Collected technology opinions from the internet, Volume 1

Yes, this is shooting fish in a barrel, but sometimes you have a barrel of fish and a loaded gun and you just can’t resist.

There is a larger meta-commentary here about literacy or something, but I’m just amused by glaring typos and people making wildly wrong guesses about how something is spelled, and more generally what people are willing to commit to virtual paper.

On Apple being boring:
“Not boring, rediculuslly gready!”

A browser less likely to be charged with sexual assault:
“it’s like Chrome, but doesn’t rape your privacy”

Sony’s upcoming console, with rows of cartridges in golden fields:
“If Sony goes cartridge for the plantation 5 than those Blu-ray’s will be obsolete.”

On WoW wooing back players and the need for departments:
“You need to fix the class system for those people who quit to come back. Classes need more dept and more abilities that define the class.”

Good advice for your next system build:
“For the graphics card to work, you need to plug it into the mobo.”

The “cash cow” model for apps

Drew McCormack has an article on Medium from January 15, 2018 in which he explains the rationale behind the somewhat unorthodox purchase options for the Mac/iOS note-taking app he helped create, called Agenda.

It’s a hybrid model that is related to, but not the same as the dreaded subscription model. Even more now than before, we are seeing signs of subscription fatigue from users–something that must be weighing on the minds of Apple’s executives as they get ready to unveil multiple new subscription services at their event tomorrow. McCormack cites the example of Ulysses, pointing out how people have gleefully torpedoed the average rating for the app by one-starring it solely for switching to a subscription model.

And I think that’s valid. It is and should be a dealbreaker. Ulysses’s devs may go on about how it only costs the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee per month, but their subscription doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s one of many apps to now demand a subscription simply to use it. The subscriptions add up and eventually the user will say, “No more” and may even start cutting back. In the case of Ulysses, there are plenty of other writing apps out there that do not charge a subscription fee for use. (Note: As I’ve also reported, I finally gave in and reluctantly subscribed to Ulysses, but only after holding out for 18 months. And my loyalty will only last until I find a better non-subscription writing app.)

This leads into what Agenda is doing differently, and it’s an approach I really like, and hope that other developers will adopt it (maybe some have–it’s been over a year since the blog post was written).

Agenda is free to use–there are no ads, no up-front costs, no subscription. There are, however, a set of premium features that require in-app purchase. This purchase gives you permanent access to the premium features, along with any added over the next 12 months. You can keep using this version of Agenda forever and never pay again. If a new premium feature or set of features comes out after the 12 months has lapsed, you make the same in-app purchase and get those features and any others added for another 12 months, again keeping them permanently.

My only quibble is the actual price–$35 is not a ton of money, but it does seem expensive for a note-taking app. Also, the Mac and iOS versions must be purchased separately.

Still, I think this is an excellent way to avoid subscriptions, while still allowing for an ongoing stream of revenue for the developers, and I’d like to see it adopted more widely.

Maybe if Ulysses switched over to this model they would finally rid themselves of the plague of the 1-star reviews.

New PC 2018: Parts chosen (until I change my mind)

Ironic note: This post was written on a Mac mini.

My current PC is about five years old and truthfully, it still does most things I need it to do without any major issues. I can browse the web, check email, write, read, play games, chat and so on, all without gnashing my teeth about the system being infernally slow, laggy or otherwise annoying to use.

It has an SSD as the main drive, so Windows 10 boots and restarts quickly (even if I notice that the Thinkpad X1 Carbon boots Windows 10 and programs even faster). It has 8 GB of ram, which still allows multitasking of as many programs as I’m likely to run. Its 4th generation Core i5 CPU is officially five generations behind, but it’s clocked at 3.3 GHz and still capable.

