Wednesday, September 16, 2020

ErgodoxEZ Split Ergonomic Keyboard for Video and Music

My Microsoft Sculpt was failing me.  I don't know if it was my incredible typing speed (ha!) or faulty hardware, but there were way too many "failed strokes" for me to keep using a wireless keyboard.  I love the Sculpt's layout, low profile, and portability, but it doesn't matter how good something feels if it doesn't work.

I started coding for design at the turn of the Millennium (so fun to say!), and quickly learned how bad a "regular" keyboard is for 10 hours or so of daily use.  Back then, there weren't a whole lot of "ergo keyboard" options; the MS Natural Keyboard was pretty much it.  But I found that my shoulder/wrist issues necessitated getting my mouse closer to the keyboard (my arm was sticking out to far to the side), so a keyboard with no number pad became imperative. Thus, I figured out how to saw off the number pad (as well as configuring various incarnations of track pads and tiny track-balls incorporated into the keyboard housing in various locations).

When Microsoft released the Natural Keyboard 4000, I upgraded, but again had to saw off the number pad.  Finally, in 2013 they released the Sculpt, and to my joy, it came with the numpad detached!  However, after years of use, the "wireless-ness" of the Sculpt can no longer fulfill my needs.  Thus, the search for a new wired keyboard began.

There is a dirth of one-piece split keyboards with no number pad.  And once you get into two-piece "coding" boards, the price goes up dramatically.

I researched for a couple of months, and the ErgodoxEZ and Dygma Raise ended up as my two finalists.  However, the Dygma uses it's own (though still open-source) Bazecor software for layout and functionality, which even after a couple of years in the real world seems to still have many issues (as reported by regular users), so I was definitely leaning toward the Ergodox, which utilizes a more established and ubiquitous open-source software and has many "compilers" available online for easy access and use.

Over the years social media and template-based web design has turned me off to designing for the web and the coding that used to go along with it (HTML, PHP, Java, etc.), but I still use a keyboard for 8 to 10 hours a day; it's just spread over more activities, the primary being video and music editing.

I began researching split mechanical keyboards just for their ergonomic benefit, but I quickly became very interested in how I could utilize the magic of programming the layout and key functionality to improve my editing workflow.

Now that I had decided which board was going to be best for me, I started watching eBay and Craigslist to find something a little more affordable than the $350 (!!!) the ErgodoxEZ was going to cost new.   The boards on eBay were mostly in auction format and still going for nearly retail.  Craigslist had pretty much nothing listed except a Dygma Raise for pretty much MSRP.  However, after a couple weeks of diligently watching, I got super lucky and found someone "cleaning out old stuff" who was selling an early model ErgodoxEz (no tent legs, no back light) along with a "Let's Split" tiny, mechanical, split keyboard for $100!

I've spent the last couple of weeks familiarizing myself with how everything works, developing my keyboard layout, switching out key caps, loving the "clickity-clack" of mechanical switches, and getting used to using a keyboard that looks and feels nothing like a "regular" keyboard.

For the configuration part, you just create a layout using Ergodox's free online configurator (or one of the many others out there), then click "compile" and download the binary hex file to your computer.  You then use a tiny little executable called "Wally" to flash the hex file to your board.

The fun part is the vast array of functionality with which you can program each key (multiple functions, macros, etc.).  The fact that you can use layers is also great.  Basically, with a keystroke, the entire keyboard can have each and every key reassigned to a new function... and you can have pretty much as many layers as you wish.

I began my journey with the Ergodox by looking for layouts that others had created for video/music editing, and surprisingly, I couldn't find a single one.  I don't know if it was due to sub-par searching skills, or the fact that these boards are targeted more at coders and gamers, but I couldn't find anything with "video," "editing," "Premiere," or even "Adobe" in the description.  After a while I finally found a layout with "Avid" in the title, but it appeared to be just the default keyboard layout.

