Keyboard Builders' Digest
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Issue 60 / Week 2 / 2022

There are 15 entries in this issue.

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This is a hand-picked selection of last week's content from a keyboard enthusiast's perspective. Posts that may teach you something, make you think and contribute to the common knowledge of the DIY builder community.

Editorial

Behind the Scenes of Issue 60

Quick news, KBD Time Machine, Benjamin Renner and his keyboard designs, typing with your thoughts, December stats updated, etc.

Hello everyone,

Some quick news:

  • New shop. @Yowkees, creator of the Keyball46 keyboard, opened Shirogane Lab, a new keyboard shop in Takayama, Japan – what makes this quite special is that this is the brick and mortar kind of shops, a rare specimen in this hobby. I'll try to ask him some questions and make a longer post later.
  • TheThocc. After interviewing Danny from Keebio, I exchanged some emails with host Vogon and he asked me if I would be comfortable with recording an episode as well. While this would be a real honour, I had to decline the request – at least temporarily, until I boost my English speaking skills... Thanks Vogon!
  • The Commodore 64 was introduced in January, 1982. Happy 40th Birthday!
  • Philip O-Keefe, a paralyzed man in Australia became the first person to send a tweet using his thoughts (and Synchroninc CEO Thomas Oxley's Twitter account). He posted some tweets via human implanted BIC (Brain Computer Interfaces). As of my understanding, the device wasn't implanted in his brain but we are close to that point:https://synchron.com/technology/brain-io – So what about the future of keyboards?
  • A photo posted by Thereminz helped me to discover the work of Benjamin Rossen. I put together a quick post about his DataStealth but I'll have to get back to this topic.

KBD Time Machine

While I started this project in November, 2020, the website was launched only a few weeks later. Indeed, exactly one year ago. Well, it wasn't kbd.news at that time but a mere subdirectory over at golem.hu.

Anyway, there have been more than a thousand projects featured in the meantime and it is inevitable that valuable content sinks into oblivion. To give these posts another chance, I made a page listing entries published last year around this time.

This tool may become more interesting in a few years but you can already try it with one year: https://kbd.news/time-machine

December stats, About page updated

As usual, I've done the monthly update to the about page – this time with the December stats. I was AFK in the last days of 2021 so I couldn't take a proper screenshot of the DNS based user data (tricking AD-blockers) – that's why it's from Nov 30 to Dec 30. (Cloudsource free plan...)

–-

Well, that's it for today.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your support.

Feel free to ask and comment in this issue's r/mk thread, and as always: keep learning and building.

Cheers, Tamás


Projects

Je Sus 49

Borteese's Je Sus is a well-documented open-source 49-key board.

To create the tenting, Borteese came up with a custom keyboard mixing smaller PCBs and handwiring.

This has a five-part PCB and is almost fully hardwired. I also designed the case and 3d printed it. To program it, I use an Arduino Micro. This keyboard can access almost all the keys on a full-sized keyboard using layer button (the menu button next to the left spacebar) – Borteese.

Gallery: https://imgur.com/a/Mef4nJg

Documentation, PCB & case STLs: https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/borteese/49-key-keyboard-je-sus-49-7e5252


Nijuni

Files of the Nijuni, a wireless-focused Corne-like split with more aggressive stagger, were released by Alexander Krikun.

While some content about the RT-22/Nijuni already emerged in October last year, the files were only released this week:

Hey, everyone. I've just released the Nijuni - a 44-key split keyboard with the Jian's stagger and the Corne's thumb cluster with a wireless focus – krikun98.

Specs:

  • Wireless focus - battery footprint, power switches and no LEDs
  • Uses Jorne/Corne firmware - so QMK and ZMK support
  • MX or Alps soldered or MX hotswap support in a single reversible PCB
  • 6 column version also available for 100x150 PCB promos or Corne lovers

Github repository: https://github.com/krikun98/nijuni

The Nijuni (formerly known as the RT-22) is a 44-key split keyboard inspired by the Jian (stagger, pinky and controller footprint) and the Jorne (thumb cluster and wiring). The name refers to the number of keys (22 per half)) and the Japanese name of the number 22 (ni-juu-ni).

It was originally conceived by DwarZ, however, V0.1 had a screw placement issue that restricted it to Kailh BOX-style switches. V0.2 is trouble-free, and prototypes have already been tested – krikun98.

Skean keyboard

The Skean by Alexander Krikun is an open-source wireless MX/Alps split with onboard controller.

After the Nijuni Alexander published another similar Corne-derivative, the Skean.

Similarly to the Nijuni, the Skean is a wireless 44-key split inspired by the Jian and the Corne as well. However, instead of the nice!nano and Pro Micro footprint, it has an on-board controller.

