A Comprehensive Review of the Ugmonk Gather System

Sunday, Jun 23, 2024

The Ugmonk Gather collection is the best set of desk accessories I have ever tried.
The Ugmonk Gather collection is the best set of desk accessories I have ever tried.

It’s time for some post tax season catch up. Back at the end of March, I put together one of my most comprehensive product reviews ever for The Sweet Setup. Jeff Sheldon at Ugmonk was kind enough to provide a complete Gather collection for review. It’s one of my favourite product sets. Ever.

I don’t believe a collection of desk accessories could be better than Ugmonk’s Gather collection. I find the entire set to be very difficult to nitpick. The Gather collection is:

  • Of the highest quality;
  • Made in America;
  • Thoughtfully designed;
  • Aesthetically unique;
  • Modular and suited to your needs.

For everyone, the Gather collection comes down to price. These accessories are expensive — American handmade goods with American materials come at a steep cost. You get what you pay for. But you pay for it.

But like most impeccably-made, high-priced set of goods, you are more likely than ever to buy once and never think about desk accessories again.

Ugmonk’s Gather collection sets the bar for desk accessory systems available today. I’m excited to see how Jeff builds out the system further over the years to come. (He’s already announced a few additional accessories in the last few months!)

Go check out the big review over at The Sweet Setup.

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THAT FEATURE IS SO COOL! I’ll never use it, though.

Monday, Jun 10, 2024

I appreciate Matt’s willingness in this short piece to recognize that not all great features or developments are meant for everyone. It’s so easy to fall into this trap. And then scream and shout that Apple doesn’t know what they’re doing with the iPad.

If there is one drum I will beat across all of Apple’s software and hardware, it’s that the iPad is the single, most remarkable educational device ever built. I’ve talked about this countless times. I’ve used the iPad for over 12 years of post-secondary studies — first as a major textbook-reader and essay-writer as part of a history degree, then as an all-around reading device, writing device, handwriting device, communications device, and school management device as a CPA-candidate. The iPad magically combines every studious element into a historically thin and light device. No matter your learning style, the iPad has you covered.

Today’s iPadOS 18 announcements take the iPad even further down the educational path. Math Notes are stunning and are sure to greatly impact certain high school mathematical studies across the world. Audio transcription right alongside Smart Script are sure to build out notebooks for prevalent note-takers — completionists (I was one of them) will be jumping for joy knowing they won’t miss anything in a lecture. Visual learners can utilize the latest generate AI features to build out their notes and thrive in their learning style.

iPadOS is absolutely phenomenal for these folks. And “these folks” include children, university students, graduate students, professional learners, and more. I’m one of them. Still.

Indeed, these features may not be for everyone.

Rest assured, the latest out of Cupertino’s iPad department is sure to be revolutionary. For once, these folks get to take a front seat for one of the coolest devices in the world.

The Best Keyboard for an Accountant

Sunday, Jun 09, 2024

We bean counters are known for being boring people. Some days, I’d say the stigma holds true. I think the attitude starts in high school — T-charts and double-entry accounting don’t have the same sort of pizazz as computer science or biology.

You could rightfully extend that stigma towards our taste in computers and keyboards. Try to find an accountant who uses a Mac. Rarer still is the 65% keyboard user. I tried for a little while — I used a 40% Planck EZ for a tax season, and it was a relatively enjoyable experience. I truly enjoyed the ortholinear layout. I liked the customizability. I hated the endless eyebrow raises from colleagues and clients who thought I must be from outer space trying such a small keyboard. To try something new, I also tried a 65% board this past tax season (albeit, with a customizable number pad/macro pad combination). It worked, but I’ve been in finer moments.

Accountant keyboard needs likely differ slightly from an engineer, developer, or artist. I’ve concluded we need:

  • A number pad — All but a few typists will be able to type faster on the 10-key number pad grid than the number row on a generic keyboard.
  • A full size 0 (zero) key in that number pad — Anyone learning how to type on an old adding machine will be more ingrained with index-finger-striking that zero key than middle-finger-striking.
  • A full size “+” key — Along the same lines as the larger 0 (zero) key, a double-sized or 2u “+” key is fundamental to your work as an accountant. There will be those who say they have no problem with a 1u “+” key. But if you grew up on an adding machine or any Windows machine at any time, you will want the 2u “+” key.
  • Arrow keys — Text selection is one thing, but it’s likely more important to have arrow keys for navigating Excel.
  • Page up, page down, and home keys — You’ll note here that I have left off “End”; I don’t believe that many folks need to jump to the end of a PDF that often. Page up/down and home keys are required for quickly navigating PDF documents and for jumping between sheets in Excel.
  • Caps lock — Perhaps this is the only profession in the world that uses Caps Lock. But if you’re filling out government documents in capitalized text, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Function row keys — It’s not just F2 and F4 for Excel; our old-fashioned tax software uses F2, F4, F5, F6, F8, F9, F10, and F12 for core functionality. And frankly, the keys work spectacular. I love the one-key press to print or place a memo.

I say “need” above for a reason. Of course, none of these above bullet points are truly needed. You can customize a 40% board top to bottom, eliminating the “need” for any of my above bullet points. But the mental overhead here is overboard. You have to work with a 40% board for over a year before those shortcuts truly become back-of-your-hand normal. It takes so much thought-process away from a profession that requires so much thought-process of its own.

