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Confessions of a keyboard addict

Cat with a manual typewriter.I learned to type on my mom’s Easter pink Smith-Corona Silent-Super typewriter. I was ten years old, when Mom decided that I since I couldn’t keep my hands off it, she should teach me the proper way to use it. So she set me up with her old How to Type book it wasn’t long before I was whizzing along, hitting about 60 words per minute on the little mechanical wonder.

When I was twelve, my paternal grandmother gave me her 1952 Remington Letter-Riter. It was a much heavier typewriter than the Silent-Super in every way. Pushing the keys took more effort, and the typewriter was built like a tank. It also had a slightly different keyboard arrangement, more traditional than the Silent-Super. Older mechanical typewriters didn’t have a 1 (one) key. If you needed to type a 1, you’d use a lowercase l (el) instead. There also wasn’t an exclamation point. To type !, you would type a period, then backspace and type an apostrophe. There was no + (plus) sign or = (equals) sign, though it did have a key for ½ (half) and ¼ (quarter).

This is the 1952 Remington that once belonged to my grandmother, and then has been mine since about 1973 (click to embiggen).

This is the 1952 Remington that once belonged to my grandmother, and then has been mine since about 1973 (click to embiggen).

If you click on the image, you might also notice that the symbols on the top of the number keys are different than a modern computer keyboard, as well. You got quotation marks by pressing shift-2 instead of being on its own key, while the apostrophe was shift-8, and underscore was shift-6. The @ symbol and ¢ (cents) sign were on their own key, over where modern computer keyboards usually put the quotation and apostrophe key.

This is not the Silent-Super I learned on, as Mom’s was lost under less than pleasant circumstances. This is one my hubby bought me for my birthday that I’m still restoring. (Click to embiggen)

This is not the Silent-Super I learned on, as Mom’s was lost under less than pleasant circumstances. This is one my hubby bought me for my birthday that I’m still restoring. (Click to embiggen)

The Silent-Super had a 1-key and exclamation point. The arrangement was otherwise the same, though the size and shapes of the keys—particularly the tab, backspace, and shift—were different. My grandmother had a newer typewriter that had a lot of special keys, such as a £ (pound currency) symbol, a ÷ (division) symbol, + and =, (greater-than) and even a \ (backslash). She was an accountant and that typewriter was aimed at financial offices. Anyway, I also occasionally typed on her machine, with its own slightly different layout, and I could got just as fast on any of them.

In high school I finally took an actual typing class, which was the first time I typed on an IBM Selectric keyboard. It wasn’t a manual typewrite. It was still mechanical in that a physical object had to strike an inked ribbon and sheet of paper to make the letters, but the force was delivered by an electric motor instead of my fingers. It was much more like a computer keyboard in that way. The amount of force to press the key was practically nothing compared to the manual typewriter. It is still the funniest thing to see when I run a Writers Round Robin event at a convention: people too young to have used a typewriter really freak out at how hard you have to press the keys to make the letters appear.

I didn’t need the typing class to learn to type, I was already proficient at touch typing, but back in the 70s you actually had to have passed a typing class to get into some journalism programs and the like when you moved on to university, so I took the class for the credit. The teacher was a little shocked with I did more than 100 words per minute on the first speed test. Since it was early in the course, I wasn’t typing real words, I was just typing groups of four letters from the home row from a slide she was showing us, something like: “jfjfj kkkk dddd jkjkj fdfd jkl; fdsa”

I told her I already knew how to type, so she grabbed a sample letter to copy and made me take the test again, this time reading the letter and transcribing it. I still was over 100 words per minute.

Over the years I’ve gotten used to various computer keyboards. The old clack-clack IBM Model M that many people still love, being just one of many. And many of them have some keys in unusual places. Some have keys that others don’t. And I take to all of them pretty quickly. I would be slightly surprised when some people complained about a couple of moved keys. It usually took me only a few minutes to acclimate to a new layout.

I was a little surprised, when my husband finally got me to use an iPod Touch, at how quickly I adapted to thumb-typing on a small keyboard where I couldn’t feel the keys at all. My favorite app for a long time was WriteRoom for iOS (it had its own automatic cloud sync back before services like Dropbox were around), and I would write scenes on the bus on my way to work each morning. One time while I was doing that, a bunch of the bus passengers all started turning around and staring at me. So much that I noticed and looked up.

It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what had happened. Somehow the settings had changed, and the iPod was making key noises through its speaker. I had my headphones on playing musc (also from the iPod), and couldn’t hear the keyclicks. I found the setting and turned it off. I said, “Sorry about that” sheepishly. One of the other passengers chuckled and said, “I just never heard anyone text that fast and that long before!” So I explained that I was actually writing a book. “On your phone?” And then I had to explain that it wasn’t even a phone.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, some years later, at how quickly I took to the iPad’s virtual keyboard. When Michael and I bought our first iPad (the iPad 2, we waited for the second model), we weren’t certain we would actually use it and not treat it as a temporary toy. So we only bought one to share. I would take it to work one day, he would take it the next, and so on. It wasn’t long before it was clear that both of us needed our own.

