Keyboard redux

A while back I posted a review of some computer keyboards and talked about my search for the perfect one.  At that time I selected the Unicomp keyboard which is a reproduction of the venerable IBM Model M clicky keyboard (which you can still find on Ebay at good prices).  Well, recently I’ve been having hand problems so I thought a change was in order, especially at work.  I spent quite a while on various sites including where all things keyboard/mice are discussed to minute detail.  I learned a lot about the various switches used, activation pressures, otaku keyboards (no keys labeled), and best keyboards for gaming and typing.

I figured out that the Unicomp keyboard I had at work was really just a typical rubber dome switch board that resembled the clicky Unicomp that I was using at home.  I had bought it out of consideration of my fellow workers who might not like to hear the loud keyboard.  I switched that out for a MaCally icekey keyboard ($20 at Amazon, good buy) that has scissor switches (like some laptops).  That is a temporary fix for work, but wasn’t good enough for home.  Besides, I was in this to buy something good and the sudden obsession wasn’t appeased yet.  The good news is that there are a lot of good keyboards out there with very good switches.  The bad news is that there are few places to try them out before you buy.

So I ended up purchasing the TypeMatrix keyboard which is completely different setup with the keys in orderly rows.  You know, I thought I would plunge right into the deep end.

This is a small keyboard with pretty good key action (scissor switches), but I could not get past the backspace being in the middle.  The idea is to rely more on your strong pointer fingers rather than your weak pinkies, but for me the backspace is just too engrained in me to switch.  This keyboard went back.

After much searching, including looking at all kinds of ergonomic alternatives, I figured out two things.  1. Because so much time is spent with a keyboard it pays to get a good one.  and 2.  If you want a good one, you will pay.  As in probably too much cash unless you go the old IBM route which I would’ve done if I didn’t already have the Unicomp.

So I ended up with this:

It’s the Happy Hacking Pro 2 keyboard (not the Lite).  It has expensive topre switches (dome plus spring) and it is tiny — uses a function key to access things like the f-keys and arrows so it is only 60 keys instead of the usual 87 or 104.  The key action is just great; light pressure but still great feedback.  I’m still getting used to the arrangement of the keys; the backspace is the immediate problem, but I think I will get used to it soon since it is just one key down from where I’m used to having it.  I though I would miss the dedicated arrow keys, but I’m finding the Fn key combination to be pretty easy.  I’m also loving the small form of this keyboard.  Nice to have some real estate back on my desk, and it is small enough to pack with my laptop if I want to do some serious typing on the road (though I have a thinkpad which has a pretty good keyboard).

The HHKB has dip switches to change from nominal, to PC, to Mac configurations so it should work on most systems.  The keyboard arrangement is particularly good for Linux (I have Ubuntu on my laptop) since the control button is prominent above the shift (used often in Emacs etc.).

So for the moment I am happy with this keyboard.  The real issue with it is the cost.  I got it here: which seems to be the only place to get it since it is made for the Japanese market (instructions are in Japanese only).  Yeah, it is really expensive.  But I figured if it helps these old fingers of mine, it will be worth it.  Still cheaper than some pots and pans (inside joke).

I’ll let you know how it works as I get used to it.

Published in: on May 6, 2012 at 11:11 am  Comments (1)  

It’s Back!

I must have been asleep in the past six months or so because I just found out that it’s back, for sale right now, and it is pretty darn good.  Hewlett-Packard have done a wonderful thing and have put into production a replica (or reproduction) of the wonderful HP-15C calculator.  The calculator that many credit with getting them through engineering school and then through their careers.  It is, to my mind, the finest engineering calculator ever produced.

Though made in China now, rather than the US or a few other countries like the original HP-15C, the reproduction, called the Limited Edition by HP, seems very well made and almost identical to the original.  It comes in a nice presentation box along with a printed owners manual that seems to be a reprint of the original.


Here is the new one next to an original in good condition.  The only main visual difference is that the new one’s screen has a greenish tint to it while the original is gray (that doesn’t really show in the pictures and it is not a big deal).


In operating the calculator, you do notice a slightly different feel with the keys.  The LE has slightly flatter keytops and the texture is slightly rougher – that might be just because I am comparing it to an original 15C that has had some use in its 30 year life.  The f and g keys also feel a bit wobbly compared to the original but they don’t seem to be as bad on mine as some people found on the first batch that came out.  The key action is just as good, or maybe even a little better, than the original.  And that is saying a lot.  It is a wonderful calculating experience.


