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The Idiocy of Hacker Keyboards (2010) (xahlee.info)
19 points by of on May 2, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

Is there any purpose to this article besides complaining about the keyboard preferences of other people? Some people like the way certain things look or feel, and they pay money for it.

I agree that having a "hacker keyboard" probably won't make you a better programmer, but then people pay thousands of dollars for top-end laptops when they could probably do just as well with lower-end ones.

Additionally, for an input device you use for 8 hours a day for the rest of your career the price is trivial. Nothing is worse for me than the mushy feel of rubber dome switches.

> the mushy feel of rubber dome switches.

Yes. I find rubber dome keybaords much more tiring. It's not really clear when the key activates; I wind up essentially mashing the keys. I pretty much refuse to use them.

Scissor key (laptop style) keyboards are a great compromise for me: cheap and precise. Almost as good as mechanical keys for me.

Mechanical keyboards are best for me, but not always practical due to noise and expense. (Note: mech keyboards with Cherry keys can easily be made much quieter with O-ring dampeners; this is what I do)

Is there any downside to using o-rings? How come no keyboards seem to ship with them by default? I just ordered an MX Brown keyboard, wondering if I should buy o-rings.

None whatsoever in my opinion.

The people who dislike them seem to really enjoy slamming their keys down all the way; they say O-rings makes the keyboard "mushy."

I'm not going to say anybody's using their keyboard incorrectly; it's all personal preference. But imho they're missing the entire intended purpose of mech keyboards; they offer tactile/aural feedback when the key activates so you don't have to slam the damn key all the way down.

Again, if anybody disagrees, you're not wrong... type however you like. :)

> How come no keyboards seem to ship with them by default?

Good question. I know some manufacturers like WASD let you order them preinstalled as an option.

Answer is probably because it wouldn't be profitable. They're pretty time-consuming to put on, honestly. I've done it to two keyboards and it took me a half hour or so. No big deal really, I just did it while I was watching TV or something.

I have only one downside: if you use your keyboard to play games, it feels weird to hold keys like shift down if you have an o-ring on them, because it compresses slightly. I found my hands getting fatigued after a while of running this way, and have since removed all the rings.

This hasn't been my personal experience; I don't find they really compress much.

That's not to say you're wrong or anything. Everybody's hands and preferences are different of course!

Just out of curiosity, which o-rings are you using? Here are the ones I'm using: http://www.amazon.com/Cherry-Rubber-Ring-Switch-Dampeners/dp...

that keyboard rant is written 6 years ago. Back then many programers will praise Das all over, but not aware that many keyboard in gamer community are cheaper even with better quality.

Das was primarly marketing to programers, but recently they are marketing to gamers. (disclaimer: opinion only.)

I mentioned that old article recently in my new keyboard blog. I think that's how the rant resurfaced.

> Is there any purpose to this article besides complaining about the keyboard preferences of other people?

Making money from affiliate links? Trolling the internet at large? Based on previous interactions with Xah Lee on usenet, I'd say both are quite possible.

I did not submit this article.

This article got submitted i believe because this morning i tweeted my new keyboard blog on twitter, and my keyboard blog mentioned this 6 years old rant. And somebody submitted that here.

For over a decade 1997 to 2007, when my website is most popular, linked all over from universities and schools at, I did not have any ads nor ask any donation.

I despise those so-called "hackers", because people like you. I don't know who you are, but there are handful who will badmouth me whever my name appears. In the past I have simply ignored them. But, i'm getting old, and feel like responding, for what's worth.

A large part of this person's reviews are complaints about the amount of keys. I found the other information in these reviews more enlightening, because personally I don't want more keys.

I like the HappyHacking keyboard. Nice size, good keys and layout, perfect for my needs. I have used it for ~3 years, no complaints, but at its current price you're also paying for warm, fuzzy feelings that come with the product.

Das Keyboard feels a lot cheaper in every regard and makes a ton of noise. I gave it away as a present to a co-worker. He loved it, and it improved his typing skills, but I can think of better ways to improve your typing.

I have a feeling that my HHK won't break anytime soon, but if I were to need a replacement, I would probably buy it again, or look for something similar. Perhaps one of the alternatives suggested by OP.

I am very happy with my ThinkPad keyboard as well. Even for gaming it works fine for me. Probably even better than a traditional keyboard, and definitely much better than the keyboards of previously owned Apple products (MacBook Pro & Air, early generation).

I don't really care what other people use in terms of keyboard layout or non-layout, but loud clicking is incredibly distracting. I had to get active noise cancellation headphones to be able to work in one room with a fellow developer who insisted on using such a monster.

These work really well in my experience to make Cherry MX-compatible mechanical keyboards tolerable from a noise standpoint: http://www.amazon.com/Cherry-Rubber-Ring-Switch-Dampeners/dp...

There are two sounds with the typical Cherry MX blue keyswitch: the pleasant and satisfying "click" as the key activates and the annoying "clack" of it bottoming out.

The dampeners only affect the clack; not the click.

Of course, being considerate to one's coworkers is always #1. No substitute for that.

