In Exeter city centre. I was photographing the gull sitting on top of the phone boxes, and got lucky, catching it just as it took off. So. Phone boxes still exist. But now they contain The Internet.
On the way to the London Pen show, we passed Stonehenge – I fired off over 40 shots through the car window, and this was the best I got. Not great, but not bad considering it was taken at 240mm from the window of a moving car.
In some ways, I’ve been playing Elite for getting on for 40 years. I played it back when the original came out on the BBC Micro, back in 1984. I loved it. Can’t honestly say I was great at it, though I think I reached a rank of Dangerous, but I loved the sheer openness of it. It didn’t tell you what to do, just gave you a world to play in, to live in. At a time when most games essentially wanted you to push the right buttons in the right order, and get your timing right, like advanced versions of Simon, it was a new experience. A game that was an experience.
Games have moved on a bit since then, obviously, and this sort of ‘sandbox’ game is nowhere near as rare as it once was, but they’re still somewhat unusual. Especially ones that take it to the extreme that Elite does, in its newest incarnation as Elite: Dangerous. You start with the vaguest of backstories (someone has paid for you to have a pilot’s licence and a small starter ship, but you’re not told who), and the vaguest of aims (do a very basic tutorial on the ship controls, now off you go), and then you’re left to your own devices. Even as a No Man’s Sky player, it’s a startling lack of hand-holding. NMS guides you somewhat for the first few hours, though without really forcing you to do things in order; Elite just tells you “Here’s your ship, now fuck off.”
So you choose your own goals, and your own ways to reach them. You’re going to want a better ship, so you’re going to want money. You can trade for it, fight for it, explore for it, it’s up to you. I traded. I got reasonably lucky early on, and went straight from the starter Sidewinder to a Cobra Mk III. I stuck with trading, and worked my way up to an Asp Explorer, but never really loved it. It was good, very practical, but didn’t really do anything much for me.
My next goal ship was pretty much a choice between the classic Python and the strange little triangle that is the Krait Mk II. The Python looked practical, but the Krait looked like a ship I could love.
I named my Krait Sabine, after Sabine Schmitz, the queen of the Nurbergring, and poured everything I could into upgrading her. She was amazing. But there’s always another goal, and it was the Anaconda.
This one took some serious work. But I got there with a lot more trading. And it was amazing, but I didn’t really love it. I named it Chonky Snek, because it’s a snek and it’s chonky. It needed upgrading, and that was expensive. So I worked at it, and upgraded it until there was nothing left to upgrade. I did some basic engineering on it. But I still didn’t love it. I went back to mainly flying Sabine.
I wanted to do a long journey, loved the idea of getting out to Colonia, and maybe then going to see Sagittarius A*. None of my ships really had a good enough jump range. The Chonky Snek could get there ok, but it’s a big ship and hard to land on planets, so I thought Sabine would be better for the job, but I decided to have a go at outfitting a Krait Phantom for exploration instead. I’d still prioritise having some fun on the journey and making things easy over pure long jump range, but the Phantom should get more range with a similar loadout. And it did. Even without going all-out on engineering and unlocking more upgrades, and with carrying two SRVs (little cars you can drive around on planets to collect resources), it got a jump range of around 45 light years, against Sabine’s 30LY range. And, somewhat to my surprise, I loved the ship. I named her Cookie. Partly because she’s very flat like a cookie, and partly after a rally driver, Louise Cook, who also goes by Cookie.
I decided to try plotting a course for a half-way point (you can’t plot a direct route that far) and just set off and do a few jumps, see how it felt. I’d turn back after maybe 20 or 50 jumps, and continue preparations, maybe get a few more upgrades unlocked. Except I didn’t turn back. I just kept jumping.
I stopped reasonably often, always ending a leg of the journey by landing on a planet to ‘sleep’. I went exploring random planets in the SRVs. It was an enjoyable trip. Didn’t see anything too amazing, but I wasn’t really searching, just travelling and seeing a few sights as I went. I did a few repairs while sitting on one planet. Nothing really needed it, but I wanted to see how the AFMU (automated field maintenance unit) worked, and make sure I could do it if I did need to.
At one point, something happened I’d seen about on Reddit – I came out of a jump straignt between two stars, immediately overheating. Fortunately, not quite close enough to either of them to pull me out of supercruise, so escape was easy, and I only had to drop one heatsink to keep things from getting too dangerous. Almost ironic, this was in the last few jumps before arriving, just 8 jumps from Colonia after around 500 jumps.
Then the journey was over. It felt quite a big deal to finally jump into the Colonia system, and dock at Jacques Station. I took lots of screenshots of the final jump and arrival at Jacques, then went inside and docked.
I sold my collected cartographic data from the trip, getting around 30 million for it. Could have been a lot more if I’d done more scanning and exploring, but the trip hadn’t been about the money.
