Ergonomics for the Win!

I got my new Kinesis Advantage LF yesterday, and after about 10 hours of touch typing training, I’m back up to about 25 wpm with some accuracy (This is the very first thing I’ve tried to type outside a typing trainer). That’s actually pretty good. Most people report taking days get back their former fluency. [Edit, back to 50 wpm in a week, using to practice]

I elected to stick with the Sholes (QWERTY) layout because I cannot realistically avoid it on laptops and such, and I can’t see switching back and forth on a daily basis. So far, though, the Kinesis is almost as jarring. It uses a columnar, or matrix layout (like many newer ergonomic designs) and worse (or better), places keys in wells to better fit the natural shape of the hand.advantage-black

If you are skeptical of this design, so was I, and I knew it would be my main source of difficulty. I am already a long-time touch typist and it effectively puts many of the keys in positions as different as if I had switched to a different layout. I will say this, however: it works! What started me on this quest was the realization that I simply cannot improve my typing skills and eliminate bad habits I’ve carried for years because my hands cannot endure the quantity and velocity practice needed to get there. I say I type 50-60 wpm, but that’s only in sprints. The fact is, I never type anywhere near that fast for any length of time. My hands just can’t take it. And that encourages more breaks, more distractions, and less productive writing time.

Only recently did I remember what I knew from years ago: this is all the keyboard’s fault!

In this age of laptops and tablets, it’s easy to forget that the cheap and highly compact keyboards shipped even with with most modern desktops are not in any way engineered to fit the needs of the human body, and most so-called ergonomic keyboards are anything but–they are designed by marketers, not engineers.

The arrangement of keys (as I detailed in an earlier post) is not the main problem.  The problem is that twisting the highly complex and variable human hand to fit these awkward keyboards and then rapidly whacking our delicate tissues against unrelenting surfaces is a recipe for pain and injury.  These portable devices are marvels, but they ignore decades of research on ergonomic and reliable design.

It’s a conundrum, and as I have no plans to give up the joy and productivity I get from being able to carry an entire writer’s office in a  handbag, it’s time I upgrade my home office (where portability is not an issue) to give my poor hands a break.

And so far, so good. Though typing on this Kinesis is still a bit of a waddle, the hand orientation, key wells, and top-quality Cherry MX Red low force linear mechanical key-switches definitely do the trick. Even after hours of heavy use, my hands and wrists feel better than after typing a single email on any of my other keyboards, and any discomfort fades away in minutes.  This is hands-down the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever typed on–even better than the extremely noisy Logitech ergo I bought years ago for work.

The Kinesis is not cheap and it’s not perfect. I’d like the key wells to be further apart and more highly tented. I’d like the home row keys to have tactile nubs (though it’s less essential than you might think owing to the key wells, and they omitted it to simplify remapping). The top row of function keys are not standard 1×1 mechanical switches but these little rubberized doodads that many people hate. That actually doesn’t bother me (how often to you use them really?) but I wish they were turned away from the fingers to make it harder to accidentally hit them while typing. I’ve turned on the embedded numeric keypad once so far, and that is a huge pet peeve of mine-functional overloads that lurk in otherwise good designs, waiting like landmines to kill your productivity at the least opportune possible moment.

In my opinion, keyboards should not have num-lock, scroll-lock, or caps-lock keys. These are land mine attempts to shoe horn in functions better served in other ways. However, I can’t complain in this case. The Kinesis has a built-in micro-controller that makes it super simple to remap keys. I turned the hated caps-lock into a more conveniently located control key and the utterly superfluous “Windows Key” into a convenient redundant backspace. I cannot eliminate the “keypad” key, but if it turns out to be a problem, I can remap all the keypad numeric keys to their proper alphabetic values. I may also eliminate the cursor arrows (which have no business being adjacent to alphabet keys where they can be inadvertently struck.

All-in-all, I’m loving the Kinesis, and cursing it surprisingly little. I’ll post an update after I’ve had time to get fully up to speed and finish integrating it into my workspace.

What do you think? Have you gone ergo? Has it helped? Have any questions about the Kinesis or what to look for before buying one? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Wifi AC — Worth the Upgrade

Yesterday, I posted about my adventurous emergency wifi replacement. Today, the last puzzle piece fell in place.

You might recall that I write at a treadmill desk. You might even recall–if you’re a stalker of some sort–that I don’t use the wifi on the Dell Inspirion All-in-One computer mounted to the treadmill. The Qualcomm Atheros AR9485 wireless network adapter in this machine is universally reviled and, when packed inside the radio-noise infested confines of the All-In-One computer, it’s utter garbage.

Seriously, Dell. What were you thinking?