At the time, my employer-provided Dell laptop had become a faux laptop. The battery wouldn’t hold a charge for more than about 10 minutes (we never did get new batteries as promised, of course). So it was useless for taking to meetings. And I frequently need to take notes at meetings or look things up to answer questions, so that was a bummer. Except I started taking the iPad, instead, and I could look up some work things without even logging in a VM. But the part that surprised me was how easy I switched to typing long, detailed notes during the meeting on the virtual keyboard. I do find it slightly annoying switching between numbers, other symbols, and back to letters. Mostly because the key to move from numbers to symbols is not in the same location as the key to move from letters to numbers. But otherwise, I’m okay typing on the virtual keyboard.

I do have a bluetooth keyboard that I use if I know I’m going to do a really long typing session. My hubby gave me a nice solar-powered one a few years ago. It is really nice, but it requires me carrying around a bag, since it is bigger than the iPad.

So I’ve been looking at keyboard cases off and on. My husband has had a couple of them. I think his favorite is a fairly high end Logitech. I’ve tried his, and they’re pretty good.

My new keyboard case. Yes, the fact that the backlight could be set to purple was a selling point.

My new keyboard case. Yes, the fact that the backlight could be set to purple was a selling point.

But I wasn’t convinced that I should spend the money on one for myself. But I keep wishing when I’m at conventions and similar events, that I had a more portable version of my Bluetooth keyboard. Then last week, I noticed that one of the models I’ve had in my private wishlist had come down in price a bit, and NorWesCon is coming up, so I bought it. It isn’t bad. Several reviews of it complained about the backspace being so tiny and the placement of a few other keys, but it only took me three tweets before I was hitting it correctly.

The keyboard itself feels fairly solid, but the case as a whole is a little flimsy. I suspect that if I carried it back and forth to the office in my backpack with this case that the keyboard would get enough wear and tear to account for the small number of reviews complaining about the keyboard dying after only a few months. I don’t currently plan to carry the iPad in the case most of the time. I can do the type of typing/note taking I do on the iPad at work just as easily with the virtual keyboard. It is definitely easier to type on than the virtual keyboard, and the keys feel nice enough. Not as good as my solar Logitech, but perfectly usuable.

It’s not as if I don’t already have multiple keyboards for just about every device. Because I am a keyboard addict.


Clickbait, clickbait everywhere, and not a byte to think

clickbait-will-shock-you-meme-698x698Clickbait is everywhere. It could be argued, of course, that anything posted by any of us who blog or tweet or comment is clickbait. We post it because we want it to be read, right? But when I say “clickbait” I mean headlines that are intentionally provocative and sensational, usually misleading, or at least failing to deliver what is promised. Neil Gaiman tweeted a particularly amusing clickbait headline that uses both him and George R.R. Martin to lure you to the web site: Is Neil Gaiman in town to help GRRM with edits on THE WINDS OF WINTER? And the opening paragraph of the story (which absolutely does not tell you anything about either Neil, George, nor the next Game of Thrones book) even admits that the story is nothing but clickbait. As Neil’s tweet observed, “At least it’s a clickbait headline that has the decency to squirm and grin and admit it…”

Other clickbait is less honest. Such as just about any headline about Apple. A lot of people have been griping about how underhanded Apple is being, or how they’re punishing users for going to cheaper alternatives with the “Error 53” stories. Some of the headlines cram entire editorials and a half dozen inaccuracies in the one headline, such as “Apple remotely bricks phones to punish customers for getting independent repairs.” Only one word in that headline is not an outright lie. Yes, only one.

But why are phones from Apple giving some users an Error 53 and refusing to work? What could possibly be the cause? Oh, if only there was some explanation… oh wait, there is:

“We protect fingerprint data using a Secure Enclave, which is uniquely paired to the Touch ID sensor,” said an Apple spokesperson in response to complaints from users. “When [an] iPhone is serviced by an authorized Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the Touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated. This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to Touch ID remain secure. Without this unique pairing, a malicious Touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”

I tracked down this information, but I didn’t have to, because I already knew the answer as soon as I saw the first headline. I knew because I actually read about the new features of my phone when they added Touch ID two years ago. They described the security feature, and how the Touch ID sensor was paired with the security chip. And this information wasn’t buried in fine print somewhere. They actually talked about it in the keynote speech where they introduced the iPhone 5s, for goodness sake! Plus it is on the iPhone section of the Apple web site. They have videos about the Touch ID feature up that include all of that information.

