Nicholas Rinard Keene's Little Bit

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Will The Circle Be Unbroken

On the floor underneath the window
I sat with Dolly and I played
All the adults there were gathered
Because grandma had passed away

Outside the doorway, they met a stranger
And they spoke with voices low
Then my mamma called out to me saying
That it was time to go

And we all loaded in the car and
My daddy told me to behave
But my mamma put her arms around me
And she told me to be brave

After the service we went back home but
I'd lost Dolly, she was gone
All my aunts and uncles crying
Oh, we all felt so alone

Then they gathered us children round them
And they led us in a song
Words of joy that grandma taught them 
So that we could all be strong

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by oh by and by
On the earth and in the ocean
And in the sky oh in the sky

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Ordinary Layout for the Ergodox EZ, a familiar and powerful layout

The Ordinary Layout, a familiar and powerful layout

I bought an Ergodox EZ keyboard and it's pretty sweet. With advanced keyboards like this users can reprogram how the keys behave -- what keystrokes are sent when buttons are pressed.

The default layout which the keyboard comes preprogrammed with was, in my opinion, a bit discombobulated. It was hard to understand and many keys were in locations that felt foreign to me. Working on my own layout, I put almost all the keys back in their ordinary positions. I call it The Ordinary Layout and full documentation is included with it over on Github.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ergodox EZ Keyboard Review

The Ergodox EZ is the newest and most accessible iteration of the Ergodox keyboard. Previously the keyboard was only available as a kit, requiring the purchaser to solder together the pieces and assemble the unit. The EZ is the end result of an Indiegogo campaign to take the open-source design and mass produce it -- or, if not quite mass produce it, at least deliver it as a single finished product.

The bottom line is that this is a wonderful keyboard. The short time I have spent with it has placed this input device above my previous favorite keyboards, the Fingerworks Touchstream and the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard.


The EZ is split into two separate pieces with a large cluster of keys underneath each thumb plus a few extra buttons in the middle. This arrangement will look strange to people who use common keyboards, but to users of the Touchstream or TEK it will feel familiar.

For now, though, forget about the extra buttons and focus on the arrangement: the keys are arranged in columns instead of the staggered arrangement of common keyboards. Columnar layout is the essential feature of any keyboard that I will consider using, or which I would describe as ergonomic. Users of traditional keyboards think it's weird, but those users are wrong: columnar arrangement is the only way any keyboard should ever be designed. The Touchstream, TEK, and Ergodox keyboards all use columnar arrangements.

The worst part of the design of common keyboards, other than the staggered buttons, is that they assign all the important special keys to the weak pinky fingers, and assign the singleton spacebar to both of the strong, dextrous thumbs. The EZ largely corrects this by explicitly assigning a bunch of keys to the thumbs -- different keys for each thumb. Certainly at least the four big keys in the thumb areas are intended for touch typing with the thumbs, but also the buttons on the bottom row of the main button area. With my layout, I can touch type twelve buttons with my two thumbs.

Also, there are the four large extra buttons in the middle of the layout. Some EZ users have modifier keys there, but I put the extraneous symbol characters there (slashes and brackets). Whatever characters are put there, they increase the utility of the dextrous index fingers.

I love the key arrangement. I think it is close to perfect.


One critique of the Ergodox kits was that the cases were often 3D-printed which resulted in a chintzy look and feel. No such problem exists with this keyboard. It feels solid, the manufacturing lines are clean, the plastic looks good.

The keyboard uses a standard mini-USB cable to connect to the computer, and a standard TRRS cable to connect the two halves. If one of the cables fails over time it can be replaced with an inexpensive commodity one. Compare this to the Fingerworks and TEK keyboards, which each used a hardwired USB cable. If that cable failed, you would have to discard the whole keyboard or resolder a new cable. The EZ has no such downside.

The EZ can be purchased with little legs which allow users to tilt the keyboard to any comfortable angle. I did not buy those so I can't review them. If I had to do it again, maybe I would buy them, but I feel comfortable with a flat keyboard.

The keyboard uses standard MX switches which are well known with a good reputation. I got the printed keycaps which means I got "DSA" caps, which all have an identical shape. I had no trouble getting used to the shape of the caps immediately.

Purchasers have a choice of keyswitches. I have two keyboards with brown and blue switches, but for the EZ I close clear switches. This is purely personal opinion, but I wish I'd stuck with brown, which require a little bit more pressure to push down. The clears are a bit flaccid for my immediate appreciation, but perhaps over time I will come to love them best. In any case, the switches work perfectly as intended, so there is no problem with their quality.

I consider the build quality to be very good.


The kind of person who is interested in a three-hundred dollar two-piece keyboard is also likely to be interested in modifying the layout of the keys. I sure was! I will detail my personal layout in another blog post, but let me say that the process of changing the layout was easy. There's a little piece of software to download, available for Linux and Mac and (also Windows, if you have Windows for some reason). I ran the software on both Mac and Linux. It worked fine with the caveat that on Linux you should run the software as root or else configure your environment to allow the software to have the permissions it needs. If you don't do that, it will just quietly ignore the EZ.

