Over the years I have been hankering for a mechanical keyboard, ever since I saw the Das Keyboard. It wasn’t the look of the keyboard so much (although a completely label-less keyboard does project a not-undesirable l33t factor), but the promise of a durable, comfortable, and most importantly, the promise of a very audible keyboard click as you tap.

I don’t know when I had this idea that the sound a keyboard makes somehow would influence my joy in typing on a keyboard, but it does. There’s a very satisfying assurance and some unspeakable pleasure that emanates from typing on such a keyboard. Since I type reasonably fast, and I type *a lot*, I was looking forward to getting one of these babies.

So fast forward to the present. I have long believed that Malaysia doesn’t stock mechanical keyboards.  Imagine my surprise that about a month ago, I found out that Razer has recently created a mechanical keyboard called the BlackWidow. After dilly-dallying for a while, I sunk the cash and carried my new toy home.

The one I got was the BlackWidow, not the Ultimate edition (which sports USB and audio jacks, along with backlit keys).

My first impression after I unpacked it was that it was heavy. I love the weight, and it certainly wouldn’t be sliding around your desk. My second impression was that the keys were a little cramped. I was used to the standard Microsoft/Logitech full-sized keyboard (not the compact design crap where they rearrange the keys to make the whole keyboard smaller, which forces you to take a few days to get used to it, and then screws up all your bearings when you use an actual keyboard on another machine). The BlackWidow does seem smaller somehow, and my first few sentences on it came out as gibberish. However, it’s still a full-sized keyboard, and after getting used to the orientation, the speed came back pretty quickly.

It has a row of special macro keys on the furthest left of the keyboard, which caused some irritation when I reached for the left-hand SHIFT and CTRL.

However. However. The keys are magnificent to type. The clicks and taps sound full and very satisfying, and they key-presses triggers a tactile switch that makes it a pleasure as my fingers dance through the keyboard. I found out pretty quickly that not all my colleagues were fans of the noise. I wasn’t going to leave it in the office, so lucky them.

Since I’ve never yet tried any other mechanical keyboards, I don’t really know how this compares with something like the Das Keyboard, or the SteelSeries7G/6G. One thing they do have going for them is the fact that they are not really so out-and-out gaming centric, a looks a little more subtle, but that’s not exactly a big problem for the BlackWidow (at least for me).

Looking forward the many millions of key-presses on this baby.


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I mentioned in my last post about a future where all our computing needs will be encapsulated in our mobile superphones, where these portable devices will be powerful enough to meet all our computing needs for work and play.  When I started writing the post, I didn’t know of a newly announced device that actually meets one of what I mentioned as a key feature for such a superphone – the ability to dock to a terminal complete with a keyboard and monitor.  I was quite excited at the time to find that I was such a gifted clairvoyant, but seeing that I had the original post in draft instead of published form, it was hard to claim any sort of credit.  Still, I was quite excited to find out a little more.

The Motorola Atrix 4G, announced at the recent CES 2011, has plenty of writeups on the web on its capabilities as a next generation Android device, and I’ll leave it to you to search the landscape if you want to find out more.  The part that I want to talk about, and has interested me the most is its ability to turn into a laptop.  The Atrix is a super-spec’ed smartphone (at the time of writing anyway, when you read this in a year’s time you’ll probably cringe at the specs) in its own right, but Motorola designed this phone to be extended to be used like a regular netbook.  The Atrix has a laptop dock, which when paired with the Atrix, provides ‘webtop’ experience.  Here’s what Motorola says about the dock:

MOTOROLA ATRIX 4G accessories redefine just how smart a smartphone can be. The revolutionary Lapdock™ looks like a slim laptop but only comes to life when you dock your ATRIX 4G. That’s when the webtop app fires up, giving you a big screen look at your phone’s content, access to the web with a standard browser and more. Plus, all docks for ATRIX 4G remember your preferences for a customized experience.

 

This is very close to the vision of the future I would like to see very soon.  Imagine the dock being available everywhere – be it a laptop dock, or a computer terminal dock, or what AT&T is currently selling as an optional package: the Entertainment Access Kit, which includes the Motorola HD Multimedia Dock and remote control, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a wireless mouse – all to connect to the device.

