Topre and Me

A couple of years ago if you told me that I’d be spending an exorbitant amount on keyboards, I would have told you that you were crazy. Well, fast forward to now and I eat my own words. Ever since I fell in love with the hobby (if you can even call it that – since I don’t assemble my own boards yet), I’ve been on the lookout for new keyboards to try out. Different layouts, sizes and switches.

However, one of the switches that I never had an opportunity to try were the polarizing Topre switches. There were a lot of people raving about them and on the other hand there were people saying that Topre switches were just expensive rubber domes. I had to find out for myself – but that was an impossible task since I didn’t have friends with Topre boards for me to try out and retail stores here didn’t carry them either. Fortunately, I had a friend in Japan last week and thanks to him, I have one of the most iconic 60% keyboards in existence – the HHKB Professional 2.

While I had never tried Topre before, I was a fan of the keyboard’s design and layout so that made it an easy buy for me. Also, I figured, if I wasn’t a fan of Topre I would have no problems reselling it on the secondhand market. Turns out, I don’t even need to consider that option because man, I’m in love with the switches. Tactility is different compared to the almost non-existent bump on MX Browns, and it’s at the top of the key press instead of midway. It feels great to type on – each keypress when bottoming out gives a nice, solid ‘thock’ that sounds like music to my ears.

In terms of aesthetics, the retro colorway and non-gamer Sans Serif font is perfect for such a timeless keyboard that hasn’t really changed since 1996. Despite it having a plastic shell, the keyboard feels extremely sturdy and is heavier than I expected.

The learning curve is pretty much zero, since I’m used to 60% boards and I’ve been using a similar layout for the past few months. My only real complaint with the keyboard is that my control key rattles more than I’d like it to. Other than that, I love the HHKB Pro 2 so far. It’s only my first day with the keyboard but I can see myself using it until it gives up on me (which hopefully won’t be any time soon!).

Limited Connectivity

One of the interesting things I experienced growing up is the state of our connectivity. I grew up in an age where internet access was non-existent, available and slow, fast, and now prevalent. These days, if we didn’t have internet access on our phones, we’d feel extremely lost and disconnected. It never used to be the case. Internet connectivity used to be a privilege, a bonus and now it’s a requirement. No, this isn’t going to be a post about how kids these days are constantly glued to their screens at dinner (I’m guilty of such behavior; damn you Six Match, why are you so addictive?) – it’s just something that I thought of while trying to connect to a public wifi hotspot today.

There’s nothing wrong with using an internet-less computer. In fact, it helps with productivity. I can imagine if I was online now, I’d be watching Liquid vs OG at DAC instead of writing this blog post. So it’s alright to have no connectivity every now and then. I’ll just catch the NoobfromUA highlights tonight. It’s times like these I’m glad to have my music collection stored locally. Although I’ve used Spotify in the past, it hasn’t replaced my need to have music on my hard disk. Just knowing for sure that I can play any song I like without having to worry about my internet connection or if Spotify’s servers are working is a good feeling. Sure, it’s a hassle to collect discographies of obscure artists, and my music collection takes up a lot of disk space – but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Over lunch, there was a short conversation about tour guides and how it’s not something a lot of people enjoy these days. I hypothesized it was due to the availability of information on the internet. If you were to visit a brand new country in the coming week, I’m sure you could do a quick search to find out places you should visit, things you should avoid and so on. Then, from the comfort of your own home you could plan your whole trip without having to rely on a tour guide. Benefits of your own trip? Not having to do things you don’t want to do and being able to set your own schedule (nobody wants to wake up at seven, especially when you’re on holiday).

The internet is wonderful, and I would dread going back to a life without it. It can help you with your work, yet it can hamper your progress as well. It’s all about self-control and moderation. Don’t let it turn into a vice – it should be a tool.