Anyone comfortable with git and a text editor can follow directions and have whatever layout they want.

The keyboard ships with an extra couple keycaps so that you can put blanks into places where printed caps previously were.

Because it is easily programmable, I give the EZ an A+ for layout, but I don't actually like the default layout very much at all. There didn't seem to be a coherent overall plan to where the keys went, but I changed mine to work exactly how I think it should.

Room for improvement

So I really love this keyboard but is it the last keyboard I can ever imagine wanting? Is it absolutely perfect? No. Here are my wishes for improvement:

  • Backlit keyboards are more useful than dark keyboards. I wish all keyboards were backlit with individual LEDs underneath each key.
  • Instead of a TRRS cable connecting the two halves it should be a USB cable because USB cables are easier to find than TRRS cables.
  • The EZ ships with sturdy, high-quality plastic cables. I agree with another review I saw which said braided cables would lend a classy feel to the whole product.
  • While we're talking about cables, I think it's awesome when keyboards sport a pair of USB ports too. We had that in the 1990s, why don't we have that anymore?
  • Many keyboards have an Escape key which is physically separated from the rest of the layout, usually way up and to the left of the top left of the main button area. The EZ lets you put Escape anywhere you want, and that's awesome, but where I want it to be in that far away place. I would also ship the keyboard with a bright red button for Escape.
  • Although they sent me two blank extra keycaps, I ended up needing four. I wish I had a couple extra blanks or had single-size keys with printed text for Home, End, Page Up, Page Down. Right now I have keycaps printed with brackets where my Page Up and Down keys are.
  • The default layout really leaves a lot to be desired. It has some innovative and useful features, but then falls flat in placement.


Like I said at the top, the bottom line is that this is a really good input device, instantly my favorite compared to the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard which I have been using recently. I like it so much at the office that I might buy a second one (with the tilt feet and brown switches) for home.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Raisins Are Yummy

You probably don't like raisins. You probably think raisins are, meh, kind of gross because most of the raisins you have eaten in your life came in a Red Box, given to you by your parents when you were a child. Those raisins were gross (all agreed) and they were the only ones you ever ate, so you concluded that raisins are gross.

Lo! Gather around and listen because I am here to tell you that *only* Red Box Raisins are gross. Almost all other raisins are delicious! If you are an adult who hasn't eaten raisins since you were a child, then next time you are at the store treat yourself to some good ones. Look for "Jumbo" or "Thompson" raisins, buy the physically largest ones you can find, and try to get them in transparent plastic packaging instead of cardboard boxes.

If you still think they are gross, drop off your extra raisins at my house.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Burger King Black Burger

Back during Halloween season, Burger King in America offered a "black burger" which had previously been test marketed in Japan, but America's version had white seeds on the bun and the cheese was normal instead of dyed black. Although it is strange that America would get the less gross version of a food item, I went to try it anyway. This time I didn't have my friends who normally accompany me to fast-food restaurants, so this one is pure solo.

The burger was... fine, unremarkable. It tasted exactly like the last burger I remember having at Burger King, lo many moons ago. The only difference with this one is that I did, in fact, experience the widely reported next-day symptoms. How good is an unremarkable Burger King burger? In my opinion, not very good. They are good enough to eat if you are hungry, or if you are going out of your way to participate in a special promotion, but they are below average even for fast-food burgers.

Monday, December 14, 2015

That "fax" from 847-370-4912 is spam

I received a "fax" from the phone number 847-370-4912. Suspecting that it was a phishing attack, I opened the Word document in a safe place. Sure enough, it contained only gibberish with, presumably, some kind of hidden macro or something.

So click 'spam' and forget about it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Things that make iMovie hard to use

I used a previous version of iMovie on a Mac, then I have used OpenShot on Ubuntu. Today I tried to use the apparently 'new' version of iMovie on a newer Mac and I am flummoxed at how impossible it is to do anything.

1. When I add a title, why aren't there any options for how the title behaves? It fades in, which is what I want, but then it fades out, which is not what I want. Is it impossible to stop the fade, or is the option just impossible to find?

2. I want to know what time in the video the title should start, so I put my cursor over that point in the video. Why isn't the time shown anywhere? Am I the only person who uses times when arranging clips?

3. It is possible to trim the edges of a clip by dragging the edges. I know it's possible because it suddenly worked once I increased the "clip size" to the maximum. So why not allow users to use that feature when the clip size is not the maximum? It seems like maybe people other than me would want that, too.

4. I want to change the bounds of the title box. Is this possible? I can't find any way to do it. I have to assume it's possible, so why isn't it as easy as "drag the corners of the box" or "click 'properties' then set the size"?

5. You know what, after spending some time looking, I'm actually ready to say that I don't think iMovie lets you change the title box bounds or position. Seriously?

Okay, I give up. Thirty minutes of trying to put text on a movie clip is too long. I'm going to go use OpenShot which at least has a minimum set of features. I won't try iMovie again this decade.