictures is preposterously easy: take out your phone (assuming it wasn’t already in your hands), point it at something, and tap the screen. The camera hardware and software in even basic smartphones today is good enough that you don’t need to give it much more thought than that to get decent pictures. But what if you want to do better than just decent?

Ideally you’d take photos lit by high temperature lights, but failing that, you might need to compensate by adjusting the white balance during post-processing. But to accurately adjust white balance you need a pure white reference point in the image. Thanks to some diligent research by the folks at the FastRawViewer blog, we now have a cheap and widely available source for a pure white reference material: PTFE pipe tape.

Alright, we know what you’re thinking: how hard could it be to find a white object? Well, if you’re talking about really white, it can actually be quite difficult. Take a walk down the paint aisle of your local hardware store and see just how many “whites” there actually are. Think the shirt your subject is wearing is really white? Think you can use the glossy white smartphone in their hand as a reference? Think again.

By taking a rubber eraser and wrapping it with a few layers of the PTFE tape, you can create a white reference that’s so cheap it’s effectively disposable. Which is good, because protecting your white reference object and keeping it clean can be a challenge in itself. But with a PTFE tape reference, you can just chuck the thing when the photo shoot is done.

Combine this cheap white reference with some of the DIY photography lighting setups we’ve covered in the past, and you’ll be well on the way to getting better images to document all your projects. Just remember to submit them to us when you’re done.

[Thanks to Keith Olson for the tip.]

Before Google There Was the Chemical Rubber Company

Quick. What’s the difference in conductivity between silver and copper? Today, that’s easy to find out. You just ask Google (maybe even out loud if you have a phone handy). But it wasn’t that long ago that you needed another option. Before the Internet age, a big part of being “that guy” (or gal) was knowing where to go to find things. You had to be a master of the library’s reference section, know what might be in an encyclopedia or an almanac.

However if you were a hardcore math, science, or engineering geek you probably had, at least, one edition of CRC handbooks. Today, we usually think of CRC as cyclic redundancy check, but back then it was the Chemical Rubber Company.

The Chemical Rubber Company dates back to 1903 when brothers Arthur, Leo, and Emanuel Friedman were selling rubber lab aprons in Cleveland, Ohio (Arthur, apparently, had been in a similar business from 1900). In 1913, the brothers offered a short (116-page) booklet called the Rubber Handbook free with the purchase of a dozen aprons.

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TI Releases New Edition Analog Engineer’s Pocket Reference

We aren’t sure that a PDF with 100 pages in it qualifies as a pocket reference, but TI’s Analog Engineer’s Pocket Reference is certainly a good read. You do have to register with TI (use a disposable address if you are too paranoid to do that), but the free download is well worth the effort. The document’s been around for awhile, but TI recently released a new 4th edition.

The first few pages might underwhelm you. You probably know the standard decimal prefixes and are more likely to ask Google to convert circular mils to square millimeters, for example. The second part, though, gets more into electronics. There’s standard values for resistors and quick reminders about the difference between X7R and Y5V ceramic in capacitors, for example.

Things get progressively more interesting, covering measurements and phase shifts, and then amplifiers. The little circuits are pithy but cover the bases including things like frequency response.

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ElectroDroid – your Android electronic reference app

Earlier this week, fellow Hack a Day-er [Mike Nathan] reviewed Adafruit’s new iPhone/iPad app Circuit Playground. The comments on [Mike]’s review turned to suggesting ElectroDroid as an alternative to Circuit Playground. Surprisingly,  Hack a Day authors actually pay attention to the comments, so I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring and offer up my review of ElectroDroid. For purposes of full disclosure, I have to add that I paid the $2.59 donation for a copy of ElectroDroid without ads, and have had no contact with the developers.

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