Board Surgery

Mid-surgery Alps64

Over the weekend I had to perform repair surgery on my white Alps64 board. After giving a tour of my office, my metal ErgoDox mockup fell off its wall mount, hitting the Alps64 on the way down. 

Broken stem in slider

Fortunately there wasn’t too much damage other than the left-bracket keycap being broken off.

As is commonly seen with Alps switches, the keycap stem was broken off and stuck lodged in the slider. 

I removed all the necessary keycaps from the board to expose the case screws, and removed the PCB from the case. Fortunately I like to keep many spare parts in stock, including white alps SKCM switches. 

New slider :D

I soldered on a new switch and verified it worked.  I also went through my parts and tracked down a left-bracket keycap from an AEKI. Unfortunately it doesn’t match the AEKII keycap perfectly. The dyesub printing is slightly different(more purple than black), and the replacement keycap sits half a millimeter taller than the AEKII caps. 

Slight mismatch

Things could have been worse, but the board still looks pretty and is in good shape. Hopefully there will be no more infighting among my boards in the future. 

Good as new..ish

Typed on Access-IS Matrix Keyboard

Access-IS Ortholinear Board

I’ve seen these Access boards pop up on r/mk periodically, but in all my searching, they’ve been difficult to track down. Access is a UK based manufacturer, so sourcing one in the US proved troublesome for me.

Browsing on UK Keycaps’ site a few weeks ago, I discovered they had several in stock.

Access-IS’ boards are ortholinear matrix boards originally designed for POS. The ortholinear layout, mechanical switches, and programmable layout make them highly desirable for wonks like me.

The model I ordered from UK Keycaps was a AKE0 series, with a 15x8 matrix layout. Shipping was surprisingly fast from the UK - less than a week. Pricing was very reasonable, the board was $78 shipped to the US.

The board is equipped with Cherry MX Black linear (50g) switches. The model I ordered included keycaps. The caps appear to be Signature Plastics made, in DCS profile. Most of the keys (including alphas and mods) are doubleshot. The blue and mint colored keycaps (note that the mint have the same colorway as Jukebox) appear to be laser etched. The board also includes 10 flat relegendable keycaps. I’m choosing to use them to separate the upper part keys on the board. Board aside, the value-for-money in keycaps alone is staggering. A similar POS-centric keycap set from Signature Plastics is $130 all on its own, let alone the cost of the board.

Obviously the layout the board ships with is not practical for daily typing. What’s fantastic about this board is that it is programmable. That being said, the programming ability is limited and somewhat inconvenient. Access-IS’ Softprog will only run on native 32-bit Windows systems with a PS/2 port. Fortunately for me, I have a variety of boxes readily available, so I was able to source a box for programming pretty easily. The softprog software is a GUI. Simply select a key, then type the desired character or macro with another board.

I found the software simple enough to use. I had it learned within a few minutes. The software does allow the use of layers, but it is limited to either a toggle or a momentary layer. Only 2 layers are permitted, and the board is limited to 2 function keys as well.

I attempted to make a split hand layout for my Access. This was in an effort to maximize the useful number of keys on the board, and to workshop a viable ErgoDox layout for when that project is completed. The Access has now become my daily driver at work. I’ve made several revisions to the layout in the past week, but I’m confident I’ll have a final layout nailed down by the time I build ErgoDox. Hopefully I’ll be able to migrate this layout to ErgoDox easily.

With this layout, the biggest revelation has been bottom-row backspace. With ErgoDox, I plan on putting Space on the right-hand thumb keys, but wasn’t entirely certain of what to do with left-hand thumb – the clear option at this point is backspace. In just a week, I’ve already become very accustomed to having backspace below my left thumb. It’s so natural and has become so ingrained that I find myself tapping spacebar on other boards accidentally when I intend to hit backspace. All boards should have thumb-backspace!

The feel of the board is great. It has a hefty ABS plastic frame, and large rubber feet on the bottom. Even with aggressive and fast typing, the board doesn’t move around one bit. The MX blacks are broken in well, and are a dream to type on. They’re perhaps a bit heavy for a daily work board, but I love the feel of these linear switches. The one qualm I have with this layout is that there are no considerations for stabilized keys. Instead of the typical setup that has a single switch withs stabilizers for 2u and wider keys, this simply uses two or three switches instead. Keys like Tab, Capslock, Rshift, and Enter are all situated on two switches. Two switches means twice the force to actuate the switch. That heaviness is great for Enter, but troublesome for keys like shift, and even space. I’ve become accustomed to it fairly quickly, but I’m definitely considering swapping out the blacks on these 2u keys for lighter reds.

Overall I’m very pleased with this board. Even though I plan to daily drive it for just a short period of time, it’s a worthy interim board between AEKII and ErgoDox.

Typed on Access-IS Matrix Keyboard

Knobs Schmobs!

I should create a Youtube channel like this, but for buttons.

I press a lot of buttons at my job, most of them suck.

Typed on Access-IS Matrix Keyboard

Ultratec Supercom 4400 TTY

Working in a building that has been occupied by a single company for 30+ years, I’m always scoping for odd and old equipment that has failed to be discarded. This caught my eye the other day, as all vintage-looking keyboards do.

This is a Ultratec Supercom 4400 from circa 1996. It is a TTY, used by deaf people to make phone calls.

The machine is in good shape for a piece of 20 year old equipment. It has minimal yellowing on the case. While it is significantly outdated technology, I think the design is beautiful.

Removing a couple keycaps, the keyboard on the machine is (as expected) mechanical. More on that below.

Removal of the case shows us a 20 character LED display, signal indicator lamp and LEDs, and a confirmation that the keyswitches are PCB mount.

The keyswitches as said above are mechanical. They are a smooth, but very heavy linear switch. I was impressed that a linear switch could remain so smooth after so long. They appear at first glance to be Cherry MX. From the exterior I had my doubts. Unlike typical Cherry switches, there is no hole for LEDs, and no Cherry embossed on the top of the switch housing. In addition, the only white sliders Cherry has made (that I’m aware of) are tactile, not linear.

The pinout is identical to PCB mount Cherry MX.

Time to disassemble a switch and see what it is!

First the switch top. Unlike Cherry corp, these have two vertical shafts on either side as opposed to a slider channel.

The sliders are different from Cherry as well. Here we see holes for the shafts to slide in to, as opposed to the channel guides.

Here is the slider removed from the switch. I apologize for poor picture quality. The design is simpler than Cherry’s. Specifically the legs have no overhang at the bottom, thus the switch seems to have a slightly shorter travel distance than the real deal.

After posting these to Reddit, the switches were positively identified as Taiwan jet axis clones. Being that the board is from circa 1996, these clones predate modern-day Cherry clones like Gateron and Kaihl by over a decade.

Keycaps on this board appear to be OEM profile, with dyesub printed legends. I would presume that they are PBT plastic, as they exhibit no yellowing.

Overall a very interesting piece of vintage equipment.

Typed on AEKII

The Mille

“We all need to get the fuck out of Italy,” is what I should have said.

From Alex Roy’s series on The Drive about his experience at the Mille Miglia, a 1,000 mile road rally for classic cars.

“Listen to me, Tall Man. I’m terrified because I know everything you hear about the Gumball is true, that the real Miglia is a Gumball for much richer dudes who might be able to literally walk away from vehicular manslaughter. People are here in multi-million dollar cars, given a free pass by the local police, driving like fucking maniacs for four days running red lights, and here we are, in some old Morgan maintained by these fucking guys, whose only proof of insurance is an email from a guy who might be dead and the word of some kid who looks unsettlingly like Rocco Siffredi. We’re breaking every rule of common sense. I don’t know how much money you’ve paid, how much I owe, or how we’re going to get out of the country if something bad happens.”

I was being well paid by The Drive to find out whether the Mille Miglia—the legendary Italian road race—was just the Old Man’s Gumball, with a better publicist. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that where there are men, money and cars—sex, drugs and crashes must follow.
Now that our supercharged, wood-framed, 1,857-pound, 350+ horsepower, 1999 Morgan +8 rental car was lying in a ditch outside the third-rate Italian village of Sassocorvaro, all I had to do was find the sex and drugs.

Roy, President of a rental car agency Europe by Car, best known for his time in the Gumball and Bullrun rallys, and for setting an intercontinental driving record (NYC to LA) in 31 hours 4 minutes has recently become my favorite writer on the internet. His work with The Drive is incredibly fun. His psuedo-gonzo style reminds me of a modern-day Hunter S Thompson. Check out this whole series on the Mille, it’s great.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Typed on AEKII