Junkyard Pirate Books by Jamie McFarlane

Book Cover of Junkyard PirateAfter finishing the Nikki and Bob Series by Jerry Boyd I dug around in the Kindle Unlimited store and found the Junkyard Pirate Books by Jamie McFarlane.

The 3 books in the Junkyard Pirate series have a lot of tropes from other books I have read, but they definitely tell a different story. I enjoyed reading them enough that once I finished them, I moved right on to the Privateer series also written by Jamie McFarlane.

Overall, I rate the series a 9 out of 10 and recommend them to anyone looking for some fun sci-fi.

Surface Mount Soldering Kits

Evil Mad Scientist The 741SE Discrete 741 Op-Amp

Assemble and ready to go

In my previous post I wrote about the QRP-Labs QCX-mini amateur radio kit which only has through-the-hole components to be soldered by the enthusiast but had problems with some of the surface mounted op-amps and my desire to learn how to remove those surface mounted devices (SMD) and install new ones. To learn how to do that I bought a handful of kits to practice on.

First up is the Gikfun DIY SMD SMT Welding Practice Soldering Skill Training Board Ek7028 which was a pretty great kit to assemble, when finished it isn’t much to share as it just blinks some lights in the middle of the circuit board, but it comes with 124 LEDs, capacitors, and resistors and 2 ICs to solder to the board. I even practiced correcting “tombstoning” and removing then replacing components. The 1206 and 805 sized components were pretty easy, I did those with my Hakko 888 fine tipped soldering iron, but the 603 and 402 components I used the hot-air rework station.

The Gikfun kit was a challenge but it also gave me a lot of confidence to get the fancier SMD kits assembled.

I purchased 2 kits from Evil Mad Scientist, The 555SE Discrete 555 Timer and The 741SE Discrete 741 Op-Amp which when finished make great desk toys/conversation starters and can even be used to make working circuits.

I actually assembled the 555 Timer first, I followed the provided instructions by installing components as they were stored in their packaging a few at a time. I applied a dab of Chip Quik SMD291AX REWORK SOLDER PASTE 5CC 63/37 NO CLEAN SOLDER on each pad and then used the hot-air rework station to melt the solder. It worked really well and by the end of the kit I was full of confidence.

At the top of the page is the completed Op-Amp and below you can follow along with the steps I used to assemble it. Unlike with the 555 Timer I applied paste to the entire board by hand, a solder mask is not supplied with the kit.

solder paste on a circuit board

Solder Paste Applied

Then I placed each component. The solder paste did a decent job holding the components in place, I developed a rhythm of getting the component onto the board with a bit of it stuck in the paste then maneuvering it into its correct position followed by a tap on the top to set it down into the paste.

components in paste

Components in the Paste

And finally, I moved the hot-air rework station’s wand across the entire board moving quickly at first to warm up the entire board then more slowly and finally concentrating on each component until the solder flowed.

soldered components

Soldered Components

The finished kit puts a big smile on my face, I am very excited to do more SMD kits.

Soldered Components Close-Up

Soldered Components Close-Up

The only thing that bothers me about using the hot-air rework station and soldering paste is that the soldering paste has an expiration date. I have been told that it is good for about 6 months and if refrigerated can be used up to a year, but after that it doesn’t work as expected. I have solder wire that is 30 plus years old and works as well today as it did the day I bought, that won’t be the case with solder paste.

Nikki and Bob Series by Jerry Boyd

After finishing all of the books Nathan Lowell has written so far I tried some books recommended by my Kindle, or more correctly “Advertised” on my Kindle, and what a total waste of time. I find it hard to describe just how BAD those books were. But then I found Bob’s Saucer Repair by Jerry Boyd.

There are currently 14 books in the series, I am on book 9 and reading through a book every other day or so. These stories are science-fiction light with lots of humor, a fast pace, not a lot of depth, and a ton of characters.

I highly recommend these books to anyone looking for some fun and light science fiction.

Nathan Lowell, Author

I have now read every novel available from Nathan Lowell and I am eagerly awaiting more.

Nathan Lowell’s superpower is being able to write about “normal” people in a way that draws me in. Most of his characters are everyday people living ordinary lives, right up until they are not. Their motivations and desires are easy to understand and usually uncomplicated. But his stories are not straight-forward. They have twists and turns that keep me guessing and wanting more.

