Almost a year ago I read the book: “New Programmers Survival Manual” by Josh Carter. Overall I liked it and special parts such as “Get Your Tools In Order” inspired me to personally change some things. There was one chapter about keyboards and touch typing. I have tried to learn touch typing before. But I was infected by the idea once again. This time I was willing to force myself through the first weeks of nightmare slow writing and aching forearms. To support that I chose to switch to a different key layout. So that it would be useless to look at the keyboard. Besides QUERTY (actually QUERTZ on my German Keyboard) there is the DVORAK Layout. It is quite old, standardized by ANSI and optimized for speed and writing English texts. The problem was, no “Umlaute” and you need those for the German language. Yes I know there are adapted versions, but while looking around I stumbled upon NEO2, specially optimized for German and with a quite extended strategy for different key layers or levels (reachable through modifier keys, e.g. shift, alt). Giving each layer a special purpose. Level M4 for example makes all special symbols that you typically use for programming tasks easily accessible. Take a look at the NEO2 homepage for more information (it is German, though). So I started and was so damn slow it was a pain.
I became used to the new layout, though. And after one month I was able to write half as fast as with my prior 4-fingers-keyboard-dance. After 3 month I was faster writing code then before I switched to NEO2. After 9 month I had beaten my old speed for prose.
Another thing that draw my attention in Carters book was the recommended Kinesis Keyboard. While looking where I could order one, I found other similar keyboards. Especially the Maltron keyboards and the TypeMatrix seemed interesting to me. I struggled deeply. But I couldn’t get myself to order one of those because neither seemed really what I wanted. By that time I had a quite clear understanding of how a ideal keyboard for me should look like:
- For esthetics and because I am quite used to notebook keyboards the keys should have a flat profile.
- The keys for the left and right hand should be separated, so that you can move them around. Reposition them independently of eachother to your actual sitting pose.
- The keys should be ordered in a matrix instead of the classical staggered rows – that was a hart time learning to move my left hand pinky under the ring finger to press the “Z” key (in NEO2 there is the “Ü”) and stretch the right hand pointer to reach the “Y” (in NEO2 the “K”).
Inspired by the interesting selfmade and selfmodified keyboards layouted in NEO2 that you can find on the layouts homepage – especially this one looked adoring: Tastaturselbstbau von Daniel V – and because I remembered Arduino – and that I was looking for a worthwhile project I might tackle with it – I said to myself: “Hey, why not create your own keyboard”. The constrain was to keep the material costs beneath the price tag of 359€ for the Kinesis Advantage Pro and to create a somewhat nice looking and quite practical solution that I could really use in my day job.
So that’s how it all began. To give you a preview of how it all ended these two pictures of an intermediary version of “TheTasTaTur Mark1″ should give you a good feel for it. Later I added a thumbstick and mouse buttons. I have no picture of it yet.
Read the stories about how it went from there and about key modules and key caps, the keyboard matrix and resistors, arduino uno and power saving, bluetooth hid and RF as well as debouncing and mouse moves by thumbstick in one of the next posts in this category.
I can hardly resist to vomit into a corner, everytime someone comes up with a new and fancy 3 to 5 letter acronym for some stupid simple concept. BYOD, which stands for “Bring Your Own Device”, is another glory gory example.
If you haven’t heard of it, feel blessed, and close your ears for anyone mentioning it to you. It might be, that this is only some local movement, though. You know, we Germans tend to come up with such and similar stupid things by ourselves, from time to time. Most prominent and irritating example is the word handy meaning mobile phone.
Currently and for more than a year now (if I remember right) our (IT) press is polluted with articles about BYOD. Discussing the pros and cons, what you can/should/shouldn’t do about it, what rules to empower, … and on and on and on.
I bring my own devices, for more than four years now. Well before the acronym, and it’s hype came to existence. I do this, because my employer isn’t willing/able to provide me with the devices I enjoy working with. I tried a few times to get what I wanted, but failed, even with such a simple thing as a keyboard. I’m quite picky regarding certain things, I admit.
We have a corporate shopping cart, where you have to pick your equipment from. And a defined set of devices supported by our inhouse support crew. All that stifles your choices and there is nothing fancy left. Orderly things a bigger company is supposed to have? I guess not, much money is burned in managing that stuff. A little more trust in the capabilities of the employees – or enabling them, or get rid of those employees who don’t get it – would cost much less and would result in superior safety.
Nevertheless, I started to pay for my gear, with my own money. Since I’m supposed to know what I’m doing, it’s tolerated and I never had any issues. But I wouldn’t BMOD, if my employer would provide me with the things I need.
BYOD boils down to a lame excuse. Provide your employees with the equipment they think they need and the whole concept evaporates.
I learned yet again, that I’m living in an ivory tower. Actually, there is only a very limited number of places I usually go. My work place, quite intelligent and grown-up people in the majority. My home, my almost sane family. Our neighbourhood, one of the better in Krefeld. An idyllic world. But from time to time I have to leave that capsule of righteousness and hilarious problems. Last Saturday such a time had come.
Amazon notified me just a few days earlier that they shipped One Piece #66. This one was finally supposed to finish the Fishmen Island Arc. I made a habit out of collecting the books until they conclude an arc, and than read them altogether. Otherwise, those cliffhangers drove me crazy and I couldn’t wait two to three month until the next one came out. I was forced to spoil for what happens next. That has always taken a little bit the fun out of it.
I was happy. Now I could finally consume the other four books laying on my bedside table.