In the time I’ve had the PC, I’ve only upgraded three components:

  • The monitor, which isn’t even directly part of the PC. I went from a 24″ Samsung TN panel to a 24″ Asus IPS monitor, and the change was totally worth it. The color, clarity, viewing angles and brightness of an IPS monitor are so much better than a TN display. I still have the Samsung as an emergency backup.
  • The video card, from a GeForce GTX 570 to a GTX 770. This was also worth it, though I bungled things by not doing enough research, as the even-better GTX 970 came out just weeks after I got the 770.
  • The OS, from Windows 8 to Windows 10. And technically this isn’t a component of the PC, anyway.

Apart from that, the system is exactly the same as the day I put it together. I’m even using the same 2 TB hard disk from the previous PC as the secondary drive in the current one.

So with everything working, why build a new system?

The best answer might be that while everything works, I am starting to see the upper limits of what the current PC can manage. As programs–and especially browsers–become more bloated demanding, the 8 GB of ram is becoming an issue. Having a small primary drive (256 GB) is slowing down overall performance when loading and saving, because I simply don’t have room for everything on it. Older and less demanding games can still run fine on the GTX 770, but more often I have to turn down settings, accept lower framerates, or just play stuff released 10 years ago. Which Diablo 3 halfway to, luckily.

Also, we are at a point where technologies and pricing have both stabilized with some really good offerings.

If I stick to what I’ve picked out, here’s how the new system will compare to the current PC:

  • 4x the storage on the primary drive (1 TB vs. 256 GB). I would add additional storage on an as-needed basis.
  • 2x the memory (16 vs. 8 GB)
  • Faster video card with 4x the memory (RTX 2070 with 8 GB vs. GTX 770 with 2 GB)
  • A CPU with 2x the number of cores (8 core AMD Ryzen 2700 vs. 4 core Intel Core i5)
  • A larger case (microATX vs. mini-ITX)

The new case is an improvement because I’ve moved the PC back under the desk, so I don’t need a super-small case anymore. A taller one will make the front-facing ports and jacks easier to access, and the case itself should theoretically be easier to work with.

I’ve already gotten the video card, the next step is to figure out where to get everything else. Having amazon.ca ship everything to a locker is appealing (and simple) but amazon’s pricing and selection is surprisingly inconsistent, so I may be going to local dealers, like I did before NCIX self-immolated.

I am both excited (that new toy feeling) and filled with dread (piecing everything together, turning it on, nothing happening). And of course, it doesn’t address one critical aspect–I’m back to using Ulysses, a Mac-only writing app. I’m hoping the developers will eventually use their alleged subscription-fed largesse to port the program to Windows. I don’t think they will because they seem beholden to Apple’s ecosystem, but it would be nice. I like the app a lot more than I like macOS. Maybe I’m just too used to Windows after a hundred years of using it.

But maybe WriteMonkey 3.0 will eventually come out of beta, actually support indents and fulfill all my writing needs. It could happen!

Perhaps most importantly, my giant backlog of games can’t be played on a Mac mini. It’s new PC time.

Apple’s kooky new iPad vision starts to take shape

Today Apple quietly announced two sort-of new iPads: the iPad air and the iPad mini. Both of these have already existed, the Air reaching version 2, the mini reaching version 4.

The mini was badly in need of an update, having last seen hardware improvements in 2015–par for the course with the current Apple, neglecting its products for years on end (the Mac Pro is still the reigning champ, now sitting at 5+ years without a single update, though Apple has promised a new version this year).

The reason I call Apple’s vision for the iPad kooky is because I don’t think it was planned, it’s still a bit of a mess, but it is, finally, a kind of actual plan and presents a clearer vision of the iPad line-up.

In 2010 the iPad line-up was simple. There was the iPad, selling for $499. That was it.

In 2011 Apple brought out the iPad 2 for $499 and that was it. The same philosophy continued through successive models:

  • The New iPad (2012). This was an improved version 2, with the dumbest iPad name ever.
  • iPad (4th generation, also 2012). Basically The New iPad, but with a lightning port.
  • iPad Air (2013). This featured a lot of improvements–a better display, thinner, lighter (hence the name), but still kept the $499 price.
  • iPad Air 2 (2014). Like the Air, but with refinements.

