Some things I have been meaning to write about but haven't

So… I have a few posts that I’ve sort of been working on, but they’re involved. I have others that I just haven’t been motivated to actually work on; motivation in general has been difficult lately. And there have been some things I’ve played with or thought about recently, but I just can’t figure out a way to sort of give those things the narrative structure that I hope for when I’m writing here.

Revisiting the travel chess computer

Computers are interesting things. When we think of computers, we tend to think of general-purpose computers – our laptops, smartphones, servers and mainframes, things that run a vast array of programs composed of hundreds of thousands of instructions spanning a multitude of chips. When I was younger, general-purpose computers were more-or-less hobbyist items for home users. Single-purpose computers still exist everywhere, but there was certainly a time when having a relatively cheap, often relatively small computing device for a specific task was either preferable to doing that task on a general-purpose computer, or perhaps the only way to do it. Something like a simple four-function calculator was a far more commonplace device before our phones became more than just phones.

Chess poses an interesting problem here. By modern standards, it doesn’t take much to make a decently-performing chess computer. The computer I’ll be discussing later in this post, the Saitek Kasparov Travel Champion 21001 runs on a 10MHz processor with 1KB of RAM and 32KB of program ROM (including a large opening library). It plays at a respectable ~2000 ELO2. This was released in 1994, a time when the general-purpose computer was becoming more of a household item. The Pentium had just been released; a Micron desktop PC with a 90MHz Pentium and 8MB of RAM was selling for $2,499 (the equivalent of $4,988 in 2022, adjusting for inflation)3. 486s were still available; a less-capable but still well-kitted-out 33MHz 486 with 4MB of RAM went for $1,399 ($2,797 in 2020 dollars). Chessmaster 4000 Turbo would run on one of these 486s, albeit without making the recommended specs. It cost $59.95 ($119.85 in 2020 dollars)4, and while it’s hard to get a sense of the ELO it performed at, players today still seem to find value in all of the old Chessmaster games; they may not play at an advanced club level, but they were decent engines considering they were marketed to the general public. A more enthusiast-level software package, Fritz 3, was selling for 149 DEM5, which I can’t really translate to 2020 USD, but suffice it to say… it wasn’t cheap. Fritz 3 advertised a 2800 ELO6; a tester at the time estimated it around 2440 ELO. Interestingly, when that tester turned Turbo off, reducing their machine from a 50MHz 486 to 4.77MHz, ELO only dropped by about 100 points.

All of this is to say that capable chess engines don’t need a ton of processing power. At a time when general-purpose computers weren’t ubiquitous in the home, a low-spec dedicated chess computer made a lot of sense. The earliest dedicated home chess computers resembled calculators, lacking boards and only giving moves via an LED display, accepting them via button presses. Following this were sensory boards, accepting moves via pressure sensors under the spaces. These were available in full-sized boards as well as travel boards, the latter of which used small pegged pieces on proportionally small boards with (typically clamshell) lids for travel.

In 2022, we all have incredibly powerful computers on our desks, in our laps, and in our purses. Stockfish 15, one of the most powerful engines available, is free open source software. is an incredible resource even at the free level, powered by the commercially-available Komodo engine. Full-size electronic boards still exist, which can interface with PCs or dedicated chess computers. Some of these products are pretty neat – DGT makes boards that recognize every piece and Raspberry Pi-based computers built into chess clocks. There is an undying joy in being able to play an AI (or an online opponent) on a real, physical, full-sized board.

The market for portable chess computers has pretty much dried up, however. Pegboard travel sets eventually gave way to LCD handhelds with resistive touchscreens and rather janky segment-based piece indicators. These were more compact than the pegboards, and they required less fiddling7 and setup. The advent of the smartphone, however, really made these into relics; a good engine on even the lowest-end modern phone is just a better experience in every single way. On iOS, tChess powered by the Stobor engine is a great app at the free level, and its pro features are well-worth the $8 asking price. The aforementioned app is excellent as well.

When I was quite young, I improved my chess skills by playing on a 1985 Novag Piccolo that my parents got me at a local flea market. I loved this pegboard-based computer – the sensory board which indicated moves via rank-and-file LEDs, the minimalist set of button inputs, even the company’s logo. It was just a cool device. It is, of course, a pretty weak machine. Miniaturization and low-power chips just weren’t at the state that they are now, and travel boards suffered significantly compared to their full-sized contemporaries. The Piccolo has been user rated around 900 ELO, it doesn’t know things like threefold repetition, and lacks opening books.

I’ve been trying to get back into chess, and I decided that I wanted a pegboard chess computer. Even though the feeling pales in comparison to a full-sized board, I don’t have a ton of space, I tend to operate out of my bed, and I have that nostalgic itch for something resembling my childhood Novag. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve much beyond the capabilities of said Novag during the pegboard era. I would still love to find one of the few decent pegboard Novags – the Amber or Amigo would be nice finds. But I ended up getting a good deal on a computer I had done some research on, the aforementioned Saitek Kasparov Travel Champion 2100 (from hereon simply referred to as the 2100).

I knew the 2100 was a decent little computer with a near-2000 ELO8 and a 6000 half-move opening library. I liked that it offered both a rank-and-file LED readout and a coordinate readout on its seven-segment LCD. Knowing that these pegboard computers struggled to achieve parity with their full-sized counterparts, I was pretty surprised to find some above-and-beyond features that I was familiar with from PC chess engines. The LCD can show a wealth of information, including a continuous readout of what the computer thinks the best move is. A coaching mode is present, where the computer will warn you when pieces are under attack and notify you if it believes you’ve made a blunder. A random mode is present, choosing the computer’s moves randomly from its top handful of best options instead of always choosing what it believes is the best of the best. You can select from themed opening books or disable the opening library entirely. These are all neat features that I really wasn’t expecting from a pegboard computer9.

I can see why the 2100 tends to command a high price on the secondary market – if you want a traditional pegboard chess computer, it seems like a hard one to beat. I’m certainly intrigued by some of the modern solutions – the roll-up Square Off PRO looks incredibly clever10. But for a compact yet tactile solution that I can tune down to my current skill level or allow to absolutely blast me, the 2100 checks a lot of unexpected boxes. As I mentioned, these travel units died out for good reason; I can play a quick game on against Komodo and get an incredibly detailed, plain-language analysis afterword that highlights key moments and lets me play out various ‘what if?’ scenarios. I do this nearly every day as of late. Purchasing a nearly-three-decade-old chess computer may have been a silly move. But it’s a different experience compared to poking at at an app on my phone. It’s tactile, it’s uncluttered. It’s scaled down, but there’s still something about just staring at a board and moving pieces around. I still use my phone more, but the 2100 offers something different, and it offers that alongside a decent engine with a flexible interface11. Maybe one of these days someone will come out with a travel eboard, but I doubt it. Solutions like the Square Off PRO are likely the direction portable chess computers are headed. This is fine, it’s a niche market. I’m just glad a handful of decent models were produced during the pegboard era, and I’m happy to have acquired the Saitek Kasparov Travel Champion 2100.

