In Search Of … a Better Keyboard

In my last two posts, I reported on my progress in fielding my new MacBook Air 2013 as a desktop machine. One of the challenges I encountered was the selection of a keyboard. For a period of time, my desk was cluttered with two keyboards; one for the MacBook Air (Apple Wireless) and one (Logitech K750) for my previous desktop (2006 Mac Pro).

The use of two separate keyboards was less than ideal. It soon dropped to one keyboard. My daughter had a need for a keyboard so off went my trusty Apple Wireless.

I then used the K750 for both desktops by switching the wireless USB dongle from one desktop to the other. This worked, but it was less than ideal. Who am I kidding? I was looking for a reason to buy a new keyboard.

In stepped the Logitech K811 Easy Switch Bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard provides the ability to pair with up to three separate devices and provides a set of three buttons to quickly select the device. The K811 form factor was similar to  the Apple Wireless and supports both Mac and Apple iOS. Logitech has a similar model for those Windows users as well. The Mac version provides the standard set of Mac/iOS keys. The typing experience is excellent. I also appreciate the black chiclet style keys with white lettering (easier for me to find a not often used key).

The best thing is that the keyboard supports three devices. I am using only 2/3 of the keyboard’s potential.  Hmmm… perhaps another desktop.

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MacBook Air Desktop; the Final Piece

LandingzoneProA few days ago, I posted an article relating my efforts to transform my 2013 MacBook Air into my new desktop. At the time of the post, I was waiting on the final piece of the puzzle; the LandingZone 2.0 Pro dock.

As fate would have it, the dock arrived the next day. I unboxed the item and made the connections to my external monitor and an external USB 3.0 drive.

My impressions:

Overall, the dock seems to be a well constructed product. One shortcoming was the hinged handle in the back of the unit. My natural tendency was to use this handle to close the device. Thankfully, I did a quick read of the user guide which dutifully informed me that this is a NO NO. The handle is used only to release the laptop from the unit when undocking.  Perhaps I am the only person that made this assumption, but some labeling on the hinge might prove beneficial.

From a usage point of view, I have some difficulty in mating the USB and DisplayPort components of the dock with the physical connections on the sides of the MacBook Air. After a little jockeying for position, the plugs line up and the two end close up to secure the MBA in place.

Once secure, the dock provides everything I need:

  • four powered USB 3.0 ports
  • a Gigabit Ethernet Port (need to download and install a driver)
  • a mini DisplayPort connection

What I appreciate about the dock is the ability to open the MBA when needed to access the laptop (keyboard, trackpad, etc) without having to undock. This was a feature that the different vertical docking solutions did not provide.

Though a little pricey at $199, I am more than satisfied with the LandingZone 2.0 Pro Dock for my MacBook Air.

 

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2013 MacBook Air as new Desktop

MacBook Air 11.6" mid 2013
MacBook Air 11.6″ mid 2013 (Photo credit: Moridin_)

In early July, I purchased the new 13″ MacBook Air to replace my 2008 unibody MacBook. The MacBook, as have other Mac laptops in that past, had migrated to a family member to replace a failed Windows machine (BTW, all the Apple laptops are still functioning; even a 2005 iBook).

As I had done in the past, I put the new Air in my laptop bag. If my usage patterns remained the same, it would see the light of day on an infrequent basis. It was my “I can’t get to my desktop” machine. You know, the family comes for a visit. My office turns into a bedroom. I can’t get the my trusty Mac Pro (2006 edition) and the iPad is just not quite enough.

But, there was something different. This was my first introduction to a PC equipped with a solid state drive (SSD) and the battery life was amazing to say the least. Not to mention that I could take advantage of Mac OS X Mountain Lion. Alas, the powers at Apple determined that my Mac Pro needed to be marrooned at Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. Still a touchy subject with me. The Air provides the promise of future compatibility with later versions of the Mac OS.

However, my vision limitations still requires the use of an external monitor for  longer sessions. I can use the small laptop screen in tandem with Mac OS X accessibility features for a short time, but long sessions necessitate the external monitor.