In 2012, when the fourth gen iPad appeared, Apple introduced the iPad mini. This was the first time buyers had a distinct choice of what iPad to get, but it was still pretty clear: get a big iPad, or get a small one. In terms of specs, they were very similar.

In 2015 Apple mixed things up again by bringing out the first iPad Pro. It had a whopping 12.9 inch display and similarly whopping price. Again, the difference between the three models was clear–size (and price, with the Pro model).

In early 2016 Apple added the 9.7 inch iPad Pro and here things got confusing. The smaller Pro sold for $599, only $100 more than the Air 2. It had Apple Pencil support, a faster processor, generally enough improvements that people might be tempted to spend that extra $100. Apple was now in a position where it would cannibalize its own sales–but not in a good way.

Apple “fixed” the issue in 2017 by coming out with both a new iPad (again just called iPad, this being the sixth generation), killing off the Air 2 and bumping the specs of the 9.7 inch Pro to a 10.5 inch model. They sealed the deal by increasing the price of the Pro to $649 and decreasing (!) the iPad price to $329. Apple also made a lot of compromises with the iPad and its tech, essentially reverting it back to something more akin to the original iPad Air.

Now the gap between regular and Pro was clear: price! The smaller Pro cost almost twice as much.

This continued into 2018 when Apple introduced the third generation of Pros, with the now 11 inch model selling for $799 vs. the still $329 iPad. The 12.9 inch model started at $999.

But now Apple had a problem of their own making. The iPad and iPad Pros could both do all the same things, run all the same software. In 2018 Apple even added Pencil support to the cheaper model. The current Pros are great tablets–provided you don’t need a headphone jack–but the price difference was now so stark that most people wouldn’t even consider the Pro models, unless they had an extremely compelling use case or simply didn’t care about the cost.

Thus, today’s additions.

The revived iPad Air (not called iPad Air 3, just iPad Air, but at least it’s not New iPad Air) does three things: it cements the return of Air branding (started when the MacBook Air was refreshed–finally–in October 2018), further underlines Apple moving away from version numbers (only the phones and watches persist) and most importantly, provides a product in-between the cheap iPad and the ludicrously expensive iPad Pro. And the price?

Yep, $499.

In reality, the new iPad Air is essentially the just-discontinued iPad Pro 10.5 inch. It was selling for $649, so the Air is significantly cheaper. There are some features cut, like the 120 Mhz refresh rate Apple calls Promotion, but all of the important stuff from the 10.5 inch Pro has been kept, just at a lower price.

The mini is in a weirder place. I thought Apple was going to go the cheap iPad route, and revert the min back to the iPad mini 3 era of design–thicker, heavier, non-laminated display and so on, to keep the price down. Instead, they went the opposite, actually improving the specs. The display is even better than before, it adds Pencil support and so on, without changing the price, which remains $399. There is one downgrade–the mini 4 was reduced to one configuration with 128 GB of storage. The new one starts at 64 GB, so the cost is the same, but storage is now halved, though one might argue the improvements make up for it. I bought my mini 4 in late 2016 and back then I paid $499 Canadian for a 32 B model. I can now get the new 64 GB version for $529, a modest (for Apple) price increase that reflects the drubbing the Canadian dollar has taken over the last two years.

The iPad mini, then, is sort of a semi-pro, so Apple must be counting on people wanting the smaller size being willing to pay for it.

And now, for the moment, the iPad line and its vision are complete. There is a low end model, a smaller model, a mid-range model, and a pair of high end models. Prices start reasonable (for apple) and progress up to through-the-roof. And for the first time in a long time, all of the models are current. None are year-old models sold for less (or the same price, as the 10.5 inch Pro was).

This may help Apple keep iPad sales from stagnating, by tempting more people into spending what used to be the old iPad price of $499 to get the nicer specs. I wonder how it will affect the Pro models, though. Face ID and slimmer bezels are nice, but not hundreds of dollars more nice. For me, at least.

