Iris keyboard review

I have been using an Iris rev 6b split keyboard (FR4 plates, acrylic tented middle layer) for a couple of months.

Until I got the Iris, I’d been packing my Ergodox to work each day, which was inconvenient, and the constant plugging/unplugging was probably not great for the mini USB port either. I wanted:

  • portability, so I can take it on a commute or travel
  • fewer keys (maybe more ergonomic if I learn to use them efficiently?)
  • quietness, so as not to disturb co-workers
  • a split ortholinear layout similar to my Ergodox, so I can rely on muscle-memory between both boards
  • tenting
  • some assembly (to participate in a group custom keeb-building activity)
  • not egregiously expensive

Overall, the Iris did meet my goals, though it required some experimenting/modifications to the hardware and firmware to do so. This review discusses these aspects, mostly in comparison to my Ergodox and similar split/ortho keyboards. It doesn’t discuss the advantages of splits, ortholinear, or <60% layouts.

The Iris keyboard kit cost about $165 USD, including shipping to Australia. Switches and keycaps were another $70 or so (you only need 56 1Us), and maybe $5 USD for the carriage bolts, for a total of $240. This is much cheaper than high-end prebuilt tented ergos: a Dygma Defy is $399, a Moonlander is $365, and an Ergodox EZ Glow is $324 USD.

Continue reading “ Iris keyboard review”

Go concurrency idioms don’t work for duplex sockets

2022-01-30 ed.: I originally claimed that concurrent method calls on net.Conn weren’t safe, but actually the docs explicitly do guarantee that they are. However, the concern still applies to the io.ReadWriter interface.

The I/O routines in Go’s standard library have an inherently blocking interface: for example, the net.Conn implementation of Read will park the goroutine until the read succeeds or a deadline expires.

Usually that’s okay, because you can wrap that synchronous call in a function that communicates asynchronously over a channel once it’s done:

type readResult struct{
  buf []byte
  err error

func ReadAsync(
    r io.Reader,
    ch chan readResult) {
  buf := make([]byte, 512)
  n, err := r.Read(buf)
  if n > 0 {
    ch <- readResult{buf[:n], err}
  } else {
    ch <- readResult{nil, err}

ch := make(chan readResult)
rw := dialSomething()
go ReadAsync(rw, ch)

for {
  select {
  case recv := <-ch:
    // do something with recv...
  // multiplex other I/O...

This is the idiomatic approach. There's no busy-waiting: underneath the hood Go is actually using asynchronous syscalls (epoll/kqueue) to multiplex all the goroutines that are blocked on I/O. It scales to reading from multiple files/sockets at once (at least until the memory pressure from goroutine and read buffer overheads adds up).

However, this idiom does not work for duplex sockets with an io.ReadWriter interface where we want to multiplex reads and writes asynchronously on the same socket. Wanting a duplex socket is thoroughly reasonable for network sockets or UNIX domain sockets. Take the example below, where we want to copy messages from the channel srcCh to the rw socket, and also print any messages received from rw:

var rw io.ReadWriter
// Initialize rw

ch := make(chan readResult)
for {
  go ReadAsync(rw, ch)

  select {
  // If we have bytes for sending,
  // send them over the socket.
  case sendBytes := <-srcCh:
    // UNSAFE!  Concurrent access to rw :(
    if _, err := rw.Write(sendBytes); err != nil {
      // ...
  // If the socket received a
  // message, print it.
  case recv := <-ch:
    fmt.Println("%v", recv.buf)
    // ...

Some error handling has been skipped for brevity here, but there's a more serious concurrency problem. The socket rw is potentially being mutated by two goroutines concurrently: one calling Read() from ReadAsync(), and the other calling Write() from the select block.

However, for a io.ReadWriter, this isn't safe, because Read and Write potentially mutate opaque internal state, and there are no guarantees in the io docs that this doesn't happen. The compiler (or even the runtime) isn't smart enough to warn about it either, so this unsafe code is extra nefarious because it looks idiomatic. In general there isn't a way to safely multiplex a read from a io.ReadWriter with another goroutine that might call Write.

There's one pragmatic solution, which comes at the cost of generality. There are also three workarounds I've considered, none of which are very appealing.

