Friday, October 27, 2006

It's the simple things...

For some reason, I frequently find myself facing into the blizzard of choices offerred by our hyper-consumerist economy and coming away without a single snowflake on my tongue.

It's not that I'm picky. But I do have standards. (Is there a difference? Hmmm...) Actually, standards is too highfalutin' a word. I have criteria. But often I find a systematic application of those criteria results in a null set, no matter how many choices the marketplace would seem to offer at the outset.

Keyboards are a classic example. I'm looking for a new one now. The major criteria are: wireless, with a usable integrated pointing device (by which I mean a trackpad or a large trackball. Eraser-sticks and marble-sized trackballs just don't do it for me.) Those two criteria alone eliminate about 95% of the offerings I've seen.

But those two criteria aren't the only ones I have. For a keyboard to really hit the sweet spot, I want it to have certain other things. You'd think these would all be standard issue by now, but many manufacturers seem perfectly willing to throw away one or all of them in pursuit of... what? Hip design? Compactness? An uptick in the stock price of their subsidiary that makes wrist braces for carpal tunnel syndrome? Whatever, the minor criteria are:
  • Inverted-T arrow keys in a block by themselves
  • Ins-Del-Home-End-PgUp-PgDown keys in a block by themselves
  • Separate numeric keypad
  • A big Backspace key
  • An even bigger, backwards-L-shaped Enter key
I'm flexible on some of these. I can live without the big backspace and enter keys, and I'm willing to hunt around a bit for Home, End, etc. But nothing frustrates me more than not having the inverted-T, or having it embedded in a bunch of other keys so that you're always hitting something other than the arrow you want.

Actually, I've found nearly the perfect keyboard. It meets just about all the criteria and looks good to boot.

It's $280.

Needless to say I'm still looking. Did I mention that I'm also cheap?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Here Comes The Cudgel

If you've ever wondered what's it's like to be on the bottom side of Whack-A-Mole, you may get to find out if you plan on buying Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista - the next generation replacement for Windows XP.

Microsoft has been pushing in this direction for years, creating both a software environment and a regulatory environment that will let them bring down the hammer on people it thinks are pilfering its code. This item from the AP (via Yahoo!) describes how Vista will contain the most aggressive form of "piracy protection" yet, actually reaching into your computer and disabling the ability to save files, open files, browse the web, etc. if Microsoft, as judge, jury and hangman, decides you've violated their IP rights.

If you're a corporate-rights-uber-alles freak, you might even find this justifiable, if it weren't for one thing: this stuff doesn't work right. Heaven help you if it Microsoft flags your perfectly legit bought-and-paid-for copy of their OS as problematic. You'll be shuttled into a special kind of hell, composed of ritualistic round-robin finger pointing and long, long hold times.

Does Microsoft have a cogent, comprehensive policy in place behind the scenes to deal with the inevitable failures in their anti-piracy technology? No they do not. Why would they? In their minds, their technology doesn't fail, so if you are accused by it you must be guilty, and why should they waste their time helping the guilty, you no-good thief?
Either that, or you're an "aberration" that is statistically too insignficant to care about. After all, Bill Gates isn't the one who just spent six weeks writing that report that you now can't print the night before it's due.

Just in case you didn't already know it, none of this prevents "real" pirates from churning out counterfeit copies of Windows Vista. The sophisticated bogus CD factories in China and Malaysia will not grind to a halt thanks to this new tech. This hammer only hits the small guys.

Linux-Americans are looking smarter every day. :-P