My Mechanical Keyboards

21 May 2024 • PersonalKeyboardsWeblogPoMo

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I remember randomly discovering Reddit’s mechanical keyboards subreddit about 10-11 years ago. I thought, “wow, what the heck, why would you buy custom keyboards?” I remember a year later, randomly seeing the GMK Nautilus keycap set, and thinking “hmm, ok, I guess I could get behind that… but then I’d have to get a keyboard to put it on”. And now here I am, neck deep in the mechanical keyboard hobby, having just had some parts delivered this morning for the 2nd unbuilt board in my drawer.

At the highest level, a mechanical keyboard is… well, just a nicer keyboard. You can customize a lot of different things based on what you purchase; caps can be different heights and made of different materials, the switches can move smoothly or have a tactile feel to them, the cases can be light as a feather or heavy as a rock, and all of that can contribute to the feel of typing on it & the sound that it makes. Also, they can look pretty.

Here’s a look at my collection (boards are listed from the photo, top to bottom, left to right):

Left column

  • DZ60 + Tofu acrylic case, Zaku linear switches, DSA “UnAlice” keycaps: This is what’s considered a 60% keyboard, meaning there are no arrow keys, no numpad, and no function keys. This is what I consider to be my “default” layout. “Well Nic, how do you move around with no arrows?” After I list my boards, I’ll explain more about my default setup for most of these boards. (Also, if you look at this and think “wow, Nic, your letters are in the wrong spots”, there’s a reason for that.)
  • Boardwalk + KBDfans 5° aluminum case, Zaku II tactile switches, KAT Cyberspace keycaps: This was my first true custom board; everything else that I’d purchased up until this point was a prebuilt. It is an ortholinear keyboard, meaning that all of the keys are lined up horizontally and vertically. The aluminum case, plus the brass plate holding switches in place, makes this a very pingy & loud board to type on.
  • Mode Sonnet, BSUN Strawberry Wine linear switches, KAT Space Dust random purple keycaps: The board I’m currently typing on. I got this used from a friend, and this is truly one of my favorite boards to type on. It’s smooth, fast, and the sound is incredible. These should have some cool black/blue/pink keycaps on them, but they’re currently mired in transportation woes after one of the longest group buys in keyboard history; last I checked, they had been sent back to China because they’d been shipped to the US in a container with illegal cotton (seriously).
  • Planck, BSUN Pine tactile switches, KAT Explosion keycaps: A 40% board (aka no number row). If you aren’t a keyboard person, you’re probably looking at this thinking “how?!?” To type numbers, I hold down that up arrow to the right of the space to access the number layer (more on layers soon), and then 1-0 are on the standard ASDFGHJKL; keys. I have a lot of fun typing on this board.

Right column

  • FoldKB (unbuilt), Gateron Yellow Pro linear switches, ??? keycaps: I won this board at the most recent Iowa Mechanical Keyboard meetup in April, but I have yet to assemble it. This will be my first “solder everything into place” board; up till now, I’ve been using boards that have hotswap sockets, letting me easily change out switches on the fly.
  • Promenade + Tofu Redux case, Gateron Raw linear switches, KAM Command keycaps: My most recent build. This is a clone of the Boardwalk, since the company behind that board is no longer in existence, but this one allows me to easily have the taller keys in the center column. I need a replacement “J” key, which is en route from China (they forgot to include a “normal” J in the box for people who don’t use QWERTY layouts).
  • Elora + custom walnut cases, Kailh Box Heavy Yellow linear switches, GMK Dots 2 keycaps: My first split keyboard, one that I’ve been excited about for a long time. In the photo, they’re sitting up on their sides in order to fit in with the shelf; this is a better example of how the keyboard would look on my desk. This is an ergonomic layout, meant to reduce stress on your fingers and wrists by allowing you to get the halves of the board in an optimal position for each user.
  • Alpha28, Cherry MX Speed Silver linear switches, generic black keycaps: Someone was giving this away at the Iowa meetup. I’ve ensured that it functions, but haven’t done anything more than that yet; I’m saving it for the Relay.fm St. Jude campaign this fall as a stretch goal for someone’s fundraiser (I’ll have to use it exclusively for a week).
  • Bully, Gateron Oil King linear switches, SA Mizu keycaps: I love this little board a lot; a standard stagger-layout 40% board, it’s a bit of a challenge to type on at times, but once I get in the groove with things, it’s another favorite typing experience.

My Planck keymap

I mentioned earlier how I have “layers” on all of these boards; layers are a pretty standard option when it comes to mechanical keyboards, and something that I make extensive use of, especially on smaller boards. Above is a view of my Planck’s keymap.

  • Note that the key that’s normally where Caps Lock would be is orange; if I hold that down, and press any key with orange text in the upper left (ex: my N key has the down arrow), it will input that instead. Similarly, the blue key w/ the down arrow corresponds to the numbers on my home row.
  • I also use what is called Space Cadet Shifts, which functions as something called a “ModTap”; essentially, if I hold the key down, it functions as a standard Shift modifier key. But if I just tap it instead, it inputs the ( or ) keys (depenging on left or right shift being pressed). As a software developer, I make extensive use of parentheses, so having easy access to this is wonderful.
  • Additionally, I also use Key Combos a lot. You can see the small yellow keys bridging the full sized ones on my layout; those mean that when I press the two keys simultaneously, it will instead output the displayed key (ex: I press X + C to output `, or C + V for ~). While I mainly implemented this for use on my tiny keyboards, I’ve gotten so used to these over time that I’ve implemented all of these combos on all of my boards, even the bigger ones.

There’s a lot to the world of mechanical keyboards, and the rabbit hole can go really deep. Some people (like my wife) look at the keycaps and go “oh those look nice”, and that’s all they care about. Other people are focused on the quality of materials, including boards that have custom accent pieces underneath where you can’t see them (that’s a bit much for me, personally).

Do you have a keyboard collection? I’d love to see it!

Mornings Are For Coffee & Contemplation

20 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

A full shot of the coffee equipment

Note: this post contains affiliate links to the various products I use.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about one of my “meditations”, a way that I found myself able to center my mind and reset around noon or at the end of the day. But how about starting my day? What do I do there?

That, my friends, is what coffee is for.

Specifically, that’s what the process of making my coffee is all about. A small 7-8 minute window wherein I go through the ritual of brewing a fresh cup of coffee for myself while my daughter plays in the other room. It’s how I wake up, how I get right with the day as it begins. It’s part of why I bring so much of this stuff with me when I go on vacation1, because it’s all about that initial process of creation that sets me up for the day ahead.

The Equipment

The Every Day Brewing Tools

Let’s start with what’s on the counter for use every day. From left to right:

  • An Aeropress plus a flow control filter cap. This is (well, was until recently) my go-to for travel coffee, and I use it to make iced coffees in the summer. The flow control cap is great; the fussiest part of the Aeropress is creating the vacuum seal before too much liquid escapes, and this solves all of that hassle (although it does make plunging a bit more effort).
  • A Hario V60. This is my every day coffee maker; I entered the world of pour over coffee about 3 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve owned 2; the first fell victim to a cat on the counter.
  • A Hario pour over scale. It’s not perfect (the touch buttons can sometimes not register), but overall it’s perfect for what I need. The integrated timer makes this fantastic.
  • A COSORI electric gooseneck kettle. Great little kettle for your pour over needs. Less great for things like tea or hot chocolate, simply because of the restricted flow rate. Also, I wish that the max fill line was also stamped on the front, instead of where the handle is, because you have to hold it somewhat awkwardly to see it. Minor gripes, though. The multiple temp buttons and hold setting are perfect.
  • A Baratza Encore grinder. Baratza is fantastic not only from a construction standpoint, but from a repair standpoint; they sell EVERY part for this grinder so you can replace them as needed. I’ve made a few enhancements; a sticker from Redbubble, an upgraded conical burr, and 3D printed chaff tray + on/off knob arm. Best bang for your buck grinder, and I have no reason at this time to upgrade.
  • A little spray bottle for water. Grinding coffee beans can produce static electricity, and the chaff can stick to everything or scatter everywhere. A quick spray of water on the beans before grinding can solve that problem. Any sprayer is fine, but this one makes me feel like a secret agent every time I use it.
  • A Bonavita 8 cup drip machine. Most coffee machines fall down in 3 areas; the water doesn’t get hot enough when brewing, there’s no way to “bloom” the coffee with a small initial pour to help release CO2, and the warming unit underneath scalds the coffee. This machine fixes all of those. I did a ton of research before making this purchase, and I’m really glad I did. It makes terrific coffee for large groups (or when you’re really tired in the mornings).
  • An Ember mug. My first Father’s Day gift. I’d previously poured my coffee into a thermos, and then dosed out 2-3 oz at a time into a small mug. This worked ok, but I found that I lost a lot of coffee to “forgetting about it”, as I dislike tepid-temped coffee. The mug fixed this problem instantly, and it’s probably the best gift my wife has ever gotten me. I have it set to keep my coffee at 130° F, down 5° from default.

The Drawer of Caffenation

As for the rest of the supplies (mostly left to right, some jumping around):

  • V60 filters: I have long used the default white tabbed filters, and they generally work great. However, sometimes they can get clogged or drain slowly, leading to a more bitter cup of coffee. To counteract this, I’ve started using CAFEC Abaca filters as my go-to filter. They drain much quicker and consistently from bean to bean; if I get one that’s too fast, but the flavor profile is there, I’ll switch back to the standard filters.
  • Biocoffee. This is my wife’s choice of coffee every day.
  • Beans: I get my beans from Trade Coffee. I can’t express how much I love Trade enough. I did a full breakdown of the pricing of different coffee providers when my daughter was born, trying to figure out which would be best. I landed on Trade, because they would ship coffees as needed, vs. on a fixed schedule, and I’ve been incredibly happy with them. (If you’ve not tried them, you can use my link to get 30% off your first month; I’ll receive a free bag if you do.)
  • A portable grinder. Perfect for taking on road trips.
  • A Bodum French press. I have both a 17oz and 34oz press. This was the way I first got into coffee, and they still make a terrific cup; however, they tend to be a bit more oily and dense than the pour over, so I don’t make them as often anymore. When I do, I employ James Hoffman’s method, which is essentially to scoop the grounds off the top and let everything settle before plunging. This certainly helps with the oiliness of the method, but is much more fussy and time consuming.
  • A portable pour over cone. Another gift from the wife for my portable coffee needs. I made extensive use of this during our recent vacation, and it works flawlessly. Perfect for travel or camping.

The Methods

I basically make 2 types of coffee right now - pour overs & iced coffees. Here is a brief rundown of the steps I take for each.

Pour Over

  1. Heat 250g water to 205° F; 195° F if using a dark roast
  2. Grind 15g of beans, slightly coarser than you would for typical pour over (16 on the Encore)
  3. Rinse the filter/preheat the cone & carafe
  4. Dump coffee in to cone, shake to level, then add a little dimple in the center with your finger
  5. 0:00-0:10 - pour 50g of water, starting in center and spiraling out
  6. 0:10 - give a quick, light swirl, and let bloom
  7. 0:45-0:55 - pour 50g of water in concentric circles
  8. 1:10-1:20 - pour 50g of water in concentric circles
  9. 1:30-1:40 - pour 50g of water in concentric circles
  10. 1:50-2:00 - pour 50g of water in concentric circles
  11. 2:00 - give a light swirl, and let drain
  12. Brewing should be complete by around 3:00-3:15; if shorter, switch to standard filters or grind finer; if longer, grind coarser

Aeropress Iced Coffee

  1. Heat 240g water to 205° F; 195° F if using a dark roast
  2. Place 160g of ice (~4-5 ice cubes) in a mug/cup suitable for plunging Aeropress (I use an insulated travel mug)
  3. Grind 22g of beans on a fine setting (9 on the Encore)
  4. Assemble Aeropress (no need to rinse filter), place on mug/cup, and add grinds
  5. (Optional) add 1 packet of raw sugar to the grinds
  6. Add 240g of water (will be just below the brim), and give a quick swirl/stir
  7. If using the standard filter cap, add plunger to create vacuum seal
  8. Let brew for 3:30
  9. Give a quick swirl, and brew for 30 more seconds
  10. Plunge through the hiss into the iced mug/cup; should take about 30 seconds

There you go! A full rundown of my coffee setup + brewing methods. I hope this is helpful to someone, and/or gives people some ideas about where to go next with their own coffee journeys. If you have a post like this, let me know - I would love to check it out!

  1. My wife has just learned to accept this as part of our travel life now, and to her credit, she’s purchased things for me as gifts to enable this behavior. I love and appreciate her for this. 

Now (May 2024)

19 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMoNow

Now That's What I Call Content

The aquarium

We took a nice vacation at the end of April/beginning of May, heading down to visit my wife’s sister & family in North Carolina. Pre-child, we would just make the 11 or 13.5hr (depending on origin) drive to NC in one day; lately, we’ve been breaking it into 3 or 4 days so that V isn’t stuck in the van for too long, but we’d just stop for the night and depart the next day. This time, we actually hit up some of the spots we’ve always been looking at during our drives. We spent 2 days at a nice resort with a small waterpark, and took V to an aquarium as well. It was a wonderful time, and I love that our kiddo has forced us out of our shell to do and experience new things. V also had a blast playing with her older cousins, so that was fantastic.

A pen tray I've started on

I finally got back out to the wood shop, this time starting on a simple pen/pencil tray for all of the stuff I have on my desk every day. Spent 3x as long figuring out how to make the grooves than I did actually cutting. Always love being able to get out there and work, and hoping to prioritize that more this summer.

The wife and I have been watching a TON of the NBA playoffs. Both of our teams (Celtics for me, Timberwolves for her) have advanced to their respective conference finals, and presumably could be on a collision course to play in the NBA Finals. That would be a ton of fun.

This is the before picture, don't worry

V is getting a swing set. This did involve 1 massive parts order + 2 trips to the hardware store, and it’s still not done. But she saw her new swing and flipped out, running around the house shouting “BLUE SWING BLUE SWING BLUE SWING”, so that’s dope. +1 dad point.

We have nature all around our house, and we’re loving it. My wife is thrilled to have a ton of plants and landscaping to work on & make nice. V is a huge fan of being outside at all times, and now that she’s a bit older, she’s able to go out with her mom and “help” with various things. We’ve been in the house for exactly 1 year as of today, and the difference in the landscaping has been night and day.

Chippy

We’ve got a bunch of friends around the house too. There’s a chipmunk we’ve dubbed “Chippy” that loves to hang out just off our deck practically all day, and they’ve realized they can get on our squirrel-proof bird feeders and eat the seed no problem. Hooray?

Baby birds

We’ve also got some baby birds that have hatched in one of our hanging baskets on the front porch. Mama has been aloof a bit, but she’s started cautiously coming back to the nest while we sit on the front porch. It’s been cool to get the basket down to water the plant every day or two and see the growth the birds are making; V really enjoys looking at them too. (“Baby birds!!!”)

I’m trying to take a page out of the cat’s book on the weekends; it’s nice to get stuff done and great to feel productive, but it’s also important to just chill and relax and soak up the sun a little bit. (As such, I forgot to hit “post” on this until Monday morning. Oops.)

What a rough life

My Blogging Workflow

18 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

A couple of different people have written some posts this week about their particular blogging workflows. Some are simple (write post, publish). Some are tedious (speak in to notes, reformat by hand, pass through a grammar checker, pass in to an AI for editing1, publish). And I thought, hmm… mine is certainly unique. Maybe I should share.

My site is built with Jekyll, and hosted on GitHub Pages. This works pretty well for me, a software developer, since my whole life is about writing code and pushing it out. However, it falls down real quick when I’m not at my computer, as I found out at the start of this month when I was blogging while on vacation. GitHub Mobile doesn’t have any way of creating pull requests or allowing me to easily maintain the repo my blog sits in & builds from. Neat!

Anyway, here’s my standard workflow + caveats for when I was on vacation.

  1. I write the post in VS Code. Yes, VS Code. (On vacation, I wrote it in Apple Notes.)
  2. Using the terminal built in to VS Code, I push the change to my GitHub repo. Posts like this, I’ve done the night before, so it gets a pull request. Other posts, written day-of, I just push straight to the main branch. (On vacation, I had to delete the GitHub app from my phone, then go to the GitHub website, create a manual pull request, add the content, and merge it all manually.)
  3. That’s it!

(Quick side note: if you’re on Wordpress, or Pika, or whatever… PLEASE, for the love of Gaben, do not write your post in the WYSIWYG editor those services provide. PLEASE write it in a local application and move it to your platform manually. The day you lose a massive blog post when you try to submit because the network is down, you’ll remember this advice and go “wow, Nic, I should’ve listened to you”. Tools like MarsEdit or any text editor are great for this.)

  1. I’m not one to yuck someone else’s yum… but yuck

Fur Babies

17 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

The boys all together

I joke that in our household, I’m the 6th most important living being. The ranking goes: V (our daughter), R (my wife), Bearcat & Beau (our cats), all of the plants inside and out as one entity, and then myself.1 I figured I should take this day and introduce you to our boys, because they’re great.

Bearcat

Bearcat

My wife adopted Bearcat 2 months before we started dating. He was the loner cat, tucked away in a cage in the cat room because he didn’t get along with any of the other cats. She took pity on him, and he became the sweetest cat you’ll ever meet. When he was adopted, they estimated that he was anywhere from 1-3 years old; I’ve always estimated on the lower side because I don’t want to admit that we have an old cat, but he’s probably around 13 years old now. He’s only about 10lbs., relatively small for a fully grown cat. He’s got crazy crumpled up ears, likely do to ear mites from when he was a stray, and my wife thought he looked like a bear, so Bearcat stuck.2

The best possible way to describe Bearcat is that he’s like the most chill dog you’ve ever met. He’s cool doing his own thing, but when he wants your attention he demands it (I spent about an hour this morning with him sprawled in front of my keyboard while I worked). He opened my eyes to how loving a cat can be, and he’s been our best bud through our entire relationship. He’d sleep on my wife’s passenger seat when she’d drive up to visit me for long weekends, and has been with us through 2 apartments and 2 houses.

Alternate names: Buddy, Bee-doh, Boar-cat

Beau

Beau as a baby

Beau was our pandemic baby. We weren’t really sure if adding a (at the time) 3rd cat to the family was the best idea, but we decided to go for it, and it worked out amazingly. We almost didn’t get to adopt him. The timeline was kinda weird:

  • Our friend (who fostered kittens for the ARL) posted a photo of Beau, and I immediately fell in love.
  • I tried to convince my wife that we should adopt him. After about a week, she was like “hmm ok maybe”.
  • I reached out to our friend to express interest, and was told he’d been adopted by Family A. I was bummed.
  • About a week later, Friend posted another photo of Beau, stating that the adoption with Family A had fallen through.
  • Convincing and cajoling took place, but I finally got my wife on board. Hurray!
  • I message Friend, and was told “oh yeah, sorry, Family B adopted him”. FUCK!!!
  • On a whim, I tell Friend that if for whatever reason he became available again to please let us know.
  • Friend posts a video of her introducing the kitten litter to her other pets, including 2 small-ish dogs. Beau seems afraid of said dogs.
  • I get a message from Friend on Sunday morning; Family B has backed out because they have 2 huskies, and worry about compatibility.
  • We’re at her house 3 hours later meeting Beau.
  • We brought him home that Thursday.

Beau

Beau is hilarious; random things still frighten him to a degree, like “moving your foot while sitting on the couch” or “sneezing” or “petting him”; in the mornings when he’s hyper, it just leads to lots of zoomies. He has the most incessant meow, as well as little “woofs” he does when I stop petting him for more than 5 seconds. He also loves to nibble on parts of me while being petted, including fingers, toes, and my kneecaps(???). He’s massive (16+ lbs) but not fat; the last vet we took him to saw him and immediately went “holy shit, he’s awesome!” He constantly wants to play with Bearcat, and it’s hit or miss whether they chase each other around the house (maybe 5% of the time) or it leads to Beau getting smacked in the head (the other 95%).

Alternate names: Chongo Bongo, Beef Ball, Bow Wow

Pixel

Pixel

I wrote a nice eulogy for Pixel last June; we’re rapidly approaching the date of his passing, and I’m slowly starting to process the grief all over again. I miss him every day; he loved V and would’ve had a blast growing up with her.

We adopted Pixel a bit recklessly; we’d been told since day 1 that Bearcat was a loner, that we shouldn’t bring another cat into the home, yadda yadda. But we saw him at a mall kiosk one day, and just knew that we had to bring him home. He was the funniest animal I’ve ever been around, constantly up to antics that would land him in comical situations. He was the social butterfly, forcing Bearcat (and eventually Beau) to love him, and bridging the gap between them. He took to V right away, always wanting to see what she was up to, letting her hug him or pull his fur. He’d find the most narrow slice of sunlight coming through a window, and would live there the rest of the afternoon. He had the softest fur of any animal I’ve ever met. He was the best.

Alternate names: Snowball, Big Floof


Our cats are a part of our family, so much so that we have people stay at our house when we’re on vacation to keep them company. Having a child has certainly changed our dynamic more, and I’ve been cognizant of making sure I spend a lot of time downstairs with them in the evenings so that they don’t feel left out. They’re the best, and I’m gonna go pet them right now, in fact.

The boys all together

  1. I was the one that coined this ranking. My wife doesn’t disagree. 

  2. Most vets that we’ve taken to have him listed in their system as “Bear”; it takes a lot of convincing that his name is actually “Bearcat”. 

35

16 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

I wrote a list with 35 <li>s.