Specs:

  • Wireless with a built-in E73 module
  • ZMK support (currently via a config repo)
  • Fuses and ESD protection
  • MX or Alps compatibility
  • More aggressive pinky stagger
  • USB-C
  • 233350 310 mAh batteries (three times the size of typical "under the nice!nano" ones)
  • 8 mm standoffs (standard Corne thickness) possible using select switches and 0.8 PCBs.

GitHub repo: https://github.com/krikun98/Skean


Thorne

A thumb-cluster adjusted Corne, the Thorne, by half_dane.

It's prepared for using LEDs but after destroying two PCBs trying to get them working, I decided to go without ? – half_date.

GitHub repo: https://github.com/halfdane/thorne-keyboard

The PCB comes with more aggressive pinky stagger and has an optional outer column (removed in the picture).

This specific build features a nice!nano, and a battery hidden underneath the controller.


Squeezebox v2112

The latest working build of the custom Squeezebox split ergonomic keyboard by focusaurus.

Fellow Redditor focusaurus published the latest working build of his Squeezebox custom split ergonomic keyboard.

This project was first featured in KBD last April, in Issue #23. The most remarkable feature of Squeezbox, as I wrote then, was that:

[...]the very tight spacing of the keys in the middle and bottom rows allows chording without finger repositioning.

In other words, it has two home rows.

Author focusaurus hasn't been idle in the meantime and the new features in this latest version include:

  • slots for adjustment of columnar stagger now on base plate. No more magnets. Everything is slots and bolts.
  • splay angle adjustment done via bolting front of column to an offset slot relative to the back
  • Added an extra column for the pinky
  • new thumb cluster post design and mechanics
  • new JST connector wires for daisy chaining the columns
  • new brain box housing design
  • red and black color scheme "a la 80s TV action shows"

In addition, here is a blog post about the novelties with references to the previous working builds if you want to see the evolution of the design.

This one is much less janky than the previous and I'm as of now hopeful/optimistic that this can become my daily driver. This is made more likely by the fact that the layout is nearly identical to my current TBK Mini daily driver so the switch will be just form factor and not having to also switch to a subtlely different keymap – focusaurus.

Files to 3D print the Squeezbox are available on prusaprinters.org.


THEBRICK deck

THEBRICK is a cyberdeck with Raspberry Pi 4, a 7.9" wide screen and a Planck.

While the project page states this is work in progress stuff, the photos showed a working prototype so I reached out to SNC from yarh.io to ask some questions.

The name is quite apt, because THEBRICK, this Raspberry Pi 4 based cyberdeck with an impressive 7.9" wide screen and an integrated mechanical keyboard, folds up into a... well.. brick.

Some more pictures here: https://yarh.io/thebrick.html

Other projects on yarh.io, which btw stands for [Y]et [A]nother [R]aspberry [H]andheld, come with source files so STLs for THEBRICK will be released too once project development is finished.

The keyboard part of THEBRICK is a "Plastic Preonic", another project available on the site, which is a 3D-printable version of Jack Humbert's well-known design – with open-source case/plate files.


Squished75 case

A 3D printed case of a custom 75% handwired keyboard by toastteebun.

While this keyboard project is till work in progress, the author teased the case – printed in two parts and held together by the slide-in plate.

Custom layout, real similar to some 75% boards out there, just wanted to build something to fit my needs exactly. Plus it's a good excuse to learn how to hand wire a board. Still waiting on some parts before I can start the wiring process.

Here's how it all fits together:

Most 3D printed cases require screws or fasteners. Wanted to try something different, not the best solution, but we'll see how it turns out – Paul Williams.

Tips & Tricks

SKUF keyboard feet

The open-source SKUF is an attempt to standardize the rubber feet used for custom mechanical keyboard projects.

Well, nothing new here. These files were published back in 2020.

However, I wasn't aware of this initiative until reading this week's Keebio newsletter:

Instead of the small, semi-sphere bumper feet (I affectionately nickname 'jelly feet') we are now going to be using more lengthy bumpers! A solid base for a keyboard to rest upon, and it prevents shifting movement as it has a nicely gripping smooth texture – keebio.

The SKUF, which stands for Silicone Keyboard Universalised Feet, is an attempt to standardize the rubber feet used for custom mechanical keyboard projects. According to the SKUF project page, it has initially been envisioned by users Salvun, Soran, Wilba and Zambumon, and the GitHub page hosts the implementation used by Salvun.

The dimensions are 41.8×5.8mm and the ideal SALVUN SKUF slot should be 42×6×0.5mm, with Ø6mm endcaps and a 0.1mm×45° chamfer.

So while the files are open-source, Keebio will stock these silicon feet too.


Atreis PCB

Atreis PCB by Jesus Climent.