Solution: use an actual net.Conn

Go's io package API design usually makes things simple: the APIs are blocking, and you can wrap things in a goroutine and a channel if you want to multiplex. The APIs feel familiar if you're used to the equivalent C APIs.

Duplex sockets appear to be an edge case where these design decisions actually work against simplicity, because the idiomatic pattern (that you'd use if you were reading and writing to separate files) is unsafe, and the high-level APIs (io.Reader and such) aren't flexible enough to provide an efficient alternative.

Others have called for the Reader to expose a "ready" API using channels, which I think would be nice. But I also think there's a less intrusive design, whereby io.ReadWriter implementations internally multiplex reads and writes using Go's existing epoll/kqueue-based runtime, and the documentation provides a guarantee that Read and Write can be called concurrently.

This is actually the case for net.Conn! According to the docs:

Multiple goroutines may invoke methods on a Conn simultaneously.

In the examples I gave (network and UNIX domain sockets), you do have a net.Conn interface, so using that type is safe. The downside is that your functions (which need nothing more than Read and Write) require the less general net.Conn interface as a parameter, or must rely on fragile documentation concerning the concurrency guarantees of the io.ReadWriter.

Alternative 1: no multiplexing

We can also use the net.Conn API to handle duplex events by setting a deadline and alternating between reading and writing:

for {
  // First check if there is
  // anything to read.
  buf := make([]byte, 512)
  n, err := conn.Read(buf)
  switch {
  case errors.Is(err, os.ErrDeadlineExceeded):
    // Nothing to read; this is fine.
  case err != nil:
    // Actual error handling...
    // Do something with buf...
  // conn is safe to use:
  // there's no other goroutine calling
  // functions on it.

  // Now check if there's anything
  // ready for sending.
  select {
  case sendBytes := <-srcCh:
    if _, err := conn.Write(sendBytes);
        err != nil {
      // ...
    // Nothing to send; this is fine.

This is now correct, but introduces a horrible trade-off between stutter (high timeouts adding send latency) vs high CPU usage polling for I/O.

Alterative 2: syscall APIs

We can use syscall.RawConn to get access to a raw file descriptor, and EpollWait or Select (from the deprecated syscall or newer packages) to multiplex I/O. This is gross because:

  1. You need to rewrite all your I/O to pass around file descriptors, instead of channels
  2. It's much less portable (BSD and Darwin have kqueue instead of Linux's epoll)
  3. There's much more boilerplate to write - and most of it would be re-implementing the multiplexing already inside Go's runtime/standard library

But at least you get true multiplexing/asynchronous I/O.

Alternative 3: use a third-party library

If you're dealing with I/O that's supported by lesismal/nbio, you can use that for real non-blocking I/O. However, its callback-based design doesn't let you multiplex events arriving over arbitrary channels.

There might be other third-party packages that do something similar?

Updating R output width after resizing the terminal and at startup

By default, R wraps or truncates its output at 80 columns, making it difficult to read data frames with many columns or with long text values. With a modern computer it’s quite likely your terminal emulator or console is significantly wider than 80 columns.

One apparent solution is:

options(setWidthOnResize = TRUE)

Unfortunately, this only takes effect after resizing the terminal, and not at startup. The R documentation suggests setting the initial width from the COLUMNS environment variable:

cols <- Sys.getenv("COLUMNS")
if(nzchar(cols)) options(width = as.integer(cols))

However, at the time ~/.Rprofile is evaluated, COLUMNS is surprisingly empty for me! My guess is that GNU readline initializes it sometime after startup. To work around this, on POSIX platforms we can use the stty command to query the terminal dimensions:

% /bin/stty size
68 128

So the eventual snippet in my ~/.Rprofile is:

# Set output width from terminal width.
if (interactive() && nzchar(Sys.getenv("TERM"))) local({
  # Needs modern readline and R to work.
  options(setWidthOnResize = TRUE)
  columns <- Sys.getenv("COLUMNS")
  if (nzchar(columns)) {
    options(width = as.integer(columns))
  } else {
    # weirdly, COLUMNS is usually empty at startup, so run a child process.
      size <- system2("/bin/stty", "size", stdout = TRUE)
      width <- as.integer(strsplit(size, " ")[[1]])[2]
      options(width = width)
    }, error = function(e) e )