Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Really Tall Keycaps

Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

About a month ago, [Unexpected Maker] finished their TinyS3, an ESP32-S3 development board. Since the chip supports both true USB and Bluetooth, [deʃhipu] wondered how well it would work in a keyboard.

Thus, the Vegemite Sandwich was made, perhaps while [deʃhipu] was dreaming of traveling in a fried-out Kombi. But really, it was named so because [Unexpected Maker] hails from Australia.

This is [deʃhipu]’s first time using switch sockets, which is (as far as we know) the only choice when it comes to hot-swappable Kailh chocs. We’ll be watching this one with hungry eyes.

Easing Into Alternate Layouts

Speaking of [deʃhipu], he said in the Hackaday Discord the other day that he was trying out [Nick Gravgaard]’s qwerty-flip, an often-arrived-at alternate layout that merely exchanges seven keys between the top row and the home row, leaving everything else rooted in the Qwertyville hills of your muscle memory. For [deʃhipu], the point was to minimize finger movement, and not necessarily to gain speed.

The idea behind qwerty-flip is to get the most common English letters — ETAOINSRHL — on the home row. I’ll spare you gif-related eyestrain: only N and L are missing, but if you want to get closer to ETAOINSRHL, [Nick] also created Spin and Twist variants, which each add either N or L to the home row, but not both.

Ultimately, after a few days of using qwerty-flip and getting relatively comfortable, [deʃhipu] decided the layout was not for him. For one thing, as with most non-Qwerty layouts, it screws up WASD. And really, it just wasn’t worth being slightly different from the standard.

An Index of Damn Fine Keyboards

[Tamas Dovenyi]’s always-excellent Keyboard Builders’ Digest led me to Damn Fine Keyboards, a PDF ‘zine that launched on the first anniversary of [Philipp]’s Click Click Hack podcast (German). So far, it largely features good-looking rectangles, but there are a few splits in there, too. Well-lit contributions to the ‘zine are welcome.

As a side note, I think people should have to declare the name and origin of their desk pads so that us plebs can have a hope of finding one on r/mechmarket some day. Same goes for the species of tiny potted cactus in your keyboard beauty shots. (Are we still doing that?)

New Keebs: Pico87 Makes the Case for FR4

Yes, the Bolt Industries Pico87 is another Kickstarter keeb, but founder [Ian Dunn] released the project files the day the campaign went live. As you may have guessed, this baby is based on the Raspberry Pi Pico. This 87-key number is constructed completely from FR4 boards bolted together — one for the base, one for the electronics, and another for the aesthetics.

One of the pledge tiers is for a matching num pad which has its own Pico. Both keyboard and num pad are available as kits, or fully built. To add to the firmware alphabet soup, the Pico87 runs BMK, which is Bolt Industries’ custom firmware written in C++, but it’s also compatible with KMK, a mainstream CircuitPython-based firmware.

To me, the FR4 construction is interesting. It would sure collect a lot of cat hair, but would be a breeze to blow out with the compressor. I think the inclusion of a num pad is great, although I don’t understand the choice to exclude the far right column of keys that one expects to see on a num pad. To each their own.

The best part of this campaign is probably the variety of switch choices. There are seven types of Gaterons to choose from — blue, green and brown for the tactile clackers, and black, yellow, red, and white for team linear. If you want blues with green modifiers, additional switches will be available as add-ons.

The Centerfold: [SemperFarcisimus]’ Sweet Setup

Yep, this is a new section. I saw this setup on r/ErgoMechKeyboards and just had to pass it along. [SemperFarcisimus] is rocking a sweet open-source Ploopy mouse that channels the timeless look of saddle oxfords while showing a bit of attitude with that killer billiard trackball. If that desk pad looks familiar, you must be a fan of The Shining (1980).

Those wrist rests are miniature Purple mattresses that are available free at their physical stores, or for a reasonable price from their website. I recently got a two-pack of them myself, and while they’re a bit tall for the Kinesis Advantage and my stubby fingers, I will definitely use them with the dactyl when I get it operational. If only I could halve one in the z-direction. Any ideas for doing that?

Historical Clackers: Northstar Advantage Restoration

Look at the height of those friggin’ keycaps!

[SaratogaJerry] alerted me to [Evan]’s loving restoration of a pair of Northstar Advantage computers. These one-piece units have Keytronic foam-and-foil keyboards that are capacitive, and use chips that are practically unobtainium. But stay tuned.

The foam discs inside the keyboard had turned to dust over time. Fortunately, this same style keeb was used in the original Compaq portable and the Apple Lisa, so reproduction pads are out there.

So far, [Evan] has completely disassembled and cleaned two keyboards’ worth of pieces. Using a third, working Northstar, [Evan] and [Frank] were able to test the two freshly-washed keyboards. They used those awesome DIP-to-DIP ribbon cables to connect up an Arduino-based keyboard tester they designed.

The controller capacitively senses which key is being pressed, but it also uses two chips to scan the matrix. One of the keyboards had a bad controller chip, which [Evan] was able to replace. [Evan] and [Frank] also wrote code to simulate being the keyboard, so one could potentially make their own keyboard for the Northstar Advantage and bypass the whole foam disc problem. Be sure to check out all the excellent pictures in the gallery!

ICYMI: The Mouse-cropad

There are many ways of getting from zero to macropad, and this one involves a bit of clever reuse.

[Taylor] wanted to join the keyboard-making game, but was adamant about going the non-conventional route and building something out of discarded tech. As luck would have it, [Taylor] found a used and slightly broken gaming mouse with an impressive set of 12 thumb-driven macro buttons on the side.

After liberating the PCBs, it was mostly a matter of printing a suitable enclosure and wiring up keyswitches to the mouse button pads. [Taylor] simply used the original controller board and software to program their new 12-button macropad, with which he rode off toward the perpetual vaporwave sunset.

Got a hot tip that has like, anything to do with keyboards? Help me out by sending in a link or two. Don’t want all the Hackaday scribes to see it? Feel free to email me directly.

5 thoughts on “Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Really Tall Keycaps

  1. “[…] they’re a bit tall for the Kinesis Advantage […] If only I could halve one in the z-direction. Any ideas for doing that?”

    How about just putting a spacer under your keyboard instead?

    1. The Kinesis has areas already intended for palm rests, so raising the keyboard wouldn’t help.

      To cut spongy objects, you’d need to make a jig that’s essentially an enclosure to hold at least half of the object in place. Then use a big sharp knife, saw, hot wire, whatever works to cut.

      1. For the jig, you might be able to get away with double-stick tape, assuming it’s strong enough to hold the pad well, but also weak enough not to tear the pad when you want to release it. The Purple stuff is supposed to be pretty strong, so the latter is probably not an issue in this case.

  2. Finally got my ergodox assembled and have been playing with layouts. Tried thumb shift, and am really liking it so far. Not as part of the cluster, but next to b/n. It does force your hand to move, if that’s not your thing, but feels super comfortable for me as a “finger floater” rather than a “home row rester”.

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