  1. Bulbasaur is the best Pokémon. There is no debate here. You may have a different opinion, but it’s wrong, and that’s ok.
  2. I think that Bill Murray is dead, because somehow, him getting shot in “Zombieland” is lodged in my brain as canon, and I can’t purge it.
  3. I’ve been sober for 137 days.
  4. Fender guitars are the best.
  5. If you tell me a party starts at 7, I’m showing up at 7. I’ll probably be outside at 6:50, to be honest. “Nobody shows up on time to a party” I do.
  6. Bidets are weird. We own one, I understand the concept, but I’ll never be ok with spraying my bottom with freezing cold water.
  7. I was interrupted writing this post by my daughter coming in to put a bunch of butterfly stickers on my leg.
  8. Sharpie Gel pens are the best commercially available pens out there. Chuck those Pilot G2s in the trash.
  9. I was again interrupted by my daughter; this time, she came in to the room with a wooden chef’s knife, stood by me until I looked at her, shouted “HI-YA!!!”, and laughed.
  10. I don’t believe in horoscopes, Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, or any of that; I do think they can be useful tools, but defining your life into a small bucket seems silly.
  11. Cookies should be eaten straight out of the freezer, especially Thin Mints.
  12. Having fear of something is not the problem, it’s the fear towards the fear.
  13. This morning, I learned about an unincorporated community in Texas named Ding Dong. I want to move there.
  14. TV shows are probably dead last on my list of “everyday activity I’d like to pass my free time with”. I know I’m missing out on some great stuff, but that’s just how my mind works.
  15. Related: I’ve not seen every episode of “The Office” or “Parks & Rec”, but I have listened to every episode at least a dozen times since that’s what my wife watches when she’s going to sleep.
  16. It’s absolutely wild to me that the internet is a thing. That some brilliant minds contrived of it and built it, that others have come along and bolted enhancements to the existing framework, and that it exists today. It’s just wild to think about.
  17. Same with cell phones. I can be practically anywhere in the world and speak to you with minimal delay? Mind boggling.
  18. I personally rank sushi establishments by how good their spicy salmon rolls are.
  19. A friend and I spent 3 weeks in college learning how to throw a knuckleball. We didn’t have a backstop, so the best ones either rolled far away, or hit us.
  20. I’m not a lyric person; a good melody is all it takes to hook me. I’ll come back to the lyrics after I’ve listened to the song about 3 dozen times.
  21. Related: I love instrumental prog metal.
  22. I’ve always been at least a year behind the times on adopting tech-related things. Podcasts. Spotify. Bitcoin. Software languages. Ultrawide monitors.
  23. Money can buy you peace and comfort, which is the key to true happiness.
  24. I helped a coworker that was in her mid-50s get a 72% raise once. That felt really good.
  25. I once hired a junior developer that was so good, they gave me impostor syndrome.
  26. Baseball is the best sport.
  27. Baseball seasons are too long, and it makes the sport worse.
  28. I think I’m going to learn how to spin a pencil/pen.
  29. Blogging for 31 straight days is really difficult. Mostly because finding 31 unique topics to talk about is a massive pain.
  30. The Boston Celtics are the most frustrating great team I’ve ever watched.
  31. The very early days of Twitter were some of my favorite times. I met some amazing people. I worked for burritos. I got 3 jobby jobs because of it. Early Twitter will always and forever be my favorite era of the internet.
  32. I miss having NERF wars with my friends at college. I looked at the latest NERF guns the last time I was at Target… man, we would’ve had fun with those.
  33. You’re never going to achieve perfection at anything. The goal is just to work towards perfection every day.
  34. When I was a kid, “retirement” sounded amazing - just imagining getting to do whatever you want every day and not being beholden to anything? Bliss. Now, “retirement” sounds horrifying - if I didn’t have anything on my plate each day, I’d go insane.
  35. I heard someone use the phrase “8 dimensional Roshambo” in place of “4 dimensional chess” and I think I’m gonna use that.

Why I Write

15 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

I write because sometimes, it’s just helpful to get a thought off my chest, and process it through my fingertips.

I write because maybe someone out there reads what I am thinking and goes “hey, me too!”

I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.1

I write because often times I have a whole bunch to say about a topic, and never have the right venue. Plus, I know that once I start writing, it’ll take forever for me to hit the brakes, and being able to edit myself before hitting “send” is sometimes to everyone’s benefit. Nothing like killing off friendships because you just had to get a word in edgewise.

I write to learn brevity.

I write because that one time in high school, when I was taking creative writing, I wrote something that my teacher thought was mildly concerning depression-wise, but rather than report me to the principal, she took the time out of her day to talk to me and make sure I was good; after all, it was just a creative writing exercise.2

I write because I learned from an early age how important and amazing reading is, and I hoped one day to be able to give that back to future generations.

I write because my entire thought process is analogies and comparisons, and those don’t always make sense to others unless I get them into words.

I write because I love the sound of my keyboards as I hit each key, and I get that feeling of satisfaction as I clack clack clack through a post.

I write because it’s fun. I write because it sucks. I write because I’m a good writer. I write because I’m a bad writer.

I write because writing is a creative process. A rambling series of sentences can become a cohesive story. I can create something out of an ephemeral thought3, and publish it with the click of a button. I can make it, then stand up and walk away, knowing that others get a chance to see what I made. Or not! Maybe nobody reads it.

I write, and I hope you write too, because knowing each other through our published thoughts is such an Old Way of the Internet™ type of thing, and I love it so much.