 

I’ll summarize the reviews for you – the Atrix is an awesome phone, but as a webtop it has some way to go to reach the sort of performance levels we’re used to seeing in a dedicated netbook or laptop.  Also, the price is forbidding – the laptop dock itself costs as much as an actual netbook.

As technology is wont to do, future iterations of similar devices would bring the costs down while improving the device capabilities and raw power.  As I’ve said before, the next few years would be quite exciting to watch.

(Images from CNET and TechNews.org)


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Two days ago I bought an app for my iPad that not only teaches me how to do the crunch properly, but also detects whether I’m reaching the appropriate height, and tells me to slow down when I’m doing it too fast.  I use another app to catalogue the books in my library (still many shelves to go!) and am extremely thrilled to be able to browse what I have in the palm of my hand.  I manage my fantasy football and do quick lookups on the internet pretty much on the fly. 

I really love my iPad.  Not for the obvious reasons only (i.e. gaming, reading, etc), but the realization of the potential of such a powerful device.  This got me thinking about the personal devices in our lives.

Not everyone realizes that for most of us, we’re lugging around a device that is more powerful than the supercomputers of yesteryears.  The amount of firepower in our pockets nowadays beggars belief.  The smartphones nowadays, augmented with apps, are practically doing most of what we need do on a daily basis previously only possible on a desktop machine. 

I’m envisioning a very near future where all we ever need to communicate, work, entertain ourselves and others and generally get things done will be encapsulated in our mobile superphones (which in all probability will have to adopt a newer moniker than a ‘smartphone’).  This all-in-one device would be powerful enough to run all our applications for work and play, enough storage to keep everything we would need on the go, and of course, the communication infrastructure to keep in touch with people we need to.  The iPads and tablets of the world, while also able to fulfill these requirements, are still too big to be truly mobile.  They serve their purposes in certain scenarios, sure, but we’re talking about the dream of being truly mobile – not needing to lug anything other than your superphone device.

Even today, a lot this is already possible.  The only problem yet to be solved comprehensively is in the domain of the mobile device user interface.  Anyone who’ve attempted to actually work on a smartphone for any length of time will be able to tell you – the current form factor does not make for a conducive and productive environment.  It’s simply too small.  Either it’s the screen size, or tactile feedback when typing, or multitasking, it’s simply not the right form factor.  Even the iPad isn’t the answer to portable computing for exactly the same reasons.  Try writing long email or creating presentations for extended periods of time on it, and you’ll soon start to look for a computer where you can actually sit down and finish the work.

However, this can potentially be solved with the addition of external connections to more traditional input and output interfaces like a monitor or a keyboard.  Imagine a future where terminals exists where all you need to do is to plug in your mobile device to turn it into a mobile workstation, complete with keyboards, monitors and mice and other peripherals.  Imagine projectors with docks where you plug in your mobile phone to access your presentations.  When this happens, then it’ll become simply a matter of infrastructure.  These ‘terminals’ would then be part of public infrastructure the same way you’re expected to be provided with a corporate phone extension in a new company, or public phone booths.

Already the kind of apps that’s being developed for the smartphones of today, what with the equipped cameras and gyros, accelerometers, compasses, GPSes and other sensors really make the device extremely capable. 

I’m really excited to see what happens in the next few years.  I’m hoping that I will soon only need to bring my mobile phone with me when I go to work.  Goodbye, laptop bag!

(I’m aware that as of this writing the Motorola Atrix 4G already some of what I’ve talked about, but I wrote the bulk of this post before the Atrix was announced, so instead of rewriting, I will say my piece, then talk about the Atrix in a separate post).


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A daily routine conundrum, which leads to my wishful thinking but technically possible “big idea.”

Ok.  I’m listening to a non-fiction audiobook at the moment, and the details as it’s dictated to me sometimes flies by at such a pace that it becomes impossible to digest at first try.  More than once I mentioned to myself that it would be extremely useful to crosscheck the audio I’m hearing to the text of the actual source material.  I would buy the book separately just so I can revisit some of the text that was read to me.  Obviously in an audiobook you need to note the time signature of the section you want to revisit, but that is a little difficult when you have both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

It would be so much easier if I can somehow marry the audiobook and the ebook version of this piece of work, and allow me to manipulate either format and have that synced with the corresponding format. 

Let me illustrate: I’m listening to the narrator saying something about the fall of the caliphate in Egypt and the uprising of the Young Turks a few chapters back and I want to revisit it.  Instead of blindly jumping back and forth on the audiobook timeline, I do a search of the text I want on the ebook version, skim through to the section I want, and click play audiobook from there.  Or alternately continue reading it from the ebook version itself.

This marries two fiercely independent pieces of work in terms of copyright, even though they are from the same source.  There are legal precedents that strictly divides these two disparate artforms, and traditionally they don’t (and can’t, legally) mix.

But let say this marriage between the forms is possible.  Why stop there? 

I have this very vague idea of a new industry standard digital file format to encompass a singular piece of work in all its myriad digital incarnations.  For example, a single digital file that holds the full text of Les Miserables, the unabridged audiobook that is synced with the text, the official (insofar as dictated by the publisher) abridged version of the same work, its accompanying audiobook, a graphic novel adaptation of the work, screenplay, songs with synced text of the lyrics, even movies or graphic novel adaptations.

This file format is not just an audiobook, or an ebook.  It’s a universal container.  A new metadata digital file. 

All media players or ebook readers will read this one format, but can only playback the parts of the work that the device is designed to work with (i.e. the iPod is only able to playback the audiobook or songs portion of Les Mis work, while the Kindle only displays the ebook text.  A computer is able to access all available formats included in this metafile).

Now I know how it crisscrosses across so many legal boundaries relating to the copyrights of each of these individual pieces of work.  This is a high-level idea for now, and the legalities will have to be dealt with later. 

The idea is crystalizing slowly, and I’m thinking that it will only give me rest if I give it a little more form.  Areas of concern include how to include more formats of the work in the same file, who owns the overarching metadata of this meta file?  How to add pieces of work to the same file, as and when it becomes available?

I’ll probably write more later.


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Not a terribly interesting title, I know, but what can I say? I believe Microsoft mangled out an Enterprise Project Management ecosystem based on Project, and doing a fantastically bad job of it.  Project is a great tool, but whoever came up with the idea of using Project as a frontend to a time reporting infrastructure was really desperate to cobble things up together.  Doubtless it’s a move towards the adage “users are familiar with the interface, so that helps lower the learning curve”, but boy did they make a mistake with this one.

I think reuse is overrated, especially if you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Creating projects in EPM is nothing like creating real activities and task for real projects that you need to show to clients.  Using EPM forces the PM to do the work twice – once for EPM, and the other for the one that you really use in your day-to-day.

This is, how do I put it, insane.

On paper it makes sense.  Truly.  An integrated approach to having the Project Manager’s plan be tied to billing and time reporting.  In fact, it’s the only clean way.  The problem lies in execution.  If Microsoft wanted to pursue this area, why can’t EPM read the project plans that *I* create, rather than forcing me to create an abstract plan just to fulfill the requirements of tying milestones to billing and invoicing, and to time reporting?

Did I mention that the interface is monstrously complex?  There are so many things to remember about creating project plans for EPM.  Part of the power of Project is its flexibility in allowing a PM to create a plan in the manner that best suits the project.  I create milestone tasks for EPM!

I understand that it’s possible that my organization may not be using EPM ‘properly’, in that there exists the possibility for EPM to do everything I’ve just complained that it should do.  Still, the mechanics of implementing a project in this interface seems too much liked a tacked-on approach. It’s like retrofitting a car with jet engines to make it fly, simply because the pilot ‘knows how to drive a car’,

Oh, and the web interface to enter clocking?  Let me just say that AJAX has existed since Gmail came on the scene in 2004. It’s 2009 now and EPM Web has no AJAX.  Why? 


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Well, actually, we’ve already seen early demos before, but this time a fuller keynote was presented by Google, and Android looks to be coming along just fine. I’m really excited about this new platform, and I hope it has learned from the mistakes of all those that has come before it – including Symbian and Windows Mobile.
I’m looking for application ideas for Android. Anyone want to suggest something I could do? What would you like your mobile phone to be able to do?


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