It was obvious immediately when I read the first Error 53 story what was going on: if you change the home button, it isn’t the same one that was paired with the security chip, so it will stop working.

This is not Apple punishing third party vendors or being underhanded. Even iFixIt, a site infamous (and very disliked by Apple Corporate) for putting up detailed instructions on how to fix things yourself without going to Apple says it makes sense that the phone’s operating system should try to detect tampering and react in some way to protect the users’ data. They don’t think completely disabling the phone is the best outcome, but admit that something along this line should happen.

I do agree with the suggestions some have made that what the phone should do is simply disable Apple Pay and the TouchID features when this mismatch is detected, rather than disable the whole phone.

To get back to that sample headline, here are the inaccuracies: Apple isn’t remotely bricking any phones. One of the events that will trigger the phone to do a self-diagnostic is upgrading the iOS software, which is why some of the phones aren’t getting the error right away. It’s all happening internally, not a remote command being issued by Apple. The error isn’t just happening when unauthorized dealers do the work. iFixIt reports a couple of cases of this happening after authorized dealers made the repair, and in some of those cases it was subsequently fixed by the authorized repair place re-doing the repair. There is a very clear and understandable security reason why the system should check for any tampering related to Touch ID in general (since most users use that to protect all their personal data on their phone), and Apple Pay in particular (since the user’s money and banking information are involved).

What would deserve outrage was if the iPhone didn’t do anything in these circumstances. Not the other way around.

But writing accurate headlines about Apple doesn’t generate the clicks.

Tap, tap, tappity-tap-tap-tappity-tap!

A Smith-Corona Silent-Super typewriter in the Easter Pink color scheme, virtually identical to my Mom's former typewriter, the one I learned to type on.

A Smith-Corona Silent-Super typewriter in the Easter Pink color scheme, virtually identical to my Mom’s former typewriter, the one I learned to type on.

My husband got me several cool presents for my birthday, but the best one just arrived late last week. It’s the typewriter pictured here.

I’ve been trying to acquire a Smith-Corona Silent-Super portable typewriter in the bright pink with white keys for years. See, my mom owned that model of typewriter since her teen years, so I grew up with that typewriter in the house. And at the age of ten, when Mom decided that she was not going to be typing up any papers for me when I got to that stage in school, she sat me down with her old typing text book and started teaching me to type. I achieved a typing speed of a bit over 60-words a minute on that machine by the time I was in middle school, and being able to hit such speed on a mechanical typewriter is why my computer typing speed is about 105 words per minute.

And the Silent-Super was a dream. It was regarded by many as one of the best typewriters ever made. Mom’s was in great shape, with a touch so light and well-balanced, you felt almost as if you could have typed just by blowing on the keys. Read More…

The internet rage machine

First World Problems (

First World Problems (

So one evening last week I was reading a blog that I check regularly, and the author posted a link to a music video. The guy posts such links semi regularly, and quite often they’re good music. Above the link to this particular one, he wrote something along the lines of, “I think that Song A by this band is the very best track released this year, but this one is pretty good, too.”

So I clicked on it…

Read More…

…fast enough?

Just a bit over three years ago I was thinking about when I should update my laptop. I was using a three-year-old white MacBook. It was the low end product back then, but it had been a big improvement over my previous machine. At the time I acquired it, my laptop was a secondary machine, used when we traveled and such, but my desktop computer was still my workhorse.

But over the three years I’d had the MacBook, my writing habits had changed a lot. Most of my writing, and a lot of other computer work, was happening on the laptop. Part of it was simply the convenience of being able to write kicked back in the recliner.

Read More…

Managing music

Kitten listening to ipod.

I just want to listen to what I want to listen to.

I have just shy of 80 gigabytes of music in my desktop’s iTunes library. I only have 54 gigabytes of music on my laptop’s iTunes library. Managing the two has become just a little bit exasperating, lately.
Read More…

I don’t mean to be a jerk, part 1

Dinosaurs roaring at each other.

What big teeth I have.

Several weeks before Christmas, my aunt sent me an oddly worded text message, “Hi. I need your email so I can send you and mike somewhat of an informative form to fill out and send back please.” It had that stilted construction that makes you think of someone who is not a native english speaker using something like google translate to compose a message, almost, right? Like from a phishing attack.

So for a second I wondered if my aunt had gotten malware on her phone or something. I sent back a message asking if she needed both our email addresses or just mine, along with a comment about our weather and asking how hers was. My intent was to make sure that she had meant to send me that message before I did anything else. When she answered she said never mind, she had found the information.
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Just let me listen to my music

My first iPod was pink.

I was 19 years old when I got my first Walkman. It played cassettes, which while more compact than vinyl LPs (which was the dominant format for commercially purchased music at the time), they were large enough that carrying around more than a few albums worth of songs could be a bit awkward. So I usually had only one or two tapes with me at any time, and therefore tended to listen to the same album over and over again throughout a day.

Read More…

While we’re on the subject of smart phones…

When the iPhone was first officially announced (in 2007), I grumbled a lot. Some of my friends took issue with my grumbling, and I had to explain that I wasn’t angry at Apple, nor was I saying the iPhone was a bad idea. I was irritated at a lot of the technical press who were elaborating (incorrectly) on some parts of the news. And I was angry at the executives and processes at the company that owned my employer at the time, and another company that we were working with on a joint project.

I was angry because if they hadn’t thrown so many obstacles in our way, a phone we had been working on for a few years would have been released before the iPhone. Don’t take me wrong, the iPhone would have still leapfrogged over us, but if we’d released it when originally planned, we would have been just a competitor at a slight disadvantage. Because of the delays, the soonest we could possibly release it would make our independently developed product look like a quick attempt to copy some of the iPhone’s features.

But the story begins more than a decade earlier than that… Read More…

Sentences that fill me with dread, part 2

“Oh! You work with computers?” or “You know about computers, right?”

In many ways this has gotten worse as computers become more ubiquitous.

The person most likely to ask this question is someone for whom computers are little more than magic totems. They don’t understand them. To the extent they use them, it is like a ritual. The only way they know how to do anything is to try to repeat the exact steps they have done before. If the machine reacts in a different way than it did before, they don’t stop to try to figure out what they did wrong, they just try to find a way to perform the next step in the ritual.

So they will click Okay or Continue or “that little X in the corner that makes things go away” without reading the message, and keep clicking hoping to see the thing they were expecting to see. And thus install all sorts of malware and bloatware and other things that eventually make their computer unusable.

That’s if they have a computer and programs that they have been using.

Worse are the ones (such as the last person who spoke the dreaded sentence to me) who have bought a computer “because they found a good deal” or took a hand-me-down from a friend of a friend, and now they want just a “little” help to set it up.

The particular person who most recently did this is a musician who is a new neighbor. She stopped me as I was walking past her place and asked the dreaded question. She explained that she had become very intrigued at things that another musician she met was doing in GarageBand on his iPad. He had explained that he had “the same program” on his computer, where he could do a lot more.

So she had bought a computer at a yard sale, and wanted me to show her how to put Garage Band on it so she could do the things he did.

As you have probably guessed, if you know anything about computers yourself, the machine she’d picked up at the yard sale was a really, really old PC. Probably not even one capable of running Windows. This thing was a brand I haven’t seen in decades. It probably was manufactured in 1989 or 1990, I don’t know if it would actually turn on (I didn’t let her get me past the stage where she was pointing to it through the window where it was piled up on a table).

I told her that any computer that old was either dead, or nearly so. That it would be nearly impossible to find software that would run on it. That GarageBand runs on Macs and iPads, only. It doesn’t run on Windows, and it certainly won’t run on DOS.

“But he told me I didn’t need a fancy computer…”

I tried to explain that she could pick up inexpensive used iMacs at several places that would run GarageBand. “But it needs to be a computer no more than five or six years old.”

She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t go into her house to look at the computer she had “just to be sure.” It didn’t have to be GarageBand, she could probably find some other music software, she said.

I tried to explain again that electronics that old fail, and because they’re so old, no one makes the parts any more. Also, none of the inputs will match any modern microphones or other accessories she would need for recording her music. And most importantly, the only software it could run (if all its parts were still working) was very old stuff that would have been sold, back in the day, on floppy disks. “Twenty-five year old floppy disks don’t work. The magnetic particles flake off. The plastic disk part loses its flexibility and even cracks and breaks.”

“I don’t mind a few cracks…”

I thought I was going to scream.

And it’s not just people buying really old (ancient) computers.

My husband works at a place that refurbishes and resells oldish computers. He frequently tells stories of people that buy a computer, then bring it back (sometimes months after the warranty period) complaining about problems that are always user error. Or trying to install something that it isn’t intended to run.

My friend, Mark, told the story of a co-worker who kept complaining about her iPod, that it wouldn’t take music from the Apple store, it couldn’t sync with iTunes, and it wouldn’t work with any iPod accessories she picked up. When he got tired of hearing her complain and offered to take a look, the first thing he said was, “That’s not an iPod.”

It was some very cheap, no-name music player. And no matter how he tried to explain it, she didn’t understand how he could claim it wasn’t an iPod. And when she was willing to admit that maybe it wasn’t an actual Apple-manufactured iPod, she still didn’t understand why it wouldn’t work with iPod things.

I suggested he should have told her that it was like this: a horse and buggy can get you from place to place on public roads not unlike a car, but if you try to pour gasoline down the horse’s throat, you’re going to regret it.

I don’t know if he ever got to use that analogy.

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