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Entries tagged 'cat:Computer'

SBWG 0.10.11

It's been two months since I published a new version of SBWG (and therefore since I worked enough on it to make me feel that an increase in the version number may be justified). I hardly get around to working on it, lately. But when I do, I try to make some solid small steps towards the improvements I wish do be done to SBWG.

So, now there is a new version (0.10.11) but I haven't published it yet because before I do I want to test it a bit more when I'm not as fucking tired as I am right now. Writing this entry could actually be considered part of the testing that I still want to do. But as I said, I'm fucking tired right now. So I'll continue this entry another time.

Edit 2022-09-12: I did some tests with fake content offline and feel confident that I fixed more than I broke in this version. I'll add it to the project page soon.

Two long procrastinate areas that have been overdue to get fixed for a while now are permanent caching and parallelisation. For permanent caching, the bugs that I found are fixed. Aggressive caching with option `--cache` (`-C`) works and it certain groups can be selected (excluding others) for permanent caching. In my test this speeds up everyday web site re-generations by up to 100%. But it also means the user has to be aware of the cache files that persist after SBWG is done and will be used the next time. Changes to existing entries will not take effect without removing the relevant cache files. For parallelisation, the bugs that I found and that affect the generated HTML are fixed. I still consider parallel mode to be experimental. Sometimes messages on stdout are weird or cut off. But who used very verbose mode and looks at every message anyway? Parallelisation is functional and usable is what I mean to say. In my test on a Core i5 with 4 cores (8 threads) it speeds up everyday web site re-generation by around 380% with default settings. It depends a lot on how much of web site generation is generating thumbnails and other image sizes of file attachments or gallery images. Those aren't sped up that much because the CPU already is the bottleneck for those. HTML file generation profits more from having more parallel threads than CPU cores (or threads) running.

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Fred - Part 2 - The Case Lid And Cooling

This entry is a reply to or continuation of the entry 'Fred - Part 1 - Modding The Quiet Into A Server Rack Case'.

In this entry I'll describe how Fred's components are air cooled.

So, after removing the fan wall and unplugging the two fans in the back of the case there was no active cooling left. That's good for reducing noise, but not enough cooling for the hard drives, the CPU and the SAS controller cards. Since the case is not mounted in a rack and nothing is placed on top of it, I decided to use the space in the case lid to place larger fans.

The CPU

My idea was to replace the CPU cooler with a larger one that just fits into the case and have a fan above it suck out its hot air (also pulling in ait from the RAM modules next to the CPU socket). I fount a heat sink from Scythe called Iori (SCIOR-1000). Mounted on the socket there would be just enough space for a 15 mm fan above it. As it turns out though, the heat sink is large enough to cool the CPU passively and the RAM doesn't need any additional cooling, too. So the fan above it is not even plugged in.

The Extension Cards

Since the HBA and the RAID card that I'm using are designed for servers with a proper airflow, they need at least some additional cooling. Their heat sinks are quite small for the amount of heat they produce. But there was enough room above them to place a fan that sucks the hot ait directly from the extension card area out of the case. I was told these cards usually don't have any problems getting extremely hot. But I rather don't want to have them do their things for hours or days streight without any active cooling. Replacing their heat sinks with larger ones would only be a sufficiant option if there was room for much much larger heat sinks.

The Hard Drives

I don't want to have have hard drives run continuesly without any active cooling, especially when they are sitting in enclosures that don't allow for any aitflow without some amount of pressure. There is just no-where for the heat to go on its own in these tight drawers. I decided for three 140 mm fans that would neatly in a row behind the hard drive compartment and backplane. Since the motherboard isn't that large, there was nothing but a few cables in that area of the case. I've mounted an aluminium bar that I had lying around and tucked two pieces of flat plastic between this bar and the bar that originally held the fan wall at the bottom. That way, the air that is pressed in from above gets directed only into the hard drive compartment where it has no way to escape without passing the hard drives.

