Apple Smart Keyboard First Impressions

Having just received my Smart Keyboard for my iPad Pro 9,7″, I thought I’d write a little about it.

The first thing I was slightly apprehensive about was naturally how it would feel to type on it. The Apple tables in stores don’t really lend themselves to actually testing that aspect realistically. It turns out I worried unnecessarily: The cupped shape of the keys, along with the relatively large gap between them makes it very comfortable for me to type on the keyboard. Going from my Retina MacBook Pro or Magic Keyboard to the Smart Keyboard is almost completely seamless for me. It’s comfortable enough on a table, but what’s interesting is that thanks to its strong magnets, it actually works in my lap while half-lying in a couch too. At least as long as the iPad itself keeps its center of balance towards the rear support.

The keyboard itself supports almost all shortcuts and key combinations I’m used to from Apple’s computer keyboards except for those that require the use of the Fn key, which on the Smart Keyboard is replaced by a shortcut to switch between keyboard layouts.

As I am used to writing on a Swedish keyboard but often write technical documents in English, I soon encountered a situation that could have turned the Smart Keyboard into a dud for me:
How does it handle typing in one language while using the keyboard layout of another language? The autocorrect dictionary in iOS is tied to the chosen keyboard layout. Turns out Apple thought of that issue long before I did. When I did, I was very happy to see that under General Settings, there’s a button called Hardware keyboard. Thanks to it, it’s possible to turn off text autocorrection while using a physical keyboard while retaining the function when typing on-screen, where special characters are chosen visually anyway. This is one of those small things that makes me fond of Apple. This need of mine probably represents a pretty small percentage of Apple’s customers, but one of their developers thought of it and implemented a solution that makes switching from tablet mode to “almost laptop” mode completely seamless.

So are there any drawbacks to the Smart Keyboard?
Not a lot of them. One thing I noticed quickly is that the edit field on some forums doesn’t capture the cursor keys: Marking text using various combinations of Shift, Option, Command and the cursor keys is somewhat hit-or-miss across different sites on the web. In WordPress it works perfectly, but on the MacRumors forums touching any of the cursor keys while in the edit field scrolls to the bottom of the page. At this point I have no idea where the problem lies, but it’s a bit frustrating since selecting text is a chore using fingers on a touch screen.

All in all, and in my use case, the Smart Keyboard complements the iPad Pro perfectly, and I can definitely see myself leaving for an extended vacation without bringing my computer along largely thanks to it. Time will tell whether I’ll stay happy with this combination or if I’ll rather invest in an ultralight laptop the next time I have to replace my hardware.

 

 

 

 

Where to spend money as a new motorcycle rider (Part 1)

Introduction

Today’s ride made me consider some points I wish I had known earlier as a motorcycle rider. Those who know me can attest that I am slightly frugal when spending money on toys and gear. Not that I don’t buy stuff, but I usually want to be really sure that it’ll do what I imagine before committing to a purchase, especially when it comes to stuff with large price tags. This planned series of articles will contain information that wasn’t readily available to me before I actually bought the gear. My hope is to be able to share what’s worth its price and perhaps some stuff that I bought which quite frankly is a waste of money.

Continue reading “Where to spend money as a new motorcycle rider (Part 1)”

Norway tour 2012 debrief

Having spent the weekend riding some 1400 kilometers in the beautiful Norwegian fjord and mountain landscape, I feel like jotting down some notes and almost-reviews.

Scala Rider

This intercom system worked so much better than I thought when I first saw it. I bought a NeckMike system a while ago, since I wanted to combine ear plugs with intercom functionality. In reality, the Scala Rider system does a better job when it comes to communication (it’s got full duplex for one, and second, it’s wireless, which means no forgotten cables when you step off the bike). It’s also fully functional up to about 120 km/h (on an effectively fairing-less bike) with or without ear plugs.

There are three main drawbacks:
1. I needed to “slightly adjust” my helmet to fit the speakers. It doesn’t come with depressions for this kind of communications system, so I needed to cut open the noice-reducing padding on the inside of the styrofoam protective layer to avoid getting cauliflower ears from the speakers pressing against my earlobes. Since the fabric cover for the chin pads is removable, I could do it without destroying anything.
2. The carrier rack for the communications module sticks down below the helmet if you don’t choose to glue it in place. This makes putting on and (especially) removing the helmet somewhat painful after a while, since the opening in effect becomes a little tighter than usual, so the ear on the receiver side tends to snag a little.
3. The accumulator is pretty integrated into the system, which means that with use, the time available for communications will diminish and you can’t do anything about it. Anyone familiar with Apple gear knows this problem. It’s OK if you plan on getting new stuff every other year or so, but a system like this shouldn’t be that upgrade prone, and therefore I count non-serviceability as a drawback.

As I mentioned above, wind noise renders the system useless above 120 km/h or so on a bike without a large windscreen. The sensitivity for voice activation needs to be adjusted or you’ll get closer to 8 than 13 hours of battery life out of it, and on the pair we used, one speaker quit working within a day of use, which probably is an individual problem rather than a design one – but again, miniaturization makes for lousy serviceability.

