I think I have a problem

And apparently a problem shared is a problem halved, or something like that. So here we go.

This is the Das Keyboard version 1:

 

It's modeled around the old school clunky IBM keyboards from long ago, with a couple of little differences. The keys are all individually weighted, so they take more or less force to press properly depending on the key which is supposed to be pressing it. That is to say that the keys which your little finger is going to hit are a bit heavier than the ones which are going to get pounded by your index finger. The other slight difference is that the Das Keyboard has no markings at all:

 

Ok, that's not entirely true, because you can see that numlock, capslock and scrolllock are marked. But there's a certain amount of pointless amusement there.

The Das Keyboard is a joy to type on (provided you can touch type). The weightings on the keys really make a difference, and I was comfortably hitting 110+ WPM (and topped out a slightly dubious test at around 125WPM from memory) and my hands were feeling all the better for it.

The Das Keyboard also had another bonus if you were using it at work, like I was for a time. It was a security feature. To this day I am continually astounded by the number of people with IT careers who cannot type to save themselves. Having the Das Keyboard around makes it virtually impossible for these people to use your machine, and provides hours of endless amusement watching them chicken scratch around trying to find their way around a device which they should be pretty familiar with.

The Das Keyboard had it's problems however. One is that it is incredibly noisy. The keys are big, and heavy, and they make a racket. In something of an ironic catch 22, things get louder the faster you type - and the keyboard encourages you to get worked up into something of a typing frenzy. There was an amusing moment where 2 of us both had these in a reasonably small office, and decided to see just how far we could push people. We didn't need to try hard.

The other problem is that it's simply not that useful for gaming. When you're typing a sentence your hands are well in touch with their relative position. When you're gaming, you're not quite in that flow. You might need to press one key, only one key, and press it at the right time. The Das Keyboard adds that additional element of uncertainty into the mix. It's certainly not impossible, most of the time it was fine to use, but a few bad experiences later and I was looking to plug in something with markings for any game which had potential to frustrate me. The same sort of thing could occasionally happen in Visual Studio, or any other application where there are a few key combinations with fairly destructive and irreversible consequences. Sometimes it's simply nice to really know with 100% certainty that you're pressing the right key, without needing to stop and chant QWERTYUIOP..

 

So having mentioned those problems, I'm not sure how I explain this:

 

This is the Das Keyboard version 2. You can't tell right? It's kind of a subtle change in the picture. It's slightly slimmer, and more modern looking. Still with the weightings, and still with the blank keys, but a slightly more modern look. Apparently there are also mechanical gold plated key switches behind the scenes there, but we'll have to take the marketing guy's word on that one. Personally I was hoping that they'd updated the LED colour to blue (I dunno why, I just thought that would look slick), as well as removing the markings for capslock and co. There was one other change - it's louder. A lot louder. It really is insane. It's a different kind of noise too, one which results in unimpressed peers suggesting it should go home (which you ignore for as long as you can because it's fun).

 

So now we move onto this:

 

Which is one of the new aluminum Apple keyboards. It looked pretty awesome on the Apple website, and Apple people always babble on about how awesome their hardware is, so I thought I'd give it a try. It arrived, and was in a very slick package like all Apple gear. I grabbed the drivers from their less than user friendly source, attached the keyboard, and away I went.

The Apple keyboard has some serious issues. First for me is the insane cramp I'm experiencing right now (I've typed this post using it - which is actually the only reason for it being so damn long. I needed a test). I have quite an unconventional typing style, so maybe I'm not Apple compatible, but this is some of the worst pain I've had typing in a long time. The only other time I experience hand pain like this is when I try to use a pen (a plastic based ink delivery system, designed for writing on a surface made from the killing of trees) or a pencil (a russian invention based around lead and dead trees, designed for use on the moon) to attempt the ancient art of "hand writing".

Next up is the sequence of some of the keys - basically control, option, and command (aka the Windows key) are mixed up from the typical PC sequence of control windows alt. This wouldn't be so bad if you weren't someone who's typing was built around 99% instinct and habit. If you are such a person, then it's very unnerving to use. Obviously I can remap the keys and switch the functions around. There's plenty of apps out there like Sharpkeys which will do that. So while this is a problem, it's one I realise I could circumvent if I chose.

However there is no insert key. In it's place, sits a key labelled "fn". I assume it's short for "fucken useless", although I could be wrong. It emits no keycode as far as Sharpkeys is concerned - it's simply not there. Someone commented "Who the hell uses insert anyway?", and apparently I could be the last insert user left on the planet. I use it a lot.

First, I don't use CTRL-C and CTRL-V for my copy and paste operations. I use CTRL-INS to copy, and SHIFT-INS to paste (SHIFT-DEL to cut for those who are interested). I always have, and I really don't know how I picked it up, but it's a habit now. It's actually interesting to note that often using CTRL/SHIFT-INS will work in some non-standard places where CTRL-C/V won't. Call that bad habits if you like, maybe I should retrain. Next up, I use Winamp's global hotkeys a lot - the most important is CTRL-ALT-INSERT to play. You could argue that on the mac keyboard I should be using the media keys to do all that sort of thing, and that's probably a fair point, but one that I'll choose to ignore (because requiring 3mb to get a USB keyboard to work rubs me the wrong way). Finally, I use VI occasionally. I'm not proud of it, but I do. I'm sure there are key combinations to get around using insert, but they'd involve learning more about VI and so I'm simply not going there. There are bound to be more things I do which use an insert key, but the ones I just listed are pretty much deal breakers for me. Dogs, tricks, quotes, insert one etc.

 

So what's my problem? Apart from worsening hand cramp of course. Well, the Das Keyboards were about $100 USD each. The Apple keyboard was $100 NZD including shipping. That's about $350NZD spent on keyboards. And what am I using as my main  keyboard right now?

A $10 generic brand keyboard which was thrown in for free when I bought my last PC.

Sigh.

Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 12:36 AM | Amusing Me

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  • # re: I think I have a problem
    Gravatar
    Commented on 9/26/2007 8:38 AM

    I use a pair of Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboards at work. They're awesome. Quiet, solid, good feel to them, lots of extra programmable and media buttons that aren't just double use of the function keys (I'm looking at you Apple). And they're fast, my typing is noticeably faster on them.

    I'm not the only one who raves about it http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000400.html

    But like any split keyboard, they're lame for media applications like Photoshop or Softimage where you want one hand on the mouse and the other hand using both halves of the keyboard for all the shortcut keys.

    The Apple keyboard probably sucks for lots of typing, but with it's small footprint and straight layout would be sweet to combine on a desk with a wacom tablet for media work...

  • # re: I think I have a problem
    Gravatar
    Commented on 9/26/2007 9:17 AM

    When you said you were off to the Apple store the last thing in the world I thought you were coming back with was going to be that keyboard??????

  • # re: I think I have a problem
    Gravatar
    Commented on 9/26/2007 9:33 AM

    @sonic - I've never liked Natural Keyboards. They feel ironically unnatural to me, but to each his own. Keyboards are such a personal thing though, which is how I justify buying 39483948 of them.. one day I'll find the perfect one (at which point it'll break and I'll never find another one again). You are right though, the Apple keyboard would be great for a tight workspace.. maybe it'd look good in my server rack ;)

    @Paul - I can't believe I lost geek cred with a Mac guy by purchasing an Apple product! I don't understand the world anymore!

  • # re: I think I have a problem
    Gravatar
    Commented on 9/26/2007 1:14 PM

    haha. Yes it is nice to look at and I found myself in front of a new iMac yesterday trying to justify its purchase in my head. I had a play with the keyboard and as I don't really touch type I found it usable.

    As Justin and I say "shiny, shiny" I want one ; )

  • # re: I think I have a problem
    Gravatar
    Commented on 9/26/2007 5:44 PM

    Apple are very good at making things shiny.

    They're just not very good at a little thing called 'compatability'. Which is fair enough to a vendor which extorts most of it's money from it's users through having a monopoly on hardware :)

  • # re: I think I have a problem
    Gravatar
    Commented on 9/28/2007 10:43 AM

    $100 for an apple keyboard?
    Flip, I didn't mind the thing when I was using it a couple of weeks ago, but I wouldn't go out of my way to use one.

    Well, I'm off to Ubertec in the morning to buy an iMac.
    Don't worry it's not for me :p

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