Monday, September 30, 2013

Sacrifice

Today is the last day of work for my wife. She served her 3 month notice already. Starting tomorrow, she will work half day for her current company as she transition her work to the new guy. This arrangement will be until 31 Dec 2013. After that, well, we are not sure what's next.

The reason she is doing this is because she wants to take care of the kids. Her mother is having a hard time coping with the eldest, which has proven a handful to handle. I don't think I've talked much about the eldest kid but she's quite difficult to handle as she has a huge and unreasonable tantrum. There are many terms for the cause, we are also not sure how true they are. Some called it hyper sensitive, some called it insecurity, some OCD, some said she needed anger management. Not sure what, but she is giving us a lot of stress.

This caused me to think of the sacrifices that parents made for their children. All of us have the same story but how many of us appreciate the sacrifice and understand the stress our parents went through to change for us? I tell you, 20 years from now, my eldest probably know about this but may not appreciate the pain we all went through. I don't think I truly appreciate what my parents have done for me either.

I still remember that we engaged a private day care person living opposite our house to take care of Jane (not her real name). She was still a baby then. But she cried every night and couldn't sleep well at all. At one point, we thought that the reason was because the day care lady let her sleep most of the day, thus she was awake at night. So when she was 8 months old, my mother in law (MIL) decided that she will take care of Jane.

And that means, we have to engage a maid to help with the house work. And that we need to send her to MIL house in Sungai Buloh. That itself is a 1-1.5 hour drive to and fro from Bandar Utama to Sungai Buloh and back to PJ for work. The difficult part is the evening where we have to bring the kids back to BU, usually they are back only by 8pm or 9pm. Lots of adjustment at that time. And all of us have to adjust having a maid too. In one of my earlier posts, I said that a maid will bring the worst out of you and I wasn't wrong.

Then, because of the time spent to chauffeur the kids to and from Sungai Buloh, we decided to relocate MIL nearer. So last year, we invested in a house in Kota Damasara and in-laws moved to KD in Dec 2012. So now we have an additional mortgage to worry. It was a right decision. We need to invest in a property to finance future kids education system (see? Another sacrifices made for the children).

Now, the wife has to leave the workforce to better educate the girls because MIL can't handle and also because, somehow, kids this generation are very hard to look after by the older generation. A lot of different style and theories and stuff. Life is not easy.

So with all these sacrifices, why do we have kids?

This is a question I have asked myself many times and I can't answer with full conviction.

One man told me that this is all part of a journey that man has to go through in our lives.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Addiction

It's madness. The only way to explain it is addiction. Or maybe just irrational. I am hooked to this mechanical hobby and I am not the only one. There is a whole community in the internet. What's worse, I am now expecting another rare keyboard to arrive from USA:


This app I am using is called Parcel. It tracks deliveries of parcels.

The bottom two are interesting packages. Someone was interested in my old keyboard and wanted to take it off me in exchange for another mechanical product in his company store! I exchanged a 20 year old keyboard for a new one worth US$150! No brainer right? I have since received the other keyboard and love it!

There was this particular keyboard that I have a heart for, it's called CODE Keyboard and it was sold out before it was launched due to the huge demand during pre-order. Reason being they are using a ultra-rare Cherry MX Clear switch. Yesterday, the website opened to say they had a couple of keyboards left from people who cancelled the order before it was shipped. Irrationally, my kiasu-ness got the better of me and I clicked on the Order button. I figure if I were to average out with the one I got for free, it is not so expensive. For that price and getting two keyboards, why not?

It's an addict's justification. I am doomed and I need help!!!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cherry Blacks vs Blues

One good thing about PC, and I am sure it is the same as Mac, is that you can plug in two keyboards and type them. Makes it easy to switch from the Razer to the Choc Mini for type testing.

A photo of the setup is required.

Just by looking at the photo, one can tell that the Choc Mini looked solidly built than the Razer, isn't it? Maybe it is because of the key caps. The Choc Mini is made of POM - I don't know if it is better than what Razer has but it has those textured feel and gives out a pretty serious vibe. This is no keyboard to fool with.

So, Cherry MX Black. How was it? I could really tell the difference between a tactile switch and a linear switch. A tactile switch would provide you the slightest bounce and feedback. It feels extremely good. As of this moment, I didn't really like the Black linear switch. I have a feeling I need to bottom out when using the Black. I am not a touch typist and I typically punched keys with my index fingers and thumb but I still find I need to punch harder.

On the other hand, Cherry MX Blue feel so good and the fact that it produced a clicky noisy further strengthened the tactility of the keys. Perhaps it is psychological. I wonder how a tactile but quiet Clear or Brown would feel. Perhaps they will be like the Black, but I doubt it. Even if it is quiet, the unspoken bounced from each key press would have given me the unspoken feedback my fingers needed. Hmm, this sound kinda ghey - for a keyboard. LOL.

