...An interview of Don of The Board proudly brought to you by Keebio, the place for split keyboards. (For those of you unfamiliar with The Board Podcast, this is a play on the intro of every episode.)
I've known Don for several years (so like an eternity in keyboard years), with me in 2016 stumbling across The Board Podcast that he hosts. I love listening to podcasts, and I love keyboards as well, so quite the perfect match I'd say. Back in those early days of the podcast, there were 4 co-hosts, which eventually shrunk to 2 (Don & Kevin), and then now just Don himself. When I started Keebio in 2017, I signed on as a sponsor and have sponsored the show through Patreon and by doing monthly giveaways ever since.
Aside from listening to the show, I've spent a lot of time interacting with Don and other listeners through the Slack community, which later migrated to Discord (invite link). We've managed to help each other out over the years and look forward to doing more of it in the future. Don also created one of the first (if not the first) switch break-in machines, which seems to have kicked off a flurry of other designs.
So now I present our interview...
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Located in Sydney, Australia, and one of the smaller community members in the mechanical keyboard space. Currently helping manage a Discord and some Facebook groups on the keyboard hobby, plus a podcast and YouTube channel. I do podcasting and YouTube content, and sometimes do other random things outside of Keyboards too.
How and when did you get into keyboards? What was your first keyboard, and why did you get it?
I got properly into keyboards as a hobby back in 2014 when I started a new job as a technical writer. I was having difficulties typing with a high degree of accuracy on the work keyboards as I was skipping letters and also hitting double capitals. My then team lead was using a mechanical keyboard and I could hear it over the desk divider, so I asked about it.
Turns out it was a DAS keyboard with Cherry MX Blues, and I gave it a try and absolutely loved it. From there I did a lot of research, joined the sub-reddit for Mechanical Keyboards, and it took a few weeks before I made a decision to purchase my first mechanical board, which was the Ducky Legend.
I decided I wanted something solid and heavy, with little flex, and the Ducky Legend having a 5mm top plate made of solid aluminium seemed to fit the bill. It was locally available, and I wanted to make sure whatever I got would last the distance. I decided also on Cherry MX Blues for the audible feedback that I had actuated (so I wouldn’t miss keypresses with too light a press).
What's the current keyboard(s) you are typing on?
Currently its a Filco MajesTouch2 with Cherry MX Blues, and MDA/EDRUG MIX (they renamed it haha) and a few custom made (by me) Artisan keycaps, and an Idea23 resin spacebar. It's getting on though now since I bought it second-hand, and the cable connector is flaking out in that if I move it on the desk, it will connect/disconnect, so at some point, I will have to open it up and try and repair it.
While I have more keyboards at my disposal, I use this beater keyboard because its solid and reliable, and with young kids, if they cough, sneeze, spill, or smear stuff on it, I won’t be heartbroken.
What I don’t like though on it is costar stabilisers!
What's your favorite switch/keycap profile/layout?
At the moment, most clicky switches are my favourite type, though I use Kailh Box Pinks on my custom board at work, but I do use Kailh Box Navy on a 96key I pair with my laptop when working from home.
Keycap profiles I actually am not too fussed, I use Cherry at work, have DSA on the 96key mentioned above, The MIX set on my daily driver, but I also have Skywriter waiting to go onto a keyboard later on when the kids are older haha.
In terms of layout, I like layouts with numpad because I use it quite a bit for work, and home use at times. My own custom layout on the Downbubble has been a pretty good layout for me which is my work board, where I used to do a lot of number punching (if you know what a NSN/NIIN is, you know what I mean).
Are you into artisan keycaps?
Yes, even made/make them, look up R.A.G. Caps for some oldschool horrible quality caps haha. I have not a lot of them, tends to be ones I either won, received to review, or commemorative ones like Meetup caps.
Any QMK tricks you use?
No, I’m a terrible programmer and every time I try and write/compile QMK, I always have to bug others to help me. Figuring out encoder coding was a nightmare!
Are you into backlighting or underglow?
No, I prefer light-free if I can get it for personal use, but I appreciate that some boards look amazing with underglow or backlighting, but I don’t need it personally as I have top-down lighting.
Are you into ergo keyboards? (Like ortho or columnar stagger)
Yes, but I haven’t had time to dedicate into learning it properly for ortho/ergolumnar boards. I own Ergodox for example but can barely type 20wpm on it.
In terms of ergo boards, I do consider split keyboards in the ergo space which is where my custom was derived from.
Are you into 40% keyboards at all?
Yes, I have some, they’re fun, but layers are hard for someone like me with a terrible memory!
What’s your unpopular opinion about keyboards?
Keyboard sound tuning is pointless; since most people working in an office environment have plenty of other sounds over-riding, plus things like music, game sounds, headphones, you name it. Isolated cases of a curated environment is not representative of the actual experience of the keyboard.
Why did you decide to start making content?
