Sunny Custom Keyboard Illuminates the Past

Ever wonder why keyboard number pads and telephone dials have reversed layouts? Theories abound, but the most plausible one is that, shrug, it just happened that way. And now we’re stuck with it.

Well, that answer’s not good enough for [Jesse], so he punched up his own keyboard design that combines the golden years of function-rich Sun and IBM keyboards with Ma Bell’s DTMF number arrangement. That’s right, Sundial has 24 function keys total, and the number pad matches Ma Bell’s all the way down to the asterisk/zero/octothorpe pattern on the bottom row. How do we know what the unlabeled ones are, you ask? It’s all mapped out in this layout editor. We love that it has all the key lock indicator lights, because that practice should’ve never faded out in the first place.

Though inspired by this beautiful unicorn of an Arduino keyboard we covered a few months ago, the Sundial uses a Teensy 2.0 to translate [Jesse]’s Cherry MX clone-driven wishes into software commands. It’s also painstakingly hand-wired, so here’s the build log for you to drool over. Just cover up your keyboard first.

Watch The World Spin With The Earth Clock

With the June solstice right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to witness first hand the effects of Earth’s axial tilt on the day’s length above and beyond 60 degrees latitude. But if you can’t make it there, or otherwise prefer a more regular, less deprived sleep pattern, you can always resort to simulations to demonstrate the phenomenon. [SimonRob] for example built a clock with a real time rotating model of Earth to visualize its exposure to the sun over the year.

The daily rotating cycle, as well as Earth’s rotation within one year, are simulated with a hand painted plastic ball attached to a rotating axis and mounted on a rotating plate. The hand painting was done with a neat trick; placing printed slivers of an atlas inside the transparent orb to serve as guides. Movement for both axes are driven by a pair of stepper motors and a ring of LEDs in the same diameter as the Earth model is used to represent the Sun. You can of course wait a whole year to observe it all in real time, or then make use of a set of buttons that lets you fast forward and reverse time.

Earth’s rotation, and especially countering it, is a regular concept in astrophotography, so it’s a nice change of perspective to use it to look onto Earth itself from the outside. And who knows, if [SimonRob] ever feels like extending his clock with an aurora borealis simulation, he might find inspiration in this northern lights tracking light show.

This is a spectacular showpiece and a great project you can do with common tools already in your workshop. Once you’ve mastered earth, put on your machinists hat and give the solar system a try.

Get Your Name on the Hottest List in the Solar System

How often does NASA name a spacecraft after a living person? How often do you get to launch your name into a star? How often does NASA send probes to explore the sun? If your answer to all these questions is NEVER, then you win the honor of adding your name to an SD card bound for the center of our solar system. We’re already on the list with [William Shatner] so we’ll see you there. Submissions for the hot list aboard the Parker Solar Probe close on April 27th, 2018 and it launches in May.

The Parker Solar probe honors living astrophysicist [Eugene Parker] who theorized a great deal about how the sun, and other stars, emit energy. His work has rightly earned him the honor of seeing his name on a sun-bound probe. We even owe the term, “solar wind” to [Parker].

To draw more attention, you can have a few bits aboard this probe dedicated to you or someone you care about by adding your name to their list. Or you can send the name of your greatest enemy into the hottest furnace for millions of miles. Your call.

Even though our sun is the most prominent heavenly body, NASA hasn’t sent a probe to explore it before. They are good about sharing their models and they really know how to write standards for workmanship.

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The Forgotten Workstation: Sun JavaStation

These days, conversations about Java tend to center around Oracle and Google fighting it out in court. But back in 1996, Sun was the keeper of Java and promoted it heavily. They even released a diskless workstation that only runs Java applets. The Sun JavaStation was affectionately called the “Mr. Coffee” and [Cameron Gray] wants to show you how it worked and what’s inside of it.

A single screw frees the innards from the small case. Inside looks like a dense PC from the era, although the parts inside are a far cry from a typical PC. The CPU was a 110 MHz microSPARC II soldered directly to the motherboard. The four RAM slots could take up to 64 megabytes of PC RAM.