You’d be wise then to say “Just buy a full-size keyboard!”. Indeed, this is what most folks do. But this also comes with a few downsides, the biggest being the sheer size of a full-size keyboard. The wider the keyboard, the farther out your mouse or trackpad sits from within your shoulder-width comfort space. And the more often you use the mouse for navigation (shame!), the more you’re going to find ergonomic issues developing over time. Full-size keyboards are not the answer.

I believe I’ve now found the perfect keyboard layout for accountants. Like our profession, the discovery will be considered super boring. The layout checks every box. There’s no mental overhead. The keyboards that ship with this layout are infinitely customizable, though you won’t get lost in the weeds customizing too many additional keys because you won’t have to.

Keychron’s Q5 Pro and Q5 Max are likely going to be the best keyboard for any accountant. The Pro is great if you want to save a few bucks. The Max has all the bells and whistles. Neither keyboard will be as good as $500+ keyboards made with the best material options. But both get the job done in a way no other keyboard does.

Why specifically the Keychron options?

Let’s count the number of why’s:

  • The Q5 Pro and Max are 96% keyboards, shedding just a few of the least used keys to allow for a shorter, more compact keyboard layout. This ensures your mouse doesn’t rest too far outside your normal shoulder comfort zone, but still ensures you have all the keys you’re going to need without too much customization fuss.
  • The Q5 Pro and Max have the unicorn of number pads on a 96% board: a number pad with a 2u “+” key and a 2u 0 (zero) key, perfectly aligning with any prior Windows keyboard or adding machine you’re used to. You would be blown away by how hard it is to find this type of number pad on a 96% board. Most 96% keyboards opt to push the main keyboard directly together with the numpad, forcing the right arrow key to take the place of one half of a 2u 0 (zero) key. A full-size 0 (zero) key is a fundamental requirement for any accountant. (I will die on this hill.)
  • Both the Q5 Pro and Max shed the “End” key for a more functional tool: a customizable knob. This isn’t deal-breaker-level or anything, but a functional knob is far, far more useful than the End key.
  • The Q5 Pro and Q5 Max are customizable top-to-bottom, enabling you to map custom macro functions to any key on the board. This is especially useful for the F13-F15 keys. I’ve set up a few contorted keyboard shortcuts for our tax software to be mapped to these keys.
  • The Q5 Pro and Max break the arrow keys ever-so-slightly away from the rest of the keyboard, ensuring you can feel for the arrow keys by touch and nothing more. The arrow keys also aren’t positioned next to anything majorly important. On other keyboards, I’ve caught myself trying to move up or to the right, only to hit “Enter”, “1”, or “0” at least a half-dozen times before noticing.
  • Both the Q5 Pro and Max are 96% boards, ensuring Caps Lock is right where it belongs. Again, you can customize how you see fit. But out of the box, Caps Lock is there, ready and waiting for you to properly fill in forms like a professional.
  • Lastly, function row keys are high and mighty on both these boards. This past tax season, I used a 65% board alongside an external number pad/macro pad. The results were painful. I constantly had to use two hands to hit F2 or F4 (Fn + 2/4 on a 65% board), which would take me out of flow or require me to drop the physical paper in my hand which I was referencing. Instead, I mapped several macro keys to my most-used function keys. Having a dedicated function row is far superior to using a customizable macro pad.

I single out the Keychron Q5 Pro and Q5 Max because I have found no other 96% keyboards with layouts that fit all these boxes. The single biggest differentiator between the Q5 Pro and Q5 Max is the full-size 0 (zero) key and the 2u “+” key. There is no requirement to retrain your multi-decade muscle memory to hit that 0 (zero) key with your middle finger. And you won’t be subtracting numbers in Excel when you meant to be adding them. This could be cause for quite the confusion in your end report.

Finally, these keyboards are fully customizable, enabling you to pick your own mechanical keyboard switch, your own keycaps, your own interior materials (if you take it apart and add in what you want), and enable you to map any keyboard shortcut to any key. If you want the “End” key rather than the delete key, all the power to you. (Though unfortunately, there’s no “End” key in the keycap box that I can find.)

These keyboards aren’t perfect. The Keychron KSA keycaps are humongous. There are some really cool keycap design choices (like the concave “F”, “J”, and “5” key, allowing for instant touch recognition) and this particularly colour set looks outstanding. The keycaps, though, have a relatively small touch target due to their shape. I am looking at other keycap sets to resolve my issues here.

I’m not particularly happy with the stabilizers in my Q5 Max either. My spacebar rattles like a rattlesnake’s tail. Every other keystroke is quiet and unnoticeable. The spacebar makes up for it.

The Q5 Max also sits a lot higher and at a steeper angle than other mechanical keyboards in my arsenal — two things that aren’t checkboxes for me. I’m not a low profile keyboard fan. I’m also not an ultra-high-profile keyboard fan. Both the Q5 Pro and Max are considerably thicker than Mode’s options, likely because of the battery onboard.

If there are other options out there that would satisfy my thirst for the perfect accounting keyboard, please forward them to me. The fundamentals are:

  • 96% layout
  • Full-size 0 (zero) and “+” keys
  • Function row keys

If there is a better unicorn keyboard that comes in at a better price or comes with better materials than the Keychron Q5 Pro or Q5 Max, then the world is likely out of balance. True to my name, I’d have to test things out to bring calm to the storm.

For now, this Keychron Q5 Max is really quite impressive.