Time.

Back in 2007 I sold a bunch of slave clocks on ebay to a school in Wisconsin. As I was looking through old photos on a hard drive this evening, I was reminded of the fact that I had designed a custom clock face and put my little one-man business logo on the clock face.

I worked with a company in Dassel, Minnesota to get the clocks produced; the clocks were a square version of their “All Sync” clocks that would work with pretty much any clock system found in a school built from the mid 1950s and onward. The clocks could run on either 24 or 110 VAC. The school in Wisconsin was looking to replace some of their clocks but not all of them and couldn’t afford or even find replacements for their antiquated system. They were searching through clocks on ebay they found what I was selling and asked if they could buy a bunch of them. I was happy to oblige.

The clock was face design was a modern take on the clocks that were in the elementary school I attended back in the ’70s. I thought the face turned out well and now I’m wondering if the clocks are still running in the school that bought them.

As modern time and signaling systems hit the market in the early 2010 and many schools starting moving to wireless systems, it didn’t make financial sense for me to stay in replacement clock game.

As mentioned in the previous blog entry, I’m such a dork.

Pi Day!

Today is Pi Day, at least in the way the U.S. and Canada write out the 14th of March, and there is much excitement to be had in our merry little household. For not only do we have multiple Raspberry Pis doing a ton of work for our electronic efforts, but also we are going to go searching for pie today. Because Pi and Pie!

Happy Pi Day!

Clickity Clack.

One of the most productive things my mother did for me was teach me how to type using the proper fingers at a very young age. I wasn’t even out of elementary school and I was typing on manual and electric typewriters at an amazing speed, especially for someone not even in their teen years. My mother’s theory was, “if you’re going to play with the typewriter, you’re going to do it the right way”. I took a typing class my senior year of high school just to dial in my technique and I’ve been typing away like a maniac ever since.

I type for a living. I actually do more than just type for a living, but I spend 9-10 hours in front of a computer for work and then a up to a few hours in front of a computing device of some sort for entertainment. Even though I crow about the wonders of the iPad and tablet computing, I’m still very dedicated to laptops and regular sized keyboard. And since I’m a bit of a typing aficionado, I tend to be quite picky about the keyboard I’m using.

As a Gen Xer I learned to type on the aforementioned manual and later electric typewriters. I’m used to a keyboard with some heft to it. I want to have a decent amount of travel with each keystroke, I like the positive response of each time I press a key, and I don’t mind a bit of noise while I’m doing so. My absolute favorite keyboard was made by Digital Equipment Corporation, a company I worked for in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The LK201 keyboard that came with a wide variety of their desktop offerings was amazing.

I also really enjoy the original IBM Model M keyboard. It’s the really loud keyboard that’s been around since the mid 1980s. They’re still made by Unicomp. I’ve had a few of them over the years and honestly, while I love the typing experience the noise can be a bit much, especially on conference calls.

The newest version of the Apple Magic Keyboard makes my wrists ache. I’m not a fan of the chicklet style keys with the butterfly switches; I don’t know how Earl types on his MacBook Pro every day. Thankfully I have an older MacBook Pro with the older style keyboard, but I’m not a huge fan of that either. It’s functional but nowhere near perfect. And don’t get me started on what happens with these Apple keyboards if you get a piece of dust stuck in a key or something.

Another thing I’m rather fussy about is the width of my keyboard. I want it to have full sized keys but I don’t want to reach way over to the right to find my mouse. A “tenkeyless” keyboard is a good layout for me; it’s a standard PC style keyboard but with the right hand grouping of keys chopped off. I still get a full sized keyboard experience, complete with the arrow keys in their traditional inverted “T” layout.

I found a damn-near perfect keyboard on Amazon earlier this week. It arrived today. Enter, the Velocifire TKL02.

This keyboard is amazing. It quite substantial in weight, has a very solid feel, and is backlit with white light that can rotate through various patterns. The keyboard features Cherry MX Brown Keys, so they have a decent amount of travel, a solid bump of response, but are not so overwhelmingly noisy to be annoying. The sound reminds me of mid 1980s Apple IIes or the TRS-80 Model II I wrote software for back in the day. It’s very comfortable and even after a few hours of use I feel very comfortable and efficient with the typing experience. I took a self typing test online earlier today and I was able to hit 112 Words Per Minute on this keyboard. I’m pleased with that result.

A louder, hefty keyboard like this isn’t for everyone, especially in this day and age of software keyboards on our phones and tablets. But I’m loving this keyboard and it is a great addition to the home office. In fact, I’m typing this blog entry using my work computer setup just so I can use this wonderful keyboard.

If you’re a keyboard aficionado like I am and you enjoy mechanical keyboards, you might want to give it a try.

Happy typing!

Early Geek.

Melissa McCarthy recently featured a young lad who really likes vacuum cleaners on her show “Little Big Shots”. This young man had little interest in video games; he was more interested in vintage vacuum cleaners and apparently he knows a great deal about them. He’s not the first young guy I’ve heard of with an interest in vacuum cleaners. A boy with a similar interest was featured on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” years ago. The son of one of my husband’s former employees had a similar interest when he was in elementary school.

It’s just the way some folks are wired. At that age my interest was in washing machines.

When we went shopping at Two Guys or K-mart (this was long before Ames came to town), I would browse through their appliance departments to see what the latest models of washing machines looked like. I was most interest in those made by Westinghouse and General Electric, though Frigidaire (with its bouncing agitator), Whirlpool, and to a lesser extent, Maytag, also grabbed my interest. I had little interest in the “store brands” like Kenmore and Montgomery Ward because I figured someone else made them and they just seemed like knock-offs.

We had a Westinghouse washer-dryer pair when we lived in the mobile home. I believe it was older than me, purchased new, and it eventually moved with us in 1977 across the street to the house my dad built. In its later years the washer had a habit of flooding from time to time so, after my mother shrunk a bunch of clothes because the only working cycle was a hot water wash, and I had tried filling the washing machine with a garden hose (which made quite the mess), Dad relented and bought my mother a new washing machine. I can easily tell you to this day it was a WWA 8450.

I was interested by this washing machine because it had push buttons instead of flip switches for water temperature and operational speeds. The family hardware store was selling GE appliances, hence the reason the Westinghouse (with Lock ‘n Spin) was replaced by a General Electric. The Westinghouse dryer lived on for a few more years until it made such a racket in the laundry room that my dad finally replaced it. The laundry room was adjacent to the family room and before he bought a new dryer he put a door on the laundry room first, trying to muffle the noise of the increasingly loud dryer. When that didn’t work and he couldn’t hear his airplane and war movies, he bought a new dryer. It didn’t quite match the washing machine, as there had been a couple of years between the manufacturing of the two, but they were close enough and the color schemes were close and I finally got over it.

My grandmother across the street had a washing machine a couple of years older than our GE because her previous GE (from the early 1960s) had begun spitting grease on all the clothes. When Gramps bought her a new washing machine (maybe in 1974 or 1975) it was a GE WWA 8350. It didn’t have extra rinse like mom’s did but it did have a soak cycle where the washing machine just sat there and did nothing.

I don’t remember her ever using the soak cycle, but when it was on its final spin she was grow impatient and flip the spin speed from delicate to normal and that would make things seemingly hurry up. I was fascinated with this and I was also fascinated by the clunk-clunk of the tub brake kicking in when the lid was lifted or the end of the cycle was reached.

Both of these washing machines went to live for well beyond a decade. I would be very surprised if the washing machine here at home lives for five years. It seems to gasp for help on every cycle and it sounds like a bunch of crickets having some sort of soliloquy. Not impressive at all.

Years ago I discovered there are many folks, mainly men and seemingly gay men, that groove on washing machines like I did back when I was in elementary school. There’s a pretty lively forum at AutomaticWasher.org (it’s where I grabbed the screen shots of the controls). I don’t really have the interest in them anymore; the new machines are excessively boring, but I do have memories and can identify various models of Westinghouse and GEs within a year or two.

But I totally get the young lad interested in vacuum cleaners. I hope he enjoys his groove and writes about his experience with Melissa McCarthy in a decade or two.

To be honest, though, I’m thankful we didn’t have shows like that when I was a kid.

Upgrade.

I’m upgraded the monitor in my home office. After staring at two 24-inch Dell monitors that were provided by the office I went ahead and made the decision to move to a single monitor. Chris was selling one of two 31-inch monitors he had and this E series 31-inch curved monitor from Philips is a beauty.

I can fit all the windows I need to do my job on this monitor and still leave a little breathing room between the windows. This helps reduce my stress just a little bit. No more turning back and forth between two monitors with a low resolution and fuzzy fonts.

Interestingly, my Mac Mini runs a heck of a lot cooler with one monitor at 3840×2160 resolution than it did with two monitors running at 1920×1080.

I’m a very happy geek with this purchase.

Tuned In.

Obscure photo from the interwebs.

Just to give you an idea of how random my brain can be, here is a picture of a set-top cable box identical to the one my city grandparents had in the mid-late 1970s.

Sing with me if you know it, “Eleven! Eleven ALIVE!”

That was the jingle for WPIX out of New York. One of several “superstations” they received through this analog box. Others included WGN-TV out of Chicago and WTBS-TV from Atlanta. My uncle would fall asleep on the floor in the wee hours of the night watching movies on “Home Box”. We now call that HBO.

The stuff I remember. Whew.

Oh, and the television tuner was always tuned to Channel 4, because in Syracuse we already had channel 3 and that would conflict with the signal coming from the cable tuner.

Recycle. Reuse.

The guest room closet was getting clogged up with unused computer equipment. A 2009 iMac, a 2007 Apple Cinema Display. These things would have to be removed to get the luggage out for our trips. Truman delighted himself by hiding behind the equipment until we shut the door, then he’d climb up and knock something off the shelf to let us know he was trapped in the closet.

We’d then find him in there and he’d come running out with an innocent look on his face.

I decided to finally get rid of our excess computer equipment. Instead of putting it in the building’s recycling room I decided it needed to find a new home, so we donated the equipment to FreeGeek Chicago.

A while back I purchased a used laptop from this shop in the basement of storefront on Milwaukee and Diversy. I really like what they do; they take old computer equipment, make whatever they can functional by cleaning it up, making sure it works, and installing Linux Mint, and then sell the computers to breathe new life into old equipment. Instead of cluttering up landfills with older equipment that still has lots of life in it, FreeGeek finds new homes for this equipment. This helps save the environment, it reduces waste, and it spreads some Linux love around the area.

I really like this approach.

FreeGeek Chicago also refurbishes Apple computers and other devices and sells them for continued use. In addition, FreeGeek also offers educational services around the world of Linux and other open source software.

It’s a great organization and I hope to become a volunteer there one day. I hope the new owners of our iMac and Cinema Display enjoy them as much as I did.

At least they’re not sitting in a landfill.

Subscriptions.

Photo courtesy of apple.com

I was flicking through my subscriptions list on my iPhone the other night when I said out loud to myself, “what in the blue blazes are you doing”? I realized I had way too many active subscriptions on my iCloud account and I was barely using most of them.

It was then that I realized that Apple was really smart when they got into the credit card game. By offering an Apple credit card, with promises of 3% cash back on purchases from Apple, it was just the little nudge that suckers like me needed to justify the purchase of yet another app or subscription from the Apple eco-system.

There’s a huge number of developers out there building beautiful apps that make our lives better. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s also a lot of crud available out there. And with this new paradigm of software where “you don’t own it, you just pay to use it”, pockets get emptied. Quickly.

Apple News+. US$9.99/month. Apple advertised a magazine browsing experience on your favorite iDevice that would transcend the likes of Harry Potter’s moving photos and paintings and Hogwarts. In reality, most of the magazines are PDFs of the printed copy and are chopped off at the bottom of the screen on my iPad.

