Minor Experiment with the Dvorak Keyboard

I’ve read lots of good things about Dvorak–how it reduces strain overall, how it might be good for my typing speed. I have to say that I’m satisfied with my current speed, but I wouldn’t mind saying goodbye to the occasional hand cramp.

To be perfectly fair, I didn’t really give the Dvorak keyboard a fair shot. I just read about it a little at work, then decided to pick the keys off my Neo when I got home and then take advantage of Alphasmart’s built-in compliance with the Dvorak layout.

That part was really pretty easy. It was just a matter of changing my keyboard settings in the Control Panel, then snapping the keys in and out.

I’m not saying I’ll never try out the Dvorak setting, but right now, it’s just too close to NaNoWriMo. My typing speed has to be my focus–it’s the only thing that’s going to make it possible for me to reach 50K in a month. Even though Dvorak does seem pretty easy to get used to, I would need at least a few weeks to get fully acclimated. That’s just not something I have time for right now.

Also there’s the issue of being able to type without issue on QWERTY keyboards, which is what I use at work. I’m not sure if that’ll be a huge issue, but it is a slight worry.

My (very) limited experience playing around with the layout gave me the impression that it was fairly comfortable, with less actual “travelling” of my fingers around the keyboard. I’m curious to see how well it will work out when I start to really work on learning Dvorak in earnest, but my first impressions are good. Maybe after NaNo, I’ll give it a go.

Writing Totems

According to Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem, I really need a writing totem. I have to confess that I think the idea is a tad bit silly, which is why I like it so damn much. I’m not a very superstitious person, but I’m certainly not above imbuing inanimate objects with semi-magical qualities if it gives me a good excuse to pad my word count a little.

I got these awesome handmade hats from Feral Works on Etsy. I know I’m only supposed to wear them when writing (so as not to needlessly use up their magical abilities) but they’re just so fun I can’t keep myself from wearing them outside the house.

In case you’re wondering, the hat is supposed to make me look like a fox, not a bunny. I know that the big pointy ears are a little jarring, but notice the little black tips.

The cat ears hat is pretty straight-forward. I like the material on this one a little better than the one on the fox hat. It isn’t quite as stretchy, so the fit is more snug.

Finally finished

Phew. As much as I enjoyed the process, it really was a drag having my Neo out of commission. Even though I’ve only had him for about two weeks now, I still missed the little guy. I missed our quick trysts in my car during impromptu, semi-legal breaks at work. I missed waking up a few minutes early to sneak out of bed and type on him before getting ready for work.

Now I think I’m officially done with pimping out my Neo. The color scheme is looking great and finally, the keyboard is done done done. My first experiment with the matte keyboard left me wanting something a little more slick and ergonomic. The matte finish looked nice, but it was a bit of a pain in the tuckus to write on because the keys had a little bit of “grip” to them. So I knew that I wanted to make the keys more slick and shiny. Also, the stickers that I had originally placed on the keyboard were just a little too thick, so I decided that decal paper would be best.

I can’t say that the process was totally pain free. First I had to strip the decals and the paint, letting the keys sit in a pretty purple bath for a few hours, then carefully scrubbing the paint away with the rough side of a sponge. After all that, we had to prime and paint the keys all over again, then wait for them to dry. In the meantime, I was cutting out the teeny-tiny decals for the letters. What a pain in the arse.

I had never worked with decal paper before so there were some mishaps on the way. My poor number 6 and the sad-looking ON/OFF switch are testaments to that. If I had to do it again, I’d probably glaze the keys first, let it all dry, and THEN slap the decals on them. They would probably stick better and possibly look nicer.

But I’m not going to redo it. This poor keyboard has really been through enough, don’t you think? I’m just ready to get back to work, writing my stories and pounding on those sweet, shiny keys.

Woe is I

After the amazing high of finishing and using my newly pimped out Neo, I must sadly report that I am without its services for at least a few more hours. It’s not any really awful reason–the electronic insides are still functioning just as well as they ever did.

I am in the process of redoing the keyboard, not totally, but mostly. I realized that the stickers (though nice looking) were just a temporary solution. The real way to ensure longevity and durability would have been to install decal stickers, which lay flush against the keys and don’t really have that raised up feeling that the stickers have. In terms of keyboard mods, they tend to be the preferred method, so I decided to go ahead and redo that part.

Let’s just say that getting the stickers off involved a lot of solvent, the abrasive end of a sponge, and life-saving plastic gloves. And patience… oh, so much patience.

Anyway, the keys look pretty good–I actually primed them this time, so the paint looks better than ever. And the decal stickers look great. I can’t wait to top it all with a glossy clear coat to keep everything from getting faded with use. I did have a few minor mishaps with a sticker or two that wasn’t adequately water-proofed, but I suppose it could have been much worse.