When I have coworkers sharing my office, I show them that I have a non-clicky keyboard right here in my desk drawer, and make them swear to let me know if the clicky keyboard ever becomes even slightly annoying. I show them where the other keyboard sits and tell them they can literally just swap it out themselves if they like. I like my (modified to be quieter) clicky keyboard but I like my coworkers 100x more. :)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but active noise cancelling doesn't really work for punctuated noises like keyboard clacks. I tried a coworker's Bose Quiet Comfort active noise cancelling headphones, and ultimately decided that the passive cancelling of the Sennheiser HD 280s was better for anything that wasn't a more of a constant drone. As side benefit, they were much cheaper and sound much better (to my ear) too.

As far as I know, sound is actually so slow that you don't need to average the noise and make an educated guess as to what to filter. Acoustic noise filtering in headphones should work by detecting the outside noise with a microphone and playing the cancelling wave form as soon as the sound wave reaches the interior of your headphone.

In contrast, you can't do that for the noise of a car on the road because here the whole car vibrates and you couldn't, even if you wanted to emit sounds that cancel whatever rumbles quickly enough. Therefore they employ some spectral analysis of the noise and cancel persistent noise. This, of course, wouldn't cancel the sound of hitting a wall.

Again, I'm not 100% sure about this because it's outside of my field of expertise. Corrections are welcome.

Considering the fact that it takes about 60 microseconds for sound to travel about 2cm, you only have about 900 cycles (assuming the same clock speed as an Arduino: 16MHz) to process the input sound, do a fast Fourier transform of the noise, and output the cancellation wave. I severely doubt that it can be implemented to be that fast. And not to mention that spikes in sound aren't nicely dealt with in Fourier transforms, so it's unlikely to actually remove the noise properly.

I doubt that there are analog-digital, digital-analog converters and an FFT module in there. I would have assumed that there's only some analog circuit. You don't even need spectral analysis. It just needs to invert the amplitude and delay the output for those 60 microseconds, right? This would also make the problems of spikes and Fourier transforms go away.

Sadly, both of you are quite wrong. ANC can easily cancel wideband sudden sounds. It may have problems at very high frequencies due to frame sizes and required group delay precision. Computing FFT or even more complex transforms with very low latency is possible, as is combining time domain and frequency domain processing. You cannot do analogue ANC at high frequencies, as the internal reflections in the headphone/ear system ruin it, while a digital system can measure these and respond well enough while not damaging the sound. Plus it is very hard to represent psychoacoustics without digital processing and those help preserve sound quality immensely.

Thanks for that. I wouldn't have expected it to be practical to have such low latency FFTs.

Thanks for the explanation!

It worked quite well for me (also Bose Quiet Comfort). I wanted them to eliminate other more regular noises as well, but for the clicks it worked fine, and even language in many cases (which it supposedly wouldn't normally do either).

If you're listening to music or white noise over the headphones, that'll do just as well as active noise cancellation for a lot of normal office noise. I can drown out most things with a good pair of rubber in-ear headphones and a bit of music.

That's nice for you, but it didn't work for me in my environment. Active noise cancellation improved my office (and travel/commuting) life a lot.

People should be using Cherry Brown/Blacks, or at least have sound dampeners on their Blues in an office setting. If you don't, your neighbors probably curse you under their breath.

I've swapped keyboards to quiet ones while my coworkers were out of the office. Seriously obnoxious, especially the ones who aren't light tappers.

Seems pretty obnoxious to steal people's input devices. Did you try talking to them first?

I love my Model M and use it at home, but I don't use it at work out of respect for my coworkers because it is very loud. But if a coworker replaced my keyboard without talking to me, I would not be happy.

There are many different key switch types, some loud, some quiet.

Some of their other writing seems to be of a similarly low quality. Another of their pages [0] seems to mirror a post [1] that they had sent to comp.lang.lisp, where they describe their difficulty with finding out the identities behind some blogs in sufficient detail.

> PS it annoys me to no end when one cannot easily find the name of the author on blogs, when the blog author clearly didn't meant to be anonymous. Is there a reason you didn't want it spelled it out?

This turns into a small rant against handles, which, if you set aside the jargon, are essentially nicknames.

> (i despise hacker culture, where these “hackers” idiotic-namesake prefer to go by “handles” or abbrevs (e.g. “RMS”, “ESR”, “JWZ”) or whatnot insider-fashion fuck. But that's just me.)

One person seemed a bit annoyed by them, so they then responded with a larger rant [2] that proposes that “hackers” are a strict subset of the people who like to tinker with computers, without ever clearly describing what it is about “hackers” that they “despise” — concluding:

> It is this group of people, i despise. More accurately: i despise their general style and outlook. I despite them. Fuck them. FUCK hackers. FUCK their hacking. Fuck their mothers. Scumbags.

At this point, I’d have dismissed them as a troll, but they went to the effort of buying a domain name and everything!

[0] http://xahlee.info/Netiquette_dir/whats_hacker.html

[1] https://groups.google.com/d/msg/comp.lang.lisp/VQF8CIUIotg/q...

[2] https://groups.google.com/d/msg/comp.lang.lisp/VQF8CIUIotg/P...