And for me, I’m content to stick with my iPad Pro 10.5 inch. It still works great as it nears its two year birthday and the new Air would only be an upgrade in terms of the processor boost–but the 10.5 inch has never felt slow.

(Also, congratulate me for not making a single penis joke after typing out 10.5 inch so many times.)

My iPad mini, now over two years old, is suffering worsening battery life. It will run itself all the way down in just two days of idling, so I have to charge it every other day instead of just once a week. I’m not keen on having to replace it, but at least when I do I won’t be paying much more (or maybe not more at all if I wait for a sale), and I’ll be getting some nice improvements, as well.

Probably the dumbest move Apple has made recently in regards to the iPad is calling the second generation Apple Pencil…Apple Pencil. See this Verge article for more.

Those wacky internet speeds

Since getting the internet connection upgrade, I occasionally check to see how the connection is running.

Just now, I did two tests on the Mac mini. Here are the results:

  • speedtest.net using a BCNET server (this is the service used by many post-secondary schools): 74.97 Mbps download, 21.01 Mbps upload, 12 ms ping
  • fast.com (provided by Netflix): 53 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload, 4 ms ping

Now, I’m no internet scientist, but it seems to me even allowing for some variation between different sites, I shouldn’t be seeing a difference of nearly 22 Mbps when conducting tests literally within a minute of each other. And tests earlier in the evening were even lower from fast.com, peaking around 43 Mbps.

Even though this is kind of terrible, I’m not overly concerned right now, because for most of my purposes, the speed is still fast enough that I’m not left squirming in my seat saying, “Faster, faster!” And the speedtest.net result is actually very close to my expected speed.

But eventually I may start squirming, and if I do I’ll run a bunch of tests over multiple days and times and take the results to my ISP and say to them, “What’s going on, you big lovable corporate entity?” And they may just LOL or whatever, concluding the saga on a lighthearted note.

Here is the speedtest.net result in graphic form:

MacBook Pro 2016 revisited

Since I started writing with Ulysses again, I’ve been forced to reacquaint myself with my 2016 MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar. This is the one that an Apple executive (maybe Phil Schiller?) claimed would make a nice alternative to the MacBook Air when it debured, neatly ignoring that it cost $700 Canadian more than the Air (ironically, the updated 2018 MacBook Air, combined with a 128GB version of the MBP, has resulted in the price difference now being only $230).

There were no great revelations in going back to the MBP. I still liked the things I liked before, and still disliked the rest. So let’s recap:

The Great:

  • The haptic trackpad is still the best I’ve ever used. It’s a tad bigger than it needs to be, but that isn’t a real issue, and being able to click anywhere on it is great. And the clicks are smooth, not, uh, clicky.
  • The display is terrific. High resolution, bright, and without using the “skinny” 16:9 ratio. It’s not as tall as a 3:2 display, but it gives more headroom than 16:9, something I find important in a laptop.

The Good:

  • Speedy SSD.
  • Versatile Thunderbolt 3 ports.
  • macOS is still pretty solid.
  • Backlighting is spiffy.
  • Save about $670 over the next tier of MacBook Pro, and get bonus real function keys in the process.

The Meh:

  • Only two Thunderbolt ports. One for charging, the other for…everything else. And both on the same side.
  • Actual performance varies. It’s never bad, but sometimes it doesn’t feel as tight as what you’d expect for a “pro” machine.
  • Headphone jack (ya) is on thee right side, which, given the design of nearly every wired set of headphones in existence, makes no sense.
  • macOS is still pretty solid, but the Finder still kind of sucks.
  • Styling is getting dated.
  • All-aluminum design is slippery as all get-out. Every time I pull it out of my knapsack it feels like it’s going to squip out of my hand. And it doesn’t even feel that nice. It’s metal and cold. Meh!
  • Even though it only weighs about three pounds, it somehow feels heavier.
  • Battery life is only average vs. other Ultrabooks.
  • Display bezels are pretty big in 2019.

The Bad:

  • You can’t upgrade anything post-purchase.
  • Any repairs are difficult and costly.
  • The keyboard still sucks.

