One Of Those Small Ironies

It is: After being exiled from my office for the last couple of months and consequently doing most of my work on laptops or my netbook, I find that the full-size keyboard I’ve been using for my desktop computer feels really clunky and difficult to use. Part of that is that my fingers have gotten used to typing on keys that have less travel than my full-sized keyboard and consequently I’m dropping letters because I’m not pushing the full-sized keys all the way down. Part of it is now it also feels like the full-sized keys just stick, and it’s become a little aggravating to work with them.

The other irony is that now I’m finding the noise of the desktop to be sort of irritatingly loud: All those fans pushing air through the central chamber of the tower to cool the graphics cards, etc. It annoyed me enough that I just turned off the desktop and cracked open the netbook to write this. I suspect I’ll get over it at some point in the near future — probably when I want to kill some zombies again — but for the moment I’m enjoying the quiet, and the non-sticky keys.

45 thoughts on “One Of Those Small Ironies

  1. Yes, aware of both of these things. A new keyboard is on the list of things to buy in the next week; as for the fans, they’re pretty big as it is. But they’re still louder than no fan noise at all.

  2. I know you’re a Windows guy, but iMacs are very quiet, and they come with a thin low-travel keyboard that a lot of people really like.

  3. Well, to be clear, I think “buy a whole new computer” is not the solution to “fans seem louder after two months of working on laptops.” Also, when I owned an iMac a few years ago, the keyboard was so atrocious I ditched it within a week lest my wrists were ground to dust. It’s possible the keyboards have gotten better since then, but I’m not in a huge rush to find out.

  4. I went from having only desktops to getting a laptop for work. As it stands I now have two laptops and my desktop doesn’t get turned on anymore. I will even place a laptop next to it, as I would rather use these more convenient and quiet laptops.

    BTW MAC what?
    //maybe just why?
    //(teasing, I cannot resist when I find Apple fanboys)

  5. After living in the promised land of the laptop for months, why exactly do you want to go back to a desktop again? I left desktops behind years ago and I’ve never looked back. Resistance is futile.

  6. We just purchased a laptop style keyboard for my wife’s work computer for much the same reason after her carpal tunnel surgery. I know this has to do with getting back on the mainframe, as it were, but I wonder how much of this sound issue has to do with not having anything else in the room. The last picture of the office I saw from the other day had pretty much bare walls and floor.

    Get some stacks of books in there to break up the sound reflective patterns of the walls and floor and I’m pretty sure it won’t be as noticeable.

  7. Heh, after learning to type on an old Selectric typewriter, for years I went through a series of IBM PC-AT keyboards that felt exactly like a Selectric, even when I was using a clone (which was most of the time). When I finally no longer could get them reliably I ended up learning to use other keyboards, but I still use the stiffest keyboards that I can find. My fingers get really tired typing if the keys don’t push back hard enough.

  8. If you have stock fans, you might lose some decibels by switching to quieter ones (either low-rpm, or adjustables). Noctua makes some damn near silent ones (though they’re a relatively fugly brown and taupe color scheme); they also put out an extremely swanky CPU cooler which is similarly quiet, and way more effective than Intel’s stock unit.

    You could also, you know, crank up the tunes and/or put on some headphones, though I don’t know if music plays well with your writing process or not.

  9. FWIW, I would second the Apple keyboard recommendation. I found the lack of key curvature took some getting used to, but the finger travel distance is a fraction of what you get with a standard full-size keyboard. There were a couple generations of Apple keyboards where the action was really stiff, and that’s also no longer the case.

  10. I guess I am a dinosaur…unless it has big, solid keys that make a loud “clack clack clack”, they don’t seem right to me. I pound the crap out of laptop keyboards. When not remote, it’s “Das Keyboard” all the way, not for the novelty of the all black looks, but for the feel, which to me is the best I’ve felt since the old model M.

    My Mac Mini’s fan is quite loud when it decides it needs it. (I won’t go iMac because I already have a monitor, and don’t want to pay for a new one. Why the hell won’t Apple sell real mid-range desktops?)

    (Not that I really care about fan noise. I am a firm believer in blasting out distracting noises with Mötorhead.)

  11. I’d have thought you would have jumped at the Passing, the new DLC for L4D2. Free for the PC version, unlike the poor saps that have to pay for the Xbox.
    The scenario reminds me of the scene in Shawn of the Dead when the two groups pass each other.

  12. The new Apple keyboard is quite good, and works under Windows just the same. If you don’t have a need for the numeric keypad, the new Microsoft Arc keyboard is also very good, and does a credible imitation of the Apple keyboard’s feel. Super-short key travel, compact size, easy to wipe down and clean.

