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We’re all Happy Hackers

We’re all Happy Hackers

Dave Whitinger reviews the Happy Hacker Keyboard.

Reviewer Dave Whitinger
Product Happy Hacker
Keyboard
Maker PFU America
Summary An alternative keyboard, intended to be diminutive in size and
increase productivity.

I spend my entire day at my desk, typing away. My computer is my
office, my window to the outside world. I spend 12 hours a day
looking at the world through the glass of my 17 inch monitor.

My position at Linux Today requires me to do a lot of typing. So
much, in fact, that I probably hit the keys no less than 5 million
times per day. I work very hard to improve my productivity every
day, and the best way to add time to my day is to increase my
typing speed.


Enter the Happy Hacker Keyboard. PFU America contacted me some time
ago. It seems that they had been told how serious I am about my
typing, and wanted me to give their keyboard a try. I received it
in the mail in early August, and spent the entire month using
it.

My initial reaction was, “Whoa!!! Look at the size of that
keyboard!”. It is tiny. Very tiny.

Now, they sent me two different models: The Happy Hacker
Keyboard, and the Happy Hacker Keyboard Lite. The former sells for
twice as much as the latter. As I write this review, I’ll try to
explain the differences (as I saw them) between these two model. To
avoid confusion, understand that I will refer to the regular Happy
Hacker Keyboard as the “HHK”, and the lite version as “HHK
Lite”.

Both keyboards are fairly configurable. They have dip switches
on the bottom that you can flip to change the code that certain
keys send to the computer.

Neither have a caps lock key, instead it has been replaced by
the control key. To the left and the right of the space bar are Alt
keys and Meta keys.

The backspace is called “Delete”, and actually sends the delete
code (as opposed to the backspace code) by default.

There are no function keys, there is no numeric keypad, no arrow
keys, no ‘special keys’, like PgUp, Home, End, Pause, etc.

In order to reach these special keys, they have included a key
called “Fn”. By using the Fn key in conjunction with another key,
you can send the code you desire. For example, if you want to do
PgUp, you’ll hit Fn-l. For insert, Fn-. F1-F12 can be reached with
Fn-1 through Fn-=.

The HHK Lite is only intended for i386 machines, while the HHK
includes adapters to plug the keyboard into a Sun, Mac, or i386
box.

The dip switches on the back allow you to change the backspace
to a delete (or vice versa), and change the meta and alt keys
around. While both models feature these dip switches, surprisingly,
the HHK Lite offers more configuration options than the full
HHK.

No problem, however, because I am using this keyboard with
Linux. Being the Happy Hacker that I am, I immediately took to do
some customizations of my keyboard.

The first order of business was to load up xev(1) and get the
keycodes for each of these keys. I determined the left Alt and
Meta, right Alt and Meta, and the Backspace key.

I then created a file called .Xmodmap in my home directory, and
entered the following lines:

keycode 113 = Delete
keycode 131 = Alt_R

This allows my left Meta key to be an Alt key, and my right meta
key to be a delete button. As I set the dip switches to make my
Backspace key really be a backspace key, hitting Fn-` was
unacceptable to access the true delete. Now, when in E-Mail, I can
delete the character in front of my cursor with the right meta key.
(I had to restart X to make these changes take effect.)

Now that this business is finished, it’s time to
start playing around. I use Afterstep as my window manager, and use
the Ctrl-arrow key combinations to switch desktops. I now found,
however, that instead of a 2-key combinations, I am now required to
do a 3-key combination. Ctrl-Fn-Arrow. This significantly slowed my
desktop switching, which I have to do about once every 15 seconds.
My goal is to reconfigure my Afterstep to have Ctrl-HJKL be my
arrows, so that I can use vi-like keys to maneuver around. That’s a
later step, though, as for the time being I can live with
Ctrl-Fn-Arrow.

When I post a story, I do a lot of “Home” and “End” keystrokes.
This is now a little more tedious, as Home is now Fn-K and End is
now Fn-,.

In vi (my preferred text editor), I have found a whole new world
of efficiency. The keys are laid out in a manner that really does
increase my productivity for writing articles (such as this one).
My fingers glide easily across the keyboard with comfort, providing
few typos.

The escape key is located where the back-tick (`) is normally
located, i.e., to the left of the 1. This makes it very easy to
switch from insert mode to command mode. My hands generally do not
have to move at all when I am typing with this keyboard.

PFU has chosen to make the HHK keys feel different than the HHK
Lite. I’m from the camp of click-click-click keys. I want my
neighbors to know that I am typing at my keyboard. I would pay good
money for a collection of old IBM PS/2 keyboards in order to obtain
that click that they are famous for.

The HHK Lite is what some refer to as a “mushroom key”. This
means that the keyboard does not provide a click for each key
pressed, but rather it sort of squishes down. The downside to this
is that you do not get that sonic report from the keyboard,
confirming that your key has been pressed. After years of training
my brain to listen for these clicks, my fingers were now confused.
I can imagine my fingers thinking to themselves, “Now, I know that
I hit that key, but it never did verbally confirm that I hit it.”
Somehow this is causing my brain to slow down the typing, as my
fingers have to retrain themselves to not require the return click
from the key.

The HHK, on the other hand, while also largely silent on the
report, features more of a straight-forward keystroke. When you
press a key, you feel the key being hit. For this reason
alone, I prefer the HHK over the HHK Lite.

These days, it’s almost impossible to buy a brand-new keyboard
without the stupid Microsoft Windows buttons. The HHK and HHK Lite
are, of course, void of any Microsoft keys.

These keyboards have increased my productivity, for sure, and my
desktop is doubled since I removed my previous (enormous) keyboard.
After using it for 30 days, I have decided that I will continue
using it for the indefinite future.