I plan on listening to the podcasts of his books, that will take some time as I have a lot of podcasts and audiobooks in my playlist to get through but am happy to have Nathan’s to add to the mix.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover of The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan LowellMy favorite Nathan Lowell book yet! This is the first Nathan Lowell book set in modern time but is a fantasy novel through and through.

It took me a little longer to read this one than the others as I savored every bit of it. It does follow some tropes that I have seen and read before, mainly the “muggle surrounded by magic but is ok with it” one but done in a way that I found very engaging.

I really hope there are more in this series soon.

Tanyth Fairport Adventures by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover of Ravenwood by Nathan LowellAnother series by Nathan Lowell, but instead of Science Fiction, these are Fantasy. Tanyth Fairport is an old lady who has been traveling the last 20 years collecting information about herbalism from the old woman of Korlay.

We follow along with Tanyth for a couple of years as she grows into… well I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s pretty cool.

If you like fantasy that isn’t full of spell casting and dragons, then this series is for you.

Shaman’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover for South Coast by Nathan LowellMore fiction from Nathan Lowell set in the same universe as Trader’s Tales, Smuggler’s Tales, and Seeker’s Tales but this time we are dirtside on St. Cloud. We follow along with the Kruggs, Piranos, and a cast of others who are trying to find themselves and happiness.

I really appreciate the chance to explore the shamans of St. Cloud and these books really pay off. They span a much longer period of time than the Solar Clipper books and delve deeper into the emotions of many characters.

The Shaman’s Tales series includes South Coast, Finwell Bay, and Cape Grace.

This series can be read out of order, they may be a great starting point for someone just starting to read Nathan’s books.

Seeker’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover for In Ashes Born by Nathan LowellI am continuing my reading of Nathan Lowell’s novels with the Seeker’s Tales series using Kindle Unlimited and a Kindle Paperwhite. In Seeker’s Tales we continue along with Ishmael Wang and Phillip Carstairs on a new adventure in a “new” ship.

I am still in awe of Nathan Lowell’s ability to weave a story and effortlessly create characters with so much depth and life in them. These books are really about the characters, the plot is secondary, in a good way.

Seeker’s Tales includes, In Ashes Born, To Fire Called, and By Darkness Forged.

I recommend Nathan Lowell’s books to anybody looking for something to read, give them a try, they may not be for you, but I love them.

QSL Cards

QSL Cards

QSL Cards

I really enjoy receiving QSL cards. During the COVID event I am only sending cards to US addresses, but look forward to sending them around the world in the future.

Here are some of the cards I have received in the last few months.

Shack Power

Powerwerx MEGAbox

Top of the Powerwerx MEGAbox

We have been having some power outages in our neighborhood recently so my plans for a portable power station have been moved up. I have done a lot of research and decided to spend the money now instead of spending more time trying to find something cheaper.

Battery

The battery I have chosen is a Bioenno Power Lithium Iron Phosphate 12V, 40Ah LFP Battery (PVC, BLF-1240A) and here is why:

  • 12V: All of my ham gear runs off of 12 volts and there are many other available tools that will also run off of the 12 volts. Using a 24V battery is tempting but requires more electronics to get the voltages I am looking for.
  • Charge Current: 6A, this is easily supplied by an external power source or by solar panel(s)
  • Max Discharge: 40A, my radios need around 21 amps to function well
  • Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4): Lead Acid sealed, gel, or old-school are heavier than I want to deal with and do not provide a weight to power ratio that is appealing to me. There are also a lot of other things that make LiFePO4
  • 40Ah: I want to be able to keep a radio running along with phones and tablets for a full day… but I also have to keep a budget in mind so 40Ah is what I bought. A 100Ah battery would be a lot better but is out of my price range.

A negative of the Bioenno batteries is that they are not to be used in series or parallel as they each contain their own Battery Management System (BMS) which is not designed to be used in a multi-battery configuration. The BMS in Bioenno batteries is very highly thought of and works remarkably well.

Box

I chose the Powerwerx MEGAbox because I wanted one box that can hold the battery, charger, extra cables, and more. I also wanted USB-C and a light built into the box, when I looked at small and simpler boxes then included the cost of adding USB-C and a light it was almost as much as the MEGAbox. The light is kind of annoying with its seemingly endless number of modes, but it is a good light and is easily replaced if it gets too annoying.

