The Das Keyboard Professional 4 for Mac

If you want to start a fight, ask people who are serious about keyboards what their favourite model is and watch them “debate” it. The debate will rapidly descend into something approaching a brawl. The ability of keyboard nerds to come into conflict over the best key caps, switches, wired or Bluetooth, and in fact every aspect of what keyboards can and should be like is unparalleled in the computing world. If you think Windows and Mac fans can get feisty, just wait until you see the adherents of Cherry MX Brown vs Cherry MX Blues come to blows.

From where I’m sat at my desk, I can see six different keyboards. I’ve tried everything, from ergonomic split keyboards from Microsoft to Apple’s Magic Keyboard and beyond. Mechanical, shallow-travel, you name it: I’ve tried all of them. And the one that I come back to all the time is the Das Keyboard Professional 4, which I’m typing this on at the moment.

I always imagined that the Das Keyboard was German. Das Keyboard sounds like the kind of declarative description that German companies love. But in fact, it’s all down to a small company in Austin, Texas, which has now been honing their skills in keys for seventeen years.

The best way to describe the build quality of the Das Keyboard Model 4 is that you could probably beat to death a reasonably stacked bodybuilder with it. It’s heavy, in a way that you will likely not be used to if you have only used laptop or even desktop standard keyboards. What the Das Keyboard has in common with Apple’s perfectly acceptable Magic Keyboard is they are both made from aluminium, and both have keys you press to make letters appear on-screen.

But the similarities end there. Where the Magic Keyboard feels lightweight, utilising the inherent lightness of aluminium to make something that feels and looks like cultured engineering, the Das Keyboard is heavy enough to cause serious damage if you were to apply it with force to someone’s head. Any burglar attempting to rob the house of a writer in mid-flow on a Das Keyboard will be taking their lives into their hands.

The layout is similar to something like the classic IBM Model M, with the addition of media controls on the right, including a very satisfyingly tactile volume knob. There’s also a handy mute switch and a sleep button which, as the name suggests, brings up the sleep/shutdown dialogue box.

There’s no fancy backlighting – another thing it has in common with the Apple – because this isn’t a keyboard designed for gaming on. Of course, you can game on it if you like, and depending on the key switches you choose (more on that later) you will have a good gaming experience. But this is a keyboard designed to make typists, and particularly writers, feel at home. If you’re the kind of person who wears out the WASD key caps first, this probably isn’t the keyboard for you.

And there’s no Bluetooth: this is a USB wired keyboard complete with two additional USB 3 ports to act as a hub, which is handy.

I selected Cherry MX Brown switches, which I find are perfect for the way that I type. They are soft, with the key click about halfway through the action, which means they don’t have quite the same SMASH click sound which you get with gaming keyboards or with Cherry MX Blue switches. If you’re not used to typing on a mechanical keyboard they can be tiring at first: your hands and wrists are used to depressing a key for just a couple of millimetres, whereas with these keys, you are going to apply anything from 2-5 mm of force.

This shouldn’t be a problem for me: I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter. However, if you’re more often using a laptop, particularly one with limited travel, it can be hard to get used to. My advice is to do as much typing as you can on a mechanical keyboard, saving your work on a laptop as little as possible.

The keys are rated for at least 50 million depressions each, which means you will get a lot of typing out of this keyboard before you’re likely to get much wear. There’s also a special UV-resistant coating on the key caps to avoid fading from sunlight.

If you’re the kind of person whose longest writing work is a bunch of emails, this is not the keyboard for you (unless they are really long emails). However, if you write professionally and spend your life hammering away, then the £159 or so it will cost you will be money well spent. This is a professional tool for professional writers, and it’s worth every penny.

The new iPads

A lot of people are drawing attention to the fact Apple released the new iPad and iPad Pro with a video and a press release rather than an event. I wouldn’t read too much into that. These are incremental updates, particularly to the iPad Pro.