RIP Uber Malaysia

So it was announced yesterday that Grab had finalized the deal to purchase Uber in the region and not long after that, I started receiving emails from the company informing me about it. As of now the Uber app still works (I checked, it will stop working on April 8th), so I guess I can still use my weekly promo codes to get around.

While I have no opinion on monopolies (it has never really affected me since I am an informed consumer who makes choices based on research and opinions), I think it’s kinda shitty that Uber had to fold to its only competitor in the region. After all, Grab was a copycat of Uber – it makes me wonder how an imitator could outdo the original so easily.

My favorite feature about Uber was its global presence – it didn’t matter which country in the world I was in, I could use the same app on my phone to get a ride. Since I don’t go overseas so often anymore, I guess it’s not much of an issue. But coming this April, I’ll have to install Grab on my phone. I have an account which I used once because I had a promo code, haven’t touched it since.

I’m not sure if Grab does the same thing, but I enjoyed receiving promo codes every week for free short distance trips. Great for going to Mid Valley on those days where I didn’t feel like looking for parking. Also, I took Uber rides just because of the promo codes.

I don’t have any complaints about Uber – it has saved me loads of money since I didn’t have to get scammed by non English-speaking taxi drivers in foreign countries. It also saved me the trouble of directing drivers to my destination since the address would be on their phones. I’ve only had one bad experience using Uber here (dude followed Waze blindly, getting me to the airport later than I had planned) and it wasn’t the app’s fault (a shitty driver is a shitty driver). So with a heavy heart, I bid Uber farewell. Grab, make me happy about the buyout.

A handy guide to Windows shortcuts

Whenever I watch someone demonstrate something to me on their computer and they navigate through clunky menus instead of using shortcut keys, it irks me. So in honor of those people who aren’t using their computers efficiently, I’ve decided to write a handy shortcut guide to make their lives better. I’ll keep it as general as possible and include only commonly used programs. If you have suggestions for any other shortcuts, let me know and I’ll consider adding them to the list. Here we go!

Windows 10
These should work on older versions of Windows as well – also, you should have upgraded if you haven’t already.
Windows + D : minimizes all your programs to reveal your desktop. Great ‘boss key’, also great if you need to access something on your desktop without minimizing every open window.
Windows + M : minimizes your current window
Windows (to open the start menu) then type the name of the program you want to launch : this should let you launch the program of your choice without having to click through multiple menus or look for icons on your desktop. It should work for most programs installed on your computer. If it doesn’t work, you can use the shortcut below.
Windows + R : brings up the run dialog which will allow you to run or open any file on your computer. Most of the time you will need to get the filename of the program correctly i.e. winword for Microsoft Word, not word.
Windows + E : opens Windows Explorer. Something I use on a daily basis, and I’m sure you will too.
Windows + Left/Down/Up/Right : snaps the window to the corresponding edge of the screen. Windows 10 will also allow you to select another program to fill the other side of the screen if there are any available for you to choose from. It will also allow you to move windows across multiple monitors. Down will restore and minimize, while up will maximize the window.
Windows + L : log out of Windows. Great for when you need to leave your PC unattended without having to sleep it or shut it down.
Windows + . : brings up the emoji menu for you to easily insert emojis into whatever you’re typing.

Alt + F4 : exit the current program. When you have no programs open, this will bring up the dialog for shutting down your computer.
Alt + Tab : cycle through your running programs.
Windows + Tab : cycle through your current programs with a larger preview, also gives you the option to create additional desktops on your monitor.
Alt + Space : brings up the menu bar for your current window. From here you can hit the shortcut keys to Restore, Minimize, Maximize, or Close it.

Ctrl + Backspace : delete a word. This saves you so much time. Make it a habit. It allows you to easily erase words instead of tapping the backspace key multiple times. You can also double-click a word to select it and hit backspace/delete to achieve the same effect. This shortcut deletes characters from where the cursor is until the next space on the left.
Ctrl + Delete : Same as above, except it deletes instead, so it will delete characters from where the cursor is until the next space on the right.
Ctrl + Escape : Brings up the start menu. If for some reason your Windows key is broken and you want to bring up the start menu, this shortcut will do that for you.
Ctrl + Left/Right : this shortcut lets you jump through your text word by word instead of letter by letter. It will place your cursor to the beginning of the next or previous word. Words are clumps of texts separated by spaces or punctuation.

