Learning a new 60% layout

During my time trying out different kinds of mechanical keyboards, I noticed that I had to adapt to a few different typing styles. This was very noticeable when I was typing on my Vortex Core – a 40% keyboard. Without a number row and the lack of certain dedicated punctuation keys, it changed the way I used the keyboard significantly. After using the Core for a month daily, I adapted and now I can type on it almost as fast as I did on a full-sized keyboard. In fact, it felt like training wheels – when I went back to a full-sized layout, I was able to type faster than before. I’m not sure if it was in my head and I was limiting my typing speed to begin with. For what it’s worth, I’ve come to appreciate having a dedicated number row on a keyboard now.

Since I have a new 60% keyboard coming in later this year (parts by parts, sadly – building your own keyboard is a test of patience) which utilizes the layout of the HHKB (Happy Hacking Keyboard) I decided to get used to it in advance. So right now, on my Anne Pro, I’ve remapped certain keys to reflect the HHKB layout. My Caps Lock key is now Control, my \ key has been swapped with Backspace, and I’ve mapped the HHKB arrows to the board as well. The learning curve hasn’t been as steep as using a 40%, but I immediately noticed the benefits of the layout. I can accomplish a lot more with my hands now, while moving a whole lot less than before.

Muscle memory still kicks in for some shortcuts (Ctrl + Z/W/C/V), instead of backspacing I hit the \ key, and I also keep hitting Control where it used to be + Backspace to delete words. It will definitely take a while before I’m completely comfortable with this layout, but I think it won’t take a long time to do so. Maybe the blockers on the keyboard will help with this issue in the future.

As yes, you’ve read it right – I have decided to get a DIY mechanical keyboard. Fortunately the model I was interested in doesn’t require any soldering, so it should be a walk in the park to assemble. The bad part is it that all the parts to build it won’t be arriving until August – assuming there are no delays. Fingers crossed! It should be a fun activity that I’m looking forward to. I might even stream the build process on Twitch, we’ll see. I ordered myself a Tokyo 60, Kailh Box Navy switches and GMK Red Samurai to deck the board out. I’ve only seen renders and photographs at this point, but I think it’s gonna be siiiiick. Maybe I’ll get brave enough to learn soldering after this board. We’ll see.

So anyway, earlier today when I was fumbling around for some hotkeys on my keyboard, I was thinking to myself – is it worth sacrificing how I type currently to relearn a new method of typing? Are the hours put in to learn a new typing style worth the gains when using another? I know I’m not going to be a world record holder at typing fast, and neither am I aiming to be one, so why am I throwing myself all these challenges? I guess I enjoy challenging myself with such menial tasks. It’s like unlocking a new skill in my typing skill tree. Next step would be typing on an ortholinear keyboard, and then maybe learning Colemak or Dvorak.

The Magic of Layers

It has been two weeks since my initial post about the Vortex Core, and I’m pleased to say that things have improved a lot for me. I’m hitting at least 70 wpm when I don’t have to type too many symbols. I decided that the default layout was not the best for me so I made some changes that have made life much easier for me.

First up, I noticed that I was only hitting the space bar with my right thumb. Since the right space bar was mostly untouched, it made sense to rebind it to something useful. The right space bar is now my Fn key. I moved the directional arrows to Fn + WASD, and I changed the default Fn key to ‘. I put volume up and down on Fn + Q or Z. Page Up and Page Down are now Fn + L or ;. Home and End are now Fn + O or P. My brackets are now on Fn + Del or Fn + Backspace. Fn + X or C is Ctrl + Left or Ctrl + Right.

I noticed the improvements immediately. Using the Core was so much more pleasant after the adjustments I made. I still can’t type numbers without looking at the keys, but I don’t hesitate so much anymore when hitting Fn + Tab to get 1. $, %, ^ and & still require me to look at the keyboard, but I can hit ? with muscle memory more than 50% of the time.

I’m sure there’s a lot more I can reprogram to be more efficient but this is working for me so far. I also read that there’s a Vortex Core layout editor available online that allows me to rebind every single key on the keyboard, so I’ll be looking in to that in the future.

I’m still in love with the form factor of the keyboard. It slips easily into this soft case I have, which takes like 2 seconds to pack, and it allows me to bring it with me everywhere I go. I’m waiting for my magnetic USB cables to arrive from China so the Core’s port won’t be damaged due to my frequent plugging and unplugging.

I’ve already replaced two keycaps (Esc and Enter) since I’ve already got those keys memorized (`~ and =+). I can’t wait to get everything in my head so I can go ahead with a full replacement of the keycaps.

