Friday, February 9, 2018

Lets Talk About Keyboards

A good friend of mine said I need to start posting my Keyboard escapades somewhere. I COULD make a YouTube video about that. But the amount of work for it, is not something I have time to do. But I always have time to write stupid shit that comes out of my brain.

Why Keyboards? What's the big deal?

There's a Hobby for Everyone
I get that a lot of people will not understand my fascination with keyboards. To put it simply, collecting, customizing and someday building mechanical keyboards is a hobby for me. Something for me to be enthusiastic about. A topic for me to study and learn more about. Does it "Make sense?" No, of course not. If you have a hobby or passion, you will work at it because you want to. Whatever YOUR reason. You create the meaning in your hobby. And that's what I'm striving towards.

Me at work

My personal fascination with keyboards is the intimacy with the computer hardware. For me, the keyboard is the interface in which we put our thoughts and minds into the 1's and 0's of the computer. Everything you're reading here and even the web browser its being presented from, was all written using a keyboard. When we need to input something into a computer, we will almost always use a keyboard. We need to put in our physical actions into the computer in order for it to carry out any meaningful work. Keyboards act as a bridge allowing our physical analog form to pass information into the digital space. Am I romanticizing the shit out of this? You bet your ass I am.

It looks cool... But not tactile enough.

Yes, we use many different methods to interface with a computer. I won't discount the importance of pointer interfaces like the mouse or drawing tablets. And with the advances in computer vision and natural language interfacing, there are more ways to use a computer than ever before. And I think that's a good thing. We should have more ways to interact with a computer, not less. It would be silly to assume I'm pushing for a keyboard-only command line interface for everything. I'm not OPPOSED to it. But lets be real. GUI's make the interactions on the screen more accessible and removes the overhead of needing to memorize every command in order to perform any action. Anyone who is in the process of learning how to use the terminal in Linux can attest to the initial learning curve of the operating system. Yes, you can get the hang of how to perform everything from the command line. But I will speak on behalf of the rest of the population, "Ain't nobody got time for dat."

What happened to you Dell? You used to hand out quality keyboards.

From a practical standpoint, I see mechanical keyboards as a proper tool for doing work. Over my lifetime, I have written numerous essays, programs, and played tons of games on my computer. For those of us that have grown up in the information age, we've been using a computer and keyboard for almost our entire lives. We have been putting in hours/days/years into using this input device. Over the years, I have begun to realize how important it is to have a keyboard that better supports my typing style. I don't think its something that is very apparent to most users. Many are just accustomed to whatever keyboard is put in front of them. Weather it be the keyboard that came pre-packaged with their Gateway 2000 system or the cheapest keyboard they could find on amazon to go with their new rig. And some of these pre-bundled keyboards are just AWFUL. (I'm looking at you shitty Dell flat keyboard piece of crap. What happened to you Dell? You used to have decent keyboards with your computer bundles, now you give us garbage. Such shame.) And its a bit weird isn't it? Something that we spend so much time using, yet most don't question if there's a better experience than what we're using.

I mean.. He's not wrong.

Alright, so what constitutes a "better" typing experience? Now that is something that I have absolutely no place in answering. I don't think I can give some sort of "I SAY ITS THIS WAY AND SO SHALL IT BE" list because everybody has a different typing style. Some folks really enjoy and the two index finger and thumb style of typing. Others prefer the standard home row Mavis Beacon style. What about different keyboard layouts like Dvorak vs QWERTY? Everyone types differently, and that's okay. Its through those differences that allow you to build your preferences when you're looking for a new keyboard. With all that said, here's a list of things that I've begun to notice from my own personal preferences that help me decide what I like or don't like in a keyboard.

Feeling Mushy


I absolutely can't handle keyboards with "mushy" keys. This mushy feeling makes it difficult to determine if I've completed a keystroke or if I've released the key far enough to register an additional stroke. You can identify these mushy keys by lightly pressing down on a key. As the key collapses, you may feel a sort of wiggle during the key press. Fully depressed, you may even feel the soft rubber underneath the board. Next, slowly release the key while keeping your finger on it. A mushy key will have very little resistance pushing up against your finger on the uptick. Now, this is something that isn't limited to rubber dome keyboards. There are mechanical switches that are pretty mushy, and that's a design issue(I'm looking at you Romer G).