Ctrl + Shift + Left/Right : highlights text, one word at a time.
Shift + Left/Right/Up/Down : highlights text, one character at a time.
You can also use Home/End/Page Up/Page Down with the shortcuts above for bigger jumps.
These shortcuts also work in Excel, letting you select cells instead of words.

Windows Explorer
Ctrl + Shift + N : create a new folder.
Shift + Delete : delete a file or folder without sending it to the recycle bin. Be careful when using this – I’ve deleted files that I didn’t want to delete using this method before. Fortunately I could just download them again.
F2 : rename selected file or folder.
Ctrl + Click : add a file or folder to your current selection.
Shift + Click : add files or folders from the current position and everything in between where you click to your current selection.
Alt + D : jump to the address bar – in the event you would like to type out a location instead of manually navigating to it.
Shift + Double click : open a folder in a new window.
Ctrl + Drag : create a copy of selected items at the location you drag to.
Shift + Drag : move selected items to the location you drag to.

The shortcuts above should improve your Windows experience significantly once you have memorized them. Here are some additional shortcuts for some commonly used programs. More will be added in the future.

Google Chrome
Ctrl + W : closes the current tab.
Ctrl + Tab : jumps to the next tab.
Ctrl + Shift + Tab : jumps to the previous tab.
Ctrl + T : opens a new tab.
Ctrl + Shift + N : opens an incognito window.
Ctrl + F5 : forces a complete refresh of the current page.
F5 / Ctrl + R : refreshes the current page.
Ctrl + N : opens a new window.
Ctrl + 9 : jumps to the last tab.
Ctrl + 1 - 8 : jumps to tab 1-8.
Ctrl + -/= : zooms in or out of the page.
Ctrl + 0 : resets the zoom.
Ctrl + click on link : opens a link in a new tab. Can also be accomplished by clicking a link with your middle mouse button.
Shift + click on link : opens a link in a new window.
Alt + D or F6 : places your cursor on the address bar and selects the URL, allowing you to easily copy/paste/or type in the address bar.
Ctrl + J : opens your downloads page.
Ctrl + H : opens your history page.
Ctrl + F / F3 : search the current page.
Ctrl + D : add the current page to your favorites.

VLC
Space : play/pause a video
Shift + Left/Right : jump back or forward a few seconds.
Ctrl + Left/Right : jump back or forward a minute.
T : displays the time remaining for the current video.
Mouse scroll up/down : increases/lowers volume.
M : mute.
F : toggle fullscreen mode.

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.

FocusWriter

You know what’s better than owning a nice keyboard? Having things to type on it. Something about hitting keys and watching characters appear on the screen is so satisfying. It also helps that both my hobbies and work requires me to type.

These days I write my blog posts in a program called FocusWriter (btw when did the term app come to replace programs? I use it to differentiate programs on phones/tablets with desktop programs but I believe they are interchangeable now). I discovered it a few years ago when I saw it being recommended for writers to use during Nanowrimo. It has a handy wordcount feature at the bottom which helps you mark your progress for the day (you can decide what your daily goal is).

It is extremely customizable in terms of looks – it even comes with some preset themes for you to use (I created a blank one for myself and increased the font size due to the default size being too small on a high-resolution display). Other than the basic dictionary and chapter dividers, it’s a pretty barebones writing program that gets the job done. It maximizes itself (you can’t change this) so it completely covers your desktop, including your taskbar; to keep you free from distractions. No more blinking icons or pop ups on your screen until you alt+tab away from the software. I guess it is named FocusWriter for a reason.

