Andy: Hello Jacob, how are you doing this evening?
Jacob: Hi Andrew, doing quite well. It’s my birthday today
Andy: No kidding! Well happy birthday! Thanks for taking the time to geek out and talk about keyboards with me on such a big day.
Jacob: I always have time to talk about keyboards.
Andy: That is a feeling I know all too well. So for those of you that may not recognize your
name or handle (Haata), do you want to give an overview of your involvement with the
mechanical keyboard community before diving headfirst into the details?
Jacob: Sure. I’ve been a relatively long-time member of the mechanical keyboard community (officially joining late 2009). Initially I joined the community searching for something better than QWERTY. Shortly after then found myself collecting rare and unusual keyboards. By that point, I’d given up on finding the “perfect keyboard” and decided it was about time to start on my journey to make it.
Andy: So you originally got involved with the community looking for a new layout? Did you ever find one that you liked enough to stick with? (Dvorak user here)
Jacob: I eventually settled on Colmak, though I did make an attempt to learn Dvorak in 2008. I couldn’t deal with the pinkie strain.
Andy: Very nice, I feel like I’d have stuck with Colemak had I tried it before Dvorak, but my brain couldn’t handle switching again. So you began collecting keyboards as well? I know you have amassed quite a large collection, care to go into detail about your collection?
Jacob: A bit of an embarrassing fact, I don’t actually know how many keyboards I have anymore. I estimate probably around 500 in some shape or form. I do have a spreadsheet of inventoried keyboards; however it’s a lot of work keeping it up to date.
Andy: Good grief. That is no longer collecting, that is archiving. How/where do you store them all?
Jacob: First, proper boxes. Second, heavy duty shelving. I often get free stuff from Uline for all the supplies I buy. haha
Andy: Wow! that is quite intense. So where do you find the majority of your keyboards? Thrift stores, ebay, other community members?
Jacob: This has varied over time. Initially, E-Waste piles at school. For the old-school guys I probably bought (almost) every keyboard from 5k177. (he provided quite a few of the very early custom double shot keycaps) Nowadays it’s mostly ebay and hints from community members.
Andy: How often do you find yourself pulling out a keyboard from the collection to use?
Jacob: Around 2012 I was pulling out a different keyboard every week. If it wasn’t compatible with USB, I’d make a converter for it. For a while, I was one of the few people interested in keyboards that did not work on modern computers, which was great on ebay as there wasa lot less bidding competition.
Andy: So have you converted almost all of your keyboards to work with USB?
Jacob: For a while I was converting almost every one (some are not worth converting, for a variety of reasons). Haven’t converted anything recently. Probably the last one I did was for a presentation and demo I did earlier this year.A lot of the really early keyboards require invasive changes in order to get them to work properly. And I prefer not to damage these one-of-a-kind keyboards.
Andy: That makes a lot of sense, obviously not every keyboard requires a simple adapter. Speaking of converting keyboards to USB, I know you are also heavily involved in programming keyboards as well. How did you get started with that?
Jacob: That’s a funny story actually. I was still posting on the traditional forums, just far less than I had been. I often got quite a few links to interesting keyboards asking if they were interesting. One such person was Oqsy who pointed out that a particular liquidation shop had over 130 NIB vintage Alps keyboards. The problem, they didn’t have cases or controllers. So, he asked if I could make one. At the time, while I was quite familiar with programming, it is myday job after all, but I hadn’t done any embedded programming. Fast forward to today. The 130 keyboards are still sitting in my closet. Once we have our current project list cleared out I can think about them again.
Andy: hahahaha! Did you ever make controllers for any of them?
Jacob: I did make a controller for one, but cases never got made. Another pain point, the pcb did not support NKRO so I would have to make a new pcb.
Andy: Ah, and at that point you’re basically just harvesting switches
Jacob: Another interesting keyboard, it has an ebay story too, is a particular early Alps keyboard These are the smoothest linear switches I’ve felt out of any of my keyboards. Super consistent, dampeners built in top and bottom.
Andy: Damn, that is a Gargantuan Ass Return key. Very cool, I bet that would give it a rather unique feel. What is their actuation force estimate?
Jacob: Hmm, I don’t recall exactly (will have to measure it), but it’s probably around 50g. The last notable keyboard, something clicky. This needs a video…
This keyboard, is just, so, obnoxious and delightfully tactile.
Andy: Ah very interesting. That sure is a unique sound, I’m glad my office isn’t full of them haha. Before keyboards I was heavily into typewriters, but only manual typewriters, now I often wonder what great keyboards I passed up on by not getting all the old electric typewriters I’d come across
Jacob: While I have some really cool electric typewriters, there is one that tops them all.
Jacob: Without going into an extreme amount of detail, keypresses are relayed to the controller using “acoustic waves”.
Andy: Thats just nuts
Jacob: Using TDOA for the engineers out there.
Andy: So, last little question. You are on that hypothetical island we have all visited many times before. You are allowed one keyboard to use for eternity. What keyboard is going to the island with you? I thought I had it rough having 40ish keyboard, you’re just screwed haha
Jacob: If I had to go right now. (i.e. not allowed to build one, or build one when I get there) and only could bring one. Next I’d have to go through my decision matrix of what I’d be using the keyboard for on the island…but I digress. I would probably settle on a uTron keyboard, even though it’s not my ideal keyboard, I probably enjoy using it the most out of all modern keyboards. I’d also be worried about breaking one of a kind keyboards, they belong in a museum
Andy: Hahaha. I’d bring my Planck with me, something about those cute little suckers keep reeling me back whenever I use something else for too long
Jacob: Not a bad choice at all.
Andy: Thanks again for taking time out of your birthday to talk to me me! I am quite excited for our next talks already!
Jacob: No problem at all. I really do enjoy talking about keyboards. Thank you for the interview!