As outlined in my earlier post, gamers liked the linear keys better. I tried to play Tomb Raider in it and yes, as you use WASD to guide Lara around, it is better to have a quiet switch. Using the Blue, it sounded strange to hear each key press. And in games, I bottomed out anyway because when you pressed a key to walk a character, you tend to press and hold it for a while. I didn't need to tap on it continuously, perhaps the Black would serve well in gaming. Fortunately, the Black is on the Mini, which means it is highly portable. Perhaps I can take it out for LAN parties, if that ever happens.

Oh well!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Mechanical Keyboard Thoughts

I'm crazy. That's how you can describe me this past week.

Over the years, I have been looking for a keyboard to replace my old Acer mechanical. The ThinkPad USB Traveller keyboard didn't quite make it. It is rubber dome, not mechanical. My next keyboard has to be mechanical like the Acer but as I ventured into the mechanical keyboard world, I find myself going through a looking glass. It's a whole new world! This is not going to be a cheap hobby!

So, over the past few days, I bought two mechanical keyboards: the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 (read my thoughts in this link) model from a friend, brand new, at a discounted price. This is based on Cherry MX Blue switch.

At the same time, someone posted a Choc Mini mechancial keyboard for sale in lowyat.net forum. And this guy owned 3 Choc Mini in Blue, Brown and Black switches. He didn't like the Cherry MX Blacks, so he decided to sell it. It's brand new, in a way, but it is a 2011 model, meaning still 2 year old. His asking price is RM180 (original price is likely RM250 not counting shipping charges from China).  To read more or to see a full dissertation of Choc Mini keyboard, take a look at this post in overclocker.net here. If I have time, I will give you my impressions later.

My craze propelled me to learn more about mechanical keyboard, so let me spend some time to share what I have learned.

Mechanical keyboards are called such because the technology behind each key is not electronics but made of individual parts working seamlessly together. Meaning, there are no electronic chips or diodes in it. They are mainly made by parts that can, in theory, be taken apart and replaced; some users even grease them to 'oil' the parts so that they are smoother when they rubbed against each other. These things under each key is called a switch. In a 101-key keyboard, there are 101 switches. This is the reason why mechanical keyboard are expensive, because of the 101 individual switches.

Switch!
Switches comes in many types. Like a car engine, there are many makers - the engine served the same purpose, to turn the tyres to take you from one place to the other. But each car engine gives the driver a different feel. Driving a Honda feels different from a Toyota to a BMW and a lower quality Proton. If I asked you to describe how each car drive, it is hard to do so. It's just a feel.

Similarly, a keyboard is meant for you to type words to appear on the screen but each switch gives you a different feel and can make typing or gaming a pleasure or gives you RSI instead (yes, mechanical keyboards are claimed to reduce RSI in your writs and fingers.. so if you have RSI, try a mechanical keyboard instead).

This feel of the key presses is sometimes called tactile. Tactile switch gave a distinct feedback after you pressed them. It bounced back and hit your finger tip. Mechanical switches does not require you to press the key all the way down to register, so you can type on them lightly, which is why it helps reduce RSI.

Buckling Spring Switch
The ultimate switch, the Rolls Royce engine of all mechanical keyboards is the buckling spring switch found in IBM Model M keyboard. Anyone from the mainframe era would have tasted the super noisy but damn good feeling of the buckling switch. If you still have the IBM Model M keyboard or know someone who does, you can still sell this 20-30 year keyboard at RM600 or more today!

But if you still like buckling spring and cannot find or afford an original IBM Model M, you can still buy a buckling spring keyboard from Unicomp. This Texas-based company manufactured keyboards for IBM from years ago. They continue to do so today. They are the nearest original IBM keyboards manufacturer you can find in modern times. And it's not expensive either, around US$90 for a keyboard. The only problem? They have not modernise the look and feel of the keyboard, so it is still very ancient and very ugly!

The other popular switches are Cherry MX switches, Alps switches and Topre switches.

Alps Switch
Let's start with Alps. Alps switches are found in PCs (or Apple Macintosh) which dated back to around 20 years ago. My Acer keyboard have Alps switches. Alps is made by a Japanese company called Alpine. Sounds familiar? This is the same company that now sells a premium car stereo, Alpine. The same company went from keyboard switches to car stereo. Alps are also used in Apple Extended II keyboard, so even the early users of Apple Macintosh would have used a mechanical keyboard. Alps switches looked like the photo on the left, after you plug off the key cap. It's a distinct style.