A Good Typing Angle

A nice little slope on a very nice keyboard

Most keyboards have the main PCB angled upward. If your fingers are resting on the home row, this allows you to feel the row above with your fingers. The keys below the home row are also at a lower elevation in this setup. This angle creates keys in a sort of stepping pattern, with keys closest to your body being at the very bottom, and the keys furthest from you being higher up. This angle reduces your finger travel and provides a bit of physical feedback while typing. If this angle is taken away, and the PCB is laying flat, this makes typing more difficult. You will need to extend your fingers further away from your body in order to type on keys near the top of the keyboard. This can be most easily demonstrated when switching from typing on a built-in laptop keyboard to a regular keyboard. While the difference isn't earth-shatteringly different, when you're in the middle of a long typing session, this simple design will help with fatigue.

Heavy Key Switches

A simple guide on common switches. But its a bit outdated now, with many other variants now on the market.

I LOOOOOOVE me some heavy key presses. I unfortunately suffer from the Mr. Krab's problem. My big meaty claws don't work well with key switches that have a low activation force. I sometimes prefer to let my fingers rest on the keys while I'm thinking. There have been a few keyboards where I'd need to actively remind myself to not let my fingers rest on the keys. With heavy key switches, I don't need to worry about accidentally pressing random keys while resting my fingers. An added effect is heavy switches also reduce the number of accidental fat finger mistakes. Which also comes with the territory of having BIG MEATY CLAWS.

Productive Layouts

Of my keyboard preferences, I feel like my preference of keyboard layouts are the most fluid. At the current moment, I'm very much enjoying having a split keyboard design. It lets me keep a wide typing stance, and I can use my chair's armrests to support my forearms. In my current desk setup, this has been the most comfortable typing so far. However, I do have a separate 10-key for when I need to do data entry, and on occasion I do wish I had my arrow navigation keys and PageUp/PageDown cluster for keyboard shortcuts.

A standard 104 Key layout from Glorious Gaming Race

The standard full 104 key setup is a solid form factor for productivity, and its generally great for all computer usage. This provides all the functionality you expect from a keyboard. Most negatives from a full sized keyboard deals with the amount of desk space the keyboard takes up. For some people, the extra travel distance over the navigation cluster and the 10 key is uncomfortable and slows down the transition between typing and mouse navigation. Personally, I never really saw it as a big problem. However, after using smaller layouts, I can understand where their argument.

A fine TKL. The KBParadise V80. It uses Matias switches! They're like new production Alps.

Going a step down from the 100% full fat 104 key layout, there's the 80% or Ten Key Less(TKL) models. These provide the navigation cluster, but removes the "extraneous" key block from the keyboard. This helps to appease those who want a more compact setup, but still use the navigation cluster. There are even further compacted versions known as 75% keyboards, which look to strip away all of the extra spacing between all of the keys to give the most compact experience while retaining both navigation clusters and function rows.

My trusty Pok3r or Poker 3 by Vortex.

Cutting things down even further, one of the most common compact form factors is the 60%. 60% keyboards cut away both the 10 Key, navigation cluster, and the function keys. Interestingly, it also cuts off the tilde(`) key and replaces it with Esc. While this looks to be a major step away from providing functionality in a keyboard, the smaller form factor keyboards make up for this by adding programmable layers. These layers are toggled by a combination of key presses, and it switches the values of the inputs from one layer to another. This is very helpful in adding functionality without adding more bulk to the keyboard, but it does require a bit more effort in programming the layers as well as memorizing the different keyboard combinations to navigate the layers.

Mistel Barocco with a KC21 Mechanical Numpad to handle my 10-key needs.

