I've been using an old SGI keyboard for quite a while now, but I needed to replace it. I broke the Backspace key (hitting it too hard? using it too often?) quite some time ago, perhaps a two years ago, and the sharp edge of the stub remaining in that spot has been bothering me. So I ordered a (www.daskeyboard.com) though not the uber one with no letters on the keys. I rarely look at the keyboard as I type, but I still need to look at it when I want to hit an F key or numbers, ones I almost never use. I must admit, it is probably the best keyboard I have used since an IBM Selectric typewriter many years ago. For US$129 it sure isn't cheap, but it was well worth the money. The keys give excellent feedback when I hit them, the noise they make is quite loud but they all sound very good, and it looks good on the desk. Plus, it has a two-port USB 2.0 hub in it. I tried plugging in my headphones, but Windows went through the motions of "detecting new hardware" and so forth and the headset didn't work properly even after Windows claimed it had done what it needed to do. Although I could hear sounds, the microphone didn't work. It was probably just a configuration change I needed to make, but that's the problem, isn't it? Why should I be the one to make the configuration change? Why isn't the operating system, Windows in this case (big surprise there), not smart enough to know that it has already seen this kind of device and that I am simply plugging it into a differing port? I went back to using the port of the front of the PC and the headset again works fine (no re-recognition necessary). The only problem with the keyboard, and it would be an issue with most any like it, is that unless I have a pad right in front of it on which to rest my wrists, by hands must bend up at the wrist joint and eventually they feel uncomfortable. I remember by bout with carpal tunnel syndrome and have no wish to repeat it. Why can't Apple make a keyboard like this? Why is Apple's fancy flat keyboard so bad? It was the Apple "hockey puck" mouse that gave me carpal tunnel years ago. Well, I suppose that was my fault, like wanting to plug my headset into a different port. I should not have placed the mouse to the right of the keyboard. I should have kept it in front of me so that I would not have to bend my arm outwards and rotate my wrist so much.
Another piece of hardware I picked up recently was a Rocketfish headset. Rocketfish is the "house brand" of Best Buy, a massive electronics and computer retailer here in the US. I was browsing in a store and saw one on sale for US$29, and a quick search for the name via iPhone's Safari revealed a positive review in MaximumPC magazine, enough to convince me to pick one up but I see now some comments added recently echo what I have experienced: breakage at the temple. If you examine the photo in their review, you'll see the spot where the over-the-head band attaches to the piece that holds the ear cup. That lower piece of plastic cracked horizontally near that join, leaving the earpiece to dangle. I suppose I could have brought it back to the store for a refund or replacement, but the sound was still working so I took a few minutes and cut a trianglular shape from the bottom of a soup can, drilled three holes in it and through the plastic of the headset, and bolted the pieces together, all held in place by the slip of metal. It isn't pretty, but to be honest it is a little more comfortable than it was before. Most headsets like these pinch in a bit too tightly, and the earpieces of my glasses don't help things at all. With the way I have fixed the earpiece, although it is still fully over my ear, it doesn't press in as tightly at it did and neither ear feels pinched. It does look odd, but feels better. And now I am on the alert for a comparable crack on the other side... I can see what appears to be a tiny stress fracture there now, and will have to be careful to not let it develop. Perhaps some superglue will help.
Intel Core 2 Quad
I haven't been having great hardware luck recently. I suspect that the 500GB drive in my PC is beginning to go. I can hear a faint sound, not quite a grinding, not quite a scratching, from inside the case. Although I have not heard the sound recently, I have backed up my most critical files and am working on the less important ones. Interestingly, just the day before I noticed the noise I had ordered a box with a 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 processor, 4GB RAM, dual 320 SATA-II drives in RAID 0 (why?), a factory overclocked 512MB nVidea 8800GT, and a DVD±RW Dual Layer with Labelflash, all in a minitower case. It sounds like it will be a good upgrade from my 2.4GHz Pentium 4 and 7800 card. It has onboard Firewire (400), lots of USB2 ports, and a 15-in-1 media card reader, too. The only thing it is missing is gigabit Ethernet and SLI support. Gig-E would have been nice for when I upgrade the internal network, but as for SLI, by the time I become interested in that another couple of years will have passed and standalone cards will be much better. Just as long as they're compatible with PCI-E x16. Like most motherboards, it has onboard sound (7.1, it claims) but perhaps someday I will add a separate sound card. For, now, this machine gets me into the modern age for games like Fallout 3 (October 28 ship date), Supreme Commander, Bioshock, and so forth. I doubt that the quad core will be useful for a while, given the paucity of applications that can make use of more than one, but I suppose it would be helpful when transcoding a DVD at the same time I want to be doing something else. Or doing three other things. But for the price, a mere US$650, I figured the bundle was worth it. Well, there is one more drawback: I had to get Windows Vista 64-bit Home Premium, but now I will have a chance to play around with Microsoft's latest. It has been out, what, almost two years now (hit retail at the end of January 2007). SP1 is supposed to have improved it a good deal, so I'm willing to try it out. No doubt, though, I will run into lots of little oddball problems that only Microsoft could come up with. One thing that bewilders me already is just what OS I am really getting. I know it is "Windows Vista Home Premium" but what does it really include? I can't quite tell what features it has. Should I be salivating that it is 64-bit? Does it really make any difference? Should I care that it has Aero, Microsoft's answer to Aqua? I mean, come on Redmond. Another four letter word starting with A and ending in a vowel? Could you have made it more obvious? But anyway, my feeling about Vista pretty much coincides with everyone else's. I just don't care. I would be happy to stick with XP.
