I’ve just returned from our summer vacation. I spent two weeks visiting friends and family in Germany; my wife and kids are staying for one week more. On one hand, it’s always nice to see people again. On the other hand, I spent even more time in between get-togethers alone in our guest room than I usually do to recharge my introvert batteries because of the ongoing pandemic and the dubious behaviour of so many people. I’m longing for a future in which I don’t have to fear for my health anymore while travelling.
Looks like the rest of this weeknote is going to be about new shiny things!
I’ve been into mechanical keyboards for decades but I didn’t start really getting into custom keyboards until 2019. I started taking part in group buys where everyone chips in in advance to get a specific keyboard case or keycap set manufactured, but then COVID disrupted everything. To illustrate this point: Just recently, I received a keycap set that I ordered back in February 2020!
In the last few weeks, I got to build three new keyboards:
- The M0lly is a design replica of the classic Apple M0110A keyboard of the Macintosh Plus. It has a 60% layout plus a separate numpad. This keyboard is quite the chonker and weighs in just below 4 kg fully built!
- The Grid650 is a 65% keyboard that has a replaceable front module with many fun options. I built it plateless, which means that the key switches are only held by their solder joints in the PCB. I still managed to get all switches aligned properly except one that I’ll fix at a later time.
- The Corne is a split ergonomic keyboard in a 3x6+3 layout, meaning each half has 3 rows with 6 columns of keys plus 3 thumb keys at bottom. Its standout feature, apart from colourful RGB lighting, is the two tiny OLED screens that can be programmed in the keyboard’s firmware.
Even though they’re very different, I like all three keyboards. Not only do they all have pretty high quality, I also picked the right key switches for myself. M0lly and Corne have Zealio v2 switches with 68g springs, the Grid650 is built with Boba U4 with 62g springs. Looks like I like tactile switches over the linear ones I tried back when Novelkeys Cream switches became all the rage. And all three keyboards run on the open-source firmware QMK that allows me to customise their behaviour to my individual preferences.
For example, by programming a “leader key”, I can enter German umlauts easily. I press the leader key, followed quickly by the letter (a, o, u) whose umlaut I want; once for lower case, twice for upper case. (I’m probably going to write a separate article on this topic.)
(Almost) feels like paper
I’m clearly late to the game in that I recently applied a Paperlike screen protector to my iPad Pro. It definitely makes using the Apple Pencil a better haptic experience, but I don’t get to use it much. Still, the matte and slightly rough texture of the surface makes the iPad screen easier to view in different lighting.
A broader view
My company’s fiscal year ended in July and we had a bit of money left, so I got to purchase a new monitor. Up until now, I was using my 10 year-old Apple Cinema Display with my Windows laptop. The monitor still works okay, I don’t really mind that it isn’t a Retina screen. But it gives off a lot of heat and doesn’t have any manual controls for brightness and contrast, not even an On/Off switch. It was built to run with a Mac, after all. So I treated myself with an Alienware AW3820 34” ultrawide monitor. It floats above my desk on an Amazon Basics monitor arm. With its resolution of 3440x1440, I chose screen real estate over pixel density. And with all this space I have now, the Fancy Zones feature of Windows Power Toys (window management similar to macOS tools like Moom) can really shine. It’s great!
For live-coding on Twitch, I was able to segregate a 1920x1080 region on my screen that I share with my viewers, and there is still enough room left on the screen for my streaming applications. There are now very few occasions when I have to turn my head to the laptop screen on the side (also on a monitor arm). I feel like I’ve pretty much reached perfection in terms of an ergonomic and productive workplace.