Then didn’t really know what else to do.
Colonia had seemed distant and exciting from the Bubble. Now it just felt like a very small bubble, with nothing much new to do. I’d be jumping around a smaller selection of systems, landing at the same designs of space stations, trading the same goods, doing the same missions. So I plotted a route for Sagittarius A* and left.
I’ll probably finish the journey to get to there. But I’m not sure how much more I’ll play after that. I think it might be time to return to No Man’s Sky, in time for the next big update.
If you don’t read PigPog through an RSS reader, you can ignore this post.
If you do, you won’t have seen any posts for a long time, but that’s not because I haven’t been posting anything. I have, but I’m posting shoots dated for the day they happened, and I’m posting stuff from 2019. So they all end up far enough back in the list of posts that they’re behind all the blog posts and don’t make it into the RSS feed at all.
I doubt anyone really cares, but if you do, I’m sorry – I don’t like this, because I do like RSS, and use it every day. But I also like the idea of shoots featuring the right date on them. Anyway, if you want to see the posts, go visit PigPog to see them. Lots of modelling shoots, events, and other photos. If you’re anything like me, along with the convenience of posts coming to you in one place, you’re partly using RSS to avoid all the ads and unreadable crap the covers every web page now. Well, I don’t use any of that on PigPog. No ads, and the only stats and tracking is the default WordPress stuff.
I recently bought a mechanical keyboard, and it’s really nice. Typing is enjoyable again, and I think it’s faster and more accurate. They aren’t cheap things, though, so if you’re thinking it might sound appealing, be warned – if you continue reading, this could cost you £50 upwards.
Most modern keyboards consist of a big flat circuit board with contacts close together where each key goes. Over that is a rubber sheet, with little domes. Under the domes is conductive material that closes those contacts when the dome is pushed down. The keys sit over the domes, and when you push one down, the dome buckles and shorts the contacts. A little bit of electronics then sends the right signal up the USB cable, or to the rest of the laptop.
Mechanical keyboards are different. Each key (now called a ‘keycap’) sits on top of a switch. Those switches are connected to a big circuit board underneath. So every key is a separate little switch unit, with makes things more expensive. But you’re pushing a nicely designed little switch instead of buckling a bit of rubber. It feels better.
If you do a lot of typing, it can make quite a difference. Gamers tend to get excited about good keyboards, too.
What Was I using?
I almost exclusively use my iPad Pro now, very rarely picking up my MacBook, and I’d got the neat little folding ‘smart keyboard’ cover for it. It’s amazingly small and light, and very convenient to have with me everywhere. The keyboard is surprisingly good for its size, but not actually good. I also have an old Mac keyboard, from my old iMac, which uses Bluetooth, and is still fairly small and light. It’s a bit better to type on, but not by all that much.
Why Did I Want One?
Well, probably a combination of things, really. Now I’m spending a bit more time writing up the stories behind shoots, and doing other blog posts, a better keyboard seemed like it would be a big help. Typing on either of those other keyboards wasn’t a great experience, for a longer post.
In addition to that, though, once I started looking into keyboards, a bit of sad geeky excitement took over. These things were just beautiful, and there were so many details to obsess over that I had no idea about. I got drawn in, and spent far too much time watching video reviews and reading about types of keyswitch. Eventually it got to the point that the only way to get my free time back for actually writing things was to actually buy one so I could stop obsessing over the possibility of it.
What Did I Buy?
The Anne Pro 2, in white, with Gateron Blue switches.
Well, the Anne Pro 2 is a 60% keyboard with Bluetooth and RGB, and the switches are tactile and clicky.
Sorry, yes, it’s a wormhole of detail you can fall into.
- Keyboards are broken down by size. A full size keyboard has just over 100 keys. Then there are Tenkeyless keyboards, or TKL. They remove the number pad to make the keyboard smaller. If you don’t often use the numpad, it’s a good thing – you can get the mouse closer to the keyboard if you’re using one, or just save the space. After that, they’re usually classed by percentage of a full keyboard. Lose a few more keys, and you get to 70% keyboards. Drop a few more and you have a 60%. That usually means you even lose the cursor keys, but clever little tricks make up for that. At the extreme end, there are even 40% keyboards, which remove the number keys entirely, so you use a function key to type a number. That seemed like a step too far for me, and anyway, I never saw one of those with Bluetooth, which would make it a lot easier to use with the iPad.
- Bluetooth. Yes – the wireless standard used to connect things like keyboards to things like iPads, so I wouldn’t need a cable between the two. Not vital with the iPad Pro, but very useful.
