Optical Keyboards Have Us Examining Typing at Light Speed-ish

There’s a newish development in the world of keyboards; the optical switch. It’s been around for a couple years in desktop keyboards, and recently became available on a laptop keyboard as well. These are not replacements for your standard $7 keyboard with rubber membrane switches intended for puttering around on your raspberry pi. Their goal is the gamer market.

The question, though, is are these the equivalent of Monster Cables for audiophiles: overpriced status symbols? Betteridge would be proud; the short answer is that no, there is a legitimate advantage, and for certain types of use, it makes a lot of sense.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Optical Keyboards Have Us Examining Typing at Light Speed-ish

Lessons in Li-ion Safety

If you came here from an internet search because your battery just blew up and you don’t know how to put out the fire, then use a regular fire extinguisher if it’s plugged in to an outlet, or a fire extinguisher or water if it is not plugged in. Get out if there is a lot of smoke. For everyone else, keep reading.

I recently developed a product that used three 18650 cells. This battery pack had its own overvoltage, undervoltage, and overcurrent protection circuitry. On top of that my design incorporated a PTC fuse, and on top of that I had a current sensing circuit monitored by the microcontroller that controlled the board. When it comes to Li-Ion batteries, you don’t want to mess around. They pack a lot of energy, and if something goes wrong, they can experience thermal runaway, which is another word for blowing up and spreading fire and toxic gasses all over. So how do you take care of them, and what do you do when things go poorly?

Read the full article at Hackaday: Lessons in Li-ion Safety

Better Battery Management Through Chemistry

The lead-acid rechargeable battery is a not-quite-modern marvel. Super reliable and easy to use, charging it is just a matter of applying a fixed voltage to it and waiting a while; eventually the battery is charged and stays topped off, and that’s it. Their ease is countered by their size, weight, energy density, and toxic materials.

The lithium battery is the new hotness, but their high energy density means a pretty small package that can get very angry and dangerous when mishandled. Academics have been searching for safer batteries, better charge management systems, and longer lasting battery formulations that can be recharged thousands of times, and a recent publication is generating a lot of excitement about it.

Consider the requirements for a battery cell in an electric car:

  • High energy density (Lots of power stored in a small size)
  • Quick charge ability
  • High discharge ability
  • MANY recharge cycles
  • Low self-discharge
  • Safe

Lithium ion batteries are the best option we have right now, but there are a variety of Li-ion chemistries, and depending on the expected use and balancing and charging, different chemistries can be optimized for different performance characteristics. There’s no perfect battery yet, and conflicting requirements mean that the battery market will likely always have some options.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Better Battery Management Through Chemistry

Life on Contract: Product Development Lessons Big and Small

Developing a product and getting it out there to build a business is really hard. Whether it’s a single person acting alone to push their passion to the public, or a giant corporation with vast resources, everyone has to go through the same basic steps, and everyone needs to screw those steps up in the same way.

The reality is that the whole process needs to involve lots of aspects in order to succeed; small teams fail by not considering or dedicating resources to all of those aspects, and large teams fail by not having enough communication between the teams working on those pieces. But in truth, it’s a balance of many aspects that unlock a chance at a successful product. It’s worth recognizing this balance and seeking it out in your own product development efforts, whether you’re a one-engineer juggernaut or a large, established company.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Life on Contract: Product Development Lessons Big and Small

What Happened With Supermicro?

Back in October 2018, a bombshell rocked the tech industry when Bloomberg reported that some motherboards made by Supermicro had malicious components on them that were used to spy or interfere with the operation of the board, and that these motherboards were found on servers used by Amazon and Apple. We covered the event, looking at how it could work if it were true. Now seven months have passed, and it’s time to look at how things shook out.

Read the full article at Hackaday: What Happened With Supermicro?

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, mostly Sugar-free Pecan Pie

This turned out really well. I modified my cherry pie recipe. Before starting, put 1/2 cup shortening in the freezer to get cold. Then work on the filling, then the crust, then put it all together and bake it.

Filling

  • 2 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Cup sugar substitute – I used 1/2 Stevia and 1/2 Agave nectar.
    1/2 Cup sugar substitute is 1 Tbsp Stevia, and the other 1/2 Cup sugar substitute is 1/3 Cup Agave nectar.
  • 3 Tbsp Maple syrup (the not-quite-sugar-free part of the recipe, but the maple syrup flavor is important, so *shrug*).
  • 1/4 Cup water

Mix the things together in a small sauce pan, then heat over medium high heat until it’s boiling for a bit, stirring constantly. It’ll get pudding-y, which is great. I don’t like my pecan pie to be runny after it’s baked. Take it off the heat and add the next two ingredients in order. Then work on your crust.