    The higher-end Logitech low-profile keyboards with the scissor-switch laptop keys are decent, too, although most of them take up a fair bit of desk real estate.

  13. Apple’s new thin slab keyboard is basically their laptop keyboard only full key setup. All the keys have about 1/16″ travel and are somewhat quieter than a standard keyboard. Plus, the keyboard is based on a 3/16″ slab of aluminum with nice square edges. Will definitely come in handy when the zombies attack.

  14. You’ll love the M60 machine gun, blows the zombies apart. Golf club is fun. I’m waiting for the Unlimited Chainsaw fuel ‘Mutation’ week…sqee!

  15. Advice to you, sir, is: Buy a pair of over-ear headphones. You’ll never notice the fans while they’re on.

  16. The only downside of the Apple keyboard (assuming you like its ergonomics and key layout) is that it’s missing the Windows key etc and has a Command key that would be useless to a Windows person I’d imagine.

    and I’ll second the ‘diffract that noise’ comment above – both in general in the room as you add the bookshelves, but also if you can place books etc on either side of the tower to diffract/absorb some of the sound.

  17. I’ll third (fourth?) the new Apple keyboards. The old ones are bad (I still have to use on at work), but some of the other computers have the new ones and they’re like typing on silk. They’ve also got that really satisfying, tactile, “clicky” sensation that I remember my dad’s old 286.

    My boss offered me one of the new ones, but my Mac Mini has a demented USB hub that won’t play nice with any new devices, so I just grit my teeth and deal with it.

    Steve – the iMac comes with a nice IPS LCD panel, which is great for doing photo/graphics work. They’re actually a pretty good buy if you need the color fidelity/viewing angles, and you can always plug in a secondary display. I’m looking at buying a new computer soon; if it’s a laptop it’ll probably be a Dell, but if it’s a desktop I’m seriously considering an iMac, it’s not a bad value at all considering I’d be spending another $300+ on a comparable LCD.

  18. Chad@22: The trouble is that I already *have* a quite nice panel and no desk space for another one.

  19. Hey John, you might wanna see if you can get your hot-rod desktop set up for liquid cooling. That might quiet it down. Possibly.

    I’m gonna replace my old dual-G4 tower with a new Mini, mostly for size/footprint reasons, but also because the fan sounds like my motorcycle at 75mph.

  20. @steve – you need a larger desk. See if Scalzi will ship his old one… :)

  21. I thought that you had gotten liquid cooling on your latest desktop computer. If that is the case and fan noise seems loud, you might need to check that there isn’t some sort of cooling/over heating starting to occur.

  22. [Well, to be clear, I think “buy a whole new computer” is not the solution]

    Hehe, sure it is. Mind you I’m a sucker for any reason to build a new computer! :D

  23. You missed a major opportunity when you remodeled your office.

    The best place for a computer is in it’s own small room with a solid door, soundproofing in the walls and just a small hole to fit the required cables (USB going in, display coming out) through and then stuffed shut with more soundproofing material.

    That way you can less then 2m away from a total monster of a machine in absolute total silence.

  24. #21: “Command-key”

    you can remap the various meta keys on the apple keyboard to the windows equivalents using the keytweak (http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/) free software.

    It’s very handy to have the muscle-memory transfer across the OS versions: cmd-tab is the MacOSX equivalents to alt-tab, so I remap accordingly.

  25. @Thorsten: Wouldn’t the poor thing roast in a close space like that?

    @Scalzi: Interestingly, I do all my writing on my netbook- I’ll even sit in a chair a couple of feet from my fully functional desktop (which is a total beast) and type on the little thing. There’s just something about using the smaller machine that helps me focus into the writing mindset.

  26. @Nentuaby: When I built the house I’m living in now I had just such a room put in beside my office.

    There was a fan in the ceiling that sucked the hot air out (completely out of the house, in the northern half of Australia “heating” is not something you ever need), cooler air from the house went in under the door.

    That worked well enough with one computer with the lower half of the room where the computer was staying below 35C as the hot air went up to the ceiling where it got sucked out with cooler air constantly replacing it at floor level.

    By now there are 3 computers with over 40 HDDs in total and 5000VA worth of UPSs in there, so a more advanced cooling solution was needed and I now got an inverter split-system aircon installed (in ECO mode, set to 17C it’s just running along at the lowest output of the inverter).

  27. I’ve always been a real key pounder (I suspect because of piano lessons as a child). I didn’t realize how obnoxious it was until one day at work–in an open-office environment–my boss presented me with a new keyboard. It was a “soft touch” keyboard with special muted keys. I was the only one in the office to sport such a keyboard. That may have been my proudest moment.