So, for the last couple of years since I set this puppy up, I’ve had it connected via Cat5 Ethernet cable to my old Linksys WRT-G wireless router, running an opensource firmware that lets me use it as a wireless repeater. That works well except that there is something wrong with the Linksys WRT-G, and not just with mine. Something causes it to drop connections and loose its DNS mind several times a week. This was why I replaces it as my wifi router to start with, and to my amazement, the firmware overhaul had no effect whatever on the problem. So..a week ago I got fed up with the frequent rebooting and ordered myself a new Amped REC15A Wireless AC range extender:amped

I choose this little dude for one simple reason: it has a cat5 connection. It’s also handy that it plugs right into the wall, so no shelf space is needed. The extender is simplicity itself. You plug it in, tell it how to connect to your network, and it broadcasts its own dual-band wireless ac networks that more distance devices can connect to. Nice, if you need that.

I turned the extended wireless off. All I want is the cat5 cable connection to my treadmill workstation. Done.


So here are the results on my new network:

Download speeds….
using the Dell’s crappy built-in wifi through the new Netgear 4X AC router: 0.15Mbps
using the Dell All-in-one through the WRT-G as a repeater: 5.8Mbps
using the Dell’s built-in wifi through the Amped extender wifi network: 5.8 Mbps
using Cat5 cable through the Amped as repeater: 28.8 Mbps average

And using my little chromebook running xubuntu over the Netgear’s AC wifi? Up to 56Mbps!

Apparently, Netgear routers work on sorcery. My cable connection is only 10Mbps.

So that’s sorted, then.





Wifi Come Home

So, I have a new wifi router. TECH WARNING. TECH WARNING. TECH WARNING.
Day before yesterday, as I’m getting ready to go to bed early for a 3 am work call that I am facilitating, the network craps out. Actually, the wireless is fine, but the router can’t reach the Internet. Great. Comcast is very helpful, and although my cable modem appears to be working fine, suggests it, being near end of life, might be causing a problem. Great.
World’s fasted trip to Best Buy later and I have a new cable modem.
Naturally, that’s not the problem.The problem is the ASUS RN66-U Wireless N router I bought last year. They’ll repair it of course, like I can wait weeks for that to happen. So I run my work meeting over cat 5, with no phone, sitting in the closet with the modem. Then I have to drive the kids to school and attend a half-day mandatory training. Swell. Thank God for coffee.
I still have another 3 am call coming up. On the way home, I swing by Office Depot and buy a Netgear – Nighthawk X4 AC2350. This has high ratings, excellent coverage, whole new level of speed, great. Get it home. There’s no power adapter in the box.
So I run back to the Best Buy and buy another one from them ($30 cheaper). In the car, I carefully open it and find the power adapter inside. Excellent. Then I drive next door to a different Office Depot, and they are nice enough to take the return with no fuss. Yeah, I know, the manufacturers hate it when you do that. They want you to mail it to them and make them look good to their distributors, LIKE THAT’S GONNA HAPPEN.
So on two hours sleep and a gallon of coffee, I set it up. It’s ginormous, like a pizza box had a love child with a horseshoe crab. r7500_3-4rt2_transparent_082014
It’s so big it won’t fit on the “wiring shelf” I put in the closet. I hung it on the wall, accepted the defaults, and calldc it a night (okay, an afternoon).
So great. We’re back in business. Today, I put it through it’s paces. True to the hype, this thing puts out enough radio jazzam to light up a fluorescent tube at twenty paces. By which I mean, I can connect from the sidewalk, a house away in either direction. Not just connect, but get 13 GB per second download speed. Nice. Inside?
Screenshot from 2016-02-27 19:35:18
What the…56Mbps? I only have 10Mbps service!
I assume the cable company is just giving me extra juice at the moment. They do that, because they have extra capacity to make sure they meet their contracted SLAs.  But it’s for real. My Internet is now faster than at the office. If I load Pandora, it’s playing as soon as the page loads, 7 seconds after hitting Enter.
I like.

Thank You, John Lewis, Whoever you are.

IMAG0387A few months ago, my wife bought an Acer Chromebook 710 without realizing that well, it’s useless. Running Chrome OS made it perpetually tied to the Internet, and the Chrome OS is in firmware, so you can’t install a real, actual operating system. For those content to work totally within the constraints imposed by Chrome OS, it’s a nice little machine, $200 for a decent 16G solid state drive, 2G memory, and a dual core 1.66 GHz processor. But alas, all for naught, and no real way to redeem it with a lightweight Xubuntu installation.

Ah, but there is. This is the maker generation, and the Chromebook uses SeaBios, the open source firmware BIOS to end all BIOSes, and this nice Irish chap named John Lewis put together a super easy image that you can put on USB and use to flash the box as soon as you learn the Chrome OS developer mode secret handshake of doom.

So I did that, and that gave me a nice little Xubuntu box with no trackpoint support. Er, no. Full Ubuntu? No. Fedora? Yes! Fedora 20 gave me a fully functional box except…no, no, no!!! It crashes every time any sort of power down or suspend is attempted, and about 3 out of 4 attempts on boot. Well, that’s hardly a bargain, but I decided to run with it for a few weeks anyway, mostly to check out Fedora (pain in the ass–use Ubuntu) and the flat-topped keyboard style all Chromebooks and Ulrabooks now come with (eh, tolerable, I guess).

