That was easy!
February 10, 2005 8:23 AM   Subscribe

I want a big red button with a USB connection that I can program a macro to, like mute all sounds or something. I found some promising looking devices (X-Keys and Switch Click), but this isn't something I want to spend a hundred bucks on. Radio Shack has a red button for $2. Any ideas on how to make something like this work?
posted by andrewzipp to Technology (18 answers total)
Does it have to be big? Because many keyboards have a bunch of buttons across the top that you can program at will. Also your mouse probably has a scroll wheel that you can click down. Use this to assign any keystroke/macro to it.

Oh, and a little red nail polish.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2005

i know this might not answer your question, but i own (and love) the Griffin Technology PowerMate. Bonus, it's on sale!
posted by brock at 8:34 AM on February 10, 2005

Can you program a macro for pushing down on the top of the PowerMate? I'd thought about buying one of those before. I love stuff like that.

I've got Winamp set up so that I can pause and control the volume from my keyboard, so that's not so much an issue.

I wear headphones a lot at work, and my desk faces away from everything. People will walk up behind me and sort of stand around waiting for me to notice, or knock on my desk, or tap my shoulder. I feel bad when it takes me a second to notice them.

I was thinking I could set up a button like this that would function sort of like a doorbell, where someone could hit it and it would mute everything, play a 'ding' .wav file, and minimize all windows.

It's sounds pretty dorky, and I'm sure that I my red button would get made fun of, but the idea is pretty good, even as a joke.
posted by andrewzipp at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2005

usb is complicated. it's got a fancy protocol and needs dedicated hardware to talk with the computer. after googling around a bit it seems that the simplest solution might be to use a usb to rs232 converter. rs232 is the clunky old serial interface that you can fasten your button to, then let the converter do the magic of making that speak usb to the computer. so google around for such things. one example here.

disclaimer - i am not an ee, this is just from googling a bit.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:01 AM on February 10, 2005

If your keyboard has programmable keys (ie, you can assign a set of commands to special keys), open up the keyboard and solder a wire from the contacts for that key to your big red button. Now you have a big red button that acts as a keyboard key.
posted by plinth at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2005

Definitely go for the PowerMate. I love mine - use it as a video editing controller.
posted by mrbill at 9:26 AM on February 10, 2005

Phidgets makes some cool USB interfaces you could easily hook up a button with, but they start at $78 for the ones with inputs.

Hacking away at a keyboard to add a remote connection to one of the keys is definitely the cheapest approach.
posted by mmoncur at 9:47 AM on February 10, 2005

Or maybe a USB keypad?
posted by mmoncur at 9:48 AM on February 10, 2005

I'll buy a Powermate. When you pust down on the top, does it click a like a button?
posted by andrewzipp at 10:04 AM on February 10, 2005

I second plinth's suggestion to take apart a cheap keyboard and solder the Radio Shack button to its contacts. That USB keypad looks perfect.
posted by cillit bang at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2005

oh man, buttons...drool. but then you need toggle switches...and of course more buttons.

hehe good idea, I love tinkering with stuff like this. you could get the button and hook it up to a light, maybe a *red* light! and when the button is pushed the light goes on and you know that your undivided attention is needed.

posted by freudianslipper at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2005

It may be less elegant, but how about just some cheapo USB game controller?
posted by O9scar at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2005

Wow, Phidgets looks great, thanks for that link! Got anything else like that?
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 11:53 AM on February 10, 2005

I second the Phidgets recommendation. I thought of them immediately when I saw your question. If all you want to do is solve your button problem, I guess Phidgets might be a bit expensive, but the interface kits are fun to play with, so if you think you would enjoy fiddling with Phidgets it's well worth the $100 Cdn starting cost.

One of my friends currently has a slider phidget stuck to her monitor to control her speaker volume. Then again, she's a grad student in the lab where Phidgets were invented so she didn't have to pay $100 for her volume control device...
posted by sanitycheck at 12:34 PM on February 10, 2005

Does it have to be USB?

Using the printer port, this project is a joke.

        1 kOhm     NO
D0 o---/\/\/\/\---o/ o---o D1


out 0x378,2
input a,0x378
and a,1
if a then foo;

HTH. A *VERY* similar setup could be done using the RI / DCD lines on an RS232->USB port, but I've not actually done that (whereas I have done parallel port projects).
posted by shepd at 2:05 PM on February 10, 2005

Perhaps an alternative means for solving the same problem would be a rear-view mirror.
posted by adamrice at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2005

ditto adamrice. Not as geeky, but functional.
posted by pmbuko at 5:15 PM on February 10, 2005

Radio Shack also sells a pretty cheap USB game port (to match the old joystick-and-pushbuttons game port that used to be kinda standard on PCs). Get that and a Big Red Button and wire them together, since the game port is already set up to detect button presses. Then, um, add some software or something.
posted by hattifattener at 1:28 AM on February 11, 2005

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