Mechanical Keyboards

If you read my review of the 2016 MacBook Pro you know how much I dislike the keyboard on it. Along with that I have been reading Norman Chan on Tested.com, co-workers, gaming sites, and “computer experts” talking mechanical keyboards and how wonderful they are, my interest was piqued.

My goal for a keyboard is for it to be comfortable and to give a reliable amount of feedback for my not-so-fast touch typing. I don’t need it for “gaming” or a crazy amount of n-key rollover. Just something solid, reliable, and comfortable. I would have loved to build a keyboard kit with all the soldering and programming that entails, but I have other things I would rather be doing. So I spent months shopping and comparing every mechanical keyboard I could lay my hands on.

I eventual bought a Corsair K-something-or-other. I quickly figured out that the keyboard required software installed on the computer to work. That is a no-go for me as they keyboard will be moved from Mac to Windows to Linux and I want it to work the same way no matter what it is plugged into. I researched a bunch more keyboards and found that most of the popular ones require software, usually only available for Windows, to do more than act as a basic keyboard.

Then I took another look at the Cooler Master series of keyboards, turns out all of its features are programmed and stored directly on the keyboard. That means your settings and macros are stored and usable even when you switch the computer it is plugged into, exactly what I was after.

Cooler Master MasterKeys keyboards come in many variations, no back-light, white or blue back-light, RGB back-light, also Cherry MX switches in Blue, Brown, Red.

I chose a Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S, with RGB back-lighting, Cherry MX Blue switches, in a TenKeyless (TKL) design for home use and for the office I chose the exact same keyboard but with Brown switches.

Size

I generally like full-sized keyboards with number pads, but at work I have been using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for the last 7 years or so and have gotten used to it. When I went looking for a mechanical keyboard I discovered there are 3 typical sizes.

  • Full-Sized – This is the usual keyboard with the number pad
  • TenKeyLess (TKL) – Everything is where it would be on a full-sized keyboard but with the number pad cut-off
  • Compact – A lot like a laptop keyboard with no number keys and the arrow keys are usually below the left-hand shift key
  • Gaming – Usually a keyboard similar to a full-sized one, but with additional macro and media keys knobs and switches

I chose a TKL size as I don’t really feel the need for the number pad and I like the extra space it leaves on my desk. Having that extra space for the mouse is great.

Switches

For my home computer I wanted to go all in with the clicky-clicky of Cherry MX Blue switches, but for the office I went with the Brown switches which do not make the click sound. I then did a blind, or rather deaf, test and determined that the Blue and Brown switches in the Cooler Master keyboard are exactly the same with the exception of the click.

With both keyboards I tend to “bottom-out” the keys, which adds a lot more noise to my typing. I have found the solution to be some inexpensive O-ring switch dampeners that have made typing quieter with the added feature of shortening the throw of the keys.

RGB Backlighting

I need back-lighting so that I can see the keys in darker environments, I don’t really need the RGB and the fancy features that come with it, but I do get a kick out of having the keys light up bright purple when I touch them. Fun, but not necessary.

Ergonomics

Wow, these keyboards are tall! I find it impossible to type on them without a wrist rest. I like the Glorious Gaming Wrist Pad in Full Size. I tried the TKL version, but found it to small as my wrists, especially the left one, sits outside the width of the keyboard. The firmness and height of the wrist rest is exactly what I needed. Ergonomically a keyboard should tilt slightly down and away from you and not up and toward you where your wrist are bent stressing out and leading to carpal-tunnel issues. With my old keyboard I was able to attach supports to the front of the keyboard lifting it, the Cooler Master keyboard is so tall that I don’t think lifting the front would be a very good solution.

At some point I may build a mechanical keyboard from a kit just so that I will have more control over the angle and height it.

Keycaps

I bought some fun keycaps to replace the “Cooler Master” OS specific keys and the escape key with Portal characters. Love them!

Other Options

You can build from a kit, you can build from parts sourced from all over the world, you can buy a ready-made keyboard like I did and customize it with different keycaps. You can get a keyboard like the Planck that has fewer keys but may be faster for a dedicated typer after a transition period. You can even get keyboards that are just a grid of keys for assigning macros to, and not just for gaming, you could create macros to type things for you that are typed often.

Rating

I really like the Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S RGB keyboards, both the Blue and Brown switches are exactly what I was looking for.

The Phoenix Project by George Spafford, Kevin Behr, and Gene Kim


It’s been awhile since I used Safari Books Online, O’Reilly’s online subscription service, to read something, so I picked The Phoenix Project which was recommended to me on my login page.

The Phoenix Project is a “novel” about DevOps and all that entails being implemented in manufacturing and retail environment where IT had always been seen as a necessary evil. I think a lot of people, both inside and outside of IT can relate to that. The back of the book is full of resources and information about where to learn more about DevOps, continuous deployment, and automation tools.

I have yet to work somewhere where DevOps is a reality, not sure that I ever will, but a boy can dream. I have worked somewhere that was able to deploy multiple times a day, which was pretty great. But most places I have worked only deployed once a month, or a quarter, or in one instance only once every 18 months, when they were lucky. It really shouldn’t be like that.

From the publisher:

Bill is an IT manager at Parts Unlimited. It’s Tuesday morning and on his drive into the office, Bill gets a call from the CEO.

The company’s new IT initiative, code named Phoenix Project, is critical to the future of Parts Unlimited, but the project is massively over budget and very late. The CEO wants Bill to report directly to him and fix the mess in ninety days or else Bill’s entire department will be outsourced.

With the help of a prospective board member and his mysterious philosophy of The Three Ways, Bill starts to see that IT work has more in common with manufacturing plant work than he ever imagined. With the clock ticking, Bill must organize work flow streamline interdepartmental communications, and effectively serve the other business functions at Parts Unlimited.

In a fast-paced and entertaining style, three luminaries of the DevOps movement deliver a story that anyone who works in IT will recognize. Readers will not only learn how to improve their own IT organizations, they’ll never view IT the same way again.

I rate The Phoenix Project an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone in IT, anyone who manages people in IT, and to everyone who is sick and tired of late-night deployments that always seem to have a lot of problems.

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch Late 2016 Review

After 7 years it was finally time to update my trusty old 2011 MacBook Pro. Due to my dislike of the choices Apple has made with their laptops in the last few years, my first stop was an HP Omen Windows 10 machine with lots of upgrades. After a couple of months of trying to get Windows 10 and Windows software to do what I want in a way that I felt efficient doing it, I gave up and decided to give up on Windows, yet again, and get another MacBook Pro.

I am only going to cover what makes the MacBook Pro different from the HP Omen as they actually have a lot in common. But my main reason for choosing the MacOS product over a Microsoft Windows product is the operating system and not the features. In fact the Omen has a MUCH BETTER keyboard, better storage options, a better video card, and can handle double the RAM of the MacBook Pro. On paper the HP Omen is a much better computer than the MacBook Pro, if I could run MacOs High Sierra on it, it would be a better computer in almost every way.

What I Like

The build quality of the MacBook Pro is fantastic, it is solid with no rattles or cheapness. I have covered it in a case from KEC with a great space image on it which fits perfectly and protects the laptop from scratches while making it clear that it is my laptop and not someone else’s.

The screen is also great, at a resolution of 2880×1800 at 220points per inch, and is super bright when I want it to be. The color reproduction is solid and dependable.

The computer is fast; even with less RAM, a slower video card, and the same processor, it feels noticeably faster for the way I use the computer. This is probably due to the control that Apple has over the hardware and software used with their computers, I think that is still a huge advantage.

The trackpad is pretty great, but with High Sierra I sometimes get confused about the multi-finger gestures and with how large it is I find it difficult to determine if I am on the left-hand or right-hand side of it.

What I Don’t Like

The Touchbar is a distraction that the computer could really do without. The way that it is constantly changing, moving buttons around, is awful. Just talking about something like that around the water cooler, it sounds kind of cool, but even a quick back-of-an-envelope usability test would show anyone that is a bad idea.

The keyboard is the worst keyboard I have ever used! Worse than the chiclet keyboard on the Atari 400. Buttons stick, offer almost no feedback (unless they stick), and is just horrible.

Only 16GB of RAM… just ridiculous! There are very few Windows machines over $1000 on the market that cannot be upgraded to at least 32GB and many of those may be upgraded to 64GB. It is claimed that having 32GB of RAM would greatly reduce batter life, but with the way that most professionals use these laptops battery life is not much of a concern. As long as it would have 3 hours of battery life, that would be fine.

Meh

There are a lot of people complaining about dongles and adapters. I am not one of them. I bought a couple Amazon Basics USB-C to USB 3 cables to replace USB-A to USB 3 cables and a pair of AUKEY USB-C to USB-A adapters that are so small they can stay on the cables I use them with and I am good to go.

I also bought a Sinstar 8 in 1 adapter that includes an SD Card reader, Ethernet Port, and HDMI Port along with some other ports I really don’t use. It gets pretty warm when used but has been great so far.

Software

This is what makes a MacOS laptop work better for me than a Windows 10 laptop. I was able to replace most of these in Windows, but not all of them. When I did find a replacement, it did not work the same or was not as easy to use.

Now that you can install Linux as a subsystem in Linux, there may be some real options there. I’m keeping an eye on that.