There’s a new Folio Keyboard for the iPad, which looks good but which costs a really rather remarkable $249. On a device which costs $449 that really is quite a lot of money. And it weirdly supports the first generation Pencil rather than the newer (and much nicer) one. Although the iPad has a USB-C port, it doesn’t have the magnetic charging capability of the iPad Air and Pro – hence the old Pencil support. Of course that USB-C port means you need a dongle to charge your Pencil. Elegant design? Not really.

The iPad Pros (iPads Pro?) gain the M2 processor and WiFi 6E, which delivers some speed gains (15% faster processing, 35% faster graphics, 40% faster neural engine, 50% more memory bandwidth). It supports capturing and editing ProRes, which is a big plus for the people out there using iPad Pros as cameras (yes, they do exist). There’s also a new Pencil “hover” feature, which feels like a really odd feature to add dedicated screen hardware for. Nice, but I think it’s going to be a hard sell to get developers adding support for it.

The iPad also sees its camera shifted to the right position: at the top in landscape, not portrait. However, I can’t see anything which makes it clear if this is also the case for the iPad Pro. You would hope so, but I have the nagging feeling that the position of the charging circuitry for the magnetically-attached Pencil might rule it out. If so you can expect another update to the iPad Pro next year which shifts the charging position – again. It wouldn’t be brilliant if the cheaper iPad gets the better camera position while the professional one makes do with the weird “from the side” view you get with the current one.

Apple made quite a big point in its video about Stage Manager, “released with iPad OS 16”. Of course at the moment, the best part about Stage Manager – massively improved external monitor support – isn’t there. It was, of course, demoed in the video. Hopefully it will be released soon.

There’s nothing there which makes it a must-have upgrade over either an M1 or previous generation iPad Pro, in my view. Yes, the performance increase is great, but until the applications are there and external display support is improved I just don’t think there’s a need for all that power.

Pricing hasn’t really changed. The lowest-cost iPad Pro 11in will cost you £899. A fully laden 12.9in with 5G and 2TB of storage? £2,679. I would love to know how many of those 2TB iPad Pros Apple actually sells.

Apple also sneaked in a new Apple TV4K, with an A15 Bionic chip and support for HDR10+. Oh, and best of all: a new Siri Remote which supports USB-C for charging. At last. It’s still too expensive at £149, especially compared to the $129 it costs in the US. Thank you Tories for trashing the currency. And that £149 version doesn’t come with Ethernet as standard: you have to move up to the £169 version for that, which also bumps up the storage to 128Gb.

Some stuff which caught my eyes this week

Oof. Apparently, Windows 11 is installed on just 3% of existing PCs, which is less than Windows 7. That is truly pitiful, but not surprising: there are remarkably few good reasons to update from Windows 10. There are things to like about it but they really are few and far between, and not sufficiently obvious. What will also be worrying for Microsoft and its partners is without compelling software, there’s not much reason to buy a new PC either.

Related: Fedora 37 and Ubuntu 22.10 are out soon, with the rather nice Gnome 43 interface. Just saying.

Hey Apple nerds — or just computer history nerds — you will like this. Someone has digitised their collection of Apple VHS tapes from the 1980s and 1990s and put them on YouTube. Apple did a lot of video content at the time for training and communications, and I remember seeing some of these when they first appeared. The hour-long video on using OpenStep’s cross-platform development tools plus the Rhapsody Blue Box for running classic Mac programmes is well worth a watch. Different era.

Meanwhile, the Tories want to water down your privacy rights online. For a good example of what happens when the rights of businesses to abuse your details become more important than your right to control your data, look no further than India, where commercial spam from legitimate companies has become enough of a problem to make WhatsApp barely usable.

Nick Heer makes a great case for why Apple is completely wrong in opposing charging being standardised around USB-C. It really is, in part, Apple’s own fault: you can’t stick with a standard which only supports USB 2 speeds for ten years and then credibly claim to move to something better is “stifling innovation”.

Gabriele Svelto found a great way to improve performance on Firefox. Also worth noting: if Firefox was distributed in the Mac App Store, it would be banned. It really isn’t great that there are public APIs which don’t work well and private ones which do.

Obviously, this is complete asshattery from Apple.

Chuck Jordan wrote the best view on She-Hulk I’ve seen. I greatly enjoyed it for all the reasons that Chuck did.

This article sums up some of the problems with Microsoft’s Surface Headphones. I have the first-generation ones, and I like them a lot, but it’s a mark of what a market failure they have been that when I went into the Microsoft Store ones wearing them, the security guards stopped me on the way out because they thought I had stolen them from the store. They had never seen an actual person in the real world wearing them.

Paul Thurrott writes about his experience using Microsoft Edge, and he is exactly right. Edge started out as a good alternative to Chrome. It was clean, modern and not burdened with useless features or (importantly) Google’s tracking. As Microsoft has added feature after feature, it has become a bloated, confusing mess. You can almost see how every team in Microsoft has wanted a piece of it. And, of course, its “tracking protection” is poor: you will want to add proper tracking protection extensions to it.

Some good news – We Hunted The Mammoth achieved its pledge goal!

TFI Friday notes: No one loves the Metaverse and podcasts I wish I could find

No one loves Meta’s Metaverse. Including the people working on it. I still haven’t found a compelling reason for the metaverse to exist until we can have a fully immersive virtual reality where I can be an elf.

I nuked my Graphene OS install on the Pixel 6 because I had never been able to re-lock it. So it’s currently Android 13, and it’s a good reminder of how much Google’s Android is in your face and capturing your data all the time. I know Google now makes a story about its commitment to privacy and putting you in control. Still, it now has so many services doing stuff in the background I doubt any consumer can actually make a call on what to block — or even what they can block. It’ll be back to Graphene soon.

John Gruber has a good post about the putative X – The Everything App that Elon Musk teased. There are lots of reasons what amounts to a WeChat clone won’t take off in the West, but honestly, would you want it to? Would you want your entire digital life in the hands of Elon fucking Musk?

IMPORTANT ONE: We Hunted The Mammoth is having a pledge drive, and it’s not going well. The site does the absolute best work in uncovering both the hideous misogyny of the so-called men’s rights movement and the awful transphobia of so-called “gender criticals” — who are often related or actually the same bunches of people. Throw them some money, even £5, if you can.

This post on how it’s getting harder to preserve the internet reminded me of something. One of my favourite podcasts of the mid-2000s was On the run with Tablet PC, hosted by Marc Orchant and James Kendrick. As the name suggests, it focused on Microsoft tablet PCs and had some really good guests. Sadly Marc died in 2007 and James in 2018, both too young. The page for the podcast has now vanished, and before that, the links to the files were broken — I would love to find copies if anyone has them.

Musk! Twitter! And why Google is a bit cheeky with its RCS claims

There’s some new Google stuff out, but I am just not excited about it. The Pixel Tablet looks interesting, especially because of the dock, which sort of converts it into a Google Nest Hub Max, but the watch and phone are just meh.

Of course, Google had a moan about Apple not adopting RCS. A reminder: the RCS standard does not include any end-to-end encryption. The end-to-end encryption Google has built on top of RCS is proprietary to them and only works with their Messages app. If you use it all your messages go through Google’s servers, and of course, as it’s a Google app you have to have Play Services installed which are constantly feeding data back to Google.

Here’s another great example of why it’s best to own your own platforms, or, if you can’t do that, choose specialist providers rather than that “free” thing Google, Facebook or Twitter just launched (you probably should look at Buttondown)

Elon Musk appears to have worked out that he’s better off buying Twitter than ending up paying them $20bn or so to walk away from it. However, he wants Twitter to stop its lawsuit, and if his finance partners bail out, he seems to want to walk away. I cannot imagine why Twitter would agree with that. Related: you can always find me at Mastodon.

Not sure how Apple can avoid this – who can make its chips other than TSMC?

It’s the 30th anniversary of the first ThinkPad, the great-great-great etc grandchild of which I’m typing this on now. The keyboard is still good.

Ever wonder what the specs are for McDonalds characters? No, I hadn’t either.

Does my alien have a penis and other interesting things for today

Only a so-called “gender critical” could turn the sex of a cartoon intended to get kids reading into a debate about whether an alien has a penis. This is a canonical example of why some people shouldn’t use social media.

Meanwhile, Putin’s conscription efforts are going exactly as you would expect from a country mired in corruption.

I have pre-ordered a Kindle Scribe because it sounds like the kind of technology I love. I have a similar Remarkable 2, and while it’s a great note-taking device in many ways, it’s a poor e-reader. The Scribe looks like it’s probably the other way round, and that’s fine with me. It’s due to arrive at some point in December — I’m hoping before I head off to a week-long residential writing course I’m doing.

Tangentially related: you can now easily send ePubs to Kindle, which means that the DRM-free books I’ve bought elsewhere can work on my favourite e-reading hardware.

Dan Moren has a good piece on the conundrum, which is the iPad. I must admit that the iPadOS 16 betas have made me fall in love with my iPad Pro a little bit. However, after the initial rush of excitement that I might be able to replace my Mac with the iPad Pro and a big monitor, external monitor support in Stage Manager has proved to be so rough that Apple has pulled it, and who knows when it will return. Something is wrong internally at Apple to get to this point and still be this much of a mess, which goes beyond just QA or the difficulties of grafting this kind of function onto a device that comes from a completely different paradigm.

Via Om comes this Christian Heilmann piece on the sorry state of the web. Christian is absolutely right: the social web is a mess, and there’s no coherent archiving apart from the incredible work of I would add that the web has become the equivalent of television for my generation: something that just soaks up your attention rather than being a place to go to learn something or be entertained intentionally.

I immensely enjoyed Russell’s latest email in which he ruminates on blogging for writing vs banging out link posts. I, too, wonder about this, but that’s partly because I look at my ideas bucket for longer posts and find about 20 things, all of which I don’t think I’ll ever want to write about. So, for example, that post about how shareholder value isn’t the best thing for directors of companies to focus on is great, but it just doesn’t feel like something I want to write now…

There’s a new Linux kernel out! I’m not sure when I will become a Linux user (is there a badge?), but I’ve been mainly working on my ThinkPad running Zorin OS for several weeks, and it’s starting to feel like home. I’ll probably write some more about this at some point — it took me a while to settle on the right distro and get the right tools in the right places — and although I still use my other laptops (both Mac and Windows), this is where I prefer to work.

One of the reasons that I started investigating Linux was an increasing wariness about Apple’s future direction. Om has a good piece in The Spectator about why the company is pushing more into services and advertising. In short: there’s no growth in hardware, and app store revenue is flatlining and is likely to decline.

Our wonderful government has decided to do away with GDPR and have some kind of “British Data Protection System”. This is almost the perfect Tory policy: it will have little impact on businesses (which will have to continue to follow GDPR if they so much as sniff at an EU customer) while adding most cost because there’s yet another system to support and deliver little if any real-world benefit. Bravo!

Leaving Ulysses?

I wrote a little about this in my weeknote but I thought it was worth expanding a little on why I’m looking at Obsidian as a potential replacement for Ulysses.

I’ve used Ulysses since it first came out, and it is my favourite writing tool. I love the way it lets you break down writing into smaller more manageable chunks, as well as its focus and typewriter modes and its ability to tag and organise your work. It can also publish straight to a WordPress blog or export into virtually any format you want, which is the icing on the cake.

The part that I don’t like is the way Ulysses stores your work. Yes, underneath everything, it’s Markdown. But it’s stored in iCloud, and the files aren’t exposed — they’re hidden inside a library. I have enough experience trying to get large amounts of content out of cryptic file stores to be wary of anything which complicates the file structure.

Case in point: Apple’s Photos app. The photos themselves are hidden inside a library. You can export them from Photos — Apple makes this commendably easy — but in practice, for a library of any size this kind of export is impossible. I tried exporting around 10,000 images, and after a while, Photos just crapped out. Perhaps that was unsurprising, given it had started to use around 80Gb of virtual memory (it’s a testament to Apple’s system design that it had gotten that far).

The last thing I want is my writing to suffer the same fate. My writing is probably even more important to me than my photos. I have often found inspiration in going back and finding old writing, reworking and polishing it, and publishing. I also use Ulysses for storing notes and what I call “fragments” — little notes usually from real life about places, people and things I see. Often these will end up in later work, which is really important. I don’t want to lose them to weird data corruption affecting an undocumented and obscure library.

Coupled with this, Ulysses is an Apple platform-only application. That’s fine if you want to use Mac, iPad and iPhone all the time, but that’s not how I tend to work. Since I bought my ThinkPad X1 Carbon last year, it has been my preferred laptop, running either Windows or Linux, because it combines good (matte) 14in screen, performance and battery life, and its fantastic keyboard. Going back to using my 16-in MacBook Pro after working on the ThinkPad is torture for my poor fingers.

I really want Ulysses, but working on any platform and using just plain Markdown files in a folder structure. The good thing is there is something which comes close to being exactly that: Obsidian.

Obsidian is best known for being part of the wave of personal knowledge management applications that allow you to use two-way linking between documents to create a knowledge graph based on what you read and write. However, it’s also possible to use it to create a simple but powerful writing environment.

Setting up for writing

Obsidian isn’t known for being a writing environment. It’s designed as a notetaking application, and out of the box that’s what it’s set up to do: text notes linked together with two-way links. Turning it into a replacement for Ulysses takes some setup.

The good news is that several people have gone down this path already. Curtis McHale has written and created YouTube videos on all the things you need to do to get Obsidian into shape as a writing environment, and the folks at The Sweet Setup have also trod this path.

You will want to install a few add-ons to make it work. I won’t go into how you enable third-party add-ons, as there are plenty of guides to doing this, but here are all the ones that I have found useful.


This is a great addon, still very much in beta, which recreates Scrivener and Ulysses’ ability to let you re-order scenes and then export them into a single draft. I’m sure there’s more to come from this plugin, but it’s already a lifesaver that makes it possible to use Obsidian for long-form writing.


Pandoc lets you export into various formats, including Word, PDF, and much more. You will need this if you send your work off to publishers or editors. You will need to install Pandoc on your computer first (sadly, it won’t work with mobile devices).


Templater lets you create templates which include variables. I use it to make templates for regular posts, such as the one for my weeknote, which includes the date in its title.

Typewriter Scroll

I love typewriter scrolling — it’s one of my favourite features of Ulysses. This keeps the line you’re typing in the middle of the screen rather than gradually moving down towards the bottom. This plugin also has a neat focus mode which greys out paragraphs you’re not working on, allowing you better focus.

Word sprint

This plug adds a sidebar which gives you a Pomodoro timer for your work and prompts you to keep writing. It’s a little bit annoying, but if you’re the kind of person (like me) who occasionally stops writing to stare into space, it will keep you on the right path.

Readwise integration

One plugin I thought deeply about using was the one that offers integration with Readwise. I’ve been a Readwise user for quite a while, with all of my annotations, highlights and comments from applications like Kindle, Matter, Pocket and more going into it. It’s a great tool for storing all that kind of information. The plugin downloads all your notes in a handy format into a folder in your Obsidian vault.

Having all my highlights and notes from Readwise integrated into the application I write in is incredibly powerful. It means that all the quotes which I might refer to are easily found and linked to, and because Obsidian allows you to split the screen and use two documents at the same time you can easily refer to a note about a source while you are writing.


Can Obsidian really replace Ulysses? The initial signs are promising. Today, I have written over two thousand words and published a blog post which isn’t bad going. I’ll probably save this to publish another time, which means I will have another post in the bag.

The real test for me will be when I start writing fiction with it. So far, I have used Scrivener or Ulysses for my fiction: Obsidian could, in theory, replace both. It can also become where I put all those fragments of writing I mentioned. I’m certainly going to give it a go and see if it really works for me.

Google isn’t bored of Android

John Gruber, writing about Counterpoint Research’s note that iPhone has overtake Android in US usage share:

I also continue to think Google is bored with Android. Two years ago I wrote: Do you get the sense that Google, company-wide, is all that interested in Android? I don’t. Both as the steward of the software platform and as the maker of Pixel hardware, it seems like Google is losing interest in Android. Flagship Android hardware makers sure are interested in Android, but they can’t move the Android developer ecosystem — only Google can. Apple, institutionally, is as attentive to the iPhone and iOS as it has ever been. I think Google, institutionally, is bored with Android. Nothing in the last two years has changed my mind on that. Android is certainly still a thing for Google. It’s a priority. But it’s nowhere near the top of Google’s priorities. Nothing ranks higher amongst Apple’s priorities than the iPhone and iOS. Year after year, that difference in prioritization adds up.

There’s clearly a difference in importance between Apple and Google. Google created Android initially because it feared a Microsoft-dominated mobile world where the big beast of Redmond could lock them out of the nascent smartphone ads market. Apple created the iPhone to be the next big thing, something they could charge their usual margins of 30%+ on hardware.

But saying Google is “bored” of Android is wide of the mark. Both Android 13 and the forthcoming iOS 16 are similar in the way they fill in the gaps. Neither offers anything radical. Apple is revamping the lock screen, which is nice but overdue. Google extends its nice “Material You” tricks, which balance the interface’s colours with the wallpaper.

Both operating systems have really reached what you might call the Windows 7 era: users don’t particularly want radical change because they like the way things work now. And neither Apple nor Google is inclined to make their own Windows 8…

Miscellany, August 3rd 2022

Apple is delaying the launch of iPadOS 16 until October, a month after the launch of iOS 16. If you have used the beta this might not surprise you: Stage Manager, particularly when used with an external display, is an absolute buggy mess. Ex-Microsoft Windows head Steven Sinofsky thinks this isn’t down to a single feature, because you don’t delay a whole release for just one thing, but I disagree: get Stage Manager right, and it’s a huge step forward in using an iPad as your only device. Get it wrong, and it would be a big step backwards.

I genuinely thought that Microsoft Teams was already optimised for Apple Silicon, so it’s a bit of a surprise that it is only just releasing a native binary. It’s also a testament to how well Rosetta 2 performs.

Alex Jones had a very bad day.

Academic publisher Pearson has a plan to somehow use NFTs to remove students’ right to resell their books without giving them more money. This sounds like absolute hogwash to me, but I’m sure the markets like it.

A collection of miscellany – 2nd August 2022

You know how websites want you to use their app instead? There’s a good reason for that: apps can often collect more data about you, and are more difficult to block. Banish is a Safari extension which stops this happening. Neat.

Outlook: an app so bad that Uber receipts can crash it. Microsoft is apparently working on a fix.

Not content with having a webcam that looks like ass, it sounds (sic) like the audio on the £1600 Apple Studio Display has issues too. Glad I didn’t buy one.

Google has a habit of introducing stuff and then quietly forgetting about it — and its hardware is no exception. My personal favourite was Soli, which I thought was genuinely useful but was dead in a year.

Paul Carr — who knew the man well — has an interesting review of a new book on Tony Hsieh, the troubled founder of Zappos. Incidentally, The Upgrade is one of my favourite books and I’m long overdue for a reread.