But this weekend, I visited the esteemed Mr. Lewis’s site and discovered he had announced an upgrade–and it looked like a simple–just run this script with power and Intranet connected–no hanshake of doom required! So did that.

Ubuntu still doesn’t recognize the trackpad, but now Fedora works perfectly. Every suspend/wake cycle completes successfully. Every boot works. No more hangs when playing YouTube videos. Sweet! I went out first thing this morning and bought an 8G memory upgrade. So now I have a fully functional writing powerhouse, running Fedora 20 in 10G of memory, with Scrivener, LibreOffice, and the usual utilities (still no Chromium, oddly, because it apparently doesn’t comply with the Fedora manifesto for commercial and narco-syndicalist purity–or something). I could not be happier unless this novel were to somehow suddenly complete and publish and negotiate foreign rights for itself. But honesty, what would be the fun in that?

The Acer C710 still has trackpoint problems, but these are static related, and I’m sure I can cure them with a little mechano improve. For his considerable trouble, I made a smal Paypal donating to John Lewis, and if you’d like to check out his work, you can find him here:

A Little Feature That Every Shower Needs

ShowerEvery shower needs a place to put the shampoo and soap, the razor and the washcloth, and various sundries. Usually, this is some built-in that’s hardly usable or a caddy hanging from the shower arm–right where it’s in the way. A few years ago, when they started selling the Scrubbing Bubbles “Automatic Shower Cleaner,” I decided to give it a try, and in so doing came up with a superior solution.

Houston has very hard water, which is to say, there is so much lime in the water, if you let the sprinklers hit the siding, the house will slowly turn gray as limestone forms on the brick. This cleaner, while not likely to meet up to it’s hype, seemed likely to help (and experience has born this out) but only if mounted where it will spray all the glass. Hanging it from the shower head wasn’t going to do the job. Instead, I found a simple ceramic robe hook and mounted it in the right location by drilling through the tile, then sealed around it with latex calk.  While I was at it, I mounted two more hooks (shown here), one to hold my washcloth up out of the way and the other to hold the show caddy. This puts the caddy over to one side where it doesn’t interfere with the show hose and doesn’t get in the way.

I’ve had this installation for about six years now, and it’s been a neat solution. I really haven’t given it a second thought until the other day when I replaced the old rusted caddy with an adjustable stainless steel unit by Simply Human. I hung the new caddy, tried it out, and was left wondering  why every shower isn’t made this way.

Now yours can be too. All you need is an all ceramic robe hook (the metal mounting bracket will be sealed behind the calk, and a $2 masonry bit.


RegEx for the Writer

As an IT professional, I use regular expressions every day. Regular expression (or RegEx) is a syntax employed by modern programming and web tools to provide sophisticated pattern-matching capabilities. They scare me a little, because I maintain that all non-trivial regular expressions are what John Dykstra used to call “miracle programs”, programs that are wrong and only appear to work because they have not yet met the right input data that will cause them to stumble, embarrassingly, disastrously, into ruin.

Still, they are handy, and let us go way beyond the simple wildcard matches of yesteryear. So it is not surprising that OpenOffice/LibreOffice, the open source replacements for Microsoft Office written by a global community of uber-geeks, support RegEx. As and author, I use this capability quite a lot. When writing a novel, it is not uncommon to realize (or worry) that you have been systematically making some grammatical or mechanical mistake—it happens to the best of us—or simply to decide to make some global change. Simple search-and-replace is a boon, but RegEx takes us further. For example, “^And” will find lines beginning with a conjunction, “ to [:alpha:]*[\.\!\?]” will find sentences ending with (one particular) preposition.

I have also used RegEx when preparing text for on-line submission, where in-line text needs to be readable on a wide variety of clients. I use an online tool ( to insert linefeeds enough to format my pasted text to the proper width for submission, then past it back into Libre and use a global replace to transform the end of each line (“$”) into a pair of linefeeds (“\n\n”) and so produce text that remains double spaced even when divorced from the text styles of th word processor.

Recently, I noticed a particular sentence in which I had used three “em” dashes. I wanted to come back to it later, but had forgotten where it was. Rather than search through all 300 dashes in my manuscript, I save the file as text and used the following command line to find my quarry:

grep -o -e "[^\.\!?]*—[^\.\!?]*—[^\.\!?]*—[^\.\!?]*[\.\!?\"]" "Doomsday's Wake.txt"

This searches for any string of letters containing three dashes and preceding a sentence-ending punctuation mark. (If you know RegEx, you know that a repetition operator can simplify this, but for some reason, the version of grep I am running won’t accept it).

That solved, I used this to count the total number of sentences in my document:

grep -o -e "[^\.\!?]*[\.\!?\"]" "Doomsday's Wake.txt"

and this to display all those using a pair of dashes for review:

grep -o -n -e "[^\.\!?]*—[^\.\!?]*[\.\!?\"]" "Doomsday's Wake.txt" | more

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