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AZIO Retro Keyboard

Modification Log

The mechanical keyboard hobby is one that is expensive and time consuming. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a girlfriend that is understanding and enthusiastic about my hobby. We started dating shortly after I became serious about keyboards. She has been through my entire journey into this hobby, and has patiently listened to be ramble about keyboards time and time again. After a few of my rambles, she started voicing enthusiasm and interest about getting a mechanical keyboard of her own.

The tipping point that piqued her interest in mechanicals was being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. She was experiencing a large amount of pain while typing, due to the force required to actuate the rubber domes on her company-supplied keyboard. The pain was especially bad when typing with pinky keys, like shift. We knew that with a mechanical we could get her something lighter, and tune the individual switches to her needs.

We discussed several times about what her ideal keyboard might look like, and even did a few testing sessions with various switch types and keycap profiles to determine what she would want in a keyboard. She made it clear that she would prefer a full-sized 104 key board, as opposed to any of the weirdo layouts I tend to gravitate towards. The conversation was shelved for a while as I searched high and low for a full sized board that the would like.

Several months ago we were in a Microcenter and came across this keyboard - her exact words were “If you ever buy me a keyboard, this is the one I want.” This solidified things - that would be the board I would get her. For her birthday this year, that’s exactly what I did.

Of course, I can’t simply go buy a keyboard and give it to her, modifications would be needed. In previous testing, we’d determined that the best switch for Jenny would be an MX Brown. It was important to have a fairly quiet, but tactile switch, as she works from home and is on the phone a lot.

Naturally, the board that she wanted most only comes with blues. Specifically, the Azio board comes with knock-off MX blues from a manufacturer that I’ve never heard of - OARMY. Now I know that these specific switch stems aren’t blue, but they are made to be clones of blues.

I ordered the board about a month before her birthday and had it shipped directly to me in the office. I knew that I would need to make serious modifications to the board, so doing that work at home simply wasn’t an option, for risk of being caught.

The Azio is a cool board, it has a nice thick bottom plastic, a vanity cover over the metal plate, and really unique typewriter-style keycaps. The stems for these keycaps is really interesting as well, very different from any other keycaps I’ve ever used.

The back is adjustable with a clever twisting mechanism. Most boards that can be raised and lowered use flip-out feet, but I really like this solution.


After removing the keycaps, the first step for modifying this board was disassembling it. The board has 15 screws on the bottom that first need to be removed. Note: there are also screws under the feet that must be unscrewed. The feet do obstruct the screws, so removing these is difficult, but with some ingenuity with a screwdriver it is not impossible.

With the screws removed from the bottom, one might think that the the bottom would come off, but oh contraire! Surprisingly, the top vanity plate must be removed.

Azio with all keycaps removed.

The edges come up first, clipped on to the bottom plastic with small clips. There are also larger clips that go down and clip on to the steel plate. I wasn’t able to find a simple way to remove the plate while releasing these clips, so if you disassemble this board, remove the vanity plate with caution.

Vanity plate removed from top of the Azio.

Note the large clips shown here.

With the vanity plate removed, we can see the metal plate and PCB. There are 10 screws that secure the plate to the bottom plastic. Those are removed, and the board is free.

Under the PCB is a connector that runs to the USB cable. With the cable removed, the board is totally free.

For these mods, I removed every switch on this board. To be honest these OARMY switches are pretty awful. I’ve tried several knock-off blues in my time, and these are pretty bad. Even if she weren’t going to be using this keyboard at work, these OARMYs needed to go! Desoldering the switches was a simple operation, although time consuming given that all modern-day keyboards use lead-free solder.

For this build, I installed Gateron Brown switches on the alphas, with Gateron Reds on the shift keys. With Jenny’s carpal tunnel it was important to give her lighter switches on specific keys like shift. Gateron browns are light switches overall (good for carpal tunnel), with an actuation weight of 45g, they are also really smooth, far smoother than Cherry browns. The Gateron Reds are linear with a weight of 40g.

I had intended to install Browns on nearly all the switches on the board, but it turns out I did not order enough of them, so I had to make do, installing Reds on a few of the rarely-used switches.

Having installed the new switches, it was time to reassemble the board, box it back up and give to Jenny.