Well, I am attempting to cultivate the MacBook Air into my new desktop machine. My intended setup includes:

  • the MacBook Air (kinda seems an important part)
  • mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable (happened to have one handy)
  • Gateway 24″ LCD monitor. Getting “long in the tooth”. I want to replace it with a new LED monitor at some point.
  • Apple Magic Mouse (again; had one gathering dust in my desk drawer). I use the Magic TrackPad for the MacPro. If all goes well, I will switch them around.
  • Logitech K750 Solar keyboard. Right now, I am “sharing” the keyboard between the Mac Pro and Air by switching the wireless uSB receiver. I am considering purchasing the Logitech Easy-Switch Bluetooth keyboard for a multi-link capability, but I like the full sized keyboard with the numeric keypad. Yes, I had tried Bluetooth keypads, but never had much luck with them.

My new desktop is up and functioning, but I am lacking USB expansion. It’s also a little inconvenient to plug everything up to use and unplug everything to go mobile.

Now enters the next piece of the puzzle; the LandingZone 2.0 Pro Dock for the MacBook Air. It’s supposed to arrive on Tuesday. Looks promising. The LandingZone dock provides a dedicated mini DisplayPort connection, Gigabit Ethernet and a powered USB 3.0 hub. Just line the MBA up and snap it in place. There were other docking solutions that I considered, but most required you to stand the Air on it’s side pointing vertically toward the ceiling. Not much help if I wanted to open up the lid to activate the onboard display, keyboard or touchpad.

 

 

 

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The Continuing iPad Keyboard Chase

I had been hearing of the upcoming release of a new iPad Bluetooth keyboard from Logitech. This, of course, peaked my internal craving for new technologies which is clearly evident when in comes to iPad related accessories.

On Saturday, I was strolling through the various displays at my local Best Buy store when I turned a corner and there it was; a cardboard stand adorned with FabricSkin keyboards.

I am certainly aware of my continuous battle between “Want” and “Need” in the realm of technology and the great tendency for “Wants” to masquerade as “Needs”.

At the time, I was ocillating between the use of the Logitech UltraThin  keyboard and the Apple Wireless keyboard/Incase Origami combination. Both are good solutions, but each lacked something. The Logitech ultraThin lacked the protection I wanted for my iPad. The Apple/Incase combo allowed me to use a separate protective case for the iPad, but lacked some basic function. Most notably was a simple On/Off switch for the keyboard. It’s somewhat embarrassing when a cool tune starts playing from your briefcase when the Apple keyboard’s media button gets bumped because the keyboard wasn’t officially “off”.

Well, “Want” kicked “Need” out the door today when I walked out of the Best Buy with the FabricSkin tucked under my arm (after I paid for it, of course). The case paired easily with the iPad; no “pin” was requested. The case is currently sitting next to me charging up; getting ready for it’s debut at work in the morning.

The case addresses the two basic issues noted above. The FabricSkin is a case completely enclosing the iPad. Like the Apple wireless keyboard, it doesn’t have an On/Off switch, but it has something better. When the iPad is placed in “typing” position, magnets within the case detect the positioning and the keyboard is turned on. When the iPad is moved from the “typing” position, the keyboard is turned off; kind of a “set it and forget it” operating mode.

My test typing at Best Buy and here at home seem fine, but the true test is typing notes during my day-to-day use of the iPad at work. Will I have to search for keys more than I touch type? Time will tell.

The one downside currently is the price. At $149.99, the case seems a little overpriced. But “Want” didn’t care about that.

 

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Amazon vs. Apple: Whose E-Books are Better?

There are several sources for free e-books on the web. I would like to compare four of them.

Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org)
PRO: It has the largest selection of old literature, with over 40,000 free ebooks available in PDF, Kindle (Amazon), and ePub (Apple) formats. The books have surprisingly few misspellings, given that they are proofread by amateur volunteers.
CON: The books often lack working tables of contents, or page breaks at the beginnings of chapters, and the books always begin and end with long, annoying licenses.

Amazon (www.amazon.com)
PRO: They offer many of Project Gutenberg’s books, with those long licenses removed, as well as many books from non-Gutenberg sources, for free download using Whispernet, which is the easiest way to download onto Kindle devices. You can also read them on the Kindle app on Apple devices and sync between devices.
CON: But they make no attempt to fix the tables of contents or add page breaks to beginnings of chapters.

The Apple Bookstore
PRO: This is the only source I’ve found that always makes the extra effort to assure that the table of contents works and the chapters begin with page breaks. You can also sync these between Apple devices. Not surprisingly, this is the most convenient source for downloading onto Apple devices.
CON: But you can only buy and read these books on Apple devices, not Kindle.

