USB-ifying an Apple Keyboard II

Thank you, internet, for almost always having an answer to a question. In this case, I had come across an old Apple Keyboard II while rummaging for something else. The AK2 is an ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) device, and so no longer compatible with contemporary Mac hardware. However, according to Scott the Robot, a $16 microcontroller, properly flashed and soldered, corrects that one inadequacy. Next step, [USB-ifying an Apple Keyboard II](

Fragmented Memory

Geoffrey Rockwell linked to a [project][] that seeks to take maps of computer memory and turn those “images” into textiles. The idea is, of course, that by doing so one brings the information revolution full circle: if the first punch cards were for Jacquard looms, then computerized looms now re-create images drawn from hardware states. Fun, but what I found more interesting was learning that there are such looms that can, in essence, weave images on demand. Wouldn’t it be more fun to encode a message, a la a barcode, and have that woven in a tapestry or blanket, perhaps even subtly modifying it to make it more aesthetic?


My Setup

People like to know these things. In particular, students sometimes want to know these things when they are getting started on their own projects and it seems like the tools matter. Sometimes they do; usually they don’t. It is true, though, that better tools make the work easier for all whereas poorer tools sometimes require the craftsman to wield them at all effectively.

I make no great claims to craft, but I do like the tools I use, and they mostly serve my needs. At home and everywhere else but my campus office, I use a MacBook Air for pretty much everything. Lately, with the introduction of a Dell 22-inch HD monitor (S2240L), I find working at my text far more comfortable. It really gives me a lot more screen and bigger, too, which I appreciate a lot more than I care to admit. Luckily for me, we had an Apple bluetooth keyboard sitting in a desk drawer. It works well. The bluetooth mouse we had did not, and so I have an old MacAlly USB mouse plugged into my MBA, which is tucked vertically behind my monitor. (I’ll probably make a little piece of wood with a slot in it to do the job properly some time soon.) I would love to find a bluetooth mouse that works, and also didn’t cost a fortune, but I would be just as happy with an all USB setup: connect the mouse to the keyboard and the keyboard to the MBA when I connect the monitor and all is good.

If I am listening to music while I work, I am doing it mostly wirelessly, using an Airport Express paired with a small Lepai amplifier that powers a pair of Bose 201 speakers I have tucked high up on shelves. It’s not the ideal solution — and I also have a USB-powered Audiobox for those times when I want more fidelity, and less lag, for my audio, but for playing stuff from Pandora that keeps me focused on working, it works well enough.

What’s on the machine itself? These days, it’s mostly Pages for one-off formatted documents that are for my own use, Scrivener for anything long form, and BBEdit for everything else. There’s been a slight change in this regime as I collaborate with my colleague Jonathon Goodwin on an essay: we have elected to use a plain text markup system and a DVCS for our drafting. I suggested Markdown, but Jonathon wanted to try LaTeX, which was fine with me because it’s something I have always wanted to try. For version control, we are using Git. Again, JG is way out in front of me, and I am learning a lot along the way.

And so there’s a massive TeX installation somewhere in the bowels of my machine, but I don’t use it much now. I used it with a Tex GUI editor for a few days so I could see how things worked, but now I am more confident in just trusting the system, and I type away in BBEdit.

For computational work, I continue to teach myself Python. And for quick graphical work, I fall back on my old friend OmniGraffle Pro.

Oh, and Evernote is my mental closet. Everything goes in there. Really.

**UPDATE**: I have found a great bluetooth mouse that is only $15. (Yeah, I am surprised, too.) It’s the [Connectland Bluetooth Optical Mouse](

*Nota bene*: The link in the text is commission-free and the link in the image gives me a piece of the action.

ScanSnap and Evernote

Nice find: [Fujitsu is offering a year’s worth of Evernote Premium][f] if you buy one of their ScanSnap devices.


Power Pwn

The DARPA funded Power Pwn hit the [blogosphere][zd] [last][eg] [week][fo]. This thing should scare the bejeezus out of just about anyone whose life intersects with large organizations — and that includes almost anyone in the developed world. Getting one of these things into place would be very easy, all you need is just a little bit of wherewithal.

Pwnie express power pwn

The Power Pwn is described as “a fully-integrated enterprise-class penetration testing platform” that has an “ingenious form-factor.”

The Power Pwn is marketed as a penetration testing tool and is fully-loaded with hardware and software to allow it to hack into a number of different networks. The device features:

* Onboard high-gain 802.11b/g/n wireless
* Onboard high-gain Bluetooth (up to 1000′)
* Onboard dual-Ethernet
* Fully functional 120/240v AC outlets!
* Includes 16GB internal disk storage
* Includes external 3G/GSM adapter
* Includes all release 1.1 features
* Fully-automated NAC/802.1x/RADIUS bypass!
* Out-of-band SSH access over 3G/GSM cell networks!
* Text-to-Bash: text in bash commands via SMS!
* Simple web-based administration with “Plug UI”
* One-click Evil AP, stealth mode, & passive recon
* Maintains persistent, covert, encrypted SSH access to your target network
* Tunnels through application-aware firewalls & IPS
* Supports HTTP proxies, SSH-VPN, & OpenVPN
* Sends email/SMS alerts when SSH tunnels are activated
* Preloaded with Debian 6, Metasploit, SET, Fast-Track, w3af, Kismet, Aircrack, SSLstrip, nmap, Hydra, dsniff, Scapy, Ettercap, Bluetooth/VoIP/IPv6 tools, & more!
Unpingable and no listening ports in stealth mode
* The Power Pwn also features an unlocked 3G/GSM adapter that’s compatible with GSM carriers in over 160 countries.


Pi Raspberry PC picks up a Gert Board

The possibility for robotics at home just got a lot more interesting. I have been following the development of the Pi Raspberry board, which promises the ability to have a basic computer for something like $25. (I imagine building a custom home file server with something like that, or even re-wiring an old laptop!) It turns out that a Broadcom employee, Gert von Loo, has been experimenting with an add-on board that has the ability to communicate with other kinds of devices. The video above shows a C program, but he notes that one could just as easily use Python or even a shell script. The motor in the video is capable of lifting 60kg.

[Jon Kulp]( turned me onto [a really nice case mod of an old G4](

Other Aspect Ratios

Another number, a ratio kept popping into my mind as I wrote the previous post that featured the golden ratio of 1.618. The number was 1.4. It turns out that there is another “golden” ration based on 1.414, which is the square root of 2, which also happens to be the length of the diagonal of a square with sides of length 1.

Wikipedia lists a few more aspect ratios of note:

586px Aspect ratio compare svg

From left to right:

**1.3** = 4:3: Some (not all) 20th century computer monitors (VGA, XGA, etc.), standard-definition television

**1.414** = √2:1: International paper sizes (ISO 216)

**1.5** = 3:2: 35 mm film

**1.6** = 16:10, widely used widescreen computer displays (WXGA)

**1.618** = Golden ratio, close to 16:10

**1.6** = 5:3: super 16 mm, a standard film gauge in many European countries

**1.7** = 16:9: widescreen TV

Chains of Events

Chains of events are interesting. The historian of ideas James Lee Burke once called his own particular take on such chains of events the “ping pong theory of history.” If you have planned any project of some complexity than you are somewhat familiar with such chains: you begin, for example, with wanting to replace the tile countertops in your kitchen with something with fewer cracks in it, some lovely solid, smooth surface like granite or quartz or formica. You can do that, but then you realize that that will change the overall look of the kitchen and perhaps now would be a good time to change out the cabinet doors. But wait, can you simply change the cabinet doors or do you need to reface the cabinets completely or do you need to replace the cabinets? And if you are going to do that, then it might be time to replace the dishwasher. Of course you have to balance this with what you can afford, but you also want to do things in a logical order and do it right. And so you begin with an overall outcome but then you have to backtrack to the correct beginning of things, with the first nail to be pulled that will begin a complex series of events that will eventually give you the kitchen of your dreams.