Lastly, we have the split keyboards. I'm currently typing this out on a Mistel Barocco RGB. This keyboard takes the form factor of a 60% keyboard and puts a cut down the middle of the keyboard. Well, not exactly down the middle, but logistically down the middle. This keyboard is probably a bane for anyone who uses the two finger typing method, but I'm only making that assumption as a standard home row typer. However, the split keyboard market is a very niche and there is a lot of variance there. The Mistel Barocco is relatively new in the split space, and there are others that have come before it. Probably the most notable would be the Ergo Dox. This is an open source keyboard design that was created with enthusiasts in mind. The layout is very unorthodox compared to a regular keyboard, but it plays to its strengths adding multiple thumb keys to add even more functionality without having to take your fingers off the keyboard. The downside to the Ergo Dox and split keyboard designs are the custom key cap options. Ergo Dox's ubiquity in the mechanical keyboard space has kept a a healthy number of options for custom key cap sets available. But, they're going to cost you extra. As for other split keyboards like my Barocco things are a bit more hit and miss. On the plus side, There isn't a real need for any custom key cap sets with one BIG exception. In the split keyboard design, the space bar had to be split between both sides. But this split is not normal, and most key cap sets do not have any sort of replacements for something like the Barocco. Which can be a real bummer if you have really nice looking keycap set, but it is totally thrown off by the space bar.

Now, I'm going to throw out the disclaimer again, these are just MY preferences for keyboards. These are only some of the conclusions I've come to while using different keyboards over the years. And these preferences are only my BIG MAIN TOP TOP TOP preferences. Below this are all of the aesthetic preferences that sway me to one keyboard or switch type or another. Mechanical keyboards are a process. And as time passes, tastes also change. So, I'm fairly certain some of the opinions I've written about in this post may change in the future. But at this moment in 2018, this is what I like about mechanical keyboards. If you disagree with anything I've written here, that's perfectly fine. These things are subjective, and you're going to have to learn what you like on your own. No need to get all crazy over it. I think ProZD's video best sums it up.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Is This Thing On? (Part Deux)

Testing. Testing. Is this thing still on? Its been a while since I've last posted anything here. This year is actually the 10th anniversary of the Holynub Report being online. Which is just bananas to me. It does feel like a world away from when things first started. I've been kinda humming and hawing about what I should do with the domain and the site. And at this point, I'm gonna say LET IT RIDE BABY. The long hiatus from me has really been due to pie related things. But that's not a story for this site.

At the beginning, I was looking to do more of a "GAEMZ JURNALIZM" type of blog. But I think that's a bit played out now. I could do reviews of games, but I do run into the problem of not always finishing games or having games that I really like to play that are in early access. So, I'll probably try to write about games still, but maybe in a less serious business style. Not like I've ever written anything here "professionally."

In addition to trying to write a bit more, I'm also thinking about expanding more on what I write here. I usually just go on about my vidjya gaems and haven't really expanded out into my other nerdom realms. I'm probably going to make a change to that too.

First, I'm really into mechanical keyboards. Like, THEY ARE THE LIFE BLOOD levels of "into". Mechanical keyboards are man's greatest invention. Don't think so? FIGHT ME. The craftsmanship, the engineering, the SOUNDS. OHHHH GOD. The clickity clackity sounds. Its ear sex while having real sex with myself. Is that weird? Yeah, that's weird. BUT THAT'S WHAT ITS LIKE. And like the finer things in life, everyone's got their kink. So why not write about it?

And secondly, I'm going to start a little segment for anime I've watched. Woah woah woah, HOLD THE FUCKING PHONE. We doing an anime blog now? Not really. I'm slowly beginning to notice that I can't remember all the goddamn anime I've watched. This first started when I re-watched Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar. I sat there and re-watched the ENTIRE SERIES. And there was a little voice in the back of my head saying "Hey... This seems familiar..." And only by the 6th episode did I realize, "I watched this show like 5 years ago." Did I still enjoy it? Yeah, it was fun. But with all the shit anime available to watch in the world, maybe I need to write my notes down just so I know if I've been there and done that. I'm thinking about writing these articles more as a letter to myself in the future. That way I can hit home the whole "EY! You've watched this! So move on!" And maybe if it was a really good show, I'll watch it again.

SO anyway, here's to 2018 and to a decade of sporadic updates! w0rd