bjoreman.com

October 26, 2020

Kyria - new adventures in keyboards

Somehow, even though you think you got to the proper end of a journey, there is always another step to take.

Some steps sneak up on you too, like a valley you could not see from earlier in the path, the kind of which you intended to avoid but might as well experience now that it is in front of you, even if it is something of a delay.

What are you going on about?

This:

description description

This is my new Kyria keyboard, bought as a kit from the excellent Splitkb.com. The hidden valley was the fact that I bought the kit including assembly, but decided to assemble it myself when I discovered the assembly service was unavailable for the forseeable future. The main thing I was after when I placed the order was to get another split keyboard, and to experience another key layout while at it. Learning how to solder was nowhere in my plan, but I decided to take the pieces and see what I could do rather than get my money back and wait for some possible future day to come.

Everything I had ordered was delivered in one box full of clearly labeled plastic bags, most of which also listed their exact contents and a link to the build instructions. I got a feeling similar to opening a Lego set: here is a box full of parts you will have a great time assembling, you can do this!

I took my time getting started though. After reading through the instructions a couple of times, my soldering skills felt like the big question mark. I did some reading, looked at some introductory soldering videos and listened to encouraging comments in Kodsnack's keyboard channel before I felt confident enough to get started.

Soldering a keyboard

The main reason I managed to finish this project successfully was the excellent set of guides Thomas of Splitkb provides. Every single step is clearly documented in text and images, striking that magical balance where there is no unnecessary fluff and every single question is somehow answered if you just read attentively.

To try and avoid the story lasting forever: everything was pretty straightforward. The two big soldering steps were soldering a diode for each key, and soldering the key switches themselves. Two hundred solder points in total, of which I ended up improving 25 or so. It was extremely helpful when I posted a photo of my first round of diode soldering to Slack and immediately got a comment about which points looked to be in need of improvement and why.

(The fact that I chose not to have any LED:s or OLED screens saved me quite a bit of work.)

The tricky part about diodes was getting them to sit as close to the board surface as possible, to ensure they would not get in the way of any other components. I did a good enough job to not have to re-do anything, but I did end up bending some diodes to the sides, so I pretty much used the margins I had. Perhaps I should have taped the diodes to keep them tight to the board as I worked? The amount of clearance needed is completely decided by the case and other components, so I understand why the guide could not provide a firm number for how low to keep the diodes.

As for the key switches, the main soldering uncertainty was soldering bridges - accidentally connecting areas which should not be connected. The guide had clear warnings about this, and it looked uncomfortably close in some places, but in the end I think it happened in at most two places. I had enough trouble with two keys that I ended up removing them completely and re-soldering after cleaning up as much as I could, so I am not comepletely sure if a bridge or just plain bad soldering was the cause.

Layout and use

I did of course realize the Kyria layout is very different to other keyboards I have used, but not until I actually sat down to type did it dawn on me just how much this could and should influence my keymap.

I think I was somewhat blinded by realizing the Kyria actually has more keys than my other 40% keyboards. While completely true, those extra keys all fall under the thumbs, laid out as if the bottom row of a standard keyboard had drifted toward and bunched up in the middle.

My current layout has put ctrl, alt, and command closest to their standard positions on the very left of the bottom row, but they are now nowhere near the finger positions they used to be at. The one advantage is that I find it easy to recall where they are, but I am sure they should move once I figure out the right destinations. It will take some thinking to find good places to put keys which are often combined. Each thumb cluster should only have one combo key each, the rest need to be combined only with keys outside of the cluster.

The "extra" keys allowed me to bring base-layer (that is, keys I do not need to hold down any other key to use) arrow keys back, but I am pretty sure that will not last.

(On my other layout, I have them on WASD when I hold down the tab key. Which means a lot of fingers get involved if I try to hold down shift and command while pressing the down arrow key.)

As I write this, I have an inverted t-shape in the right thumb cluster mapped to the arrows. While it is nice to have the arrow keys sitting right there, easily combined with modifier keys, it made me realize just how good an idea it is to move everything possible to the home row of keys. If I want to use these arrow keys properly, my right hand has to move away from the home row position completely, and that is no way to live.

As of typing this, my idea is to add a key which toggles a layer with arrow and modifier keys, so I can arrow around and use modifiers without needing to also hold down a layer switch key.

A final funny thought: if I do succeed in bringing more functionality to the home row by way of layers, I could find myself with even less use for my bonus keys.

Wrapping up, for now

I enjoy my Kyria a great deal, but its way too early to tell if it might become my new favourite. I still make too many mistakes, and I think it will take longer to figure out and learn a truly efficient layout. But if I do find a good one, I might find it very hard to go back to a more traditionally shaped keyboard.

Time will tell.

October 17, 2020

Podweek

I have recorded five podcasts this week, published two, and will have edited three by the end of the week.

This was not actually planned way back at the beginning of Monday.

First, the really nice unplanned part was being able to jump at recording opportunities, so that this week's Kodsnack was actually scheduled, recorded, and edited within about 20 hours before release. I also think Monday represented a milestone in that I recorded two completely different episodes back to back, with literally five minutes' break inbetween. Good times!