    I find that laptop keyboards cramp my style. I’m not really getting into the swing of things (and paradoxically, not able to type at top speed) if my fingers don’t have plenty of room to move about and deliver home-run swing key presses. I used a laptop all through college, so it’s not like I didn’t get the chance to acclimate to the narrower key spacing.

    The most entertaining typing I’ve done was on my mother’s ancient 50′s era machined-from-an-engine-block typewriter where the harder you hit the key, the darker the letter would be. Banging away on that bad boy was like conducting a symphony… at least until the keys jammed… again…

    Finally, did you know that the longest word that can be typed using only the top row of keys on a QWERTY typewriter is “typewriter”?

  28. Loud fans and a fondness for low keypitch laptop keyboards are the exact reasons I’ve also stopped using my desktop as my main development machine. I pretty much only use it for some gaming on the weekends.

    Mostly, I use the Apple flat aluminum that other’s here have recommended, and my MacBook attached to an external monitor.

    I’ve also noticed that my power bills are much better now as I no longer have to power a huge tower or power air conditioning to compensate for the heat from said tower.

    Once I got used to the key spacing, my touch typing skills went up significantly too as it takes less energy and time to press keys as well.

  29. I am typing this on a Logitech UltraX keyboard – of which I own several, both at home and at work. It feels just like a laptop keyboard, but has the layout I came to expect from a “normal” one – I’ve been a touch-typist for years. I ended up using it after finding out that my RSI didn’t act up when I was typing on a laptop. Long story short, in my experience this keyboard is the closest you can get to a laptop “feel” – and it’s quite reasonably priced too.

    But what am I saying – you’re probably going to go for one of those slick, back-lit, glow-in-the-dark gaming affairs, one that comes standard with zombie-mauling accessories (batteries not included)…

  30. Just an observation re: fan noise- as I recall from your various remodel posts, you replaced the carpet in the office with hardwood?

    If so, this one little change in acoustics is likely responsible for the newly discovered fan drone.

    If your tower is in an enclosure in the desk and there is very good airflow, you could consider adding some sound deadening material, ala that eggcrate-looking stuff you see all over the walls in music studios. Mind the temp.

    Probably easier to try swapping out your stock fans for quiet models (several makers of these now that PC’s are moving into living room entertainment centers).

  31. I know what you mean about the “sticky” keyboard. My office computer is significantly newer than my home computer, and I had to buy a new keyboard to use at home because the old one was so annoying after trying the new one at work.

    Still, some days I like to crack out the manual typewriter, because that engages gross motor skills (arms! not just fingers!) and reduces my RSD issues.

    I never had tendinitis when I used a manual typewriter, or an old clackity computer keyboard (the sort we had in the 80s). That may be a function of age, but I suspect it’s a function of which muscle groups were being worked.

  32. The newer apple bluetooth keyboard is quite good. Small and thin with a good short but solid key action. I haven’t ran into anyone that doesn’t like it once they give it a try.

    Also it’s thin enough you don’t need a wrist support, and if you ever get a mac book it’s exactly the same keyboard. OS X let’s you remap keys via the control panel out of the box, for instance I have the Caps Lock mapped to Ctrl.

    The new bluetooth multitouch mouse is also pretty great btw.

  33. Two words. Water Feature. No more fan noise, but you may feel the need to pee more often.

    Oh and the cats will LOVE it.

  34. There’s also the virtual KB option – thinkgeek has one http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/keyboards-mice/8193/
    which would solve all the kb issues at once ;>.

    re: iMac – no one uses that kb out of the box anymore than anyone uses the PC kb out of the box – i have ergo kb’s for both (i have one of each) and the touch is pretty much identical.

    Also: the new hardwood floor might be contributing to the noise – a small bit of carpet under the desktop cpu might help deaden that sound a lot.

  35. I second the sound being louder with hard wood floors. The sound-deadening ability is never appreciated until you switch to echoing hard wood floors.

    The lack of acoustic-absorbing stacks of books and stuff contributes as well, but we all know that in about 2 weeks, your lovely office will no longer have that problem.

  36. @Twilight2000:

    The virtual keyboard is pure ergonomic and typological evil. Real keys give when you strike them, providing tactical feedback; the tabletop does not, which essentially makes you stub your fingers repeatedly and constantly mistype because you don’t know when you’ve successfully entered a letter.

  37. Agreed that the current Apple keyboard is great — my sole frustration is that they’ve discontinued the wireless version with number pad, so you’re forced to choose between being wireless and having the all-important number pad.

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