Xah Lee is a well known usenet troll. He entered my killfile many, many years ago for his ranting against Python, Vim, Emacs, Lisp, and everything else under the sun.

Must be profitable, if he's still at it.

The articles you are citing are from comp.lang.lisp newsgroup. I'm a regular there roughly from 1999 to 2010.

I didn't buy a domain to put a rant. I had a website since 1995, had domain since 2000, and my website had several thousand links from math department of universities, educational institutions, printed books, math journals.

How is it surprising that premium/hobbyist keyboards are expensive?

$200 for a keyboard that you use for hours everyday for 5-10 years is not unreasonable.

Unclear for what reason the author put the Model M / Unicomp in there. When I click the link, he says he'd like one except for the lack of an ergo form factor.

I own a Unicomp (at home, where I can't bother coworkers), and love the tactile feel of the thing. Plus, I'm a weirdo who types dvorak, and I was pleased to be able to buy the keyboard with a hardware dvorak layout. And, the thing wasn't crazy expensive compared to most keyboards. I think I paid < $100 for it.

This article is just Hacker News click bait. Despite panning expensive keyboards the page is full of amazon affiliate links.

I am thinking of buying (somehow. because these things doesn't exist in my country, and I am thinking I will have to build it from scratch) a MX Brown keyboard...

Anyone here know if their clicking is less obnoxious, or if they click at all?

I do want the tactile feedback, when you feel the key giving away and can release it immediately, but I don't want to annoy other people (myself I don't get bothered by the noise...)

I used a Cherry Red keyboard in an office for a while. It was pretty noticeable for most people around me.

The benchmark for keyboard loudness in my experience is the standard apple laptop keyboard noise or the standard apple USB keyboard noise. It seems like all mechanical keyboard switches tend to be louder than those, and will be noticed. It's possible though that depending on how you type, people won't care.

I spend a lot of time writing text and type quickly and with force, so people could really hear it when I got going on my keyboard.

I've been using an MX brown keyboard for over 3 years now, and switched from MX blues. As another poster said, MX browns do not have that extra click [0] but go straight down. Now while they don't have that extra click, they are still much louder than your average keyboard. If you really try, you can type kind of quietly if you don't bottom out on your keys too hard, but make no mistake, when you're furiously typing away you'll be heard.


The clacking is entirely from bottoming out the key with browns and reds. O-Rings will take there of most of this for you, as will not typing with such force that you bottom out the keys. You generally have a good cm of travel after actuating the key during which you can let up with no appreciable impact to your typing.

Chorded keyboards are silly - just like chorded instruments. Can't argue with the obvious superiority of the 2000-keyed guitar rather than just one with 6 strings and 20 frets.

Also, it's not like you'll be using keyboards for half a decade, so yeah... learning something like that would be a total waste of time.

^ typed on my favorite keyboard - the $12* Logitech K120

* Canadian... includes a mouse.

> Also, it's not like you'll be using keyboards for half a decade, so yeah... learning something like that would be a total waste of time.

Why not? It's not like we have a revolution in keyboard designs every year. If the keyboard is durable, there's no reason for it not to be used decades hence. The Model M I use at home was made in the same year I was born, and still works just as well as it did new.

Completely agree that chorded keyboards are uncomfortable though. I tried one and can't imagine using it.

Is this supposed to be sarcasm? Do you use a steno keyboard?

Is the "double click" the sound of the keycap hitting the keyboard, or is it coming from the switch itself?

Based on my experience with blues, "double click" with blues is both of those. The click from the switch, and then bottoming out a few 10ths of a second later.

There's no need to bottom out with mechanical switches, but most people do out of habit with cheaper rubber dome switches.

I believe it's the sound of a tactile switch, and then the sound of the key bottoming out (which is not how you should be typing). It could also be the sound of the keycap hitting the board, but to me the first two are more likely.

What is most funny about this is by trashing hacker keyboards, the hackers show up with pitchforks... and links.

I work with one of the 60% keyboards. The biggest plus for me is having the navigation keys within the home row, but the biggest negative is having to press fn to use the function keys. I don't know if I'd go so far to call it idiocy though.

Maybe this guy can buy a keyboard that helps him to spell the word "programer" correctly.

it is correct to write programer with single m. Check any major dictionary. I use Truly Ergonomic Keyboard.

I'm sorry but how does having no key labels, improve speed and accuracy? I haven't looked at my keyboard in probably twenty years, and most of the keys are worn off on the current one now. Will erasing the existing ones somehow speed me up?

removing the labels helps people who are learning to touch type.

Or they could just put a tea-towel over their hands.

In 2005, in a personal quest to improve his own typing speed and accuracy, Metadot Corporation founder and self-proclaimed “Uber Geek” Daniel Guermeur asked to have a totally blank keyboard created. To his surprise, his typing speed doubled after just a few weeks of use.

An existing proficient typer claims he was able to double his speed without keys being labeled.

No, it only works for people who have looked at their keyboard in the last twenty years.

It forces you to actually touch type, you can't cheat when you have no labels.

It ellimentant the subconscious impulse to look at the keys. Many typist think they are touch typist until they are actually face to face with a unlabeled keyboard.

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