Powerwerx MEGAbox

Inside of the Powerwerx MEGAbox with PWRGate and PWRCheck+

I am able to fit everything into the box and didn’t have to add any holes or make any major modifications to it. More details below.

Power Management

I needed a way to charge the batter via external power and solar, preferably with MPTT. Based on reviews and information from podcasts and such I chose the West Mountain Radio Epic PWRgate. The Epic PWRgate is rated up to 40 amps, instantly switch from external power to battery power, will charge Lead Acid, Lithium Ion, and LiFePO4 batteries, has advanced features available when plugged in to a computer via USB, has an optional temperature probe, and comes in a metal case that is very easy to mount.

Power Measurement

To measure the power coming from and into the battery I chose the West Mountain Radio PWRcheck+ for its easy-to-read screen and ability to store a lot of data that can be read back later on a computer. The PWRcheck+ is totally unnecessary, but I wanted a way to track the performance of the battery and figured it would be a good way to troubleshoot any issues that may come up.

For use with the solar panel, I got a Powerwerx Watt Meter – DC Inline Power Analyzer to have an easy way to see how much power is coming through the panel. It doesn’t have the features of the PWRcheck+ but it doesn’t cost as much either.

Solar Power

For solar I got the Bioenno Power 100 Watt Foldable Solar Panel (BSP-100-LITE). Its too big to take hiking but is a great size to carry in the back of the car and use for a field-day or to charge the battery on a sunny day when the power is out. I wanted enough wattage to give a decent amount of power to a battery but still be foldable and easy enough to move around. For the price I could have gotten 2 aluminum framed panels with twice the wattage, but they would not have been very portable. At some point I will probably buy those panels, but for now the foldable panel will do.

Shack Power

My mains power supply is a SamlexPower SEC-1235M with the Fan and Powerpole mods documented by Phil Salas – AD5X. I have also upped the voltage it outputs to 14.6 volts which the Bioenno battery prefers.

Modifications to the Box

I removed the top PowerPole connecter on the MEGAbox, took the connectors out and replaced them with Yellow and Gray connectors, Yellow for Solar input and Gray for power supply input, and they run to the Epic PWRgate which also has the battery and “load” plugged into it. I use Velcro to hold the battery in place along with the PWRgate and PWRcheck+. That keeps the outside of the box clean and offers a decent amount of water resistance.

In Use

Day-to-day the box sits under the ham shack desk plugged into the SamlexPower power supply keeping the battery topped off. About once I week I leave the power supply turned off and run on battery power until it gets down to around 11 volts, at that point I turn the power supply back on. It works great. I take it outside every now and then to plug in the solar panel to get used to using that setup and learn how it works in the field. The solar panel is ok, but not amazing.

W6NEL Shack

The Shack with the Powerwerx MEGAbox under the desk

I am very happy with my Battery Box solution; it has already been tested in an outage where it kept my son’s tablet charged until the power came back on. I look forward to using it in an upcoming field day to really test it.

Smuggler’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Milk Run by Nathan LowellSmuggler’s Tales is in the same universe as Trader’s Tales and includes some of the same characters but is told from Natalya and Zoya’s point of view. I read these on my Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Unlimited.

Smuggler’s Tales includes

Mr. Lowell, or should it be Dr. Lowell, has done such an amazing job building out this universe and by giving us 3 more books from a different perspective is wonderful. There is more action in these stories than in the Trader’s Tales, but the tone remains the same.

Trader’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

quarter share by nathan lowell

This is the first series of book that I read on my new Kindle Paperwhite. These books are available to purchase from Amazon as ebook, audiobook, and paperback versions. Instead of buying each book individually I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited to read them all.

Trader’s Tales includes the books

  • Quarter Share
  • Half Share
  • Full Share
  • Double Share
  • Captain’s Share
  • Owner’s Share

These books follow the life of Ismael Wang and his antics between the stars. I REALLY like these books; they are exactly what I was needing when I found them. They are not full of action, violence, fantasy, war, or death. They do not make up a sprawling space opera that spans centuries nor do they contain deep technical details about how people are able to live in space.

