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Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Cherry MX Vintage Black Switches

Most of the fancy switches you see people putting on their custom boards are shiny and new, but some of the most sought-after switches are older than the people typing on them. Because the tooling and manufacturing processes for switches have changed over the years, older batches of switches can have noticeably different properties. That's the case with the popular Cherry MX Black. Finding a batch of so-called Cherry Vintage Blacks is like hitting the custom keyboard jackpot.

The MX Black is one of Cherry's oldest switch designs, introduced back in 1984. It's a medium-weight stiff switch that falls in the linear category. That means there's no click or tactile bump as you press the key. MX Blacks were popular in industrial equipment, mainframe terminals, point-of-sale machines, and scientific instruments. The MX Black actuates at 60 grams of force and bottoms out around 80 grams. That's substantially heavier than the more well-known MX Blue (about 50g and 60g).

Cherry has been producing MX Black switches continuously over the years—you can still get brand new boards with fresh batches of Black switches. However, enthusiasts who have tracked Cherry's manufacturing report the company made some tooling changes around 1994 or 1995, and MX Blacks haven't felt the same since. The newer switches have the same force ratings, but they just aren't as good.

A Vintage Black is smoother and has less wobble. Some may disagree on that, but I think the difference is pretty noticeable when you've used a Vintage Black. You can see a comparison of vintage and newer MX Black stems below. It's hard to spot the differences in images, but the vintage stem is smooth, whereas the newer one has a slightly rough texture. The stem is what moves up and down in the housing to hit the metal contacts. If your stem is not smooth, the switch feels "gritty."

PROJECTIONS, Episode 41: Rec Room Quests and Zero Latency

We've gushed about Rec Room for a while now, and devote this week's episode to discussing why it's such a great introduction to virtual reality and how its multiplayer quests have real depth. Rec Room's latest quest--Island of the Lost Skulls--is one of the best VR experiences we've had yet. Plus, Norm talks about playing the Zero Latency location-based room-scale VR game.

Science in Progress: CRISPR Gene Editing

Kishore and Indre investigate the intriguing world of CRISPR, a new gene editing technology that is shaking up the worlds of science and medicine. They experiment with a D-I-Y kit to explore how CRISPR works, and visit Berkeley's Innovative Genomics Institute to learn more.

Adam Savage's One Day Builds: Foam Ringwraith Gauntlet!

This week's One Day Build is a collaboration with new Tested contributor Bill Doran, aka Punished Props! Bill visits Adam's workshop to help make a replica of Adam's Ringwraith Gauntlets using thin sheets of foam, showing the versatility and accessibility of this popular cosplay material! Watch Bill's paint-up of this build here.

Testing the Ergonomics of Vertical Mice

Sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground. Get a chair with good lumbar support. Adjust your monitor so that the top of it is as eye level. You've likely heard one or more of these kinds of tips for sitting at a desk and using a computer. They're all talked about in reference to computer ergonomics. UC Berkeley defines ergonomics as "the science of fitting jobs to people." And so by extension, it could be said that a major aspect of computer ergonomics is determining the best desk setup and computer accessories for people to use so that the experience is more natural.

As it turns out, a traditional computer mouse may not apply good ergonomics. I want you to do a little experiment to realize it. First, rest your hand and arm by your side. Take note of how it feels, and the orientation of your forearm in particular. Now move your arm into position as if you were using a mouse. Do you know what is happening inside your arm? Put your other hand around your arm to feel the change. The bones in your arm twisted, and the muscles tightened in order to do so. The orientation of our arm when using a mouse isn't even close to a natural resting position. Putting your body into unnatural positions for long periods of time can cause physical strain, or even injury.

Early last year I started looking for an alternative to your standard computer mouse. I switched from using trackpads on laptops to a desktop mouse after building my first PC, and it didn't take long for my use of a traditional mouse to start causing me discomfort, and sometimes minor pain, in my hand and wrist. (Before I go any further I'd like to say that myself nor anyone at Tested is offering medical advice. If you think you have a problem, please seek a medical professional if at all possible.)