The Mises Institute (www.mises.org)
PRO: While the other three sources provide very few free books published after 1922 due to copyright laws, the Mises Institute has been granted permission to offer over two thousand more recent books about history, economics, and philosophy for free, in PDF and ePub formats.
CON: But if you’re not interested in revisionist history, Austrian economics, or libertarian philosophy, never mind.

Disappointments with Apple 2012

Just a quick post to air my Apple disappointments for 2012.

  1. Another OS Abandonment
    Once again, Apple abandoned a number of older hardware with the release of OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. Chief among the cast-offs was the original Mac Pro 1,1 (2006). I had updated mine in January 2012 to 18 GB RAM and an ATI Radeon 5770 HD only to learn later that the final OS release would not support the hardware.

    Prior to this letdown, I survived the PowerPC layoff caused by OS 10.6 Snow Leopard.

    I will continue to slog on with OS 10.7 Lion; event though the Messages beta was pulled. My Mac Pro had too many productive years still remaining. My hope would be that either Apple would relent with OS 10.9 or that a workaround would be available that didn’t take 30 steps to accomplish.

  2. iOS Accessibility – Keyboard Themes
    I don’t want to jailbreak my devices, but Color Keyboard may force the issue. All I want is the ability to change the color theme for the on-screen keyboard in order to aid my impaired vision. On my iPad, I want black keys with white letters. I know. I can get this effect by using the High Contrast settings in Accessibility, but that also affects the entire screen which I do not want.

    The jailbreak app Color Keyboard shows that this feature is entirely possible. Why, oh why Apple can you not provide such a simple request?

  3. iPad mini – No Retina Display
    Don’t get me wrong. I certainly enjoy my iPad mini, but a Retina Display would have been nice
    .
  4. iPad 4
    I understand that technology marches on, but I had hoped that my iPad 3 would have been “cutting edge” for a few more months; at least until 2013.

Not a long list, but important to me nontheless.

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iPad mini; The 7″ Tablet for the Holiday Season.

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Having used the first 3 versions of the iPad, I have a good “feel” for the 10″ (9.7″ to be precise) Apple tablet. The 3rd Gen, with Retina Display, provides a great option for viewing text, reading books, magazines, productivity tasks,  and watching videos.

On a lark, I recently purchased an Pad mini (the Mini). I was impressed by the quality of it’s fit and finish; the thinness and reduced weight. I didn’t “need” the mini, but I “wanted” the Mini. For that, I named this new addition to my iPad family “toomuch”.

 

Apple Introduces iPad Mini... and some new com...
Now that I have used the smaller edition of the iPad for two weeks, it makes the ideal media companion. All of the iPad apps work as expected. The lack of a Retina Display does not affect the overall usability of the product. And the small size makes the Mini seem like a more personal device. My iPad is still the “workhorse” device, substituting for a laptop on the road and assisting me at work, but the Mini is the device I reach for at home when checking email, social networks, viewing video, etc.  In fact, I was surprised in how many areas the Mini supplanted my use of the iPad.

My interest  was fueled by the smaller size. I had toyed with the idea of getting a 7″ tablet for some time. I came close to purchasing the 1st generation Amazon Kindle Fire. Later I considered the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. I chose the Mini for a number of reasons

  • Thinner and lighter
  • Better Accessibility features than the competition
  • Larger screen (7.9″) than the competition.
  • Great performance and battery life
  • Already have an established iOS/iPad eco system

In other words, what you expect from an iPad in a smaller, more personal incarnation.

For those of you in the holiday tablet shopping scene, consider the iPad Mini. While it’s price tag is higher than the competition, it certainly does not disappoint on the overall experience; a perfect entry level item in the iPad family.

 

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The iPad mini…Too Much Is Not Enough

As a loyal tablet user, I have purchased a new iPad from the 1st Generation release in March, 2010. At the time of the Apple announcement in October, 2012, I have been enjoying the iPad 3rd Generation both at home, on the road and at work.

The announcement left me in somewhat of a quandry. Not only did Apple announce the long awaited iPad mini, but also the next (4th) generation of the full sized iPad.

ipad-mini

I had been considering the purchase of a 7″ tablet and had seriously looked at both the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7. Both had their pros and cons. The cons tended to outweigh the pros; especially in the area of accessibility.

Last Saturday, I wandered into a local Apple store and waited patiently for a turn at the iPad mini table. Once I had the device in my hands, I knew that I was holding the 7″ tablet I wanted. Light and responsive, familiar in form and function, the accessibility features I depend on;…

I left the Apple store that day with a new iPad mini 32 GB WiFi white. Now my iPad 3rd Generation and iPad mini are shuffling around in an attempt to determine the usage model. For now, the iPad 3rd Gen is my workhorse device; faithfully performing flawlessly at work. The iPad mini is generally serving as my lightweight consumption device for audio books, Youtube videos, etc.