I can tolerate the keyboard, but I still don’t really like it. It’s just too shallow and clicky, like a scissor switch keyboard imitating a mechanical keyboard. It just doesn’t feel right. And I have less than two years before a potential repair bill of $600+ awaits, should even a single key fail. Given Apple’s flailing in trying to make the keyboard more reliable, I’m very interested in seeing what the next MacBook Pros look like. I doubt they’ll retreat to what they had before, but I think there’s a decent chance they will do something different, instead of continuing to tinker with the current design. Hopefully they won’t present something even worse still, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

Overall, this is a laptop that doesn’t stand up to the best Windows laptops anymore. The only thing that really separates it from the competition is the trackpad, but the deficiencies like the keyboard, battery life and repairability, lag behind many other notebooks. Still, it’s a competent machine and I can muddle along with it for writing. Every other Mac laptop now comes with the same butterfly switch keyboard (even if current models feature a newer, quieter version of it), so it’s not like switching to another model of MacBook will make much difference.

On a scale of 1 to 10 Think Differents, the 2016 MacBook Pro without Touch Bar rates 6 Think Differents.

The grand flaw of true wireless earbuds

Last week, after about three days of non-use, I went to put on my AirPods and found that, despite being on the charger, they were only at 77% charge. I’ve had an intermittent issue with the left AirPod where it doesn’t make a solid connection in the charging case and drains instead of charging. This is a tad inconvenient.

Usually I can resolve this by removing the AirPod, checking/blowing on the bud and inside the case, then re-inserting it, at which point the power light turns orange, indicating charging. Five minutes’ worth will give me about an hour of playtime. Not bad.

But this did not happen. I put on the AirPods and confirmed the left one would not play at all, as expected. I fiddled with them for a bit, then went into the Bluetooth settings on my iPhone and chose Disconnect Device. It disconnected.

It would not reconnect.

Lacking any other options, I then chose Forget This Device. It forgot it.

And that was the last time my AirPods interacted with the phone at all. I get a blinking green power like that pulses three times when I pop the case open, then nothing. They are effectively dead.

But this is not the grand flaw I speak of, it’s a roundabout introduction to the actual flaw.

I looked up when I purchased the AirPods: October 2017. They were out of warranty. I looked up repair costs on Apple’s site:

It’s possible the left bud is fine and it’s a flaw in the case itself that is to blame, in which case I’d be looking at a $69 repair cost. This is high, but not completely outrageous–AirPods cost $219 Canadian. But it would still leave me with 16-month old batteries. If I got those replaced I’d be looking at a total bill of $207. Pretty much the cost of a new set.

And here’s where the grand flaw of true wireless earbuds comes in. The beauty of AirPods and similar earbuds is that there are no wires to tangle with. Having to switch back to wired buds in the last week reminded me what an annoyance that is. The extra cost of the AirPods was worth the convenience.

That convenience comes at a price, though. Because there are no wires, the battery must be contained entirely within the ear buds themselves–and they are tiny. And like all rechargeable batteries, they will degrade over time. When the batteries are this small, the degradation can have a major impact on battery life. Rated at a maximum of five hours, people who bought AirPods in 2016 when they debuted are now reporting that they are getting anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes on a full charge now.

This is normal behavior, though you will not find anything official about this in Apple’s site. That means that when the batteries deteriorate to the point that they are no longer usable, you have two choices: pay $219 for a new set, or pay $138. Neither of these is very appealing. If you go the latter route of battery replacement and imagine they need to be replaced every two years (ie. out of warranty), you are looking at a yearly cost (not counting the original $219 investment) of $69. Is paying $69 every year to keep using your AirPods reasonable? They’re not sold as a subscription service, so I’d say no.

But if you asked someone, would you pay $5.75 per month to always get your AirPods batteries refreshed so they never die, I’d bet a surprising number would say yes. That works out to $69 per year, of course.

So I am now left wondering what to do. The repair will be expensive and will only extend the life a few years. Replacement will cost another $219. Waiting for a new model will require going without–and Apple’s trend over the last four years is to jack up the prices on any new version of anything.