Today, there is one company that made keyboard based on their own customised alps switch. This is a Canadian based company called Matias.ca. Their intent is to create the same mechanical keyboard as the Apple Extended keyboard II, so their flagship product, Matias Tactile Pro, is targeted at the Mac community.

Cherry MX Switch
The other switches, the more popular and mainstream ones are called Cherry MX. They are easily recognisable by the cross (+) shape of their switches (see photo on the left). These are made by a company called Cherry. The company came up with colour coding of their switches to differentiate how each switch feels. Just like a car engine, we have VVTI, VTEC and what not, Cherry switches come in Blue, Brown, Black, Red, Clear. However, Cherry only make switches. They don't build keyboards. So, many keyboard company will use Cherry switches. The more popular keyboards among internet users are Filco (Japanese based), Ducky, Das (America based), Noppoo (China), Leopold (China), Poker.

Filco is considered the best of the best and the benchmark many other keyboards are based on. One of these days, I would like to buy one. Filco is sold and distributed in Malaysia, so it may not be as expensive as importing them from Japan.

There are also gaming companies that mushroomed over the past few years trying to capitalize on the mechnaical keyboard craze. These are Razer, CoolerMaster, SteelSeries and they used Cherry MX switches as well.

Cherry switches are categorised into two: tactile and linear. Tactile switches are Blue, Brown and Clear. These are how the IBM buckling spring and the alps switch behaves. So, if you loves the tactile feel of these keyboards, you need Blue, Brown and Clear. How they differentiate themselves is whether they are noisy and clicky (Blue) or quiet (Brown and Clear). Typically, tactile switches are great for typing.

The other category of Cherry switch are linear switch. These are non-tactlie switches meaning the keys doesn't bounced back after you pressed them. It's just smoothly bottom out and smoothly come back up. The Red and the Blacks are linear switches. Both of them are quiet switch. According to internet, linear switches are great for gaming because when you play games, you bottom out each key anyway, so you don't need a tactile one.

You can read more details of how each of the Cherry works in this link in overclockers.net.

Interestingly, gaming keyboard makers like CoolerMaster and SteelSeries tend to use linear switch. CoolerMaster has a famous red backlight keyboard base on MX Red. SteelSeries G7 and G6V2 is based on MX Black. The only gaming company I know which use tactile switch is Razer and they have MX Blue and MX Brown.

Topre Switch
I don't know anything about this switch as I didn't own one nor have any experience with one. Some people swear that this is the best, even better than buckling spring. Others argue that it is not mechanical as it is based on capacitive touch, just like our iPhone screen, meaning it is electronics. To me, this Topre is probably like our hybrid cars, a mix of mechanical and electronics. Topre keyboards are very expensive, much like a hybrid car when it was first introduce. It is at the price range of RM1,000!

It's very individual!
At the end of the day, a keyboard is very individual. And like a car, you need to take it out for a spin before you get the feel and settle for one. Just like a car, taking a 30 minute spin may not be enough. You gotta use the keyboard for a few weeks before you can conclude if you like it, which make this mechanical keyboard a very expensive and time consuming hobby.

To me, I have used the alps for many years. My natural tendency and love is for an alps keyboard. That made my option very limited, which is just the Matias range.

I have recently bought a Razer (MX Blue) and a Choc Mini (MX Black). So far I like the Blue better than the Black. It's actually a no brainer because I know I like the tactile feel of the Blue. Linear switch like the Black has no difference to a rubber dome found in laptops today. But since so many gamers swear by Blacks and linear switch, I can't resist not trying a linear switch for just RM180. One day I will do a review of the Choc Mini.

Finally, this thoughts are just on switches. A mechanical keyboard is not just measured by switches only. Since most switches are made by Cherry, the switch became the level playing ground if you compare keyboards from different manufacturers. The manufacturers differentiate themselves by the build of the keyboards. This means how the keys are mounted, the materials used to make each individual key caps, the materials of the casing, the design of the keyboards etc. This will be covered one day in another post.

Now, you see why it is a looking glass that once you have stepped in, you are caught in this bizzare web of mechanical keyboard world.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Elite Review

I have been on a quest for a good keyboard. Many years ago, I have the impression that Apple made the best keyboard and so I went and bought the Apple Pro Keyboard, the one with the white transparent plastic at the bottom. That turned out to be a disaster! It was one of the worst keyboard that I have ever used. I didn't read any reviews. I just went with blind faith. Never again!