Unfortunately the room around the hard drives is so small that quite a lot of air preassure is needed to cool them as much as I wanted to. Running the fans at full speed all the time is hardly enough to keep them at a temperature that I deem acceptable. I tried to increase the cooling effect by sealing all the edges and other tiny spaces where some air could escape without cooling the hard drives. But this didn't lead to a measurable difference. I ended up taking out two of the 16 hard drives to increase the size of the duct. I chose two drives in the centre so that there now is a large surface where the air cools the remaining drives. That lowered the temperatures of the surrounding drives a lot. The temperature of the drives at the edges was of course hardly effected. But those weren't the problem anyway.

I'll probably continue about the rest of the case mod in a followup entry.

File Attachments

Making the holes for the fans was easier than I expected_ I marked the borders with a pencil by following the outlines of the actual fans, cut the rough holes with an angle grinder with a cutting disk, then did the finishing with a rotary tool (a not Dremel)_
Making the holes for the fans was easier than I expected. I marked the borders with a pencil by following the outlines of the actual fans, cut the rough holes with an angle grinder with a cutting disk, then did the finishing with a rotary tool (a not Dremel).
I used up several cheap grinding bits for the finishing_ The remaining borders between the fas are only a few millimeters wide_ But the ~2 mm thick steel holds up surprisingly well_ They don't make regular home computer cases from that material_
I used up several cheap grinding bits for the finishing. The remaining borders between the fas are only a few millimeters wide. But the ~2 mm thick steel holds up surprisingly well. They don't make regular home computer cases from that material.
First coat: primer, second coat: matte black, thirdly added sparkly sprinkles_ In the picture I started taping the sides for what comes next_
First coat: primer, second coat: matte black, thirdly added sparkly sprinkles. In the picture I started taping the sides for what comes next.
Then I painted the middle part pink_ After the tape was removed I noticed the paint came off in one spot_ Well, that's how it goes if you don't do it right_ I can just cover this with a sticker_ For now I just added a matte clearcoat_
Then I painted the middle part pink. After the tape was removed I noticed the paint came off in one spot. Well, that's how it goes if you don't do it right. I can just cover this with a sticker. For now I just added a matte clearcoat.
In between cooling systems_ I tested the modded lid as it was in the picture but closed_ It did do something and it was better than the open case with scattered fans in the next picture, but not by much_
In between cooling systems. I tested the modded lid as it was in the picture but closed. It did do something and it was better than the open case with scattered fans in the next picture, but not by much.
That's how it looked for a day while I used the NAS before finishing the new cooling system_ Notice the large space in the middle_ That will be used in the next pictures_
That's how it looked for a day while I used the NAS before finishing the new cooling system. Notice the large space in the middle. That will be used in the next pictures.
This is how the case looked inside now_ (I'll write about the power supply in the next entry_)
This is how the case looked inside now. (I'll write about the power supply in the next entry.)
And from the outside_ The fan on the bottom right cools the RAID card and the HBA_ I don't know if it's cooling it enough because I don't know what the cards/processors are made to withstand_ But they still ran a few years after that picture was taken_ The CPU fan is off because it stays cool enough during a hours-long burn test_
And from the outside. The fan on the bottom right cools the RAID card and the HBA. I don't know if it's cooling it enough because I don't know what the cards/processors are made to withstand. But they still ran a few years after that picture was taken. The CPU fan is off because it stays cool enough during a hours-long burn test.
The cooler mount wasn't made for that socket_ I think it was for an AMD socket_ The bracket was really strong and tight and eventually broke in two_ The CPU lid didn't take any damage though and I simply used a few zipties to hold the cooler in place without much preasure on the CPU_ That still was enough to cool the CPU passively and the machine ran three quarters of a year that way_
The cooler mount wasn't made for that socket. I think it was for an AMD socket. The bracket was really strong and tight and eventually broke in two. The CPU lid didn't take any damage though and I simply used a few zipties to hold the cooler in place without much preasure on the CPU. That still was enough to cool the CPU passively and the machine ran three quarters of a year that way.
Eventually I made my own bracket (not in the picture) and now that is held down by zipties_ It's quite sturdy_
Eventually I made my own bracket (not in the picture) and now that is held down by zipties. It's quite sturdy.
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Fred - Part 1 - Modding The Quiet Into A Server Rack Case

Fred is an old Supermicro rack server that I got as an attempt at building a NAS that replaces all the smaller NASs that I already had. But I like to collect stuff and it's never going to be enough. So it ended up being just another extension of my home network.

Overview

It's an old 3U Supermicro server case with 16 3.5" hard drive drawers, a good but not too bulky Asus motherboard and a nice low-power Intel CPU. I kept the motherboard, CPU and 32 GB ECC RAM. It's more than enough.

I wanted to do some mods on the case though to make it more comparible to my home and my visual taste in computer cases. In short, what I did was: Switch the PSU to a quieter one, build fans into the lid for quieter drive and card cooling, painted the case, switched the CPU cooler for passive cooling, added two HBA cards and 14 8 TB hard drives (two drawers left intentionally free).

I will tell about/may document these mods in more detail in separate entries.

File Attachments

The case before I started (but not before I added some stickers)
The case before I started (but not before I added some stickers)
The pretty much finished case
The pretty much finished case
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Klik & Play

I have been wanting to write about this piece of 16 bit Windows software for a quite a while. I don't know why.

I'll just start this entry and continue whenever. Just want to have it started for now…

When I got my first own computer - that must have been around 1996 or 1998 (probably closer to 1998) - I got most of the software that I used for free from magazines that came with diskettes or CDs. Because it was cheap. I reckon the publishers didn't really pay for the software that was on them, or may even have gotten payed for including restricted freeware/shareware on them. Because most of these magazines weren't even pricey for the magazine themselves, and you got the software for free. One of these disks included a demo of "Klik & Play" (That's how it's spelled everywhere. I'm pretty sure it was spelled "Klik 'n' Play" in the logo/intro animation, though. But whatever.) A programme that promised to enable the user to create computer games without previous knowledge, without writing any code, without knowing how to programme at all. I checked it out just because it was there. I remember thinking "who are they trying to fool with that language and why?" because of the slogan and promises (that I don't remember word by word). But after playing with it for a while, I was positively surprised by how true the claims seemed to be. You could really create a video came without knowing how to code.

I thought this piece of software genius back in the day. I was - idk - 12 and hadn't really thought of writing my own software. Computer software, in the minds of the people that I had to do, wasn't something that you wrote or edited yourself. Creating your own programme, writing your own code wasn't really in the realm of possible things to do with a computer. Almost as much as it is viewed now. I mean, editing a .BAT file in DOS was the hackiest one would get among my friends, and even that was rare. So the fact that the developers (Europress Software - Wikipedia credits Francois Lionet and Yves Lamoureux) managed to allow me, to create a simple, 2D, actually playable game, and the way they managed to allow this by using mostly to only the mouse, impressed me.

I think I don't want to explain how creating a game with Klik & Play works in detail. You can search the web or watch a video for that. But to get an idea of what it was like, and of how simple it was: On any given screen ("level") you can click an icon to add an object. You can select from a number of categories or add your own graphics and GIF animations. Then you could choose whether that object is just a background object (not doing anything, not moving, not interacting with other objects, not changing, ...) or if it represents one of the players. If it's a player, you can choose a set of controls. Most of the actual programming takes place in a table. On one axis are all the objects, on another axis something that can happen to or with them. And in the fields of the table, you choose what's supposed to happen when this circumstance ever comes true. So the table sort of represents a huge set of possible interrupts. Common things that can be acted upon are: An object touches an edge of the screen, an object touches another object, a key has been pressed and released, ... And examples for possible actions are: Move an object by incrementing/decreasing coordinates or by setting them to a fixed value, changing an objects velocity, jumping to the next or a specific screen ("level") in the game, increasing the player's points by 1. Just with there few examples, you could: Make the player object jump when you hit the space bar (e.g. in a jump&run style game), make it stand on the ground object and platforms (e.g. in a platform style game), make it move left and right when you hit the arrow keys, make it reappear on the other side of the screen when it leaves of side (like in Asteroids), make it collect and count coins, make it die when it touches a deadly enimy and only one life was left on the counter, go to the next level when this one is won, ... and much more.

