Editorial #38

May 15, 2015

[WIP] My mechanical keyboard ascension

As far as I can remember I've always used membrane keyboards. The first PC we had in my house came possibly with a mechanical keyboard, but it's too long ago for me to remember. I know that my aunt had a computer that had a mechanical keyboard for sure but I never really used that computer a whole lot so I can't say that I have any real experience when it came to mechanical keyboards. I couldn't remember the feeling it was to use them and every school or class or lab I went to supplied only membranes. So I went 25 years of my life using primarily membrane keyboards, I excelled at typing on them, or so I thought. I never really had a problem with them and I especially loved when I got my laptop and it had low-profile keys. My fingers glided over the keyboard with unprecedented speed and accuracy. My WPM skyrocketed especially since I could type easier on low profile keys and the introduction to of Instant Messenger applications into my life. Since i was talking to most of my peers using text messages instead of calling them on the phone and burning money I didn't' have to communicate I had to learn how type and how to type fast. I mean who wants to wait for a message to get across? No one does, and you could tell a conversation would die if you took too long to reply. I'm incredibly competitive in the most ridiculous things and typing became one of my major vices. I became jealous of how much faster my friends were at typing up messages, so I took typing classes and even bought software for extra help when I wasn't in school. Some of them were fun but I found a lot of the teaching software incredibly boring. I was really into video games (well I mean that's sort of obvious, I made this site designed specifically for gaming and other such shenanigans), and when I discovered these little challenge games to try and destroy asteroids or kill sharks before they destroyed your boat; I was hooked. Puns aside I got really into those games but the problem was that I wasn't the only one and even though I got decent games the very exact friends I was trying to beat in terms of messaging speed had also polished their skills, great. Eventually over time I would build the average speed I possess today, but that's after years of typing up short little stories, mostly IMs and a thousands of lines of code.

So what does all this backstory bullshit have to do with anything? One, I get lost in my own train of thought and secondly it's to illustrate how much typing is a critical part of my lifestyle. I use it for work as a programmer and it's essential for PC gaming and all sorts of other things in my life. So finding a comfortable typing solution is key. The reason I like low profile keys is they have a short travel distance, and from what I was deluding myself to believe is that they have a "soft landing", in that bottoming out the keys was returned with subtle feedback and was "soft". Since I type so much I probably suffer from repetitive-action-stress or whatever the term is. The joints in my fingers start to hurt. I find myself cracking my knuckles a lot in order to alleviate some of the pain since its sort of annoying. It's nothing I'd ice my hands over but it is annoying. It gets the point where I will intentionally just watch videos so I can take a break from typing. 

I think membranes are the main cause that I'm a "heavy typer" that I've always had to deal with the amount of the actuation force of membranes and having to always bottom out my keys in order to get them to activate. The beautiful thing about mechanical keyboards as I'm finding out is that they activate pretty much halfway through a keypress. You don't have to bottom out the key in order to activate it and therefore typing is so incredibly easier. I still have a huge tendency to bottom out my keys with every press out of habit, but I'm trying to teach myself how to type a little lighter, and sometimes while playing games I'll notice that I don't bottom out my keys for certain things. I know every key press is going to cause an action and that is the assurance I need. I've never noticed how much I stress over if a key is working or not before I switched and the certainty of my actions was a little jarring. It was weird, I never realized how much I didn't expect my keypresses to work until they always worked and I didn't really have to worry about it. It just seemed faster and I don't find my joints acting up as much since the activation force of my Cherry MX Reds is so tiny. Even now typing on this membrane at work is starting to wear me down, it feels like a marathon. You could that typing these paragraphs would tire anyone out, but I managed to type up two whole pages of content with ease and unparalleled speed. I didn't think that switching my keyboard would cause my WPM to increase but I'm here to confirm that such a thing actually matters.

Now there are several types of "switches" when it comes to buying a mechanical keyboard, each with their own feedback and actuation forces. This guide on Overclock.net is excellent it gives you so much detail and I'll try my best to summarize my experience and how the ascention and transition has changed the way I view keyboards. Firstly membranes are garbage, they feel really cheap now and it makes me laugh to think that I once used to believe that this was how it was supposed to be. The one I'm using now has no weight is incredibly flimsy and is exhausting to use now that I think about it. I'm starting to think that companies started using low profile keys and lowered bottoming out distances as a way to combat this fatigue and it's a valiant effort but if you're going to be using your keyboard for an extended time, its really worth considering getting a mechanical keyboard.

I'm going to completely ignore all the media features, backlighting and other trivial bullshit that you can basically ignore since they're all preference. Let's focus on the important things firstly and then we go can picking at the other bells and whistles. Firstly, I'm not a fan of raised keys but this is a stipulation that I'm willing to overlook because you can't really do anything about. I hated it at first and I was told I was going to hate my keyboard at first and I was sort of in awe and full of contempt at the same time. It was wonderful to try something new and so different from what I've been using all these years that I was a little jubilant as I typed stupid messages to myself in notepad and tried to message every single person I could to try and give myself an excuse to write something. One thing that I'm still getting over is that instead of sliding my fingers over my keys like I usually do, I have to now raise my fingers and press them and make sure that I give myself enough clearance to get over to the next key instead of knocking my finger against it. I've become so accustomed to low profile that this was the first hurdle that I had to overcome. I'm still working at it and I think my spelling is really taking a hit because of that. I sometimes mistype things because I'm not traveling across the keyboard like I should be. Also I'm starting to realize something as I'm typing right now on this membrane, the thing about membranes is that there seems to be a lag. It's similar to like I'm typing and then waiting for the characters to show up on screen. With mechanical keyboards you don't get that "lag", it's almost like things appear on screen the second that you think they should in reaction to your finger movements. Interesting, see! I'm still noticing new things! It's exciting, but I digress.

 

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