On the day before her birthday, Jenny mentioned that she would soon need a new keyboard for work, as her Logitech (the same as we deploy for all users at my office) was starting to fail. On her birthday, she was overjoyed to receive the keyboard. She (as I’d hoped) loves the keyboard, and loves the feel of the switches. She says it has made a big improvement to the normal carpal tunnel pain she experiences, so I would say: goal achieved.

Side note, all her coworkers are enthusiastic about the board as well - several of them have expressed interest in getting something similar (probably more because of the aesthetic than the mechanical switches), but it gives me hope for converting a few more people to the wondrous world of mechanical keyboards.

Typed on White Alps64

Personal Computers

In the age of mobile, what is a personal computer?

I’ve been thinking about the term ‘personal computer’ lately, and I think I’ve come to a realization about what a personal computer can be, and (more specifically) what it means to me. 

As a child, I remember when we got our first PC. The year was 1995. My mother was in college, I was a mere 6 years old. The PC: a Packard Bell with a 65mhz Celeron processor, a 500MB Hard Disk Drive, a 9” CRT Monitor with built-in speakers, CD-ROM and 3.5” diskette, all running on glorious easy-to-use Windows 95. I took to the PC like a moth to flame. It was magical. I learned to type on this machine. I recall spending hours playing Troggle Trouble and Invention Studio. Even just basic usage and navigation of the PC was fascinating to me. I even got my first glimpses of the Internet on this PC (care of a dial-up internet connection supplied by the university). The Packard Bell never was my ‘personal’ computer though - it was my Mom’s computer. Ostensibly it was for her to do research and write papers on, truth be told, I probably used it more than she did, but that still didn’t make it ‘mine’. 

As an adult, a personal computer is still a wonderful and magical device to me. Like many of my generation, I consider myself digitally native - by the time I was born, computing technology was ubiquitous, and we were fast approaching a time where literally every household had a computer. To quote Steve Jobs, computers are ‘bicycles for our minds’. With a computer you can play, create, destroy, observe, learn, socialize, and find comfort in being alone in yourself. Computers facilitate the greatest opportunities for learning and development that the world has ever seen. 

The only thing more magical than a computer is a personal computer - a machine that is truly personal, the property and domain of one person. With your personal computer you have power over and knowledge of everything that machine is. It has the applications you choose, it is configured the way you like it, it has all of your data, organized the way that your mind works. A personal computer is (for me at least) the digital manifestation of everything I am interested in, everything I know, and the way that my particular mind works. A family computer can never be that, but a personal computer can

My first real personal computer came in 2003. I was 13, and had saved up over the summer working odd jobs for my Grandfather. I was able to buy a second-hand Gateway with a Pentium III, running Windows 98. It was on this machine that I realized what a personal computer could be. It was on this PC that I learned to tinker and explore all that a computer is - both in software and hardware. During the time that I owned that computer I completely took it apart and reassembled it, upgraded it multiple times. I first learned how to reinstall an operating system with this computer. First learned what all the individual components inside a tower were. It was the first time that I had unfettered access to just sit and browse the web. It was on this machine that I first learned to cobble bits of technology together (I recall installing two weirdo graphics cards into the machine so I could run dual monitors).

Following in the Gateway’s footsteps was a custom PC. I was 14 or 15, I’d learned everything the Gateway could teach me, and I had $1000 of saved-up money burning a hole in my pocket. This time I wasn’t using someone else’s second-hand anything - I chose every part of that machine and assembled it myself. It was magic. I felt like I had superpowers. 

After the custom PC was an HP laptop, wherein I learned that a computer could be MOBILE! Now I had a computer that was all mine, and I could take it ANYWHERE! Of course, it had a gigantic 15” display, was 3” thick, and weighed nearly 12lbs, but that didn’t stop be from finding an excuse to bring that laptop with me anywhere I could. 

By then it was 2006 or 2007, Apple was really starting to make a comeback. In my elementary years I’d hated Macs. I always despised the days that we went to the iMac labs instead of the Gateway labs. Around that time I received an iPod for Christmas, and it opened my eyes up to what Apple had become. I remember watching Steve Jobs’ keynote when the MacBook Pro was announced - I was OBSESSED. I HAD to have a Mac. 