GoPro HD Hero 2

I never really saw the point of video cams until I really tried one. This one basically has a power/function button and a start/stop button, but it’s surprisingly easy to make nice movies, thanks to the fisheye lens. I edited the resulting raw film with iMovie on my Mac, and the result of an evening of playing around with the material can be viewed below.

The Zero Gravity Tall Windscreen

This was my first real test of the higher windscreen for my bike. Windscreens are a tradeoff between environmental feedback and comfort. Where the XB12X is an excellent hooligan bike and canyon carver, the R1200GS is a ride which lets the pilot step off the bike fully rested after 300 kilometers of highway.

Basically, even with the taller screen, the air – and, as I frequently experienced during this ride – the rain, hits me at the upper part of my chest. At highway speeds, this means my helmet gets pressed into my face, and I need to fight to keep my posture against the wind, and if it rains, it means all the rain that hits the front of my bike will end up on my jacket, drop down, and finally create a puddle in which I sit. This is OK with proper rain gear, but textile riding gear without GoreTex membranes soaks right through after a while in these conditions.

The next thing to try, of course, is a windscreen bracket from Palmer Products, to get the windscreen up a bit and make it adjustable. This should also fix the potential problem of the original rubber grommets breaking at highway speeds, giving me a face-full of windscreen at a hundred mph.

New farkle season

I just received a shipment from the Netherlands – more precisely from Twin Motorcycles.

Buell picture
The Buell - Farkled

The package contained three sets of goodies: A higher windscreen, a larger right hand side air scoop, and fork and swing sliders/bobbins.

The Uly’s original windscreen is completely OK for short rides, but early spring and late autumn, I get lots of windchill. It also requires the the rider to adopt the famous “ape humping a football” pose to get out of the wind when riding at speed. I hope the new screen made by Zero Gravity will help mitigate these problems.

The right hand air scoop is another feature released right before Buell got taken out back and shot by the Company:
To comply with Californian emission regulations, the Buell bikes ran rather hot (higher temperature gives better combustion). When they mounted catalysts on the newer models, they didn’t need to run the engines at the same temps anymore. The “rider comfort kit” was born, where the most important aspect from a mechanical standpoint was the inclusion of a larger air scoop for the right side of the bike.

I haven’t had the time for more than a short shakedown ride, so I can’t say anything definitive about the effect of the air scoop on the annoying fan sound (“oh right, a Buell”), but the wind stream over/around the new wind screen hit me square at shoulder height now instead of at the lower part of the chest when I sit in my “active riding” position, so I think it does what it should.

I’ll get back with a longer review when I’ve done some proper riding.

Running Tomb Raider 1 on modern hardware

The original

I found this old CD with Tomb Raider on it – you know, the old 3D puzzle/maze/action game from 1996 or something?

I don’t know how many hours I spent on it, and when I bought myself a 3Dfx Voodoo graphics accelerator, there was actually a patch to make this game use that lovely piece of hardware for real 640×480 action. Back then, it was so cool, I really don’t know what to compare it to.

But I digress. Okay, so I found this CD. Now what? I googled around a bit and found Tomb Raider Chronicles, who seem to have dedicated a lot of time to get these old games running on modern hardware. Unfortunately, they hadn’t done anything with TR1 since about 2007, so I was afraid things wouldn’t work really flawlessly anyway. And sure enough, their Advanced Installer software did it’s magic, but unfortunately the magic fizzled in the end. The game got installed, it seemed to start, but crashed right back to the desktop.

Now, I was determined to get things going, though, so I spent some more time with google and found a howto, using another piece of code on Tomb Raider Forums. It’s meant to solve the problem in Vista, but obviously it works just as well for XP SP3.

User Gidierre pointed me in the right way, to use SSDH in place of MSCDEX – actually I don’t even know if that’s required yet it seems to need to be done this way to work. However, user Chug a Bug gave me the required tips that made the game start:

1) Download and install VDMsound 2.10. Reboot.

2) Download and install the Advanced TR Installer (TR1setup.exe). Choose dgVoodoo 1.40 as the version. Do not choose the option to create an desktop shortcut.

3) Download ssdh.zip. Unzip the files.

4) Drag and drop ssdh.exe to C:\Tombraid and ssdh.dll to C:\windows\system32

5) Drag and drop glide2x.dll from C:\Tombraid to C:\windows\system32

6) Copy (not move) vddloader.dll from c:\program files\vdmsound to c:\windows\system32 (so theres a copy in both folders)

7) Open dgVoodooSetup if you havn’t opened it already (C:\tombraid\dgVoodooSetup > click it) – on the right hand side click the “search” button – point it towards c:\windows\system32\glide2x.dll. Buttons are now no longer greyed out? Good, you’ve found it. Click the “DOS” platform > click the “VESA” tab> tick “Use built in VESA support”. Click “ok”.

8) Make a batch file in the folder C:\Tombraid –

dosdrv
dgvesa
ssdh
tomb

And I can tell you that the game has aged. No doubt about that. But still: I’m actually re-living Tomb Raider 1 in a full 1920×1080 resolution in 2010. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me.

Respect to all the guys who were involved in making this possible!

