Pushing The Right Buttons

Keyboard (courtesy of Serif)

Keyboard (courtesy of Serif)

It may sound slightly obsessive but my search for the ideal keyboard is more drawn out than my search for the perfect pen.

The fashion today, often wrongly attributed to Apple, is for the flat, minimalist, chiclet keyboards which were originally applied to cheaper home computers in the 70s and 80s but made popular more recently by Sony’s Vaio laptop range however the best keyboards I’d used were classic IBMs. The first PC I owned myself was a 486DX based IBM, a huge beige box with a battered compact keyboard, a version of the PS/2 keyboard (the model M2, or so I’ve just been informed by Google Image Search). I also own an earlier IBM too though I’ve not actually used it.

It was a great keyboard to use and since then the only keyboard that came close to it was a cheap one that cost less than a fiver from Argos (it was replaced when my new PC came without PS/2 ports – I couldn’t find an adaptor).  This was true until a few days ago when the Lenovo one I’m using now was delivered which I bought because it’s one of the descendants of those IBM PS/2s.   You can tell.

One important aspect of a keyboard is comfort and this is lacking in most modern keyboards, the Lenovo for example has good key travel, good cushioning and good return response which results in comfortable typing over long periods without numb fingertips while still retaining a pleasing clicking sound which is subtle and low-pitched, a kind of burble when you’re typing quickly which is almost a vocalisation of the words you’re pouring into the on-screen page. I also find that the tall key caps mean you hit two keys at once less often, the one you’re just touching stays put and guides your finger down with the one you were aiming for. These are the qualities I liked with the IBM keyboards and had been missing in the many others I’ve tried over the years. Modern flat keyboards are all very well but many can be less accurate, harsher or squishier, just not as satisfying to use for long periods, even if by the same token many are, to be fair, really quite good – I own one bluetooth one for the Nexus 7 which has a nice clicky feel to it but even that’s just not the same.

Of course there are the even more expensive keyboards with the same kind of mechanical keyswitches that old keyboards possessed which are beloved of gamers for their millisecond accuracy but I don’t need that level of sophistication.

Keyboards like the Lenovo aren’t pretty or cool and minimalist but they work, and despite being low-cost they don’t sacrifice comfort and accuracy and that’s what’s important. The daft thing is that they’re so old-fashioned looking they’re at risk of becoming popular as retro tech.

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I’m Still Here – Clutter and Creative Block

4888018The last time I posted to the blog was New Year’s Day and no I haven’t been suffering from a hangover that long.  I was actually suffering from a really persistent cold for the first few weeks of the year which also stopped me going out on New Year’s Eve and this left me feeling bunged-up both physically and creatively.

Colds and the like cause my brain to seize up too, it just wants to watch stuff on TV, coming out in sympathy with the rest of my body saying “look, we’re busy getting rid of this infection you were daft enough to inhale, go watch some QI”.  Anything that isn’t particularly taxing, basically.

Since then however the impulse to write has eluded me and thanks to an article by Mikael Cho on Lifehacker I’ve found out why.  It’s something I’ve thought about before but also didn’t get around to writing about – information overload.

This blog should have quite a narrow remit, it’s about how we cope with modern life; how technology affects us in positive and negative ways; behaviours particular to the 21st century and other stuff about life in 2013 2014.    However, instead of thinking about issues to write about I scour blogs and news sites for things that are relevant, or rather I should do, and it shouldn’t take too long to do, an hour a day should be enough time to skim a few blogs and the news, then move on to the WordPress reader and read posts from the blogs I follow.

I don’t though because I procrastinate, and I do that because I’m afraid of having too much information coming at me.  As the Lifehacker article points out this stream of information actually blocks your brain from getting into the creative mood and formulating an article.  This is why I’d sit down and find that I couldn’t think of anything to write.

I should have known this simply by comparing today to the last time I wrote a complete novel.  It was the summer of 2000 – yes, Two Thousand.  I wrote the book in six months, writing on Sunday mornings, and whenever the mood took me.  There was no internet available to me and only five TV channels.  Research for the book took place at the local library where I read travel books on Italy to get a feel for the locations.  The important thing was that it was the only thing I was doing, I could let my brain focus on one subject, one story, I had no other stories arriving by the hour vying for attention, taking my attention away.

Between news reader apps, Facebook, Twitter etc we are confronted with a constant flow of words and pictures that have to be rapidly consumed and forgotten else you end up with a backlog that more resembles a tidal wave.  You then have the choice of either taking a week off work to catch up (why do you think I’m writing this on a Wednesday morning two days after my birthday) or just taking a deep breath and deleting/throwing out everything you haven’t read (remembers big stack of magazines with “read later” articles hidden behind the sofa).

I’d already started to limit what information I’d add to my future articles notes, defining the scope of what I want to write about, bringing me back to the one story in effect, and as the Lifehacker article says this is an important step.

Clutter is both physical and mental, both affect how you live your life, the important thing is not to let it affect you negatively.

[Lifehacker]