I thought that the ThinkPad keyboard was the best because after using many models of ThinkPads for the past 17 years, I have grown accustomed to the keyboard and was used to it that I thought this must be the answer to my keyboard quest. I bought a USB ThinkPad keyboard for my home desktop (ala gaming needs). It served me quite well for a couple of years. I am actually pretty happy with it especially the fact that it also has a TrackPoint built in. Very convenient when you are surfing and didn't want to take the hands off the keyboard. But there is still something missing. It's like you were hungry and you ate a really good meal and while you were fed, you were not completely satisfied.

That missing feeling caused me to rummage my storeroom and took out my 23 year old Acer keyboard from my very first PC. This keyboard used a PS/2 port. It was old, it was heavy but it was damn good to type. I have been using it since (that is, for the past two years). But it didn't have Windows key and in this modern era of Win 7 and Win 8 OS, Windows key is really essential.


It was during this time that I realized the reason I love the Acer keyboard is because it is a mechanical keyboard. Mechanical keyboard used a different technology than those soft keyboard that is very popular today. Those "chiclet" keyboard used some sort of rubber mechanism and therefore the manufacturers can make really slim and quiet keyboard. But mechanical keyboards are those that were made years ago - the grandfather's of keyboard and they are a typist dream come true - simply because of the feeling of the keyboard when you are typing! The keys bounced back and provided a tactile feedback. And they are loud. The have a 'click-clacky' noise.

If you are old enough to have used a dumb terminal connected to IBM mainframes, you know how heavy those keyboards are. And you would have know how loud noise they made. But they made typing feels like being in heaven. It was a very nice feeling. These are mechanical keyboards.

Each of the keys are controlled by switches. There are many different type of switches. The Acer used Alps switches. Do you know that the stereo company Alpine started their business as a keyboard switch manufacturer, thus the name Alps switches? There are also the more popular Cherry MX switches and these comes in many flavours - Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red. The colours implied different feeling of the keys and the loudness they made, Blue being the loudest.

As such, I have been eyeing the Das branded mechanical keyboard as they are the most premium and popular. But there is one thing I didn't like about Das - it has a glossy casing meaning the keyboard is prone to collect dust and prone to fingerprint. I hated that and therefore was not motivated to really 'import' it.

Then one day, my friend Dogbone asked me if I am interested in Razer mechanical keyboard. Razer is a company that made gaming peripherals, they are especially famous for mouse. I have heard of Razer mechanical keyboard but when I was reading reviews of Das and the comparison that was made, Das is always more popular and had better reviews.
But my friend is selling a brand new Razer mechanical for 40% less. And he's asked me to consider. So I did some research and to my pleasure, the 2013 model of Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Elite checks many marks that I was looking. It retailed for RM439; not including Shipping and Handling. There are many reviews of BlackWidow Ultimate but I have yet came across one that indicates the model that I am holding. When I took a look at the box, yeah, it says "New and Improved" - so probably those reviews didn't have this latest one.

What was it that attracted me that was also mentioned by other reviews:
1. It is made of Cherry MX Blue, like the Das keyboard
2. It has individually lit key and then on top of that there is also a backlit on the keyboard. The Das has only individual lit keys not a backlit.
3. Love the 5 macro keys for gaming; love the fact that I can activate Game mode so that accidentally press Windows key does not take me out of gaming and back to desktop - a boon to many competitive players.
4. Media keys - I love having the convenient of changing volume from the keyboard but I hate that some manufacturers complicate the keyboard by having additional buttons. Razer used the function keys (F1 - F8) like the Mac. And Fn-Pause will put the computer to sleep! Excellent!


So, what was the "new and improved"?
1. many reviews didn't mentioned that it was matte! The case is matte! Not glossy! Huge, huge plus points against the Das.
2. N-key rollover! Many reviews put the lack of N-key rollover as a Cons of the Razer BlackWidow but the version I have has 10-key rollover. Gamers will appreciate the fact that you can press 10 keys at the same time and the computer and game will respond to it.
3. Cherry MX Blue - I know it is not "new and improved" but this is a huge plus points in my books too and I have to emphasize it!
4. Surprisingly, the form factor of the keyboard is not huge. I was expecting a big ass keyboard. It's almost the same size as a normal keyboard, slightly smaller than my Acer mechanical. It is heavy but it's not big. Doesn't take a lot of space.

Any negatives? Yes. The font on the keys are too radical and do take some getting used to.
And the light on the right of the keyboard, the one that lit up when Numlock, Capslock was pressed. They are not as bright as the individual keys maybe because of the matte casing that has no 'see through'. Small matter, really.

And for 40% off retail and without having to add shipping charges - WOW! NO brainer.

So, what am I going to do with the 3 old keyboards? I hope I will like the Razer enough not to go back into the storeroom too dig them up!

Edit: Some useful links
1. FAQ
2. Why Cherry Blue MX


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