Speaking of XP, I recently purchased the entire id Software library off Steam (the online game distribution system designed and operated by Valve), on sale for US$34.99, and after my purchase I participated in a survey, answering basic questions like "Do you have a microphone?" and "How fast is your Internet connection?" and the current results at http://www.steampowered.com/status/survey.html are quite interesting. 9.14% or 162,412 respondents have a desktop of 1680 x 1050 in size, the same as the Hyvision LCD panel I picked up a while ago. I saw a few Mac-like desktop sizes in the results (for example, an 23" Apple monitor's 1920 x 1200, reported by 40,703 respondents or 2.29%) but Steam is strictly PC only. Interestingly, 30,418 or 1.71% have a screen resolution of 800 x 600. About 40% use AMD processors and about 60% use Intel. A huge 80.77% use XP (1,435,394 people), and only 267,915 or 15.08% use Vista. Even more interesting, 47,688 or 2.68% of respondents use Vista 64-bit. Doesn't make me too confident about using that as my primary gaming platform, but I suppose I can always replace it with XP if I have to. Time to "bite the bullet" and try out Redmond's latest and greatest, and compare it with the previous generation of Apple's answer to the Windows hegemony.
iPhones: upgrades and security
One piece of hardware I do not plan on upgrading any time soon is my iPhone. A friend who has a 3G is becoming more and more envious of his wife to whom he gave his first generation phone. When she is downloading things over EDGE, he is struggling to even get a 3G connection. He has found that installing applications over wi-fi or EDGE or 3G causes terrible delays when he syncs up later. I too have expienced long delays when sync'ing, but it looks to me that my Mac is backing up my iPhone. It can't be downloading the entire 8GB when it does it (my Mac only has about three gigs free on its 40GB drive) but it feels like it is.
Another person I know, a coworker who is a long time Mac user and Apple fan, bought a 3G phone... and returned it 25 days later. It just didn't work well for him. He didn't get a good signal, he could not send MMS messages to the rest of his family, and he just didn't enjoy using it all that much. One big issue was simply the size of the characters on the screen. His eyesight is not bad but isn't perfect, either, and he had difficulty seeing the number and letters. So he returned it and got the successor to the Razor, which lets him send MMS messages and displays larger letters and numbers. Well, we know that the iPhone isn't for everyone, much like the Mac itself. But still, I thought he would have really liked it.
Locked iPhones can be unlocked without a password? Yes indeed, though I sure hope that Apple has patched that problem by now. With two presses of the Home button at the "emergency call" screen, a person can be browsing a user's contact list, bypassing the security code. And then if the user has added email addresses or URLs to a contact, the attacker can launch Mail or Safari. Wonderful. Well, it just goes to show that giving up physical control over your computer, no matter if it is a phone or a desktop, gives an attacker a great advantage. And even supposedly secure solid-state drives may be crackable using an ultraviolet laser to erase lock bits from chips that "secure" the data. So, physical security remains an important part of keeping yourself safe from attack.
New iPhone OS and iPods
The 2.1 iPhone software was just announced and won't be available for a few days, but I hope that Apple has quashed some of the rather glaring bugs in 2.0.X. I haven't upgraded to 2.0.X yet, as I fear that my dropped-call problem will resurface (2.0 apparently demands more power from cell towers, perhaps improving connectivity at the expense of 3G connectivity). And I will be looking at 2.1 skeptically, too. What apps will break?
The new iPods announced at the same time as iPhone 2.1 look good, with curvy edges and better colors. But it appears that they have Cover F