  1. It’s not a substitute… but sometimes it’s enough. 

  2. I was just a little emo kid when I wrote it on a Thurs/Fri; when she talked to me on Monday everything was better. 

  3. I write because I enjoy flowery words like “ephemeral” but don’t always have good opportunities to use them in MeatSpace. 

What’s In A Name?

14 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

Lately, I’ve been on a quest for finding a new handle/screenname for playing games online. Partly because I like changing things up from time to time, but also because I don’t vibe with the ones I use anymore for a variety of reasons. As I was thinking back on all of my old handles, I thought “hey that could be fun to write about”. So… here goes. Enjoy.

  • bluestreak: my first character name on the first online game I remember playing, JediMUD, way back in the late 90s. I played the heck out of this game for a number of years, and even developed a small zone for the game. bluestreak was also my first experience with clerics/healers, which lives as my preferred archetype nearly 3 decades later. I also used redstreak for an alt. (Oh, and this handle wasn’t inspired by Transformers; rather, it stemmed from the terrible Martin Lawrence film. Alas.)
  • phoenix / griffin: more alts for JediMUD, and my first time venturing into the world of “what do you mean, I can’t get my preferred handle on any game I play?” Using “phoenix” as part of my online persona would continue on to this day.
  • ilk: my first email handle. I didn’t know “ilk” was a word when I came up with this; (I’ve never admitted this before so have fun) the whole reason for this handle was a placeholder for “I Like K____”, my first crush in junior high.1 I just told people it was every other letter of my name, and “Ncae” was gibberish.
  • ihatelockers: AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, was huge in my school. I’m pretty sure I started off as bluestreak when I signed up, and I know I (like my peers) changed screen names constantly. In the final week of 9th grade, I got into a minor altercation during recess, and my punishment was having to come back the day after school got out and clean lockers out for a few hours.2 It was gross. As soon as I got home, I made this handle, and it would be the AIM handle I used into college.
  • graffitisky: Linkin Park’s song “Runaway” starts with the lyrics “Graffiti decorations / under a sky of dust”, and I always really enjoyed those lyrics for some reason. When the Reanimation album came out, the remixed track “Rnw@y” had little chopped up lyrics at the start saying “Graffiti Sky”. I thought this was a beautiful visual, and made that my handle for a while. It remains one that my brain returns to often.
  • niclake13 / niclake: It’s my name. Woo. As I’ve gotten older (and when Twitter had really short character limits), I dropped “13” off the handle.
  • PhoenixUNI: my primary handle for the better part of 15 years. A combo of my favorite mythical creature + my university (Northern Iowa). I didn’t count on a) me falling out of love with my school over the years, and 2) the University of Phoenix existing/becoming a meme.
  • Themble: my first World of Warcraft character, a gnome mage. It was auto generated by WoW’s name generator, and I’ve used it off and on over the years for placeholder characters.
  • Bruuding: my main character name on World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade. It got assigned to my Blood Elf Paladin, which I mained as healer and tank for years. All of my subsequent characters were riffs on the “bruu” tag and tangentially related to brewing beer; Stoutbruu for my warrior, Arcanebruu for my mage, Hoppybruu for my druid, Dotfearbruu for my warlock, or Pewpewbruu for my hunter.
  • GoodDayToFeed: I had a really aggressive playstyle for League of Legends, and often got told to “stop feeding [kills]” when I played too recklessly. I spun up a second account where I mained Teemo, arguably the most hated character in the game, and this handle seemed perfect for it.
  • BulbaSnorlax: around the time of the pandemic, I attempted a rebrand of my streaming persona. I still use this handle in a lot of places, but my interest in streaming died off pretty quick, so this mostly just sits abandoned.
  • ciNekaL: pronounced “cynical”, it’s just my name backwards. Clever, huh? This is my newest name that I’ve just recently started going by.

What about you? Does this dig up any fun memories from your early screennames? Have any sorta embarrassing ones in your history? Let’s hear em!

  1. If I recall correctly, I asked them to the 8th grade dance out of the blue. They said no. Nothing ever came out of it. 

  2. We were playing knockout, a basketball game. I made my shot, got the ball, and threw it back to the next guy in line. He wasn’t paying attention, and it hit him below the belt. My instinct was to laugh, but immediately said sorry. He took a swing at me and knocked my glasses off. He then showed up almost an hour late to punishment day, and while I got to leave at lunch, he had to stay the whole day. 

Brain Drain

13 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

I’ll be honest, I’ve got absolutely nothing to write about today.

I’m back from a 2 week vacation. First day was just trying to re-immerse myself in work and remembering what I was doing. It was an absolute slog on my brain, so much so that I forgot to buy 2 items that were on my shopping list at the store.