A doughnut in my ear: the Sony Linkbuds

Ever since I saw Techmoan’s video about the new Sony Linkbuds, truly wireless1 earbuds with an open design made possible by virtue of a doughnut-shaped driver, I’ve been enthralled. I always prefer open headphones, which can be tricky when you’re buying things meant to go in your ear. Even within the realm of full-sized, over-the-ear cans, it’s a niche market. People like having a silent, black background. I understand this, but it isn’t for me. For one thing, silence gives me anxiety. For another, the sort of platonic ideal folks tend to have for music – the live performance – is never a silent black box either. Ambient sound exists; even the much-misunderstood 4′33″ by John Cage is more of an exercise in appreciating ambient sound than it is an exercise in silence. Perhaps that’s a pretentious way of looking at things, but this widespread belief that audiophile greatness starts in a vacuum has certainly left the market with a dearth of open designs.

Earbuds themselves are a dying breed. In-ear monitors (IEMs) direct sound through a nozzle directly into the ear canal, where their tips are inserted. This gives a tight physical connection to the sound, and it – once again – isolates the listener from the world better, leading to a more silent experience. I’ve used – and enjoyed – a handful of semi-open IEMs, but… IEM fit is tricky. My ears are different enough in size that I generally need a different tip size for either ear. Even when I do get the ‘right’ fit, it nearly always feels like a delicate balance, and one that requires me to sit a certain way, move very little, and avoid shifting my jaw at all. For quite some time now, I’ve been using Master and Dynamic’s MW-07 Plus. Their design is such that an additional piece of silicone butts up against the back of the ear’s antihelix for additional support, minimizing fit issues significantly. They also sound great. I like these enough that I own three pairs of them2. Getting them seated properly can still be an issue, though, and… they aren’t open. They do provide an ‘ambient listening’ mode that’s sort of a reverse of active noise cancelling – using the inbuilt microphones to pick up ambient noise and inject it into the stream. It’s better than nothing. A new problem has started to manifest with the MW-07s in which that additional piece of silicone doesn’t always fit over the IEM tightly enough, and it obscures the sensor that detects whether or not the IEM is in your ear. The result has been a lot of unintentional pausing, and a lot of frustration.

I spend a fair amount of time listening to a Walkman or a DAP using full-size cans (generally Sennheiser HD-650s), but I also do like the convenience of casual listening from my stupid phone with no headphone jack via Bluetooth. Right now, this means either one of my several pairs of MW-07s, or the weird little doughnuts that are the Sony Linkbuds. I’ve been putting the Linkbuds through their paces for a couple of weeks now, and they’ve quickly become my favorite solution for casual listening. I will get into their caveats – which are not minor – but the TL;DR is that they sound good enough, they fit well, and they’re just… pleasant to use. I know the hot take is to say that Sony lost their flair for innovation and experimentation in the ‘90s or whatever, but they are still doing interesting things. It may not be particularly impressive on a technical level, but someone still had to greenlight the R&D for designing a custom doughnut-shaped driver for the Linkbuds. It’s a shot in the dark for an already-niche product market. These aren’t going to be for everyone, but if the idea of a truly wireless earbud with a gaping hole in the middle to allow ambient sound in is appealing to you – I think Sony did good.


To start, the Linkbuds are extremely comfortable. Unlike any IEM I’ve used, they quickly disappear from my ear. If I shake my head, I’ll notice the weight there, but they stay in place fine. Being earbuds instead of IEMs, there are no tips to worry about sizing. But like the MW-07s, there is an additional bit of silicone – in this case, a tiny little hoop that catches behind the top of the antihelix. These are included in five sizes, and they help with positioning enough that choosing the ‘wrong’ size is detrimental to sound and not just the security of the earbud in the ear. They seem too flimsy to do anything, but they’re vital to the fit, and that flimsiness ensures that they remain light and comfortable. Aftermarket manufacturers are selling replacements for these; I’ve acquired some pink ones to make them a bit more me. The amount of silicone contacting the skin is low enough to keep itchiness to a minimum during extended wear – a discomfort that became a reality after wearing the MW-07s for long stretches.


The Linkbuds are not an audiophile-grade experience. Compared to the MW-07s, they’re… thin. But they don’t sound bad, they don’t sound particularly cheap or tinny. Their sound is rather hard to describe. Some folks have done frequency response charting3 of them, and… yeah the low end rolls off early and it rolls off hard. This can be compensated for quite serviceably with the inbuilt equalizer (more on this shortly), but these are never going to hit you with thick sub-bass. Music that relies heavily on this will sound a bit thin. Occasionally, a piece of pop music like Kero Kero Bonito’s ‘Waking Up’ will surprise me in just how much the production leans on the low-end. But for the most part, the equalizer gets the upper bass present enough that music tends to sound full enough to be satisfying.

There is one really peaky little frequency range somewhere in the 2500Hz band. I first noticed it on µ-Ziq’s ‘Blainville’, the repeating squeal noise was… unbearable. This manifested in a few other tracks as well4, but was also tameable through equalization. Beyond these frequency response issues, it’s tricky to talk about the sound of them. They sound big. Not necessarily in terms of soundstage, but the scope of the reproduced sound itself feels more like it’s coming from large cans firing haphazardly into my ears than tiny little doughnuts resting precisely inside them. I assume this can largely be attributed to the good fit – I’ve used high-end wired earbuds like the Hifiman ES1005, and when they’re properly positioned they sound great… but keeping them properly positioned is tough. Soundstage is fine, imaging is fine. I actually enjoy them quite a bit for well-recorded classical, particularly pieces for chamber ensembles. In a recording like Nexus and Sō Percussion’s performance of Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ, not only do the instruments feel like they exist in a physical space, you can almost sense where on the instrument a given note is being struck.

The app

I’ve mentioned the equalizer twice now, but before I can talk about that, I have to talk about the app. In general, a product is less appealing to me if it involves an app – this tends to mean some functionality only exists in a terrible piece of software that probably won’t exist anymore in three years. This is true of the Linkbuds as well, but two things make me reluctant to care about it: the functionality feels pretty set-it-and-forget-it to me, and they’re already bound to a phone by virtue of design. The app lets you set quite a few things including some strange 3d spatial stuff that I haven’t tested, a listening profile designed to liven up low-bitrate lossy compression, and integration with other apps. This integration is very limited, only supporting Spotify (which you shouldn’t do) and a few other things I hadn’t heard of6. It also lets you set the language for notifications (for low battery and the like), and upgrade the firmware. Then there’s the equalizer – five bands, plus a vague ‘Clear Bass’ slider. I’ve found I’m happiest with the following settings:

Clear Bass 400Hz 1kHz 2.5kHz 6.3kHz 16kHz
+7 +1 ±0 -4 -3 -3

This obviously isn’t going to work miracles with the sub-bass, but it does bring enough bass presence to make for a fuller sound, and it smooths out that peak in the 2.5kHz band. The equalizer has a bunch of presets, and lets you store three of your own presets. Frustratingly, while the app supports a bunch of different Sony headphones, it’s also a different app than the one used for Sony speakers.

