September 11, 2021
Of USB hubs and 4K screens
I have never had any luck with USB hubs. There is always a letdown of one kind or another, where connecting that one last perhipheral suddenly seems to break everything, either all the time or - almost worse and far more commonly - at irregular and frustrating times.
Despite this, I am giving a USB hub another go right now. Motivated in no small part by the fact that it comes with an attached 4K monitor.
Behold the vastness of space and the jungle of dangling cables.
Not very obvious from this rather messy photo is the fact that a single cable is all that is connecting the monitor and all my peripherals to my computer. And moving that one cable is all I need to connect all the same devices to my work laptop. And that cable also charges the laptop.
(Which is also why the Magic trackpad is wired. I have never had any luck whatsoever trying to efficiently move it between machines when it's not connected with a wire.)
I have only used this solution for a couple of days, but I have already had one occasion where I needed to unplug and re-plug in a different port to get the keyboard to work. Time will tell how many such situations will occur during a standard work week, and it will probably make the difference between a glorious one-cable lifestyle and one full of boring old hubs and extra cables.
What about the actual monitor then?
Oh, I like it. This is the first time I have had a desktop monitor capable of retina display modes (despite thinking about getting one ever since getting my retina Macbook in 2015). Being the same brand (Dell) and size as my previous monitor, getting it in place was completely uneventful, and the setting my Mac picked made everything roughly the same size as before, only that much sharper and smoother.
All nice, no surprises. Happy ever after.
The big surprise this far has been discovering that I can, in fact, work quite comfortably in actual 4K resolution. I expected a case of "Wow, look at all this space where text is way too small, not let us go back and get actual work done", but with some care paid to desk setup I find it completely useful.
I knew from the start that podcast editing would probably work very nicely. When I edit, I benefit from every single horizontal pixel I can get, I do not need to read very much text, and it is great to be able to fit show notes and a browser below the editing window at the same time. Being able to do this with minimal to no overlap between the various windows feels a lot nicer and smoother than tabbing and clicking around and having various things constantly jump to the front covering everything else.
Having the monitor on a flexible arm has been key, because I really need the right height and distance from my eyes to work comfortably in 4K. Once I found the sweet spot, I set the work laptop to screen mirroring mode optimized for the monitor, turned off the builtin screen, and spent the whole day working this way. (I do not understand people who work with a docked laptop with the lid closed. Not the way the fans run in this one even when the lid is open.)
My standard work setup before has been to have a browser window on the left half of the screen and the developer tools on the right side. Now, that just looks too large, I have space for another column if you will, and I am not even sure I want or need them to cover the full height of the screen either.
Perhaps this is how I get into tiling window managers? It does feel like this addition of space makes a lot of my previous window placement and management go out the window.
(I switched down to 1440p-equivalent resolution just now. Wow, was everything always this large and chunky? Where did my oceans of space go?)
August 25, 2021
'Tis the season of work
My mind was slow, very slow, shifting into work gear after the summer vacation. It did, eventually, but I seem to have retained more of a vacation mindset than usual. I find myself slipping right back into vacation mode as soon as a weekend starts. Monday morning becomes this abstract fuzzy thing which can neither be reasoned about nor prepared for, and remains so pretty much until the alarm goes off.
Strange, but nice. I would not mind if that became my new normal. Perhaps it is the whole dog ownership thing forcing me to become a bit more grounded in things outside of work, and even outside of computers?
I recently started listening to Hello internet, a long-running podcast which seems to be - at least - on hold right now. I will not find out for quite some time, because I decided to start from the beginning, thinking I might replicate the great calm I felt listening to Cortex from the beginning last winter. So far so good, I am up to episode 13 and find myself largely prefering more of Hello internet as opposed to my regular subscriptions.
Because I have strange habits, I like to download a large batch of episodes at a time, so that they are just there in my playlist like any others. After a downloading spree last night, I returned to the home screen to discover a red badge on System preferences: I was running low on storage.
No worries, I will clear out space rather rapidly. Taking a look in Overcast, I discovered two things:
- I currently have 6,6 gigabytes of podcasts downloaded
- Overcast has a "Data usage" page which I had never noticed before
That data usa page gave some interesting information. Over the last month, I have downloaded 14,8 gigabytes worth of episodes. Granted, I am pretty sure I have got more listening time in over the holidays, but I was definitely expecting Hello internet to be an even larger chunk of the total.