To me these books are a window into a world where cities in space are the way things have been for a long time. Where people work hard to be the people they want to be or need to be but struggle with all of the things that get in their way and either rise to the occasion, try to ignore them, or get crushed by them. The characters are all very believable and I have fallen for Ishmael and his friends. I look forward to reading more about the lives they lead and where they end up.

Don’t get these books if your looking for a ton of action, but if you are in the mood for a good adventure story this may be the story you are looking for.

Kindle Paperwhite

amazon kindle paperwhite book reader

While studying for the Amateur Radio license exams I decided I wanted a new Kindle to read them on. Looking at the different versions of Kindle’s available I chose the Paperwhite for its price, size, backlighting, and water resistance. We have an original Kindle Keyboard and it still works, but it is larger and heavier than the Paperwhite, is not water resistant, does not have a backlight, does not have a touchscreen, and is awkward to hold. I was hesitant to buy a new Kindle as I had not been using the old one very often until I started studying for the license exams which is what got me to use the old one a lot.

Now that I have the Paperwhite Kindle, I use it a lot. It is small enough to fit the pocket of my hoodies, light enough that with a Pop-Socket installed on the back of it I can hold it for hours, when there is enough light the screen without backlighting is easy to read and when there isn’t much light the backlight does a great job making it readable. It would be great if the color of the backlighting was something other than blue, I would prefer an amber color, but that would probably require more power from the battery than the blue.

I like to boost the font size up pretty large, that allows me to read much faster than when I am straining to read smaller text. I have mostly read technical manuals and fiction novels with it, I have tried to use it to read PDF files, but with PDFs you cannot adjust the font size, so I mostly stick to Kindle formatted documents.

The battery lasts a good while for me, I usually charge it one a week or so when using it for a couple of hours a day. Yesterday I read on it for about 10 hours, finished an entire book, and that used around 30% of the battery. The brighter you have the light and the more you use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionality the shorter the battery life will be.

I am now also subscribe to Kindle Unlimited and am using that subscription to read a lot of different science-fiction books. Its really cool having so many books available at my fingertips, but I think the $9.99 a month price will probably make me cancel it after a couple of months.

Here are my 3 favorite things about Kindle

  • I can read the books I get from Amazon for the Kindle on iOS or Android phones and tablets along with Kindle devices
  • The waterproof Kindle Paperwhite can be used while in the bathtub or at the pool without wrapping it up to keep it dry
  • I don’t have to find space to store or go through the process of selling all of the books that I have read

Devices

I live in a house with multiple tablets, phones, and even Kindles. I really appreciate that I can pick any of them up and continue where I left off for any book that I have been reading. It is not perfect, there are times when a device will screw up and send me to the wrong place in the book, when that happens with an audio book it is really annoying to find my place again, but with an ebook, it is not so bad.

Waterproof

I like to soak in water… a lot. I regularly sit in our bathtub for 3 hours at a time. With most of my devices I have to put them in a Ziploc bag before taking them into the bath with me, but with the current iPhone and Kindle Paperwhite I don’t have to do that anymore. I am careful with them and haven’t submerged them yet, but Apple and Amazon claim that they would be find if they took a plunge into the bath.

Storage

We have 8 bookshelves in our house and a couple in the garage and they are all full. The large “Science Fiction” bookshelf and the “Travel” bookshelf are so full that the shelves are 2 deep in books. This is after we have gone through the books multiple times giving, trading, and donating hundreds of books. Buying more physical books to fill the house really doesn’t interest me. Using the Kindle and big iPad Pro to read has been a fantastic experience for me. But of course there are physical books I just have to have, usually the big electronics or other technical reference books, because I do love spending time pouring over them and turning to random pages and learning something new.

Amazing Ham Radio Results

Here is a map of the contacts I have made so far, a couple were using RemoteHamRadio.com but the bulk were from my home using FT-8 over 20, 40, and 80 meters. I really blows me away that I have been able to reach so far with a bit of wire strung up in the trees.

Map of the world with ham radio contacts marked

W6NEL Ham Radio Contacts

Studying for the Amateur Extra Exam

I found myself floundering a bit after passing the General exam. I had been in “study” mode for a few weeks and not having anything to study left me feeling… odder than usual. So I decided to start studying for the Amateur Extra exam, why not?

So far I have read the ARRL Extra Class License Manual cover to cover. I found it much harder to read than the Technician or General manuals, not because the content is more complicated or detailed, but because the writing and editing are not up to the same quality as those other manuals. There are many errors and many passages that are written in ways that confused me.

Now I am on to reading and listening to the The Fast Track to Your Extra Class Ham Radio License by Michael and Kerry Burnette. You may recognize the title and authors from the book I used to study for the General exam, but this is for the Extra. I really enjoyed the General book, both on the Kindle and on Audible so decided to stick with them for the Extra.

This time I have also purchased The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math  along with the recommended Texas Instruments TI-30XS. Statistically, memorizing all of the formulas and being able to do all of the calculations is not necessary to pass the test, but I have decided it is something I would like to learn. There was a time in my life that I really enjoyed math, let’s see if I can rekindle that flame.

The Fast Track Ham website https://fasttrackham.com/ is also a great help with a handful of videos to help explain some more of the math and practice exams for each chapter of the books. I really like the way the “by chapter” practice exams build upon the previous chapters. That works well for me.

And to round out my studies I am also using HamStudy.org website by SignalStuff to do even more practice exams. I really appreciate how HamStudy allows you to work through all of the exam pool and use flash cards to find your weaknesses and concentrate study time on them.

My plan is to take it slowly and learn the material well and hopefully take the test sometime in November. Wish me luck.

Legendary Leagues

I have really gotten into Upper Deck’s Legendary Marvel card game, as previous posts have shown, and a big part of that are the challenges provided by Legendary Leagues.

Here is the description from their website:
“The Legendary League Series are unofficial leagues for competitive solo play of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game and Legendary: Villains. It was started on BoardGameGeek.com with the Marvel Legendary base set by Jesse Olivier in 2013, DarthEd has run the hero league since season 2, and Travelsized has run the leagues that feature the Villains sets as well as the Starter Leagues. In each league, individuals will be competing against each other in solo play in multiple scoring categories in order to see who is the most Legendary!”

What I get from Legendary Leagues is new challenges every month to play solo but with other people playing the same challenge. Then we discuss the challenges on the Board Gaming Geek forums. In one of my early games I mis-understood the rules of one of the cards and the guys in the forums were great in explaining the correct way to play. Overall the people on BGG are great, but the folks in the Legendary League forums are fantastic and always there to help.

I have yet to come out in first place in one of the challenges, but I recently came in 5th out of 20+ which made me very happy as I tend to choose heroes based on how much I like the character instead of based on optimizing my chance to win.

Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game

Legendary Marvel Boxes

Legendary Marvel Boxes

Legendary is a card game from Upper Deck that came out in 2015. I first got the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (not a Legendary game), then Legendary Encounters Firefly game which I liked a lot, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China, then the Legendary Buffy the Vampire Slayer game.

I am primarily a solo player of these games, but the first time I played the Buffy game was with my wife and some friends in a 4-player game. It took us a bit to understand the instructions, but it wasn’t too hard. That convinced me that I really wanted the original Legendary game, the Marvel version of the game.

My wife gave me the care game as a Valentine’s day present. Even before opening it I bought a couple of expansions. Oh, the expansions, so many expansions, large ones and small ones. I went kind of crazy. By the end of my first solo game I decided I was going to “Collect” this game and get “All” of the expansions!

So here I am a week later, and I have all of the expansions except Villains and Fear Itself, neither of which I am interested in. I am in this to play as heroes, not as villains.

Here are the expansions I currently have:

  • Legendary® S.H.I.E.L.D.: A Marvel Deck Building Game Expansion
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Captain America 75th Anniversary
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Champions
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Civil War
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Dark City
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Deadpool
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Dimensions
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Fantastic 4 Expansion
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Fear Itself
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Revelations Deluxe Expansion
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Secret Wars Volume 1
  • Legendary®: A Marvel Deck Building Game: Secret Wars Volume 2
  • Legendary®: Marvel Noir
  • Legendary®: Venom Small Box Expansion
  • Legendary®: X-Men
  • Marvel Legendary® Ant-Man Small Box Expansion

I am really enjoying playing Legendary games and collecting them. My next tasks are to sleeve all of the cards and find a way to store and transport them all. My current collection is over 3,000 cards and I am still missing the Guardians of the Galaxy and Heroes of Asguard expansions.