For now, I’m just going to ponder, both on what to do, and about how we seem to have entered the era of ongoing costs for something (headphones, earbuds) that never had any real ongoing costs before, without even realizing it.

Fighting my Mac: Part 2 of an ongoing series

To be fair, this is more about fighting Logitech’s software, so the Mac is kind of off the hook for this one.

Even though I got the G703 mouse working in Part 1 I ended up moving it back permanently to the PC, mainly due to the hassle of plugging and unplugging the USB charging cable.

Instead, I switched over to a spare Logitech Marathon M705 mouse that I bought on sale “just in case.” And just in case has arrived!

It’s a nice mouse, has side buttons, works wirelessly, and has incredibly long battery life. Best of all, the Unifying receiver that plugs into any standard USB port is tiny. I plugged in said receiver and the mouse began working immediately…but with only the left, right and middle mouse buttons working (see Part 1 for more gruesome details on this).

However, the Logitech Unifying Software (LUS) would allow me to program all the buttons. All I had to do was flip the power button on the bottom of the mouse, flip it back on and wait for the LUS to detect it. Once detected, smiles all around.

Except this happened:

Undaunted, I turned to the tips hidden behind the Troubleshooting information button. This lead me to discover I had another unifying receiver and a not-unifying-but-still-Logitech receiver plugged into my PC. I removed those (the devices they were used for are long gone), but this made no difference. Another tip said to shut down any device that might be synced up to a receiver and I do have a Surface Pro 3 (in the bedroom) and a ThinkPad (to my immediate left). I may have used this mouse with one of them, but the knowledge is lost to the sand of time. Or the sands in my brain. The ThinkPad is currently installing a Windows update because that’s what Windows computers do, but when it’s done, I’ll shut it down. The SP3 is probably on the edge of where a receiver would reach, but I’ll also shut it down and see what happens. But not right now, because it’s getting late and my wrangling-with-technology timer just went DING.

I am not giving up hope, but am leaning toward needing a third party tool or divine intervention to get those precious mouse side buttons working.

I will update this post with a Part 2a soon™.

Fighting my Mac: Part 1 of an ongoing series

I’ve had a few days to acclimate to working with a Mac for an extended period of time. I normally use my MacBook Pro for an hour or so at most and haven’t spent a lot of time tweaking with its settings like I would a desktop computer. Now that I have a Mac mini, which indeed sits on my desktop, I’ve been diving into settings to make it work the way I want it to. The experience has been…interesting.

Today I am going to talk about one thing: mouse support.

Mouse support in macOS is bad. It’s like a lot of Apple’s mice in that regard. Bad hardware, meet bad software!

Here are some of the bad things:

  • No “snap to default button in dialogs” like in Windows
  • No automatic support for third or fourth mouse buttons
  • Even with some settings maxed out, the mouse still feels a bit sluggish compared to how it operates in Windows

While the first and third items on the list are either subjective or more “nice to have” features, supporting the side buttons on a mouse is pretty fundamental. It’s not 1985 anymore. Mice have more than one button.

I was not actually aware of this because most of my Mac experience has been using a keyboard or a trackpad. When I plugged in my wireless Logitech G703 mouse, it was instantly recognized and worked without any fuss. Yay. But then I discovered the two side buttons would not work. Or rather, they worked in weird ways. In Firefox, pressing Button 3 (the one normally assigned as Back) would result in the same action as pressing the middle mouse button, which is to produce a weird little circular symbol on screen that lets you scroll up and down by moving the mouse. It’s a feature that I’m pretty sure no one ever has ever used on purpose after scroll wheels became a thing.

A mini mouse crisis was now underway.

The Logitech Gaming Software (LGS) showed the buttons correctly mapped as Forward and Back, but the Mac remained unconvinced. I began to investigate using my well-honed Google skills. This led me to try third party tools like BetterTouchTool, which did indeed allow me to map the buttons the way I wanted–nay, the way nature intended! But I didn’t really want to use a separate program just to get the buttons to function the way they would in any sensible operating system. I poked around some more and found that Command-[ is a near-universal key command for Back.