I’m glad that I’m taking the extra effort to ensure that the keys will look better and remain lemony fresh for longer, but it’s still been a really tough two days without the Neo. I can’t stand being chained to the desktop now, so I’ve been writing longhand, which is a pain since I write so much more slowly compared to my typing speed.

So yeah. Woe is I.

Neo-Politan

So here it is. I must say that I’m quite pleased with the color and texture of both the pink and the brown halves. The Plastikote pink on top is much smoother and shinier than the Krylon brown underside, which has a subtle glitter but is definitely matte.

Overall, I’m really digging the results. I’m a huge fan of the pink-white-brown Neapolitan color scheme and it’s so much easier on the eyes than that factory-issued hunter green. The original color did have a scholarly charm about it, but I really wanted to customize my Neo so it would be unique to me. I’m a writer, so naturally I’m big on self-expression, but I’m also a very visual creature. It just makes typing on the Neo a more pleasant experience, like I’m not just using I’m a machine, I’m working with a friend.

Still, I’m not totally done. I’m glad that I went through the whole process–it was a real learning experience–but I’m actually in the process of a semi-re-do on the keyboard. I’m stripping the paint off the keys now so I can turn around and repaint them white and slap some water-soluble decal paper on them. I think that’s going to help with the overall feel of the keys. It’s not so bad now, of course, but being slightly perfectionistic, I would rather the letters feel more or less flat against the keys, rather than slightly raised the way the stickers are.

Still though, I’d say I’m pretty pleased with the way things turned out.

Yucky Pic of the Yummy Neo

We decided to just finish up tonight with the Neo. The longest part was putting all the keys back in place, but putting all the electrical stuff back together again was actually really easy. More observations later–I just wanted you guys to have the first look.

In real life, btw, the pink is a little more bubble gum and not so much that weird Pepto Bismol color.

My Tricked Out Neo… In Progress

So far, customizing my new Neo has been both more fun than I had anticipated and also more effort. It’s also been pretty scary at times, but once you get a feel for how the guts connect together and how simple the setup really is, it’s not so frightening.

My first hurdle was actually finding a screwdriver to get the darn thing open. I had to borrow a special one from my brother-in-law, then another special screwdriver for the teeny-tiny screws holding the circuit boards and LCD screen in. Apologies for the lack of pic–I was too frightened to remember that I wanted to do this. Ditto for taking the keyboard out and disconnecting it from the circuit board. It’s actually quite easy to do, but there’s something very scary about messing around with that little plastic ribbon. And it didn’t help that my brother-in-law kept telling me, in a very calm way, to NOT touch the blue part (apparently that’s where the information gets transmitted… or something).

All the electronic stuff is safely bagged and tucked in a box, ready and waiting for me to return it to its cozy plastic home. Then we started the fun part–painting!

I prefer to think of it as "Barbie" pink rather than "Pepto" pink

I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world

Here we have the top half, which I did in a bubble gum-y pink from Plastikote. Oddly enough, the spray paint did have a weirdly sweet, candy-type scent. It took a bunch of layers to get a solid pink color on top of the hunter green, but the results are very nice. And there’s something very satisfying about looking down at it and saying, “Haha, you were green but now you’re light pink. Mwahaha!”

Ahem.

This is the bottom half, a nice chocolate brown from Krylon. This was definitely easier to manage than the pink, though I prefer the Plastikote’s smooth finish. I found that the Krylon has a bit of grit to it, a little bit of a sandy texture. But I did like the very subtle sparkle that the chocolate brown gave the formerly-green plastic. It provides a nice contrast to the relative smoothness of Plastikote’s pink.

Ah, the keyboard. It’s the both the bane of my existence and a labor of love. To get them to a more suitable white color, I used Krylon again. I thought that its white just seemed a bit more creamy and less stark than the one from Plastikote. Surprisingly, it covered the keys very well and very quickly.

Now that the keys were a nice white color, it was time to add the markings. I achieved this by getting printable transparency paper (the kind with the adhesive backing) and printing out all of my necessary letters and symbols. I have to say that getting everything looking nice and size-appropriate was a real pain in the tuckus, but checking out the chocolate brown Georgia letters (one of my favorite fonts) on top of those creamy keys made all the cutting and pressing worth the effort. The letters look a little more black than brown in the pic, unfortunately.

And so there we have it. Everything’s been topped with a matte finish clear coat and is drying in the garage. I’m hoping to finish it all up tomorrow. Not sure if I’ll pop the keyboard into the plasic casing and then replace the keys, or vice versa. Either way, I think I’m making pretty good progress on my Neapolitan-inspired Neo.

Neo-politan… Get it?

<insert laughter here>

Edit: The new Neo is painted!!! Check it out here