Tex Yoda II Mechanical Keyboard with Trackpoint

my office desk

My office desk with the Tex Yoda 2

I cannot say enough good things about the Tex Yoda 2. I am totally in love with it.

Price

Let’s start with how ridiculously expensive it is, actually let’s not and just say that it is more expensive than most would pay for a really nice keyboard and mouse. You can get an RGB Pok3r and a Logitech G502 for a lot less than the Yoda 2, and you probably should. But once I touched the Yoda 2 and did some typing on it I fell in love, and you can’t put a price on true love.

TrackPoint

The other thing that may be a drawback to some users is the trackpoint mouse pointer in the middle of the keyboard. It is the same technology that is used on laptop keyboard with the trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard, but it is more fragile because of the long stem it has to use to get the eraser above the keys. Back in the day I used a lot of laptops with a trackpoint and loved them, probably because trackpads really sucked back then.

On the Yoda 2 the trackpoint does feel fragile and in reading around the internet, a lot of people have had problems with it breaking. I have also read complaints about mouse drift, but that is normal for this technology and you should expect it. It drifts a lot less than the old ThinkPads, so I am happy with it. If you really don’t like the trackpoint, you can not put a tip on it or remove it entirely.

Switches

I got the Tex Yoda 2 with Cherry Black switches and no backlighting. I also got some fancy GMK keycaps that made the luxurious keyboard even more sensual. The sound the combination of the heavy flat aluminum plate, smooth Cherry MX Black switched, and thick GMK double-shot ABS keycaps create a sound that makes me forget how much money I spent on this thing and just luxuriate in its soothing sounds.

Connector

I also love that it uses a USB-C connector instead of those janky old USB Mini or Micro connectors. The connection is solid, and the choice of cables is plentiful.

Programming

Programing the keyboard is super easy, there is a configurator that lets you program each and every key, up to three function layers, and macros. From the configurator you export a file that gets copied to the keyboard and you are done. The fear of owners though is that the configurator website will disappear at some point and we will no longer be able to program our keyboards. Hopefully Tex will open source the tool soon.

The only think I really used the configurator for is to make caps-lock key a Function 1 key which make the WASD keys easier to use as arrow keys for me. Oh, I also moved around the ALT and Windows keys for better use on Macs. It was all super easy to do, but not as easy as with the Pok3r.

Conclusion

I love this keyboard so much that I am now saving up to buy another one so I can have one at home and one at work.

A Visit to Mechanical Keyboards dot com

The entrance to a store

The storefront for Mechanical Keyboards in Fairview Tennessee

After ordering the Pok3r from Mechanical Keyboards I realized that they were located just outside of Nashville Tennessee, like a 4-hour drive from me, so when I got the chance to take a day off I headed out.

Arriving at their storefront at 9:30 am on Monday morning I was greeted by Lee who spent a lot of time with me showing me a lot of different keyboards and answering my questions, and boy did I have a lot of questions.

First off, I asked to touch a lot of different switches. Having tried Cherry Brown, Blue, and Silver and deciding that I don’t like clicky or mushy tactile switches I focused on linear switches while also trying a couple tactile switches. After a lot of fondling I decided I wanted my next keyboard to be a Cherry Black, original or clone. They are very similar to the silver or red, but with a stronger spring.

Counters with keyboards on top

Lots of keyboards to try out!

I am still very interested in the NovelKeys x Kailh BOX Heavy Switches in Burnt Orange, but there are currently no keyboards available with those switches. At some point I may give them a try in a kit or use a couple to replace existing switches in a keyboard.

With the switch selected it was time to try different keyboards. My main interest right now are 60% and smaller keyboards, there are not a ton of different keyboards that fit that description, and even fewer places where you can actually touch them.

Vortex Pok3r

This is the keyboard I already have, I have a Limited Edition version with Silver Switches

KBParadise V60

This is a nice keyboard, but the case is made of plastic making it very light. If you are looking for a smallish keyboard to travel with, the V60 is worth a look. Also, the V60 comes with a lot of switches that are harder to find in 60% boards, like ALPS, Matias, and Fukka.

Mistel Barocco

A 60% split keyboard, very interesting. It doesn’t just split a little, it is two separate pieces with a cord connecting them together. Very interesting, but not my thing.

Tex Yoda II

WOW! WOW! WOW! This is the one I chose to buy, it really blew me away. Review coming soon.