A hotswap PCB by jclement for the originally handwired Atreis by dekonnection – an "unsplit Iris".

The Atreis, published in 2018, was based on Keebio's Iris keyboard design files, modified to achieve the same layout in a single-piece form-factor.

Why?

Because the Iris is perfect, but a splitted keyboard is not the most convenient keyboard to take when on the go. And because we can – dekonnection.

The original project repo is now updated with the PCB files.

Back in 2021 I modded an Atreis keyboard by adding a single key into what became my travel keyboard, the Atreyu. Fast forward into 2022 and I turned the original handwired Atreis into a PCB – jcliment.

Github: Atreis PCB

The PCB is untested but it's created by following the routes of the Atreyu keyboard, which, according to Jesus, is a very straightforward implementation of the Atreis, and "it is simple enough to be 99.9% sure it works as it is, as I have checked every single track of the PCB on KiCad".


Corne and Lily58 stacked cases

Open-source full body sandwich cases for the Corne and Lily58 by atlantesque.

I have finally made them! Each of these cases consists of six acrylic plates with 3mm/5mm thickness which gives the keyboard more solid look. There is also an option to add an acrylic stands to this case for 15 degree tenting and more comfortable typing experience.

Source code and suggested BOM for Lily58 case: https://github.com/ergohaven/Lily58-full-body-case

Source code for Corne case will be available later.

Both cases are available (with the keyboards or separately) in the author's shop: https://ergohaven.xyz


Raised thumb keys

A split keyboard by ak66666 with thumb keys raised above the rest.

I've seen several Japanese DIY keyboards with MX switches paired with low-profile thumb keys – that's how I use my Azimuth too.

However, fellow Redditor ak66666 came up with a design the other way around: raising the thumb keys.

It must be the difference in our working environments (desk/chair/armrest height) and the way we hold our hands. (When I slowly lower my fully relaxed hand above my desk, the first finger touching the tabletop is my thumb.)

Anyway, this is something you can contemplate when designing your own physical layout.

Check the original post for more photos.


Keyboard Spotting

Protomic DataStealth

The Protomic DataStealth is an elusive monoblock split from the '90s, designed by Benjamin Rossen.

The DataStealth was an ergonomic keyboard project and a series of different models developed at about the turn of the Millennium: with keypad halves raised to 45 degrees, chording support, etc. The keypad area was gently sculpted and the keys arranged to reflect the finger reach arcs of the users' hands "in both the horizontal and sagittal planes".

The revolutionary DataStealth keyboard is the result of a joint research project with several major Dutch universities. The design incorporates anatomic and ergonomic principles, offering improved comfort and reduced risk of RSI while increasing productivity.

The DataStealth was designed by Benjamin Rossen in 1998-1999 after some experiments with vertical layouts, e.g. the Touch Easy:

After making and discarding several dozen foam models, I returned to a more conventional keyboard design. The challenge was to find a configuration which did not surrender the ergonomic advantages of a vertical configuration, and enabled the keys to remain visible to the user. It was also important to enable the user to rest their hands on the palmar surface to avoid discomfort after long periods of typing. These considerations necessitated surrendering some of the radical ideas – Benjamin Rossen.

Unfortunately, all the images I can find are low-res photos from the early 2000s, like this tiny one – however, a better angle to show the layout and the clever palm rest.

Here is another one showing how bulky the DataStealth was.

In 1998, the keyboard was due to undergo clinical testing:

The keyboard project is still on track, and clinical testing will start soon at the Technical University of Eindhoven, biomechanics in co-operation with the National University of Maastricht, human movement studies – Benjamin Rossen, 1998.

In 1999 the author entered into partnership with Louis Koppes to develop this project further. They took the DataStealth model to the BAI and TAWPI trade shows in the USA to gauge interest from institutions employing heavy duty data entry departments.

Louis Koppes, Managing Director, demonstrating the DataStealth Prototype at TAWPI's 29th annual meeting, August 1-4, 1999, Denver, Colorado, USA.

"This was our initial marketing research exercise. We found a great deal on interest, however, the emphasis lay on productivity rather than ergonomics per se. The lessons we learned here gave impetus and direction to further model improvement, and justified further investment in this project."

The DataStealth keyboard could be used on the lap to relax the shoulders and neck, but it could also be used on the desk: "The wings are designed to tilt the keyboard to the optimum angle for use on a typical desk. This permits variation in posture which helps to keep the data typist alert, and avoids static load induced RSI."

The website given for more manufacturer product information (protonic.com) is long gone but archive.org has some pages.

I quote a few paragraphs to save them from oblivion:

Built-In Hand Rests – The hand supports spare users' arms, shoulders and neck from static load bearing while typing. The entire keypad area can be reached without the user having to raise her hands from the support surfaces.