Back in 2016, as a result of childbirth and a very bad experience at the hospital, my wife developed PTSD, which led to me doing as much as I could to support her and our daughter. My work allowed me to work from home, which sometimes was done at odd hours, which led to me starting to communicate with US and Europe-based keyboard community members since I was working from home and at various times when US/EU people were online.
Through joining a Slack group at the time, it was bantered around that we should do a podcast, and I drew that idea out into starting the pilot for the show The Board Podcast. Through many of the things we talked about on the podcast spun off the videos, which developed into the YouTube channel.
What/who are you influenced by or where do you draw inspiration from?
I try and take a broader picture view of things in general and try to incorporate a lot of other things from everyday life into Keyboards where I can. I think a lot of life learnings can be applied very broadly, and at times when I’m walking to work or home from work, I think about things and when I get that “oh, this would be great to do” I try to remember it and get something down. If I forget before I get home to jot it down or solidify the idea, then it was probably not that great of an idea anyway haha. For ideas that reoccur, they tend to be the ones I get more into because that thought keeps coming up.
In terms of influence, I think I’m influenced in general by the community’s passions when new things come up, and then I think about how could I do that different, or how could I explore that in this direction that was not thought about by the originator of XYZ.
How much time does keyboard stuff consume in your life, how do you balance that with other things in your life?
At the moment, keyboard stuff doesn’t consume a lot of active time because I’m in-between moving house and what not, I spend a lot of my free time on Discord and on Facebook assisting with the oversight/management/moderation of various groups but I’m very lucky to have other mods that are really good at helping the community out.
In terms of content making, the podcast unfortunately has been dwindling and on hiatus with work and house renovations/moving issues, while with the YouTube, I have been able to take time in some blocks to punch out some video content that I have been slowly releasing until I can get back into steady content creating again.
For balance, it's harder when the kids are in the in-between stages. I remember early on when my daughter was a fresh squishy, it was like no problem at all to record podcasts or videos, to do soldering or make resin work, simply because she couldn’t get in the way or endanger herself. Once they get to the age they can walk and reach and grab, well, there goes a lot of freedoms. I was recording late at night after she was asleep, or soldering/workshopping when she was out with my wife on play dates! That was fine once she got older and could understand dangers and to stay away/keep out, but then my son was born, and so the cycle started again haha.
Once we are settled into the house and I have ‘workshop’ space and capacity, it should be easier to manage, just ban them from the shed if I’m doing something they shouldn’t be around!
What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
I’m really excited about having a workshop, so I can revisit so much. I want to try making my crappy artisans again, I want to do more paint-related work, try and figure out my CNC machine properly. 3D printing is something I have but my printer is pretty old and in terrible condition, but to try and use that more would also be good.
I’d like to also get more into woodworking in general(my mini-lathe, and I have access to an actual full-on lathe too), and pottery-related works too (oh my gosh, I have space for a small kiln if I ever had the money though firing on charcoal is still lots of fun), I love doing hands-on in general, so there is always something potentially being worked on.
What direction do you see the keyboard community moving in? What would you change?
The direction has been somewhat organic, there are plenty of branching which is a really healthy sign in some ways, like dedicated communities to ortho boards, to 40’s, and so forth. The direction I think will move towards more accessible formats to customise boards I think.
What I mean by that though is that while the market is getting flooded with so many boards, people are after ‘their’ own board, or keycaps. So being able to be in a position where someone’s personal dream is more affordable, or easier to obtain is where I think the community wants to go.
What I’d like to change is really just the gatekeeping that even 8 years on, is still pretty heavy. What people just don’t really seem to want to let go in some places is not everyone is you. Preferences, budget, use case, etc, they’re all different for each user. Just let them be to enjoy what they find joy in, with their keyboards, to their budget, to their use case.
What kind of keyboard content do you consume? Favorites? Blogs/streamers/podcasts/social media/Discord
So, I don’t actively go looking, but I consume email newsletter updates like the Keebio Wavelets, like This Week in Keyboards kind of things. I tend to also see a lot thanks to my involvements in Discord and Facebook groups, so I never have to exactly go hunting for specifically content to keyboards.
If it's big, it will happen on the various platforms and you can’t really avoid it, and then there is discussion (healthy and unhealthy for that matter), which gives you the feel of how it is received within those communities, and I guess sometimes if I have to respond with my own opinions also.
I will also join onto streams of whatever is going on if I’m asked to if I have the time, especially if I’m asked to by someone (haha, rarely though) because of something I’ve said, done, made etc, to give support or clarification.
What kind of barriers to entry into the community have you seen, and how do you think we can overcome them?
This is a really tricky one, barriers to entry are subjective to individuals across a number of issues. Cost is obviously one of the big ones, and is tied into availability of parts and products. Some countries are very short in local supply, and import costs are very high for them, which is definitely a huge barrier. On top of that, in certain countries, their free/disposable incomes are low, which makes it a compounded issue.
Other barriers to entry is information, in fact there is a post recently about having to join a Discord to find information that has been buried somewhere, instead of it being on a website somewhere. While there is no single source of truth, we also do not have a true central repository of information for what has become an immensely sized sphere of information. The pace at which we have new products (switch recolours with new names for example, a peeve of mine) that just makes it harder to distill down to what exactly people are talking about, selling, or understanding in correct context can be crazy to keep up with!
How do we overcome it? I guess (and mentioned before in a podcast episode somewhere), some kind of international mechanical keyboard body would be fantastic. Not necessarily for the purposes of say commercial regulation, but possibly to help each other with standard terminologies, publications, and alike. If international groups of people like engineers and other technical nerds can form things like INCOSE, and IEEE, then I don’t see why we can’t do the same for mechanical keyboards, and have symposiums, presentations, publications, and so forth.
What other hobbies you are into?
I like model building, but haven’t really had the space for it at the unit, so with the house and shed/workshop, I have a FFG-7 model waiting to be built. I’ve got some random Space Marines too, though no slotted bases, and I’d love to try some Gunpla but money is a barrier unfortunately.
I do tinker around with idle music things, we have a wide collection of recorders and flute-based instruments at the moment (Tin whistle, soprano, alto and tenor recorder, a fife, toot, and a flute but no piccolo), plus a ukelele, and an electric bass.
I also do like to colour and paint, I’ve done a bit of pencil based colouring in, even won a competition haha, my wife and daughter do a lot of colouring in and painting too.
Kind of started getting more into coffee during the Covid lockdowns, and now I have a bit more coffee paraphernalia including some uh, home-made tools.
What’s your favorite keyboard vendor sticker/swag that you have?
Currently, I don’t really have one I guess, I used to use the Big Switch at work heaps (in Clicky Blue of course!) as I set it with my pro-micro as a WIN+L key to lock my computer when I got up, but I stopped using it when I brought in my custom board where I had that mapped to a specific macro key.
What’s your favorite snack or drink?
Snacks is too hard, but drink would have to be something like a black sesame bubble tea (or pearl tea, or boba tea depending on where you are in the world).
What’s your favorite Keebio board, or if you don’t have one, which one would you get?
I’ve had the chance to see and ‘try’ a few things, from the early days Nyquist, through to one of the earlier Iris boards. I can’t honestly say that I have a favourite since I’m too uncoordinated really for the ergolumnar format for the most part, but I really like the standard stagger boards on offer since they are functionally affordable.
Is there anything you’d like to address in general?
The Groupbuy model has some challenges out there, and that there are a lot of failed buys to go with those challenges. I personally believe that the community should consider having project managers who actually know how to run projects, to help drive their group buys. Whether they are community members who have PM experience professionally, or paid PM’s to take on their Group Buys, the value proposition there is being able to have an actual successful buy (potentially).
Colourway IP is a hot mess. Inspiration for colours, and getting witch-hunted or crusaded for having something similar to someone elses prior ‘art’ is… dangerous grounds for stifling creativity. I get the need to protect ‘IP’ and acknowledging prior art, I don’t have a solution, but it's something I think that needs to be addressed in that, while we have millions of colours to choose from technically, if manufacturers can’t re-create them consistently, then we have limited colours to play with, which will result in repeat colourways or highly similar at some point in time.
Scammers getting rife. Bigger the community, the great the scams. Do your due diligence, and protect yourself as best you can when doing sales and trades. If in doubt, don’t complete the transaction, and use payment methods that give you the best chance of recovery should things go avocado-shaped.
Any shoutouts/plugs/anyone you’d like to acknowledge
Danny from Keebio has been an amazing pillar for The Board, over the existence of the podcast and YouTube channel. Through Patreon support and also giveaway prizes constantly. Without his support, I honestly don’t think the show and channel would be where we’ve come so far, thank you so much Danny.
The 4903 YouTube subscribers. It's always a hard slog for the little guys, so I appreciate you all for staying subbed.
The 300 or so regular listeners to the podcast when I have an episode, and the handful of regulars who enter the giveaway competitions. You guys mean a lot to me for staying engaged and letting me know that someone still listens.
This concludes the interview with Don, but before I send you off, I've got a fun story of how Don helped me out once.
For one of the orders I sent off to a customer, I had forgotten to include a strip of diodes in the PCB kit. Normally, I'd send out the diodes myself, but the customer was halfway across the world in Sydney, Australia. "Well," I thought to myself, "I know someone in Sydney, Don from The Board." So I shot Don a message via Slack, and sure enough, he had spare diodes around and graciously offered to meet up with the customer to deliver them. After confirming with the customer that it was okay to give Don his contact info, I messaged the address over. Insanely enough, he was only 3 blocks away and could just do a quick walk over there. Small world!
If you like podcasts, definitely give The Board a listen to, as there's occasionally some interesting life tidbits in there too aside from keyboards.
We hope you liked this 2nd interview piece of our new series, and there will be more to come. Hit that Subscribe button and be the first to read upcoming pieces. If you haven't already done so, check out the 1st interview we did with the creator of the Keyboard Builders' Digest.
Anyway, if you've got any feedback/comments/suggestions for this interview series, we'd really appreciate hearing from you. Thanks for reading.