I went into the LGS and assigned Button 3 to Command-[. After doing this the LGS software now showed the button labelled with the keyboard shortcut as seen below.

And at least for now, using the Back button on the mouse does just that–it goes back. It’s even working in Finder, which kind of surprises me.

Searching, testing and playing around with settings for this consumed a decent chunk of the evening. For something that works without any configuration needed at all in Windows. I’m not saying Windows is better. But in this case, Windows is way better.

Perhaps mouse support will be improved in macOS XI.

Giving Ulysses another shot, post-subscription

After securing a 25% lifetime subscription discount, I bit and got a one year subscription to Ulysses, the writing app I famously said I would never use again after it switched to a subscription model.

I still really dislike a subscription model for a writing app, but for $36.99 per year, I’m willing to try it again…for at least the next 12 months. And I have missed it, as the app itself I still consider pretty faboo. I lament that the closest equivalent on Windows is a shameless rip-off. Nothing else matches its UI and interface, though some come close.

This, of course, means I’m committing to writing on my MacBook Pro again, though I am still no fan of the keyboard. I think I may be part-masochist.

And for home, I’m thinking of a better solution than the dongle mess I’m currently using, either a Mac mini or a Hackintosh. Time to ponder.

My keyboard history and a short CTRL keyboard review

In one of those “down the rabbit hole” journeys that happens when I get caught up searching for something on the web and get inexorably drawn into finding and poring over a bunch of unrelated things, I came across the D2D YouTube channel.

Dave Lee seemed personable enough and I liked his low key style, so I kept watching for videos that would interest me and lo, he had one featuring one of my weirdly favorite computer topics: keyboards.

I used to collect computer mice like no one’s business and I still change up semi-regularly (my current mouse of a Logitech G703 wireless, which I’ll review separately. Super-short review right now: Great mouse except for battery life.) but the pace of collecting mice has dropped off over the last few years, perhaps because mice are generally improving enough that I don’t see the need to keep searching for something better.

Which brings me to keyboards.

For some years after I got my first PC (way back in 1994) I just used whatever cheap keyboard I could find, ones that would go for $10-15 today. They were all pretty much the same. The biggest change was when they started including a dedicated Windows key. It seemed weird at the time.

But after I’d upgraded my rig a few times I became more particular and started looking for keyboards that had backlighting or extra keys. I eventually decided the extra keys/macros were something I never used, but backlighting was nice to have, as my computer space was not brightly lit.

Fast-forward to around five years ago when mechanical keyboards became a big thing. I didn’t pay much attention at first because they seemed absurdly expensive. Well, they were absurdly expensive, really. I was intrigued, but not enough to buy.

As I spent more time working on laptops, I found myself starting to prefer the low-travel keys they featured and settle on a desktop keyboard that emulated the style. Although it was not backlit, my computer space was now brightly lit, so it was no longer a priority. The keyboard was wireless (nice, but inessential) and runs off solar power. This is nicer than expected because it meant that I literally never have to worry about batteries.

The worst aspect of the Logitech K750 is probably the glossy sheen the keys and surrounding surface have. Under bright light it can produce surprisingly annoying glare. Glossy is never good on keyboard.

Although happy enough with the keyboard, curiosity got the better of me and I got a Cooler Master Trigger mechanical keyboard. It has red backlighting, extra macro keys, and a weird setup that disables the Windows key by default. I never warmed to it at all and quickly set it aside, regretting the decision to buy.

But buyer’s regret never stopped me, so I next picked up a more business-oriented Das keyboard. It had blue switches and I learned to love the CLACK. However, like the K750, it had a glossy design I came to dislike and it was big and bulky. A tenkeyless design (without the numeric keypad) would be better ergonomically and take up less space. From here I experimented with some tenkeyless designs using red, brown and blue switches. They were all fine, but none really clicked (so to speak), though the blue switches remained my favorite.