However, it’s not magic. It won’t make you write better or suddenly fill your head with ideas. No program can do that. But for what it sets out to accomplish, it gets the job done. Since I learned how useful it was to have a distraction-free workspace to get my writing done for my first Nanowrimo, I’ve been using it to write everything else (except those days when I felt like writing directly into WordPress’ editor. It’s now one of the programs I need installed on any computer I use to write.

It’s free (donations are encouraged) with no adverts, stable and bug-free. It’s definitely not for everyone – if you need to have multiple windows side by side while you write, FocusWriter isn’t for you. But if you just want a blank space while you transfer all your ideas from your head to the screen, you should check it out.

FocusWriter is available now for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
[Official Site]

Macroblogging and Dead Links

Every now and then, I read through some old posts on my blog and go through the comments section. Commenting on blogs used to be a thing. I remember. That’s how I made some friends on the internet. These days, people just comment on the Facebook post about the link instead. If not comments, you just get likes or some reactions.

I guess it’s just how things have evolved. Back then there was no such thing as microblogging. The only way you could update people about your life was through MSN nickname statuses or blogs. I remember, almost everybody had a blog back then. It was the normal thing to do. Now I think having a blog is probably out of fashion. But that’s okay, it’s my way of practicing writing and putting out whatever is in my head.

Anyway, back then when people commented on my blog, they would leave links to their own blog so I could check them out. That was one way of meeting new people online. I could check out their writing and if I found it interesting, I’d leave a comment and link their page if I liked it enough. Friendships would live and grow in the comments sections of posts.

I guess all the long breaks I took in between blogging kinda killed off the steam and interest people had in visiting this page. Blogging is kinda like the YouTube of the past. If content creators don’t constantly churn out new content, they’d be forgotten. It was even worse for blogs because unless you had an RSS reader or subscribed to email updates, you wouldn’t have any way of telling whether the blog had new posts short of manually checking it out yourself. At least with YouTube you get emails or notifications on the site itself telling you about new videos on channels you subscribed to.

But then again, who has time to read these days? I’m blogging for an audience of less than ten people daily (haha) but that’s okay. It feels good to write anyway. And I might as well make up for all the times I didn’t blog in the past. I mean, keep throwing shit against the wall until something sticks right?

I don’t even read many blogs these days. I do read a lot of posts on Facebook though. It’s the modern version of blogging. And I don’t have to exit Facebook to read them. I guess that was the Zuck’s plan all along – keep everybody on the site so they don’t have to leave.

Anyway I was prompted to write this post when I was clicking on links left by people who used to comment on my blog and realized that they were all dead links. IMO blogging died when everybody started doing advertorials instead of content about their lives. Shout out to Albert for keeping it real!

Erase Me

Remember the days when internet marketing wasn’t so prevalent? Marketing campaigns made use of word of mouth or print and television to spread the word. I remember when The Sixth Sense was showing in the cinemas. Everywhere I saw advertisements for the movie with the message plastered “Don’t tell anybody the ending.” I thought that was a pretty cool way to market the movie. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t manage to catch it in the cinema. I only saw it many years later when it was showing on Astro. By then I had already known about the ending so it wasn’t impactful to me. However I appreciated what it did.

Other movies that received similar buzz with its marketing tactics were far and few in between. The most prominent ones I can remember – Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. I never got sucked into the hype that these movies generated, but for the latter two, I enjoyed seeing how people reacted to all the marketing campaign activities thanks to the internet. It was a lot harder to keep track of those things pre-social media. These days, everything gets hyped up on social media, and it’s hard to tell whether something is worth your time or not *cough*Black Panther*cough*. Anyway, thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to spread the news to everybody you know.

