Saturday, October 5, 2019

What I've Learned Part Three

Knowing that I need to find a modern, in-production switch that replicates the feel I am looking for and determining which switch this is has been quite a challenge. Determining the best switch for my needs is not something I have been able to accomplish. Determining a good way to go about figuring this out is something I am much more educated about today than I have been in the past. This is a great thing if only because in this arena education provides the means to reduce expense.

That's going to sound like a really ridiculous statement in a little while, after I get into the specifics of discovering and procuring the best possible keyboard given the options available. I am going to talk about things like hipster "bespoke mechanical keyboards" which cost in excess of $2000.

Yes, that's not a misprint. If you go far enough down the custom keyboard rabbit hole, a single board can cost over two thousand dollars. Furthermore, this money isn't simply wasted. Much of it goes directly to craftsmanship in both the materials and the handling of the materials and I'd even propose it can be considered money well spent (if you have that kind of money to spend) as opposed to money needlessly wasted on wealthy frippery.

Depending on your personal preference there are a lot of specifics that can be involved with your ideal typing experience, from lubrication to fit and finish along with color, shape and sound along the way. I am getting ahead of myself, but it should be recognized that there is a degree of legitimate complexity inherent to this pursuit. While some of these concerns can be assigned to the "ignorance is bliss" category, others are concerns that you actually have right now in your typing experience and you simply haven't had the mental space or verbiage to elucidate them. At least, that's how it has been for me.

So, to what end do I proclaim that having this extra knowledge is going to save me money? First, to be plain, I am not rich enough to be involved with keyboards costing in excess of thousands of dollars. This kind of luxurious specificity is well out of reach for me. Second, a caveat: languishing in ignorance is actively costing me money as I desperately search for a solution I have lacked the means to describe. Therefore, my experience may well be very different from that of others in that this problem actually is costing me money and is therefore financially worthy of addressing. I know many people for whom their keyboard frustrations cost no money at all and for whom said frustrations will never cost any money. For that kind of person, of course, knowing more about how to solve the problem is more likely to cost them more money than it is to save them any. Third, arriving at the solutions I've been seeking will absolutely cost me a lot of money. There is no version of this endgame which is not costly to some degree. I am simply looking at spending less money in a blind search. Lastly, an up-front acknowledgement that I am searching for something tenable and moderately affordable, not something as inexpensive as I can possibly make it.

Here's the reality: I've been buying several keyboards each year for quite some time now. I haven't given it much thought. I haven't really made a point of sharing the fact with others. I haven't been generally willing to view the habit as any sort of problem. As stated already, the reason for this is that I am perpetually searching for some esoteric typing experience heretofore undefined. The cost of it (nowadays) is over a hundred dollars per keyboard. I've been doing this for over eighteen years. In this context, I'd like to take a moment to recognize that I've already spent in excess of five thousand dollars on keyboards alone, simply because I haven't wanted to define it as a thing worth investing in and therefore have kept it as this back-alley habit which slowly and secretly drains money away. But just think about five thousand dollars. If I had purchased one of those fancy two thousand dollar keyboards and been happy with it for eighteen years I would have saved a considerable amount of money. This is the level of insanity I am operating at.

That's a lot of preface, so let me just restate what I've already gone over in my previous posts. I want a keyboard that is reminiscent of the way I remember my brother's Apple //c keyboard feeling and sounding to type on. This is a matter of approximating both a key feel and a key sound. Try as I might, I can't really separate the two, though I will say the shape of the key is the least important factor. But let's get down to the details of what I've learned.

Key feel and sound are determined by a wide variety of things. In this context it might seem reasonable to assume that there is a product on the market which replicates the feel and sound I long for. After much searching, I am comfortable admitting that there is not. Short of simply finding and purchasing a new, old-stock Apple //c keyboard using Alps SKCM Amber switches, I am never going to replicate my memories. Perhaps this is truly the only solution. However, it's a very depressing solution because some day, possibly before I die, there will be no more of these unicorns to hunt. They are, even now, rare enough to command an exceptionally high price on the open market. So, I am going to move forward in this journey accepting, for now, that I will not be finding or using any product which satisfies any prerequisite specificity. I am going to search for something which presents an acceptable approximation but brings with it a reasonable cost and some level of modern convenience. At the moment, I am going to call this a happy medium.

What exactly determines key feel and sound?
1. The mounting mechanism
2. The housing
3. The switch
4. The keycap

When I write "mounting mechanism" I am thinking of the mounting plate where the switches attach to the keyboard and all of the concerns I am aware of surrounding this. Are the switches individual pieces or are they part of the plate? What material is the plate made out of? How firmly are the switches attached, if applicable? What is used to attach the plate to the rest of the keyboard?

When I write "housing" I am thinking of the portion of the keyboard which is visible and which might surround the keys and switches.

When I write "switch" I am thinking of the mechanical portion of the keyboard which actuates and transmits information about what the user is typing.

When I write "keycap" I am thinking of the (typically plastic) cover over the switch which is touched by the user while typing.

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