A final thing that the app allows for is the setting of the four tap commands that are available to you – twice or thrice on either Linkbud. These are limited to a handful of presets – one plays/pauses and skips to next track, one is volume up/down, one is next/previous track, etc. I wish these were just fully customizable. I find it easier to adjust volume with the physical buttons on my phone, so I’m using pause/next and next/previous. I’d love to tweak this for a couple of reasons – not having a redundant next command, and swapping the order of next and previous. Regardless, this is more useful than the hardcoded two buttons on my MW-07s. And while tapping on the Linkbuds feels silly vs. pressing an actual button… it is much easier.

A few final notes

Battery life is bad. I get it, the shape of them and the fact that half of the unit is a doughnut-shaped driver means there isn’t much room for a battery. But the reality is that the MW-07s last long enough to get through a workday, and the Linkbuds just… won’t. Which sucks, because getting through each new slogging day of work pretty much requires a constant stream of high-energy music. The case they come in doesn’t have a great battery either, and this is less forgivable.

Compared to the MW-07s, I really like the way the case feels. It’s made of the same plastic as the Linkbuds themselves, which just… has a nice feel to it. The case is also just weighted in a very pleasing weeble-wobbly way. The Linkbuds snap into the case very positively, whereas the MW-07’s just kind of flop into place. The Linkbuds’ case has a single LED, which reports the battery status of the case itself when you open it, and each Linkbud when you snap them into place. It only seems to report vague green and orange levels. The MW-07 case, on the other hand, has three LEDs which clearly correspond to case, and left and right. These LEDs have three vague levels instead of two.

One last silly detail that the Linkbuds get better than the MW-07 is the volume that they use for their own sounds. Tap confirmations and low battery notifications are soft sounds, played at reasonable volumes. The MW-07’s notification for switching on ambient listening mode is just a little too loud, and the low battery notification is absolutely alarming. This is something that a lot of companies seem to neglect – generic units are usually terrible about it. Master and Dynamic certainly tried harder than generic vendors, but Sony did it right. It’s a little thing, but little things add up.

I guess this post largely serves to take away my audiophile cred, but the reality as I age and my life gets more complicated is that there’s listening as an activity and then there’s listening as background. The activity is akin to enjoying a 15-year Macallan Fine Oak while background listening just gets you through the day like a few shots of rail vodka. The Linkbuds serve my casual background listening needs really well, and they sound perfectly fine doing it. They pale in comparison to my Sennheiser IE-800s, but… they’re supposed to. They’re doing a different job. And while my MW-07s may sound better, they’re increasingly not worth the hassle when I want to both listen to music and move my body. I hope Sony makes a second version of these. I want more doughnut-shaped drivers out in the world. I want Sony to really go ham on such an open design. I want Sony to keep being weird. But mostly I just want to know I’ll be able to get a replacement pair a few years down the line, because I think I’m going to want to keep using these for a while.

The low end of the high end

Recently, Techmoan posted a video about his daily driver Walkman. This sort of pushed me to go back and finish this post that I had a half-hearted outline of regarding my daily driver Walkman. I don’t really have an exotic collection; my interesting pieces are along the lines of a My First Sony1 and the WM-EX999, notable for its two playback heads, allowing for precise azimuth settings for both directions of play. I also don’t really take my Walkmans out much; they just hang out near me as I do my day job. What I want out of a ‘daily driver,’ therefore, isn’t something that stands out by being the most compact or affordable. Rather, it’s just reliable, pleasant to use, sounds good, and has the tape select options I need (Dolby B and I/II formulation).

The deck that I’ve ended up on to fill this role is the WM-DD11. Readers familiar with Walkman nomenclature will recognize ‘DD’ as indicative that the deck uses Sony’s Disc Drive mechanism. These mechanisms use a servo-controlled motor that butts up against the capstan via a disc, leaving the sole belt path for the takeup hub. They provide good speed accuracy, largely impervious to rotation and movement of the deck. They’re mechanically simple and quite reliable, with the exception of an infamously fragile piece – the center gear. Made of a deterioration-prone plastic, this gear has failed on essentially every DD Walkman out there. While the decks continue working for some time after the gear cracks, a horrid clicking sound is emitted with every rotation. Some folks fill the inevitable crack with epoxy, buying the gear some time. Replacements are also available. But every DD deck out there either doesn’t work, clicks, or has been repaired in some way or another.

My WM-DD11 does not have any center-gear-related issues, nor has the gear been replaced or repaired. Unlike most DD models2, the WM-DD11 has no center gear. DD models were high-end models, and the WM-DD11 sat in the strange middle-ground of a stripped down, low-end version of a high-end design. This is, to me, what makes the WM-DD11 special. It’s what makes it an interesting conversation piece, and it’s also what makes it a great daily driver. Like most DD models3, it only plays unidirectionally. This is, perhaps, inconvenient for a daily driver, but it also removes the b-side azimuth issue that affects bidirectional models4. Like most DD models, it has manual controls for a couple of tape settings – Dolby B on/off and Type I/Types II & IV. And while it lacks the quartz-lock that some DD models5 had implemented by this point, the standard servo-driven disc drive system is still more accurate and stable than other low-end models of the era.

The similarities largely stop there, though. Pressing ‘play’ on the deck immediately reveals the primary difference – lacking the soft-touch logic controls of most DD models, the WM-DD11 has a mechanical ‘piano-keys’ type transport. Unlike most piano keys, Sony did premium the buttons up a bit by keeping them in the standard DD position, on the face opposite the door. This means there’s a larger mechanical path than if they were positioned directly above the head, though I doubt this complexity really affects reliability much. People often malign mechanical transports, but I rather like the physical connection between button and mechanism. They tend to feel more reliable to me as well; soft-touch mechanisms still have mechanical bits, they just have to be controlled by the integration of some motor.

With the DD models, specifically, this tracks. The cursed gear facilitates things like tape-end detection in the soft-touch DD models. I certainly don’t think Sony knew this plastic was going to deteriorate; I don’t think they knew all the capacitors they were buying in the ‘80s were going to leak after a couple of decades either. But, despite the fact that there are only a handful more internal bits in the soft-touch transport, one of these has a critical fault. The gear itself is odd – a large, donut-shaped thing that goes around a metal core. It wouldn’t surprise me if this design led to the use of a plastic that wasn’t so thoroughly time-tested.

Costs were cut in some other places – the tape head stays with the body and not the door, there are some plasticky bits that certainly don’t have the premium feel of other DD models. But the WM-DD11 fits in a market segment that seems underappreciated to me. It’s high-end in the ways that matter, while being stripped down elsewhere. That middle-ground rarely seems to exist these days, with performance going hand-in-hand with luxury and the low-end solely existing at the bottom of the barrel. It’s a false binary presumably created by the need to sexy up anything decent enough to market.It’s hard to sell half the features, but I wish companies would try. I want the low end of the high-end market to exist. I want products like my reliable, simple, yet still very performant WM-DD11 to exist.