A new toy

Background

My old Nokia N95 8GB drowned when I rode the SaddleSore a month or so ago, so I figured I’d upgrade. And since I was dead tired of the entire Symbian concept, the serious contenders were, of course, Apple and HTC.

Since the release of the original iPhone just about an eternity ago, Apple’s phones have pretty much been the benchmark against which all other phones have had to compare – and until very recently none have even approached the snappy feeling of the iPhone.
Enter HTC.

Since I’m, perhaps uselessly, a bit concerned about how my expenses look from a company point of view, the iPhone 4 was way out of the question: We buy most of our laptops at about the price they charge for a phone. Alright, it’s supposedly a very good phone, but come on!

That left me effectively with a choice between an effectively last-gen iPhone 3Gs, the HTC Legend – which is pretty but has an “old” processor, or the HTC Desire, which lacks the Legend’s looks, but has a state of the art Snapdragon processor – which tipped the scales to it’s favor.

The queue for it was huge – I got it after a little more than a month.

Comments after the first day

The Desire is fast. No question about it. As just about everybody has said, the speed comes at the price of battery life. Coming from the oldschool Nokia world, it feels a bit weird to see the battery level go down a notch within an hour of normal use.

My gripes, however, are mostly superficial, and you’ll find just about the same comments on every proper review:

Unlocking the device from power save mode should be more configurable. It requires that you reach up around the top of the phone and press the power button, followed by a swipe (and, if you’re paranoid, passing a security test in the form of a password/PIN/shape to be acknowledged). There’s no reason the same function couldn’t be initialized with one of the keys on the front panel, except it might look too “Applish”.

The switch from portrait to landscape orientation takes a moment too long, in my opinion. Half a second is OK. One-and-a-half to two is way too much. I’m fully aware that re-aligning the screen contents is an expensive task, from a processing power point of view, but on the other hand, there’s no reason why the interface part of the phone shouldn’t be prioritized, and the alignment of text in edit fields be corrected “as soon as there’s time for it”.

There’s an obvious bug where, if you put the phone down and it locks itself while writing a mail, the keyboard disappears until you select another edit field and re-aquire the main one.

Summary

I have nothing special to add that other reviews haven’t already said, except that unlike many other reviewers, I’m still not entirely content with the speed of the interface even at 1 GHz, a fact which either says that people still don’t put down enough effort into the optimization of GUIs, or that I’m a whiny little bitch.

Over all, the Desire is a hugely capable phone, though, and I’m sure I’ll return to it in future posts.

Update after another day:
One thing I really enjoy with the desire is that it isn’t obnoxious. Set an alarm, and you can decide specifically for that alarm if the phone should vibrate or not. Also, the volume rocker seems to actually change the sound level of the phone even when not in a call. Add to that the feature that the volume of the ringer drops if you lift the phone when somebody calls, and you have a very, very well-behaved and, actually, “smart” phone.

I’m still not entirely used to the keyboard and its word recognition, but I can see that we’ll be friends in another few days.

Neckmike first impressions

I ordered a communications package for use with the bikes a few days ago, and it arrived yesterday. The system is the Cobra MT600 + Neckmike combo from Bikeman I mentioned in the Preparing for the Iron Butt post.

The contents of the box

I ordered the double package, which comes with two Cobra MT600 radio units, rechargable NiMH batteries, a charger with a Y cable (to charge both units simultaneously), two Neckmike bundles and one set of small + one set of medium size earbuds each.

Along with that, I also ordered an MP3 player extension – and some extra earbuds, since I’ll be using the system while training a couple of friends for their rider tests.

The Cobra units (manufacturer’s spec sheet) are vanilla two way radios in a retail package. They’ve got the standard features with availability of both CTCSS and DCS “channels”, and a theoretical range of 5 km.

The Neckmike all bundled up

The Neckmike system basically consists of a throat microphone of the kind used by tactical units in noisy environments, in-ear headphones, and a waterproof send button. The pick-up part of the unit is mounted on a springy piece of rubber covered metal, that feels solid enough. Because of how a throat mic works, it’s pretty sensitive to placement, in an almost digital way: It needs to sit right next to the jugular to pick up the vibrations from one’s speech, or you won’t hear a thing. Other units I’ve seen solve this with an elastic or velcro-fastened band around the neck. Further use will have to prove if the Neckmike approach to the problem is good enough, but I can see why one wouldn’t want to have a fastened band around the neck while riding a bike. In case something happens, you really don’t want to be stuck with things wrapped around your neck. This shouldn’t happen with the Neckmike system.

The problem with other communications packages for motorcycle use, is that they tend to depend on speakers mounted inside the helmet. This is alright if you never ever need to ride at highway speeds, or if you’ve got a windscreen like a barn door. Otherwise, riding for long periods without earplugs is a pretty good way to get permanent hearing damage.

The in-ear phones of the Neckmike come with interchangeable heads in three different sizes (the largest one can be specially ordered, but the small and medium ones are included in the package, as I mentioned earlier). They work very well in protecting from outside noise, and from what I could feel, they should be no problem to wear for a while, although I will write something on this when I’ve had time to try them for real.

A real road test review will follow.