What I quickly learned is that there are so many layouts available online in Ergodox's un-curated database that it would be futile to try and find one that fit my exact needs.  It has taken a few weeks, and I'm still making changes on a daily basis, but it's getting to a point where I am definitely in love with this board and what a customized layout can offer.

One thing I decided early in my keyboard development was that I was going to base the general layout on the "status quo."  I think a lot of people go so far outside the realm of normalcy that when they don't have their personal keyboard with them, they can't use a "normal" board!  I find this dilemma frustrating enough when I'm on someone else's computer, and I just don't have a split keyboard or my trackball or ShuttlePRO, so I didn't want to paint myself into a corner getting used to a keyboard layout that would alter my muscle memory into oblivion.

Thus, the first layer of my layout is based largely on the MS Sculpt that I have been using for the past seven years.  I have tweaked the layout a bit to maximize functionality with Adobe Premiere, but it's largely just a "normal" keyboard layout.  However, a lot of the "extra" keys are programmed with dual functionality or even macros that allow me to execute Premiere functions more quickly.

At first, I was worried I was going to have to program all the "shift" functionality for each key, but evidently that's an Operating System thing, so you don't have to program for that.  Any key in combination with "shift" does what it would normally do on any keyboard: lower case and capital, but also symbols with their pre-assigned secondary functions (i.e. ";" becomes ":" with the shift key).

The second layer I created for media and navigation.  I set one of the first layer keys as a "momentary switch" so that when pressed and held, the rest of the keyboard becomes controls for the media player, navigation arrows, etc.  The second layer also hosts my "mouse keys."  The Ergodox has some cool "mouse" functionality that I haven't played with much yet, but basically they make it possible to control the cursor as you would with a mouse, except with key strokes.  It sounds clunky, but evidently it's pretty effective once you get used to it.

The third layer I created as symbols and numbers, with the layout based on an actual number pad (along with it's specific functionality).

And that's about as far as I've gotten to date  I'm not sure if I'll create a fourth layer loaded up with macros and multi-function Adobe Premiere and After Effects keys, but right now I'm just getting used to and enjoying the improved functionality afforded by the current layout and combination keys.

One final note: my ErgodoxEZ came with blank key caps, which is fine for "hands on" (literally) typing, but when I'm editing video and recording music, my hands are rarely fused to the home row.  Instead they are often handling peripheral controllers or jotting down notes.  Quickly finding keys is difficult with nothing printed on them! Luckily the "mini split" that came along with the Ergodox had printed keycaps.  I switched out all the ones that would work (letters and a few symbols), and then I penciled in the symbols and functions on the rest of the blank keys.  Obviously pencil marks aren't going to last long (not to mention they're hard to see), so I'm looking for a decent solution for printing on key caps.  I have seen a few people online having success with laser etching/engraving and toner, so I may try that at some point, but it would be nice to find a more permanent way to quickly mark key caps with their assigned functions.  That's really my only "gripe" at this point, but everything else is a great improvement upon my previous situation!

If you want to try out the layout I have created (and alter it for your own use), here is the link to Ergodox site:

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Adobe Essential Graphics - Not Ready for Prime Time

With Premiere CC v14, Adobe is forcing us to switch from Titles (now "legacy" titles) to the new "Essential Graphics" system.  In theory, this is a better system for titles and light graphics (you can even incorporate motion), but they released the "feature" WAY before it was ready for public use.

My first gripe is a big one: you cannot "nudge" type areas with the arrow keys.  To move a text field, you have to either physically drag it (not precise), or use the horizontal/vertical transform controls in the Essential Graphics panel (not convenient).

While there are many other issues, the rest of this post will be dedicated to file management for graphics (files) used in "motion graphics templates."

If you place a graphic (a logo, for instance) via the "new layer" drop down choice "From file" in the  Essential Graphics panel, Premiere just drops the file into your project wherever it feels like it.  If you've got twenty or more folders in a project, good luck finding your file (you can use "reveal in project" from the timeline, but wtf?)! So once you add a file via the Essentials Graphics panel, you'll need to manually move said file to a Motion Graphics (or some other) folder to keep things from getting super cluttered.  Additionally, if you create a "Master Graphics Template," Premiere copies the graphic file that you've utilized to a system folder (not just a bin in your project) that Premiere creates called "Motion Graphics Template Media." This new folder on your hard drive will be filled with folders that have been named with randomly generated strings of characters as if Adobe is trying to prevent us from finding OUR OWN graphics files.  Each Graphics Template has it's own folder named by a long random string (i.e. 0df6380f-23b8-467c-9040-8d2e5dc1096e), but then that folder has a subfolder named simply by the SAME NAME as the Graphics Template you created.  WHY IS THE RANDOM STRING FOLDER NECESSARY?! The bigger question is this... why can't Premiere just access the graphic from it's original location (thus preventing the need for TWICE AS MUCH space to store the file)?  If you need to export your template to a new location or another computer, I could see copying the files then to keep them in the template, but create a duplicate right off the bat? Inefficient and confusing to say the least.

Another issue that drives me nuts: there doesn't seem to be an option to "update Motion Graphics Template" if you make a change to it in your timeline.  For instance, if you're using a template and you make a small adjustment to the text, you only have the option to "Export as Motion Graphics Template" at which point you can either save the template again with the same name and then go back into your library, figure out which is the old template, and manually delete the old one, or give the adjusted template a new name (at which point you will STILL need to delete the old template that is now obsolete from your library).

Finally, as referenced in the above issue, if you create two Motion Graphics Templates and place them in the same library, and you name them with the same title, Premiere will not let you know that you've created a title with the exact same name.  In other words, you could create 30 Motion Graphics Templates, all with the same name; then when you need to use the template you created, you have to sift through all the templates with the same name to see which one is the correct one.  Brilliant.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Windows 10 Clip Board "bin"

For years Windows users have had to install third-party software to be able to store more than one item on their "clipboard" (where things go when you cut-and-paste [Ctrl]-C or [Ctrl]-X).  But with a recent update to Windows 10, Microsoft has finally implemented a multi-item clipboard "bin."

The usual cut-and-paste shortcuts still work as they always have, but now you have the option to [Win]-V (windows key + v) and a pop-up will present you with a list of all the things you've cut or copied since turning on your machine last.  This means that from one page, you can cut or copy many items and have access to ALL OF THEM when you go to the location you want to paste those things.  No more going back and forth from various tabs or documents to cut and paste.

This is an incredible time saver.

And not only can you access things you've previously cut or copied during your current session, but you can PIN items to the clipboard for permanent access!  This is a major boon to my daily workflow.

Now instead of having to create a document with commonly used bits of text (common correspondence, various signatures, common strings, etc.), I can pin those things to the clipboard and access them straight from Win-V anytime I wish!

That is an even bigger time saver.

When you open your clipboard, each item will have the ubiquitous "triple dot" next to it.  The options from that menu are "delete," "pin," and "clear all."

If you use multiple Windows devices, you can also choose to sync your clipboard so the items are accessible across as many devices as you wish.  Just type "sync clipboard" in your Windows search bar and follow the instructions!


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Neewer Vision4 and Visico 4 - SAME FLASH

It's incredible to me how difficult it has been to find a user's manual for the Neewer Vision4 flash.  I finally found some information that clued me in to the fact that Neewer's Vision4 is a rebranded Visico 4, and I could find a manual for the Visico.

So this post is just to let people know: if you're searching for a Neewer Vision4 manual, search instead for Visico 4 (which is much easier to find).

Friday, February 1, 2019

Why Won't My Dough Rise?!

My last two batches of bread haven't risen.  Like, at all.

I finally decided to spend a little time figuring out what's going on, and it turns out, it all comes down to temperature (at least it did for me).

There are quite a few reasons why dough might not rise (dead yeast, other ingredients killing or impeding the yeast's ability to work properly, etc.), but temperature is probably the most common issue.

I knew temperature mattered, but what I didn't realize was just how small the window for error is.

I run hot, so I tend to keep my house pretty cool, especially in the winter (when baking is more fun).  I also consider myself way more of a "cook" than a "baker."  As such, I'm used to winging it, shooting from the hip, improvising, experimenting, and being altogether way more reckless than is acceptable with baking, where apparently you have to stick to the rules a little (or a lot) more.

I've got an insanely delicious Oatmeal Bread recipe from my mom/aunt that reminds me of childhood and all things good in this world.  The recipe says you should put a package of yeast in 3/4 cups of lukewarm water with 1/16 teaspoon of sugar and 1/16 teaspoon of ginger.  There are two problems with this.  1. "Lukewarm" can be quite different from one person to another.  2. Ginger is actually an anti-fungal, and yeast belongs to the fungus family!

I wonder if the pinch of ginger is to keep the dough from going crazy.  A kitchen that is in constant use is warm or even hot, and my mom and aunt's kitchens were certainly that way.  So maybe they needed something to actually keep the yeast in check.  My 64 degree kitchen doesn't need any help.  It will keep yeast from "doing its thing" on its own.

And then there's this idea of  "lukewarm."  In my research, people suggested yeast should proof anywhere from 70 on the low end, to 105 on the high end.  I think the window is even more narrow.  I decided to experiment with temps, by placing yeast and sugar into some water at "room temperature" (my room temperature) and then bringing the temp up slowly to see where the yeast started to get happy.  Sure enough, even though I was starting out with warm water, by the time it hit the (cold) pyrex measuring cup and I added yeast to it, it was sub 70.  I placed my thermometer in the pyrex measuring cup and then placed the measuring cup in a bowl and began to incrementally add water from my instant-hot tap.  I was surprised to see that even around 75 degrees, not much was happening.  80 was better, but it wasn't until around 90 that things really started to happen.  So from now on, I will be sure that my yeast water is at 90 degrees.

The other thing I have to worry about in my cold kitchen is the temperature of the mixing bowl.  I didn't think that would make much of a difference (thinking it would only drop the dough's temperature a tiny bit), but I was wrong.  From now on I will be warming the bowl with hot water and then keeping it in an oven set for proofing.

The final element of fixing my dough-rise problems is actually using the oven to "proof" (placing the kneaded dough in an oven set at a relatively low temperature specifically for rising).  I had been doing this already, but not really paying much attention to getting the oven warm enough or keeping it there.


If you don't have an oven that does well for proofing, there are a couple of tricks you can try.  My oven doesn't really start keeping temperature until it's around 125 degrees, which is a bit too high.  Therefore, I set the oven as low as I can to where it will kick on and off (you can watch the indicator light or listen for the "click"), and then I just keep the door open a bit.  This will cause a greater fluctuation in temperature, so to combat that, I simply placed a couple of my iron skillets on the bottom rack to assist with keeping the temperature constant (the skillets act as heat sinks).  I used my thermometer to monitor things, and I'm able to keep the oven interior at about 100 degrees, which seems perfect to me.

Finally, and especially with the door cracked open, you will want to add an element to keep the rising dough's atmosphere moist.  A lot of people place a damp towel over the bowl, and while that helps a bit, I have started placing a shallow pan of hot water on the bottom rack where the iron skillets are hanging out.  Not only that, but I leave the water there when baking the bread, and I've found it really helps with the consistency and texture of the bread!


So that's it.  If you're having trouble getting your bread to rise, and you know your yeast isn't dead, chances are things aren't warm enough!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

PluralEyes Trouble Syncing Continuous Footage (splitting media into mutliple tracks for sync)

I have been working on a project where we shot a week of live performances running anywhere from 4 to 9 cameras with two dedicated audio recorders each night.  Before a program like Red Giant PluralEyes, this would have been a NIGHTMARE to organize and sync.

That said, it's still a bit of a nightmare.

One thing I've run into that I wanted to document for others but also for my own future reference is the difficulty PluralEyes has with syncing audio when the clips are butted up against one another.  In other words, with footage that has been recorded by a camera that records continuously but splits the footage up into multiple clips (we used some Sony AX100's and CX900's as "safety cams"), PluralEyes often freaks out.  As you're sitting there watching the sync, it looks like all is well.  All the clips are turning green and the arrows are lining up, but then at the last second... all the clips spread out and a good number of them turn red.

I've found a work around that isn't too terribly painful.  You just need to find the offending media and break it up into two tracks where you load every other clip.  For instance, all the footage from one of the Sony AX100's is placed into two bins, AX100 01 and AX100 02.  Then I place every other clip starting with the odd numbers in the "01" bin, and then every other clip starting with even numbers in the "02" bin.  This seems to make PluralEyes happier.

At first I was using the "Add takes in new bins (one file per bin)" button, but that becomes a nightmare to organize once you import the files into Premiere (so. many. tracks.).

So now, once I export my XML file from PluralEyes and then import it into Premiere, there are only two tracks for each "problem" camera, instead of a track for every clip from the offending cameras.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Installing PowerAmp on an Older Android Device That Can't Access Google Play

I use my old HTC Droid Incredible for a media player.  I would TOTALLY still use it for my main phone if it weren't for the fact that it maxes out at 3G and Verizon has stopped allowing older devices to be activated.  I love, love, love it's small size, and I also love the optical joy stick.  PLEASE, oh world's makers of phones, bring small phones and the optical joy stick back!!!

Anyway... I have ripped my hundreds and hundreds of CD's to FLAC.  That means I need a player that will handle FLAC files.  The native Android player on Gingerbread does not support FLAC (or much of anything else).  After a bunch of research, I've landed on PowerAmp as my app of choice.

Now comes the problem.  Google Play no longer supports Android Gingerbread, and my Droid Incredible is running Android 2.3.4.  I just want to play FLAC files with my beloved Droid.

I e-mailed PowerAmp, and they weren't much help.  In fact, here is there reply:
"Google quit supporting Android 2.3 so you may have to find and download older Play version"
Yeah.  Thanks loads for all the help.

So I can't download PowerAmp via Google Play (what is called "Market" on my phone).  I also can't side load the PowerAmp APK to my Droid because Android 2.3.4 doesn't have a file browser, thus if  I drop the APK onto the phone via USB from my computer, there is no way to get to it from inside the phone.  Even if you put it in the "Downloads" folder (to which Android 2.3.4 does allow access), the APK file won't show up because it wasn't put there by Android's Downloads Manager!  Furthermore, I can't download the app from the PowerAmp website, because the only way to access the internet from the phone is via the baked-in "Internet" app on Android 2.3.4.  That app does not support secure web connections (and thus really shouldn't be used to access today's internet, except my hand is currently being forced).

After searching for a work around, a long and convoluted process that I won't bore you with, I figured out a way to get things done.

I used my back up app (MyBackup Pro) on my everyday phone (a Moto Droid Z Force) to create an APK for both PowerAmp and the PowerAmp Unlocker that were on that phone.

I then uploaded those APK's to a non-secure web site --any old website to which you have FTP access and can upload files.  I would advise renaming the APK's so they are easy to type in and then place them as close to the root as you can so you don't have to do a lot of typing. (i.e. and

Thus I was able to download the two APK's via the "Internet" app on my Android 2.3.4 device.  Since they were downloaded in a way Android approved of, I was able to access the APK files via the Downloads app.

When I clicked both APK's, I verified that I wanted to install the apps, and BANG!  I'm running PowerAmp on my Gingerbread device.

Rock and roll (literally).