Do I consume 8 gigabytes of podcasts every month?
Is that good or bad?
So many questions!
I am trying, ever so slightly, to think more actively about my keyboard usage. Again. Minding finger positioning a bit more, trying to use just a few more keyboard shortcuts instead of reaching for a pointing device, that sort of thing. Nothing dramatic, but it feels good, and some improvement is noticeable. I am still mainly using my KBD4X, when I am not mindlessly tapping on my work machine's builtin keyboard, the Kyria patiently waiting for the next time my urge for a split layout strikes.
It still surprises me that I have happily been using home-row modifiers on this keyboard without needing to copy my painstakingly discovered custom keypress timings from the Kyria. On the Kyria, my feeling was that I absolutely needed them in order not to input the wrong commands precisely all the time. But on this keyboard, everything seemingly just works out regardless. I wonder if I simply adapted while using the Kyria, so that my fingers now automatically stay within the needed limits? Or, prehaps purely mechanical differences are enough to balance the problems I had before? Since I soldered the Kyria myself, I can easily imagine this keyboard being rather more well put together. And of course the switches are different too, these ones requiring just a bit more force might account for the whole difference all by itself.
The dog is very used to my clicky keys, happily sleeping in its crate right next to the desk.
July 30, 2021
541 days later
On the fourth of February in the year of twenty-twenty, I participated in my first group buy (a process where people sign up and pay before a thing is produced, and production goes ahead if enough people sign up). I think it was my first ever, and it definitely was my first related to keyboards.
My purchase? These fine keycaps right here.
KAM wraith, as they are known.
I had been well informed to expect delays and overruns of time estimates.
That was good, because I could finally hold my purchase in my hands yesterday, 541 days later.
Fortunately, I do like them as much as I hoped I would. They even provide the position-helping markers on the F and J keys I missed in the previous keycap set I used on this keyboard.
As a bonus, they came in really nice packaging. I feel like putting the boxes on discreet display somewhere.
In a display of what some would call "having learned nothing", I have participated in two more group buys since then. Neither are expected to have delivery times quite like this one, but I will cheerfully see anything before 2023 as a bonus.
In related news, I think the ideal position for me and typing on a Planck-style keyboard is with the keyboard on my lap rather than on my desk. Most other keyboards do not sit very well on my lap, but my KBD4X does, being solid and just wide enough. I seem to be making a bit fewer mistakes too, which is always nice. And pointing devices need to compete with nothing for desk surface. (Well, except all the other stuff I shovel on there.)
For the first time since time immemorial (pretty much when I bought the keycaps, come to think of it), we traveled for a few days. Not only that, but I had some reason to bring a laptop. Ever since last autumn when its battery started feeling seriously unreliable, I have used my Macbook very rarely, almost exclusively for taking screenshots of Podcast chapters. But I knew I would have access to power for the tasks I needed to do (and they would be brief as well), so I brought it along.
Wow, it is still such a wonderful machine and size. It is so small I forgot where in my luggage I put it, and it gives me a very cosy computing experience wherever I can find a lap- or tray table-worth of space.
The experience reinforced two things for me:
- I will definitely get another laptop at some point
- When I do, I will go for the smallest, lightest modern Mac I can find
There is no question about either point. A nice computing experience anywhere, and size and weight to ensure I can easily bring it anywhere.
It also does not hurt that Apple's new chipsets ensure whichever laptop I end up getting will be both outrageously more powerful and have better battry life. I am certain I could get the current M1 Macbook air and be completely happy for years to come. But since I am in no hurry, I will dream for a while longer of a return of the twelve-inch form factor. It is the machine for me, no doubt.
July 11, 2021
The other day I got myself together and updated my KBD4X keyboard to a version of the layout I use for my Kyria. I had brought it out and connected it a while earlier, only to realize that my gradual layout changes had made it surprisingly difficult to find my way around. For a while, I was wondering if I might perhaps have ruined non-split, thumbcluster-less keyboards completely for myself. Everything just felt strange, and I had a hard time seeing how I might find a decent replacement layout which would not be awkward to temporarily jump to.