I’ve nearly exhausted my list of things I wanna write about. The last 2 on my list are posts that take a bit more to write and/or have photos involved, so those are out today.

Weblog Posting Month has been great at getting me to Just Write™. I’ve been worried that this day would come, where I just wouldn’t have anything to write about. But instead of forcing it, I’m gonna go downstairs, kick my feet up, and relax a bit.

(If you have anything you’d like to hear me write about, let me know.)

Surprise and Delight

12 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

I remember when I was about 5 or 6, my parents and I went to our normal pizza place; we lived in a college town, and this place was on “the hill”, right next to campus. My parents had actually met there years earlier when my dad was working there. We arrived, and I did my usual routine; sit still until I couldn’t any longer, and then ask if I can go “play pinball”. By that, I mean I’d drag one of the nearby bar stools over to the machine, sit/kneel on it, and press the buttons or pull the plunger while the machine made noises. It was the coolest thing in the universe. Nothing could top it.

Until that day. Because that day, one of the waitresses (some college girl) walked over and went “do you want a quarter to play?” I had no idea what she was actually asking, but she took some of her tip money out and dropped it in the machine.

NEW NOISES! WHOA THE BUTTONS MAKE FLIPPERS MOVE?!? WHOA THERE’S A BALL?!?!?!?!? WHAT IS GOING ONNNNNNN?!?!?!?!?!?!?

I lost all 3 balls relatively quickly, as one is prone to do the very first time they play a game. And then it went back to the way it used to be. Still making sounds. Still letting me push buttons. But nothing moved. There was no more action; it had been robbed of me.

That quarter unlocked surprise and delight for me.


The first iPod was a revolution. You could carry music with you. And recharge it. And you didn’t need any CDs or cassettes. What a delight.

The first MacBook Air was a revolution. Jobs pulled out a goddamn manilla envelope and pulled a fully functional laptop out of it. And it was light. And silent. And had good battery life. Holy smokes, what a delight.

The term “Surprise and Delight” has been around for a long time, but I learned of it from Apple’s presentations, specifically the ones run by Steve Jobs. The entire experience of their keynotes wasn’t just about showing off a new product; to him, it was about shocking the world with what Apple had created, and delighting them with the results it could produce.

Nowadays, things just don’t hit the same. Every iPhone is just a slightly different looking version than what came before. Every enhancement leaks weeks in advance. Oh boy, they got FASTER and LIGHTER and MORE NITS and BETTER BATTERY, just like every other device that came before it. Even the Vision Pro, as cool as it seems, didn’t manage to delight its users enough to prevent many of them from being returned. And yet, practically every podcaster and tech blogger who got to do the demos seemed to be absolutely delighted by it… but were they surprised?


One huge bummer about modern society is the sheer lack of surprise and delight coupled together any longer. In a world where we have every news source at our fingertips, the race to be “FIRST” or grab a scoop leads to spoilers and wild speculation. Gone are the days where people just sit on scoops; information is currency when it comes to ad-driven revenue. There’s a flash of surprise (“wow, can’t believe so and so are gonna do X”) and sometimes delight (“hallelujah, the iPhone is getting USB C!”), but never paired together in a package that you can touch and feel. It’s ephemeral. It’s vapor. It’s gone, and when you finally get your hands on whatever it is, it doesn’t come back.

To beat a video game back in the day took a lot of trial and error. Sure, you could spend your hard earned money on a strategy guide, but the trial and error method worked too. And then… wait, what’s this? A website filled with game guides? EVERY collectible listed? Holy cow, this is awesome! And then you approach every challenge of a game with “ugh, alright, lemme find a walkthrough or YouTube video showing me how to do the thing” (which, fair - sometimes things are a massive PITA… but maybe they’re a PITA because the developer no longer has to craft a scenario with as much care as they once did, since they know you’re just going to look up how to do it anyway).

I really miss those days. Days when I could be surprised AND delighted, AND get to experience it all first-hand in real time.


On vacation, V and I took a walk down the hill during lunch, and stumbled across a pet store. They had a vending machine with dog treats out front, and a basket for people to drop the containers the treats came in for re-use. Naturally, V wanted to play with those containers, so we stood there for a minute.

The woman running the register saw us, and called out, “would you like a quarter for the machine?”

I smiled. “No thank you. Not today.” V’s only 2. Every new experience she has right now triggers joy for her. Showing her something like this, only to snatch it away with a “come one, we have to go eat” seems like asking for trouble.

But one day… one day, I’ll hand her that quarter, and prepare to witness the surprise and delight.