Recently I noticed it being used in music (it might have been done a long time ago, but not for bands I cared about). Brand New did something crazy by just pushing their album out online, ahead of their release dates. Fans and critics lapped it up. They debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts. Today, I saw on Reddit, a thread where a Redditor received a mysterious CD in the mail. The CD contained a sample of a song and written on it was a URL for a website, where a countdown is going on right now. Based on the font on the website and the font on Underoath’s Twitter banner, people have come to the conclusion that it was a teaser for the band’s next record.

As of this time of writing, the countdown still has 1 day and 7 hours to go. It’s been a while since the last Underoath record, so I’d be stoked if they announced their next one. Here’s to hoping they pull off a Brand New and push it out on the same day instead of just announcing it. It’s been too long! Also, I guess this is me playing my part in putting the word out about a possible new Underoath record. Funny how nobody asked me to do it, yet here I am typing away. Woot.

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.

Supreme Master of Loving Huts

In today’s episode about technology, we’ll talk about going down the never-ending rabbit hole that is the internet. Have you ever found yourself on a site or a video where you read a comment or you think to yourself, “How the hell did I end up here?” The depths of YouTube, some call it. It also happens when you’re browsing Wikipedia or TVTropes. It’s not something new. I’m sure everybody has been down that road at least once in their lives. I think it’s been prevalent ever since the dawn of the internet. Just that these days, our internet speeds are so fast that it becomes trivial clicking on a link because you don’t have to wait for anything to load. My trip today took me to some interesting places.

I was doing some research on Indonesia for work today, and found out that the country was known for having birds of paradise. I decided to then look up if there were any cartoons featuring birds of paradise. I entered it into Google and a few links to the same animation pops up. Oh cool, there’s one cartoon about the topic. I decided to check it out. While watching the intro to the animation, I started reading the description of the video. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that it was attributed to a story by “Supreme Master Ching Hai”. That piqued my interest. I mean, come on – who wouldn’t want to look up information about someone called the Supreme Master?

And that’s where the rabbit hole begin. It started from me reading a Wikipedia entry about this person, putting their name in Google, looking up some Reddit threads and watching some YouTube videos. So, today I learned about the Supreme Master Ching Hai, her story, her mission, and her chain of restaurants around the world. I’d do a write-up about her, but Phoenix New Times already has a well-written piece on her that covers everything you need to know and how I feel about it, and there’s nothing else I can add with my limited knowledge on the subject. I quote from the article:

“In one such setting, Hai informed her supporters that crop circles are a kind of alien road sign through which extraterrestrials leave messages for each other. In another, she contended that the pyramids are meant to act as lighthouses for UFOs, showing them where to land safely.”

However, I learned something from today’s little adventure: while I (and a lot of other people) may find it easy to make fun of or laugh at an outrageous religion, it’s only because I know so little about it. Not that I’m an expert on other religions, but the fact that it is new compared to other religions, it hasn’t had enough time to settle in the world as something that’s accepted worldwide. Just like Scientology, except that the Quan Yin followers don’t seem intent on doing horrible things to its members or other people in society. They’re just vegans who are fanatic about their Supreme Master. Maybe one day they’ll turn violent and start terrorizing people, but for now they seem like a pretty chill bunch. Maybe in the year 5000, those religions will still be around and they’ll be as accepted as Christianity or Islam, who knows?

Start a religion so you can sell merchandise and stay exempt from taxes (the Supreme Master has her own line of jewelry and artwork available). Seems like a pretty good business model. Anyway, if you spend your money on such things, you probably deserve to have that money taken from you.

Other interesting things I discovered going down the rabbit hole today: she actually has a sizable following here in Malaysia. There’s a Loving Hut outlet in Malaysia (which I’m keen on checking out, even if it means supporting her), and last year there was a screening of one of her musicals in KL. Today I experienced the same feeling I did when I discovered that there were Mormons and Scientologists here in our country. I don’t even know why I was surprised. Anyway, like my favorite saying goes: you learn something new everyday.

If you’re keen on learning more about the Supreme Master and her teachings – there’s the Supreme Master TV channel streaming her content 24 hours a day: