Andy Weir’s The Martian

I’ll just say that Andy Weir’s book The Martian is the most fun read I’ve had in the last year or so. I’m not to the end yet, but I’ve been simultaneously on tenterhooks while laughing. I’ve wanted to play hooky from work to finish it. You should read it.

(And if you haven’t read John W Campbell’s The Moon is Hell, then that’s another great one. A similar problem, but set on the moon. Written in 1950, so it’s a bit dated, but still pretty darned good).

Klackity Klack

I make my living by typing stuff on a keyboard, all day long, so it makes sense that I use the best equipment I can find for the job. Keyboard manufacturers have other ideas, and for the most part just seem to be throwing junk against the wall to see what sticks. I’m convinced that the majority of keyboards not really designed, but rather simply mutated to test what sells. And most people don’t know how to type, so we’re in a vicious cycle that’s going to wind up with me being unemployed because all available keyboards will have degenerated to F1, arrow keys and a “Goto Porn” shortcut button.

So to help stave off this bad eventuality, a while ago I created an objective point-based system for evaluating keyboards, and I thought it would be useful to share it.

20 points. Where is the capslock key? Yeah, I already know where capslock is going to be, so except for exactly one keyboard I’ve ever used this is always -20 points, but hope springs eternal that keyboard designers will finally get a bloody clue and put capslock where it belongs, wayyyy up there on the right, next to those keys that nobody knows what they do (SysRq and PrtScn, natch). Illuminate the fucker and when it’s enabled make it strobe fast enough to give you an epileptic fit because you NEVER want that thing on.

10 points. Is the ESC key a first-class citizen? Or is it a diminuative nub located in the hinterlands, hanging its head in shame because keyboard designers (who went to art school or had their minds broken up for parts and sold in MBA school) were afraid of its mystery? “Escape from what? That sounds subversive.” I can see the conversation in marketing: “Who ever types ESC? Why would we trust them? Do any of YOU ever use escape? Apparently we need it for legal reasons, but we don’t have to like it.” Naturally none of these people would be caught dead using EMACS or vi or really anything other than PowerPoint, so they’ve never been acquainted with the joys of hitting ESC every third of fourth keystroke. ESC needs to be right around squiggle, or the keyboard can go to hell.

20 points. KLACKY keyboards feel great but they will get you knifed in the back by the people who work near you. The opposite — mushy — will get the keyboards broken in half and thrown into the microwave on DEFROST. TWO POUNDS. KEYBOARD. I prefer something with a slightly klacky feel, enough that I know that the key was registered, but not noisy enough to get me pushed into the elevator shaft onto some bullets.

5 points. Utility in an emergency. Can you paddle your canoe across the newly created Lake Server Room to reach the UPS control panel and still get all the servers back online by hitting ESC at the right time? If so, you’ll be a hero. Be prepared!

5 points. Inverted-T arrow keys, thanks.

5 points. No shifty magic. Page up, down, home and end without involving some arcane FN shifter (which is always colored blue for some reason).

30 points. Split Ego. A sensible “split” ergo angle or I can’t type on you. (I can’t paddle across Lake Server Room with one of these, but then again I have a set of nunchucks. Life is full of trade-offs like this).

5 points. No funky modes (e.g., “alpha mode” or “F-key mode” or “mysteriously type random shit without any way to turn the mode off other than rebooting the computer, unplugging the keyboard and jumping up and down on it in shitkicker boots” mode).

10 points. Comfy when used as a pillow? Unfortunately no keyboard has ever passed this test. 5 points for being drool-resistant, then.

5 points if there are no helpful bullshit MAIL and WEB or WEIRD ICON buttons (“that looks like three Lego minifigs having wild and uninhibited . . . brunch”).

100 points. Longevity. Keyboard will last at least a decade, and I’ll be able to buy another one then. I need to specifically exclude the Microsoft keyboard division, since it hasn’t made a worthwhile keyboard in over a decade (and I’ve exhausted my stockpile of classic Microsoft Natural keyboards).

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This was typed on a Kinesis Freestyle 2 split ergo keyboard, with only a couple critical key remappings (capslock, and duplicating ESC onto F1).