The Message of Doom
Arriving at home on Friday afternoon, I found one of the most feared things in our idyllic-world capsule: a message from the mailman. Actually Amazon ships their books with DHL and they are not allowed or unable or whatever to use a mail box. We have an opening in our front door for letters and stuff. This tiny parcel could easily fit, and no one except the people living in the house (only us) could pick the parcel up. So where is the point in denying to use it? Despite this, their are usually neighbours accepting our parcels. But sometimes you have simply bad luck.
I mentally prepared to visit the central post office. That literally took me down for the rest of the day. The last time I was there, not so long ago, I spent two hours in the line for a similar small parcel. It always happens on Fridays, and you cannot pick them up before twelve o’clock the next day. The opening hours on Saturdays leave only one hour, to do so. And since DHL created those dreaded Pack Stations, there is only the main post office left. I was cursing them. They never really made the leap from a governmental service to a customer friendly company.
I took my Kindle with me and hoped to read another good chunk of The Emperor’s Edge, which I can highly recommend to any fantasy book fan. When I entered the hall the line actually wasn’t that long, only once through the 60 meters wide hall. I estimated around an hour of waiting. Luckily they don’t kick you out at one o’clock, they merely don’t let new customers in and handle the line till the end.
Reading was hard from the beginning, since two girls were behind me that chatted constantly as if they haven’t seen each other for years.
After ten minutes – the line moved around 5 meters – I noticed a young woman (mid 20′s, I would guess) who paced back and forth between a counter and the form fill out area (sounds like chill out area, but is quite the opposite) ignoring any line and almost jumped over the barrier that separated the counter area from the waiting line area. She wore a tracksuit in light blue. You know one of those, hip-hop style thingies. I’m not aware of the correct technical term.
The next thirty minutes I was able to read. The chatter behind me was so constant I could easily blend it out and was sucked into the story.
About Nazis and Bulgarians
But then it was getting real loud. The post officer was shouting at the tracksuit woman. At first I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But as the loudness grew I caught a few words: “… said, not going to pay … can not read … need ID …”. I dismissed it and tried to get back to the story. I couldn’t. They were getting louder and louder, and as I was getting closer and closer I was able to understand clearer what they were talking about.
The post officer, was denying to pay out 2.000€. She was a Bulgarian citizen and had her Bulgarian ID with her. The post officer claimed not being able to read her ID and without an ID he wouldn’t give her the money. Apparently she had something, that normally, provided she had a readable ID, would legitimate her to receive the money. That part was unclear to me, because I didn’t witness from the beginning. She argued that she desperately needed the money now. The post officer said that he understands, but can do nothing without a valid ID. As it turns out, he was already the manager in charge. Nevertheless he involved a second officer to witness the not readability of the ID. But eh, what should he do, question his boss? That wouldn’t happen. After some more minutes back and forth and her pointing fiercely at the part of her ID where she claimed all information was available in latin letters, she accused him of being a Nazi. She didn’t use the word, but she screamed under tears: “YOU ONLY TREAT ME THIS WAY, BECAUSE I’M BULGARIAN … THAT NEVER HAPPENED TO ME, BEFORE”. He felt offended and dismissed her. By then, it was my turn, and I was called to the counter right besides both of them. They exchanged a few more not so nice, but still somewhat professional, words. Then she walked off, under heavy tears. The whole hall had witnessed the spectacle.
What Did Just Happen?
I tried to tell the facts as emotionless as possible, so far. Now my interpretation: the post office still employs the laziest, stupidest and most ignorant people you can find on earth. There are exceptions of course. But not him. He denies to decipher an ID that’s different from what he normally sees. She had a somewhat questionable outfit at least in the eyes of an old stubborn post officer having only a few years before retirement. Her German was broken, but she seemed to understand everything. He feared being duped and made a decision early on, which he couldn’t withdraw. Pride … you know. Since the whole hall has witnessed.
As I was waiting for my parcel to be found in some dungeon, there was a call from the door. “She is back, and brought her boy friend. What shall I do?” The managing post officer was serving a different customer by now, continously muttering about being accused of being a Nazi and that he is unable to read cyrillic and that’s always the same with those Greeks. He shouted back: “Let them in”. Shortly after, I received my parcel and found myself in front of closed doors. Another post officer had kept the doors locked. The woman and her boyfriend sill outside. He looked almost as expected: similar age as her, a tracksuit, barrel chested, thick necked, short hair, grim face. If he would have grown bigger than 1.7 meters, I would have been a little scared by now.
Trying to Escape
The post officer guarding the door urged me to wait. She called out again for the manager. He said again to let them in, but to wait a second to finish his current customer. While I was waiting to get released, a woman nearby (almost at the end of the line), said to herself: “Ah. That’s so sad.” The door guard instantly snapped at her: “What is sad?”. The woman, apparently feeling attacked, answered after a hesitating moment in a low somewhat trembling voice: “Everything. Everything in this country.”
As it took more much more than a second to finish his customer, and I couldn’t bear to stare at the couple outside of the glass door any longer, I opened the parcel and found out, that the Fishmen Island Arc is indeed going to end in this book. The door guard finally let me out and the tracksuit couple in. I was lucky to miss the coming moments at the dreaded post office.
Afterwards I was blaming myself. Maybe I could have helped her in the first place. But thinking again I dismissed that thought. Other encounters with this stubborn post officers have proved me, that you can’t teach them anything. And well, I don’t look that trustworthy either. He would have accused me to conspirate with her, be it just silently.
A graph showing the growth of UK mobile phone subscriptions over time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I confess I’m also a coward and have learned quite early to keep myself out of trouble. But that was not the biggest hindrens, it was more the fact, that I felt like a spectator, not really there, disconnected, unable to interact. Like glimpsing through binoculars from my ivory tower down onto the real world. Have you ever experienced a similar feeling of disconnectedness? Should I try to you keep myself more “grounded”? What’s the point, why do I blog about this encounter?