Then Dave Lee posted a video for what he declared the best keyboard ever, the CTRL keyboard, featured on Massdrop. I was intrigued and liked the clean look. Thee drop ended before I could buy, but eventually came back and I placed an order.

It took a few weeks to show up and I had to pay an additional fee to actually collect it, so it came out to be very expensive in the end–over $200 Canadian. Although it has a few flaws, it has become my favorite mechanical keyboard and the reason has nothing to do with anything Dave mentions in his video, but rather in the choice of switches.

I was intrigued by the description of Halo Clear switches as having the clickiness of cherry switches, but with a smoother, more “velvety” feel, so I took a chance and ordered the keyboard with them, trusting they would live up to the description.

And they did. And they are the key (ho ho) reason why I really like the keyboard and have finally ended my great keyboard quest.

For now.

The good points:

  • Halo Clear switches are clicky, but smoother than blues and a bit quieter, too
  • Backlighting offers a good set of options
  • USB Type-C connections on opposite ends of keyboard allow for easy cable management
  • Switches are actually hot swappable if you’re into that
  • Aluminum chassis is very solid
  • Works great with both Windows and Mac

The not-so-good points:

  • With the backlight off, the lettering on the keys is very difficult to see. Not a big deal if you’re a touch typist, but something to be aware of.
  • The removable feet will almost always pop off if you try moving the keyboard by sliding it around the desk. Folding legs would have worked better.
  • The default backlight mode is a strobing rainbow effect, which you will see every time you connect the keyboard. It is pretty, but entirely impractical, so you have to go through a series of FN-key shortcuts to get back to something “normal.”
  • I found all but the white backlight color to be too garish, even after adjusting the brightness down.
  • Sometimes the backlight controls will stop responding, forcing you to unplug the keyboard and start from the strobing rainbow again.
  • The keyboard configurator is clumsy

Really, I think any reasonably well-made keyboard with Halo switches would win me over, but even apart from them, the CTRL is a sold offering. Overall, I’m happy with the purchase and typing is once again a satisfyingly clicky experience, though now with a pleasingly softer touch.


The Big Writing Decision, 2019 Edition

See this post for details.

Today is the day I make the decision on what software to use for my writing and the hardware platform for said software. Below is a partial list of the options.

Software:

  • Ulysses (Mac, iOS)
  • Scrivener (Mac, iOS, Windows)
  • WriteMonkey (Windows, Mac [beta only])
  • FocusWriter (Mac, Windows)

Hardware/OS:

  • macOS on a genuine Mac, either a Mac mini, iMac or MacBook
  • macOS running on a Hackintosh (PC built to run macOS on the sly)
  • Windows 10 on current PC or shiny new PC
  • Windows 10 on a new NUC PC (separated out from the above because it would not be used for any gaming)
  • Amiga 500 bought from eBay running WordPerfect 4.2

And the winner is…

mumble mumble mumble

No, really. The winner is:

Nothing. Nada. I am plagued with doubts at every turn and am still undecided. However, I said I would make a decision today and I’m sticking to that, so here is my decision of sorts:

I will resume Road Closed in Ulysses (Olde Version) on the MacBook Pro and when I work on it at home I will use the power of The Dongle to connect the MBP to the 24″ monitor and a keyboard that clacks in a pleasant way.

So this is decision deferred. I’m not sure I’m ready for a Hackintosh experiment, I still want to get an actual new PC, and none of the current Mac offerings are very appealing. If the $1399 Mac mini option was the $999 entry-level offering, I’d probably go for that, but it’s not, so YOU LOSE TIM COOK LOL. Seriously, I hope the blatant moves to extract as much money from buyers as possible (while getting increasingly shoddy with quality) bites Apple in its metaphorical ass. I don’t expect or event want Apple products to become cheap, just reasonable. They are not reasonable now.

And so, quasi-decision made, the writing journey continues. I will report on my success on that front next Friday, February 1st. Excelsior!