Note that this is all done by only clicking on objects, buttons, lists, menus. Once you got used to the interface and know what's available, it's really easy to use. There is a feature that makes getting started with a new game even easier though. You can run the game in a mode where every event for which an action can be defined, interrupts the game and lets you choose an action (or choose that for this event it shouldn't ask/interrupt again) and then continue the game. The ball touched a stone, what do you want to happen? Bounce the ball, delete the stone object, increase variable A by 1, play CLICK.WAV. The ball touched the left edge of the screen. What do you want to happen? Bounce the ball, play CLACK.WAV. …

I think I could have handled writing code myself at that age, at least after having created some silly game-like things in Klik & Play. But nobody showed me and teaching myself seemed overwhelming. (It wasn't really. Good books and reference guides existed back then. But I didn't know.) Anyway.

You could play the game file by opening it with Klik & Play or you could compile it, which produced two files: an 16 bit EXE and a game file. I think the latter contained all the graphics and sounds and the executable was the actual game. But I'm not sure.

There were a number of programmes around in the 90s that promised to let you programme and/or create your own games without knowing anything about computers first (or that made some similar claims of that sort.) I tried two others, that took a completely different approaches. But I think they deserve their own entries. I could probably plan to make a series about these sort of tools where I start with the goal to create a complete list of functional, worth mentioning programmes, and end up with a pile of unexpected feelings of resignation over the fact that there are too many products to mention, like I did with alternative operating systems.

(tbd: proofreading, add links, add screenshots, fix misremembered details, write continuation about Klik & Play games.)

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SBWG 0.10.10

I decided to publish a new version of SBWG. I hardly got around to editing it in the last few months. So it doesn't really contain the new things that I had for a while intended for v0.10.10. But there were a few bugs that I wanted to have fixed in the latest published version. There still are known bugs. But now there are a few less.

Well, since it doesn't really contain anything new that's relevant, I didn't have to create this entry. But I did, so I'll use it to say I also fixed the RSS feed of draft0 and the menu link of steephlog on mobile. Bugs that I didn't know I had introduced in the last update and that were very happy that I didn't test things beforehand.

The things that did change since my last SBWG update just aren't that interesting. But I'll list some here, nevertheless: Entries can no have custom notes (using the 'note:' tag; Topic tagpages now also show the author names of entries; Srickied entries are now excluded from the RSS feed because they're jsut used as notices at the top of tagpages and don't belong context-less in the feed (there is a better solution planned); Error reporting inside opf the script now includes information on the basis of which the clean-up routine can decide how to handle things differently for different errors and stuff; SBWG now locks directories; There is now a flag that hides attachments to an individual entry that are of a specific mime type, and, you could just read the CHANGELOG file instead of this if you really are interested in these little changes.

It'll probably continue to be slow in the foreseeable future. There are a lot of ideas in my head and several bugs in the code and probably vice versa. But time… not so much.

Edit: Oh, and another thing: I started to test updates and changes that I made to SBWG live on this web site because it's more fun if something breaks every other day.

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Alternative Operating System: MenuetOS and KolibriOS

This entry is referencing the entry 'Alternative Operating Systems'.