Sculpted Keypad – The keys are arranged in arcs placed for easy reach. Key cap heights also vary. The little finger, for example, has a shorter distance to travel to depress the keys.

The unique seating posture with "active sitting" (rocking), while using the DataStealth keyboard on the lap, was considered superior to the common usage by the designers:

An angle of 100 to 110 degrees at the elbow has been shown to be optimum for fine motor co-ordination of the fingers.

Active sitting – There is evidence that gentle rocking motion while working helps the typist to concentrate longer on monotonous tasks. The lap position enables the use of a chair with a rocking or spring motion. While the typist moves the keyboard moves in synchrony, enabling continued use without the typist loosing her position on the keyboard.

In 2000, the home page of protonic.com informed visitors:

Protomic is currently in the process of building an improved model of the DataStealth keyboard. We have made several prototypes which are significantly better than our existing model, both in terms of comfort and work productivity potential. The new keyboard is not yet in production. In the meantime, the old model is no longer available. We are keeping a list of interested parties to be informed when the new keyboard is released.

During the few years the DataStealth took its final shape, 24 concept models and 7 different field trial models were made and tested.

While the concept models were comprised of key cradles mounted on a plywood support the complete models were made with plastic housing which fully enclosed the electronics. Most of these models were designed to be placed on the user's lap, and two were designed to be fixed to a desk with an adjustable bracket.

Design and evaluation cycle

It normally took between a week and 10 days to complete the drawings for one model. Laser sintering, painting, assembly and testing usually occupied another week. Re-training the typists generally required a week, even when the keyboards supplied incorporated modifications requested by the typists. It then took at least another month of working with the new keyboard before the data typists were able to say whether the problems they experienced were real or merely artifacts of unfamiliarity with the new design. It took a full year of experimental work to test and evaluate seven designs. By the end of 2001 we were satisfied with the design of model 31.

Alterations to the design

Some unexpected discoveries were made. For example, we found that the complex mode switching and chording options that we had built into our previous models presented an excessive training hurdle when tested in the field. In earlier models we had incorporated the navigation keys, function keys and other special keys into the main keypad are under the users' fingers by means of mode switching. These were re-introduced as separate entities. We moved from a 36 key keyboard to a model once again approaching the standard keyboard in key numbers.

Finally, an insight into the costs of prototyping back in the early 2000s. I guess this one is from the author, however, the original link (from this geekhack thread) doesn't work any more:

One of my projects was concerned with the design and testing of an ergonomically improved keyboard for professional data entry typists. We went through 31 design iterations before making six of them for a field trial. The design process required not only expert knowledge of how to use CAD solid modeling software, knowledge of plastic design, molds, of wall thickness in relation to material strengths, of clickable design for ease of assembly for when (and if) it went into production, and so on and on. These six models (only the last in the series) cost more than my automobile at its new price to make by laser sintering in polyamice, paint, finish, assemble, and test. Each model, that is. Each prototyped keyboard cost more than a new family sedan, and it took me years to get to the final design. That is what making objects from drawings costs.

Fujitsu Oasys

It seems Fujitsu made ALPS keyboards. An Oasys spotted by by May_1.

Announced as a Japanese language electronic typewriter, the OASYS was Fujitsu's first Japanese language word processor.

Fujitsu asked the public to help create the model name, and the name "OASYS (Office Automation SYStem) 100" was chosen from the submitted entries. All of Fujitsu's subsequent Japanese word processors were named "OASYS" (source).

The Oasys series had many models, some of them came with amazing keycap colors.

Specs of the Fujitsu Oasys keyboard (1983) in the picture above:

  • SKCL Green ALPS
  • two-tone alphas
  • thumb-shift layout

A shared characteristic of these keyboards was the split spacebar, dubbed "thumb-shift" in this case:

Japanese kana characters were assigned to the same layout of keys as an alphabetic typewriter. Either of the two characters assigned to a single key could be selected by simultaneously pressing one of the Shift keys located near their thumbs when the character key was pressed. By arranging frequently-used characters in positions which were easy to press, the keyboard made Japanese-language input simpler, faster, and more accurate. Later, the thumb-shift specifications were passed on for use in the “NICOLA keyboard arrangement” of the Nihongo Input Consortium. (source)

Midway battle station

An actual battle station from the USS Midway Museum. Posted by yagtechceo.

The r/retrobattlestations subreddit usually hosts some extraordinary PC setups but this time a photo of a real battle station was shared:

Mods are asleep. Post actual battle stations – yagtechceo.

A Combat Information Center (CIC), the tactical center of the ship, onboard the USS Midway at the USS Midway Museum.

Museum website: https://www.midway.org/

Quick history: https://www.midway.org/about-us/midway-history/