Second, the more annoying unplanned part was the total technical and tactical failure that was the first attempt at recording this week's Björeman // Melin. We have had most technical problems imaginable at some point or another, but this was the very first time we actually lost the entire episode. On Tuesday evening, we sat down and recorded our impressions of Apple's we-got-paid-so-much-to-push-5G-until-we-are-blue-in-the-face-event. We had a really fun three-person discussion about phones, Homepods, Magsafe for Mac pro, and wrapped up with a completely off the record discussion about what and how to watch the movies of the Marvel cinematic universe. Again, good times.

Then I sat down on Wednesday to start editing - it is after all always fun to get event commentary out soon-ish after the event - and realized something had gone seriously wrong.

As background, the way we like to record is that everyone records their own sound locally, while I record my own sound plus that of everyone else as it comes to me over whichever application we currently use to chat. I end up with a stereo file with my own voice on one track, everyone else on the other track, and, ideally, separate tracks with each other voice straight from that person. This enables me to easily line up all the individual voices, ensures better sound quality should there be network issues, and enables me to edit so that people will not talk over eachother in the final episode. Should something go wrong with a local recording, I can fall back to using my recording of everyone. I have high-quality sound of everone regardless of internet weather, and I can always fall back to my recording should there be problems with the local recordings.

Well, for everyone but me, it turns out. Somehow, my recording ended up being two identical tracks of the other participants, and exactly no track of my voice.

I stared in disbelief at the four tracks, all of which contained conspicuous gaps whenever I had been speaking, and felt that sinking feeling in my stomach.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was not banished, and everyone was up for a re-recording the same evening. This time, the Marvel discussion was included too, so I feel listeners gained something in the process.

I now have a completely separate section inside my Audio hijack setup where I also record my own microphone straight to a separate file. Yes, just like I always ask everyone else to.

So, how did that happen?

I wish I knew. I think it might have something to do with restarting an app after a recording has been started in Audio hijack. I often stream some music before our scheduled recording, to see that the streaming setup is working, so sometimes the session has been running for quite a while before I actually sit down to begin the episode. Perhaps this was one of those times where our conferencing application had discovered an update in the meantime, and I mindlessly let it update and restart because there were still a few minutes to go? I do feel like it had made more sense if I had got a completely silent channel in that case, but who knows when it comes to computers?

What a week, huh?

October 05, 2020

Books I have read

Books and other literature I have read, in, somewhat uncertain, reverse chronological order. The list starts from the summer of 2008, and my main purpose with it is to be able to see what I have actually been reading. I do feel that I read many quite good books, but I never seem to be able to recall what I have recently read when asked for recommendations.

September 20, 2020

About Fredrik

Hi there, I'm Fredrik Björeman!

I am one third of the trio behind the podcast Kodsnack.

When I have a longer thought, I tend to put it on this site.

When I have short thoughts, I often put them on Twitter or Facebook.

When I take a photo I find worth sharing, it might show up on Instagram.

When I work, I build cool stuff at TimeEdit.

Off work, I run often - preferably in quite minimal shoes.

I also sometimes write code for fun (including the little tinker-toy engine behind this very site). I consider it a craft or art more than a science.

I used to help organize the local Cocoaheads chapter.

September 13, 2020

soakingwet.social

A bit of garden work got done today. It was raining continuously, and my clothing for various parts of my body ranged from reasonable to hilariously unsuitable. We got everything done in a pretty nice way, but I was soaking wet and so covered in mud that I had to do a rough first cleaning under the tap in the garage in order to not leave a trail of mud behind me as I stepped indoors and took the shortest possible path to somwhere, anywhere I could rinse off the clothes some more before actually putting them in the laundry baskets.

Good times!

Follow-up

I had intended to write some more yesterday, but I had an appointment, and managed to somehow get Sublime stuck in overwrite mode, so I decided it was a good time to stop, build and upload. On the topic of surveillance capitalism, I have trouble getting Youtube videos to play in Safari sometimes. Review videos on the Verge work on the main page, but do not appear when I click into the article page. All this is in Safari with 1blocker active. Sometimes I am annoyed, but sometimes I feel a sort of joy in breaking something by doing reasonable blocking. If your solution for providing a feature breaks down when ad blocking is activated, you probably should solve it in a different way, right?

Firefox gets some more exercise whenever one of those broken videos feel interesting enough, and it also provides me the satisfaction of setting my rare Facebook visits in an environment specifically built to keep Facebook's tendrils away from the rest of my world. (I have no doubt they find other sneaky ways of gathering my data, but at least I am not making it easy in that particular way.)

Staring at the app icons on my phone yesterday, trying once more to trim the selection down to some imaginary essence, a great big "duh"-insight struck me: If I want the trimming to make a noticeable difference, I should be removing apps I actually use, rather than the meaningless cruft or rarely-used utilities I tend to focus on. A once-a-year public transit app tucked away in a folder causes no distractions at all, but Twitter or Instagram certainly do wherever I put them. Banking apps do not make my phone heavier in any way, so sitting around wondering if I can decrease their numbers is in itself a total waste of time. The real question is: would I truly miss anything if I purged Twitter and Instagram? Or, could I somehow relegate them, too, to be rare-occasion apps, for those times I am out and about (remember being out and about?) and can actually have meaningful exchanges through them? I made a list of things I do want to use my phone for, and communication was on the list, so it is not like some amount of networking is completely out of place. But treating it more as a tool when needed than as a quick distraction sounds healthy.

Now things are getting interesting.