Do as I say, not as I do. I've yet to see a doctor about my joint issues. My problem is likely two fold. First, when using a traditional mouse I don't use the proper technique; moving primarily with your shoulder and elbow. I'll move my wrist side to side, and plant my wrist to use only my fingers. While this level of control is great for precise production work or playing first person shooters, it's also a fast track to a repetitive motion injury like carpal tunnel syndrome. Additionally, joint problems run in my family, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. That is very likely not doing me any favors. As a result of these factors I'm not able to use a traditional mouse for long periods of time.

So I started usng a vertical mouse.

Hobby RC: Testing the Tamiya Dancing Rider

I consider myself to be pretty well-rounded when it comes to RC stuff. I've dabbled in a little bit of everything during my years in the hobby. Until recently, however, I had one glaring omission from my RC bona fides: I had never built an RC car from Tamiya. That's a little like being a chef who has never made a grilled cheese sandwich!

Most of my RC buddies got their start in the hobby with iconic Tamiya vehicles like the Grasshopper, Frog, and Blackfoot. These simple and tough machines were ideal for beginning builders and drivers. Tamiya also has a reputation for producing some very unusual RC cars. And that is how I finally filled the Tamiya-shaped void in my life! Enter the Tamiya Dancing Rider.

About the Dancing Rider

The Dancing Rider ($146) is modeled after 3-wheel delivery vehicles that are popular in Japan. It is definitely a unique platform in both appearance and function. I'm a sucker for unusual models. So this kit was right up my alley!

I quickly discovered that I had to abandon all of my standard concepts of scale for RC cars. Tamiya calls the Dancing Rider a 1/8-scale vehicle, but it is much smaller than your average 1/8-scale 4-wheeled rig. Sure, when you scale down a smaller-than-average vehicle, you get a smaller-than-average model. I get it.

From size and power standpoints, the Dancing Rider has much more in common with 1/18-scale cars than anything you would typically find on the 1/8-scale shelf. One exception is the radio gear used in the Dancing Rider, which is pulled from the 1/10-scale class. None of this scaling is a problem. I just found it interesting.

Offworld episode 4: Moonraker (1979)

Space billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in the news today, but one of the first space billionaires appeared in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker. Ariel is joined by author Bonnie Burton and science correspondent Emily Calandrelli to talk about pop culture's stylized take on space travel in the late 70s, in the wake of Star Wars and the dawn of NASA's Shuttle program.

Custom Keyboard Spotlight: The Minivan 40% Keyboard

A standard keyboard has around 104 keys, but some smaller form factors might sport 80 or 60-ish. I'd lay good odds that your keyboard is somewhere in that realm, but there are enthusiast boards that make do with far fewer. So-called 40% keyboards are increasingly popular, and one of the most well-known is the Minivan from TheVan Keyboards. This keyboard is small, but it's more powerful than you'd think.

The Minivan.

A 40% keyboard has all the standard alpha keys, but many of the other keys are missing or smaller than usual. These boards all have varying ideas about what keys you need, but I think the Minivan is the best for a few reasons. Rather than use a full-sized spacebar and enter key, the Minivan uses a split space design that lets you have both space and enter on the bottom row. That frees up locations for function keys and mods in the Minivan's small footprint.

The Minivan also has several keys that are programmed to have different functions depending on whether you press or hold them. For example, the Fn toggle on the right is the quote key if you just press it, but holding it down triggers the assigned function layer. Function layers are a big deal on the Minivan, as you'd probably expect. It doesn't even have a number row, so you'll need to flip between at least two different layers to access all the usual keyboard features. However, you can get extremely efficient with enough practice. Every keyboard function is accessible within no more than two keys of the home row, so you can dramatically cut down on hand movement with a Minivan.

Like many custom keyboards, this one is fully programmable via the TMK firmware. There's an online config tool where you can visually define your layout and function layers. Flashing that layout to the board is a snap (as long as you've got the necessary program installed on your computer), and you can change it as many times as you want.