Speaking of keycaps, there’s a set that I’ve been eyeing for some time now and I’m trying to decide if I should pull the trigger. They look so damn good. Just picture them on a HHKB layout 60% Kreygasm.

Anyway, I think this post concludes my successful transition to 40%. I’m really happy I stuck with the keyboard and managed to get over the initial hurdles of using something this tiny. In the future, I’d definitely be keen on picking up more 40% boards but for now I’m content (even though the MagicForce 48 running on massdrop now looks quite tempting haha). I haven’t used my Anne Pro or AK33 in a while, I wonder if I’ll have issues going back to them next time.

Also, MX Browns aren’t a bad switch. Sorry, just had to put it out there because I don’t think they deserve the hate they get.

Teething Problems

There are many things we take for granted each day. And it’s only because we’ve been doing them our whole lives without having to change a thing. For example, walking, dribbling a ball, cycling, driving a car, and swimming. We can do all these things because we’ve been doing them for years. Muscle memory, they call it.

One of the activities that fall under this category is typing. For my whole life until recently, I’ve been typing on regular keyboards. Though they have been in different sizes, they all maintained the standard 60% layout (number row on the top, QWERTY staggered layout, and modifiers accessible with both hands). I’m a touch typist, so for me to type, I rely heavily on muscle memory. However, that has changed recently with my acquisition of the Vortex Core – a 40% keyboard. For reference, here’s a picture of it:

Ever since I started touch typing, I have been resting my fingers on the home row (ASDFGHJKL) – two rows below the number row on a keyboard. On regular keyboards, my method for finding the home row is touching the edge of the number row, and going down two rows. On the Core, this number row is missing, so I have to consciously make an effort to only move my hands down one row from the edge of the keyboard. Fortunately, typing letters on this keyboard is the least of my concerns. Without having to punctuate my texts, I can still hit my average of 70 words per minute.

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Words Per Minute

Typing is such a fun activity. I remember when I was first introduced to a computer when I was a kid, I saw my uncle typing in commands in MS-DOS, and I thought it was such a ‘pro’ thing to do. So when I got my first computer, I was always booting up to play my games in MS-DOS mode even though they could run in Windows 95. I just preferred typing in commands in the console to run them – that was how much I enjoyed typing.

Fast forward many years to a couple of years ago when I had to use my sister’s old laptop (because I didn’t have my own laptop) and installed Linux onto it, I had so much trouble using the command line (and Linux was all about the command line) because I couldn’t remember anything beyond the basic commands. Sure, the GUI was fully workable, but to make the most out of the operating system, you had to use commands. I was Googling how to do something different almost everyday. I was quite happy to switch to a Windows laptop after that.

These days, unless I’m writing music (it’s quite a feat to write down lyrics with a guitar on your lap – much easier to put words on paper with a pen), I write with my keyboard. Like many things I enjoy, I’m not the best at it (gaming, music, drawing) but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. For some strange reason, it is satisfying to see characters appear on the screen each time you hit a key on your keyboard. Instant gratification. I guess the feeling of typing on a mechanical keyboard accentuates it as well.

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my typing speed recently by doing speed typing tests on Type Racer and Keybr. I have only hit 100 WPM once, but my average of 70 WPM is pretty good I guess. I probably need to type more (which I’ll do with my new job, starting next week yay) and eventually I’ll get faster.

I don’t type correctly. I definitely don’t use the proper touch typing method – my pinkies don’t do a good job or picking up the slack, and I use my index fingers way too much. Not sure if I’ll be brave or bothered enough to learn a new layout like DVORAK (apparently you can form more words on the home row than with QWERTY) but as long as I type fast enough to be a qualified typist, that’s probably good enough for me.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy playing Invoker. Casting combos quickly is as enjoyable as typing out a sentence quickly. With the added bonus of seeing enemies being blown up on your screen.

Do I love typing more than writing itself? I guess there’s a chance that’s true. Then again I disliked taking minutes at my old job. I probably just enjoy typing what I’m interested in.

Mechanical Me

I was thinking of ideas for a blog redesign today when I remembered what my original banner used to be and I realized – shit, I’ve actually been interested in keycaps for keyboards all this time without knowing it! Just kidding, I never had an interest in keycaps until recently, but I thought it was funny coincidence that my old banner used to look like this:

That was a vector trace of the keycaps of my old ass Microsoft keyboard (which was this, minus the wrist rest) that I used for over ten years. It took a long time for me to hop on the mechanical keyboard train because I always thought that they were too expensive and everything I could do on one I could already do with my existing keyboard.

Continue reading “Mechanical Me”