Apple Music. “Hey Siri, turn on the buffet”, referring to the Philips Hue Light strip we have lighting up the dining room buffet. The response? “Sure, here’s Phoebe Buffay and the Hair Balls with ‘Smelly Cat'”. I ask Siri to play “some nice dinner music” from Apple Music and it plays Metallica. “Play some instrumental background music”. A woman immediately starts singing. Anything I want on Apple Music is more easily obtained from Spotify, which we already pay for.

iCloud. Apple now offers to storage plans that are on either side of what we need, either 200 GB (not enough) or 2 TB (approximately 2000 GB, way too much). It’s easier to just store my files on a hard drive in my office attached to a Raspberry Pi. And it’s probably more secure.

When we start heaping on the TV streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, etc) to replace cable it ends up that it’d probably be cheaper to just get cable.

I’m all for developers and service providers getting the money they deserve, but at some point one has to choose what’s important and what’s extra frosting left on the spoon.

I’ve culled the subscriptions down substantially and I’m committed to sticking to a manifesto I wrote around software and hardware purchases, and determining which services deserve cash and which do not.

Let’s hope it’s a good first step to not wearing out my credit card.

Interface.

Photo from TrekMovie.com

I know producers of science fiction movie and television like to make their production look at futuristic. One of the things I’ve always loved about the various incarnations of Star Trek, at least up until recently, was they depicted the future in a positive, hopeful way. Additionally, most of the time they also made the future tech seemingly achievable. How many times has someone from Apple mentioned they took an inspiration from Star Trek and came up with something like the iPad or the iPhone?

In Star Trek: The Next Generation and related series, we were introduced to the PADD, or Personal Access Display Device. While it looks a little clunky (think more along the lines of a modified Palm Pilot), it’s basically doing what your iPhone or Android device does today.

You hold it in your hands, you inter with it with your fingers or a stylus, and you carry it around with you.

The LCARS interfaces, or Library Computer Access and Retrieval System interfaces, allows the user to sit down and interact with a computer through a fully customizable touch interface. They’re built into walls, they’re built into consoles, and they’re built into desks in both vertical and horizontal orientation.

You know, much like an iPad or the upcoming Microsoft Neo.

Natural evolution of tech, especially the way we interact with technology, is awesome because we growth with it. We have adapted typewriter keyboards into the fastest way to input text into a computer. We develop touch interfaces so we can interact with the objects on the screen. We feel comfortable with using screens because our eyes allow us to focus on something as if we were reading a book. Our eyes have a target. We have something to look at.

A holographic project into mid-air does not give us something to focus on.

If you’re technically inclined and have a Mac (I don’t know if you can do this on windows), open a Terminal window. Go into Preferences and turn the opacity of your Terminal window down to 50%.

Now, start interacting through the keyboard interface. Type ls’ a bunch of times and try reading the screen. Force your eyes to focus on the letters in the terminal window and do your best to ignore the rest of your desktop coming through behind the lists of files displayed in the window.

Fatiguing, isn’t it?

I know holograms looks all flashy and futurey and make some viewers go wow and make other graphic designers get all tingly in their nether regions, but the fact of the matter is, folks aren’t going to enjoy trying to focus on words and pictures floating in the air. Human eyes aren’t designed for that. And they’re sure not going to like swiping and grabbing and flailing thin air. Flapping around like a chicken to do a Google search is not on the short list of efficient interface design.

I like future technology depicted when it makes sense. The flailing and swiping made little sense in “Minority Report” (though it was cool to look at), and it certainly doesn’t belong in Star Trek’s 23rd or 24th centuries.

Do we see Wolf Blitzer still interacting with holograms on CNN? He did it for one presidential election and it never came back. They now wow us with magic boards that work most of the time.

We want the future. We want technology to grow and do amazing things and solve insolvable problems. We want to see the stars and we want to meet other sentient beings throughout the universe.

We don’t need to have floating holograms when a simple console with touch interface will suffice.