As far as I can tell, the LE does everything the old one did, in the same way (except for the diagnostics check), and, because of a new processor, does it much, much faster.  I guess there was some price gouging in the Fall, but now they seem to have settled down some.  Amazon has it for $129.99, but you can order directly from HP ( for $99.99 with free shipping.  I got two and they arrived in just a couple of days.

Any of you who lost their 15C, or want to gently retire theirs, or who always wanted one but couldn’t afford it at the time (me), I highly recommend purchasing an LE.  I think it is still the best calculator an engineer can have at his side that can also fit in his shirt pocket.

By the way, this is a great site for all HP calculators:  The forums are active and filled with interesting calculator nerds – a lot of engineers, in other words.

Published in: on April 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm  Comments (2)  

Motivated Reasoning

Motivated reasoning is one of the easiest traps for an engineer to fall into.  This pleasantly oxymoronic term can be considered as an extreme case of confirmation bias.

So what is it?  I see motivated reasoning as the practice of allowing emotion to creep into the engineering process — usually through the emotion-based evaluation of data or calculations leading to an emotion-based decision.  It is a matter of putting more credence into your feelings than in the data at hand.

Now this doesn’t mean you always have to be Spock rather than Kirk, but one needs to understand that all decisions are, to a certain extent, emotional, but that one can’t dismiss engineering facts just because they don’t fit your emotional needs.

A case came up recently that illustrated this tendency perfectly.  A report generated by the best of the field offices completely disregarded a previous report from another office.  Why?  Because if that older report was true, it would mean more work and expense.  By disregarding the old data, they could avoid a lot of work and cost.  Trouble was that there was nothing really wrong with the old data.  Certainly nothing that would support tossing out the whole report.  To rationalize their position, they harped on some small errors and inconsistencies.  Their position became an emotion-driven one based on external pressures to reduce cost and schedule impact.  The correct, data-driven position was overridden.

We corrected this situation but it illustrates how easy it is, even for first-rate engineers, to fall into this trap.  Experienced engineers can sometimes go with their gut (emotions) and succeed, but when data and calculations are available, go with the math every time.  Sort of like flying in the clouds: trust your instruments and not the seat of your pants.

Published in: on March 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm  Comments (1)  



Map of countries that still use the English measurement system.  Need I say any more?

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm  Comments (2)  


Remember back in the day when you could spot an engineer (or science geek) from a block away because of the tell-tale calculator on their belt?  Or going a bit further back, how they wielded their slide rule?  Okay, so neither were cool (why is wearing an iphone on your hip nowadays cool but a calculator isn’t?), but they were objects of some pride to the engineers.  A symbol, if you like, of somebody embracing math, technology, and applied science.  And of course the more complex the instrument, and the better you knew  how to use it, was the basis of some sort of hierarchy in the ranks.  Or, at least, something that earned you respect from your peers.

As a student I couldn’t afford the pinnacle of calculators, the HP-15C.   Or any of the HP products which, at that time, were the best you could get.  I had to make do with a very capable, if a little quirky, Commodore scientific calculator and a backup K-mart special.  I cared not for the TI-55 with their sticky keys.  Since then I’ve collected calculators here and there based on design and features and at work I have about four or five hanging around; more at home taking up a drawer.  My goto ones are a new HP-35S ( and an old HP-11C I recently purchased on eBay for more cash than I’m willing to admit to you.  The 11C is still, as far as I’m concerned, the second best calculator ever made and now, thirty years later, it is still a joy to use.

I guess I still think that these calculators are things of great usefulness and pride for an engineer.  And I guess that’s why it bugs me when I pass my coworker’s desks and see four-function calculators sitting there.  Have they no pride?  No sense of embarrassment that they are using a two-dollar POS that never could have gotten them through the first month in engineering school?  No desire to use or even play with the friend of the engineer?

When I asked one of them about it, he replied that he’s just a manager now, not an engineer (then what is he doing in an engineering position?).  Well, not for me.  My engineering blood still runs strong and I still carry my HP to meetings and proudly have them on my desk within easy reach.  It’s still a matter of pride to me (and usefulness) and I don’t foresee ever giving them up.

Anybody know of a belt holster for the 11C?

(Check out the HP-11C tee-shirt in the store —–>)

Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm  Comments (2)  

Brilliant PowerPoint

Published in: on July 9, 2011 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment