Making a helping hand that actually helps

I’ve seen some helping hands offered by various shops and I’m not impressed at all. Their price is usually dirt cheap and I can say from experience that you get what you pay for. The only viable solution is to build a kickass helping hand for yourself. Fortunately, Instructables has some really great tutorials:

I’ve been trying to get the parts for a while but it’s very challenging to source the hoses. If I won’t be able to get them from Hungary then I’ll order them from a foreign country.

Open Hardware Revolution

I’m very passionate about open hardware. I’m into FOSS software for a long time since about 2000 when I completely switched to Linux, but I’ve only recently became conscious that it’s possible to create hardware by individuals or small groups.

Hardware is not that fascinating to me in itself. Sure, lots of big companies create well-designed and quality hardware, Apple being one of the most well known amongst them, but I’ll never buy their products because these devices are locked and not designed to be exploited to reach their full potential. Putting OpenWrt into my ASUS WL500GPV2 is the best example I can think of how one can make his/her device a thousand times more powerful and customizable by replacing the stock firmware. Unfortunately, it’s necessary to buy closed hardware in most cases because there are not many open alternatives but this situation can change in the future and whenever I can I choose open hardware.

In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the open hardware revolution. Atoms Are Not Bits; Wired Is Not A Business Magazine has lots of though provoking arguments and Are atoms the new bits? discusses the mentioned issues even further.  I don’t really think that open hardware will ever take over the world and will replace closed hardware. The big manufacturers fiercely protect their intellectual property and most consumers couldn’t care less whether they can hack a given piece of hardware because they just wanna use the damn thing (with all its shortcomings, being unaware of its full potential).

Hackers are a different breed. There are a several hundred open source projects out there, the most relevant ones being present on Harkopen, Open Innovation Projects and Open Manufacturing. Reprap is the flagship project of the revolution and rightly so because it’s very rare for the open hardware community to create something this complex and well working, even if the quality of the created models lags way behind the commercial alternatives. I think open hardware is not so widespread because 1) most of the projects are technical minded and aren’t practical for the average Joe, 2) most creators are only interested in implementing, not distributing the projects, 3) these teams don’t have any marketing / business experience and 4) the economies of scale are against us (until we conquer the world).

I definitely have to work on 3) but the Ultimate Keyboard is gonna be ready in the not too distant future. I don’t mind learning non-technical stuff to make it happen.

Das Keyboard: Disassembly and Analysis

Before delving into Das Keyboard I’d like to take the opportunity to show you the trailer video of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, a high-end mechanical keyboard of which I’m the lead developer. Our keyboard is going to be kickstarted soon so you’re more than welcome to share it, follow us and subscribe to our list to get notified when our campaign starts. See you on! Cheers!

And now on to Das Keyboard…

I felt the need to disassemble Das Keyboard and see what makes it tick.  Just to make things clear, I think that Das Keyboard is the best traditional PC keyboard ever created, but not the best keyboard that is possible to create because the standard PC layout requires too much travel distance for various keys and it’s suboptimal from the typewriter’s perspective.  No, I don’t mean DVORAK, but something that I could call QWERTY Compact that is very easy to learn.  But that’s the topic of another post.

First of all, I want to apologize for some of the crappy pictures.  My friend, Dömi and I did everything we could do to make reasonably good pictures but the lighting was less than optimal and we’re pretty unexperienced at making such photos.  Anyways, let’s see what we have!


This is the back of the keyboard clearly showing where the screw holes are.  You have to harm the central warranty label so say bye-bye to the guarantee if you proceed further.  You also have to remove the upper rubber feet to access the screws, but you’ll be able to easily glue them back later.


Now comes the tricker part.  There are some hooks that hold together the front part and the back part of the keyboard.  It looks like this:


I think it’s probably impossible to disassemble the keyboard without breaking some of these hooks, but you don’t really have to worry because the screws alone will hold the front part and the back part pretty tightly so you’ll be perfectly able to use your beloved Das Keyboard after assembling it.  You have to pressure the hooks from the sides with some handy tool to disassemble the front and the back parts.

Now let’s see what’s inside!


After removing the keycaps (which is a pretty easy job) you can see the soul of Das, the Cherry MX tactile keyswitches.  They are both extremely durable and extremely enjoyable to type on.  I’d like to note that it’s a misbelief of some people that different pressure sensitivity is required for various switches, namely that less force is needed to press a switch as the distance from the center gets longer.  Every key needs constant pressure, about 50g.  I’ve measured the constant pressing force by placing some coins on different keycaps.


We have lots of those switches, this obviously does not make Das a cheap keyboard.  The switches are panel mounted, not PCB mounted.  Panel mounting is a more robust solution than PCB mounting.  Panel mounting also make Das more expensive, so think about what does this keyboard provide for its price before saying that it costs too much.


The keycaps are not ordinary either.  When seeing Das from its side it’s easy to notice that the top of the keys form a slight U shape.  This shape is more optimal for typewriters than the much more common linear shape used by the rest of the keyboards (not counting the Model M and Unicomp keyboards).  Because of this shape, each row has to close a different angle with the base panel than the other rows.


The keys are attached to the PCB (but they sit on the aluminium panel shown above).  Most dome switch keyboards use foil, but we’re not dealing with mediocre quality here.


Das uses diodes to implement N-key rollover.  Let me note that it doesn’t implement true N-key rollover, only 10-key rollover, but it’s hardly a limitation as most of us have 10 fingers.


The controller PCB is definitely not an ordinary one.  The left IC is a Genesys GL850G USB hub controller and the right baby is a Holtek HT82K95E USB Multimedia Keyboard Encoder 8-Bit MCU.


After using Das for some weeks I could hear some squeaky noise when pressing the space bar.  I was more than surprised because everything else was so terrific about the keyboard.  After I applied some lubricating grease to it the irritating voice gone away.  Some grease should be applied to these wires during the manufacturing process.  Apart from that I cannot say any bad things about Das.

You probably pretty much know my opinion about Das after reading this post, but let me say a word of wisdom at the end.  You can buy many crappy keyboards throughout your life or one real keyboard.  The choice is yours.  You know which I opt for.

You can check out higher resolution photos in a separate Google+ album.

Thanks for Werner Heuser for linking this post on

Building our own gadgets

A good friend of mine, Technik has introducted me to the world of microcontrollers lately. I’m pretty excited about all of this because it is possible to interface a wide array of external components with a microcontroller. One can build his/her own robot or do any kind of home automation, the number of possibilities seem infinite.

There are some interesting links: