New keyboard

About six months ago, Alex poured cola over my precious computer keyboard. It was an old NCR model, so old that it didn’t even have the now ubiquitous “Windows” key sitting between Ctrl and Alt. But that didn’t bother me because it had such sweet action. However, cola and keyboards don’t mix, and even after drying and cleaning it was still dead.

I got a new, cheap one to replace it in the short term, but it was horrible. In particular, the block of six keys from “Insert” to “Page Down” was moved down one line so that there was no gap between it and the arrow cursor keys. This meant that whenever I wanted to hit the “Delete” key, I ended up pressing “Insert” instead, and overtyping a bunch of text. Extremely annoying.

On Saturday I finally gave in and went out to buy myself a proper new keyboard. The one I’ve ended up with is a Microsoft Internet Keyboard, and it’s very nice. The keystroke action is soft, but with good resistance and a satisfying click point. It’s also fairly quiet, which is also a bonus.

I didn’t end up with it purely because of its feel, though: I also didn’t want to be lumbered with the vast amounts of junk all the other keyboards were saddled with. It’s almost impossible to buy just a plain keyboard these days. They all have multimedia buttons, application shortcut buttons, rearranged function keys with funny icons, and all sorts of other things to make it supposedly more “useful”.

I just want a keyboard, dammit! With qwerty keys so I can type words. I don’t want it to take up half of my desk with widgets that start up my mailer, fast-forward music, and just about everything short of making a tasty cheese sandwich.

There was one ultra-plain model on sale, but it was the cheap and nasty one I was trying to replace. As soon as you want to pay a little bit more for better quality, you also have to accept more features and less desk space. I’d be more annoyed if I didn’t like the Microsoft keyboard so much. The satisfying feel of the keys beneath my fingers make up for its larger-than-necessary form factor. Grr.

Tolkien bits

There’s a lot of discussion going on right now about The Two Towers, its relevance to current world politics, and its use as an allegory or just an interesting point of comparison. Patrick Nielsen Hayden links to some of the essays in his blog.

At Paul Bibire’s (Near) New Year’s party yesterday evening, James Harvey made the observation that Peter Jackon is re-telling a tale from mythology–a practice that stretches back as far as language itself. The fact that some elements are differently emphasised in this version, and that others are added or dropped, is perfectly natural, and in keeping with the nature of the work itself.

This makes me a bit more comfortable with the film’s treatment of Faramir, and makes me even more keen to see it again. (Maybe tomorrow?) After watching all the extras over the weekend, today we’re watching the extended version of the film itself. Wow. It’s much more than just the original film with deleted scenes re-inserted: it’s a complete re-edit. It’s almost a completely different film. Wow.

LoTR extras

Today, when we haven’t been wrangling Alex, we’ve been watching the extra bits on the 4-disc super-special edition of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowhip of the Ring. If you’re a film buff, or a Tolkien buff, then this 4-disc set is a must-have. The extras are an utterly compelling view into the truly enormous amount of effort and detail that went into making of the film, and in bringing Middle-Earth onto the big screen. Really, the stuff they had to do is amazing.

Toad Dates

A Christmas present has arrived early, in the form of the full set of dates for Toad the Wet Sprocket’s concert tour in February/March of 2003. Yay! And there are dates in convenient places, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit. Flights to these locations in February are very affordable, and we wouldn’t even have to hire a car. On the other hand, choosing someplace like Cincinatti would make for a fun road trip…

Road trip! Road trip!

I’m very excited, as you may be able to tell. I’ve downloaded one of the recordings from their 12 December tour in benefit of the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, and the guys sound amazing. Seeing them live, in person, would be a dream come true.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and may your own dreams come true in 2003.


You know the rule of thumb that says humans can only hold 7 (+ or – 2) items in short-term memory at a given time? Well, while reading Information Architecture for the World Wide Web I came across a reference to the original research on the subject.

In his opening comments, Prof. George A. Miller says:

“My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer. For seven years this number has followed me around, has intruded in my most private data, and has assaulted me from the pages of our most public journals. This number assumes a variety of disguises, being sometimes a little larger and sometimes a little smaller than usual, but never changing so much as to be unrecognizable.”

The paper explains what the number 7 really means in terms of human perception and cognition. It’s a fascinating article, and a must-read if you enjoy knowing the true origins of such pieces of modern folk wisdom.

Further reading:

The Two Towers

We went to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers yesterday evening. It’s a very impressive film, but I don’t think it was nearly as good as Fellowship. There are a number of reasons for that. It’s the middle slice of a trilogy, so it has neither a beginning nor an end. It relies more heavily on CGI, which is still a very risky strategy. It uses moments of slapstick to deliver comic relief where none are warranted. The book does a lot of character development that the film just dumps, and in one instance even completely rewrites. Also, in the context of current world events, the film is also dangerously jingoistic.

I use the word “dangerous” because in The Lord Of The Rings the war is being fought against inhuman opponents. In real life, though, the dehumanization of one’s enemies has led to some of the worst atrocities in history. I’m sure that the hawks will love the overt message that one has to go to war against evil, because for most of 2002 they’ve done nothing but paint Saddam Hussein with the “evil” brush. The timing of The Two Towers regrettably means that it (unintentionally?) weighs in as pro-war propaganda.

I’m going to have to write a full review and analysis of the film, even if it’s just so set my own mind straight about what I think of it. I may even have to go in and see it again. The only thing I’m certain of right now is that it is not going to get a five-star rating from me.