Saturday, June 28, 2014

An essay on The Joy of Typing

I don’t like most modern computer keyboards. My career at IBM using their excellent keyboards with the superb “buckling spring” technology has made every other type of keyboard seem inferior to me. There is that immensely satisfying “Click” every time you successfully make a keystroke, you just can’t beat it.

During the mid-1990s I switched to a Lexmark keyboard, not as massive as the weighty IBM ones, also having the buckling spring mechanism, with the added advantage of taking up less desktop space. This Lexmark gathered much gunk between/under the keys, so a few months ago I pulled off the removable keytops and gave it a thorough cleaning.

Trouble was, I couldn’t ever get the space bar to work properly after that. Now it randomly generates extra spaces between words causing me much frustration and time wasted remove the surplus spaces.

I explored the purchase of a brand new Unicomp keyboard from the USA. I’m sure their keyboards are excellent to use, with the slight advantage of having a “Windows” key which neither the old IBM or Lexmark keyboards did (they were designed well before Windows 95 appeared). They cost from USD $79.00 upwards, however the freight across the Pacific to Australia was going to double the price, so I passed on this option.

So now I’m back using an original IBM “Model M” keyboard again, and must say that it does seem to have a subtly better tactile feel than the Lexmark. So I’m a happy typist again (in keyboard terms, that is).

The IBM Model M keyboard

Interestingly, and in a completely different vein, the other day I came across The Joy of Typing by Clive Thompson, wit the subtitle “How racing along at 60 words a minute can unlock your mind.”

He starts of by posing the question: “How racing along at 60 words a minute can unlock your mind.” A study had reported that college students who typed lecture notes remembered less than those who wrote them down by hand.

So, should we stop typing in favour of handwriting (where possible)? Go read Clive Thompson’s article and draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Detecting sharks with Clever Buoy

I was out surfing once, in the 1960s, at Portsea back beach on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Another surfer suddenly called out “Shark! Shark!” and none of us hung around to verify his observation, we headed straight for the beach.

Such is our innate fear of those big toothy fish. It’s heightened by the regular (but thankfully small in number) deaths and severe maulings at beaches around Australia and the world.

Over the years I’ve listed some facts about shark (and crocodile) attacks on my website. This includes various attempts to make it safer for the general public to share the beaches with sharks.

Australia’s number 2 telco Optus has announced a project called Clever Buoy which they describe as “the world’s first shark detection buoy” and “Research & Development project between Optus, Google and Shark Attack Mitigation Systems to develop a smart ocean buoy that detects sharks and alerts lifeguards on the beach.”

It certainly looks very intriguing, nevertheless as one commenter points out (omitting the impolite bits) the scheme has at least one potential shortcoming:

“By the time life guards get the information the shark has attacked.”

Coffee roasts your insides

Coffee now has been popular in “the West” for several centuries, and has had its keen devotees during that period.

One of those was the great French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac and he had quite some interesting views on the fabulous “Java” beverage.

Read an English translation of de Balzac’s somewhat unusual observations at The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee (this is a scanned image version).

Here’s a more legible text-based version of de Balzac’s essay:
The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee