Thoughts from Alan

Hotkeys For Programmable Keyboards

I have a K-Type, which is a programmable keyboard that lets me configure custom hotkeys. The configurations live with and on the keyboard, which is neat. Among other things, this lets my configuration work across different operating systems.

My current configuration has several navigation hotkeys that activate with the CAPSLOCK key. CAPSLOCK+{j,k,l,;} send arrow keys, in a way similar to Vim’s default normal mode bindings. CAPSLOCK+{i,n} gives page up and down, while CAPSLOCK+{h,quote} sends HOME and END. This hotkey cluster lets me scroll and move cursors without having to take my right hand away from the home row (index finger on j).

In addition to these, I have CAPSLOCK+SPACE sending CONTROL and CAPSLOCK+S sending SHIFT. One of my favorite use of these is pressing CAPSLOCK+SPACE+{i,n} to send CONTROL+{PAGEUP,PAGEDOWN}, which lets me switch between tabs in Firefox and Chrome without moving from home row. These also allow me to select text in input boxes.

The K-Type has a bunch of RGB LEDs, which I prefer to be off most of the time. When I first tried to program it in 2017, the provided user-friendly tools didn’t give a way to make the board boot with LEDs off. I found myself turning off the lights every time I booted up my computer. Eventually, I bit the bullet and dug into the firmware’s code and figured out a way to have the lights off by default. Thankfully the firmware is all open source, the board is hard to brick, and I knew C well enough.

I found my current CAPSLOCK setup on a 60% custom keyboard I built with the Instant60. It’s too small to have dedicated keys for some navigation keys which pushed me to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, my 60% board broke. It started to frequently drop key presses for a column of keys after a few months of use. I don’t have the means to repair the PCB, so I’m back to using the K-Type.

When trying to add hotkeys to my old K-Type configuration, I found that it doesn’t build anymore. It was kind of a pain to coerce the updated build system to pick up my custom configuration, but I got there. My configuration now lives in a single repository instead of being spread across two, which is nice.