  • 1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Cups chopped pecans + 1/2 Cup not chopped pecans (for decoration on top)

Crust

  • 1 1/4 Cups gluten free flour. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour turned out great and was cheaper than other gluten free flours.
  • 1 Tablespoons sugar substitute. I used Stevia, which has a conversion rate of 1/3 tsp -> 1 Tbsp sugar.
  • 1/4 Tsp salt.
  • 1/2 Cup cold vegetable shortening. The cold part is important. If it’s too warm it gets too melty and makes the crust seem wet so it sticks and won’t roll. Seriously, this makes a difference. Just put it in the freezer while you make the filling.
  • 1 Eggs.
  • 1/4 Tsp apple cider vinegar (not sure why but it was in the recipe I borrowed from.)
  • Up to 3 Tbsp cold water.

Make it like a regular pie crust. Mix the dry ingredients together, then cut in the shortening using forks until you have pea sized pieces. Add the eggs and vinegar and mix some more. Then take one tablespoon at a time of the water and add it to a small part of the crust and mix it until it’s crust-like. Do that until you’ve gotten the whole crust. Then flour a table and roll it out to make your crust.

Bake at 350

Preheat the oven first. Put the crust in the bottom of your pie tin and flute the edge. Then put in the filling. Then delicately put on some decorative half-pecans in a pattern. Protect the crust with a ring of tinfoil around the edge. Bake for 20 minutes. Take the tin foil off and bake for another 25 minutes. Take it out and let it cool.

Not runny! The tapioca did its thing perfectly.

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free Cherry Pie

I’m not going to write some super long back story behind this pie. It’s a good recipe. It took me three tries to refine it. I made it for my partner, and she really liked it.

Filling

I tried corn starch but it wasn’t very good. I tried all Stevia but that left a bad aftertaste. This filling nailed it:

  • 4 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/8 Tsp salt
  • 1 Cup sugar substitute. Doing Stevia is ok, but I didn’t like the aftertaste so it turned out 1/2 Stevia and 1/2 Agave nectar worked out perfect. 1/2 Cup sugar substitute is 1 Tbsp Stevia, and the other 1/2 Cup sugar substitute is 1/3 Cup Agave nectar.
  • 1/4 Tsp plus a smidge of almond extract. This is important. Almond extract smells like cherries. Try it. It adds a bunch of flavor.
  • 1/2 Tsp vanilla extract. Because you should always add vanilla to everything.
  • 4 Cups pitted cherries. Or 3 cans of tart cherries in water.

Mix the dry things. Add in the wet things. Then add the cherries. Let it sit while you make the crust. I’m not kidding; the tapioca needs some time to do its thing.

Crust (enough for a top and bottom)

  • 2 1/2 Cups gluten free flour. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour turned out great and was cheaper than other gluten free flours.
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar substitute. I used Stevia, which has a conversion rate of 1/3 tsp -> 1 Tbsp sugar.
  • 1/2 Tsp salt.
  • 1 Cup cold vegetable shortening. The cold part is important. If it’s too warm it gets too melty and makes the crust seem wet so it sticks and won’t roll. Seriously, this makes a difference.
  • 2 Eggs.
  • 1/2 Tsp apple cider vinegar (not sure why but it was in the recipe I borrowed from.
  • Up to 6 Tbsp cold water.

Make it like a regular pie crust. Mix the dry ingredients together, then cut in the shortening using forks until you have pea sized pieces. Add the eggs and vinegar and mix some more. Then take one tablespoon at a time of the water and add it to a small part of the crust and mix it until it’s crust-like. Do that until you’ve gotten the whole crust. Then split it in half, flour a table and roll the halves out to make your bottom and top crusts.

Bake at 400

Preheat the oven first. Put the bottom half of the crust in the bottom of your pie tin. Then put in the cherry filling. Then put the top half of the crust on top. Flute the edge and vent the top. Protect the crust with a ring of tinfoil around the edge. Bake for 20 minutes. Take the tin foil off and bake for another 25 minutes. Take it out and let it cool. You did a thing!

Make the Time to Fix Your Time Debt

You’re too busy to read more than this intro paragraph. We all are. Your interest might get piqued enough to skim, but you can’t read the full thing. Our lives all resemble the White Rabbit, constantly late for our next thing, never enjoying the current thing. You feel simultaneously super productive and yet never productive enough to be satisfied. You yearn for a Jarvis that can automate the mundane aspects of your projects, and yet the prospect of building a Jarvis causes anxiety about not having enough time for yet another project. You see another YouTuber showing off not only a great build but also impressive video production and editing skills. You are suffering from Time Debt, and the solution requires as much discipline and tenacity as escaping from financial debt.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Make the Time to Fix Your Time Debt

Your Face is Going Places You May Not Like

Many Chinese cities, among them Ningbo, are investing heavily in AI and facial recognition technology. Uses range from border control — at Shanghai’s international airport and the border crossing with Macau — to the trivial: shaming jaywalkers.

In Ningbo, cameras oversee the intersections, and use facial-recognition to shame offenders by putting their faces up on large displays for all to see, and presumably mutter “tsk-tsk”. So it shocked Dong Mingzhu, the chairwoman of China’s largest air conditioner firm, to see her own face on the wall of shame when she’d done nothing wrong. The AIs had picked up her face off of an ad on a passing bus.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Your Face is Going Places You May Not Like