- RGB? Well, quite a few keyboards are backlit. LEDs hidden behind the keys, so they glow. RGB keyboards take that to an extent that still seems really strange to me. Every individual key has red green and blue LEDs behind that can output almost any colour. So it can glow in a rainbow pattern, or light up the letters in one colour and the other keys another colour. Or animate moving patterns while you type, or flash patterns around each key as you hit it. No, I’ve no idea why, but I kind of love it.
- Switches are generally classed by brand and colour. The classic brand is Cherry, making their Cherry MX switches. Other brands include Gateron and Kailh, but they mostly follow the same colours. Blue is tactile and clicky. They take more pressure to start pushing, then as they activate, they need less pressure, and sort of drop away from your finger, so you feel the keypress working. And they click as they do it. Browns are tactile, but don’t click, so they’re a bit quieter. Reds are popular with gamers, and they’re linear – no tactile feedback.
So the result of all that is a small but surprisingly heavy keyboard that connects wirelessly to my iPad (and iPhone and MacBook), but can also connect with a USB cable and act like a normal wired keyboard. The keys feel great, which is really nice for typing. And it glows in silly and pointless rainbow patterns as I type.
I love it.
One Small Modification
When buying it from Banggood, one of the ‘also bought’ recommendations was a bag of 150 little silicone washers, the right size to fit over the stem inside the keycaps. They’re used to dampen down the noise a bit. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use them or not, but they were a very cheap addition, at around £2, so I ordered them too. They arrived around a week after the keyboard. I tried keys with one washer and two washers in comparison to without, and promptly fitted two to every key.
They don’t change the actual keyclick part, but they dampen the bit where each key bottoms out agains the plastic, which is where most of the noise actually comes from. If anything, I think it feels and sounds even better this way. The only problem I’ve hit so far is that the shift keys had to have one washer taken back out, as they didn’t seem to work reliably with two, and the ‘R’ key seems to be very occasionally missing with them fitted – I can always take one off that key if it continues to be a problem, but it might just need to settle with a bit of use – and autocorrect fixes most typos that small without me even noticing.
Update: The ‘R’ key settled down after a bit of use, and it’s quite reliable now.
Would I Recommend It?
If it’s something you think you’d like, why not? It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s a really nice little keyboard. Worked well enough out of the box, but to get the best out of it, you need to download software to modify it for how you want it to work. The lack of cursor keys would probably bother a lot of people.
I changed mine to a Mac layout, and edited the list of lighting effects, mainly so there weren’t so many to ‘scroll’ through when changing them. I modified the function key settings so Caps Lock becomes FN2, and with that, the old Vim keys become cursor keys (hjkl). Not how most people are likely to want it, but I have to use Vim often enough that at least keeping those keys connected to cursor movement in my mind is useful – but not quite often enough that it happens automatically.
It’s definitely more of a thing for the more geeky-minded.
And the cost. £50+ is a lot to spend on a keyboard for most people (myself included). Not too hard to justify if you do a lot of typing, and made easier if it’s the sort of thing you’ll actually get some enjoyment from having and using. But that price was by buying it direct from China, on a flash sale. They’re usually closer to £70 or £80, depending on the keyswitches and colour you want, and if you want to source one more locally, you might not find them under £100. That becomes a lot harder to justify.
How Deep is the Rabbit Hole?
It can get pretty deep. So far, I just have the keyboard, customised a bit with the manufacturer’s software, and swapped a few keycaps for the plain coloured ones they included in the box. But I’ve read enough to know it can draw people a lot further in. Some want Gateron Red switches for gaming and Cherry MX Browns for typing, so they have two keyboards. Some love the Anne Pro, but want a wooden base, so they buy custom casings to transfer the circuit boards and battery into. Some buy multiple sets of custom keycaps to build just the right colour combination for them.
There are even artisanal handmade keycaps, made in small batches for group buys. Some of these cost a few tens of pounds for just one keycap. And yes, that’s ridiculous. But I’ve seen keycaps with a tiny Bulbasaur diorama set in transparent resin that I’d pay good money for. So I can understand it.
There are even people who buy a circuit board, then a small-batch custom case to go with it, then buy the keys they want, and the keycaps, and build it all themselves, because the exact combination they want just doesn’t exist. I don’t think I’ll ever be going that far, but I can see the appeal. When you start getting to that level, you’re likely to be spending more on a keyboard than most people would spend on a laptop.
I think I’ll try not to go too much further down the hole, but I’m really enjoying typing a lot more than I did.
But Do You Type Faster?
I was pretty sure I was at least a bit faster, so I did a typing test to compare my typing with the Anne Pro 2 and the Smart Keyboard Cover. I’m not. The difference was minimal, but on a couple of tests, I was actually a tiny bit faster on the flat rubber thing that doubles up as a case for my iPad.
That’s a shame, but the enjoyment is more important, so I’m still happy with my little noisy keyboard. Writing these posts is what I do for fun, so the more enjoyable it is, the better.