MenuetOS

This is a really interesting one. Or two. I'll start with MinuetOS. Written in Assembler for 586 systems, open source, very impressive, performance- and size-wise. Including the included applications it fits in 1.44 MB. The boot time on my Core2Duo isn't easily measured because it's completely done before my monitor adjusts the resolution from the boot menu to the desktop. But when I chose the same resolution it uses for its boot option screen, I learned that it boots up completely pretty much instant even if the monitor doesn't have to switch modes. A guess writing 100 % in Assembler makes this possible. Very promising software, but a small community. The developers have been very dedicated when the 32 bit version was still under active development. So it is very stable, packed with useful little applications, especially for development and debugging, but also for daily use and casual gaming. This 32 bit version is not actively developed anymore.

There is a 64 bit version, which is not open source. I'll mention the reason in the paragraph after the next paragraph. It's where the development of MenuetOS is happening nowadays. I don't know how far it has changed since the 32 bit version. I didn't try it, because I'm looking for a 32 or 16 bit system. So, the source is not available, but the information available should be suffice to write drivers and applications for it. Edit: I've tried the 64 bit version briefly. Since there has been years of relatively active development between the last (pre 1.0) 32 bit version and the latest 64 bit version, the changes and advantages are very noticable. If a closed source OS is an option, the 64 bit version is surely what you'll prefer using.

There is a CD image of ~ 22 MB of additional applications that I didn't really try. But it's worth mentioning that there are more than the very basic applications available. There's a media player, even some networking tools (FTP, telnet, but no SSH, as you might have guessed). There is a very rudimentary shell. But it is obvious that the developers' focus was on GUI programmes, as even the ping tool is used by opening a window, entering the target in a text field and starting the ping with a button. Most things worked flawlessly during the time I've tried MenuetOS. But there are a couple of things that may be considered annoying by a demanding user. The most obvious to me was that the mouse is very hard to use. Stopping the pointer in a particular spot takes practice. It seems to drag behind quite a bit. It takes time to do something with a mouse. And when setting the speed slower the pointer sometimes starts moving into the opposite direction. Not completely a matured OS. But many parts are matured and it is usable.

KolibriOS

And then there is KolibriOS, a fork of the 32 bit MenuetOS. It doesn't claim to be a fork, though. Its heritage isn't mentioned on the web site. Just once in the web forum by somebody asking about it. Every mention of it in the source code has been removed, but copyright notices have been added by the "new owner". That makes this fork a pretty vile act. I don't know what the motivations behind this have been. It is pretty clear that the KolibriOS developer didn't start KolibriOS from scratch, no matter how much they try to make it look like it. There are people who learn about and get into KolibriOS who don't know where it came from. So, after this fork the developer of MenuetOS has decided to not publish the source code of the new 64 bit version of MenuetOS. I felt it relevant to get into all that because making a decision for KolibriOS and against MenuetOS can be seen as a political statement. (And I'm not saying this in any way as a reference to current international political happenings. KolibriOS is sometimes called "a Russian OS". But people who speak out against using KolibriOS because it's Russian and therefore evil should either produce some sort of evidence, hint or at least rationale for why the OS or its developers have any connection to the war in Ukraine or shut up.)

So, back to the OS itself. It's not fully compatible with MenuetOS. As with previous versions of MenuetOS, some programmes still run, some have problems and many just don't work any more on the new version. I don't know if there are even some programmes left that have run on both systems.

There are still 1.44 MB images for floppy disks being published. But for my first impressions I chose the large image that comes with many more applications. That image is over 130 MB, which is likely mainly due to the applications that are not written in assembler. But still, a multiple of the CD image with additional software for MenuetOS. I'd have to compare them in detail to be able to say why that is. The set of applications that is included in the large KolibriOS image is very good for basic requirements and significanty surpasses what's usually included in OS images. There are editors, file browsers, development tools, quite a few casual games and a few not so basic applications. Some not written in Assembler just for this OS, like DOSBox and Netsurf, others impressively small and fast. Netsurf being the only web browser that's available for the OS makes clear who might want to consider using this OS and who might not.