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Oracle v Google could Chill Software Development

Unless you’ve completely unplugged from the news, you probably are aware that the long-running feud between Oracle and Google had a new court decision this week. An appeal court found that Google’s excuse of fair use wasn’t acceptable and that they did infringe on Oracle’s copyrights to Java. Oracle has asked for about $9 billion in damages, although the actual amount is yet to be decided. In addition, it is pretty likely Google will take it up to the Supreme Court before any actual judgment is levied.

The news is aimed at normal people, so it is pretty glossy about what exactly happened. We set out to try to make sense of it all. We found a pretty good article from [Michaela Barry] about what the courts previously found.  There were three main parts:

  • There were 37 API (Application Programming Interface) declarations taken verbatim from Java. This would be like a C header file if you aren’t familiar with Java.
  • Google decompiled 8 security files and used them.
  • The rangeCheck function — 9 lines of Java code — were exactly the same in Oracle’s Java and Android.

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Finding The Sun And Moon The New Old-Fashioned Way

The ability to build a robot to take care of a tedious task for you is power indeed. For a few centuries, the task of helping determine one’s location fell to the sextant. Now, you can offload that task to this auto-sextant, courtesy of [Raz85].

To be clear, this robo-sextant doesn’t give you your exact location, but it does find and display the bearing and altitude of the most luminous object around and display them on the LCD — so, the sun and moon. A pair of cheap servos handle the horizontal and vertical movement, an Arduino Uno acts as the brains and nervous system, and a photoresistor acts as the all-seeing eye. Clever use of some cardboard allow [Raz85] to keep the photoresistor isolated from most all light except what the sextant is currently pointed at. Servos have a limited field of movement, so you might need to adjust [Raz85]’s code accordingly if you’re rebuilding this one yourself.

After taking three minutes to make its rounds of the sky, the Uno records the servos’ positions when fixed on the sun or moon, translating that data into usable coordinates. Don’t forget the best part, it runs on batteries making it convenient for all your wave-faring excursions!

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Bye Bye Solaris, it seems.

For readers of A Certain Age, this may bring a tear to the eye. Reports have been circulating of the decision by Oracle to lay off a significant portion of the staff behind its Solaris operating system and SPARC processors, and that move spells the inevitable impending demise of those products. They bore the signature of Sun Microsystems, the late lamented workstation and software company swallowed up by the database giant in 2009.

So why might we here at Hackaday be reaching for our hankies over a proprietary UNIX flavour and a high-end microprocessor, neither of which are likely to be found on many of the benches of our readers in 2017? To answer that it’s more appropriate to journey back to the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the most powerful and expensive home computers money could buy were still connected to a domestic TV set as a monitor.

If you received a technical education at a university level during that period the chances are that you would have fairly soon found yourself sitting in a lab full of workstations, desktop computers unbelievably powerful by the standards of the day. With very high resolution graphics, X-windows GUIs over UNIX, and mice that weren’t just used for a novelty paint package, these machines bore some resemblance to what we take for granted today, but at a time when an expensive PC still came with DOS. There were several major players in the workstation market, but Sun were the ones that seemed to have the university market cracked.

You never forget your first love, and therefore there will be a lot of people who will never quite shake that association with a Sun workstation being a very fast desktop computer indeed. Their mantra at the time was “The network is the computer”, and it is the memory of a significant part of a year’s EE students trolling each other by playing sound samples remotely on each other’s SPARCStations on that network that is replaying in the mind of your scribe as this is being written.

A Raspberry Pi with a Raspbian desktop probably outperforms one of those 1980s SPARCStations in every possible way, but that is hardly the point and serves only to demonstrate technological progress. It feels as though something important died today, even if it may be a little difficult to remember what it was when sat in front of a multi-core x86 powerhouse with a fully open-source 64-bit POSIX-compliant operating system running upon it.

Unsurprisingly we’ve featured no hardware hacks with such high-end computing. If you’d like to investigate some Sun Microsystems hardware though, take a look at the Centre for Computing History’s collection.