I appreciate the hospitality shown to me by the guys at Mechanical Keyboards, Lee did a great job helping me find exactly what I was looking for. He also let me know that if I wasn’t totally happy with the Pok3r that I bought a couple of weeks ago that I had 30 days to return it and get something different.

I decided to take him up on that offer and when I got home sent the Pok3r back with a plan to replace it with the same keyboard with black switches instead of silver.

If you are looking for a place to check out a lot of different keyboard before you buy, Mechanical Keyboards is the place. And if you are looking to buy a keyboard or accessories, MechanicalKeyboard.com is a great place to buy from.

Vortex POK3R Black Limited Edition RGB LED

Vortex Pok3r

After using the Cooler Master Ten-Key-Less (TKL) keyboards for a while, I decided to take it to the next level, and the POK3R really is something completely different. The Limited Edition RGB LED Black Pok3r keyboard is a great 60% keyboard with almost of all the features a mechanical keyboard enthusiast would want.

I didn’t really like the Cherry MX Blue or Brown switches very much. The clicky noise of the blues overwhelms my senses and makes me nervous, the clicky-ness does help hide the mushiness of the tactile bump. The tactile-ness of the browns feels very mushy to me, I would prefer the tactile bump to be really short and sharp. With all that in mind I wanted to go with a linear switch and see how that felt.

Cherry makes many options in linear switches with red and black being the most common. Black switches have been around for a very long time, they go all the way back to 1984. But I was looking for something different, so I decided to get a new keyboard with one of newest switches, the Speed Silver which are like the reds but actuate at 1.2mm of travel instead of the red’s 2.0mm and only travel 3.4mm compared to 4.0mm in the red. On paper that sounded really great to me, it sounds really fast.

With the switches chosen I researched keyboards that I could get with them. Vortex keyboards came up a lot in my research, the Poker, Racer, Vibe, and Core all seem to be pretty popular boards. The Pok3r is a 60% board which means that it does include dedicated function keys, arrow keys, or a ten-key number pad. It is quite a bit narrower than a full-sized or even a TKL board which means more desk space for a mouse.

I bought the Pok3r Limited Edition RGB version in a black case with Cherry MX Speed Silver switches. It also came with double-shot PBT keycaps that let the RGB light shine through very brightly. To say that I loved this keyboard is an understatement. It weighs a ton (3.06 lbs) and the rubber pads on the bottom of it hold it in place while pounding away on the keys.

The speed silver switches really are fast, in real-world use the shorter travel and actuation distance makes a difference. In fact, it makes such a difference that my error rate on TypeRacer.com shot way up, even a week of regular practicing could not overcome all the mistyped keys. For gaming this keyboard and switch combination would be amazing!

But I don’t game on a PC so much anymore, I am more about the typing. So the search for the perfect keyboard continues.

The Pok3r is an amazing keyboard, the programming options are almost endless, the double-shot PBT keycaps are really nice, the weight of the Limited Edition version is wonderful, and there is a wide selection of switches available. I recommend it to anyone looking to get into a 60% keyboard.

p.s.
The photo is from MechanicalKeyboards.com

DragonCon 2014 Recap

We had a great time at DragonCon this year. The costumes were amazing, the photography staff did a great job capturing the event, and we actually got some sleep. Our son Eli stayed with the grandparents where he got to run wild and play with new toys.

My favorite costumes were How to Train Your Dragon, the Music Box Dolls from Chitty Bang Bang, and The Dreamer.

How to Train Your Dragon

Music Box Dolls from Chitty Bang Bang

The Dreamer

Bobbie made a great costume from a lost episode of Doctor Who named "The Celestial Toymaker".

Bobbie

The Celestial Toymaker

My favorite panels were Colin Baker, Ron Glass, Jeri Ryan, Terri Gilliam, Evanna Lynch, and Sparkfun.

Ron Glass

Jeri Ryan

Terry Gilliam

Evanna Lynch

Sparkfun

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I burnt myself out trying to learn to many JavaScript frameworks, build tools, unit testing, Debian eccentricities and BeagleBone Black programming so I decided to take a break and play a video game. Steam was having their summer sale and Skyrim happened to be a great deal. I bought "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Legendary Edition" and have been playing it for a couple weeks now.