Switching from a Windows PC to a Mac changed things for me. All the PCs that I’d used or owned prior to getting a Mac, had been merely objects. Not generic machines or something I despised, but they were mostly a means to an end - a computer was merely the doorway that led me to what I wanted - whether that was a game, or a video, or just a webpage. A computer was invaluable to me, but I never loved my computers. Without any doubt, I LOVED my first Mac. My Mac taught me how to love a computer. It may sound bizarre, but I feel like I developed my first personal and emotional relationship to a computer with my first Mac (a 13” MacBook Pro). My first Mac was a leap forward technologically, and for me, macOS clicked for me in a way that no other software or operating system did. Perhaps I loved my Mac because it was the first computer I used that worked the way my brain works. 

Not long after I got my first Mac, I got my first iPhone. Finally! A phone that just worked! A phone that had compromises (lol MMS, copy & paste), but finally a phone that was designed for people like me! At that point, I didn’t think of myself as a ‘technology guy’ or a ‘computer guy’ as much as I thought of myself as a ‘Mac/Apple’ guy. 

As I grew, matured, and became an adult, I got into working at Best Buy (selling the magic of technology to others) and my love for Macs, and especially for my Mac grew and grew. After Best Buy I pursued a career in working on computers. First at a small mom-and-pop shop that specialized in Macs, and later doing internal Desktop Support at an Enterprise business. 

My time doing repair and working in enterprise really changed how I viewed computers. At this time I can say that I’m at the apex of my computer knowledge. Working in enterprise IT has more or less forced me to become far more advanced and knowledgeable than I ever have been, but it changed my perspective on computers. Working in this job, I’m exposed to working on hundreds of workstations a month, and I use 4 different computers at work for my own tasks every day. I’ve come to see computers more as a TOOL by which I may wield power than as a device that I have an intimate relationship with. I have my main Mac workstation, a portable Mac (that gets used rarely), a Windows 7 box that mirrors most of our users’s workstations, and a portable Windows 10 machine. All of these devices have specific roles, specific tasks. I will actively move between them during the workday depending on the task at hand. They’re tools, and little more. I’m not hesitant to wipe and reimage any of these machines at any time. I could replace one of them at any time with newer, different equipment. 

The equipment I have at home isn’t so different. There is a standard desktop PC that I use as an enterprise-grade firewall/router, a Mac Pro that is my media server, and a 12” Macbook. Of all the computers I interact with on a daily basis, the 12” MacBook is probably the only one I’d call ‘mine’. But truth-be-told, most of the time I use the 12” MacBook for simple web browsing and using remote desktop to connect to my Mac Pro media server. The way this MacBook is set up more-or-less mirrors the way I set up my Mac workstation at work. It’s mine, but it doesn’t feel intimate, it doesn’t feel personal. The computer that is most mine is still just a tool.

I think I really realized that computers have become tools when I got the MacBook. Opening new Macs has always felt pretty magical to me. Peeling back the cellophane wrapping, slowly opening the box, pulling out the heavy milled aluminum machine within. When I opened my MacBook box, it was rote, no different from the hundreds of other computers I take out of boxes in a year.

The idea of a computer being a tool and not an intimate device isn’t so awful though. At times I feel that I am the grand director, the general, tasking these machines to do my will and bend the universe to what I want. 

This entire line of reasoning got me to a point. Through all my history with technology, computers, and with all I’ve done with computers in my life. Today, at this moment, the computer in my life that is TRULY personal. TRULY mine, is not a computer at all, really. It’s a phone. 

My phone hasn’t always been this way though. Since 2007 I’ve had nearly every single iPhone. Ten years ago an iPhone wasn’t much more than a glorified iPod. A decade later, it has matured in ways that 18 year-old me could have never imagined.

My iPhone is the sole device in my life that is completely and totally tailored for me. For personal tasks, I use my phone more than any other device in my life. It’s the single computing device that goes with me every place I go. Whether I am at work, or at home, or traveling, my iPhone is in my pocket, along for the ride. My iPhone has all my most pertinent data on it, it has my music, my contacts, my notes, reminders, it’s got access to my cloud storage and even my media library. Of that devices I own and use, it alone is the most - me. 

Is it the most powerful or capable device I own? Of course not. Throughout a day I may find myself fluidly moving among several devices, and whenever I have a large or complex task (such as writing this long blog post) I will inevitably use one of my more traditional computers - but the device I always reach to first, and more importantly most often, is my phone. For photos, I naturally reach for my phone, I’ll even do the vast majority of my photo editing on my phone, as a touch interface is more intuitive for editing (to me) than a desktop interface. If I’m going to catch up on twitter or Reddit, I’m far more likely to use my phone than my Mac(s). When I need to type out a note - I grab my phone. Even the majority of the web browsing I do at home is done on my phone.

My phone could not be nearly as useful to me as a personal computer if it weren’t for the other devices and cloud technology in my life. I make heavy usage of cloud storage, and have local copies of all my data on my home server - this technology allows all that data and everything I work on (no matter which device I use) to be accessible at my fingertips at all times everywhere I go. My phone is special, it is my digital life available in my hands - always.

This is my phone. It is my personal computer. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Typed on White Alps64

Macrumors Goes Hands On With iPhone 8

We can’t be 100 percent sure the dummy models we’ve seen are accurate representations of what we can expect when the iPhone 8 launches, but they match up with leaked factory specifications, part leaks, CAD drawings, and information culled from the HomePod firmware Apple released in late July.

For that reason, we believe the dummy model in the video offers up a clear look at what Apple’s iPhone 8 looks like.

I’m happy to see one of these hands on videos compare the dummy model’s size to both iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. When I went from iPhone 6 Plus to iPhone 7, I was happy to have a much smaller phone, but it was bittersweet to lose the Plus’ massive screen. iPhone 8/Pro looks to be only marginally bigger than a standard iPhone 7, with a 5.8” display - the best of both worlds.

Typed on iPhone

Maxkey SA Cyan On Dolch

A budget friendly SA profile keycap set.

I’ve been very excited to receive this set.

Maxkeys sets are notable in that they are Chinese made, and significantly cheaper than Signature Plastics keycaps. This set was only ~$90 compared to the typical ~$150 one pays for an SA profile keycap set.

Cyan on Dolch is a SA profile keycap set from Maxkey SA; from a group by on KeyClack. Unlike the Elvish SA set I received a few weeks ago, Cyan on Dolch is a fully sculpted SA profile set.


The keys in this set are exceptional, I dare say even superior to offerings from Signature Plastics. Keys are thick double shot ABS, and unlike Signature Plastics keys, have a matte finish. Typing on these keys feels fantastic. Being matte, they are slightly less grippy than Signature Plastics’ SA, but the texture is great. The matte finish is fine, not rough at all.

Key fit was great as well. The stems are uniform and very well molded. They’re slightly less tight than Signature Plastics, but not too loose. These keys are well suited for folks who like to swap keys frequently.

At the moment I’ve got these on my Satan GH60 board, but I eventually plan for them to have a permanent home on my Red Scarf II + Ver. D.

Typed on Git2Go | Edited on MacBook

Elvish SA Keycaps

I’ve been waiting for this set since December last year. The Elvish SA group buy was ran by Sennin32 of Doyu Studio. Sennin32 isn’t well known as a group buy leader among the Geekhack and r/MK crowd, but they are well known on eBay. If you’ve bought a Satan GH60, you probably bought it from Sennin32.

Elvish SA is a Chinese-manufactured clone of Signature Plastics’ SA profile keycaps. At only $70, these keycaps are significantly cheaper than Signature Plastics typical $100+ offerings.

This group by predates the wide availability of other SA clones like those from MaxKey. I’ve a set of MaxKeys on order from KeyClack, so I’ll have a post about those when they arrive.

The set is made with single shot PBT plastic, with a mix of dyesub and laser etched legends. The set has dual legends in both English and Elvish. Row profile is 1-3-3-3-3. The dyesub work is just okay. Legends are not particularly sharp, especially on the Elvish legends. The laser etched legends, however are clear and sharp. I would’ve rather seen the entire set be laser etched. Texture on the keys is good, there’s a slight texture present, but these are no where near as rough as other PBT sets like Signature Plastics DSA. Stems left a bit to be desired, they aren’t very consistent - some keys were easy to put on switches, others took much more effort.

Overall this set is okay. If you’re looking for SA profile the price point is quite nice, but the quality isn’t nearly as good as Signature Plastics. It was worth buying, but I wouldn’t buy a set from the same manufacturer again.

Typed on MacBook