ErgoDox EZ Users

Frank McSherry

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Frank McSherry, a computer scientist who works in several data-related areas. I’m probably best known as part of the team that invented differential privacy, but I also gained some notoriety for demonstrating that my laptop could out-perform several “big data” systems on their target workloads. At the moment, I am Chief Scientist at Materialize, Inc., where we are building a scalable streaming SQL platform on some other technology I was a part of (timely dataflow and differential dataflow).

Outside of work, I’m a big fan of hiking. I was previously in Switzerland for two years, which is a paradise for hiking and trail running, both of which really work for me — exploring the outdoors generally, though without the “go deep, get lost, survive by eating squirrels” game plan. I make time for yoga on the regular, and rock climbing on the much less regular. I try and stay current on the research in my area, and occasionally exercise my critical reading and writing skills outside my work obligations, which usually undoes any of the good the yoga did.

What hardware do you use?

I’ve got a MacBook Pro from 2014, which is still keeping up with the big data systems. It has done a fair bit of heavy lifting over the past five years and went just about everywhere with me (five continents, I think?).

Once I landed in NYC (May 2019), I got a 27” iMac and … I couldn’t deal with the keyboard. It is unreasonably small, in that it is exactly the same size as the one on the laptop. The first upgrade I got was an ErgoDox EZ Glow, and that has worked out brilliantly. The split really helps, and I stashed a Magic Trackpad between the halves to pretend that I just have a large laptop.

setup
Frank's hardware setup

And what software?

I spend most of my time these days in Visual Studio Code, which is what I currently use to crank out Rust code. I occasionally dive into Sublime Text, which I’ve historically used quite a lot. There is a pile of random enterprise apps, Slack, Mail, things like that. GitHub probably counts at this point. I spend a lot of time typing git rebase --abort.

What’s your keyboard setup like? Do you use a custom layout or custom keycaps?

boxes
Before
keyboard
After

I switched to Dvorak and learned to touch type back in 2002, just out of grad school. That’s worked great on the laptop. For the ErgoDox EZ, I’ve now got a custom Dvorak layout that I’ve been futzing around with. At first I thought “100% Dvorak, no nonsense”, but there are some variations in available keys that made me move some things around; then I started thinking I could use fewer keys and use more layers and exude typing magic from my fingers. It has been a lot easier than I imagined.

In particular, I’ve been working with the dual-use modifier keys, where the ASDF keys (AOEU in Dvorak) and their right-hand counterparts act as shift, control, option, and command when held. Finger motion is really light now, which feels great. I haven’t locked in the timing issues: Dvorak has lots of strummed chords, especially on the home rows, and these two pleasantries occasionally conflict.

The Configurator and the QMK firmware have been a delight. I hooked up steno mode with Plover and took that for a spin. The whole programmable angle got me into reading r/mk and starting to play with making my own keyboard. Starting. It’s all on my desk in a ziplock bag.

I have Zilent V2 switches, which have a great tactile feel while being pretty darned quiet. The guy who sits next to me has Zealios V2s and I think we are both privately proud and envious of each other. At Materialize, we have our own custom keycap, snagged through WASD Keyboards. I got the same profile as with my EZ to make sure that it worked for me, at least. Other folks in the org have installed them, possibly as a courtesy. ;) We have a pile of O-rings and about 4ml of 3203 to try out at some point. I expect to get an iron soon.

keycap
Materialize keycap

What would be your dream setup?

The current rig is pretty pleasant, to be honest. I’ll switch to a standing desk when I get a chance, but otherwise I’m delighted. I’m in the process of assembling parts to build a custom keeb that is a bit smaller, but it’s all a process, rather than a goal. The only problem I can think of is that current laptop keyboards no longer do it for me, and portable keyboards add in some serious volume (both in terms of space and “annoy folks in the cafe”). I’m half inclined to try out some weird iPad and ergo keyboard combination, but I am worried that I’ll be “that guy” (it’s too late; I know).

But to be honest, the quality of set-up has improved dramatically in the past months, and I’m still basking in that.