Of you can have happen to you what happened to us yesterday.

On Friday afternoon the new monitor for the kitchen computer arrived, a lovely 24-inch Viewsonic. The thing is far wider than we imagined: it’s like having the windshield of a car in front of you, but the clarity of the screen is so much better than the old 19-inch Dell VGA monitor we had. The width of the thing meant it spreads across the small kitchen desk quite a bit more than the old monitor, which left little to no room for the old Cambridge SoundWorks speakers we had. They weren’t great speakers, but they served well.

The New Monitor

But they no longer fit. I dug out a pair of Apple Pro speakers which I’ve had lying around for several years now, ever since retiring my Power Mac Dual G4 at work. They look great and fit perfectly under the monitor, as you can see in the image below, but they require hacking to work with a regular stereo minijack port, because the Apple Pro speakers came with one of Apple’s limited life special dongle/ports — I forget its pretentious name. I have a dead Power Mac somewhere that I saved for express purpose of taking the digital audio connector out of it so I don’t have to cut into the wires of the speakers.

But as long as I am interested in hacking speakers, why not hack those Cambridge speakers? I’ll need an amp for the Apple Pro speakers, I believe, having researched their hacking a bit. And so I destroyed the cases of the Cambridge speakers, took out the amp and the speakers and then quickly re-soldered things to see if they worked. (They did!)

To see if they worked, and here at least we turn to the ostensible topic of this post, I needed a mini-jack output device into which I could plug the speakers. But I wasn’t so sure of my wiring, especially my soldering, and of the consequences of a short-circuit, that I felt comfortable plugging the speakers into the kitchen computer or my phone or my laptop or any other hand device.

*Ah!* I thought. I have an old iPod Video somewhere. I haven’t used it in years and I would be willing to sacrifice it for the sake of this experiment. I dug through the usual collections, and then I turned to the less usual collections. No iPod Video. (I still don’t know where it is.) But I did come across a 4G iPod and a portable CD player. It turns out that the iPod has a bad hard drive — I remembered it dying after I plugged it in and saw the unhappy face on the screen — and the CD player proved my wiring, and soldering, was good to go.

Fortunately the CD player worked and after some confusion, due to having the wrong power cord plugged in, the newly hacked speakers were producing sound. Here they are in their new enclosure:

Speakers All Wired Up But with No Enclosures


[TechCrunchTV]( has a series called “Founder Stories.” The one with Bre Pettis, co-founder of MakerBot Industries, is quite good. There is some discussion of the difference between being a software startup and a hardware startup.

Where there’s a will

The old saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” As someone interested in making, in the full [Make Magazine][make] sense of that word, I was delighted to read about a project to “open source” a wireless network … in Afghanistan. The project is called *FabFi* and it uses common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. The [project’s home page][fabfi] has an Afghanistan TLD — and how many times do you get to click on a link with an `af` in it? — and notes: “With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.”

I’m lucky enough to live in a community where our public utility, owned and operated by the city, offers amazing fiber-to-the-home connectivity, and so my desire in building anything like this is tempered, but, as they also say, you never know when you may need to know how to build your own network infrastructure…


$25 Computer

The Raspberry Foundation is a British organization that has put together specs for a computer the size, quite literally of a flash drive:

On the left is the HDMI port. On the right is the USB port. The black box in the middle is a 12MP camera module. The rest of the hardware specs are:

  • 700MHz ARM11
  • 128MB of SDRAM
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • General-purpose I/O
  • Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)

I hope to keep an eye on this and to grab one when I can. I also read somewhere recently that Google is folding the Arduino platform into Android. Is this right? (If you know more, please fill me in.)