My wife even provided a name for the new iPad mini. When I walked out of the store, she said “Too much is not enough.” I wholeheartedly agreed. “Toomuch it is” I replied as I held it in my hand.

I agree with my wife in that I didn’t need the iPad mini. My full sized iPad provided all the function I needed.  But the new iPad mini provides a level of portability I didn’t have before. I can actually place the mini in the front pocket of my dress pants. Using it somehow feels more personal than the full iPad; less self concious in a crowd. In fact, the mini attended church with me last week. Something the iPad 3 would never do.

 

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Amazon Is Waiting for the Shoe

The long anticipated refresh of the Amazon Kindle lineup has finally been announced.  Amazon is venturing further into the Tablet Universe with the increased offerings in the Kindle Fire selection.

The original Kindle Fire has undergone a small refresh and a price drop from the $199 price point to $159.

The Kingle Fire HD has been added to the mix with both a 7″ and 8.9″ form factor. In a fashion similar to iPad, there are multiple configurations available.

Kindle Fire Model Price Point Description
Kindle Fire (Original) $159 Price drop from $199
Kindle Fire HD 7″ $199 16 GB
$299 32 GB
Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ $299 16 GB
$359 32 GB
$499 32 GB with LTE
$599 64 GB with LTE

Amazon is aggressively pricing the AT&T LTE with a 12-month service offering for $50 which provides a 250 MB/month data plan. Apple, please make a note of this.

The original Kindle Fire was not marketed as a direct competitor for the iPad, but the new Kindle Fire HD is. In fact, the Amazon site provides a price comparison between the LTE-capable Kindles and the iPad 3.

But, there is still a shoe out there looming over the new Kindles in the form of the rumored iPad mini which is “scheduled” for an announcement  perhaps as early as October of this year.

The fear is that an aggressively priced iPad Mini may suck all the air out of the room. But, both the iPad and iPad Mini may need to consider the AT&T LTE plans offered with the Kindle Fire HD. Amazon appears to have a shoe of it’s own.

Only time will tell. The Kindle Fire HD is a real product. The iPad mini is still just a rumored glint in the eye of Apple.

 

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Mountain Lion on My Mac Pro First Edition…Sort Of

Mountain Lionized!

In a previous article, I bemoaned the fact that my Mac Pro 1,1 (First Edition) was left behind as part of the Mountain Lion launch. Even though I had upgraded the video to an ATI Radion 5770 HD and boosted the RAM to 18 GB, Apple decided that my workhorse machine was just to ugly to get an invitation to the Upgrade Party.

Not wanting my Mac Pro to feel left out, I decided to take action.

First, I did upgrade my 2008 Aluminum MacBook  to Mountain Lion.  Thankfully, that machine had secured a spot for an upgrade, just barely. Once that installed, I moved back to my Mac Pro.

Using Parallels Desktop for Mac, Version 7, I created a Mac OS X Lion virtual machine from the recovery partition on the Mac Pro. Once I had that up and running, I tweaked the Virtual Machine settings in preparation for Mountain Lion.

  • Boosted the virtual RAM to 4 GB
  • Increased the video RAM from 32 to 512 MB.
I restarted the Mac OS X Lion Virtual Machine and launched the App Store inside the VM. On the Featured page, there sat that Mountain Lion. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that it had an “I’m too good for you” look on it’s face.

Never the less, I pressed the “Download” button to the right of the Mountain Lion icon and patiently waited for the installation app to download. The network traffic was such that I had to attempt this multiple times. At first, I thought the Mountain Lion would get the better of me. Was it detecting that I was using a VM running on obviously inappropriate hardware? Was that why the download  was failing?

On the third attempt, the Mountain Lion installation app beamed at me from the VM Launch Pad. I clicked the icon and the OS installation process started up. After about 35 minutes, and a couple of restarts, I had a full fledged Mountain Lion OS running as a VM on my Mac Pro 1,1.

It’s still not what I really want, i.e., Mountain Lion accepting my Mac Pro and running natively on it’s hardware, but , at least I can let the Lion roam within the confines of it’s virtual world. Hopefully, a reprieve will surface that will give me what I want, but, in the meantime …

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