Commercial music media, a tier list

I’ve owned a lot of audio equipment over the years. Radio receivers, (pre)amplifiers, and equalizers of course, but more importantly the devices required for listening to… many different forms of media. I was late to the party for plenty of them, never an early-adopter and often only dipping my toes into a media after it was entirely out of production. At some point, streaming happened, and new physical formats just kinda… stopped.

A dismal sea of color

I have been deeply into audio equipment for as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I was always scouring Goodwills and Hamfests for the next old thing that would bump up my hi-fi game and look good while doing it. The latter part wasn’t difficult; not everything was Bang & Olufsen, but audio equipment from the ‘70s and ‘80s pretty much universally looks interesting if not outright lovely.

Sony's resin tubes

Sony has a history of making ‘lifestyle’ consumer electronics alongside their more boring, everyday items. From the 1980s My First Sony line designed to indoctrinate children into brand loyalty1 to the beautiful clutch-like Vaio P palmtop, the company has never been afraid to experiment with form, function, and fashion. Occasionally, they’ll release wild products like the XEL-1 which read like concepts but actually get released, albeit at silly prices. One such item was the made-to-order NSA-PF1 ‘Sountina’, a six-foot tall speaker released in or around 2008.

You need a Torx T10 driver to disassemble the 8BitDo Arcade Stick

Not too long ago, I decided to get myself an 8BitDo Arcade Stick. If you’ve spent much time here, you might’ve noticed I’m rather into retrogaming. I grew up with joystick-based consoles and arcades, and while I’m happy using a modern gamepad these days, I do often wish I had that arcade feel when I’m emulating an older system. I was also drawn to the tinkering nature of an arcade stick; the actual joysticks and buttons are largely standardized, modular parts.

Two slim keyboards

I’m writing this on a keyboard I ordered from Drop quite some time ago, the Morgrie RKB6801. My daily driver up until now has been an also-recently-acquired Keychron K3. Both of these keyboards use slim switches; prior to this, I was using another Keychron keyboard with full-size Keychron optical switches. I do much of my writing/whatever from bed, and the way I configure myself doesn’t really work out well with a traditional mechanical keyboard; the overall height is just too chunky. Fortunately, a lot of progress is being made in the mechanical keyboard space; simply getting a Bluetooth model was an exercise in frustration but a few years ago.

I should say that I am a clicky-clacky typist. My favorite switches ever are the IBM Model M buckling springs, but in a modern setting I gravitate toward Matias’s take on the Alps switch. Few keyboards/keycaps are designed around Alps, so the next best switches for me are Cherry Greens. This is the sort of baseline that I’m working with for this post-that-approximates-a-review. As I mentioned, I had been using a Keychron K6, with Keychron’s optical simulacra of Cherry Blue switches. Blue is already a step down from Green for me, but I was making do with it. Optical switches are conceptually quite interesting to me; the core mechanical elements that provide the tactile satisfaction can be left in place while changing the electronic element to something solid state. Had I not wanted to dabble in this, I could’ve bought the hot-swappable version of the K6 and swapped in some Cherry Greens. I’m glad I didn’t, because as I mentioned, the keyboard is just too chunky for the intended use-case. You mention this sort of thing around mechanical keyboard groups, and you get chastised, because of course it’s chunky! The big fat switches make the magic! Which… both things can be true. It can be an unfortunate reality while still being… the reality.

The optical switches themselves were… okay? Most of the keyboard was fine, though not quite comparable to Cherry Blues, but the wider-than-letter keys? They squeaked like a poorly-oiled mouse. It was quite annoying. Yet the concept still compelled me enough that I opted for the optical switches on the K3 as well. These switches are definitely better in that they are not squeaky! And overall, they feel less mushy as well. Putting aside the size advantage, these actually feel better to type on than the full-sized Keychron optical switches. The other keyboard that I received, the Morgrie, uses traditional mechanical switches, albeit in a slim form-factor by Kailh. While this post is the first long(ish) thing that I’ve typed on the Morgrie, I have put time into testing it, using it for day-to-day typing, speed tests. And I have thoughts about both keyboards…

Size, and form factor

Initially, I was put off by the size of the Morgrie. It is approximately the same depth as the K3, but noticeably wider. Despite this, it has a full row fewer of keys; the K3 has an actual function row. I use function keys fairly infrequently; I think my most common usage is F2 to edit tags in Acrobat1. I’ll touch on this more in the layout section, but it’s worth noting that there are just many more keys on the smaller keyboard. The reason the Morgrie is so much larger is that it has a fairly prominent bezel surrounding the keys. I feel like this might annoy me on a desk, but it’s kind of nice having a place to rest the ol’ thumbs when typing in bed. The thick aluminum (I believe) bezel also makes the Morgrie heavy compared to the K3. It is solid. It feels well-built; the K3, while perfectly fine, feels flimsy in comparison. Overall, I don’t mind the size of the Morgrie as much as I expected, but the K3 gets the credit for its ability to cram far more into a noticeably smaller footprint.


These are both compact keyboards without number pads. They both have cursor keys and a right-hand column for page navigation keys. My laptop has a similar configuration. One thing that I’ve learned is that this stack of four keys on the right-hand side is a common decision for navigation keys – but unlike traditional layouts, nobody has decided on a standard for this. The three keyboards have these four keys from top-to-bottom:

I don’t have much of an opinion between my laptop and the K3 except that I wish they were consistent. I guess the K3 makes more sense to me, but they’re both fine. The Morgrie, on the other hand, is nonsense. Delete is at the bottom, as far from Backspace as possible. This is ludicrous. Less egregious, but annoying to me is Pg Up and Pg Dn being on the function layer instead of Home and End. I’d also prefer Insert be on the primary layer instead of PrtSc, but at least it has Insert – this key cannot be input from the K3 (this keyboard only comes backlit, and wastes a perfectly good key on this). Considering WSL2 seemingly has no direct interaction with the Windows clipboard, and I have to rely heavily on ShiftInsert… this was miserable.

Despite the Morgrie displaying symbols for brightness, transport, volume, &c. on the function layer seems to send the codes for Function keys. I could go either way with this, as I really only miss having Mute as quick access, and as previously mentioned, I only really use F2. A second function layer would have been nice here; my old K6 (which also lacks a function row) worked this way. Esc and `/~ share a key, with the latter on the function layer. Despite my heavy vim usage, I don’t touch Esc much. Since I remap Caps Lock to Ctrl on every machine I own, Ctrl[ is less of a stretch despite being a chord. With this in mind, I’d prefer `/~ on the primary layer, but I understand the decision. The extra row of the K3 pays off here.

The only other notable difference is the location of the Fn key; next to Space on the Morgrie and one to the right (between Alt and Ctrl on the K3. I use these modifiers infrequently, and don’t really have a preference, though again… standardization would be nice. Overall, it’s hard to say which layout I prefer; they each have a unique critical failure: the lack of Insert on the K3 and the absurd positioning of Delete on the Morgrie. Utterly bizarre decisions.

Switches and keycaps

TL;DR: The Morgrie wins on both fronts. The keycaps are PBT and feel great; K3 has ABS keycaps with extremely visible sprues. I got the Morgrie in white with orange lettering, and it’s rather pretty. Depending on which backlight you get, the K3 keys are either light or dark grey, with clear lettering for the backlight. They’re unoffensive, but the white Morgrie is just… kind of fun. I don’t know my way around keycap profiles very well, but the K3 uses slightly curved chiclet-style keys, while the Morgrie is more traditional. I don’t have a super strong opinion on this; I find that I orient myself more easily but get lost quickly on chiclets, and therefore type more quickly overall on more traditional caps.

I mentioned that the slim Keychron optical switches are nicer than the full-sized Keychron optical switches. This is certainly true, but the Morgrie’s Kailh Choc switches are much nicer than both. The Kailh Whites supposedly have a lower actuation force than the Keychron Oranges2, but it feels higher. All in all, I find the Kailhs to be a much nicer typing experience. If I sell off some stuff, I might try the traditional mechanical Gateron version of the K3. At the very least, if I found myself preferring the size/form-factor of the K3, I could replace them with Kailh switches now that I know I’m a fan.

The K3 switches have one very cool thing going for them – they accept regular Cherry keycaps. Obviously full-sized ones will be a bit chunky on the board, but still at a lower profile than the same caps on full-sized switches. More importantly, it’s just… an obvious standard. It’s wild to me that both Cherry and Kailh opted to come up with new, incompatible keycap mounts for their low profile switches. This was always a problem with Alps as well; so many people use Cherry that caps for anything else are hard to come by. The K3 switches are also hot-swappable, and optical switches of course don’t rely on a mechanism that will wear. I doubt this is really a sticking point. Finally, one of the keys on my K3 was improperly assembled from the factory, the spring was all out of place; I easily disassembled this and repaired it myself, but… shame I had to.


I mentioned the K3 only comes backlit. There are two versions: RGB- and white-LED backlit keys. I opted for white; RGB LEDs just… don’t look very good, in my experience. Being a touch-typist, I tend to disable backlighting anyway, and would prefer a version with a useful key and no backlight in lieu of a key I accidentally press constantly, forcing me to cycle through a bunch of ridiculous effects. Lastly, while there is an option to turn the backlight off entirely, there is no option to turn it on entirely; the closest thing is an effect where every key is on, but any given key briefly shuts off when you depress it. This is silly. Oh, there’s also no brightness setting. My laptop, by comparison, has no ridiculous effects and two brightness settings. This is useful!

Both keyboards have Bluetooth, both support three devices. The K3 uses a function layer for this, whereas the Morgrie has three dedicated buttons. I have no preference on this. I haven’t had any issues with Bluetooth on either board yet, though I also haven’t really stress-tested it. Unlike my Bluetooth IEMs that I pair to my phone, I don’t really have a need to test how far I can stray from my device. Both keyboards charge via USB-C, and can in fact be used wired via USB-C. The K3 has a switch to go between wired and wireless, the Morgrie does not. I’m sure there’s an advantage to one of those approaches, but I’m not going to try to suss it out.

The Morgrie has a nice tactile pushbutton for power on the back, while the K3 has a tiny slide switch. Both are fine, but the Morgrie is nicer in my opinion. The K3 will go into a sleep mode quickly; the Morgrie does not seem to, with the company claiming to have one of the longest standby times. I’d rather the keyboard just go to sleep. The K3’s bezel-less, chiclet design makes for easy cleaning; despite this, it came with a thin plastic cover. Neither of these things is true of the Morgrie.

Ultimately, I really think I prefer the Morgrie, and I’m tempted to buy another in the lovely powder blue color. It’s just very nice to type on. The solid build, the Kailh switches, the comfortable keys… I get on with it well. I sure do think that Delete placement is regrettable, though.

Digirule 2U

I keep meaning to post about SISEA, but like… I don’t have anything to say that others haven’t said better. Much like SESTA/FOSTA, this bill is a direct attack on sex workers under a thin anti-trafficking guise. Listen to what sex workers are saying about this. Contact the folks who are supposed to listen to us. Let’s do what we can to stop this garbage.
I’ve written about single board computers before, and have bought and briefly played with a modern board from Wichit Sirichote. I’d meant to write about my experience with this board, but I haven’t actually gotten too far into the weeds with it yet. I need to either find a wall-wart that will power it, or else hook up my bench supply to mess with it, and… my attention span hasn’t always proven up to the task.

Medium/Message: Music and Medium

A new series! I have at least two posts planned for this series, and hopefully I’ll come up with more in the future. The idea is to highlight art that is inseparable from the medium used to record and/or distribute it. As far as this post is concerned, I want to discuss creative uses of the media that a consumer would purchase. Particularly, music or musical experiences that couldn’t exist outside of the medium they were made for.

Rediscovering Compact Cassettes

This year has been a long decade, and seeking little pleasures has been of the utmost importance. Working from home has left me with the opportunity to listen to music more often as I work. I tend not to work in the room with my turntable, so this has largely been a matter of listening from my phone. This is fine, but I know I tend to have very different listening patterns when I’m listening on my phone vs.

On the Kensington Expert Wireless (and other pointing devices)

I’ve expressed once or twice before my disappointment with the current selection of pointing devices. This hasn’t improved much, if any. To make matters worse, Trackpoints are becoming less and less common on laptops. Such is the case with my HP Spectre, a deficiency I knew would be an issue going into things. When I was writing about pointing devices back in 2016, I ended up acquiring a Logitech MX Master. I still use that mouse, and also own an MX Master 2. They are incredibly good mice, the closest thing that I have found to the perfect mouse.

Thinking of pointing devices to use with the Spectre, I immediately figured I’d get an MX Anywhere to toss in the pouch of my laptop sleeve. What a horrible mistake. The truly standout feature of the MX Master is its wheel. It scrolls with individual clicks like wheel mice of yore until a specific speed is reached, at which point it freewheels like a runaway train. It’s the perfect physical manifestation of inertial scrolling. It also, notably, still clicks to perform the duty of middle-click. Both of these things are broken on the MX Anywhere – you have to manually select freewheel or click scrolling, and you do that by depressing the wheel. Middle click is a separate button below the wheel, with no regard for muscle memory. I returned the MX Anywhere and will likely just buy a cheap slim mouse to throw in the sleeve; it seems unlikely there are any travel-sized mice out there with modern inertial scrolling.

I also have considered I might need a pointing device other than the touchscreen for certain higher-precision activities while lounging in bed. And, three paragraphs in, we get to the meat of this post: my experiences so far with a trackball, the Kensington Expert Wireless. Trackballs, even more than mice, feel resistant to progress. Only a handful of notable companies are producing trackballs, and of the available models, relatively few are Bluetooth. Kensington has been making versions of the Expert for over twenty years, and the latest change came four years ago with the introduction of the Bluetooth model. The basic layout that has remain unchanged over the years is a large ball surrounded by four large buttons at the corners. The current iterations, both wired and wireless, also have a ring around the ball for scrolling.

Most modern trackballs seem to have a traditional scroll wheel. This, to me, is absurd. You’re not getting modern inertial scrolling with these (even Logitech’s MX-branded trackball has traditional clicky scrolling), and you have a perfectly good device capable of inertia right in front of you: the ball. I would love to see a designer in hardware/firmware simply dedicate a button to switching the ball into scroll mode. As it stands, however, Kensington’s ring is the least obtrusive of the lot, and the four buttons are all very easily accessed. And, while it is a bit convoluted, ball-scrolling behavior is attainable in Windows1 via software.

The first bit of the puzzle is the official KensingtonWorks software. This allows configuration of what each of the four buttons does, as well as the upper two buttons pressed together, and the lower two buttons pressed together. These upper and lower chords do have a limitation – it seems they aren’t held, they’re only momentary presses. There’s also no way to achieve the desired ball-scrolling effect here, so this stage is just minor tweaks to buttons. By default, starting at the upper-left and moving clockwise, the buttons are middle-click, back, right-click, left-click. I use middle-click more than right-click, and thought that swapping these would make sense, but the pinky-stretching actually made that a bad choice. I ultimately settled on swapping middle-click and back, and assigning forward to the upper two buttons pressed together. I haven’t decided what to do with the lower two in concert yet.

The next step is a third-party bit of software, X-Mouse Button Control. From here, I’ve intercepted middle-click to be ‘Change Movement to Scroll’. Within this option, I have it set to lock the scrolling axis based on movement, and to simply send a middle-click if there’s no movement. Thus, clicking the upper-right button sends a middle-click whereas holding it and flicking the ball around turns into scrolling. It works so well that I am again shocked that this isn’t scrolling behavior being designed into any trackballs.

I would love to see Kensington integrate this behavior into firmware or KensingtonWorks. I would love to see Kensington replace the scroll ring with the SlimBlade’s rotation-detecting ball sensor. I would love to see Kensington release a Bluetooth version of the SlimBlade. But for now, I have a pretty clean solution: an unobtrusive, solid-feeling trackball with decent customization options in a software layer.

On computers, particularly the HP Spectre x360

This is about the third piece I’ve written on (loosely) this subject; perhaps it will be the one I actually publish. I’d been thinking a lot about computers lately, and what my needs would be in my next machine. I’ve long considered myself a Mac user, despite currently owning one Mac and four PCs (two of which I use with regularity). Apple has been incredibly disappointing to me lately, on both hardware and software fronts. On the other hand, I still truly hate using a non-Unix OS, and there are plenty of other points of contention that make Windows my least favorite modern OS. My approach on my Lenovo X220 (a machine which I will be keeping and using for writing, I suspect) is to dual-boot with Ubuntu as my default. This is viable, though I need to pay closer attention to partitioning, and likely add an exFAT part or the like for a shared space. I’m currently uncertain whether I’ll continue with that approach on my new machine, or attempt KVM with GPU passthrough.

At any rate, I was looking for a two-in-one (which Apple refuses to make), yet something at least somewhat powerful. If I wasn’t going to go for a two-in-one, I wanted something very powerful, and something with a trackpoint1. I think trackpads are the absolute worst pointing devices in existence, and I hate that they’re the norm. I had been looking for a while, and ended up semi-impulsively pulling the trigger when a very good sale landed on the HP Spectre x360 (13″). I’m still working on getting it set up (debating on a Linux distro, messing with the new version of WSL, making Windows tolerable, &c.), but I’m using it (under Windows gVim, egad) to write this post.

Keyboards, old and new

Reading a typewriter-themed Garfield strip recently, I got to wondering whether or not my typewriter (a Brother Charger 11) even had 44 keys. It does, barely. Despite modern computer keyboards still using the same core QWERTY layout from the 1800s, things are different enough that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to be unsure of. Then I got to thinking about all of these differences, as well as the weird holdovers (QWERTY itself notwithstanding) and… here, I suppose, are just a bunch of those things that I find interesting.

(Retro) Single-board computers

Single-board computers from the early microcomputing era have always fascinated me. Oft-unhoused machines resembling motherboards with calculator-esque keypads and a handful of seven-segment LEDs for a display1, their purpose was to train prospective engineers on the operations of new microprocessors like the Intel 8080 and MOS 6502. Some, like MOS’s KIM-1 were quite affordable, and gave hobbyists a platform to learn on, experiment with, and build up into something bigger.

The KIM-1 is, to me, the archetypal single-board. Initially released by MOS and kept in production by Commodore, it had a six-digit display, 23-key input pad, 6502 processor, and a pair of 6530 RIOT chips. MOS pioneered manufacturing technology that allowed for a far higher yield of chips than competitors, making the KIM-1 a device that hobbyists could actually afford. I would love to acquire one, but unfortunately they are not nearly as affordable these days, often fetching around $1,000 at auction. Humorously, clones like the SYM-1 that were far more expensive when they were released are not nearly as collectable and sell at more reasonable rates. Even these are a bit pricy, however, and you never know if they’ll arrive operable. If they do, it’s a crapshoot how long that will remain true.

Other notable single-boards like the Science of Cambridge (Sinclair) MK14 and the Ferguson Big Board rarely even show up on eBay. The MK14 is another unit that I would absolutely love to own – I have a soft spot for Clive Sinclair’s wild cost-cut creations. This seems extremely unlikely, however, leaving me to resort to emulation. Likewise for the KIM-1, a good emulator humorously exists for the Commodore 64.

History has a way of repeating itself, I suppose, and I think a lot of that retro hobbyist experience lives on in tiny modern single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino. I’m glad these exist, I’d be happy to use one if I had a specific need, but they don’t particularly interest me from a recreational computing perspective. Given that these modern descendants don’t scratch that itch, and the rarity and uncertainty of vintage units, I was very excited to recently stumble across Thai engineer Wichit Sirichote’s various single-board kits for classic microprocessors. Built examples are available on eBay. The usual suspects are there: 8080, 8088, 8086, Z80, 68008, 6502; some odd ducks as well like the CDP1802.

I have ordered, and plan to write about the cheapest offering: the 8051 which sells in built form for $85, shipped from Thailand. The 8051 was an Intel creation for embedded/industrial systems, and is an unfamiliar architecture for me. If it all works out how I hope it will, I wouldn’t mind acquiring the 6502, Z80, CDP1802 and/or one of the 808xs. I’d love to see a version using the SC/MP (as used in the Cambridge MK14), but I’m not sure there are any modern clones available2. For now, I will do some recreational experiments with the 8051, perhaps hitting a code golf challenge or two. While this can’t be quite the same as unboxing a KIM-1, I love that somebody is making these machines. And not just one or two, but like… a bunch. Recreational computing lives.

Build your own dial-up ISP in 2019 (external)

Charming read on how one might construct their own dial-up internet connection in this age of egregious Xfinity bills1. On the surface, it sounds like a goofy lark, but if you dive into retrocomputing enough, you find plenty of systems with readily available modems and few (if any) other means of networking. I always wondered how complex one would need to get to set up a system like this. If you could trick the modems on either end into not caring about hook/dialing/&c., could you just go over an audio connection and skip telephony? I don’t know the answer to that, but the linked article accomplishes it with a virtual PBX and analog VOIP adaptors – a purpose-built private telephony system in the middle. It’s an interesting read, and a good link to hold on to for future reference.

256 pixels

I’ve been restoring a Milton Bradley Microvision and am now happily at the point where I have a fully functional unit. Introduced in 1979, it’s known as the first portable game console with interchangeable cartridges. Anyone who has scoured eBay and yard sales for Game Boys knows that the monochrome LCDs of yore were fairly sensitive to heat and even just age. For a system ten years older than the Game Boy (and one that sold far fewer numbers), functional units are fairly hard to come by. But for a while, I’ve been invested in patching one together, and I plan to enjoy it until it, too, gives up the ghost1.

Lava lamps as HRNGs (external)

I never thought I’d link to one of those terrible sites that forces you to scroll through an entire page worth of image before you can even begin reading, but here we are. If you haven’t visited Wired recently, be warned: it is very user-antagonistic. But this article, despite its brevity and reading like an ad for Cloudflare, is pretty interesting. The gist is that one of Cloudflare’s hardware random number generation techniques involves photographing an array of lava lamps.

Amplitude Modulation

I recently purchased a Sangean HDR-141 compact HD Radio receiver after the local station that broadcasts baseball decided to move their AM/MW2 station (and most of their FM stations) exclusively to digital HD Radio broadcasts. In their announcement, they established that the time was right now that 20% of their audience was equipped to listen. That’s… an astonishingly low percentage, especially given that the technology was approved as the U.S. digital radio broadcast format over fifteen years ago. I, myself, was able to find one acquaintance capable of receiving HD Radio (in their car), and this receiver only handled FM.

Adoption has seemingly been low in the other direction as well. Though the airwaves near me seem flooded with broadcasts, the only HD Radio content is coming from the aforementioned station. Part of this is almost certainly because the standard itself is patent-encumbered bullshit from iBiquity3 instead of an open standard. Transmitting requires not only the encoder, but licensing fees directly to iBiquity. The public-facing language is very vague on the HD Radio website, but receivers also need to license the tech and I imagine if this was free they’d make a point of it (and there’d be more than three portable HD Radio receivers on the market).

What pros?

When my Mac Pro recently slipped into a coma, I began thinking about what my next primary computer will be. Until this past week, Apple hadn’t updated any Macs in quite a while1, and the direction they’ve taken the Mac line continues to puzzle me. It all started (in my mind) with ubiquitous glossy screens, and has worked its way down to touchbars and near-zero travel keyboards. Last week’s update to (some) Macbook Pros is welcome, but underwhelming. Six cores and DDR4 is great, but that’s only in the large model. Meanwhile, if I wanted to suffer through a 15″ machine, HP’s ZBook 15 has either hexacore Xeons or Cores, inbuilt color calibration, a trackpoint, a keyboard that I feel safe assuming is superior to the MBP’s, and a user-upgradable design.

I remain consistently confused by what professionals Apple is targeting. As a creative user, I’d whole-heartedly prefer the aforementioned HP. Most illustrators I know rely on Surfaces or other Windows machines with inbuilt digitizers. I know plenty of professional coders on MBPs (and Apple seems to push this stance hard), but I don’t know why23 – that funky keyboard and lack of trackpoint don’t make for a good typist’s machine. The audio world makes sense, Logic is still a big deal and plenty of audio hardware targets the platform. But honestly, when I see people like John Gruber saying the updated MBP’s “are indisputably aimed at genuine ‘pro’ users”, I’m a bit baffled, as I simply can’t think of many professional use-cases for their hardware decisions as of late. They’re still extremely impressive machines, but they increasingly feel like high-end consumer devices rather than professional ones.

The Classic Sound of the Moog Ladder Filter (external)

Great little article from nearly a decade ago about Robert Moog’s filter that shaped the sound of synthesizer music. Oddly enough, while the article mentions some of the Moog module’s prices, it doesn’t actually mention the price of the ladder filter. Having been researching lately exactly what Tangerine Dream would have been working with at any given moment on Phaedra, I happen to have the 1969 Moog price list (PDF) in front of me – $730 for the full-fledged 904 Voltage-Controlled Filter. That’s about $4,900 dollars today, nearly ten times as much as Moog’s current ladder filter. Bonus link: Robert Moog’s patent number 3,475,623: Electronic High-pass and Low-pass filters employing the base to emitter diode resistance of bi-polar transistors (PDF).

Field recording with the Tascam GT-R1

Field recording of found sounds is a rather crucial aspect of the sort of sound design that interests me. Diving deep enough into this area, one will inevitably wish to experiment with contact microphones. Contact microphones are unlike ‘normal’ microphones in that they don’t really respond to air vibrations. But they are quite good at picking up the vibrations of solids (or, in the case of sealed hydrophones, liquids) that they’re attached to. This is a lot of fun, but there’s one problem – due to an impedance mismatch, they aren’t going to sound very good when connected to a normal microphone input. Compare this matched recording with this recording from a standard mic input.

The typical solution will be to go through a DI box or dedicated preamp. For a portable, minimal setup, this is far from ideal. I figured at some point, someone would have had to have come up with a portable recorder designed with sound design in mind, and containing inputs suitable for a range of microphones. I came up empty-handed. Then it occurred to me, this is really the same problem that guitar pickups have – they need a high impedance (Hi-Z) input for proper frequency range reproduction. Perhaps a portable recorder for guitarists exists. It does, and let me just say that the Tascam GT-R1 makes an awesome little field recorder.

Americium-241 as a hardware random number generator (external)

Hopefully we all know by now that computers are not good at coming up with random numbers. They can do a bunch of tricky math and come up with numbers that are random enough for dealing your hand of solitaire, but some outside random force is necessary for tasks where patterns, repetition simply cannot occur. One such method involves counting radioactive decay events, and it occurred to me that Americium-241 is readily and affordably accessible – it’s in any good smoke detector. Now, I don’t have a need for this, nor do I intend to go dismantling smoke detectors, but I was curious if anyone else had proof-of-concepted such a thing before, and lo – here we have one such example. Neat.

Brief thoughts on the iMac Pro

Yesterday, Apple announced the iMac Pro, an all-in-one machine purchasable with up to an 18-core Xeon processor. I can’t tell if this is a machine for me or not (I love Xeon Macs but not iMacs so much), but I also have no real reason to think about that beyond fantasy – I’m only on my 2nd Xeon Mac, and I expect to get a few more years out of it. They age well. The current, oft-maligned Mac Pro smashed an impressive amount of tech into a rather small, highly optimized space. It may lack the expansion necessary for typical Pro users, but it is a technological masterpiece. The new iMac, however, seems like an impossible feat1.