The whole experience of using KolibriOS was a bit smoother than using MenuetOS. That is, almost everything was perfectly smooth, nothing ever crashed. But, some of the not so basic applications are more resource hungry than what you would expect from an OS written in assembler (which is because those applications aren't written in assembler and probably ported from another platform with functionality as the only requirement). For example, the video player would use hundreds of MB of RAM for the playback of some video files. The whole system would become less and less responsive, even though there were still GBs of RAM unused. I don't know what codex' are implemented and how. But some formats wouldn't play at all, bringing the entire system to a halt until I was able to kill the media player.

The size of the complete KolibriOS image (way over 100 MB, as compared to under 25 MB for MenuetOS) shows how the goal of keeping everything small and fast has been overlooked more and more when porting software to run on KolibriOS. But also that more application have been ported. Those are not part of the OS if you use the normal floppy or CD image. But there is one with everything pre-installed. The fact that those extra applications don't run as fast and aren't as small shouldn't be a problem and isn't a fault of the OS. But the fact that no alternatives have been written specifically for Kolibri might be restricting its use in practice.

The following screen shots are all of KolibriOS.

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Das Westwood Camp 1 (WAMP2022)

Nach fünf komma drei Jahren Pandemie (oder zweieinhalb in Ehrlichkeit) und ohne richtige Vorortverastaltungen, deren Besuch ich zu erwägen bereit war, nahm ich im Juni die Gelegenheit, die hauptsächlich daraus bestand, dass ein kleines Hackercamp für einen Zeitraum angekündigt war, in dem ich genehmigten Urlaub hatte, wahr, endlich mal ein kleines Hackercamp zu besuchen. Es war gleichzeitig bisher das am wenigsten Weit von meinem Wohnort entfernt stattfindende Hackercamp, von dem ich je erfuhr und das erste, das ich entschied zu besuchen. Auf dem großen CCC-Camp war ich schon. Und das liebe ich so sehr, dass ich hier keinen Eintrag zu verlinken habe, weil ich nicht in Worten beschreiben kann, wie sehr es mir dort immer gefällt. Schon seit Jahren wollte ich mal auch andere Camps besuchen. In den selben Jahren habe ich mich immer mehr von der Community entfernt und immer mehr Stress aus anderen Bereichen meines Lebens, weshalb ich froh bin, dass letztlich alles so zusammen passte, dass ich auch wirklich zum WAMP2022 gefahren bin.

Wie erwartet ist deutlich mehr direkter Kontakt zu Menschen (verglichen mit dem CCC-Camp) auf einer Veranstaltung dieser Größe ein Bestreben, das man haben sollte, um aus dem mehrtägigen Besuch der Veranstaltung eine positive Erfahrung zu machen. Zum Glück kannte ich ein paar Menschen, die sich auf Gespräche mit mir eingelassen haben. Sicherlich wäre es aber auch möglich gewesen, andere nette Menschen kennenzulernen, wenn man sich auf Kommunikation mit ihnen eingelassen hätte. Mit weit unter 100 Besuchern war das WAMP nicht nur um Größenordnungen kleiner als das CCCamp, sondern wurde auch zurecht als familiär bezeichne1t. Ich bin gespannt, ob sich meine Vorhersage, dass auch diese Veranstaltung jährlich spürbar wachsen wird, während sie sich in der Community etabliert, erfüllen wird. Es sind in den letzten Jahren so viele neue, kleine Verasnstaltungen gestartet; Ich weiß nicht, ob die alle so stark wachsen und ihre eigene Kultur entwickeln werden, wie wir das bisher von Hacker-Veranstaltungen in Deutschland gewohnt sind. Das WAMP2022 entwickelte schon früh ausreichend Potential, um diese gewohnte Entwicklung kleiner Hacker-Veranstaltungen als eingeleitet wahrnehmen zu lassen. Es wurde schon angedeutet und wird schon von manchen erwartet, dass es nächstes Jahr wieder stattfinden wird. Und Bestandteile des diesjährigen Camps, die sich ungeplant ergeben haben, werden vermutlich das nächste mal eingeplant. Und in fünf Jahren werden Besuchende des Camps sagen: Schon immer kam beim WAMP am vorletzten Tag ein Eismensch und das wird auch immer so sein. Auf den Pool mit Durchlauferhitzer werden manche nicht verzichten wollen und vielleicht wird die Energieversorgung der Heizung ja auf erneuerbare Energien wechseln. Genug Platz für sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr viel Solarenergie ist jedenfalls vorhanden. Jedenfalls wäre es schön, wenn das Camp sich so entwickeln würde und dabei noch wachsen würde.