Those worries were, of course, unfounded. I am typing this on the KBD4X and I am enjoying the feel of it just as much as I always did. I wish I could recall for sure which switches I have in it, because the feel is quite markedly different from the Kyria. They are lighter, possibly somewhat quieter, and clearly have a shallower activation depth. I feel as if I am typing softer and quicker - which is probably all placebo but a fun change in feel nevertheless.
"Porting" my updated layout turned out to be something of a non-issue. Most of my feeling of being lost was because of how I have gradually moved functionality to the home row. So relatively few keys in the thumbclusters and on the bottom row of the Kyria perform absolutely crucial functions. What I miss a bit are dedicated cut, copy, paste, undo, and redo keys in easily locatable positions, and I might actually have enough spare keys to fit those in on the KBD4X as well. (Update: yes, I do have plenty of free keys on the bottom row which I could use for this. Could be a fun next thing.)
Another very small but interesting change I found myself needing to make was to move the enter key up one row. Since the Kyria only has three rows of keys on the edges, I have put enter on the middle key. Swithing back to a keyboard with four rows of keys, it fels surprisingly strange to have the enter key sneak down one row, requiring a knight-like movement of the pinky finger to hit.
Now that the layouts are similar enough that I can easily move between them, I once again have a really hard time picking a favorite. I do love how clean, compact, and straight-lined the KBD4X is. I am typing with it on my lap right now, and I can keep my hands almost in a resting position while doing so.
The Kyria on the other hand, feels a bit large and unwieldy by comparison. The look appeals on utility more than anything else. On the other hand, it probably also is the better designed board for my actual hands. It is no coincidence that I started dreaming of split keyboard after having the KBD4X as my daily driver for a while - it is nice to be able to move your hands apart every now and then.
And on yet another hand (the third hand?) I feel faster on the KBD4X than on the Kyria, even after being away from it after such a relatively long while.
So, which one will you settle for?
It just occured to me (probably last of anyone reading this) that everyone who knows anything about ergonomy and preventing repetitive stress injuries talks about the value of switching things up. People alternate sitting and standing (I try to as well) and pointing devices, so why could and should I not switch keyboards regularly too? Such a clear difference in typing hand positions and keyboard placements are bound to be refreshing.
Having found a motivation for his odd pile of keyboards, he happily leaned back and relaxed into the cool Sunday afternoon, the clicking of the keys, and the gentle breath of the dog sleeping in its bed by the side of the desk.
June 22, 2021
Ends in sight
Today, the region of Västra götaland finally opened up vaccinations to people of my general age group. It seems to have taken longer to get here than in pretty much any other region of the country, but our turn did come.
I was … curious to see how the systems would handle the load of my generation competing for available times, but I did manage to get a spot within a reasonable amount of time.
The system was clearly under stress though.
At first, not even the Bankid-based login would work.
Then, I managed to sign in a couple of times, but eventually got dumped to a Cloudflare error page when connections timed out.
Then the actual page with available times actually loaded, and I could start trying to click times marked as available in order to book one.
At first, it seemed not even the links worked. That seemed to be because they were not actual simple links. Instead, clicking one fired off some request to see if that time was still available, an operation which timed out multiple times for me. It did not seem to do much good either, because a few times I actually managed to fill out and submit the reservation form, only to be informed at that point that the time was no longer available.
Just because a page looks simple does not mean it works well. Or quickly.
But I got my time in the end, so I am happy. A time for the second shot was automatically booked as well, and even that one fell on a date which I can make.
So … I guess I can start to make up for a year of missed hugs before the summer is over? Will hugging random strangers be a thing this autumn?
Also: becoming re-aquainted with the colds of others.
Another end in sight
The spring semester of work. Normally, I take at least a couple of days to truly switch from work mode to holiday mode. This year, though, I feel as if I have got a head start on holiday mode of a month or more.
Yesterday, we had our summer party at work as well. Things are going well, but it feels as if I have not had a longer holiday in ages.
It is not all ends though
Far from it.
For example, this unreasonably cute little dog is now part of the family. Her name is Maja, and she likes to sleep in my lap as well as chew on my hands when her manic biting mode sets in.
We are having fun together.
Sometimes one of us more than the other, but still.