Some folks think a 60% keyboard is small, they’ve got nothing on 40% boards.
My first 40% was Planck. As beautiful as my Planck is, I never could master it. Perhaps it was just the 40% size, perhaps it was the ortholinear layout (which I now have a lot more confidence in), but that board never clicked with me. There were other 40% boards out there (Quark, JD40), but parts were hard to source. After Planck I was on the hunt for a 40% that used the standard staggered key layout.
Golbat is such a board. Sourced out of China, Golbat features a staggered layout, and a sandwich case design made of aluminum and acrylic. Perfect!
I joined GL1TCH3D’s group buy on Geek Hack back in January, with an estimated arrival date of March. Of course, like many group buys, this one suffered a few delays, but last week I finally received my Golbat.
I’ll say outright that I’m not completely satisfied with the board. When I opened the box, my immediate reaction was disappointment. During the group buy, there were several options for plate colors. It turns out my memory is quite faulty. Here I sat for 6 months thinking that I’d ordered a blue plate for this board, only to find out it’s actually teal. Looking back at the original group buy post, the plate pictured is indeed teal. In hindsight, I wish I had ordered gold. I’m still attempting to get over the initial disappointment, but as I use Golbat more and more it’s growing on me.
Golbat 40% Keyboard Kit
PCB Mount Stabilizers
Gateron Green Switches
Gateron Red Switches
Golbat offers two options for plates - an ANSI plate, or a HHKB plate. Naturally, I opted for to use the HHKB plate for this build.
I chose Gateron greens for this board, a clicky switch with 80 gram springs. I very much disliked blue MX mount switches when I got in to the hobby, but I discovered blue’s heavier brethren several months ago and was very impressed. Greens are significantly heavier than blues, the heavier spring completely changes the feel of the switch, making it far more pleasant. I also thought it comical to have a super-heavy switch in such a tiny board.
As I normally do, I’ve chosen Gateron reds for modifiers. Having used the board for a week or so now, I’ll need to go back and swap one of the reds and greens around, to match the position I’ve chosen for right-shift.
I learned a new trick prior to this build: stab clipping. Costar stabilizers are generally regarded as the best feeling stabilizers out there, but their multiple pieces, and freely mounted wire make them finnicky, and prone to rattle. Because of this, I’ve always used PCB-mount Cherry style stabs. Like many others, I’ve found Cherry style stabs to be a bit mushy. I’ve always considered the mushiness a worthy trade-off for not having to deal with finnicky Costars.
It turns out that by simply clipping off part of the stabilizer slider, the feel of a stabilized switch is entirely changed. I reap all the benefits of a Cherry slider, but I get the smooth action and feel of a Costar stab.
An eagle-eyed reader may notice that this board has two switches for the spacebar, rather than the standard single switch + stabilizer. Golbat can be built with two spacebars instead of one. After experimenting with a bottom-row backspace + spacebar on my Access-IS board, I chose to do the same with Golbat.
The Code (kinda)
Programming this board is quite a bit different to what I’ve used before. The board doesn’t use a GUI per-se, but it’s not straight TMK either.
At the end of the day, the board is running a version of TMK, but it’s packaged and built using the TKG toolkit. Notably, this will be because the board uses the Kimera controller (the red daughter board on the PCB). Typical TMK-compatible boards use a Atmel controller soldered directly to the PCB, or they’ll use the Teensy microcontroller. Kimera (near as I can tell) is a Teensy clone. Technically speaking, one could write a dedicated TMK firmware for this board, but that would take coding skills and patience far beyond what I possess.
Primarily, the firmware is build out on TMK Keymap Generator website. First, a new Golbat specific matrix layout must be entered (to configure the colums and rows for the key matrix). Second, the keymap layout must be configured on Keyboard Layout Editor. A dedicated keymap must be laid out for each layer. Then the function keys are set on the TMK Keymap site, and a .eep file is downloaded. This .eep file is a hex encoded version of the entered keymap.
After this, the board is rebooted and the firmware is uploaded.
The process is not desperately complicated. For the newbie just entering the hobby, the TKG process is significantly simpler than attempting to modify a keymap file directly, and then flash it. I did find that it’s not a great process for iterating and refining a keymap layout. It takes much more time to go back and edit a keymap than it does with straight TMK.
As stated above, I haven’t fallen in love with this board yet. Gateron greens are definitely a lovely switch. Nowhere near as sublime as Zealios of course, but they make for a fine switch. The click is lovely and annoying, the feel is good, I’m pleased.
The TKG firmware and programming process for Golbat is odd and complicated, but not the worst. The layout of the board is great. This layout probably reduces the board to the absolute minimum number of keys to retain full usefulness. The physical layout is great. Unlike Planck, I’ve picked up Golbat very quickly.
What remains is color. I’m still not in love with this color plate. That is in no way a knock against the board itself, it’s a knock against me for not realizing the color I was buying. In the days I’ve had Golbat, it has been growing on me, I’m just not in love yet. Perhaps as I use it more, I’ll get there.
At the end of the day though, Golbat is a fine board. The materials are great, the layout is great, and the programming experience should be simple enough for even a novice to get through. For only $125 shipped, Golbat is excellent value for money as a programmable aluminum 40% board.
I’m still learning to love it, but it’s a fine board.
I just got this Zenith Data Systems keyboard in. I’m not really sure what the model is, there are no labels or stickers on the board, so I’d need to crack it open to figure out exactly what it is.
The board has Alps SKCL green switches, a linear version of Alps’ SKCL/SKCM switches. I picked it up for a steal on eBay. As I’ve gotten more and more in depth in this hobby, I’ve come to appreciate the value of linear switches.
These SKCL Greens are sublime. They’re weighted very well, actuation feels slighly heavier than Cherry MX Black. I’ve yet to clean up the inevitably dust-filled switches, but they’re exceptionally smooth. Not the same fluid smoothness that one feels with MX Blacks, but still very smooth. They are linear, but feel very…complex, like there’s a lot going on inside the switch as it is depressed. This feel will of course be due to the SKCL’s ‘complicated’ leaf and slider design. Obviously it’s a mechanical switch, but it’s the first linear I’ve tried that truly feels mechanical. These may be the best linears I’ve used yet.
The sound of this board is very distinct. The typing sound is very low and satisfying, more thock than clack. During fast typing, there is an underlying pinging sound piercing up through the low thocks - in a way it reminds me of Alps SKCCswitches. I’m not certain if the pinging is simply coming from the springs in the switch, or from the metal plate they’re mounted to. None of my other comlicated Alps make such a pinging sound.
The board itself is lovely. It’s profoundly heavy and very very well built. It’s missing one keycap, but other than that, the board is in remarkably good condition. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll harvest these switches, or simply update the board for use with a modern computer. I’m excited for the potential here.
I’ve been pondering getting a dashcam for some months now. I am not a professional or commercial driver, and I’m not often in situations where I need to have a dashcam, but I think that they’re potentially useful, and many are inexpensive.
For several months I looked around the web for cameras - not any serious research, but periodically popping around looking for quality cameras at a good price. Many cameras sell for upwards of $200 - I planned on spending less than $100.
A few weeks ago meh.com had the Nabi LookHD, with a bonus GoPro mounting kit on sale for $35. While not explicitly a dash cam, it appeared to have suitable mounts for a car, and I figured it would produce at least decent video quality.
Jump to a couple weeks later and I’ve got the camera in hand. For the price it’s great value. The camera is well built, and comes with a useful water resistant case. The body of the Nabi is similarly proportioned as a GoPro, so the included GoPro accessory kit is great, tons of extra mounting options there. If all else I knew this would be great for making small random videos if the dashcam idea fell through.
True dashcams are of course designed for operation in a car - when the car turns on they turn on and automatically begin recording - they do the reverse when the car is turned off. Most also have a continuous recording feature where they’ll overwrite old videos when the memory card fills with space. Typical cameras (like the Nabi) don’t have any of these features, thus making them useless at being a dashcam. Conveniently the Nabi has at least one: looped recording; it records in 15 minute segments, and automatically overwrites older files when out of space (if enabled).
Out of the box, the Nabi does not automatically power on or begin recording, but I solved that with a hack or two. After some experimentation I found that with the battery removed and the power switch set to on, the camera would automatically power on and begin recording when a charger is plugged in. A quick car charger purchase on Amazon later, and I thought I was in business.
It turns out that the Nabi’s factory wall charger must be wired in a nonstandard way. When I plug in the factory charger, the camera will stay powered on and record, when plugging in any other charger (such as the power-only car charger I bought), the camera powers off and charges. Conveniently I know my way around a solder iron, so I took a guess that if I soldered the factory charger’s USB end to the car charger it would work as I wanted - turns out it did!
After some experimentation with mounting points and options, I’m satisfied with how I have my Nabi set up. I have a suction mount on my windshield with the Nabi attached, and cabling routing to the 12V charger in my car. When I turn my car on, the Nabi powers on and begins recording. To end recording, I do have to manually end it, but I’ve mounted the camera remote in my car using command strips, and it has quickly become habitual to end recording when I’m done driving.
It took a bit of fiddling, and a bit of hacking, but I’ve ended up with a functional and decent dashcam for only $35. Goal: achieved.