What truly excites me is the reinforcement that Apple is committed to its Xeon machines. The iMac Pro is not the mysterious upcoming Mac Pro. So while tech pundits have lamented the inevitable death of the Mac Pro in recent years, Apple has instead doubled down and will be offering two Xeon Macs rather than zero.

One final thought that is more dream than anything – Apple prides itself on its displays, and on its Pencil/digitizer in the iPad Pro. A lot of artists use pro software on iMacs with Cintiq digitizers. Cintiqs are top-of-the-line, but that doesn’t make them great. The digitizers are decent, the displays themselves are alright, but they aren’t spectacular devices – they’re just the best thing out there. I don’t expect Apple to move to a touch-friendly macOS, their deliberate UI choices show that this is a clear delineation between macOS and iOS. But I think working the iPad Pro’s Pencil/digitizer into an iMac2 could very well prove to be a Cintiq killer for illustrators, photographers, and other visual artists.

Lenovo Yoga Book

The Lenovo Yoga Book is a bizarre little machine. It’s unbelievably thin, and hosts a wee 10” display, netbookish almost. Unfold it, like a laptop, to reveal the secret to its thinness – a blank slate where the keyboard should be. Powering the device on, the ‘halo keyboard’, as it is known, glows. It is what it sounds like – a glowing, flat, touch-sensitive keyboard. It is the price paid for a 9.6mm thick, 1.5lb device that still manages a laptop form factor.

Now, I value a good keyboard. My primary keyboard uses Alps switches, my primary laptop is a Lenovo X220 that types rather well. This is neither of those. This is not a good keyboard, it’s a flat slab. But I’ve spent enough time typing on tablets that, a strategy of muscle memory combined with occasional glances down to reorient my fingers means I can type reasonably quick and with reasonable accuracy.

My use case is pretty simple – I spend nearly four hours every day on a train, but I still don’t like carrying a lot with me. I had been taking a Microsoft keyboard which I could sort of, kind of rig up with my iPhone and type nicely into Buffer Editor with. It works well when seated at a desk, but the unadjustable angle and possibility of the phone just flopping out made it suboptimal for the train. Physical keyboards take up space – the Yoga Book manages to be thinner than just that Microsoft keyboard, though obviously larger in the other two dimensions. But it opens like a compact, it can unfold to any angle (including all the way back to just be a really thick tablet), and just has a much more lappable presence. Also, since it’s running Windows 10, I get a real operating system and filesystem (by this I mean WSL or cygwin), I get real USB (OTG), and a solid software selection. An Android version is also available (for $50 less), but even if I didn’t hate Android, that just seems like a bad plan for as much as they have customized it. It does have an autocorrect feature, however, which the Windows version lacks.

I’ll continue using this thing on the train and finding out its compromises. It is obviously compromised. It’s doing strange new things, and it’s really positioned more for people who want to use the digitizer. Which, yeah, the whole keyboard area can be dimmed and turned into a pressure-sensitive digitizer, either with a typical stylus nib or with an actual ballpoint pen on a paper tablet set atop the surface. I guess I should mess with that more. But for my use-case, so far so good. It’s no Matias Alps keyboard, but it’s very typable, it’s very light, and very compact. I wrote this entire post on the Yoga Book, and didn’t feel like I was suffering1. It’s like a tablet where I can type without obstructing half of my screen.

No escape

Assuming the leaked images of the new MacBook Pro are to be believed (and there seems to be no reason to think otherwise), tomorrow will bring MacBook Pros with a tiny touch strip display above the number row instead of a set of physical keys. It looks like a more practical version of the much-maligned Lenovo Carbon X1 concept. Yet, like the X1, it’s part of a bigger change that makes for an overall worse keyboard experience – in the case of the leaked MBP images, the physical keys themselves are moving to the slim-but-unloved keys from the MacBook.


As is to be expected whenever Apple announces something new, a lot of shit is being flung around in the tech sphere over the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. One particularly fun nugget is that the secondary camera lens on the 7 Plus’s dual-camera system is not, despite what Apple says, a telephoto lens. This is based on a few mixed-up notions from people who know just enough about photography to think they know a lot: namely that ‘telephoto’ is synonymous with ‘long’, and that 56mm (135 equivalence, when will this die) is ‘normal’ (and therefore not ‘long’ ‘telephoto’). 50mm was standardized on the 135 format because Oskar Barnack said so, essentially. Different versions of the story say that the 50 was based on a known cine lens design, or that glass to make the 50 was readily available, or that it was necessary to fill the new large image circle, but whatever the original motivating factor was – the original Leica I set a new standard with the 135 film format, and a new standard somewhat-longer-than-normal focal length with its Elmar 50/3.5. The idea behind normalcy is matching our eyesight. This, conveniently, tends to match up with the length of the diagonal of the imaging plane; √(24²+36²)≅43mm. 50 is already noticeably longer than this, and 56 even more so. There’s a reason 55-60mm lenses were popular as more portrait-capable ‘normals’.

Swiftpoint GT

I previously discussed my overall dissatisfaction with mice these days. I bit the $150 bullet, and decided to try the Swiftpoint GT. A lot of people love this mouse. It has 4.2 stars on Amazon. It nearly octupled its Kickstarter funding goal. It’s natural, it’s ergonomic, it’s gestural. In theory. In practice, it feels to me like it’s been built of outmoded tech and interaction paradigms in order to fabricate a simulacrum of a hypermodern interaction experience. In practice, it’s still a clicky, line-at-a-time scroll wheel. Sure, you can sort-of-kind-of mimic touchpad scrolling by rolling it on your table, but doing so won’t feel any less clicky nor awkward. In practice, the gestural ‘stylus’ is just a tiny upside-down joystick that only works when you find just the right place to tilt it to, that you have to maintain just the right pressure to hold, and that you ultimately still fail to get a smooth navigation experience out of. Neither of these interactions were comfortable, and they both proved better at marring my (admittedly delicately finished) table than anything else.

Of mice and meh

August 21, 2016, I tweet: “why are there no good mice.” It’s a reality I’ve been battling for months now: seemingly nobody else wants the same things out of a mouse that I do. And as I’ve tried to replace my beloved Magic Mouse with something just a little more, I’ve come up with a pretty clear list of what these things are:

The original Magic Mouse hits all of these points, and perhaps I should just stock up on a few of these before they disappear, without searching for something more.

Alphasmart Neo2

I’m writing this from Tuckahoe State Park, the first leg of a multinight car camping trip which I (for practice, I suppose) opted to treat like a backpacking trip. My goal was to fit everything, aside from food (handled as a group), that I needed in or on a 30L pack for the one evening here followed by three in the sand at Assateague Island. Good way to try out a few things for when I ordinarily need to pack food but fewer clothes. So, why am I wasting precious pack space on a writing device?