Das Vortrags- und Session-Programm war nett, interessant und teilweise sehr spontan. Kein Barcamp. Noch offener. Auch hier passt der Begriff "familär". Inhaltlich war nicht alles was für mich. Aber was solls. Ich hätte wie immer auch gerne selbst etwas beigetragen. Aber für sowas habe ich keine Expertise. Bei Events mit einer Besucherzahl, die vermuten lässt, dass auch viele Anfänger (bezogen worauf genau auch immer) dabei sind, da könnte ich vielleicht zu dem einen oder anderen Thema was erzählen. Ein anderes Mal. Nicht mal meinen mittlerweile gut sortierten Fileserver habe ich mitgebracht, obwohl der schon seit über zwei dutzend Monaten darauf wartert, mal wieder auf eine Veranstaltung mitgenommen zu werden. Ich war mir einfach zu unsicher, ob das bei einem so kleinen Event angebracht gewesen wären. Wäre es schon. Muss ja niemand das Angebot wahrnehmen. Aber es hätte auch nichts geschadet. Nächstemal.

Im Anschluss an das Event habe ich ungebeten ein Formular gebastelt, das ich sonst vermisst hätte: Besuchende des WAMP2022 können mit diesem Beschwerde-Formular ihren Frust raus lassen. Einfach ausfüllen und irgendjemandem zusenden, vorzugsweise der Event-Orga/den Westwood Labs.

Zwar war ich ohne Kamera da, aber ein bisschen gehandygefotot habe ich, wie im Anhang erkennbar.

Danke an die Orga. Ich hoffe auf Fortsetzung. Kann gerne noch wachsen.

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Poly Keyboard

Here is another project idea I never really started working on: A computer keyboard that has a small LCD in each key cap. I'm convinced that there are legitimate use cases. After all, the function of the keys changes according to context. Different applications have different shortcuts, when I press and hold the Ctrl or Super key, the whole layout practically changes. Most people don't remember useful keyboard shortcuts, if they try to memorise them in the first place (if the learn about them to begin with). It would be nice to have the markings on the keys reflect their role. In some special applications, like video editing, a completely custom keyboard layout would be useful (a cheap alternative to byuing a custom video editing interface input device). In computer games, only the useful keys could light up, as well as display what they do (which depends not only on the game, your custom layout, the current situation in the game, as well as what happened earlier in the game, e.g. what items you have in your pockets). You might want to write in different languages and need different keyboard layouts at different times. You could have icons or descriptions of key functions be displayed whenever you hold a modifying key, to see which shortcuts are available. You could have a second keyboard with an additional layout to give you access to frequently used functions, and have the keys display the relative application icons or describe what they do. And it would just look cool.

The idea has been in my head for years. I even board the electronics to build a few keys to try it out. But I never build one because I think it would have been too much work on the side to get it done well, considered I come by very well without one. Now I learned that somebody else has built a keyboard very similar to what I had/have in mind. To be honest, I never really get very deep into the keyboard building community to know whether a keyboard like this already existed. I think when I had the idea I didn't even know how big the mechanical keyboard fan community is and that DIY builds are such a big thing.

The project I stumbled over is the Poly Keyboard by thpoll. Here is an article about it in the Keyboard Builder's Digest, here is the Github repo. Apparently (according too the article) it isn't the first of its kind. But it's the only one I've seen.

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