Back in 2011 when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released I remember reading and hearing from a lot of friends, acquaintances, and internet personalities who played it and talked about it for weeks on end. So my interest was peeked, but I didn’t have time or the desire to play it then.

The world of Skyrim is amazingly large. I was shocked by the sheer size of it. The developers have a done a great job making traveling from place to place very fast and easy. You can walk, run, take a carriage, ride a horse, or if you have been to your destination before you can "fast travel" to it. When fast traveling even though you get there very quickly the time in the game passes as though you had walked or ridden a horse that same distance, so the sun may be down or the shops may be closed.

Time plays a really large roll in the game, night and day is a big deal and change a lot of what is going on. Vendors are only available between 8am and 8pm, vampires are roaming around in the dark, werewolves are prowling the night, thieves and assassins abound.

Indulging in the role-playing aspects of the game I have tried to do my usual straight-and-narrow play through. When playing old-school pen-and-paper games I enjoy being the paladin, in this game I played a Wood Elf with a strong right hand wielding a sharp sword and bow for fighting at a distance.

Anything is allowed in this game, there are opportunities to be a goodie two-shoes (how I play) or to be a total scoundrel, there are even rewards for both. You can even choose to be a cannibal by completing a quest, personally I ended that quest short with an arrow to her head as soon as possible.

I really enjoyed the dungeon crawling, bandit fighting, dragon slaying, vampire hunting, and exploring Skyrim. I did not enjoy all of the bugs, dead ends, and lack of help in the game.

No matter how hard I tried not to, I ended up going to The Elder Scrolls Wiki and The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages to figure out what was going on and how to work around bugs in the game. And man there are a lot of bugs, I pity the people who are playing on Playstation and Xbox machines where they do not have the luxury of entering console commands to fix things.

Now I am 135 hours into with my Wood Elf Bowman and having a great time with it. I have played through most of the main quests that do not require me to do anything that would tarnish my good guy reputation. I have not been a werewolf , an imperial or stormcloak soldier, or a vampire. I have adopted 2 orphans, have nice houses in Whiterun and Solstheim and have built a wonderful lakehouse outside of Falkreath that I call home.

I am level 99 out of 100 with a single-handed weapon and around 85 with the bow. Enchanting and Smithing are both at 100 with lots of perks that have allowed me to construct some awesome dragon armor and weapons with tons of helpful enchantments that have made all but the toughest opponents easy to set right. I started out the game kind of wobbly and found it very hard, I had to rely on a lot of potions and scrolls to stay alive, but with my crafted armor and weapons I now only carry a handful of healing potions and no scrolls at all. Dragonbone arrows with a paralyze/health absorbing bow is an awesome combination.

Before I stop plying Skyrim I plan on getting married, buying all of the available hold houses, building the other 2 available country houses, and clearing more of the dungeons and mines in Solstheim.

I am playing Skyrim on a 27" iMac running Windows 8 in Bootcamp. This computer is so amazing, the mSATA drive is so fast that I rarely got to see the loading screens, which was kind of annoying because the loading screens contain a lot of information that adds to the game… hahaha, first-world problems abound.

From the publisher:

EPIC FANTASY REBORN
The next chapter in the highly anticipated Elder Scrolls saga arrives from the makers of the 2006 and 2008 Games of the Year, Bethesda Game Studios. Skyrim reimagines and revolutionizes the open-world fantasy epic, bringing to life a complete virtual world open for you to explore any way you choose.

LIVE ANOTHER LIFE, IN ANOTHER WORLD
Play any type of character you can imagine, and do whatever you want; the legendary freedom of choice, storytelling, and adventure of The Elder Scrolls is realized like never before.

ALL NEW GRAPHICS AND GAMEPLAY ENGINE
Skyrim’s new game engine brings to life a complete virtual world with rolling clouds, rugged mountains, bustling cities, lush fields, and ancient dungeons.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU PLAY
Choose from hundreds of weapons, spells, and abilities. The new character system allows you to play any way you want and define yourself through your actions.

DRAGON RETURN
Battle ancient dragons like you’ve never seen. As Dragonborn, learn their secrets and harness their power for yourself.

I rate The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a 9 out of 10 even with the bugs and dead ends, the overall experience is just that good. I recommend it to any who enjoys fantasy role-playing but also first-person-shooter fans.